On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed Proclamation 95, the Emancipation Proclamation, the historic presidential executive order that declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” This order freed more than three million enslaved African Americans in the southern states that withdrew from the United States while maintaining slavery in states not covered by the law. The proclamation also allowed freed black men to serve in the United States military.

On April 14-16, visitors to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., will have a rare occasion to view the original document marking the 156th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The dates also coincide with the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination (April 14), the date he died (April 15), and the date Lincoln signed the D.C. Emancipation Act on April 16, 1862 that ended slavery in D.C. and declared nearly 3,000 formerly enslaved African Americans to become the nation’s first freed.

“A common misconception about the Emancipation Proclamation is that it ended slavery,” explained Miriam Kleiman, Program Director for Public Affairs at the US National Archives. “Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy (the Southern secessionist states) that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.”

Imagine getting a chance to view the real Emancipation Proclamation document.

“As a millennial working at the National Archives Foundation, I believe it is vital for my generation to understand the connection between our nation’s past and its future,” said Mattie Gainer, programs and communications manager at the National Archives Foundation. 
”At the National Archives Foundation, one of our goals is to ensure that visitors leave the Archives Museum and research facilities with not only a better understanding of American history, but also an understanding of how that history fits into society today.

“Our shared history matters, and we hope that through learning about America’s past, young people will become inspired to participate in our democracy and shape our nation’s future,” Gainer said.

The National Archives Foundation, the nonprofit partner of the National Archives, is engaging with a wide range of community groups to encourage visitors spanning race, ethnicity, gender, and age. To welcome millennials to the exhibit specifically, the Foundation has engaged with colleges and universities here in D.C. and across the country. The Foundation is also planning a robust social media outreach plan to illuminate the importance of this rare opportunity to see the original Emancipation Proclamation.

The National Archives in Washington, D.C., will have the Emancipation Proclamation on full display for free on April 14-16, 2019 from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. in both the East and West Rotunda Galleries, located on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street NW.

“After the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, the EP is probably the most name-recognized piece of paper from American History. The time it is on display is so limited because it is also very fragile, and we want the record to live forever. So, to be able to see it in person is a real treat,” Netisha Currie said.

Do not miss this rare opportunity to witness history. This is a time for learning and acknowledging of the trials and tribulations of African Americans in the U.S. over the past 400 years.

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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