SCSD Students View Historical Documents
Hundreds of Syracuse City School District students waited in long lines to get a glimpse of Abraham Lincoln’s handwriting in an exhibit at the Nicholas J. Pirro Convention Center.
The high school students visited a traveling history exhibit titled “The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.’’ The exhibit was in Syracuse for one day only and teachers like Joe Grefer, who teaches history at Henninger High School, wanted their students to participate.
“This exhibit is especially relevant to my Participation in Government classes. We are currently working on a political positions analysis and this exhibit brings those abstract ideas to life for all students,’’ Grefer said. “Some students are even able to make the connections to the Bill of Rights and the evolution of civil rights in this country.’’
Students from Henninger, Nottingham and Institute of Technology high schools got to see the 150-year-old document as well as a an original manuscript for a speech delivered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in 1962 in celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation’s centennial. The text from King’s speech was typed, but students saw margin notes that King made as he edited the speech.
“The visuals allowed students of all levels to walk away with an historical appreciation of this great document and its impact, which is still evident today,’’ Grefer said. “Exposure to these great historical documents allow students to make real life connections between the past and how they live their lives today.’’
Nottingham history teacher Donald Little echoed Grefer’s statement. “Many students were excited to gaze upon the mystic of Lincoln. They knew of his greatness, but the opportunity allowed them to develop a more personal bond to this man. To watch them add images to their cell phones so they could have a personal connection with the event was truly awesome.’’
Henninger senior Paul Williams was thrilled to take part in the field trip. “It surprises me that they still have something like that around. It is pretty interesting to see Abraham Lincoln’s handwriting,’’ he said.
Little said he prepared his students for the event using information from The Post-Standard and the Onondaga Historical Association.
“We also used video segments to demonstrate the significance of Emancipation Proclamation. There were discussions on Lincoln and his life and leadership qualities. There were extensive conversations about America's march toward true democracy and equality. Additionally, we discussed the role of the historian and why seeing such documents is an important experience for all of us.’’
The exhibit was designed and developed by the New York State Museum using collections and images from the New York State Library and the New York State Archives, according to Lynne Pascale, the director of development for the Onondaga Historical Association.
The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was issued on Sept. 22, 1862, five days after a Union victory at the Battle of Antietam. Lincoln, citing his power as Commander in Chief, issued it as a military order. Lincoln’s order declared that all slaves held within Rebel territory – the 11 states of the Southern Confederacy – would be freed on Jan. 1, 1863, unless they returned to the Union. One hundred days later, on Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The document that was on display is the only surviving copy of the speech in the president’s hand. The final proclamation was burned in the Chicago fire.
State Education Commissioner John B. King and Khalil Gibran Mohammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, wrote the text for the exhibit. Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer also contributed.