Looking for Lincoln

Wed, 02/11/2009 - 9:00pm

This photograph of Abraham Lincoln was taken by Anthony Berger at Mathew Brady's Washington gallery on February 9, 1864. The photograph was adapted for use as the face portrait on a five-dollar bill.

Picture History

Public television plays a major role in the nationwide Lincoln Bicentennial celebration in 2009 with Looking For Lincoln, a two-hour broadcast that explores the life and legacy of the man widely considered one of America’s best and most enigmatic presidents. The documentary, hosted by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. (African American Lives, Oprah’s Roots), addresses many of the controversies surrounding Lincoln — race, equality, religion, politics, depression — by carefully interpreting evidence from those who knew him and those who study him today. Looking For Lincoln airs on the eve of Lincoln’s 200th birthday, Wednesday, February 11 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (cable 1011 and DT 21.1).

In the film, Gates shows how the Lincoln legend grew out of controversy, greed, love, clashing political perspectives, power struggles, and considerable disagreement over how the 16th president should be remembered. His quest to piece together Lincoln’s complex life takes him from Illinois to Gettysburg to Washington, DC, and face-to-face with people who live with Lincoln every day — relic hunters, re-enactors, and others for whom the study of Lincoln is a passion.

Among those weighing in: Pulitzer Prize-winners Doris Kearns Goodwin and Tony Kushner; former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; and Lincoln scholars, including Harold Holzer, vice chair of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, Harvard University’s president Drew Faust, and history professor David Hebert Donald, Yale University history professor David Blight, and Allen Guelzo of Gettysburg College. Former Ebony magazine editor Lerone Bennett challenges Lincoln’s record on race; writer Joshua Shenk talks about Lincoln’s depression; and New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik illuminates how Lincoln’s words changed the course of history.

Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon, the companion book written by Philip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt, and Peter W. Kunhardt Jr., contains more than 900 images, many from the renowned Meserve-Kunhardt Collection. Booklist recently wrote, “The Kunhardts’ work is sure to be one of the most popular books in the bicentennial effusion of Lincoln volumes.” It was published by Alfred A. Knopf on November 18.

In addition, Henry Louis Gates Jr. has edited a book called Abraham Lincoln on Race and Slavery, a collection of everything Lincoln said or wrote about slavery and race, to be published by Princeton University Press. The volume was praised by Lincoln authority John Stauffer as an “invaluable and timely book, indispensable for anyone interested in race relations in the United States … beautifully written and penetrating in its insights.”