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Out & About

October 18, 2012

Documents by great American orators on exhibit

PLATTSBURGH — The New York State Museum’s traveling exhibit “The First Step to Freedom, Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation” offers a rare opportunity to view a rare Civil War-era document.

The 19th century draft was penned by President Abraham Lincoln and edited by Secretary of State William Seward, a former New York governor and abolitionist.

Lincoln’s executive order, issued on Jan. 1, 1863, granted freedom to enslaved people of African descent in the rebellious, or Confederate, states. However, it did not free slaves in the Border States — Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia — who fought with the Union Army. 

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Emancipation Proclamation Centennial Commemoration speech will also be in the traveling exhibit, which is on display Friday only, in the Burke Gallery.

“The state of New York decided, given the anniversary of this event at 150 years, they would circulate the document around the state on a very limited basis,” said Cecilia Esposito, museum director.

“They wanted to reach all the different areas of the state. With the work that I have done with the state of New York and one of the regents — Dr. James Dawson is at Plattsburgh State — they asked Plattsburgh State to host for this region of the state,” Esposito said. “It’s traveling to Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton, New York City at the Schomburg Center and Plattsburgh.”

The Burke Gallery met the criteria for the exhibit space.

“We need to limit the light level because of the sensitivity of the document. We can only have 5-foot candles of light,” she said.

The exhibit is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Viewers can pick up tickets beginning at 9 that morning in the Myers Fine Arts Building.

“This is extremely important,” Esposito said. “It’s a major opportunity that should not be missed. They don’t have this document available often for viewing. It’s in Abraham Lincoln’s hand. The final document in Lincoln’s hand was destroyed by fire. This is the only document in his hand in relationship to the Emancipation Proclamation.” 

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