Today, the founding documents of America - the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights - are on display at the Charters of Freedom exhibit in the Rotunda of the National Archives. Tourists from across America and the world make pilgrimages to see the most revered documents in American history. Extensive preservation measures have been put in place. But this wasn’t always the case. For most of our nation’s history, these charters, now considered priceless, were kept with the United States’ other government documents - that is, shoved wherever officials could find space. Before the National Archives was founded in 1934, these documents were stored essentially at random, in basements, on walls, or even piled in hallways.
This is one of the most powerful images I have seen in a long time. It is a 1947 photo of Sally Fickland, the oldest living former slave in the country at the time, looking at the Emancipation Proclamation, which ordered that slaves in the South be freed in 1863.
Can you imagine the emotions that she must have been feeling in that moment?
From Sunday, December 30 through Tuesday, January 1, the National Archives is celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the document with a special display in the East Rotunda Gallery.