Illinois Museum To Host Juneteenth Exhibit and Display a Rare, Signed Copy of Emancipation Proclamation

As we draw closer to this year’s Juneteenth celebrations on June 19, marking the 156th anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States, an Illinois museum has announced that it will help to mark the occasion by putting a rare, signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation on display for the general public.

The Associated Press has reported that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois will help the country celebrate Juneteenth this year by installing a public exhibit for the holiday, which will include a rare and priceless copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward in 1862. The Emancipation Proclamation is recognized as one of the single most important documents in our nation’s history and was responsible for freeing more than 3.5 million enslaved Black Americans. 

The document itself reads: “That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”

The original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation lives in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The version that will appear in the Illinois exhibit is one of a few rare duplicates made at the time and signed by Lincoln to serve as an official copy for historical and record-keeping purposes.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1862, Juneteenth (also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day) marks the day when thousands of enslaved Blacks in Galveston, Texas were freed after federal troops arrived in the city, announcing the conclusion of the Civil War.

According to AP, “though slavery was not completely abolished until the 13th Amendment, which came six months later, Juneteenth has come to symbolize the end of slavery.”

Illinois also became one of the first states in the country to make Juneteenth a state holiday.

In a news release announcing the new exhibition, Melissa Coultas, acting executive director of the Lincoln library and museum, said, “Few documents in all of American history carry the weight of the Emancipation Proclamation. We are proud to share it with the public and celebrate its connection to such a joyous holiday.”

“When the proclamation is displayed in the Treasures Gallery, windows along one side of the museum will feature a display about the history of Black Americans and their fight for full citizenship,” AP reported. “The display includes a timeline running from 1787 to 2021, covering slavery in Illinois, a supposedly free state, a riot that targeted Blacks in Springfield and the first Juneteenth celebration in the city.”

The Juneteenth exhibit at Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum will run between June 15 and July 6, 2021.

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