Indianapolis, Indiana – In conjunction with nationwide Juneteenth celebrations, the Indiana State Museum is presenting a unique exhibition titled “Influencing Lincoln: The Pursuit of Black Freedom.” The exhibit, open now through October 29, 2023, promises an enlightening exploration of 19th-century emancipation.
Upon entry, visitors are welcomed with an introduction to key figures from the 19th century, such as Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, as well as members of the local Black community who battled for complete citizenship. The exhibit provides new insights at every turn, particularly regarding the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.
The exhibit’s curators note the vital role of the church, family, and education in the cohesiveness of the 19th-century Black community across the United States. They really were deliberate, organized, and very effective in pushing for change,” stated Susannah Koerber, Chief Curator at the Indiana State Museum.
This includes those who resided in Indianapolis. One of the places that I look for that story is at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church here in Indianapolis,” curator of social history Kisha Tandy revealed. “It was established in 1836, and the congregation still exists today.”
Tandy further explained how artifacts from the church provide valuable insights into the history of the Black community in Indianapolis. It helps to chronicle the lives of the people here in this city,” Tandy said. “It is the congregation that helped to maintain and keep records over 160 years.”
Visitors can expect to see a plethora of artifacts and historical documents in the exhibition, covered in the museum admission. Notably, it includes the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, set to be on display until July 2, with a return later this year between September 20 and October 29. Other notable artifacts include Frederick Douglass’s inkwell and pen, a pew and pulpit from the Bethel AME Church, and a flag from the United States Colored Troops, representing the 28th Indiana Regiment.
This exhibition, a culmination of extensive research, holds personal significance for both Koerber and Tandy. Tandy posited what the pioneers of emancipation might think of our contemporary society. “They would think, ‘Wow, things have happened,'” she said. “But I also think they would stop and consider so many things as well. They would just stop and consider, and then they’d get to work.”
Tandy closed by stating that while significant strides have been made, there is still much ground to cover for today’s Black community. “It didn’t stop,” Tandy said. “It doesn’t stop. We say in this exhibition, ‘Freedom is not enough.'”