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Abraham Lincoln: A Bicentennial Exhibition

Statement by Dr. Thomas C. Battle

 

Dr. Thomas C. Battle
Director,
Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

Abraham Lincoln: A Bicentennial Exhibition features the resources of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (MSRC) and supports the conference Race and Emancipation in the Age of Lincoln. Sponsored by Howard University and The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, and in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Conference focuses upon emancipation and revolution, challenges to slavery, and the meaning of emancipation. The Exhibition highlights the MSRC’s Lincoln-related resources and includes sculpture, prints and documents illustrating Lincoln and the life of Lincoln. A featured item is John Roger’s “Council of War”, which was included in Dr. Jesse E. Moorland’s original 1914 gift establishing MSRC’s forerunner, The Moorland Foundation: A Library of Negro Life.  Described by Moorland as “a rare gem”, the sculpture depicts President Lincoln circa March 1864, after the appointment of Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief of Union armies. The occasion was a council to determine the campaign of 1864, as Lincoln, Grant, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton review a map. Produced in three versions, this example of the original was patented in 1868, and was described by Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln as the most lifelike depiction of his father. The exhibit also includes a heroic sized bust of Lincoln by Henry Kirke Bush-Brown. This 1904 sculpture served as a model or preliminary study for Bush-Brown’s bronze bust of Lincoln, which was dedicated in 1912 at the Soldiers National Cemetery on Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg Battlefield.

A principle source of items in the exhibit is former congressman and judge Louis C. Cramton (1875-1966), a longtime supporter of Howard University who donated extensively to Howard’s libraries over a number of years. Many of the Cramton items are portrait images of Lincoln, some familiar and others less well known. Reflecting both 19th and 20th century treatments of the President, the Lincoln iconography acknowledges his enduring importance in our national consciousness. Some of the images are excellent depictions of Lincoln, while others are less photographic and less accurate. All attempt to capture the essence of Lincoln as seen by the artists.

The exhibit includes items which were generated during Lincoln Centennial observances. The duplication of images illustrates the multiple uses which employed Lincoln’s visage. Many of the items are reproductions which reflect efforts to collect and to preserve materials important to documenting the Black experience in America. While they are not necessarily valuable as original works, they have often proven intrinsically invaluable resources for their informational and evidentiary value.

The Exhibition and Conference coincide with the inaugural activities of Dr. Sidney A. Ribeau, 16th president of Howard University. It is fitting that reflections of Lincoln by Oliver O. Howard, the University’s founder, namesake and third president, be included, since he provides a direct historical link between Howard University and the president whose efforts inspired its existence. It is also noteworthy that these activities encompass Emancipation Day in Washington, DC, whose enslaved population was emancipated prior to Lincoln’s Proclamation and the constitutional amendment which eventually followed. The MSRC wishes expressly to acknowledge the contributions of University librarian Mod Mekkawi, the Office of the Secretary of the University, the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost, the Ribeau Presidential Inaugural Committee, MSRC’s support staff and, especially, Conference coordinators Dr. Edna Medford and Dr. Joseph Reidy.

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