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Burton: Lincoln redefined freedom

OCTOBER 2, 2012
by Shannice Singletary ’14, Contributing Writer

On Wednesday night, Furman alum and Clemson history professor Vernon Burton spoke on the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation and its significance and impact on southern history.

Burton’s lecture officially kicked off the 2012 Freedom Stories Fall Lecture Series, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and Furman’s partnership with the Upcountry History Museum.

Through much of the lecture Burton chose to examine the proclamation’s author, President Abraham Lincoln.

“Lincoln will always be remembered for his interpretation of liberty and freedom,” he stated to a small crowd of avid listeners, “But that was only a part of his greatest contribution.”

Burton painted Lincoln not only as a hero, but as a passionate and flawed man who revolutionized the notion of personal freedom. In passing the Emancipation Proclamation, Burton said Lincoln redrew the boundaries of freedom and recast America’s purpose.

Using his epic narrative The Age Of Lincoln as a focal point, Burton spoke on the concept of slavery as a ‘original sin’ left behind by our early forefathers who regarded it as a necessary evil for the sake of progress. From there he examined the evolution of President Lincoln’s beliefs of what truly constituted ‘freedom’ and how his deep rooted aversion to slavery led to his growing recognition of African Americans as being worthy of equality.

With the realization that true freedom had strikingly different definitions for slaves and southern plantation owners, Lincoln was forced to create his own definition.  In doing so, Burton said Lincoln forever changed the notion of freedom.

In a time in when all sides claimed to be fighting for God’s will, Burton spoke on how Lincoln’s upbringing  shaped his beliefs and empowered him to lead a civil war that put an entire country’s ideals at stake. And for the decades that followed, Burton spoke on how this notion of Lincoln’s freedom would be continuously tested.

As far as acknowledging the horrors of slavery and its aftermath-and the racial tension that still exists today, Burton only had this to say:

“This is a part of our history. We have to live with it and we need to deal with it.”

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