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Exploring Emancipation

A.A. Lamb, Emancipation Proclamation, 1864 or after

A.A. Lamb, Emancipation Proclamation, 1864 or after, oil on canvas, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, 1955.11.10

Observation and Discussion

  1. Why might this painting be titled Emancipation Proclamation? Divide students into groups and ask each group to identify at least three details in the painting that speak to the idea of emancipation. One strategy to support their observation would be to imagine thirds or quadrants for the painting and look at each section for details. As a class, discuss which details each group identified and how those details support the idea of emancipation.
  2. How do you imagine different groups might have reacted to this painting in 1864? Assign students a perspective to consider: newly freed individuals, Union supporters, Confederacy supporters, and immigrants to America. Compare each group’s perspective and discuss the differences.
  3. Based on the details observed in the painting, who do you imagine Lamb’s intended audience was? Encourage students to refer to the earlier class discussion of details for evidence to support their claims.


Direct students to explore BlackPast, a resource from Humanities Washington, and search for primary sources relating to the Reconstruction era in the period following the completion of this painting (after 1864). 

Possible sources to explore:
1866 Mississippi Black Codes
1866 Texas Black Codes
1867 Reconstruction Acts
1867 Thaddeus Stevens’s speech on Reconstruction bill

Ask students to write an essay considering how the realities of life for newly freed Black communities in the United States unfolded in the late 19th century. Based on their selected primary source(s), how did life compare to the vision presented in Lamb’s painting? What factors (age, geography, education, etc.) might have influenced a formerly enslaved person’s ability to live in freedom?

As an extension to this exercise, ask students to write on what inequities they observe in their own communities today and how long these issues have persisted.


  • Have students compare Lamb’s painting with John Gast’s 1872 American Progress, an iconic image illustrating a perspective on westward expansion. What similarities and differences can you observe in these two works of art, and what message does each communicate to the viewer?
  • The US Capitol building continues to serve as a site for various groups to gather in support of a cause. What events of the 21st century have prompted groups to gather in Washington, DC, in support of their beliefs? What cause or position was each group aiming to spotlight and advance through their gatherings?