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Archive for Monday, February 12, 2007

Commission planning for 200th birthday bash

February 12, 2007

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— Abraham Lincoln, an intellectual leader with a taste for theater and music, would probably enjoy himself immensely if he could attend his own national bicentennial party planned for a whole year, beginning Feb. 12, 2008. To honor him, new symphonies, poems, theater and art pieces are in the works, as well as revivals of plays and music popular during his administration.

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, established in 2000, is in charge of the celebration. The goal of the 15-member commission is to show the public the impact Lincoln had on the development of the nation and to find the best possible ways to honor his accomplishments. Members include three Lincoln scholars: Gabor Boritt, Harold Holzer and Frank Williams.

Besides the cultural events approved by the commission during the past 21 public meetings, plans for a redesigned Lincoln penny and five-dollar bill were given the nod. A commemorative coin to mark the 2009 Lincoln birthday was also approved, and in September, President Bush signed legislation directing the U.S. Treasury to mint 500,000 one-dollar coins that are 90 percent silver. The design has not been chosen.

"The calendar is chock-full," said commission Executive Director Eileen Mackevich, who was hired in October. "We will have programs throughout the country."

The schedule will be made public in the next few months.

She said commemorations are already planned in more than half of the states, including some that were in the Confederacy. Atlanta and Richmond have scheduled events, she said.

At her first meeting with the commissioners in November, she recommended they put more emphasis on programs that will interest African-Americans and immigrants who have become citizens.

"We would like to know how African-Americans, rural and urban, view Lincoln," she said, noting that John Hope Franklin, the dean of historians on the black American experience, had just accepted an invitation to speak in Washington on April 15. The location and time of his talk should be available soon on the commission's Web site, www.lincolnbicentennial.gov.

"There is a large pocket of new immigrants in the country, and we need to reach them," Mackevich said. "They need to know that Lincoln had only two years of formal education and he was able to rise from such a modest beginning."

The commission met Saturday at the University Club of Chicago. The agenda for the 22nd meeting included a discussion of Internet communications and how the commission can make use of the Web, ongoing plans for the formal kickoff of the celebration in 2008 at the Kentucky birthplace of Lincoln and the rededication of the Lincoln Memorial in 2009.

Holzer, one of the three co-chairmen of the commission, said the group has made progress since it first met in 2001.

"Based, we hope, on our early activity, press events and Web site creation, the buzz is growing," he said. "The Lincoln book publishing field is awash with new titles. Steven Spielberg is planning a new film."

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