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Emancipation Proclam. on display at WH

From NBC's Athena Jones
WASHINGTON -- During an event to mark the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, President Obama said the Emancipation Proclamation -- the 1863 document that marked the beginning of the process to free the slaves -- would be on loan to the White House. It is being displayed in the Oval Office. (PHOTO HERE.)

This copy of the document is one of the authorized copies that was made in 1864, according to the White House press office. The original -- signed Jan. 1, 1863 -- is in the National Archives. This one may hang in the Oval for six months after which it will be placed in the Lincoln Bedroom where the original was signed.

The president used today's conversation in the Roosevelt Room with a group of elderly civil rights activists and young people to talk about the importance of celebrating public service and getting out of one's comfort zone.

"I was very pleased to hear from Taylor Branch, author of one of the definitive biographies of the civil rights movement and Dr. King," the president told the group gathered around the table. "He shared, I thought, a really interesting idea, which is that not only is Dr. King's birthday a time to celebrate service, to reflect and study on how we had helped to perfect our union, but that it should be a day in which each of us individually also try to stretch out of our comfort zones and try to do something for others and to reach out and learn about things that maybe we've shied away from -- because part of what the civil rights movement was all about was changing people's hearts and minds and breaking out of old customs and old habits."

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863 (a preliminary version was written in September of the previous year, after the Union victory at Antietam). The document read "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."

Lincoln called emancipation "an act of justice." But according to the National Archives and Records Administration, the document was limited in numerous ways. For instance, it only applied to states that had seceded from the Union; it exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control and the freedom it promised depended on ultimate victory by Union forces. Still the Proclamation is seen as an important milestone on the path to ending slavery.