On this, the 194th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the memory of the man who preserved the Union is under assault by a band of confederates who even today refuse to acknowledge a simple truth: The war ended nearly 138 years ago.
The focal point of anti-Lincoln vitriol is in Virginia, where an Illinois native who has lived in Richmond for 50 years is doing what some of his neighbors find unthinkable. He is erecting a statue of Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States.
Not a statue of Lincoln standing over maps with his generals, mind you. Not a statue of Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation. But a statue of Lincoln sitting on a bench with his son, Tad, the son with the cleft palate and lisp who was Lincoln's favorite. They visited Richmond together the first week of April, 1865, a few days before Robert E. Lee surrendered, about 10 days before Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
The man behind the statue is Robert Kline, president of the Richmond-based United States Historical Society. He's raising the money to cover the cost of the statue by selling 750 replicas at $875 each. The sculpture will be erected on National Park Service land at the Tredegar Iron Works in the heart of Richmond.
Didn't seek controversy
Kline chose the national park land because he knew that proposing a Lincoln memorial on Monument Avenue, where statues of Lee, Stonewall Jackson and other heroes of the Confederacy stand, would have caused an uproar. There were those a few years ago who objected to erecting a statue of Arthur Ashe, the black tennis star and civil rights advocate, in the shadow of such heroes.
Kline did not anticipate the pathological response by some to placing such an unassuming statue in a more out-of-the-way park site. A letter to the editor in the Richmond Times-Dispatch likened putting a Lincoln statue in Richmond to putting an Osama bin Laden statue in Manhattan.
Another opponent, Brandon "Brag" Bowling, Virginia commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the statue "is a not-so-subtle reminder of who won the war, and who our heroes should be."
No statue should be needed to remind any American of the heroism of Lincoln, a man who gave his life preserving the one nation that evolved into this union of 50 states, where patriots believe in liberty and just for all.
Happy birthday, Mr. Lincoln. May you and your son enjoy a long-overdue rest in a Richmond park.