Press-Republican

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October 20, 2012

History worth waiting for

PLATTSBURGH — Friday’s hottest ticket in town was to the New York State Museum’s traveling exhibit, “The First Step To Freedom, Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.”

For 12 hours inside SUNY Plattsburgh’s Burke Gallery, viewers had timed tickets in hand to walk through the exhibit featuring the historical 19th-century document written in Abraham Lincoln’s own hand, as well as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s typewritten 1962 speech delivered on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in New York City.

Cara Lee was among the first to see the exhibit, which included pylons with text crafted by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City.

“I know it was a really important part of the path to freeing slaves,” said Lee, who was representing the Student Association. “It’s a really big part of history, and it’s a big deal it’s here on our campus.”

Plattsburgh State Art Museum Director Cecilia Esposito welcomed those assembled, which included students, community members and representatives from the New York State Museum and New York State Library.

New York State Regent James Dawson commended the 19th century New York State Legislature for having the presence of mind “to purchase this seminal document for the grand sum of $3,000.”

Dawson’s wife, Caroline, opted out of work to attend the exhibit.

“I’m pretty interested in the subject,” she said. “I work over in Burlington. He asked if I was coming. I said of course, I’m coming.”

College President John Ettling placed the relic into historical context. Lincoln waited for a decisive Union victory, Antietam in Maryland on Sept. 17, 1862, to read the executive order that freed slaves only in the Confederate states on Jan. 1, 1863.

The Emancipation Proclamation was “a pivotal document in the history of this country and one of Lincoln’s finest moments,” Ettling said.

Joan Huntsdon, who is associated with the Penfield Homestead Museum in Crown Point, waited patiently for her time before Lincoln’s draft, which featured his Civil War-era glued-in newsprint of the Congressional Confiscation Act.

“We have a flag that was carried into battle at Antietam,” Huntsdon said. “He (soldier Chester Rhodes) was killed and is buried there (Antietam).”

Email Robin Caudell:

rcaudell@pressrepublican.com

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