I grew up in Tennessee, raised in a little tiny mountain town called Elizabethton, Tennessee, which is in the peaks of the Smokeys. Um, I was not raised that Lincoln was a hero. Not in family circles, or even academic circles. Uh, when I was a child the south was still recovering from the Civil War, so when I went to school they didn't have too many positive things to say about him.
So actually when I started working here about 11 years ago I didn't have any heritage feelings toward Lincoln. Because he just wasn't really taught to us on positive terms, or even as a part of the South.
I had ancestors there at Appomattox. So when I started here 11 years ago, I will never forget the first night I ever worked at the Lincoln Memorial, standing in there, I felt like I was literally in hostile territory. And when you're standing there and you've got this heritage and here's this big statue looming over you, I felt very uncomfortable the first time I started working there. And you look over on the South wall, there's the Gettysburg Address. You look over on the North wall, there's the Second Inaugural. And the first time I read it, it made me angry. Because he does state in there, he does lay blame on the South. And that part of it kind of made me feel a little resentful because it's like, not all of it was the South's fault. [laughs]
Not too long after I started working here I accepted an assignment in which I would be working on the Second Inaugural and trying to understand what Lincoln was trying to accomplish with this speech. From this, from doing this assignment, uh, I got a better understanding of Lincoln, a better understanding of what he was trying to accomplish, why he did, uh, the things that he did. It also gave me a better appreciation of him. In which, uh, seeing a lit-, him in a little bit better light, uh, the fact that he was trying to really accomplish the healing of the nation. And he did want the South treated generously. He wanted them brought in to the Union and to help them recover so that both sides could come together and move on, just put the war behind them, forget, or forgive each other and to help rebuild and move on. And because of all this, because seeing where he was going with this, this kind of helped me have a better appreciation of him. And it also made me feel a lot better about him so that whenever, now when I work in the Lincoln Memorial, um, I have become friends with him, and it is like working in a place where an old friend lives.