Released February 27, 2023

Influencing Lincoln: The Pursuit of Black Freedom

INDIANAPOLIS – “Influencing Lincoln: The Pursuit of Black Freedom,” an exhibition that explores the Black community’s fight for freedom and equal rights during and after the Civil War at the national level and in Indiana, opens March 18-Oct. 29 at the Indiana State Museum.

Visitors will learn how members of the Black community – national figures like Frederick Douglass or people in Abraham Lincoln’s immediate circle – influenced the President as he moved toward ending slavery and advocating for greater rights. And they’ll see rare historic documents that resulted from this movement: the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment.

“Influencing Lincoln” covers the years 1861-1875, from the beginning of Lincoln’s presidency to the extension of voting rights under the 15th Amendment and the election of the first Black members of Congress.

The exhibition is free with museum admission, which is $17 for adults, $16 for seniors, $12 for children and $5 for current college students with an Indiana school ID. For more information, call 317.232.1637.

“Black people were active in this freedom struggle,” said Kisha Tandy, curator of social history and co-curator of the exhibition. “They weren’t sitting around waiting for someone to give them freedom. They were organized, effective and deliberate. Deliberate in their actions to obtain freedom, organized in the way they went about it, and effective because they made change.”

“Emancipation was a process rather than an event,” added Susannah Koerber, chief curator and research officer and co-curator of the exhibition. “And it was pushed forward by people in the Black community.”

This was not just a national story, but an Indiana story as well.

“The same institution-building and use of social networks to effect change and equal rights were also happening in communities around the country, including Indianapolis,” Koerber said. “In the exhibition, we have the national story that happens with Lincoln and the parallel story that happens here with places like Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the organization of the 28th Indiana United States Colored Regiment.”

“The institutional foundations that were laid during this time period continue to support the community today,” Tandy added.

Visitors will:

  • See how the Black community fought for freedom and equal rights in many ways, using their resources, connections (including Lincoln) and the institutions they built, especially the Black church, as well as military service.
  • Appreciate the valor of the United States Colored Troops, including the 28th Indiana, and explore why the Black community fought so hard for the right to fight with the Union troops and how their service helped advance the cause of equal rights and citizenship.
  • Understand why fighting for freedom alone was not enough but had to be joined with the rights of full citizenship, including voting rights and political representation.

Artifacts that will be on display include:

  • The inkwell used by Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • Copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment signed by President Lincoln. (Because these documents are light-sensitive, they will only be displayed March 18-April 16, June 14-July 2 and Sept. 20-Oct. 29.)
  • The battle flag of the 28th Indiana United States Colored Infantry, on loan from the Indiana War Memorial Museum.
  • A pew and pulpit from the historic Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Indianapolis.

“Influencing Lincoln” is supported by Ball Brothers Foundation and Barnes & Thornburg LLP.