Emancipation Proclamation Didn’t Free Tennessee Slaves

Tomorrow marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. President Abraham Lincoln’s executive order is commonly thought of as being responsible for freeing America’s slaves, but the truth is more complex, especially in Tennessee.

The order only applied in places that were considered to be in active rebellion. Lincoln wasn’t yet ready to challenge the status quo in slave states that had stayed loyal to the Union, like Kentucky and Missouri.

And while Tennessee had joined the Confederacy, it was mostly in Union hands by the end of 1862. So when Lincoln specifically listed the areas where all black people should be considered free, Tennessee was not on the list.

Still, the tide was turning. Eight months later the state’s military governor, Andrew Johnson, freed his own slaves. That October, he ended slavery throughout Tennessee. And roughly two years after that, the 13th Amendment finished the practice across the nation.

The original Emancipation Proclamation will be on display at the Tennessee State Museum for a short time in February, along with an original copy of the 13th Amendment. The museum still has available timed reservations to see the exhibit.

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