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How America Uses Lincoln’s Space

It feels, today, like a secular temple—so quiet and hallowed that many Americans take it as an affront when anyone they might disagree with seizes the space.

But from the start, the Lincoln Memorial has pulled all kinds of Americans together and even provided a (mostly) civil spot for them to argue.


The first idea for a monument to Abraham Lincoln was a grandiose design by sculptor Clark Mills, selected by Congress after it passed a bill to erect a monument in the late 1860s. After that plan ran into political and practical obstacles, it took decades for Congress to move forward on a new memorial—consisting of a massive sculpture by Daniel Chester French inside a marble Greek Revival-style temple, with the 16th president’s second inaugural and Gettysburg addresses inscribed on the walls—on the present site at the edge of the Potomac.

Conceived with a nod to both North and South, the Lincoln Memorial has played host to all sorts of movements and events since it was dedicated in 1922, from Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington to President Donald Trump’s planes-and-tanks version of a Fourth of July celebration last summer, with the inevitable Trump protesters. Here’s a biography of the Lincoln Memorial—and its many uses—in photos.

The laying of the cornerstone took place on February 12, 1915. | Library of Congress

The walls of the inner chamber were built in 1915. | Library of Congress

The installation of the Abraham Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial in 1920. | National Archives/Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital

African American opera singer Marian Anderson, facing the Washington Monument and overlooking the Reflecting Pool, sings to an audience seated in front of the Lincoln Memorial, at a memorial service for Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, April 20, 1952. In 1939, after Anderson was denied a stage at Constitution Hall because of her race, Ickes helped organize an outdoor concert for her at the Lincoln Memorial, where she performed before a crowd of more than 75,000. | Library of Congress

Evangelist Billy Graham speaks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on July 4, 1970 during opening ceremonies for “Honor America Day.” A crowd of several thousand came to hear the ecumenical religious and patriotic program led by Graham. | AP Photo

At a rally held in front of the Lincoln Memorial in September 1970, members of the Black Panther Party demanded a new constitution that would address the needs and rights of African Americans. | Getty Images

Protestors splash around in the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial during a rally against the war in Vietnam. One demonstrator waves a Việt Cộng flag. | David Fenton/Getty Images

The Edge, Bruce Springsteen, Bono and Usher wait their turn to perform at “We are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration” at the Lincoln Memorial the weekend before Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. | Getty Images

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as well as former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young and former President Jimmy Carter at the Lincoln Memorial in 2013 for a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. | AP Photo

Fireworks seen from the Lincoln Memorial explode over the Potomac River on July 4, 2019. | AP Photo

President Donald Trump speaks with Fox News anchor Bret Baier during a “virtual town hall” (because of the coronavirus pandemic) inside the Lincoln Memorial on May 3, 2020. | Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images

Members of the National Guard stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on June 2, 2020, monitoring demonstrators protesting in Washington D.C. after the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

Black Lives Matter demonstrators march past the Lincoln Memorial during a protest against police brutality and racism on June 6, 2020, the 12th day of protests in the city. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Source: Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

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