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The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to Host Four-Day Exhibit, “The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation”


Center to Partner with NBC on ‘Educational Nation’ Program w/ Melissa Harris-Perry and Author Stephen L. Carter

September 17, 2012— To mark the sesquicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture will be hosting a four-day commemorative exhibition from September 21-24, 2012. Displaying both the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation—written in Lincoln’s own handwriting—along with an official copy of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation—this  occasion marks the first time in 150 years that these two documents will be displayed together. The exhibition was developed by the New York State Museum in conjunction with the Schomburg, the National Archives, and other partner institutions. The Schomburg Center is located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, in New York City.

The Emancipation Proclamations exhibition
Titled The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation the Schomburg exhibition will present the Proclamations alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s manuscript of a speech he delivered in 1962 for the Proclamation’s centennial.  

“This 150th anniversary exhibition presents a very special occasion to bear witness to a transformative moment in American history,” remarks Schomburg Director Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad.  “With these documents, the cornerstone for a new foundation for American democracy was laid, upon which generations would continue to build. The Schomburg Center is proud to partner with The New York State Museum and the National Archives to celebrate the first steps to freedom.

Lincoln’s handwritten 1862 Preliminary Proclamation is the only surviving copy of the document in the President’s hand.  Lincoln donated it to the U.S. Sanitary Commission which raffled the document at an Albany Army Relief Association Fair in 1864, where it was won by abolitionist hero Gerrit Smith, and was later purchased by the New York State Legislature.  Though Lincoln’s final proclamation burned in the Chicago fire, this Preliminary Proclamation survived the State Capitol Fire of 1911 and has been preserved by the State Library.  On September 22, 1962, the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the speech contained in the exhibition.  In his address to the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission, Dr. King argued that the document proved that government could be a powerful force for social justice and urged government officials to hasten integration and progress towards full civil rights.  

"Fifty years ago, at the centennial anniversary of its signing, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation,” State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. said. “He argued that the Emancipation Proclamation proved government could be a powerful force for social justice, but the promise of equality remained unfulfilled. And today, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary, the Proclamation is an important reminder that America is still a work in progress.” 


Says Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero: "As a milestone on the path to slavery's final abolishment, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom. We are honored to share this official preliminary Proclamation in the First Step to Freedom celebration."
The two documents - both in the collections of the New York State Education Department, Office of Cultural Education—will go on display for the first time together to mark the 150th anniversary of one of American history’s defining moments.



The exhibition hours are as follows:

Friday, September 21: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday, September 22: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sunday, September 23: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Monday, September 24: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.

(Free; Pre-registration required. To register for a time slot, please visit:

Education Nation with Melissa Harris-Perry



Also in connection with the Emancipation Proclamation sesquicentennial, the Schomburg Center will be hosting an interactive Education Nation Summit session, in partnership with NBC on Friday, September 21st. MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry will be joined by author and professor Stephen L. Carter to discuss his new political thriller, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. The program will include performances by Harlem’s Mama Foundation for the Arts.  As part of a larger partnership to engage the public in free learning opportunities during the week of the “Education Nation” Summit, NBC News and the NYPL invite New Yorkers to take part in special programming throughout the library system. Additional information can be found at Free and open to the public.

The Contractions of Fair Hope film screening

The culmination of the Emancipation Proclamation celebration will be the New York film premiere of The Contradictions of Fair Hope on on Monday, September 24th . This spellbinding documentary, produced and directed by Law & Order star S. Epatha Merkerson and writer Rockell Metcalf, sets the stage in rural Alabama, prior to Emancipation, and traces the development, struggles, contributions and gradual loss of tradition of one of Fair Hope, one of the last remaining African American benevolent societies in Uniontown, Alabama. Through gripping human stories of some of the last surviving society members and interviews with historians and local residents, the film provides an unprecedented look at the complex and morally ambiguous world of Fair Hope juxtaposed against worldly pleasures.
Following the film screening will be an interactive discussion with Merkerson, Metcalf and Schomburg director Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad. Free and open to the public

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture thanks the following for their support of the Emancipation Proclamation sesquicentennial event:

The James S. and Merryl H. Tisch Foundation for its generous support of the anniversary celebration and exhibition-related programming.

New York State Museum - New York State Library - New York State Archives

National Archives and Records Administration

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research unit of The New York Public Library, is generally recognized as one of the leading institutions of its kind in the world. For over 80 years the Center has collected, preserved, and provided access to materials documenting black life, and promoted the study and interpretation of the history and culture of peoples of African descent.  Educational and Cultural Programs at the Schomburg Center complement its research services and interpret its collections. Seminars, forums, workshops, staged readings, film screenings, performing arts programs, and special events are presented year-round.  More information about Schomburg’s collections and programs can be found at

New York Public Library
The New York Public Library was created in 1895 with the consolidation of the private libraries of John Jacob Astor and James Lenox with the Samuel Jones Tilden Trust. The Library provides free and open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as to its services. Its renowned research collections are located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem; and the Science, Industry and Business Library at 34th Street and Madison Avenue. Eighty-seven branch libraries provide access to circulating collections and a wide range of other services in neighborhoods throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Research and circulating collections combined total more than 50 million items. In addition, each year the Library presents thousands of exhibitions and public programs, which include classes in technology, literacy, and English for speakers of other languages.  All in all The New York Public Library serves more than 18 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at