In 2013, the Tennessee State Museum hosted the original Emancipation Proclamation as a part of a larger exhibit from the National Archives. The museum wanted to unveil the document to the public in a unique and memorable way, while at the same time engaging their audiences across the state with a strong focus on students. The museum developed the Freedom’s Call essay to engage students and schools in the unveiling of the exhibit. Students across Tennessee would read, analyze, reflect, and write about the Emancipation Proclamation and other historical documents related to freedom.
The contest was divided into two levels, Level 1 (grades 5-8) and Level 2 (grades 9-12). Two students from each grand division of Tennessee and each level were selected and one at-large student from each level. Over 1,000 essays from students from every part of Tennessee were received and in the end, six papers were selected. The winning students came from all over the state, many of whom had never been to the Tennessee State Museum.
The award for the best essays included an all-expenses paid trip to Nashville, a signed commendation from Tennessee’s Governor, and a picture with the Speaker of the House. At the unveiling, student winners acted as the VIP host committee for the Emancipation Proclamation. A press preview was held for statewide news media in which multiple senators and state representatives attended and had their pictures made with the students. The highlight for many was the opportunity to be the very first Tennesseans to see the unveiling of the original Emancipation Proclamation with Abraham Lincoln’s signature.
Freedom’s Call challenged students across the state to consider both the contemporary impact of the Emancipation Proclamation in history and how this document and others can continually impact our modern day lives. It helped give six Tennessee students confidence and a memory that will last a lifetime. One student, who had been previously expelled from her high school, reflected on how this experience has positively impacted her life by saying, “things like this don’t happen to people you know, especially not me. My life is heading in a better direction now.”