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"Proclaiming Emancipation" exhibit 

Cultural Artifacts Tell the Story of Emancipation

By Clarissa Sansone
Oct. 9, 2012

A never-before-seen photo of Frederick Douglass, a bronze maquette of Thomas Ball's Freedmen's Memorial, a document written by a medium under trance, and the sketchbooks of Civil War soldiers are a few items in the historically rich exhibit "Proclaiming Emancipation," which officially opens October 15 at the Hatcher Graduate Library, in the Gallery and Audubon Room.

The exhibit, which runs until February 18, 2013, commemorates the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (issued January 1, 1863). A joint effort among the Law School's Program in Race, Law & History, the William L. Clements Library, and The University of Michigan Library, the exhibit marks "likely one of the first times there's been a three-way collaboration" of this sort, said co-curator Martha S. Jones, associate professor of history and codirector of the Program in Race, Law & History.

The University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the Western Reserve Historical Society loaned items to the exhibit. "They've been great to work with, as have our colleagues at the University Library, who have bent over backwards to accommodate us," said co-curator Clayton Lewis, the Clement Library's Curator of Graphics Material.

One notable artifact in the exhibit, loaned from the Library Company of Philadelphia, is a Lincoln manuscript from July of 1862—a proclamation predating the Emancipation Proclamation. The artifact exemplifies the significance of "the many small steps that preceded and then followed the Proclamation" and finally resolved with the 13th Amendment, said Prof. Jones.

Lewis agreed that the exhibit aims to take a much broader view of emancipation than the Proclamation alone or the man who wrote it. "We were determined to focus less on Lincoln and his motives and more on putting the Emancipation Proclamation into a broad context that recognizes the contributions of many, including the enslaved themselves," he said.

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