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Holiday Letter (2008)

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Thanksgiving Letter of Appreciation

November 2008

Dear Friends of the ALBC:

What an exciting year 2008 has been here at the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission!

We are moved, in this holiday season, to reflect on how much better millions of Americans have come to know Lincoln’s story – his life, his work, his words – over the course of the year. We’ll be building on that knowledge in 2009 to make the Bicentennial Year one of even more activity, outreach, celebration, and focus on perpetuating Abraham Lincoln’s legacy for future generations.

So herewith, to share those reflections, a Holiday Newsletter from our Lincoln-loving family to yours. 

In February, we kicked off the Bicentennial celebration in Kentucky, appropriately enough, Lincoln’s birthplace. Acclaimed historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln has since influenced President-elect Barack Obama,  was the keynote speaker for a symposium on Lincoln’s leadership qualities. A program that followed featured the Louisville Orchestra and the premier of a new Lincoln work – Lincoln at Ease – composed by Peter Schickele, and actor Sam Waterston and Lincoln scholar (and ALBC co-chair) Harold Holzer performed their acclaimed production Lincoln Seen and Heard, a presentation of Lincoln’s life.

It’s hard to believe we’ve packed so much into the months that followed: From coast to coast, state affiliates sponsored workshops, re-enactments, conferences, and concerts – all aimed at aising public awareness of Lincoln’s contributions and stature in American history. Closer to home, we partnered with the U.S. Mint to present four new designs for the Lincoln penny – and unveiled the design for the ALBC Commemorative Coin at Gettysburg, Pa., where ALBC Commissioner Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., and Jack Kemp, head of the ALBC Foundation, convened the first of a series of Town Hall Meetings scheduled across the nation aimed at connecting Lincoln to the world today and focusing on “Race, Freedom and Equality of Opportunity.”

That first Town Hall Meeting, held in conjunction with the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, brought together students, townspeople and a distinguished panel – including Susan Eisenhower, president of the Eisenhower Institute; Allen Guelzo, professor of history and director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College; and Norman Bristol Colon, executive director of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs – for a lively and stimulating conversation. The event – moderated by Charles Russell Branham, senior historian at the DuSable Museum of African-American History in Chicago – was televised by CSPAN, the official media partner for the Town Halls as well as other Lincoln-related events, and is available on their Website.

Future Town Hall Meetings – like the first one, underwritten by the Fetzer Institute of Kalamazoo, Mich. – are planned for Miami, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark/New York City, and Washington, D.C. We’re tremendously excited about our potential partners on this project, from the Carter Center folks in Atlanta to Chicago Public Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey to the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit and Harvard University’s John Stauffer in Boston. The topics to spur discussion – and begin an ongoing civic dialogue – include “Civil Rights, Leadership and Religious Traditions”; “Education and the Power of Words”; “Lincoln and the Rule of Law”; and “Post-Racial Politics and the Economy.” There may even be a very special Town Hall discussion about “Lincoln and Leadership,” moderated by the University of Chicago’s Adam Green and a Lincoln-inspired concert performed by jazz great Anthony Davis – both on board the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln when it’s back at its home port of Everett, Wash., in February.

From these and other symposia will emerge a national conversation and the momentum for civic involvement. Theresa Caldwell, whom we welcomed to our staff this fall as director of the Town Hall program, hit the ground running and hasn’t slowed down yet as she plays “Beat the Clock” to coordinate this incredible whirlwind of events.

Meanwhile, ALBC Deputy Executive Director Jennifer Rosenfeld has been forging bonds with the nation’s teachers – and their students – as she shepherds the all-important education component of our mission. Almost all of our 50,000 free Lincoln posters have been distributed; they’ve gone to all 50 states, plus Department of Defense schools overseas – and requests are still coming in. Luckily, the Postal Service has offered to distribute 225,000 additional posters free of charge – now all we have to do is find the money to print them!

Teachers also have been flocking to the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission Website for K-12 lesson plans, reading lists, interactive games and professional development opportunities.  These resources are part of the ongoing legacy, since the Web site will continue to expand and remain relevant long after the Bicentennial Year is over. Now, though, schools can be recognized by the National ALBC by submitting their plans for celebrating the Bicentennial using a link on the ALBC Website. Participating schools will receive a certificate for framing and will be listed on a national register.

The ALBC has partnered with the History Channel to stage a National Teach-In on Feb.12 so classrooms across the country can participate in a live, real-time Webcast  all about the 16th president on his 200th birthday. Lincoln scholars Matthew Pinsker and Harold Holzer will be sharing their expertise and answering questions from students  – and probably more than a few from teachers.

And what a busy day that will be for us all! It starts early with a tribute at the Lincoln Memorial co-hosted by the ALBC and featuring a wreath-laying ceremony and the incomparable Michael Feinstein singing his fresh interpretation of the National Anthem accompanied by the U.S. Marine Corps Band. The Armed Forces Color Guard will present the colors and Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice (and ALBC Commissioner) Frank J. Williams will read the Gettysburg Address with school children. And that’s all before breakfast!

In fact, ALBC Communications Director David Early is working with Commissioners and event co-chairs Jean Bandler and Joan Flinspach on plans for a VIP breakfast to be served in heated tents right on the Memorial grounds after the ceremony, with Mr. Feinstein offering melodies from his signature Great American Songbook. Tickets for the breakfast, at $125 per person, are going fast, but you can order yours directly from David by calling (202) 707-7040. Later, a Bicameral Celebration in honor of Lincoln’s birth will be held in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, with ALBC co-chair Ray LaHood as master of ceremonies. Hosted by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, it will feature Doris Kearns Goodwin and presidential historian Richard Norton Smith.

But for all that, it just wouldn’t be a proper birthday celebration without a card, would it? With that in mind, the ALBC has signed on, so to speak, to a project conceived by Lincoln artist Wendy Allen to create an enormous birthday card that will travel from state to state collecting signatures from the public. It will be displayed in May in Washington, D.C., at a ceremony to rededicate the Lincoln Memorial. Program Associate Courtney Barefoot reports that more panels have been added to the card, and there will be, as they say, “some assembly required” when the various pieces make their way back to Washington. Courtney also has been vetting a growing list of projects submitted for ALBC endorsement – essay contests, musical concerts, lesson plans, and even a bike tour and a transcontinental motor convoy! (And, yes, those last two got the nod.)

Handling all those calls – for information, support, endorsement, educational materials, and the like – in addition to writing grant proposals and handling all travel arrangements, has made Executive Manager Venkitaraman Suresh the voice, quite literally, of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.  And on the Website, Program Associate and Webmaster Hasan Aloul, working with historian and computer guru Vernon Burton at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, keeps things up to date with postings of Lincoln news, book reviews, music and the arts, education programs, state liaisons, Lincolniana and official Bicentennial items in the online shop. The Website calendar has expanded, with more than 200 new Lincoln-related events added in the last month, and we’ve created a Facebook page dedicated to promoting Lincoln's legacy to the "latest generation." 

On Easter Sunday, April 12, internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves will be the featured star, along with the Washington National Opera, at a 70th Anniversary tribute commemorating Marian Anderson’s historic appearance at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939. The Daughters of the American Revolution had refused to allow her to sing in Constitution Hall. Performances by the a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock and the Chicago Children’s Choir will round out what promises to be a hugely popular landmark event. Also on the day’s schedule: hundreds of new American citizens will be naturalized in a ceremony at the Memorial.

Of course, none of this would be even remotely possible without the dedication and hard work of all our commissioners – and most especially of our three commission co-chairs.  Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who created the ALBC, has been a tireless supporter of our work and an unfailing friend to the commission. His understanding of and devotion to the values and ideals of Abraham Lincoln have been an inspiration to us all. The Honorable Ray La Hood, who represents Illinois’ “Lincoln district” in the House of Representatives, has so ably taken on the thankless task of chairing commission meetings with patience and good humor that we can’t imagine getting anything done without him. We offer our thanks – and our congratulations as well, as he appears to be heading into the challenging new role of Secretary of Transportation.  And many thanks also to the peripatetic historian and author Harold Holzer, who seems to be always in two – sometimes three! – places at once as he shoulders the commission’s work while also accepting accolades for his new book, Lincoln President-Elect.

Eileen Mackevich, our executive director, has been all smiles since the historic election of Barack Obama to the presidency has turned the nation’s spotlight on our 16th president as well. The project that is perhaps dearest to her heart will come to fruition at Howard University this spring with a conference that examines Abraham Lincoln’s evolving perspectives toward slavery and the place of black Americans in civil society. Drawing on the vision of ALBC commissioner Darrel Bigham, the event marks the first time since the modern civil rights era that an African American educational institution has examined this issue. Distinguished historians – including David Blight, Ira Berlin, Edna Greene Medford, John Stauffer and ALBC Commissioner Frank J. Williams – will join the discussion.

That’s a lot of Lincoln! But we wouldn’t have it any other way. We at the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission thank you for your past interest and support, and wish you the very best in the coming New Year.

Healthy and Happy Holidays!

 

From left to right:  Jennifer Rosenfeld, Courtney Barefoot, David Early, Eileen Mackevich, Theresa Caldwell, Suresh Venkitaraman, Hasan Aloul.  Not pictured:  Sharon Cunningham.