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At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality:

Black History Month 2013

February 1, 2013 – February 28, 2013

curated by
Laurie Rizzo

The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History has dedicated Black History Month 2013 to commemorate two important anniversaries, the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation and the fiftieth of the March on Washington. This exhibition celebrates the people who advocated for black emancipation, freedom, justice and equality, and the movements that have sought to achieve these goals.

United States Commission on Civil Rights

Freedom to the free: century of emancipation, 1863–1963: a report to the President. [Washington: For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1963].

The United States Commission on Civil Rights is an independent, bipartisan, commission of the U.S. federal government which was established in 1957. The commission has been charged with providing continual critical analysis of public policy throughout all levels of government and make recommendations to the government to ensure all citizens’ civil rights are protected.

For the centennial anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the commission was asked to submit a full report on the progress of Civil Rights since the Emancipation Proclamation and to provide full historical context. The report writes:

“With this 100 year old legacy has come the task of continuing the quest for full citizenship. The purpose of this report is to follow this quest from the time of the Emancipation Proclamation until the present. Its scope is the breadth of the Negro’s aspiration for true equality and freedom.”

Frederick Douglass

My bondage and my freedom. With an introduction, by Dr. James M’Cune Smith. New York, Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1855.

Abolitionist, writer, lecturer and Statesman, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) wrote three autobiographies. Seen here is a first edition of his second autobiography, the others being Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) and the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881). Born into slavery, he later escaped to freedom and went on to become arguably the most prominent civil rights activist in the nineteenth–century. Douglass and President Lincoln’s unique relationship afforded them the opportunity to freely express criticisms on politics and public policy. Douglass worked diligently to convince Lincoln to act on Emancipation.

William Still

The underground rail road: a record of facts, authentic narratives, letters, &c., narrating the hardships, hair–breadth escapes, and death struggles of the slaves in their efforts for freedom, as related by themselves and others or witnessed by the author: together with sketches of some of the largest stockholders and most liberal aiders and advisers of the road. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1872, c1871.

William Still (1821–1902) was the son of emancipated slaves. His parents were conductors for the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia and helped lead numerous people to freedom. Still risked civil penalties and imprisonment to document the narratives of those who participated in the Underground Railroad.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825–1911), was a political activist, abolitionist, poet, and writer. She was born free in Baltimore, Maryland and later fled to Ohio as conditions for free blacks worsened upon the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850. Harper became acquainted with Still through his work as Chairman of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. She helped escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad. In 1854 she began a successful lecturing career and in 1863, following the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, Harper was asked to speak at a public meeting in Columbus, Ohio. Seen here is Still’s reprint of her letter describing her reflections on her speech and Emancipation.

March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs
pamphlet, 1963
Senator John J. Williams papers. [Left]

Demand Action Now!
pamphlet, 1963
Senator John J. Williams papers. [Right]

On August 28, 1963 over 200,000 Americans peacefully assembled in Washington D.C. to promote Civil Rights and equality. The demonstrators marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. The march was planned and organized by a coalition of significant organizations: the Negro American Labor Council, AFL–CIO, Congress of Racial Equality, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, NAACP and the National Urban League.

These pamphlets outline the plans and meaning of the march. The March on Washington contributed to the passing of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965), which were put in place to prevent discriminatory employment and voting practices.

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