The Mogul Who Buys Black-History Treasures

David Rubenstein tells The Root why he purchased two renowned documents steeped in black history.

David Rubenstein (Remy Steinegger/World Economic Forum); 13th Amendment
David Rubenstein (Remy Steinegger/World Economic Forum); 13th Amendment

Billionaire financier David Rubenstein has become an ambassador for championing the importance of preserving the African-American experience and introducing it to a global audience for generations to come.

His recent purchases of an original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which formally abolished slavery, reflect his belief that black-American history is the most emblematic manifestation of the American dream. As Rubenstein explains it, “African-American history is American history.”

Publicly, Rubenstein is known as the co-founder of the Washington-based Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest and most diversified private-equity firms, with approximately $153 billion in assets under management. Forbes put his personal net worth at $2.7 billion in 2011. Privately, he is a history enthusiast who in 2010 joined Warren Buffett in vowing to donate at least half of his wealth during his lifetime.

Rubenstein’s affinity for historical documents isn’t about serving his personal interest, he says. He believes in public access to historical documents and also loaned his copy of the 1297 Magna Carta to the National Archives and the Lincoln-signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation to President Barack Obama’s Oval Office.

Rubenstein has also endowed Duke University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which preserves the stories of African-American troops during the Civil War and documents the last few years of slavery and the first years after emancipation.

The copy of the 13th Amendment that he purchased is now on display at the New-York Historical Society and has garnered the interest of public school students of all races. It inspires a historical interest in the foundations of our democracy, viewed through the lens of the African-American experience.

It may be surprising that such important documents were available for private ownership. When I learned of their purchase, I was all the more intrigued that they had not landed in the hands of a sufficiently wealthy African American.