Walking Lincoln's Road

On this weekend, in the midst of an attempted revolution of halfwits, when the visage of Lincoln has once again been thrust before our eyes, I’m reminded of a bit of history I came across several years ago.

In the 1930s, as part of the Depression-era WPA programs meant to lessen the burden of unemployment among the educated, a government oral history program was initiated. Elderly people who had lived through or witnessed historical events were interviewed about what they had seen, in order to flesh out the official records with new points of view.

In the South, this meant that many ex-slaves living out their last years were interviewed. Among much else, a number of them told a strange story. It came from different regions of the South, and though varying in detail, featured the same major elements.

The story was that one day, late in the Civil War, an extremely tall, extremely thin man appeared on the road passing the farm or plantation to which they were bonded. He was bearded, all dressed in black, and wore a tall stovepipe hat that accentuated his height.

The slaves came together to watch the man pass. Sometimes, one of them would offer him a dipper of water from a well, which he would drink, and then touch his hat in thanks before going on his way without a word. The slaves would watch him walk on until he finally vanished.

That’s right. In the midst of the most vicious war this country ever fought, smack in the heart of enemy territory, thousands of people saw Abraham Lincoln passing by.

What possible explanation is there for this? These people weren’t lying. They weren’t telling tall tales. Some of them swore they saw him personally, touched his frock coat as he passed them. And these people, ancient in years and facing death, truly believed what they were saying.

In fact, there is no rational explanation. It goes far deeper than logic, to the very basis of the human spirit. It comes from the yearning for contact with the saintly, for an engagement with the transcendental. The slaves knew that a titanic conflict was taking place that would affect their fates in total, and about which they could do little. They doubtlessly worried, and brooded, and wondered, very likely to the point of the unbearable. And then one day, the Emancipator himself appeared on their country road, to relieve their fears by his very presence, to brush them with greatness, and leave them forever changed.

The left can do their worst. They can destroy and vandalize. They can frighten the timid gnomes of Boston into taking down a statue honoring the Emancipation, one of this country’s highest moments. They can dynamite Mount Rushmore (as, no doubt, some maniac is even now planning to do).

But they can’t erase that vision, or close that road, or halt the Man in the Tall Hat from his long journey, as he beckons us to follow him to points unknown, to futures unconceived, and to places that we have yet to build.

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