WASHINGTON — President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington for civil rights were 100 years apart, but both changed the nation and expanded freedoms.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is presenting a walk back in time through two eras. A new exhibit, “Changing America,” parallels the 1863 emancipation of slaves with the 1963 March on Washington.
An inkwell Lincoln used to draft what would become the Emancipation Proclamation is on display on one side of the timeline, while the pen President Lyndon Johnson used to sign the Civil Rights Act is on the other. A rare signed copy of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, once owned by abolitionist House Speaker Schuyler Colfax, who helped push the resolution through Congress, is on loan from businessman David Rubenstein.
It echoes the plotline of the current movie “Lincoln.”
At times when some believed slavery would never end and later that segregation would never end, history shows that creative leadership can “find a way to perfect America,” museum director Lonnie Bunch said. “It took courage, it took strategy, it took loss,” he said. “But ultimately, it changed America for the better.”
The exhibit is on view through September at the National Museum of American History while the black history museum is under construction.
The Smithsonian is publicly displaying several artifacts from slave life for the first time to set the scene for emancipation. They include the Bible that belonged to Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion in Virginia, and a shawl given to abolitionist Harriet Tubman by Queen Victoria.
The museum also acquired a tent from a “contraband camp” or “freedmen’s village” that sprung up to house slaves that had self-emancipated by crossing over Union lines.
The civil rights section includes posters and placards carried in the March on Washington.
Bunch said he wanted to mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1 and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in August.