New York State Museum, UAlbany bring ‘First Step to Freedom’ exhibit to campus

Black History Month

The new exhibit at University at Albany for Black History Month. (NYS Writers Institute and University at Albany)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The New York State Museum and the New York State Writers Institute have partnered to bring the “First Step to Freedom” exhibit to the University at Albany campus in honor of Black History Month. The exhibit opened to UAlbany students, faculty and staff on Presidents Day and will be open until March 15.

The exhibit includes a display of the only surviving version of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in President Abraham Lincoln’s handwriting. The First Step to Freedom also features the only known audio recording of a speech written and delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in New York City in September 1962 for the Proclamation’s centennial.

“In this exceptional recording, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is heard saying that while the Emancipation Proclamation proved government could be a powerful force for social justice, the promise of equality remained unfulfilled,” said Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Lester W. Young, Jr. “Today the Proclamation is a stark reminder that America is still a work in progress. It’s so important that students learn from the past to help build a better future, and we are glad to work with the Writers Institute to allow UAlbany students this rare and special opportunity.” 

First Step to Freedom is open in the Campus Center West Great Hall on UAlbany’s uptown campus. Students, faculty and staff are welcome to visit and should bring their smart phones for the unique experience of using a QR code to listen to the speech on their phones. Due to COVID-19 regulations, the number of visitors at any one time may be limited and masks must be worn at all times.

Additional elements in the exhibit include portraits of Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., by artist Robert Francis Whelan of Valatie. The painting is titled “Visions of Equality” and on exhibit for the first time in public.

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