Secretary Salazar Rededicates Lincoln Memorial
On Saturday, May 30, the Lincoln Memorial was rededicated in honor of President Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial year. The memorial was first dedicated in 1922. Secretary Salazar delivered the closing remarks of the dedication ceremony.
Secretary Salazar Rededicates Lincoln Memorial
in Honor of Lincoln Bicentennial
May 30, 2009
Music/Announcer: This is a podcast from the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar participated in a Rededication Ceremony of the Lincoln Memorial 87 years after it was first dedicated in 1922. The event taking place during the bicentennial year of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth, and it was the third and final event honoring the president. Guest speakers included Dr. Benjamin F. Payton, President of Tuskegee University and William Farley the 2009 Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Champion. Here are Secretary Salazar’s remarks.
Secretary Ken Salazar: It is my honor to be here as the Secretary of Interior today on behalf of President Barack Obama to share with you some thoughts with respect to the importance of protecting the places and stories that fuel the American Spirit. From Gettysburg to Yosemite to the hallowed grounds of America to the Lincoln Memorial. I want to thank you all for being a part of this celebration. For 87 years Americans have come here to read our nation’s story of freedom and union and the etchings of this temple. School children from across America and the world come here to learn. Veterans come here to remember.
And in difficult times we all come here to draw hope. To draw hope from President Lincoln’s lesson that no matter the challenge America can remake itself, rebuild, and renew. For this is a Memorial to Abraham Lincoln’s life but it is also perhaps more importantly an enduring symbol of the work that remains unfinished in our America. In the peaceful recesses under these columns, we remember the bloodiest war of America’s history. We remember slavery and the millions of Americans who died in shackles.
We remember a president whose courage saved the union and whose words gave us new purpose that America is above all. Conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men, and today we would add all women are created equal. It is fitting that so much of our nation’s struggle to fulfill the promise of equality has unfolded right here in the shadow of the statue of Lincoln. Here on an Easter Sunday 70 years ago after being told she could not perform at constitution hall because of her race. Marian Anderson delivered a triumphant concert to a crowd of 75,000 opening American hearts to the injustices of segregation.
And here in 1963 right on this stage in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech Martin Luther King Jr. called on Americans to summon what Lincoln called “The Better Angels of our Nature” to finally finish the work of the Emancipation Proclamation a century before, and to free all peoples from the chains of discrimination. Now, that dream and those words have joined the legacy of this hallowed place. Here today in the story of Lincoln and in the story of this memorial, we are reminded of the force of memory in shaping our nations destiny. Lincoln well understood that force of memory. It is why Lincoln in his first inaugural prayed that the “mystique chords of memory,” as he said would bind the splintering nation as it rushed towards Civil War.
It is why two years later Lincoln went to Gettysburg and there his tribute to the fallen gave a new birth of freedom that helped build a new nation from the wreckage of the old. The power of memory is also why millions of visitors come here each year. Day after day the words on these walls shape our nation and our understanding of who we are and who we can be as a people. As we visit sacred places like Lincoln Memorial, we are vividly reminded of what is at stake. We know that the power of memory carries great responsibilities. For as we write our histories and tell out stories, we must also resolve not to forget the painful parts of our past that’s what happened after the Civil War.
In the decades after the fighting had stopped the story of the struggle of emancipation and of equal rights slipped away as our nation put off the promises written in the ink of our constitution, and written in the blood of those who gave their lives in the Civil War. Our nation remembered the noble battles but too often it forgot the brutality of slavery and discrimination that lay at its center. We remembered human heroism but postponed carrying forward in peace what was one in war. Our imperfect memory of the Civil war and of Lincoln’s legacy of equality lasted for more than a century. Even when President Warren Harding dedicated this very memorial in 1922, blacks and whites sat separately.
The event honoring the man who abolished slavery was a largely segregated event 75 years ago. For Lincoln, our nation was a grand work in progress so too is our memory, our history, and our understanding of who we are as a people. That is why protecting the sites and stories of America’s heritage is so very, very important. From the cultures and traditions of America’s first peoples, to the writings that launched the experience in government of the people by the people and for the people. From the Spanish churches of my native Sun Luis Valley in the Southwestern part of the United States to the Japanese internment camps of World War II. From the birthplace of Jazz to the resting place of Cesar Chavez, we must serve as stewards of all of our heritage so that our story can become more complete, our narrative as to people more inclusive and our memory more whole.
That is why I’m so proud of the National park Service and the Department of Interior and its agencies as they take on the responsibility of helping share the responsibility of protecting that heritage for America. The National Park Service alone overseas nearly 400 national parks, more than 2,400 national historic landmarks, 26,000 historic structures, 67,000 archaeological sites, and more than 120 million historic objects in their museum collections. In addition to all that, the parks service has worked with partners like Library of Congress, The Smithsonian, and the National Archives to interview the people who witness and shaped our history from Pearl Harbor to the Civil Rights Movement.
Thanks to all of those who have continued our efforts to make sure that our history is never forgotten. I am also very proud of the work we’re doing here on this mall. From where we stand today we may soon see two new museums: The National Museum of African-American Culture and the Culture of the National Museum of the American Latino. We hope that they will soon rise among the giants of memorials and museums along this National mall. They’re milestones of America’s progress that will enrich our nation’s history and inspire future generations in ways that we cannot yet imagine. So today 200 years after his birth, Lincoln’s legacy is alive and growing at this memorial.
And while we may honor his memory with songs and speeches, the true major of our devotion to Lincoln’s principles and the greatest honor we can bestow is in our commitment to what he called “The Unfinished Work.” The unfinished work that those before us have so nobly carried on and which we must so nobly continue to carry on. And we rededicate these hallowed grounds fulfilling this promise must be our change as we do this rededication. Nobody, nobody knows this better than the President of the United States Barrack Obama. It is on his behalf and with great honor that I accept once more on behalf of the government this temple, to freedom, and union.
May the Lincoln Memorial always stand as a beacon for justice and equality for all. May it inspire every child who climbs these steps and reads the inscriptions on its walls, and may it give us strength in these trying times to lay a new foundation for prosperity and security for America and of all our world. God Bless Abraham Lincoln and God Bless America. Thank you.
Announcer: This has been a podcast from the U.S. Department of the Interior