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On August 28, 1963, at the March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. began his speech by declaring, "Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity ... In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check."
In 2013 the country will commemorate two events that changed the course of the nation – the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and the 1963 March on Washington. Standing as milestone moments in the grand sweep of American history, these achievements were the culmination of decades of struggles by individuals – both famous and unknown – who believed in the American promise that this nation was dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal." Separated by 100 years, they are linked together in a larger story of freedom and the American experience.
To commemorate these two pivotal achievements, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in collaboration with the National Museum of American History (NMAH) will present an exhibition that explores the historical context of these two crucial events, their accomplishments and limitations, and their impact on the generations that followed. The exhibition will be on view from Dec. 14, 2012 through Sept. 15, 2013 in the NMAAHC Gallery at the NMAH. It will be accompanied by a series of public programs and lectures exploring the social and political currents that shaped these events and their meaning to modern Americans.
Family Portrait, An unidentified soldier in Union uniform poses with his wife and two daughters. Many African Americans celebrated emancipation by formalizing their marriage—an act denied under slavery. U.S. Army chaplains reported performing hundreds of marriages for soldiers and other members of black communities.
Credit: Library of Congress