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home : opinion : opinion February 27, 2021

2/20/2021 8:32:00 AM
Lincoln's Hope, Anderson's Song, King's Dream
Photos: Top Left--National Park Service photo of the memorial
Top Right--1922 dedication crowd(Library of Congress photo)
Bottom Left--Marian Anderson singingat the memorial in April 1939
Bottom Middle--Rev. Dr. Martin LutherKing at the March on Washington forJobs & Freedom, August 1963
Bottom Right--statue of Lincolnin the memorial

Photos: Top Left--National Park
Service photo of the memorial

Top Right--1922 dedication crowd
(Library of Congress photo)

Bottom Left--Marian Anderson singing
at the memorial in April 1939

Bottom Middle--Rev. Dr. Martin Luther
King at the March on Washington for
Jobs & Freedom, August 1963

Bottom Right--statue of Lincoln
in the memorial


Wayne Howard
Staff Writer


This is Black History Month, a time to reflect on the importance of African-Americans in our nation's history. Mostly brought to this country against their will and forced to serve white masters as slaves until the mid-1860s, the ordeals that have been faced by people of color are far greater than those faced by other immigrants.

They arrived to be put on an auction block and sold like livestock. For them, there was no welcoming Statue of Liberty. Some gained their freedom before 1863, but it was President Abraham Lincoln's decision to free those enslaved in states that were fighting the Union that meant the end of slavery in the US had taken a giant step forward.

The first stone for the Lincoln Memorial was laid on February 12th, 1914, on what would have been Lincoln's 105th birthday. When the memorial was completed, a dedication ceremony was held on May 30, 1922; and that ceremony told very explicitly how while Lincoln had proclaimed an end to slavery, the United States of America was still determined to subjugate the descendants of former slaves, and that 'separate but equal' (the historic Plessy decision by the Supreme Court) was a lie.

The newspapers of the day described it as "a grand event with thousands of Washingtonians and others, including Civil War veterans on both sides." What was seldom mentioned in those reports was how the segregationist policies that had become more pronounced in the early 20th Century were very evident in the event.

The history of the Civil War had been changed to suit the ideas of the time: in many schools, it was unacceptable to call the bloodiest conflict in US history by that name; it was known as the War Between the States. The lie had become accepted as truth that the war had little to do with slavery, and Lincoln was praised on that Tuesday afternoon, not as the Great Emancipator, but by President Warren Harding as the man who saved the Union: "No great character in all history has been more eulogized, no towering figure more monumented, no likeness more portrayed. Painters and sculptors portray as they see, and no two see precisely alike. So, too, is there varied emphasis in the portraiture of words; but all are agreed about the rugged greatness, the surpassing tenderness, the unfailing wisdom of this master martyr.

"History is concerned with the things accomplished. Biography deals with the methods and the individual attributes which led to accomplishment.

"The supreme chapter in history is not emancipation, though that achievement would have exalted Lincoln throughout all the ages. The simple truth is that Lincoln, recognizing an established order, would have compromised with the slavery that existed, if he could have halted its extension. Hating human slavery as he did, he doubtless believed in its ultimate abolition through the developing conscience of the American people, but he would have been the last man in the republic to resort to arms to effect its abolition. Emancipation was a means to the great end—maintained union and nationality. Here was the great purpose, here the towering hope, here the supreme faith."

Harding's speech was well received by the almost totally white crowd. Some prominent blacks had been invited, but they were forcibly directed to a colored section of the stands by a marine who was noted for his roughness. When the marine was later questioned regarding his behavior, he reportedly replied, "That's the only way you can handle these damned niggers!"

There was only one African-American speaker on the program: Robert Russa Moton of the Tuskegee Institute. He was selected because he was considered an 'accomodationist,' meaning willing to cooperate with whites in their subjugation of blacks, not what would today be called a 'radical.' Moton had hoped to speak of Lincoln as part of the larger struggle against discrimination, and to raise a call for racial justice in the United States. Instead, his speech was censored for content and became almost meaningless.

While the mainstream news media touted the memorial dedication as a great event, the few black newspapers in big cities of the north urged their readers to avoid the Lincoln Memorial. One in Chicago printed, "this was their dedication--to their misconception and perpetuation of false history. Wait. We'll have our own dedication sometime later."

The first 'sometime later' was in 1939, when singer Marian Anderson stood before a mixed race crowd at the memorial and sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee." She made no great speech, but her presence there, in the capital of a nation Hitler had called a model for his own segregation of Jews in Germany before he began the Holocaust, spoke loudly. The other 'sometime later' was no doubt the 1963 March on Washington where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech.



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Two Lincoln speeches are memorialized on the monument.  One is the Gettysburg Address.  The other is his second inauguaral address, delivered just over a month before he was assassinated.  In it, Lincoln dismissed the claim still being made today by some that the Civil War was not about slavery:  "One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it." 

He concluded the speech with hope for the future: 

"Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations."

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