State capitol statue was erected eight years before the Lincoln Memorial in D.C.
By Randy York
It’s Black History Month, and I have a confession to make. Until the past few months, rarely have I tied the man Nebraska’s Capital City is named after to black history, even though Abraham Lincoln saved the union, freed the slaves and changed the course of American history. Nor have I ever wondered why Nebraskans don’t celebrate Lincoln more, especially in Lincoln, where his bronze memorial statue greets all who visit the Nebraska State Capitol from its incomparable west entrance.
Has it really taken Steven Spielberg’s masterful direction of the movie Lincoln for all of us Cornhuskers to recognize that one of America’s two most popular presidents should be celebrated more than an occasional President’s Day acknowledgement or a quick trip to Mt. Rushmore? Maybe we should all make a retroactive New Year’s resolution, so we can collectively thank Spielberg for directing such an uplifting movie. At the same time, let’s congratulate Daniel-Day Lewis for winning the coveted Best Actor Oscar a record third time and making some history of his own for his portrayal of Lincoln’s final months as president.
Just because Lincoln didn’t win Best Picture, Best Director or any other major category beyond Best Actor doesn’t matter. The man who played Lincoln was the most important category in our mind because the Oscar celebrates Lincoln, the city, and Lincoln, the man. We are, after all, the most famous city in America named after Abraham Lincoln. I mean, I’ll give Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, preeminence because it reflects the nation and it is named after George Washington, America’s first and perhaps most revered and immortalized president. Whenever Lincoln’s legacy is reinforced to inspire others, especially on a worldwide stage like the Academy Awards, Lincoln-Lincoln is a win-win. With his shadow hanging over our fair city, doesn’t President Lincoln continuously become more important to Nebraska than Presidents Madison to Wisconsin, Cleveland to Ohio, Jackson to Mississippi and Jefferson to Missouri? I realize there might be some debate there, but now is as good a time as any to point out how progressive-minded Lincoln, Nebraska, was, is and always will be.
Lincoln’s Statue Preceded D.C. Memorial
Check out a few history books from the local library and you learn that Lincoln’s bronze statue was authorized by the Nebraska Legislature, which created the Lincoln Centennial Memorial Association in1903 to provide state funds. One of America’s leading sculptors, Daniel Chester French, was commissioned to make the Lincoln statue in 1909. French collaborated with architect Henry Bacon on the project, and the statue was dedicated on Sept. 12, 1912, with Nebraska orator William Jennings Bryan addressing a crowd of thousands.
One of Bryan’s most famous quotes – Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice – greets all coaches, student-athletes and visitors walking into the north entrance of the Tom and Nancy Osborne Athletic Complex connected to Memorial Stadium. Eight years after Lincoln dedicated its statue of Lincoln, Washington D.C. commemorated its own Lincoln Memorial, and, you guessed it … Daniel Chester French was hired to be the sculptor and Henry Bacon the architect.
Please don’t mistake my thoughts about a lack of modern-day respect for Abraham Lincoln to represent this city’s leadership. In fact, Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler deserves kudos for hosting one of Honest Abe’s best birthday celebrations. Nine days ago, the first 350 people who arrived at Lincoln’s downtown Grand Theater received free admission to the movie Lincoln. The celebration also provided free birthday cake and music from Chris Sayre, who has performed at 13 consecutive Lincoln celebrations.
Osborne Endorses New Book on Lincoln
That’s not all that made this party special. Born on July Fourth in Philadelphia, Lincoln’s Susan Grace Dittman discussed her newest patriotically themed book, Abraham Lincoln’s Shining Star – the Inspiring Story of Abraham Lincoln and Nebraska. The book received an endorsement from Tom Osborne, who called it “a very readable story that quickly and concisely informs the reader of the key points of Abraham Lincoln’s life and presidency, his struggles during the Civil War and the way his life affected the state of Nebraska. I recommend it highly.”
If you haven’t caught the spirit that Lincoln gives Lincoln by now, maybe you need to head to Mayor Beutler’s Conference Room, where UNL Art Professor Aaron Holz has a sketch of his future painting of President Lincoln on permanent display. After the Lincoln movie, Honest Abe’s birthday celebration was followed by a lecture from Lincoln native Mike Lux, an author and co-founder of a Washington D.C. consulting firm. Lux returned to his hometown, where most of his family still lives, to share his thoughts about President Lincoln and the lessons Nebraskans continue to learn from him.
By this point, even if you haven’t seen the movie, you might realize what a galvanizing force Abraham Lincoln was. He not only appealed to his own Republican Party, but also to Democrats and Independents alike. He was a truly remarkable leader, not unlike Osborne, who also has a unique way to unite diverging points of view. Shawn Eichorst, Osborne’s successor as athletic director, is an equally intent listener before weighing in with his own thoughts.
Eichorst Supports Black History Series
I ask Nebraska’s Athletic Director Emeritus and NU’s first-year AD if they saw the movie. Osborne said he had not, but wife Nancy gave it high marks. The movie captivated Eichorst, who especially liked the way Lincoln would listen carefully to others before finding the right time to make those same people laugh to make a point. The movie was so inspiring that Eichorst already has done what Day-Lewis asked all Americans to do in his late Sunday night acceptance speech – allow themselves to re-imagine Lincoln’s life and the significance he had in the history of this country.
Eichorst can re-imagine Lincoln’s life and the significance he had in the history of our university, our city and our state. With a keener grasp of Lincoln’s legacy, we will honor our own black history with a year-round series to recognize and celebrate the African-American pioneers of Nebraska Athletics.
The N-Sider will launch the series to remember our roots, recognize their accomplishments and honor those student-athletes who followed the path President Lincoln helped create. The series will be published monthly and will focus on such athletes as George Flippin, Bill Thornton, Merlene Ottey, Will Shields, Dr. Pat Tyrance, Jordan Burroughs, Charlie Greene, Rhonda Blanford-Green, Ndamukong Suh, Stuart Lantz and Keith Gardner. We know there are other Husker names worthy of such recognition, and we invite all Big Red fans to email their nominations of catalysts for change – men and women who broke the barriers in a city named after a president who’s still making history and still making headlines generation after generation.
Send a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org (Include town/city, state)
Voices from Husker Nation
Your wonderful column on Abe Lincoln & Lincoln, Neb., made me want to go out and see the movie. I thought you tied everything together very well, especially with Nebraska’s fine record of diversity in sports, in many ways ahead of the pack by a pretty significant margin. Joel Thornton, Dallas, Texas (1980 graduate of Lincoln High, copy desk chief at The Dallas Morning News)
I believe Turner Gill should be honored for good reason. I consider him to be the benchmark of what or how Nebraska quarterbacks are judged today. He established a new era of Nebraska quarterbacks up to the present day. Not only was he a dynamic player with great skill and and ability, but he possessed excellent character and integrity and represented Nebraska football well. I could go on but I think most Husker fans would agree. Chris Conradt, Anaheim, California