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Thousands queue up to witness history

This is a guest post by Jennifer Richmond.

Civil war and other history buffs lined up in droves at The Henry Ford for a glimpse of the Emancipation Proclamation, the historic document implemented January 1, 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, which formally declared the freedom of all slaves.  The Proclamation has not been displayed in Michigan since 1948.

The Proclamation created a frenzy of interest during a historic stop at The Henry Ford in Dearborn for a brief showing June 20-22 for a mere 36 hours. Fans of the document were willing to wait in line for up to 4 hours for the opportunity to see the priceless piece of Americana.  

The Proclamation is on loan from the National Archives in Washington, DC, as a part of the Discovering the Civil War exhibition. The priceless document was flown into Detroit in the dark of night with the assistance of an archivist. Following the exhibit the Proclamation will return to Washington.  The last time the museum remained open around the clock followed the death of Henry Ford in 1947, during which time thousands of people came to pay their respects.

The document is considered to be one of the most important tangible pieces of American history.  In the Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln took a bold move in declaring “all persons held as slaves within any State... shall be then, thenceforward and forever free,” a controversial position during the bloodiest war on American soil.

The document itself is five pages in length and is hand written by Lincoln himself. Oddly, despite the length and magnitude of the document, it applied only to states that had seceded from the Union and the freedom it promised relied upon Union military victory, creating a challenge to measure the victory and narrowing the scope of its powers.

However, the document changed the face of the Civil War. After its release, each advancement of Union troops resulted in a greater geographic region of freedom for African Americans. In addition, the proclamation encouraged acceptance of men of color into the Union military. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and the freedom of their families.

Despite the controversy and limited scope of the Proclamation, the document remains one of the most important in American history in support of equal rights.

The Discovering the Civil War exhibit at The Henry Ford celebrates the 150th anniversary of the momentous event and includes a vast array of artifacts from the National Archives. The exhibit includes treasures rarely presented to the public and runs until September 5, 2011. The current exhibit also includes a civil war encampment on the front lawn of the Henry Ford.  For more information, visit

Jennifer Richmond resides in SE Michigan and does volunteer work for the American Red Cross. You can find her at or on Twitter at DCisnotDetroit.

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Reader Comments (1)

I waited in line for six hours!! It was well worth it.

June 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJamie Favreau

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