I grew up in the city of Detroit in the 1960s and ‘70s. As a white minority attending school at Detroit Public Schools, I learned a lot about – and developed a deep appreciation for – African-American history and culture. One of my earliest church choir memories was learning “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
While living in Detroit in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, “white flight,” and school bussing to other districts, I witnessed first-hand the struggles as well as the triumphs of racial issues. This developed in me an acute sensitivity for racial and ethnic harmony.
As a teenager in the 1970s, I traveled by myself to Washington, D.C., to immerse myself in our nation’s history. The impressions from that trip galvanized what I had been taught, and the memories from my youth. There’s nothing quite like seeing national treasures in person, like the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, the Declaration of Independence and the JFK Memorial. Not only do they help us remember the past and the sacrifices made, but they also impact our current and future sense of democracy and liberty.
One of the most significant treasures I saw on my trip was the Emancipation Proclamation, written by Abraham Lincoln. This is a document that helped shape our country and began to heal a great wound. Beyond textbooks and stories from my schooling, it helped me understand the reality of the African-American experience early in our history. It helped me to understand why things were the way they were in Detroit, and why we were enduring racial struggles even today. We have traveled a long road towards freedom, racial harmony, and equality, but I think we’ve still got some walking to do.
In just a week, we will have the rare opportunity to experience seeing the original Emancipation Proclamation at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, June 20-22. This fragile document has scarcely been seen by the public in the last three decades, let alone outside of Washington, D.C. The museum will stay open around the clock, with special programming, which includes choir performances, readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, and more, to help set the tone for viewing this vital document.
I truly feel that everyone in our region should not miss this extremely special opportunity to be in the presence of a document that helped to form our nation into what it is today. Next to the unveiling of the Rosa Parks Bus at Henry Ford Museum several years ago, I think this will be one of the most important events in our region’s history to remember and honor the plight of African Americans.
I hope you’ll join me June 20-22 to see the Emancipation Proclamation in person; it will be a time for remembrance, a time for mourning, a time for perspective and a time for honor.
Mike Butman is the chief information officer at The Henry Ford, and has headed technology efforts for the institution since 1998. He has a passion for history, collections, and education, and finds ‘doing technology’ for a history attraction such as The Henry Ford like being a kid in a candy shop.