I was appalled to read that [Dixon School Superintendent Michael] Juenger wanted to place the world-class Lincoln sculpture in a building named for George Washington, an only slightly apologetic slave owner. How could anyone of presumed discernment be so clueless?
This isn’t a matter of mere political correctness; it goes to the very core of what constitutes fundamental humane values. Generations of students have been inspired by that unique rendering of a boyhood Lincoln reclining to read a book by firelight. Lincoln both drafted and issued the Emancipation Proclamation applicable to what had been Washington’s property.
Juenger now wants that art treasure placed in a building named for Thomas Jefferson, a far more notorious slave owner. DNA and related evidence have conclusively demonstrated that Jefferson fathered several children by Sally Hemings, one of his house slaves at Monticello. Jefferson could have partially atoned for his actions by acknowledging the Hemings children in his will, but he didn’t do so.
The paternity subject was controversial in Jefferson’s lifetime but ceased to be a topic of interest in the century-plus that followed. The Dixon School Board, for example, did not have DNA and related evidence when it named an elementary school for Jefferson in the early 1950s.
The sculpture should be transferred to a location more accessible to the general public. There are many such sites in the Dixon area. By far the most appropriate spot for the sculpture’s repose – no pun intended – is one that, curiously, Juenger has failed to mention even in passing: the foyer on the ground floor of the old courthouse.
Lincoln made at least one appearance on its lawn prior to his departure from Dixon for the final time on Aug. 27, 1858. Yes, I know that was more than 4 decades before the old courthouse was built.
Note to readers: Woodyatt is one of the students to whom the “Lincoln at Seven” sculpture was presented in 1947 by Ruth Walgreen Stephan.