Library Launches Equal Rights Transcription CampaignGazette_14_040723_web
Library Launches Equal Rights Transcription Campaign
In a 54-foot petition, Black South Carolinians demanded equal rights following the Civil War.
BY ELAINA FINKELSTEIN
The Library hosted an event on March 29 to inaugurate a new By the People transcription cam- paign. Attended by Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the event focused on a rarely seen 1865 petition by Black residents of his state calling for equal rights.
In the wake of the Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved people, Black residents submitted petitions to the federal government for equal treatment under the law. One such petition from South Carolina residents — 3,740 of them to be precise — addresses the U.S. Congress and stretches to 54 feet when fully extended.
“These were Black Americans requesting the United States Congress to ensure that any new state constitution adopted in South Carolina following the Civil War guaranteed African Americans equal rights before the law,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said.
Little is known about creation of the petition, which has been held at the Library since 1939. The petition was recently displayed in an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and it was featured in the January–February issue of LCM, the Library’s magazine.
“I am particularly interested in this document because South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union,” Clyburn said. “I want to thank the Library of Congress for [its] work on this document.”
“More than 150 years later, issues of voting rights, citizenship, partic- ipation in the democratic process and access to education are still headline news,” Michelle Krowl, a historian in the Manuscript Division, said. “Thus, this petition can be seen as part of a long and ongoing national conversation.”
Krowl noted the different colored paper used in the petition. She said that may have occurred because people signed the petition using whatever paper they had on hand. She believes someone collected the papers and then glued them together.
“We owe it to these 3,740 people that wanted to be recognized, remembered and have their stories told,” Hayden said.
Launched in 2018, the By the People crowdsourcing transcription project invites volunteers to transcribe historical materials. The petition campaign seeks to make the petition’s signatures more discoverable and encourage further research on the document and its signers.