RALEIGH — North Carolina’s original copy of the 13th amendment is coming out of storage and going on a tour of seven historic sites as part of Juneteenth, which celebrates the date the last American slaves learned they were free.
The tour also is part of North Carolina’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, said Kevin Cherry, director of the state Office of Archives and History. Slavery was ignored when North Carolina marked the centennial of the end of the war, he said.
“We were determined that was not going to happen with the 150th commemoration,” Cherry said.
North Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi are the only three Confederate states that still have their original copies of the 13th amendment, he said.
The need for the amendment “demonstrates that freedom was a process and less of a proclamation,” said Earl Ijames, a curator with the N.C. Museum of History.
The tour opens Thursday at Historic Edenton and Friday at Somerset Place in Creswell. The document will then be displayed June 12 at Vance Birthplace in Weaverville; June 13 at Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum in Sedalia; and June 14t at Historic Stagville in Durham. The document will be on display June 21 at the CSS Neuse Interpretative Center in Kinston, then June 28 at Tryon Palace in New Bern.
Ijames learned recently that the tour will have two important additions at New Bern and, perhaps, Kinston. The family of Luke Martin Sr., a member of the 1st North Carolina Colored Troops (later the 35th U.S. Colored Troops), has loaned Martin’s Springfield rifle and a German-made Confederate sword to the state.
Martin was a slave on a plantation near Plymouth who escaped and made his way to New Bern to fight for the Union, Ijames said.
Martin’s son, 96-year-old Luke Martin Jr., still lives in New Bern in the house where he was born. He and his children agreed to loan the items to the state for a year, Ijames said.
Martin Jr.’s daughter Fannie Williams, who lives with him in New Bern, said her brother, William Perkins Martin Sr., had the rifle and sword hanging on a wall in his house. “My daddy finally convinced my brother to let it go on loan,” she said. “He had to think hard about taking them off that wall. He’s very particular about them.”
It’s also unusual for the copy of the 13th amendment to go on the road. This is believed to be the first time the fragile document, stored in a climate-controlled vault, has left Raleigh, said state archivist Sarah Koonts.
North Carolina ratified the amendment Dec. 4, 1865, and Georgia followed two days later, providing the necessary three-quarters of the then 36 states needed for the amendment. June 19, 1865, or Juneteenth, is recognized as the date the last slaves, those in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.