Students Make a Difference|
at the Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln's Legacy, a permanent exhibit unveiled September 23, 1994, at the Lincoln Memorial, was inspired by students who wanted to recognize America's continuing civil rights achievements. Students from across the country raised some $62,000 of the total exhibit cost of $350,000, proving the old adage "pennies make a difference," indeed, in this case, a monumental difference.
Student "ambassadors" in almost every state participated in the fund raising known as Pennies Make a Monumental Difference Campaign. Student representatives also worked with National Park Service professional exhibit planners to develop the thematic content and the plan to use the existing space.
The project set a precedent as the first exhibit ever produced as a collaborative effort between students and professionals at the National Park Service's interpretive design center in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
Inspiration for the exhibit came from six Arizona high school students on a visit to Washington in 1990. The students were surprised that the memorial made no recognition of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech," which was delivered from the steps in 1963. With their teacher's assistance they pressed the desire to show the Lincoln Memorial as the embodiment of Lincoln's legacy on civil rights and as the stage where the continuing battle for civil rights has been played out. Eventually, with the help of the American Federation of Teachers and The Close Up Foundation, the students lobbied Congress for a new memorial exhibit.
Perhaps the most striking element in the exhibit is a series of 13 panels of black Tennessee marble each weighing up to 400 pounds which have been honed and engraved with Lincoln's quotations about Equality, Freedom & Emancipation and Union. The panels in the center of the exhibit create a sense of the importance and enduring quality of Lincoln's words.
A second space highlights the architecture and symbolism of the memorial using photographs and facsimiles of the original design drawings that were proposed once the site was selected in West Potomac Park on the axis of the Capitol and Washington Monument. Congress acted to procure the designs in 1911 although the effort to build a memorial came in 1867, two years after Lincoln's death.
Another alcove displays construction photos of the memorial and tools used by the sculptor on the 19-foot high seated figure of Lincoln in the inner chamber. A model of the Lincoln life mask is shown with information about the sculptor Daniel Chester French.
A third part of the exhibit brings to life the variety of protests and demonstrations under the First Amendment of the Constitution that have taken place at the memorial. Video footage and news photographs show Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his "I Have a Dream Speech" and President Truman announcing the integration of the Armed Services. Among the many historical events included are Marian Anderson in concert, Easter Sunday, 1939; a Black Panther rally in 1970; wreath-laying ceremonies for Iranian Hostages in 1979; and an Earth First demonstration in 1987.
To convey a sense of Lincoln's legacy outside the United States, the exhibit devotes space to pictures of postage stamps from around the world. More than 100 nations have had Lincoln's face on their postage stamps.
The exhibit occupies 560 square feet of floor space in the ground-level visitor area which has restrooms and an elevator for handicapped access. The space was entirely remodeled and the old exhibits of construction photographs removed. Appropriately, the exhibit begins and ends with honors to "the nation's students through their involvement and support of Abraham Lincoln's legacy and the Pennies Make a Monumental Difference Campaign."