Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Admiration for Lincoln (Sorry to burst your bubble)

We know President-elect Obama did some studying on Lincoln. So why then, would he admire him so much? Maybe it's because most Americans probably don't know much about Lincoln, and he's taken that and ran with it. The majority surely thinks that Lincoln freed the slaves. I can remember during my childhood asking, "why was Lincoln such a great president?" And I was always told, "because he abolished slavery, or he freed the slaves." Well, there is a little more to it than that, as I later learned.

One of my first jobs, when I moved to Springfield back in 1981 was at the Lincoln Souvenir and Gift Shop on Monument Avenue right in front of the entry gates to Oakland Cemetery, home of Lincoln's Tomb. The log cabin style gift shop had everything "Lincoln" that you could imagine, including many books.

I remember glancing through some of those books that seemed contrary to what I thought I knew about Lincoln. For example, there is a sometimes forgotten quote from 1858 that "Abraham Lincoln was a 19th century white man who famously said that "there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which ... will forever forbid the two races living together upon terms of social and political equality."

That quote is part of the nationally syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts' latest article. Be sure and click the title link to read the complete article, "Lincoln might not have welcomed Obama's election." Even better, it has a short video (3:48 min.) of Mr. Pitts commentary about the mythological Lincoln. Watch it before it's gone!

Anyway, back to my time at the gift shop. I loved working there and learned so much about Lincoln. I was so only 19, and the other nine staff were all in their 50's and 60's. They were all women, except for the owner and they all took me under their wing. I was especially close to one of the women and she was so much like my grandma that lived far away.

She loved sharing her knowledge of Lincoln and would have me over to her nearby house on the same street for homemade pie, cake, or cookies quite often. That's when she should would tell me the true Lincoln lore that she had learned during her lifetime in Springfield--things she couldn't say at work.

"Lincoln really didn't free the slaves," she said. What! I guess I didn't pay much attention in school. There's no doubt about it. Between cutting classes and passing notes to Chuck and Donna all the time, I didn't learn as much as I could have. At the time though, history was boring to me. Ok, it's also true, I was a class clown, but hey, I did memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address in the 8th grade! In Illinois (at least back then) it was actually a requirement to graduate!

Ever since President-elect Obama started all this Lincoln stuff by officially kicking off his campaign in Springfield of all places, and even returning there to announce his vice-president choice, and now having the kickoff ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, I have wanted to write about the irony of it all. Unfortunately, I never found the time. I was so happy to find one of my favorite syndicated columnists, who happens to be black, write about it himself. That's even better! So thank you Leonard Pitts!

And don't get me wrong, I still believe Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest presidents in our history. And I hope and pray that Obama will also be a great president or the best ever. Only time will tell, but I do have great faith and confidence in our new president. I wish him all the best. I have hope, and I hope for that change he talked about.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

1 comment:

Mary Ellen said...

Great post, John. I remember my first trip to Springfield when I was in 8th grade (a class trip) and the only thing I remember is the guy that was dressed up like Lincoln and was walking around talking to everyone. He gave me the creeps and I avoided going anywhere near him. I don't know why...maybe because he was so tall and I'm such a shrimp.

Anyway...the whole Obama comparison to Lincoln, JFK, and MLK, in my opinion, is a lot of hooey. Obama has done nothing in his political career that came even close to any of those three and other than being half black, that's his only connection to MLK. I wish more people would take the time to look into Obama's true history before they start comparing him to other historical figures.

I've always found that most of our history books are "re-written" history that has little to do with facts and more to do with lore than anything else.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin

Flag Counter (Since July 6, 2009)

free counters