National Exhibit Connects Lincoln, King, Civil Rights


By Rosaland Tyler

Associate Editor

New Journal and Guide



A Smithsonian Institution exhibit now on view through September at the National Museum of American History honors President Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr.  Among the items of interest in the exhibit are the Lincoln and King Bibles that President Barack Obama selected for use during his second inauguration.

    Obama says he never compares himself to Lincoln, but he chose Lincoln’s Bible in 2009 and again for his inauguration on Jan. 21, 2013. The Lincoln Bible, part of the collection of the Library of Congress, was used at the swearing-in of Lincoln in 1861. It is also included in the Lincoln-King exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution which opened Dec. 14 at the National Museum of African American History and Culture Gallery.

 Specifically, this year, Obama selected three Bibles to use but only two Bibles at the Jan. 21 ceremony at the U.S. Capitol – Lincoln’s and the Bible once used by Martin Luther King Jr.

    “President Obama is honored to use these Bibles at the swearing-in ceremonies,” said Steve Kerrigan, president and CEO of the inaugural committee. “On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, this historic moment is a reflection of the extraordinary progress we’ve made as a nation.”

     Asked during the fiscal cliff negotiations if it was his Lincoln moment to work out a compromise, Obama said he doesn’t compare himself to Lincoln. But there are numerous examples during his presidency of Obama evoking Lincoln imagery.

Obama also used the Bible at his first inauguration in 2009.

    The King Bible is known as the “traveling Bible” of the late civil-rights leader.

    Obama’s third Bible belongs to the family of his in-laws, the Robinsons, for his official swearing-in on Jan. 20. That privately held ceremony takes place because the constitutionally mandated date for the inauguration fell on a Sunday, when public institutions are closed.

     The Robinson family Bible was a gift from First Lady Michelle Obama’s father, Fraser Robinson III, to his mother, LaVaughn Delores Robinson, on Mother’s Day in 1958. Mrs. Robinson was the first African-American woman manager of a Moody Bible Institute’s bookstore, and she used the Bible regularly.

    The exhibit at the Smithsonian contains other artifacts. Called “Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and The March on Washington, 1963, the exhibit includes other artifacts including an inkwell Lincoln used to draft what would become the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as the pen President Lyndon Johnson used to sign the Civil Rights Act.

    At the Smithsonian you can also examine a rare signed copy of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. The document was once owned by abolitionist House Speaker Schuyler Colfax, who helped push the resolution through Congress. It is on loan from businessman David Rubenstein. It echoes the plotline of the current movie “Lincoln.”

     The exhibit shows creative leadership is an American staple. Throughout history visionary leaders pointed the nation away from slavery to the future, and in other new directions. At times when some believed slavery would never end and later that segregation would never end, history shows that creative leadership can “find a way to perfect America,” Museum Director Lonnie Bunch said.

     “It took courage, it took strategy, it took loss,” Bunch said. “But ultimately, it changed America for the better.”

The exhibit is on view through September at the National Museum of American History while the black history museum is under construction.

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