When the International Lincoln
Center for American Studies at Louisiana State
University holds its annual Abraham Lincoln lecture
series each fall, it's pretty much a given that the Sons
of Confederate Veterans will show up to hand out fliers
proclaiming "Lincoln: Wanted Dead or Alive."
That's why center director Bill Pederson was not
surprised to read about a recent controversy in
Richmond, Va., over a proposal to erect a life-sized
statue of Lincoln and his son, Tad, at a National Park
Service site there.
The statue - which apparently would be the first
statue of Lincoln to be erected in the deep South, has
been met with a flurry of mainly negative comments and
letters to local newspapers. Writers tend to use words
like "appalled" and "slap in the face" and refer to
Lincoln as a "liar" and "murderer."
"I don't think that northerners totally appreciate
the feelings of the mainly white southerners who think
that their heritage is under attack," Pederson said.
However, Pederson said, those feelings are shared by
a very small group of southerners.
Most people in the South "could care less" about
Lincoln, he said, although those who do frequently care
When LSU's Lincoln Center was given that name about
five years ago, for instance, the university chancellor
got about 40 e-mails protesting the move, mainly from
southern states. Given the widespread use of the
Internet to link like-minded people all over the
country, he said, that number reflects a "fairly small
minority" throughout the South.
But Pederson, who often refers to Lincoln in his
political science classes, said he has even had students
drop his class when he says something favorable about
the 16th president.
"Some of these people's families lost everything in
the Civil War, and they're still hacked off about it,"
Pederson said. "They can't get over it."
Anti-Lincoln sentiment appears to be a relatively
recent phenomenon in the South. Pederson said he thinks
it dates to the middle of the 20th century,
corresponding to the rise of the civil rights movement.
Pederson said he has talked with older Louisianans who
say they don't remember anti-Lincoln attitudes being
common when they were young.
He also has researched local newspapers from 1909,
when the Lincoln penny was first issued, and found no
indication of anybody protesting that.
Pederson said he knows some of the "Confederate
heritage" promoters and protesters as former students.
"They claim not to be racist, and I'd like to think
that that is true," he said. "But I wouldn't be
surprised if they didn't vote for (Klu Klux Klan leader)
Archie McDonald, a professor of history at Stephen F.
Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, is
blunter about the anti-Lincoln protests.
"We're talking about race," he said. "The bottom line
is how we deal with it. Most people in the modern South
have come to the conclusion that the direction we're
headed is the better one."
Some, however, still look fondly back on the days of
slavery or segregation, he said.
McDonald agreed that hatred for Lincoln, like the
resurgence of the display of the Confederate flag, was
something that was not common in the years after the
Civil War, but became more popular with the emergence of
the civil rights movement after World War II.
"The attitude (earlier) was one of reconciliation and
nationalism," he said. "Things were going in a good
direction until the civil rights crisis."
Despite protests, McDonald said, Lincoln is well
thought of by most people in the South today.
It is unlikely, however, that the Lincoln-haters and
Confederate flag wavers are going to disappear anytime
soon, he said.
"Some people are going to fight that damn war 'til
they die, and then their children will probably do the
same thing," he said. "But it's over, and the right side
Doug Pokorski can be reached at 788-1539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.