Our museum is temporarily closed to support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. Read a message from our director, and check our website and social media for updates.


“In a thousand years that action of yours will make the Angels sing I know it.”

Hannah Johnson, mother of a black soldier,
to President Lincoln, July 13, 1863


The Emancipation Proclamation
America’s promise of freedom is filled with contradiction. Perhaps no people understood this more than the roughly four million enslaved African Americans living in the United States before 1863. Through their actions, large and small, enslaved people worked towards the moment of freedom for more than 200 years. On January 1, 1863, the United States government responded. Invoking presidential wartime powers, Abraham Lincoln decreed that all persons held in bondage within the Confederacy were free. The Emancipation Proclamation cracked open the institution of slavery, changing the course of the Civil War and the nation. 

J.J. Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862

J.J. Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862