February is observed as Black History Month in the United States and Canada. The original goal was to educate Americans about African-American history, focusing on African Americans’ cultural backgrounds and achievements. In New York, the month began with a rare look at the 13th Amendment, the amendment to the U.S. Constitution that freed the slaves. One of only 14 copies signed by President Abraham Lincoln is on loan to the New York Historical Society.
More than 100 school children came to the New York Historical Society to see this rare copy of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment officially outlawed slavery in America on December 6, 1865.
David Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group acquired the document and loaned it to the Society. He explained why President Lincoln signed more than one.
"When it passed the House and Senate, he signed it, and although presidents of the United States are not required to sign proposed Constitution Amendments, Lincoln signed several copies of it," he said. "So the 13th Amendment is symbolic of that, everyone is free, everybody can achieve whatever they want as an objective in life. And as young children they should recognize that’s one of the great things about America.
And the eighth graders who were invited to participate did recognize the importance of the document.
“If this document didn’t exist, none of us, none of us would be able to have so many opportunities we have now,” said Rogers.
“If we wouldn’t have had this document and if we wouldn’t have fought the Civil War and all those people stand up for African Americans, I don’t think we would have had as much justice as we have today,” said Briana Rosado.
James Basker, the president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, underlined the importance of American youngsters' being part of such an event.
“I think sometimes seeing a document in its original handwriting and knowing the story that 620,000 men died in the Civil War to clear the ground that actually made an amendment to the end of slavery possible, this can inspire a kid to be interested in history, make the lights go on," he said. "I think that’s as important as anything else we do. “
Eighth grader Adam Neto called it a document for equality.
“The 13th Amendment really defines America as the free country that it is," said Neto. "It shows that we are all equal.”
The very right the U.S. Constitution guarantees.
Text of 13th amendment:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.