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State Education Department Announces Exhibit Featuring
Lincoln's Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation:
Utica added to Statewide Tour

The New York State Museum, a division of the New York State Education Department, has organized an exhibition to mark the sesquicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that will run November 6 & 7 at The Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica. The exhibition, entitled The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, is traveling to eight cities across New York State this fall.  The exhibition offers an unprecedented display of the only surviving version of the document in Lincoln’s handwriting and will include historical background and interpretation of the document.  The First Step to Freedom will also include the manuscript of a speech written and delivered in New York City in September 1962 by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Proclamation’s centennial.

"America was born with the declaration that all men are created equal," State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. said, "but it took almost 100 years after our nation's founding -- until President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union achieved victory and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were added to the U.S. Constitution -- to begin to make that declaration a reality for people of African descent brought here as slaves.

"Fifty years ago, commemorating the centennial of its signing, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation. He argued that the Emancipation Proclamation proved government could be a powerful force for social justice, but the promise of equality remained unfulfilled. And today, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary, the Proclamation is an important reminder that America is still a work in progress."

"The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most important documents in our history,” said Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute President Anthony Spiridigloizzi, “We are honored to be able to present this to our community."

Commissioner King, who co-authored the exhibit text, noted the exhibition incorporates collections and images from the New York State Library and the New York State Archives. He said the documents stand as important markers in the path to freedom and equality for African Americans and are among New York State’s greatest treasures.

Lincoln’s handwritten Preliminary Proclamation, issued one hundred fifty years ago in the midst of the Civil War, is the only surviving copy of this document in Lincoln’s own handwriting. Lincoln donated it to the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which raffled the document at an Albany Army Relief Association Fair in 1864. It was later purchased by the New York State Legislature. Although Lincoln’s handwritten final Emancipation Proclamation burned in the Chicago fire in 1871, the Preliminary Proclamation survived the State Capitol fire of 1911 and has been preserved by the State Library.

On September 12, 1962, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the speech contained in the exhibition to the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission.

The two documents--both in the collections of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education--will go on display for the first time together to mark the 150th anniversary of one of American history’s defining moments. The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation exhibition was designed and developed by the New York State Museum using collections and images from the New York State Library and the New York State Archives. A website with an online exhibition, and providing additional materials supporting the exhibition, including an iBook for download, and education guide is available at

A related exhibit, An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, opened September 22 at the New York State Museum in Albany. This 6,500-square-foot exhibition chronicles the pivotal role New York State played in the war and will be open through September 22, 2013.

Emancipation Proclamation Press Images

Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation Flyer

The First Step to Freedom:
Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

Exhibition Schedule
September 21 - 24 New York City Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
September 27 Syracuse The Oncenter (Host: Onondaga Historical Assn)
October 5 - 6 Buffalo Burchfield Penney Art Center
October 15 - 16 Long Island Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post
October 19 Plattsburgh Plattsburgh State Art Museum
October 27 - 28 Rochester Rochester Museum and Science Center
November 1 -2 Binghamton Roberson Museum and Science Center
November 6 -7 Utica Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute
November 9 - 10 Albany New York State Museum

Follow the Commissioner on Twitter: @JohnKingNYSED

New York State Board of Regents
The State Education Department / The University of the State of New York / Albany, NY 12234
Office of Communications / (518) 474-1201

Last Updated: October 10, 2012