21,000 flock to see Emancipation Proclamation

Photo by Scott Bewick

Dustin Schenk (left) and Emily Scott, both of Dearborn, visited The Henry Ford Tuesday to see the Emancipation Proclamation, which was on display around the clock from June 20 to 22. The document, on loan from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., was in Michigan for the first time since 1948.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – More than 21,000 people visited the Henry Ford Museum between 7 p.m. June 20 and 7 a.m. June 22 to get a glimpse of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The document is featured as part of a larger traveling exhibit called “Discovering the Civil War.” It was on loan from the National Archives in Maryland, displayed from 6 p.m Monday through 7 a.m. Wednesday and was available for viewing 24 hours a day.

Monday’s opening ceremonies marked the first time the document has been in Michigan since 1948.

“This document, written like a legal brief, is a simple piece of paper that became an extraordinary symbol of hope and changed our lives forever,” The Henry Ford President Patricia Mooradian said. “It not only changed the course of the (Civil War), it created a turning point in this country.”

U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Damon Keith, a guest speaker at the ceremony, said that the exhibit has special meaning for him.

“My grandfathers on my mother’s and father’s side were both slaves,” he said. “This document … allowed them their freedom. And then my parents, and now me, my children’s and grandchildren’s freedom. So you can see why this document has a special place in my heart.”

The Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, stated that as of Jan. 1, 1863, all slaves in the states that were in rebellion were free. It also stated that any freed slaves could join the Union army.

Mooradian said that three regiments of reenactment groups from the 5th U.S. Colored troops, the 102nd U.S. Colored troops and the Headquarters guard would serve as a honor guard on a rotating basis.

Michael Esslinger, a member of the 5th U.S Colored troops reenactment group, said that the group wouldn’t exist without the proclamation.

“It’s a real honor that our group was asked to participate and be a part of the honor guard for the Emancipation Proclamation,” he said. “The original soldiers got to join the army because of the emancipation. So, our whole being was dependent upon that document.”

Marci Crandall, from Memphis, Michigan, went with her family to see the exhibit, and said she was not disappointed.

“It was worth the wait to see it,” she said.

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at dheraty@bewickpublications.com.)