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January 12th, 2009

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Public media provider WNET.ORG is playing a major role in the nationwide Lincoln Bicentennial celebration in 2009 with LOOKING FOR LINCOLN, an unprecedented two-hour broadcast, online, and outreach project that explores the life and legacy of the man widely considered one of our best and most enigmatic presidents. The documentary, presented and written by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (African American Lives, Oprah’s Roots), addresses many of the controversies surrounding Lincoln – race, equality, religion, politics, and depression – by carefully interpreting evidence from those who knew him and those who study him today. It premieres on the eve of Lincoln’s 200th birthday, Wednesday, February, 11, 2009 at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).

In the film, Gates shows how the Lincoln legend grew out of controversy, greed, love, clashing political perspectives, power struggles, and considerable disagreement over how our 16th president should be remembered. His quest to piece together Lincoln’s complex life takes him from Illinois to Gettysburg to Washington, D.C., and face-to-face with people who live with Lincoln every day – relic hunters, re-enactors, and others for whom the study of Lincoln is a passion.

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Among those weighing in: Pulitzer Prize winners Doris Kearns Goodwin and Tony Kushner; presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; and Lincoln scholars including Harold Holzer, vice chair of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission; Harvard University’s president Drew Faust and history professor David Hebert Donald; Yale University history professor David Blight; and Allen Guelzo of Gettysburg College. Former Ebony magazine editor Lerone Bennett challenges Lincoln’s record on race; writer Joshua Shenk talks about Lincoln’s depression; and New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik illuminates how Lincoln’s words changed the course of history.

A companion book, Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon, was written by Philip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt and Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr. It contains more than 900 images, many from the renowned Meserve-Kunhardt Collection. Booklist recently wrote, “The Kunhardts’ work is sure to be one of the most popular books in the bicentennial effusion of Lincoln volumes.” It was published by Alfred A. Knopf on November 18.

In addition, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has edited a book called Abraham Lincoln on Race and Slavery, a collection of everything Lincoln said or wrote about slavery and race, to be published by Princeton University Press. The volume was praised by Lincoln authority John Stauffer as an “invaluable and timely book, indispensable for anyone interested in race relations in the United States…beautifully written and penetrating in its insights.”

LOOKING FOR LINCOLN is a production of Kunhardt McGee Productions, Inkwell Films and THIRTEEN for WNET.ORG in association with Ark Media. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., William R. Grant, Peter Kunhardt, and Dyllan McGee are executive producers. Senior producer is Barak Goodman. Producers are John Maggio and Muriel Soenens. Sole corporate funding is provided by State Farm®. Major funding is provided by CPB and PBS. Additional funding for education outreach is provided by the Motorola Foundation.
About Kunhardt McGee Productions
For nearly 20 years, Kunhardt McGee Productions (formerly Kunhardt Productions) has been responsible for critically acclaimed historical programming with a reputation for high editorial standards. Most recently, Kunhardt McGee Productions co-produced Oprah’s Roots (2007) and African American Lives 1 and 2 (2006 & 2008) for PBS. Previously, the company produced Freedom: A History of US, an eight-hour PBS series based upon Joy Hakim’s award-winning books. Other notable works from Kunhardt McGee Productions include Lincoln, a four-hour series for ABC; In Memoriam, a one-hour co-production with HBO about Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; and The American President, a 10-hour PBS series profiling all forty-one presidents of the United States. Kunhardt McGee Productions is currently producing a multi-part series, Human Nature, for Vulcan Productions and WGBH’s Nova Science Unit to air on PBS in 2010. More information can be found at:

Bill Clinton

About Inkwell Productions
Inkwell Films was founded by Henry Louis Gates Jr. to produce sophisticated documentary films about the African-American experience for a broad audience. In addition to Oprah’s Roots, Inkwell Films co-produced African American Lives (2006) and African American Lives 2 (2008), and is currently developing The History of the African American People, an eight-part series tentatively slated for national broadcast premiere in 2009-2010.

About Ark Media
Ark Media is a documentary film company founded in 1997 by the producing team of Barak Goodman and Rachel Dretzin. Ark’s mission is to produce documentary films characterized by rigorous reporting, careful craft, and imaginative filmmaking. For the last decade, Ark has produced films primarily for the PBS series Frontline and American Experience, and for cable outlets such as The History Channel and American Movie Classics. During this time, our films have won nearly every major broadcast award: the Emmy, DuPont-Columbia, Robert F. Kennedy, Writers Guild and Peabody, as well as earning an Academy Award nomination and official selection to the Sundance Film Festival. For more information, please visit our website at

George W. Bush

New York public media company WNET.ORG is a pioneering provider of television and web content. The parent of Thirteen, WLIW21 and Creative News Group, WNET.ORG brings such acclaimed broadcast series and websites as Worldfocus, Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, Charlie Rose, Wide Angle, Secrets of the Dead, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Visions, Consuelo Mack WealthTrack,Wild Chronicles, Miffy and Friends, and Cyberchase to national and international audiences. Through its wide range of channels and platforms, WNET.ORG serves the entire New York City metro area with unique local productions, broadcasts and innovative educational and cultural projects. In all that it does, WNET.ORG pursues a single, overarching goal – to create media experiences of lasting significance for New York, America and the world. For more information, visit

  • Karen

    Who narrates “Looking for Lincoln?”

  • Jim O’Brien

    WOW!! one of the most honest, even-handed histories of Abraham Lincoln I have ever seen on TV (I have READ several good ones). Lincoln was a man, a flawed man and not a deity, who chose at great personal risk to make difficult decisions.

    You presented him in an honest way, doing him, and us a very good service.

  • Betty

    What was the theme music on “Looking for Lincoln?” Parts of it sounding like “Marching to Georgia.”

  • Beverly Turner

    Yours was a remarkable presentation on Abraham Lincoln. Since girlhood, I have been reading about Lincoln and yes, indeed he is a hero of mine.

    Disappointment I do feel about the way the South was portrayed or not portrayed, being a native Atlantan and knowing the ghastly unnecessary destruction and death tolls Sherman left behind
    in his “March to the Sea”. Many, many slaves chose to stay here in the South, their home, and helped to reconstruct. It is unfortunate you did not include the South of today in your review and also regret the “Lincoln Haters’ Club” in North Carolina (which to unknown to me) was the only interview of Southerners you gave.

    We Southerners and great admirers of Lincoln would have been pleased to have been included in this soul-searching and fact-finding documentary
    in a true and positive manner.

    Respectfully yours,
    Beverly C. Turner
    Mother of four, grandmother of 8

  • Michael

    I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary “Looking For Lincoln”. I was unable to watch the documentary when it originally aired on GPB in Atlanta. Fortunately the program is posted online in its entirety along with an excellent website. The documentary raised many issues which I had never considered before watching the program. Thank you.

  • Louisa Calio

    Brilliant and honest look at Lincoln as a whole human being as he rose from his roots to heights he may have never imagined. All my life when I looked at Lincoln’s image, I saw depth and soul which is ever complicated. This image my Grandfather had sculpted and mirrored in a way being Saturnian,- seriously dedicated to his family, work and political ideals in a world that breaks one over and over challenging us to the Core. Thank you again Dr. Gates for going beyond the norm into the soulful depths.

  • Lee Carpenter

    An uplifting mind expanding production. The dichotomy of Lincoln’s racist view of the blacks with his antislavery position was questioned. Although it became clear that his position progressively evolved with his Emancipation Proclamation, it occurs to me that how a thinking Lincoln, who was raised within a national attitude of apartheid, would hold apparently opposing views, is to consider how an equally thoughtul man in a similar situation might think and act against cruelty to any living being without necessarily assessing levels of equality within or among different groups of anything. Also I applaud the point that whatever are the Lincoln myths that have followed his legacy, Lincoln himself would not have “celebrated” these myths, and could have, had he lived longer, done what was needed to be done to end the perpetuation of such mind numbing prejudice. Thank you Dr. Gates for this informative film.

  • Paula Cohen

    As usual, Dr. Gates enlightens as he helps us shed our assumptions and replace them with enlightened fascination in the subjects upon which he shines his light. Finding the less godly qualities in Lincoln serves to magnify his monumental achievements; our clay-footed president surely does belong to the ages.

  • harlan cosby

    i’m really in disturbed at your attempts as so many racists and bigots tried to persuade me that a man, no a white man in the midst of racism at its peak could be dismissed soooooo easily as a common ordinary redneck who got himself killed to be didnt read between the lines.i will debate you on this and win easily but the damage is done you have shown the kids lincoln was a shallow bigot only all point no counter point tsk tsk

  • Andria Medina

    Thank you for another thought provoking and thorough feature, Mr. Gates. We are looking forward to your next piece!

  • Darwin Rubeck

    I am making these comments quite some time after seeing this program on PBS. I have not had the opportunity to hear Mr. Gates speak in person, but have seen and spoken with Doris Kearns Goodwin and thus she was my draw to this program.

    The timing of these comments also has come after recent events in which Mr. Gates was arrested at his home, which has only strengthened my viewpoint.

    In this program, Ms. Goodwin stresses to Mr. Gates that as a true historian he must view the life of Lincoln from his viewpoint and thus within the context of the world in which he was living. Mr. Gates seemed to be going out of his way to stress the “bigotry” of Lincoln rather than understanding the prevailing atmosphere at that point in time.

    Through many differences, whites in America and negroes from Africa truly were from two different worlds. Through slavery, the negroes were put into an obvious subservient position and with the differences in language, social backgrounds, and culture, society did not know or understand negroes. Nor did they take the time to know or understand them generally speaking.

    Lincoln’s thoughts of setting up a colony for the “African Americans” were more from not understanding the negroes than from racism or bigotry. Lincoln was not a person born into high society with outstanding educational opportunities, thus he grew up with the beliefs of his parents and others in the areas in which he lived. As he became more educated and more worldly, the more he realized that what was happening with slavery was wrong and it was something that should have been addressed by ouor government long before he came along.

    Now back to my point regarding Mr. Gates. His recent arrest for “Disorderly Conduct” has brought to the headlines that the topic of racism. Mr. Gates again must step back and look at this situation from the perspective of how things happened as they happened.

    He and his driver were trying to break into his home because he did not have his keys. A neighbor saw the commotion and called the police. When the police arrived, Mr. Gates would not provide the identification that the police officer asked for and the situation escalated from there. Now, I am sure also that the conduct of the police officer was not completely appropriate, but Mr. Gates cry’s of racism and threatening a lawsiut are taking things too far as well.

    Generally speaking, most police officers in this country would have reacted in the same way as the officer that arrested Mr. Gates, but not because they are racist, but rather because they are on a power trip.

    Mr. Gates is not as vitriolic as Rev’s Sharpton and Jackson, but still is doing nothing to improve relations, but rather perpetuate racism and increase the chasm.

  • Rosenda

    Hey I heard there was a hologram used in this presentation of Lincoln at his museum, How can I get more information on this?

  • Mbruyette

    Thank you for giving me this valuable information, it gave me a different look at President Lincoln, what a wonderful and “human man”he was. It does not change my mind in the least as to what he was able to achieve in his short life.

  • Tom Taylor

    The assertion that Lincoln’s anti-slavery reputation is exaggerated is obviously credible given the perspective researched and presented by “Looking for Lincoln”. That his personal impact on black America should therefore be somewhat moderated is a reasonable extension of that perspective. Let’s move up 150 years and beyond. Will we hold Obama responsible for the disastrous national debt that will be incurred during his term? Or should we acknowledge now that Obama was pushed and pulled by the political forces which are arguably much more powerful now than then?

  • James Nalbone

    I dont understand how such an educated african american such as Mr. Gates; doesnt understand what he is actually doing to his “own” race by, “interpreting evidence” of President Lincoln views on the Negro race over one hundred and fifty years ago.

    Think about what president Lincoln was and is to so may americans to have someone try and prove that he was a actual racist. It doesnt make sense to me.

    Mr Rubeck made an excellent point.

    “Mr. Gates is not as vitriolic as Rev’s Sharpton and Jackson, but still is doing nothing to improve relations, but rather perpetuate racism and increase the chasm.”

  • Carmen

    I looked forward to this type of dcoumentary about Abe Lincoln but was dissappointed in the end. I’ve always found that the real person can be greater than the mythology surrounding him/her. A man is more than the sum of his parts. While Mr. Gates made a good attempt to unviel the real Abe Lincoln he failed to grasp the totaitity y of the man along with the times that he lived. It’s the journey, the fnal results that matter

    Lincoln was a self made, self educated man who had no first hand knowledge of the actual process of slavery. Specifically the the absolute power of keeping slaves uneducated. From his poiint of view he couldn’t understand why slaves couldn’t edcated themselves as he had and probably never met an educated Afircan Ameican until he became president. He never would have been elected to any office if he’d advocated equality; in turn he would never have obtained the power to end slavery.

    As to his belief in colonization; African Ameicans gloss over the sentence he wrote which in essence stated his belief that colonization was best because Afircan Americans would never be happy here after what happened. Was he also a prophet? Today’s African American youth know nothing about being a slave, or Jim Crow, or segragaton and all barriers have been removed (Mr. Gates a prime example) yet they’re still unhappy as if slavery, segragation and Jim Crow were they’re realitty.

    You can go on about the Abolitionists and the Underground Raillroad but not a one of them ended slavery. Futhermore, most of them didn’t want former slaves living in their neighborhood. Only one person, Lincoln, did it. No one else. So what it if it was a process? So what if he ddn’t do it in one full stroke? Lincoln was a man who knew not to shove something down a person’s throat. He got more people to get on board by providing a self interested reason (destroy the South’s fnancial stabiility). The end result was disolution of slavery throughout the entire country. The actual slaves understood this at the time. That’s why they kneeled before him in gratitude while he walked by. That’s what that statue in represents. Gratitiude. That’s why he was mythologized almost upon his death. Both black and white understood that he alone was the only one that dared to end slavery.

    Afircan Americans tend to glsss over the fact that Lincoln went balistic when he heard that slaves joined the Sourthenr army to fight against him. This shows he always understood that states rights was only a smoke screen. It was always about slavery. Where our cowardly Northern Founding Fathers conceeded to the South to obtain their objective; Licncoln stood fast. The fact that he stated at the end that blacks should vote shows he came to belive in equality. That he only proposed educated blacks was not a distinction since many argued that only educated whites should vote.

    This docmentary didn’t tell me anyting I didn’t already know about Lincoln. In acquiring this knowledge I’ve concluded that we have to accept and pay respect to the people who actually lived through it; not the descendants. In particular; you have to pay respect to the assesment of the people at issue; the actual slaves. They concluded that he was the only one who actually set them free and was worthy to kneel before in gratitude. What came afterward was none of his doing.

  • Nicole M.

    This was one of the most enlightening and honest explorations of Father Lincoln that I’ve seen presented to this date. Historically, politically, and personally, the depth of information was amazing and much appreciated. He was one of the few politicians in american history that acted in the best interests of his country, as opposed to his own personal beliefs. Thank you Dr. Gates.

State Farm

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