By David J. Kent
Friday, July 1, 2022
The Lincoln Group of DC has accumulated many Lincoln and Civil War books over the years through the generosity of our members. Recently we collected into one place all the books stored among various Lincoln Group members. There were hundreds. The Board discussed ways we could get the books to those who would read them, starting with our members. Those members who attended the June in-person dinner meeting at Maggiano’s were the first beneficiaries – everyone who attended walked away with at least one free book. We’ll have free giveaways and raffles at future in-person meetings (another reason to attend the dinners).
We also wanted to reach non-members who could benefit from reading about Lincoln. Board member Richard Margolies had already made arrangements for his personal book collection to endow a special collection at an HBCU – Historically Black Colleges and Universities. HBCUs are often underfunded, which limits their ability to fully stock their campus libraries. Ideally, all students should have the opportunity to study Lincoln, especially in this time of deep political and social conflict. We agreed to explore those options, as well as other public libraries in the Washington, DC area as part of our commitment to the local community.
Richard also suggested, and agreed to champion, an outreach to those incarcerated in prisons across America. Many of these people become inmates as a result of limited opportunities and education. As many of two-thirds of the prison population have insufficient literacy, showing how inadequate education and economic prospects contribute to crime. Many prisons in America are underfunded when it comes to providing materials for intellectual growth. While the United States has the highest rate of incarceration among rich nations, the emphasis is too often on punishment over rehabilitation. This disproportionately affects people of color, who are incarcerated at a higher rate per capita than white Americans. One area where the Lincoln Group can contribute to the solution is to share some of our collected Lincoln books with the prisoners.
Working with the Appalachian Prison Book Project, a non-profit organization whose mission is “challenging mass incarceration through books, education, and community engagement,” the Lincoln Group compiled a package of books about Lincoln and sent it this spring to the APBP. The organization then distributes these books to people imprisoned in six Appalachian states (West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Maryland).
The project is relevant to Lincoln in many ways. Lincoln himself was born in limited circumstances in Appalachian Kentucky yet rose from that lack of privilege and conflicts with his father to become a successful lawyer, politician, and president. He gained much of his education through self-study, reading every book he could borrow. Once in a position of influence he worked to increase everyone’s ability to seek the American dream. Lincoln is an inspiration to all of us who seek the “right to rise” and to “better our condition.” Our hope is that the books will provide a similar inspiration to those incarcerated. The APBP agreed, responding to Richard with:
“We received your lovely donation. Attached is a photo one of our volunteers took [of your books]. Thank you again for thinking of us! Your books will be well loved by the people who receive them.”
Richard also has suggested that if a prison would like to establish a Lincoln book discussion group, the Lincoln Group would be interested in facilitating the same via the internet. Anyone interested in participating in an initiative of this nature, or if you have softcover Lincoln books you would like to contribute to the program, please reach out to Richard Margolies. You can also reach out to us with ideas for how to distribute more of the books that the Lincoln Group has collected (APBP only takes softcover books, which leaves us with many hardcover books still “in stock”). If you have ideas on book distribution, please let us know.