Emancipation Proclamation

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Emancipation Proclamation
E. G. Renesch, Chicago
16 x 20 in.
Chicago History Museum

This colorful poster celebrates African American history. At the center of the image is Abraham Lincoln, holding a document showing the famous phrase “All men are created equal” from the Declaration of Independence. The date September 22, 1862, just below Lincoln, refers to the day on which Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring freedom for all African American slaves in the rebel states unless the Confederacy returned to the Union by January 1, 1863. Alongside Lincoln are portraits of two African American officers who served in World War I. Do you see the black soldiers on the lower left side? They served in the same war. Other portraits include the famous poet, Paul L. Dunbar (top left); Frederick Douglass (top right), leading abolitionist from Lincoln’s time; and Booker T. Washington, the most famous black educator, author, and political leader of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The lower right corner features a group of modern African Americans and a slogan about education and citizenship. And on the left side, the artist included a female symbol of Liberty, standing with a black and a white child, over a slogan emphasizing racial harmony. Above all is the American eagle, national symbol of strength and freedom. You might wonder why the artist placed Lincoln at the center of the image. At the time, many African Americans revered Lincoln as their savior and considered the Emancipation Proclamation to be their founding document, on par with the Declaration of Independence.

1. Why do you think the artist attributed Thomas Jefferson’s words from the Declaration of Independence to Abraham Lincoln? 

2. What would a modern version of this poster look like?

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