As part of the national commemoration of the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's birth, Howard University will host a conference on "Race and Emancipation in the Age of Lincoln." The conference is co-sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission (ALBC), a body created by Congress to coordinate commemorative events. On February 12, 2009, the Commission sponsored a rededication of the Lincoln Memorial and a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda at which President Barack Obama was the featured speaker.
The conference will enhance the growing national awareness of the link between present-day challenges concerning race and the unfinished business of the Civil War (1861-1865). The Commission acknowledges that earlier national commemorations of Lincoln's birth ignored the theme of emancipation and desires to correct that oversight. President Obama has repeatedly referenced Lincoln's life and work as touchstones for his own career and inspirations for the nation. He even went so far as to launch his campaign for the presidency in Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois, and-following Lincoln's example-he traveled to Washington by train to assume the presidency.
By examining Lincoln through the lens of the African American struggle for freedom and equality during the Civil War and since, the conference will make a special contribution to the bicentennial. From its founding in 1867 in the spirit of emancipation, Howard University has confronted the legacies of slavery and racial discrimination and promoted a true understanding of the role Africans and their descendants in the making of the modern world. It is a fitting site for the conference.
The program features more than thirty nationally and internationally recognized scholars. Addressing the traditional image of Lincoln as emancipator, they will examine his path to emancipation, his vision for the nation in the post-slavery era, and his legacy for the twenty-first century. Just as important, participants will explore the contributions of the countless African Americans whose actions undermined slavery and challenged Lincoln and the nation to fulfill the promises articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
The conference opens on April 16, 2009, the 147th anniversary of emancipation in the District of Columbia. Accompanying the sessions is an exhibition of relevant documents, prints and artifacts from the Civil War era housed in the university's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.
The dawn of Barack Obama's presidency-200 years after Lincoln's birth and 150 years after the Civil War-provides an opportune moment to reflect on the work already accomplished and that which lies ahead.