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Emancipation Proclamation draft on LI

The only handwritten draft of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation

The only handwritten draft of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation is coming to LIU Post's Tilles Center next month. Credit: NYSED

The only surviving draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in President Abraham Lincoln's handwriting will be on view next month in a free exhibition at LIU Post, part of rare public display commemorating the final document's signing 150 years ago.

"We'll be face-to-face with a document that is so important in the history of the U.S.," LIU Post Provost Paul Forestell said. "Just to be able to see the very piece of paper that Abraham Lincoln touched will be a powerful experience."

The four-page draft of the proclamation freeing slaves in Southern states, which was pivotal in the eventual abolition of slavery and changed the tenor of the Civil War, will be on display Oct. 15 and 16 in the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts on the Brookville campus.

The draft document, including papers on its historical background and interpretation, is traveling to eight communities across the state over the next six weeks. Its first stop was the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, where it was unveiled Friday.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said in a statement, "but it took almost 100 years after our nation's founding -- until President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union achieved victory, and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were added to the U.S. Constitution -- to begin to make that declaration a reality for people of African descent brought here as slaves."

Lincoln's final version of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed Jan. 1, 1863, was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, making this draft the only one in Lincoln's handwriting to survive.

The State Legislature purchased the document for $1,000 on April 28, 1865 -- three days after Lincoln's funeral train passed through Albany -- from prominent abolitionist, social reformer and philanthropist Gerrit Smith of Peterboro.

Smith, who aided slaves escaping to freedom in the 1840s and 1850s, had won the document a year earlier in a fundraising raffle for Union soldiers at the Albany Army Relief Association Fair. He purchased $1,000 worth of raffle tickets, increasing his odds of winning, state historians said.

The draft Emancipation Proclamation is part of the New York State archives. New York State Museum, a division of the state Education Department, is among the organizers of the exhibition.

"It's a priceless document," said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the state Education Department. "There is no replacement."

The exhibit, "The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln's Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation," includes a manuscript of a speech written by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that was delivered on Sept. 12, 1962, in New York City to mark the proclamation's centennial. It is the first time the two documents have gone on display together.

The aged and yellowing documents, enclosed in glass, travel in a state truck and with an entourage that includes State Police for security and two state librarians to help explain their historical significance to visitors.

At LIU Post, the exhibit will be in the atrium of the Tilles Center and open for viewing both days from 1 to 9 p.m. School groups, by reservation, will receive guided tours from 9 a.m. to noon each day.

The exhibit also will be in Syracuse, Buffalo, Plattsburgh, Rochester and Binghamton before a final showing Nov. 9-10 in the New York State Museum in Albany.

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