This is the second in a series of blogs about the Commissioners and their work on the Commission – their hopes, dreams, critical concerns and recommendations and expectations for the future.
Jean Bandler, a Connecticut resident, appointed to the Commission upon the recommendation of the then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, is the daughter of the former Senator from Illinois, Paul H. Douglas. Most knowledgeable about Lincoln the politician and appreciative of the power of his legacy, she has utilized her professional expertise as a social worker to build broader interest in the 16th President. She extends her reach beyond the academic community to new Americans and those planning to become Americans. She envisions new possibilities through the ALBC Web site of engaging youth in the study of Lincoln's values and ideals. Lincoln for Jean Bandler is the model for securing new civic understanding – a more perfect union.
Her work on the Commission has reflected these interests. She has said that there was much satisfaction in carrying out the congressional "mandates" – working with fellow commissioners to advise the U.S. Mint on the design of the new Lincoln pennies, consult with the U.S. Postal Service on Lincoln stamps, and work on the commemorative events.
With Joan Flinspach she co-chaired the second in a series of re-dedications of the Lincoln Memorial – the Marian Anderson Tribute Concert. Among the several thousand who attended the concert, were relatives of Marian Anderson and those who had been at the original concert. No one there will forget Denyce Graves’ moving story about wearing the gown that Mss Anderson gave her.
Another highlight for Jean was the Morrill Act Conference held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on October 24th, 2009. Land grant colleges are part of the Lincoln legacy – he foresaw the need to educate farmers and mechanics if democracy were to survive. These values are equally paramount today.
She applauds fellow commissioner Darrel Bigham for organizing the process whereby grass roots organizations could receive national attention on the calendar of the ALBC Web site and an official endorsement.
She also recognized the important work of Joan Flinspach in initiating the idea of Town Halls. The Commission's ongoing venture to engage in dialogue about Lincoln with the African American community was at first challenging, Jean noted. She was surprised by the anti-Lincoln vehemence at a round table discussion at the Chicago History Museum. But she learned much from the different perspectives, including that of one participant who spoke about slavery as the black person's shame and the white person's guilt. Later John Hope Franklin's commentary about Lincoln as the only president who lost sleep about the fate of African Americans moved her.
The Web site is a wonderful surprise to her – it has exceeded her expectations as there is great content, and it is current. She hopes there will be more interactive elements in the future.
Jean wishes the academic advisory board had been used more effectively by the Commission. Perhaps the Commission should have developed guidelines for more active incorporation and included the curatorial staff and others from regional museums.
The work of the state representatives would have been enhanced with seed money and also greater dialogue between them and the Commission to build collaboration.
Perhaps the biggest limitation of the Commission was its belief – for too long – that funds would be provided by the federal government. Commissioners should have adjusted to the economic reality more quickly.
She commends the staff for diligence and creativity, but encourages future commissions to develop a regular process of self-evaluation and staff evaluation.
Looking forward to the work of the Commission continuing in the future by the Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation, Jean sees great promise in the Web site for civic education and to continue activities linking Lincoln’s ideals with current needs, such as the Town Halls. She sees the Foundation as an honest broker between Lincoln organizations and institutions – collaborations will only enhance the legacy.
Finally, with hindsight, the Commission might have worked more effectively with some of the Lincoln institutions such as the Lincoln Library and Museum in Illinois. Jean regrets that we did not build the sculpture garden that Louise Taper wanted, but we can hope that the Foundation might work with preservation organizations and with film makers to tell the stories behind the statues scattered widely over the nation and beyond. They will be preserved when most fully valued and understood.