Today’s a pretty significant day in our nation’s history. One man who, in his lifetime, steered us towards progress and upheld the definition of freedom, was born. He’s had many titles throughout his life and into his modern legacy, the most common being Honest Abe, the Rail-splitter, and the Great Emancipator (LOC). Born over 200 years ago today in 1809, Abraham Lincoln.
I think humble beginnings and a “self-made” person keep anyone honest. Maybe I’m wrong, but Pres. Lincoln certainly exemplifies this. With an uncle’s encouragement of his bookishness in childhood, a value for learning was instilled young in him. Coming from a poor family, evidenced by his logwood cabin upbringing, there was no money for formal education. Instead of allowing this to stop his learning, Lincoln merely taught himself.
After practicing law in Illinois and the expansion of slavery via federal regulation, Lincoln decided to take a stand. As a man of multiple classes with his upper-class vocation and lower class upbringing, he united warring political factions in an Arthurian manner. With an attempted assassination at his inaugural address, Lincoln was in for a legend of an uphill battle for unity.
Lincoln did not openly advocate war, attempting several treaties and regulatory compromises to maintain peace. The opposition between North and South would not be appeased for a number of factors. His reluctance for the Civil War shows in many of his speeches, especially that of the Gettysburg Address.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
November 19, 1863
With the introduction of the Emancipation Proclamation after the end of the Civil War, peace was not easily sown. Lincoln drafted the document and then waited two years in hopes of the war’s end. Of course, this was to no avail. He then went through three different drafts of the document hoping to appease his cabinet and the public. Considering the economic toll on the South from the war and the loss of its largest industry, Lincoln encouraged lenience in punitive actions.
His attempted placation did not work as well as it could have. With his second term in office, the now impoverished South, still full of radical, aggressive secessionists and slavers, sought an end to his power. They wished not for healing but profit. Their rage and greed ultimately resulted in the assassination and sociopolitical martyrdom of Abraham Lincoln. If anything, his tragic passing spurred abolitionists and other civil rights activists to their own extremes.
A Century Later
Efforts made by abolitionists Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and more, combined with Lincoln’s murder and the outlawing of slavery, a change was in the air. Still persecuted, segregated, abused, impoverished, and murdered, African Americans were nowhere near true emancipation. A strong desire for justice and equality marked the need for new world order, brought about by groups of like-minded individuals. In memory of the Great Emancipator, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was co-founded on Pres. Lincoln’s birthday in 1909 (NAACP; Pak).
The association really began in 1905 when one of its primary founders, W.E.B. DuBois began the Niagara Movement. This gathering included a collection of abolitionists and freed slaves seeking,
“to secure for all people the rights guaranteed in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution, which promised an end to slavery, the equal protection of the law, and universal adult male suffrage, respectively. Accordingly, the NAACP’s mission was and is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority group citizens of the United States and eliminate race prejudice. The NAACP seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes” (NAACP).
DuBois’s establishment on this movement, coupled with the massive race riot in Springfield, Illinois (Lincoln’s birthplace) of 1908, spurred him to create a more effective movement. A year later, the NAACP was born. With its creation, DuBois found the support to publish The Crisis in 1910 (NAACP). This is the association’s official publication, which originally featured Harlem greats like Langston Hughes and gave a voice to the artistic passions of African Americans.
Among its ranks include prominent figures such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles Hamilton Houston, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Oscar Micheaux, James Weldon Johnson, Harry T. and Harriette Moore, Mary White Ovington, Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, Rosa Parks, Carter G. Woodson, and Julian Bond. The group paved the way for Brown v. Board and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (NAACP). Over time, the organization has grown to support multiculturism beyond the U.S.
“The Gettysburg Address By Abraham Lincoln”. Abraham Lincoln Online, 2019, http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm.
Library of Congress [LOC]. “Today In History – February 12”. LOC, 2019, https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/february-12/.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP]. “NAACP | Nation’s Premier Civil Rights Organization”. NAACP, 2019, https://www.naacp.org/nations-premier-civil-rights-organization/.
Pak, E. (2019). How W.E.B. Du Bois Helped Create the NAACP. [online] Biography. Available at: https://www.biography.com/news/web-du-bois-naacp [Accessed 12 Feb. 2019].