Lincoln Low Key in the South
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Southern states low-key for Lincoln bicentennial
By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press Writer
BATON ROUGE, La.—Nearly 150 years after the Civil War’s end, the South still is no Land of Lincoln. Most states in the old Confederacy are decidedly low-key as the nation commemorates the 200-year anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, with a handful of museum exhibits and lectures among the modest events marking the occasion in the Deep South.
The national Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission encouraged states to create panels to design commemorative Lincoln events surrounding Thursday’s anniversary. Twenty-three states did so. But of the 11 states that seceded from the Union in 1860 and 1861, only Louisiana and Alabama did so, according to David Early, with the federal commission. That’s not to say Lincoln’s birthday will go unnoticed.
National celebrations are planned throughout 2009 and the U.S. Mint is striking four different penny designs to honor the former president. And there are events in the South. Georgia museums have Lincoln-themed exhibits, South Carolina hosted leading scholars to talk about the continuing legacy of Lincoln and the Civil War in current art and politics, a birthday celebration was planned at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee and North Carolina planned a daylong symposium Thursday on the subject.
But in the states of the old Confederacy, where Rebel flags can still be found, official sponsorship of Lincoln events is somewhat restrained. In Virginia, for example, where Richmond was
the confederacy’s second capital, after Montgomery, Ala., state lawmakers voted down creation of a bicentennial commission. Among the arguments presented, lawyer Robert Lamb of Richmond, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, argued the state shouldn’t celebrate a president who "sent armies into Virginia to lay waste to our land."
And while Alabama created its own bicentennial commission, the state’s coordinator, Sandra Schimmelpfennig, said the group didn’t have any events planned for Thursday, though the separate state humanities foundation had a lecture scheduled on the Gettysburg Address.
"Wish I could report more activity," Schimmelpfennig said in an e-mail.
Not so in Louisiana, which has rolled out 10 days of events for the anniversary, celebrating Lincoln with music, poetry readings, plays, a student essay contest, a new portrait and a Thursday reading of Lincoln’s second inaugural address on the state Capitol steps by Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne. "With the next 100 years too far away for us, we need more than just one day, we need 10 at the very least," said David Madden, chair of the Louisiana Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and an LSU creative writing professor who founded the U.S. Civil War Center at LSU.
Madden is credited as a driving force to create the list of Louisiana events, which are centered on the theme "Lincoln Chose Louisiana." The theme outlines a little-discussed slice of state history that Lincoln had intended Louisiana to be one of the first states to re-enter the Union after the South surrendered. In Lincoln’s last public address, three days before his assassination at Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C., the president talked at length about Louisiana and creation of its new state government.
"Louisiana’s one of the first states that folds, at least partially, into Union hands. It’s one of several states where Lincoln tried to set up state governments loyal to the Union during the war," said Brooks Simpson, history professor at Arizona State University and cited by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library as an expert on Civil War Reconstruction.
Louisiana was the first Confederate state to hold elections under Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan, which allowed a seceded state to reorganize its government if 10 percent of the electorate took an oath pledging loyalty to the Union. An estimated 12,000 voters swore allegiance in Louisiana, Lincoln said in a speech.
Lincoln urged acceptance of Louisiana’s new government, amid disagreements with members of his own Republican Party in Congress who wanted harsher punishment for Southern states and who wanted more definitive rights for freed slaves. The battles between Congress and the president over Reconstruction policies continued for years after Lincoln’s death.
In Lincoln’s last speech, Simpson said, "He once again urged white Northerners to give his experiment in Louisiana a chance." Madden said he’s received little criticism about the state’s lengthy list of events celebrating Lincoln. "There’s something transcendent about Lincoln," he said.
Since Virginia’s Legislature wouldn’t create a state bicentennial commission, events commemorating the anniversary of Lincoln’s birth are run through the state commission that celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. To celebrate Lincoln, the commission announced a cemetery ceremony for Thursday, a Lincoln-themed conference in September and an April program retracing Lincoln’s visit to Richmond after the Civil War. Also planned for July was a fair celebrating the president in Lincoln, Va.
Kentucky, a Southern slave-holding state that remained in the Union during the Civil War, has its own list of events to celebrate its unique tie to Lincoln: his birthplace. Several plays, a children’s musical and lectures were scheduled during the week surrounding the anniversary, a year after a champagne reception and orchestral musical tribute kicked off the bicentennial celebration.