Harlem Hosts First Strokes Of Emancipation | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Harlem Hosts First Strokes Of Emancipation

Play associated audio

Saturday marks the 150th anniversary of a crucial moment in U.S. history. On Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, announcing his intention to free the slaves in the states rebelling against the Union.

Lincoln didn't officially free the slaves in the Confederacy until the formal Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863. But he announced his intention to do it 100 days earlier, in what historians call the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. This official document — and Lincoln's handwritten manuscript of it — are both on tour, starting this weekend in Harlem.

"There's a simple way to remember it as this moral moment of freedom. But as always with politics, there's actually a complicated history behind it," says John King, New York State's commissioner of education.

He says Lincoln was trying to strike a delicate balance. He wanted to free the slaves partly to give the Union a military advantage over the Confederacy. But Lincoln wanted to do it without actually abolishing slavery. That move would have offended the border states that sided with the Union and where slavery was still legal.

If you look at Lincoln's manuscript closely enough, you can see the effort he put into it, Khalil Gibran Muhammad says. Muhammad directs the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where the manuscript is on display this weekend.

"Even his own struggle — the newspaper clippings cut out here, the scratched-out sentences and trying to figure out what precise language — shows us just how hard it is to do the work of making freedom and democracy real for people. This is one of those transformative moments," he says.

Muhammad notes that Lincoln didn't create this moment all by himself. Throughout the war, he was hearing from generals in the field about slaves who ran away by the thousands, hoping to join the Union army. They were telling the generals, "We are here to demand our freedom. And we know you are here for other reasons, but you can't ignore us. We won't be ignored."

Lincoln's handwritten manuscript didn't stay in his possession for long. It was auctioned off in 1864, before the Civil War was even over, to raise money for relief efforts. Then the manuscript was sold to the state of New York, which helped to organize the current traveling exhibition. It opened Friday with a special showing for high school students in Harlem. Senior Kamal Grant says for him, the manuscript symbolizes opportunity.

"It's basically the reason we why we're even looking at it right now. Because it gave people like me a chance to even be relevant in the world," he says.

Lincoln's manuscript is on display in Harlem through Monday before traveling to seven other cities around the state.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Audiences Get A Modern Look At A 19th Century Opera

Opera as seen through the lens of Google Glass? Wolf Trap is giving audiences the chance to mix technology with Bizet’s classic "Carmen" this month.
NPR

Can You Trust That Organic Label On Imported Food?

A new book claims the organic label can't be trusted, especially on food that's imported. Yet there is a global system for verifying the authenticity of organic food, and it mostly seems to work.
NPR

Democrats Make New Bid To Require Donor Transparency

The latest version of the DISCLOSE Act, which would force donor disclosure on outside organizations that engage in election politics, is facing now-familiar opposition from Republican lawmakers.
NPR

A Plan To Untangle Our Digital Lives After We're Gone

In the digital age, our online accounts don't die with us. A proposed law might determine what does happen to them. But the tech industry warns the measure could threaten the privacy of the deceased.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.