By David J. Kent
Thursday, March 16, 2023
The Lincoln Group of DC has had some stellar speakers over the years. In 1962, famed broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow was the featured speaker at the Lincoln Group's birthday banquet held in the historic Willard Hotel. The inestimable Bob Willard located an audio recording of Murrow's speech, which can be listened to via the website of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum:
One note about the recording. This was 1962 and some of the language and sentiments reflect the common usage and sensibilities of the time. It can be a bit jarring to 21st century ears. Keep in mind that the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision had been less than a decade before, John F. Kennedy was POTUS, and the civil rights movement was still working to achieve even the most basic rights for African Americans.
Murrow was considered one of the icons of early broadcast reporting. He gained prominence for his live radio broadcasts from Europe during World War II. After the war he was a pioneer of radio and television news broadcasting. His radio program, Hear It Now, was so popular that it evolved into See It Now on the new medium of television. Murrow was one of the first to criticize McCarthyism (Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, not House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of the 2023). His hard-hitting style didn't always blend well with the television format, which trended towards more entertainment-oriented programming. He was eventually supplanted on CBS by Walter Cronkite. At the time of his presentation, Murrow was the Director of the U.S. Information Agency.
Ralph E. Becker chaired the 1962 Lincoln dinner, with honorary chairmen including LGDC past-presidents Victor E. Birely and the Honorable Fred Schwengel, as well as then-current president Paul H. Gantt. At least twenty LGDC members served on the dinner committee, including poet and Lincoln biographer, Carl Sandburg. Becker also served as the Master of Ceremonies for the event. Following dinner there was also a presentation of the Lincoln Award of the Year. Each attendee received "a beautiful Emancipation Proclamation china plate as a souvenir." Tickets for dinner cost $10 (equivalent to about $100 today).
Murrow's speech recognized that 1962 was the centennial of Lincoln releasing the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. This year (2023) is the 160th anniversary of the final Emancipation Proclamation, so it is interesting to hear how Murrow described the particular occurrence of the 100th. Murrow pointed out that even a century after the Proclamation (and nearly that of the 13th Amendment), the country was still realigning the relationship between Whites and Blacks. He noted that African Americans had gained their freedom from slavery but were still enroute to gaining full social rights. He suggested that African Americans had gained political emancipation, but what he called psychological emancipation still had not arrived.
It has been 61 years since Murrow's speech. Where are we now?
Listen to the recording and consider what we, the Lincoln Group of DC in 2023, should be doing to further Lincoln's goals. What can Lincoln teach us for the future?
Thanks again to Bob Willard for providing the recording and the historical memory of the Lincoln Group of DC!
[Photo from Wikipedia. Information for the above came from various sources, including the January 1962 issue of The Lincolnian.]