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Transcript of Quotations on Lincoln

Read by Sam Waterston

Frederick Douglass
We have done a good work for our race today. In doing honor to the memory of our friend and liberator, we have been doing highest honor to ourselves and those who come after us, fastening ourselves to a name and fame imperishable and immortal, and defining ourselves from a blighting slander. For while Abraham Lincoln saved for you, our country, he delivered us from a bondage, according to Jefferson, one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose.

Yet you are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best his step children, children by adoption, children by force of circumstances and necessity. To you, it especially belongs to sound his praises, to preserve and perpetuate his memory, to multiply his statues, to hang his pictures on your walls and commend his example. For to you, he was a great and glorious friend and benefactor. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull and indifferent. Only by measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical and determined.

W.E.B. DuBois
We love to think of the great as flawless. We yearn, in our imperfection, toward perfection. Sinful, we envision righteousness. As a result of this, no sooner does a great man die than we begin to whitewash him. We seek to forget all that was small and mean and unpleasant, and remember the fine and brave and good. We slur over and explain away his inconsistencies. And at last there begins to appear not the real man, but the tradition of the man: remote, immense, perfect, cold, and dead.

Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the greatest figure of the 19th century, the most human and loveable. And I love him. Not because he was perfect, but because he was not. And yet, triumphed. The world is full of illegitimate children. The world is full of folk whose taste was educated in the gutter. The world is full of people born hating and despising their fellows. To these I love to say, "See this man! He was one of you! And yet, he became Abraham Lincoln!"

Allen Ginsberg

Let the Railsplitter Awake!
Let Lincoln come with his axe
and with his wooden plate
to eat with the farmworkers.
May his craggy head,
his eyes we see in constellations,
in the wrinkles of the live oak,
come back to look at the world
rising up over the foliage
higher than the Sequoias.
Let him go shop in pharmacies,
let him take the bus to Tampa

let him nibble a yellow apple,
let him go to the movies, and
talk to everybody there.

Let the rail splitter awake!

Let Abraham come back, let his old yeast
rise in green and gold earth of Illinois,
and lift the axe in his city
against the new slave makers
against their slave whips
against the venom of the print houses
against all the bloodsoaked
merchandise they wanna sell.

Let the young white boy and young black
march singing and smiling
against walls of gold,
against manufacturers of hatred,
against the seller of his own blood,
singing, smiling and winning at last.

Let the Railsplitter awake!
Herman Melville

Good Friday was the day
Of the prodigy and crime,
When they killed him in his pity,
When they killed him in his prime
Of clemency and calm--
When, with yearning he was filled
To redeem the evil-willed,
And, though conqueror, be kind;
But they killed him in his kindness,
In their madness and their blindness,
And they killed him from behind.

There is sobbing of the strong,
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand:
Beware the People weeping
When they bare the iron hand.

He lieth in his blood--
The father in his face;
They have killed him, the Forgiver--
The Avenger takes his place,

Barack Obama
By ourselves this change will not happen. Divided we are bound to fail. But the life of a tall, gangly, self made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible. He tells us that there is power in words. He tells us that there is power in conviction, that beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people. He tells us that there is power in hope.

As Lincoln organized the forces arrayed against slavery, he was heard to say, "Of strange discordant and even hostile elements we gathered from the four winds and formed and fought to battle together. Of strange discordant and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds and formed and fought to battle through. Together, standing today, let us finish the work that needs to be done and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth."

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