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Abraham Lincoln: A Bicentennial Exhibition

Statement by Dr. Sidney Ribeau

Dr. Sidney Ribeau
Howard University

As the nation celebrates the bicentennial of the birthday of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th President of the United States, we are reminded that his life encompassed the nation’s attempts to accommodate the ideals of its constitutional principles of freedom and democracy with the realities of American society which embraced the contradictions of slavery. Lincoln’s presidency marked a period of great national turmoil and debate. Seen by some as ambivalent towards the institution of slavery, Lincoln’s eventual support for emancipation heralded a new era for America. In seeking to preserve the unified nation that he cherished, Lincoln helped to create the nation he envisioned.  Lincoln’s efforts directly influenced and precipitated changes in the Constitution, which had not been amended during his life. His Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 heralded the 13th Amendment in 1865 and the 14th and 15th Amendments which followed. Lincoln did not live to see the realization of his efforts, many of which went unfulfilled as reconstruction eventually witnessed the virtual abandonment of America’s Black citizens to resubjugation and the abrogation of the Constitutional rights he inspired and the ideals he admired. However, the circumstances he set in motion to reconstruct the nation are evident today in the reality that is Howard University, a crowning achievement of Lincoln’s reconstruction initiatives. As I assume office as the 16th President of Howard University, I do so in the dawning of the American presidency of a new man from Illinois, who brings new hope to a divided nation and who fully embodies the potential of those who achieved freedom during the era of Lincoln and its aftermath.

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