The words of freedom

A first-hand look

It took effect one hundred and fifty years ago this coming Tuesday. It was limited in its scope, careful in its wording, full of exceptions and loopholes… and it’s one of the most enduring symbols of individual liberty this nation has ever seen.

Its language included these words, stunning for their time:

on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.

It is the Emancipation Proclamation, put into effect by Abraham Lincoln on 1 January 1863. And, for three days only, starting this Sunday, if you’re anywhere near Washington, D.C., you can do what few people have done in modern times — you can see it yourself, with your own eyes.

For the original of this historic document will be on display Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., in a glorious celebration marking the 150th anniversary of its signing.

The document itself is quite fragile. Already, there are signs of age and wear from excessive light exposure. So it’s only displayed a few hours each year to minimize damage. And this weekend is your chance, as the National Archives commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation with a special display in the East Rotunda Gallery.

The commemoration will include extended viewing hours, inspirational music, a dramatic reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, and family activities and entertainment for all ages. For general information on visiting the National Archives, check this web page.

Here’s the schedule for the display of the Emancipation Proclamation:

Sunday, December 30, 2012, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Monday, December 31, 2012, 10 a.m.–1 a.m. (extended viewing hours)
Tuesday, January 1, 2013, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

And here’s an overview of the special events included in the commemoration:

Sunday, December 30, noon
William G. McGowan Theater
Film: A Fatal Contradiction and A War to End Slavery (2003; 60 minutes)

Monday, December 31, noon
William G. McGowan Theater
Film: Underground Railroad: The William Still Story (2012; 60 minutes)

Monday, December 31, 5:30 p.m.–1 a.m.
Rotunda (Exhibits Entrance on Constitution Avenue)
Inspirational musical performances during extended viewing

Monday, December 31, midnight
Rotunda (Exhibits Entrance on Constitution Avenue)
Ceremonial bell ringing by historical re-enactor portraying Harriet Tubman, and a performance by the Washington Revels Heritage Voices.

Tuesday, January 1, 9 a.m.
Rotunda and East Rotunda Gallery (Exhibits Entrance on Constitution Avenue)
Dramatic reading of Emancipation Proclamation by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, followed by a performance by the Washington Revels Jubilee Voices. First 100 guests in line at the Exhibits entrance by 8:15 a.m. will be able to enter the building and view the opening ceremony.

Tuesday, January 1, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
Boeing Learning Center (Exhibits Entrance on Constitution Avenue)
Hands-on family activities

Tuesday, January 1, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
Jefferson Room (Exhibits Entrance on Constitution Avenue)
Storyteller Bill Grimette portrays Frederick Douglass in “Tales of My Friend Mr. Lincoln”

Tuesday, January 1, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
Rotunda and the National Archives Experience (Exhibits Entrance on Constitution Avenue)
Historical re-enactors will portray Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, and others.

Tuesday, January 1, noon
William G. McGowan Theater
Film: Unchained Memories (2003; 75 minutes)

You can read more about — and see digital images of all five pages of — the Emancipation Proclamation at the National Archives website.

But you’ll never have a better opportunity to see the original than you will this Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

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6 Responses to The words of freedom

  1. Celia Lewis says:

    Of course you are going, right? Of course. What an amazing opportunity – very powerful statement. I just read the little self-written book about William & Ellen Craft who successfully escaped, ending up in England. It always boggles my mind how people could hold such incongruent ideas in one mind: Christian principles/beliefs and buy/sell slaves. Sigh. Wish I were there.

  2. Keith Bouldin says:

    I was at the post office yesterday and the USPS has issued a new commemorative stamp titled “Freedom” the shows what appears to be a copy of a handbill announcing the Emancipation Proclamation. on the back of the plate of stamps is a bit of info about the EP.
    I think they did a great job on this stamp.

    check it out here

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