About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "The Emancipation Proclamation: Origins, Impact, and Legacy"

Good evening. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. Whether you are here in person or joining us through YouTube, I’m pleased that you can be with us for tonight’s discussion of “The Emancipation Proclamation: Origins, Impact, and Legacy.”

This program is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of United Airlines, and we thank them for their support.

Before we get started, I’d like to tell you about two other programs coming up in the next week.

For many years, the National Archives has participated in the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. This coming Thursday, March 22, at 7 p.m., we will continue that partnership with a screening of Generation on the Wind, a 1979 documentary film that profiles a group of young artists, mechanics, and environmental activists who successfully built the largest electrical generating windmill in the world.

Next Tuesday, March 27, at noon, author Elaine Weiss will be here to talk about her new book, The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote, which is about the ratification of the constitutional amendment that granted women the right to vote.

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events online at Archives.gov. Check our website or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.

On the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, renowned historian John Hope Franklin spoke here at the National Archives. He described the scene in Washington, DC, on January 1, 1863, as President Abraham Lincoln signed the document, and hours later as news of the proclamation spread through the city. Far into the night there was, as Professor Franklin described, “unrestrained celebration characterized by men squealing, women fainting, dogs barking, and whites and blacks shaking hands.”

From that first celebration to the present day, the Emancipation Proclamation has been regarded as one of the most important documents of America’s history. Shortly after the National Archives Building opened, the Proclamation was displayed in the Rotunda in 1937—before any of the Charters of Freedom were exhibited there.

This past February, we displayed the document again, although its fragility means that we must limit public display to only a few days. Whenever we have brought it out for the public—whether here or at museums across the country—people line up to see it. The Proclamation represents a promise of freedom and justice that continues to resonate with people more than 150 years after its creation.

Tonight we come together to examine the Emancipation Proclamation’s origins, impact, and legacy, and I’d like to welcome Governor James Blanchard to the stage to get us started.

Governor Blanchard is the chairman of the National Archives Foundation’s Board of Directors. He has previously served as the United States Ambassador to Canada from 1993 to 1996, the 45th Governor of Michigan from 1983 to 1991, and as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Michigan's 18th district from 1975 to 1983.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Governor James Blanchard.

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It is now my pleasure to welcome our panel to the stage. Our moderator this evening is David Blight, professor of American history at Yale University, and also the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale. Joining him tonight is Congressman James Clyburn, United States Representative for the 6th District of South Carolina; A’Lelia Bundles, author and journalist and former chair of the National Archives Foundation board of directors; and Edna Greene Medford, professor and former chair of the department of history at Howard University.

Please join me in welcoming our panel to the stage.