a big, inconsistent, brave man


It was Tuesday, May 30, 1922, the day of the dedication of the solemn and splendid memorial to Abraham Lincoln in Washington, and the ceremony on the Mall featured speeches by President Warren Harding and Chief Justice William Howard Taft. The most interesting observations about the 16th president, however, were not spoken amid the pomp but in the pages of the Crisis, the journal of the NAACP founded by W.E.B. DuBois. “Abraham Lincoln was a Southern poor white . . . poorly educated and unusually ugly, awkward, ill-dressed. . . . He was big enough to be inconsistent — cruel, merciful; peace-loving, a fighter; despising Negroes and letting them fight and vote; protecting slavery and freeing slaves. He was a man — a big, inconsistent, brave man.” DuBois’ observations were brief yet controversial (one reader called them “unkind and uncalled for”), and he defended them in the next edition of the magazine. “We love to think of the Great as flawless,” DuBois wrote. “We yearn in our imperfection toward perfection — sinful, we envisage Righteousness.” Such idolatry, however, serves little purpose: If we require the perfect and the righteous to lead us to higher ground, then we are not likely to get there, for there is not exactly a burgeoning oversupply of perfect and righteous leaders.

more from the LA Times here.