Smithsonian Presents “Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963”
Exhibition Opening Dec. 14 at the National Museum of African American History and Culture Gallery
At the March on Washington Aug. 28, 1963, 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 U.S. commemorates two events that changed the course of the nation—the 1863
Emancipation Proclamation and the 1963 March on Washington. Standing as milestone moments in
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, in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of
American History, is presenting an exhibition that explores the historical context of these two events,
their accomplishments and limitations and their impact on the generations that followed.
“Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and The March on Washington,
1963” will be on view in the NMAAHC Gallery from Dec. 14 through Sept. 15, 2013. The gallery is
located in the National Museum of American History. Featuring historic photographs, paintings and
new film footage, the exhibition will be accompanied by a new website and a series of public
programs designed to examine the social and political currents that shaped these events.
“It is an exhibit that tells a profound story about people changing, pushing and expanding the
meaning of democracy in America that remains relevant today,” said associate curator Nancy Bercaw.
Among the artifacts on display will be:
• The inkstand used by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 to draft a document “giving freedom
to the slaves of the South,” which later became the Emancipation Proclamation
• A rare copy of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, bearing Lincoln’s signature and once
owned by Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax (1863–1869), a lifelong abolitionist who
helped push the resolution through Congress (on loan from David Rubenstein)
• Lincoln’s top hat worn to Ford’s Theatre on the night he was assassinated, April 14, 1865
• Items depicting slavery and resistance, including a whip, a runaway slave poster with reward
information, a bible belonging to Nat Turner, who led an 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia and a
shawl given to abolitionist Harriet Tubman by Queen Victoria
• Ten shards of stained glass from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where
four young black girls were killed in an explosion
• The guitar played by singer Joan Baez at the 1963 March on Washington
• Pen used by President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964
• Various objects from the March on Washington, including organizing documents, protest
signs, platform passes for speakers and guests, buttons, a marshal’s armband and a map of the
National Mall area
“When you look at the objects from these two great freedom struggles and think about the
stories they reveal, you cannot help but be inspired,” said Harry Rubenstein, co-curator of the
“America’s promise of freedom is filled with contradiction. Perhaps no people understood this
more than the 4 million enslaved Africans living in the United States before 1863,” said Lonnie G.
Bunch III, founding director of NMAAHC and co-curator of the exhibition. “Through their actions,
large and small, enslaved people and abolitionists worked toward freedom for more than 200 years.
Move forward to 1963 and the March on Washington, and you see a coalition of people and
organizations continuing the pursuit of liberty and equality for all. This is a shining moment in
The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established as a
Smithsonian museum by an Act of Congress in 2003. It is the only national museum devoted
exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture. Groundbreaking
for the $500 million museum took place Feb. 22 in a ceremony with President Barack Obama; Former
First Lady Laura Bush, a member of the museum’s advisory council; and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.),
who co-sponsored the legislation that created the museum. It is now under construction on
Washington’s National Mall, on a five-acre site adjacent to the Washington Monument. It is scheduled
to open in winter 2015. For more information, visit www.nmaahc.si.edu.
The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage
through exhibitions and public programs about social, political, cultural, scientific and military history.
Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at
growth and change in the United States.
The museum is currently renovating its west exhibition wing with new galleries on American
business, democracy and culture; an education center; new spaces for the Lemelson Center for the
Study of Invention and Innovation; public plazas; a Hall of Music for live performances; and the
addition of a first-floor window wall with views to the Washington Monument. For more information,
visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue
N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free.