“Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, and the March on Washington, 1963,” a traveling exhibition opening at The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast’s Evelyn Gandy Cultural Center on Monday, March 24, examines the relationship between two great people's movements that resulted in the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and the March on Washington in 1963.
Both movements grew out of decades of bold actions, resistance, organization, and vision. One hundred years separate them, yet they are linked in a larger story of liberty and the American experience – one that has had a profound impact on the generations that followed. Traveling to 50 venues across the nation, this will be the only time this unique and compelling exhibition will be on display in the state of Mississippi.
“We are pleased to have been selected as a site for this exhibition,” said Shugana Williams, project director for the grant and librarian at the Evelyn Gandy Cultural Center. “The dramatic story of how these two pivotal events came into being, a century apart, and how each helped put the nation on a course toward fulfilling its commitment to liberty and justice for all, is one that can inspire all Americans. Decades of work, struggle and sacrifice by many dedicated individuals and groups preceded both of these events. The exhibition tells the story of these struggles and their impact on American history and on the extension of equal rights to all Americans.”
Emancipation from slavery was not the product of one act but of many. In the 19th century, enslaved and free Americans chipped away at slavery through daily acts of resistance, organized rebellions, and political pressure on politicians, generals, and the U.S. government. Finally, on Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which ordered that as of Jan. 1, 1863, all enslaved individuals in all areas still in rebellion against the United States “henceforward shall be free,” and under the protection of the military.
The Emancipation proclamation was limited in scope and revolutionary in impact. It committed the nation to ending slavery. The U.S. Congress responded with Constitutional amendments abolishing slavery, expanding citizenship rights and giving black men the right to vote. These acts changed the political landscape, but the new freedoms were stripped away in the following years. However, on each Emancipation Day anniversary, Black Americans organized parades and speeches reminding the black community and the entire nation of a commitment that remained unfulfilled.
These local Emancipation Day celebrations and many other actions set the stage for the national push for freedom in the 20th century. On August 28, 1963 an estimated 250,000 Americans gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in the District of Columbia to mark the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. People traveled from every state, united across race, class, and ideological lines, and representing organizations, unions, churches or simply themselves. The prayers, electrifying speeches, and stirring music of that day served to remind Americans of the nation’s commitment to fulfill its founding principles of liberty and equality for all.
In the months following the march, demonstrations and violence continued to pressure political leaders to act. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were turning points in the struggle for equality. The bills outlawed segregated public facilities and prohibited discrimination in employment and voting. The success of the March on Washington and the achievements of the modern struggle for civil rights have provided a lasting model for social change.
“Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963” is presented by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of American History in collaboration with the American Library Association Public Programs Office. The tour of the exhibition is made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor. Local sponsors for the exhibition include the Long Beach Public Library and Southern Miss Gulf Coast Libraries.
The exhibition will travel to 50 venues across the nation, accompanied by public programming that will help audiences understand and discuss the relationship between these two great people’s movements. The Evelyn Gandy Cultural Center is sponsoring free programs and other public events in connection with the exhibition, which will be on display through May 1.