Madison mural portrays Emancipation message, as Congress celebra - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Madison mural portrays Emancipation message, as Congress celebrates 150 years since 13th amendment

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Congressional leaders will honor the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th amendment today, which formally abolished U.S. slavery in 1865. 

One of Wisconsin's most distinguished pieces of art is inspired by the Emancipation and lies right in Madison. 

The painting is entitled "The Freeing of the Slaves."  It is an 11-foot mural that sits high on a wall of a reading room in UW Madison's Law Library. 

In the 1930's, artist, John Steuart Curry, intended it for the Justice Department in Washington D.C., but politicians were nervous the painting was too politically difficult.  Meanwhile, the dean of UW's Law School at the time was a grandson of an abolitionist, so he invited Curry to paint the mural where it currently lies in Madison. 

"That kind of portrait and historical painting has fallen way out of fashion, it has been for a long time, so the fact that it's still there and over time people have made a series of decisions, not to paint it over, not to remove it, not to renovate that room, says that the spirit that animates it continues to feel important to people," says Stephen Kantrowitz, a UW Madison history professor.  He says the spirit that animates it is the centrality of slave emancipation to our history. 

Kantrowitz says we have come a long way in the past 150 years, but there's still room to grow. 

"While, a number of people in my view have very happily made the decision that...this mural needed to stay in place, Dane County has also become one of the places of the greatest racial disparities in the United States," says Kantrowitz. "I think while we celebrate some of the aspects of our past, that I think are worthy of celebration, we also need to remember, celebration is fine for a holiday, but it's not an everyday way of living."

Today's Congressional celebration is at 10:00 a.m. in Emancipation Hall at the U.S. Capitol.

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