The Lincoln Memorial was first proposed in 1867 not long after President Lincoln was assassinated by a white man. We the people didn’t get it built until WW I. As Lincoln was the great defender of democracy, the memorial was designed to remember the Parthenon and the birthplace of democracy. The marble and granite chosen for the building came from the North, the South, the East, and the West—a symbol of our divided nation coming together, building something significant, something that would last. We don’t remember well, do we?
On May 30, 1922, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated. A grateful nation celebrated the Great Emancipator with a great occasion. 50,000 people came, segregated by race. The keynote speaker, Robert Moton, President of the Tuskegee Institute, an African-American, wasn’t allowed to sit on the speakers’ platform!!!!!!! Makes me wonder if the monument was really meant to remember some other Lincoln, Lincoln Financial, for instance, or the inventor of the town car.
Memorial Day began in the wake of the Civil War as a day to honor Union and Confederate soldiers who had died in battle. Union General John Logan chose May 30th precisely because it was not the anniversary of any battle. After WW I Memorial Day became a day to honor all United States soldiers who’ve died in war. Then in 1968 our Congress changed it to the last Monday in May so we could have a three-day weekend to shop, barbecue, and watch the Indianapolis 500.
I pray this Memorial Day that we will remember well what Abraham Lincoln said on November 19, 1863, as he stood up to dedicate a cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania:
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. (Excerpt, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address)
Right after Lincoln finished his speech he called it a “flat failure.” Seventeen months later, on April 11, 1865, Lincoln made another speech advocating voting rights for African-Americans. Four days later he was shot dead.
This Memorial day I will remember with gratitude those who have died for our country and our freedoms. And, I will remember Abraham Lincoln and under God offer my prayer “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
david gilliam, pastor, faith united methodist church, austin. for more about faith church, click here.