01/21/2013 02:40 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2013

Of Historic Documents and Diversity

This year, America is marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the document written by President Lincoln that paved the way for the 13th Amendment of the Constitution and the abolition of slavery. While history may not necessarily repeat itself, it at least seems to move in cycles that remind us of where we as individuals and as a nation come from and are going.

For example, 50 years ago, in 1963, during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of that document, America was just beginning to emerge from another era of a fight for social justice and equal rights. And today, the fruits of our forefathers' efforts to ensure freedom for all Americans -- the grand diversity of our nation -- are well on display as we celebrate the inauguration of an African-American president and the ritual of renewed civic engagement that this event represents.

So it's fitting that, at this time, as we are about to enter February and Black History Month, our focus is on one of the core American documents that turned the national attention to its central founding principles of freedom and equality for all. Under the protection of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., the official Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln is on public display for only a few days each year. The Verizon Foundation is proud to have supported the annual New Year's viewing of the proclamation on its 150th, anniversary, as well as the kickoff event to a series of activities throughout this year to educate and inform the American public about our history... where we were and how far we have come.

But we are prouder still of the fact that we are one of the innovative companies that is enabling the types of technologies that allow more Americans -- or people from across the world -- to access the National Archives and study historic documents like the Emancipation Proclamation in their original form. The proclamation was handwritten on poor-quality 19th-century paper, on both sides totaling five pages, the last of which holds President Lincoln's signature and the United States seal. Due to its delicate condition, it is rarely on display.

In its role as our nation's record keeper, the National Archives preserves and protects the important records of our democracy and makes them available for viewing by our citizens. As we mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Archives is making available online not only images and text of the original Emancipation Proclamation but also a host of educational resources that add context to the time in which the document was drafted: the life and writings of Abraham Lincoln, the political maneuvering around the proclamation's writing and signing. Many of these resources -- including additional historic documents and resources from the Smithsonian Institution -- are also available on

For those of us who have had the privilege to stand in front of the thick glass cases in the rotunda of the National Archives to view such documents as our Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta or the Proclamation, one has the sense of being transported back to the times of their writing, with the flourishes of calligraphy, the aged parchment, and the anachronistic language. But it's the events around those documents -- the fight for independence, the struggle for fundamental human rights, the battle for equality and social justice -- that truly come alive on the preserved pages.

In a time when celebrating our nation's diversity and creating new opportunities for all our citizens are at the forefront of our national discussion, being able to access such documents to gain a better understanding of our national heritage -- the good and the bad, the strengths and the challenges -- is crucial. And for really the first time in our nation's history, technologies are widely available to give our citizens those opportunities. Whether in person, online or even from one's tablet or smartphone, we should all take a moment in the coming days to celebrate our heritage, our diversity and the great experiment that is the United States of America by accessing and getting to know the events and the documents that helped shape the times in which they were created and the future that is now ours to shape for future generations.

Rose Stuckey Kirk is the president of the Verizon Foundation.