Vanderbilt Chaplain Mark Forrester will moderate a panel discussion about the Emancipation Proclamation’s meaning and legacy on Feb. 12—the same day the historical document goes on view at the Tennessee State Museum.
The 3:30 pm discussion will be held at the War Memorial Auditorium. Forrester will be joined by Richard Blackett, Andrew Jackson Professor of History at Vanderbilt; Dennis Dickerson, James Lawson Professor of History at Vanderbilt; Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Rev. Becca Stevens, Episcopal affiliated chaplain at Vanderbilt and pastor of St. Augustine’s Chapel.
The event and following reception are free and open to the public. They are sponsored by Vanderbilt’s Office of Religious Life, Division of Public Affairs and office of Community, Neighborhood and Government Relations.
This year marks the Emancipation Proclamation’s 150th anniversary. The document rarely leaves the National Archives in Washington, D.C., but will travel around the country as part of the multimedia exhibit ‘Discovering the Civil War,’ which opens Feb. 12 (President Lincoln’s birthday) and continues through September 2013.
The document will make its only stop in the southeast in Nashville and will be on view here for 72 hours spread over seven days. The document will go on view to the public Tuesday, Feb. 12, and close Monday, Feb. 18. After that date, a facsimile of the Emancipation Proclamation will be on display. For information on viewing hours, go to www.tnmuseum.org
Historical document heralded as great learning moment
Camberleigh Davis can’t wait to see the Emancipation Proclamation up close when the historic document is displayed in Nashville Feb. 12-17.
“Its impact is huge,” said the junior history major from Tullahoma, Tenn. “It led to Black people being free and even how my own family was able to cope with prejudice.”
A child of bi-racial descent, Davis said the document holds a very significant place in her life, even though she did not fully understand its meaning and impact until college.
“I feel that the Emancipation Proclamation made the way for even my parents to get married and not continue to be harassed as a mixed-race couple,” she said. “To see the actual proclamation will really be something.”
More than just seeing the Emancipation Proclamation, Davis, her professors and fellow students, hope the document isn’t just a somber look backward at a milestone in American history but an invigorating guide for today’s challenges.
That is why in addition to taking students and faculty to see the display, Vanderbilt University’s Department of History, Political Science, Geography, and Africana Studies has planned a presentation with the Department of Language and Literature on Feb. 13, to mark the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation.
Under the theme, ‘The Emancipation Proclamation in History and Memory,’ the forum, which will be held in the Research and Sponsored Programs Room 163 at 12:40 pm, is intended to coincide, with African American History Month (February).
“It’s been 150 years since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery yet there are still vestiges of racism and inequality in America,” said Dr. Michael T. Bertrand, Associate Professor of History, who has done extensive research on the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment.
He said America’s history as a nation of freedom and liberty is tainted with the cloud of slavery.
“Ending slavery through civil war allowed a compromised country to claim the ideals initially envisaged, and acknowledging this trouble legacy moves the nation forward toward justice,” Dr. Bertrand said.
He claimed that if President Lincoln had a special quality, it was his ability to help various sides agree on the Emancipation Proclamation, adding that as someone who changed over time, Lincoln came to conclude that “the only way to save the union” was to end slavery.
“I think Lincoln was a product of his time and someone who could lead,” Bertrand said. “He brought people to the signing of the document and finally let them know that the war was about ending slavery because as a nation of freedom, the rest of the world was looking at us.”
But with all of this information, are students really in tune with the history and reality of the time to be able to fully discern the meaning of the Emancipation Proclamation?
Dr. Sheri Browne, Associate Professor of History, says, “Yes!”
“We really put in a lot of effort to try to communicate the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Reconstruction Amendments,” she said. “I think many of us (professors) are usually surprised how little student know about the intent, the motivations and the difficulties President Lincoln face at the time.
“Many students don’t have a very good knowledge of what the Emancipation Proclamation really did. And so it is up to us to present the document and to help provide context and engage students in the discussion about that.”
Kirk Taylor, a junior History major from Portland, Tenn., who also knew very little about American history before college, especially on the Emancipation Proclamation, said TSU has given him the tools to better understand the history of America’s cultural diversity.
“I chose TSU because I wanted to know more,” Taylor said. “The history department has helped me to understand that the Emancipation Proclamation was the starting point for people to realize the need for equality for everyone.”
For Davis, whose (white) grand father disowned her mother because she married a black man, seeing the document that reversed the course of history will bring her full circle.
“Fortunately, the rest of the family accepted it (the marriage) because it was not in their culture any more to hate black people or not like them, and I think the Emancipation Proclamation had a lot to do with that,” Davis said. I can’t wait to see it.”
Dr. Browne could not hide her excitement either about being able to see the actual document.
“I show a lot of images of these things all the time in class, but to actually see the text and see the signature of Abraham Lincoln will really help our students see that the past is living,” she said.
“To see the real document and not just a facsimile is important to bring history alive in many ways that is actually real and not a story from the past,” Dr. Bertrand added.
The Emancipation Proclamation will be on display Feb. 12-17 at the Tennessee State Museum.