Lincoln Memorial Education Series: The Censorship of Dr. Robert Moton

Dr Robert Moton at Lincoln Dedication
Dr Robert Moton at Lincoln Dedication

Library of Congress

Grade Level:

Middle School: Seventh Grade through Eighth Grade, High School: Ninth Grade through Twelfth Grade


Students will be able to recognize censorship and decide if it is appropriate.

Guiding Question:

What does censorship mean to you?

Have you ever had your words or ideas censored?

Is censorship appropriate?

Dr. Robert Moton was asked to deliver the keynote address at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. He was perhaps the most important African American leader of the 20th century. He had succeeded Booker T. Washington, as the second president of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. During his tenure, from 1915 to 1935, he contributed to the growth of the Institute by adding a department for training teachers and led a fight for black doctors and nurses at the Tuskegee Veterans Hospital.

Twelve days prior to the dedication, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, president of the Lincoln Memorial Commission, asked to review Dr. Moton’s speech. Finding it to be too radical, he insisted that several sections be removed, particularly those that criticized the federal government for its failure to protect the rights of African Americans. While Moton reluctantly agreed to remove his controversial rhetoric, he still encouraged everyone to “make America an example for all the world of equal justice and equal opportunity for all.

Dr. Moton’s note to Chief Justice
Dr. Moton’s note to Chief Justice Taft promising to
send his dedication speech for review.

Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, William H. Taft Papers


Follow this link to the Library of Congress "American Memory" page for images of the two typed copies (an original and a revised draft) of the address Dr. Robert Russa Moton gave at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on May 30, 1922.
Compare the two versions of Dr. Moton’s speech.

Which version do you think best represents the Lincoln Memorial?

Do you think the overall message remained the same?

Do you think Dr. Moton’s speech played a role in the Lincoln Memorial’s connection to the Civil Rights Movement?.

William H. Taft’s response to Dr. Moton’s Speech
William H. Taft’s response to Dr. Moton’s Speech

Library of Congress

On May 23, 1922, Taft sent this telegram to Dr. Moton after reading a draft of his speech. Read the telegram and answer the following questions.

What did Taft think of Dr. Moton’s speech?

What did he mean by propaganda?

What five hundred words did Dr. Moton choose to cut?

What do you think Taft’s motivations were for making these changes?


Censorship: the suppression, editing or altering of words, images, or ideas on the basis that they are harmful, objectionable or sensitive
Dedication: a ceremony in which a building is dedicated
Keynote Address: an inspirational speech delivered at the opening of an event
Commission: a group charged with overseeing a project

View of the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial Dedication
View of the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial Dedication

Library of Congress

Think About It!

Many people wonder(ed) why Dr. Moton agreed to alter his speech. At the time, nearly 50,000 people were expected to attend the dedication ceremony while thousands more would be listening on the radio. Rather than losing the largest audience he had ever addressed he accepted the censor.

How would you have handled the situation?
What do you think about Dr. Moton’s decision?

Part of a series of articles titled What Does the Lincoln Memorial Mean to Me?.

Lincoln Memorial, National Mall and Memorial Parks

Last updated: October 29, 2021