Emancipation Proclamation goes on display this weekend

The “Promise of Freedom” may have first been made when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation nearly 150 years ago.

Lessons and struggles in the century and a half since show that delivering it was not so immediate, Michael Jehle, executive director of the Fairfield Museum & History Center, said.

The museum at 370 Beach Road will host “Promise of Freedom: Emancipation Proclamation,” the only display of the Emancipation Proclamation in some 300 miles, starting Sunday, Sept. 23.

The original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation burned during the Chicago Fire of 1871, Jehle said.

“Freedom to the Slave,” a recruiting poster from The Library Company of Philadelphia.

“Freedom to the Slave,” a recruiting poster from The Library Company of Philadelphia.

When Lincoln first issued the proclamation, he signed about 40 copies that were sold to raise money for hospital care for wounded Union soldiers. Of those, only 20 to 22 survive, Jehle said.

Seth Kaller, a broker in historic documents, approached the Fairfield Museum & History Center on behalf of the owner of one of the copies about exhibiting it and a copy of the 13th Amendment for its sesquicentennial. The owner is a Greenwich resident who collects historic documents, who Jehle said wishes to remain anonymous.

The documents will be on display Sept. 23 through Feb. 24, 2013. There also will be a free community opening Sunday, Sept. 30, from noon to 3.

While both the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment ended slavery, they set in motion changes that continue to this day. There was an immediate backlash, Jehle said, with Jim Crow laws and efforts to deny blacks the vote that continued through the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“Promise of Freedom” will also display photographs from the modern civil rights movement will show how the struggle for equality continued for more than 100 years after emancipation.

One of the last times a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation was displayed was at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan. That exhibit lasted only 36 hours, and drew 20,000 people, Jehle said.

“People lined up days beforehand,” he added.

“It’s probably the most important [exhibit] in our 106-year history,” Jehle said.

The Fairfield Museum & History Center began as the Fairfield Historical Society, but expanded its mission in 2007.

Displaying the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment juxtaposed with photos from only 40 years ago will put history in a more modern context when coupled with educational programs, Jehle said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to be one of the guests of the museum at its 2012 benefit gala Saturday, Sept. 22, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

The proclamation will be read the night of the gala.

“Promise of Freedom” is being made possible through grants and sponsorships from the Connecticut Humanities Council, Fairfield County Community Foundation, Fairfield University, General Electric, People’s United Bank, JP Morgan, Brody Wilkinson PC, Moffly Media and Newman’s Own.

Guest curator for Promise of Freedom: Emancipation Proclamation will be Louis P. Masur, Ph.D., noted historian and a William R. Kenan Jr. professor of American studies and history at Trinity College in Hartford. Masur’s new book, Lincoln’s Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union, published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, has just been released.

The gala will be sponsored by Domaine Clarence Dillon, Connecticut Humanities Council, JP Morgan, Fairfield University, Brody Wilkinson PC and Fairfield University.

Information is available at fairfieldhistory.org or 203-259-1598.

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