Thursday, March 14, 2013

Seeing History

As an avowed History Geek, I could not pass up the opportunity to visit the Tennessee State Museum last Monday to view the original Emancipation Proclamation.  Free to the public, they encouraged appointments so the line would go faster, as the document can only be viewed for 72 total hours because of the degradation light causes.  The venue is actually always free, and the Proclamation viewing kicked off a new exhibit titled “Discovering the Civil War,” which includes interactive displays, encourages use of social media, and includes the official copy of the 13th Amendment.

I waited in line for about an hour, and I felt much as I always do when I wait in line to vote: that this is important.  That people died for this. That I should appreciate the freedoms and opportunities this affords me today. I dare say that was the general feeling as people waited and then viewed the exhibit.  I was thrilled to see many young children and teens present, as well as many families of all racial groups and economic backgrounds. I was also not the only one flying solo.

The Emancipation Proclamation was, indeed, the original, however facsimiles were used for part of the display since the original is written on both the front and back of the page.  The paper is very thin and the writing faded and difficult—but not impossible—to read.  It was ‘guarded’ by two Civil War re-enactors, who could answer any questions you might have.  They did not allow photographs.  Just beyond this was the display of the 13th Amendment, also signed by Lincoln (see photo).  It’s always been interesting to me, being a Yankee in a Southern state, how the topic of slavery is handled, and I would say that this exhibit pulls no punches, but is brutally honest in its portrayal of slavery and the era in general, addressing the inhumanity of the practice, the legitimate efforts on the part of Abolitionists to end it, and what life was like for the freed population once the war had ended.

While the Emancipation Proclamation has left thebuilding, the exhibit is open through September 1, 2013, and is free to the public.

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