The original Emancipation Proclamation, a document that changed the lives of countless African-Americans during the Civil War, is on display in Nashville as the fragile historical document makes its only stop in the Southeast on a 150th anniversary tour.
The exhibit opened Tuesday — fittingly on President Abraham Lincoln's birthday — at the Tennessee State Museum and runs through Monday. It's a rare visit outside the nation's capital for the original document Lincoln signed in 1863 declaring "forever free" all slaves held in Confederate states rebelling against the Union.
Because lights are harmful to the papers, the document can only be viewed for 72 hours over the course of the six days. After Feb. 18, a replica of the Emancipation Proclamation will be on display until the exhibit ends Sept. 1.
Throngs of school children were among the first to view the exhibit on Tuesday morning. All of the approximately 18,000 reservations for visitors and school groups to visit the exhibit were taken, but more walk-in visitors were being accommodated.
Teachers at John Early Museum Magnet Middle School incorporated the exhibit in their lesson plans, such as having students create their own museum exhibits and discussions on the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation on the Civil Rights movement, said Becky Verner, an instructional designer at the Nashville middle school. She said interacting with real historical documents makes a lasting impact on students.
"They will remember this a lot longer than reading a chapter in a book," she said.
Bruce Bustard, senior curator at the National Archives where the document is kept, said Tennessee was a key battleground in the war, so he expects the "Discovering The Civil War" exhibit will draw many visitors interested in seeing some of the original documents from the conflict.
"Tennessee was an incredibly important state during the Civil War," he said. "There were more battles in Tennessee than any other state in the Union except for Virginia."