Dedicated on May 30, 1922, the stately Lincoln Memorial in Washington is a beloved symbol of the United States. It honors Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, who led the country from 1861 to 1865 and is often regarded as its greatest president.
Lincoln, who fought to end slavery while preserving the nation, led the country during the turbulent civil war between the United States and the 11 southern states that had seceded from the Union.
The memorial was also erected after more than 50 years to heal the painful divisions caused by the war. Those divisions, including racism, persist today.
“White Southerners saw him as an autocrat,” said Northwestern University historian Kate Masur. “Over time, especially in the late 1880s and onwards, Lincoln’s prestige among white Southerners began to improve. Hence the opening of the Lincoln Memorial for Reconciliation between White Northerners and White Southerners , but except for African Americans,” she told VOA.
Every year, the Lincoln Memorial attracts millions of visitors, who are amazed by its grandeur.
The exterior resembles the famous ancient Greek temple of the Parthenon. Inside is a 6 meter high marble statue of Lincoln.
“The monument is so beautiful,” said Hannah Wagner, a college student in Pennsylvania. “Abraham Lincoln was an amazing president, and I respect everything he did to help the country.”
“Words are carved on the walls from his iconic speeches, including the Gettysburg Address, which he delivered at the site of the greatest battle of the Civil War,” explained renowned Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. Hunter College.
“There are also words from his second inaugural speech in which he describes the national crime on slavery as the cause of the war” and calls on people to act not with malice but with charity towards one another, Holzer said. Told VOA.
Because Lincoln had little formal education, “his literary ability came as a great surprise, and he delivered the most beautiful speeches,” said Ted Widmer, a professor at Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York.
“Lincoln had a great ability to connect with the American people,” Widmer told VOA.
“There’s a calm tone, reverent inside the monument, as people look at the statue or read a speech,” said Mike Litterst, spokesman for the National Mall and Memorial Park in Washington. “I think it speaks to the power and importance that Lincoln still has after all these years.”
Adjo Cote, a visitor from Ghana, was in awe.
“To me, President Lincoln was a hero because he helped free so many black people,” he said.
Historian Edna Green Medford, author of the book “Lincoln and Emancipation,” said during an interview, “Although Lincoln opened the door to the eventual abolition of slavery in this country, African Americans were also involved in its emancipation.” VOA.
Ironically, even though Lincoln was known as the “Great Liberator”, in 1922 the dedication ceremony of the monument was set aside.
“Black attendees were removed from the front row and moved to a different part in the back,” Holzer said, adding that the only Black speaker that day, Tuskegee Institute president Robert Russa Moton, censored his remarks.
Since that day, the Lincoln Memorial has served as a backdrop for civil rights and other protests.
In 1939, famous singer Marion Anderson was allowed to perform at another nearby venue after being denied rights because she was black. His concert attracted 75,000 people.
Then, during the August 1963 March in Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Exactly 100 years earlier, on January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that “all persons held as slaves” within the rebel states, and would be free from now on.
Today, other protests include Vietnam War veterans, Americans with disabilities, and people who identify as LBGTQ.
James Haggerty and Conrad Mitchell married at the Lincoln Memorial after Washington legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.
“After waiting years before we got married, we thought this would be the perfect place to show us how important it is to us,” Haggerty said. “It was a really special day,” said Michelle.