Treatment FOCUS: Reading the Emancipation Proclamation
In the 1864 engraving Reading the Emancipation Proclamation, a group of slaves, possibly generations of a family, listens in joy and astonishment as a white Union soldier reads the presidential order granting their long-awaited freedom. One of the first prints of the era to depict African Americans in a heroic light, it differed from many images commemorating Lincoln’s proclamation in that it focused on the reactions of blacks rather than of whites.
A private client recently brought an original copy of this engraving to CCAHA. Although the print’s long history was evident in its physical condition—there were dark brown tide lines running through the top area, dark brown foxing spots on the back, several small tears and losses along the edges, and heavy surface dirt overall—its owner is not quite sure how her family came to have it.
She knows that her grandfather owned the print, although she never saw it while he was alive. When he died in 1966, Reading the Emancipation Proclamation, along with an engraving featuring the Lincoln family, appeared on the wall of her childhood home. “I was breathless when I first saw the engravings,” she said. “The reading is so stirring in its intensity and clearly induces shock to all characters hearing [this news] for the first time.”