National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to Exhibit Emancipation Proclamation

CINCINNATI, OH – The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center announced today that they have received a rare, signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation — the document penned by President Abraham Lincoln and issued on January 1, 1863, declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within Confederate states free. The document, signed by President Lincoln, co-signed by Secretary of State William Seward and President Lincoln’s private secretary John Nicolay, will be exhibited in the Skirball Gallery and opens to the public on Friday, June 19, the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth.

The Emancipation Proclamation is on loan from David Rubenstein, managing director of The Carlyle Group. Mr. Rubenstein, who was recently profiled for his “patriotic philanthropy” on television program 60 Minutes, personally selected the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center as the temporary home for the document from his collection. “David is a dear friend,” said Dr. Clarence G. Newsome, president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, “and to be charged with the care and display of this rare, freedom document is an honor. Our very existence, just steps from the banks of the Ohio River, is an integral part of the story we tell. David’s decision to share the Emancipation Proclamation with us is reflective of the value and importance of our institution and its mission, in the City of Cincinnati, the State of Ohio and across the nation.”

The Emancipation Proclamation is one page in length, 17 ¼ x 21 ¾ inches and on J. Whatman watermarked paper. Mr. Rubenstein purchased the 1864 “authorized edition” of the document at auction in the summer of 2012. Forty-eight copies of the Emancipation Proclamation were produced by abolitionists Charles Leland and George Boker to raise funds for the Union Army at the Philadelphia Great Central Sanitary Fair in June of 1864. Of the 48 printed, 26 copies are known to exist today and only nine Lincoln-signed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation have sold publicly in the last 40 years.

When the Civil War began in 1861, President Lincoln sought to preserve the Union rather than end the system of enslavement. He knew that neither the Union nor the Border States would support abolition as a final outcome, however, by mid-1862, the President was convinced that abolition was the correct military and moral strategy. To solve this dilemma, in early 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation was issued but it only freed enslaved persons in states that had already seceded from the Union. At the time, it was thought of as an effective war measure that would cripple the Confederacy, which had used enslaved laborers to support the Confederate Army. However, the Emancipation also set the stage for conversations on the future of human bondage in the United States and would dramatically alter the lives of African Americans once the Civil War ended.

“Our 10th anniversary year has been full of milestones,” said Dr. Newsome. “From honoring International Freedom Conductor Award recipients President Lech Walesa of Poland and the late Nelson Mandela of South Africa to a series of special exhibitions highlighting diverse struggles for freedom, including our most visited special exhibition, Unlocking the Gates of Auschwitz 70 Years Later. As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Juneteenth, I can’t think of a better time for the Emancipation Proclamation to be on view at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The proclamation set the stage for freedom. Today, the document will continue to lead the conversation on defining what freedom is for a new generation.”

The special exhibition at the National Underground Railroad will also feature 1863 illustrations from Harper’s Weekly and text panels describing the document’s unique history. The Emancipation Proclamation is on display beginning Friday, June 19 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. To learn more visit