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A 1919 street map of the old Eighth Ward, home to many Harrisburg Blacks until it was razed for an extension of Capitol Park.State historical marker for Underground Railroad activity in Harrisburg's Tanner Alley neighborhood, located at Walnut Street near Fourth.

RisingFree

African American History
in South Central
Pennsylvania:
the 19th Century

The following article is in four pages and is reprinted with permission of the Camp Curtin Historical Society/Civil War Round Table of Harrisburg.  It was originally published in their journal The Bugle, January-March 2002.

 

A Common Man’s Tribute:  Allegorical Imagery in Lincoln Centennial Postcards

The goddess Athena places a laurel wreath on the head of a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln.The great church bells began tolling in Washington about 7:30 in the morning on April 15, 1865 and did not stop all day.  Everywhere in that city, and in cities and towns across the United States, shops closed, women fastened black cloth around their doorways and windows, and groups of people gathered to talk in low, sad voices. 

Ironically, the bullet that had maliciously deprived this country of a leader and a president also immediately created a martyr.  Lincoln historian Jim Bishop, in The Day Lincoln Was Shot , wrote “Millions of people who had not cared much one way or the other now discovered that they loved this man.”  

article by George F. Nagle
originally published in The Bugle, Jan.-Mar. 2002

Fig. 1  An unidentified figure, perhaps the Greek goddess Athena, goddess of war, and later of wisdom, crowns the image of Lincoln with a laurel wreath, symbolic of triumph and victory, and in Victorian mourning practice, memory.

F

orty four years after the end of the Civil War and after the death of the man who led the country through that crisis, the nation celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth.  With a grand ceremony on February 12 at Springfield, Illinois, Americans launched into a yearlong Lincoln Centennial celebration, which featured an outpouring of tributes in the fine arts—poetry, sculpture, paintings and music.

The Springfield newspapers reported the premier event in glowing terms.  "Before an audience which taxed the capacity of the mammoth Sunday tabernacle, and which is conservatively estimated at nine-thousand, two of the greatest orators of the United States and the ambassadors of France and England paid glowing tributes to the name of the immortal Lincoln. Never in the history of this city has such a demonstration been seen of similar nature.”  William Jennings Bryan provided the opening address and letters were read from Booker T. Washington.  The guest of honor was the president’s son Robert Lincoln.  Across town, at the A.M.E. Church, Springfield’s Black citizens held their own memorial celebration, the main event being restricted to whites only.

The soaring oratory and weighty bronze memorials generated in the centennial spirit were inspiring, but often inaccessible to the common man, who probably did not have the ability to take off work to attend events, or money to spend to travel to a monument unveiling.  Like the Black celebrants at the Springfield A.M.E., most Americans honored the memory of the 16th president in their own way and within their own means.

Foremost among the Lincoln tributes, and still the most prolific, but now overlooked, is theAbraham Lincoln, engraved on a U.S. Post Office postal card. humble penny.  Making its appearance in 1909, this most democratic of coins bore the likeness of the martyred president and was seen and used by everyone from the poorest laborer to bank presidents.  With 1909 buying power, a “Lincoln penny” could buy a multitude of goods and services, including a one-cent stamp, which would carry a post card all the way across the country.

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This page was updated September 8, 2005.