September 26, 2003

Popular Abolitionism Exhibit Ends Tomorrow

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The “I Will Be Heard: Abolitionism in America” exhibition closes tomorrow after a display period of nearly four months in the Hirshland Exhibition Gallery at the Carl A. Kroch Library.

The Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections organized the exhibition, which features a collection of rare historical artifacts that date from the arrival of slaves in the American colonies in the 1700s through the adoption of the 13th Amendment in 1865, which officially abolished slavery in America.

Among the many manuscripts, books, photographs and documents on display is an original manuscript copy of the Gettysburg Address handwritten by Abraham Lincoln himself. Also included are a manuscript copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and a copy of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

“We have a very large vault — over the size of an American football field,” said Petrina D. Jackson, Cornell University Library fellow and assistant archivist. Jackson explained that all the items on display belong to the University and were acquired predominantly from donations.

While the display showcases a large variety of exhibits from the abolitionist period of American history, the exhibition represents only a fraction of relevant artifacts contained within Cornell’s vault.

“We’ve got such a strong anti-slavery collection that this exhibit just skims the surface,” said special collections assistant Sarah Gordon ’02.

On choosing which materials would be selected for the exhibition, Jackson noted that “it’s such a huge topic. It was key to get things that were historically compelling.”

And compelling was precisely what visitors found the exhibition to be. According to Jackson, there have been “hundreds and hundreds of visitors on tours” since the exhibition’s opening on June 5.

“Fourteen- to 92-year-olds have come to visit the display,” Gordon added. “Anyone from little kids can see the objects, and adults can find things of interest as well.”

Many people, particularly students, were continuing to visit the gallery, even as the exhibition’s end drew near.

“I was walking by the library and saw this exhibit on abolitionism and it grabbed my interest,” said Trevor White ’07. “I did a report in high school on abolitionism and found it interesting to see some official documents.”

White added that he “thought it was pretty cool to see the Emancipation Proclamation with good old Abe’s signature on it.”

While responses to the entire exhibition were positive, students seemed particularly intrigued by the well-known documents on view.

“I was fascinated by the copies of the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation,” said Michael D. Klein ’07, who had visited the exhibition on a whim. “I had some time between classes and was in the library, so I decided to check it out.”

After a careful analysis of Lincoln’s signature, Klein remarked that “Lincoln’s handwriting bears some resemblance to my own.”

Scheduled next at the Hirshland Exhibition Gallery is “The Art of Leonard Baskin,” which opens Oct. 4.

Archived article by Dan Wolpow