The exhibition, Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, and the March on Washington, 1963, opens at the West Baton Rouge Museum on January 28 and runs through March 12, 2017. This exhibit examines the relationship between two great people’s movements that resulted from the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and the March on Washington in 1963. Both grew out of decades of bold actions, resistance, organization, and vision. One hundred years separate them, yet they are linked in a larger story of liberty and the American experience – one that has had a profound impact on the generations that followed.
In the 19th century, enslaved and free Americans chipped away at slavery through daily acts of resistance, organized rebellions, and political pressure on politicians, generals, and the U.S. government. Finally, on September 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which ordered that as of January 1, 1863, all enslaved individuals in all areas still in rebellion against the United States “henceforward shall be free,” and under the protection of the military. The U.S. Congress responded with Constitutional amendments abolishing slavery, expanding citizenship rights, and giving black men the right to vote. These acts changed the political landscape, but the new freedoms were stripped away in the following years. However, on each Emancipation Day anniversary, Black Americans organized parades and speeches reminding the black community and the entire nation of a commitment that remained unfulfilled.
On August 28, 1963, an estimated 250,000 Americans gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. to mark the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The prayers, electrifying speeches, and stirring music of that day served to remind Americans of the nation’s commitment to fulfill its founding principles of liberty and equality for all. In the months following the march, demonstrations and violence continued to pressure political leaders to act. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were turning points in the struggle for equality. The success of the March on Washington and the achievements of the modern struggle for civil rights have provided a lasting model for social change.
“Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963” is presented by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of American History in collaboration with the American Library Association Public Programs Office. The exhibition is made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and is part of NEH’s Bridging Cultures initiative.