The Lincoln Family Home hosts exhibitions on two American icons

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MANCHESTER — There is a span of 28 winter days when, each year, Americans celebrate the births of two iconic public figures: civil rights leader The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Jan. 15, and President Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12.

Two exhibits at Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home, the nation's second most important Lincoln site, shine a light on some of the values these men, born 120 years apart, shared.

The exhibits seek to provide insight into the enduring connection between two leaders known as heroes in the nation's historical and ongoing quest to guarantee equal justice for all, said Paula Maynard, Hildene's press director.

"It's clear that both leaders were deeply committed to the words of the Declaration of Independence," Maynard said. "These were not just notions or grand ideas. Like Hildene's motto, `Values Into Action,' they were meant to be a day-to-day practiced reality for all Americans."

Maynard stated the words from the Declaration of Independence herself by memory, to emphasize their importance:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness," she said, emphatically.

The first ongoing exhibit, "Many Voices," is located on the platform at Hildene's historic Pullman rail car, "Sunbeam."

It features a timeline beginning in 1863 with Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and ending with the 1963 march on Washington for jobs and freedom.

At the end of this march Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. As in that speech, one of the "Many Voices" of the exhibition is that of the black Pullman porters, many of whom were former slaves - and the men who made the company successful with their impeccable service.

Bruce White, Hildene's Sunbeam staff lead, emphasized the importance of the porter's roles.

"The porters paradoxically overcame exploitive work conditions to usher in the era of the black labor union and the rise of the black middle class," White said. "Eventually they became an important part of the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King."

The second ongoing exhibit, "The American Ideal: Abraham Lincoln and the Second Inaugural," is located in the Lincoln family's home - the estate's main mansion - and is focused on what is considered by many historians to be the greatest presidential speech in American history.

Hildene President Seth Bongartz said that guests to the exhibit learn how the Civil War and President Lincoln helped bring life and meaning to the promise of the American ideal of equality, justice and opportunity for all.

"In his 1865 inaugural address President Lincoln spoke the unpleasant truth that all Americans were complicit in the evil of slavery," Bongartz said. "He viewed the acceptance of this reality as a prerequisite for reconstruction and national unity."

King's speech, Bongartz continued, focused on the injustice of segregation and the unfinished work resultant of the nation's failure to follow through on the promise of reconstruction.

Maynard concurred with Bongartz, saying that both King and Lincoln were zealous in their convictions and fearless in voicing them.

The two exhibitions have had a positive education effect and recognition, as Hildene is also designated the southernmost venue on the Vermont African-American Freedom Trail, one of the original venues chosen.

Maynard said that Hildene's two ongoing exhibitions were a fitting visitor destination during these 28 days in winter when Americans remember the contributions and sacrifices of both leaders.

"Both King and Lincoln selflessly faced dangerous opposition to the positions they took and their destinies would be to pay the ultimate price, assassination," Maynard said. "While Lincoln's second inaugural address and Martin Luther King's `I have a dream' speech are separated by nearly 100 years, both mark important eras in our nation's history, both are compelling, and each has had a dramatic impact on the social conscience of the nation."

Hildene is open year round from 9:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m. Info: www.hildene.org, Facebook, email info@hildene.org, or call 802-362-1788.

Reach award-winning freelance journalist at tchalkias@aol.com, or on Twitter: @Telly Halkias.


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