Monday, February 18, 2008

A President's Day memory

This is actually a Lincoln's Birthday memory. (The old folks will remember that back in the day, we celebrated Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday instead of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day and President's Day.)

Back when I was in kindergarten or first grade, we had Lincoln's Birthday off from school on Feb. 12 and then Washington's Birthday off on Feb. 22. I kind of understood why we had Washington's Birthday off: he was the first president, and the first of something is often important. But I had no idea why Lincoln was important, so I asked my father.

"Daddy, I know that Washington is important because he was the first president, but why is Lincoln important?"

"Lincoln's important because he freed the slaves."

"Oh."

Now, that's an okay answer as far as it goes, but it's a little lacking in detail. With no mention of the Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil War, I was a little unclear on how exactly Lincoln freed the slaves, so I filled in the blanks myself.

I knew a couple of things, namely that Lincoln lived a long time ago and that the slaves were black people. I also knew that a long time ago they used to keep prisoners in wooden prisons called "stockades," like this one.

So I was able to form a pretty clear picture in my mind of how Lincoln freed the slaves. One dark, rainy night, President Lincoln -- in stovepipe hat and long coat, of course -- snuck up to the wall of a huge stockade. He slipped along to the gate, and then suddenly flung it open. Out rushed a huge crowd of black men, women, and children, still with manacles on their wrists. The slaves were free!

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