Historic Document Comes To Houston

Emancipation from Freedmen's viewpoint; illustration from Harper's Weekly 1865.
It's one of the most important documents in American history and it's on display for a short time at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Normally, The Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, is only available for public viewing once a year in Washington — which is why some are calling this a once in a lifetime chance.

"Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authoriy and government of the United States ... "

Those words written in 1863, by President Lincoln seem to come to life as Houston resident Linda Wells looks through a glass display.

"I’m amazed. It gives me goose bumps to look at this and see Abraham Lincoln’s signature and read the third page here where they actually mention the freedom."

Most people know the Emancipation Proclamation as the document that freed the slaves.

" ... I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated states and parts of states are, and henceforward shall be free ..."

Amanda Norris works for the museum and says some people will be surprised when they read the actual wording of the Emancipation Proclamation.

"There’s this misconception that it freed all the slaves and that is actually not true in fact on page three which we have on display you’ll see that there was several areas exempt and these were areas that were either no longer rebelling against the Union or were already under Union control. Texas is one of those states mentioned in the third page which is really neat to see."

Norris reminds people it was the 13th Amendment of the Constitution that ultimately abolished slavery in the United States. That amendment is also on display at the museum. But the Emancipation Proclamation will only be seen until Tuesday, as government handlers try to limit its exposure.

"It’s very delicate. It’s almost 150 years old this document. If you’ve ever been to the archives and you’ve seen the Constitution or Declaration of Independence you will notice they are fading very quickly; and the archives has done a wonderful job of trying to restore that and keep them preserved for future generations. This is a document obviously that’s very important to our history and so they’re trying to do the same thing."

Linda Wells reads every word of the proclamation. As a former teacher she’s in complete awe.

"It’s part of our history. It's part of who we are. It shaped our country."

This piece of history is almost 150 years old and Houston residents have just four more days to see it.