Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln's Journey to Emancipation

Online Site Support Notebook: Programming Ideas

Programming Requirements: An opening reception for "Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln's Journey to Emancipation" and another humanities-oriented public program related to exhibition themes are the minimum requirement for host libraries. Humanities programs may include discussions, debates, lectures, film series with discussion led by scholars, and seminars.

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission has established a Speakers/Writers Bureau of individuals willing to travel to talk about or write about their favorite subject. To learn more about the Speakers/Writer's Bureau, contact the ALBC office by phone at 202-707-6998 or by email at Also, please see the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Information pages following this Programming Ideas section for national programs that you may be able to tie into local events and programming.

Your state humanities council has a list of scholars who have experience with public programming. The Organization of American Historians also offers lecturers (for a fee) who specialize in this period (see back pocket of notebook for OAH pamphlet). See:

For Adults and Young Adults

Program formats:
(includes ideas from the first tour of "Forever Free")

Many libraries on the first tour did an exhibit "teaser" event one to two months before the exhibit arrived to generate interest--events included lectures, films, and readings from Lincoln's speeches and writings, including the Emancipation Proclamation.

Sponsor a One Book, One Community program during the exhibit using a popular biography of Lincoln or an account of the Civil War (one title for adults, one for young adults, one for children).

Russell Freedman, author of Lincoln: A Photobiography presents a slide lecture and discussion.

Lincoln/Mary Todd Lincoln impersonators can be found at Successful presenters mentioned by libraries which were on the first Forever Free tour include:

  • Max and Donna DanielsÂ
  • Dennis Boggs
  • William and Sue Wills
  • James Getty
  • R.J. Lindsey

Most impersonators will do separate programs for children as well.

Impersonators of other historical figures:

  • Kathryn Harris, State Historical Library, Springfield, IL, does a first person presentation of Harriett Tubman.
  • Betty Jean Steinshouer portrays Harriet Beecher Stowe in Florida.
  • M. Kay duPont presents a one woman show based on her book, Loving Mr. Lincoln: The Personal Diaries of Mary Todd Lincoln
  • Leroy Hyter portrays Frederick Douglass.
  • Bill Grimmette portrays Frederick Douglass (through Maryland Humanities Council).
  • Lynn Ruehlmann presents a story performance of Spy! The Story of Civil War Spy Elizabeth Van Lew

Related exhibitions
Related exhibits are available from the Gilder Lehrman Institute--for details and application form, see (see front notebook pocket for exhibit descriptions). Exhibits include:

  • "Frederick Douglass from Slavery to Freedom: the Journey to New York City"
  • "Looking at Lincoln: Political Cartoons from the Civil War Era"
  • "Free at Last: A History of the Abolition of Slavery in America"
  • "Freedom: A History of US"

Ask good public speakers to read one or more of Lincoln's speeches during the period of the exhibit. Or have several people read from the writings, speeches or diaries of Lincoln and other Civil War era figures (e.g., Frederick Douglass, Henry Clay, Jefferson Davis, slave narratives, Clara Barton). A series of public readings can create a picture of this period of American history--its people, its philosophies, its ideals, its failings--and also allow community leaders, media personalities and other celebrities to be included in library programs.

Many libraries created related exhibits of photos, oral histories and other display items about their state at the time of the Civil War.

Sponsor a four or five book discussion series.
Libraries in the first "Forever Free" tour used the following books in reading and discussion series:

  • The Bondswoman's Narrative, Hannah Crafts, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Ordeal by Fire, James McPherson
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Ann Jacobs
  • Lincoln: A Biography, David Herbert Donald
  • Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Keneally
  • Reconstruction: After the Civil War, John Hope FranklinÂ
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison
  • Harriett Tubman: The Road to Freedom, Catherine Clinton
  • The Chaneysville Incident, David Bradley
  • Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream, Lerone Bennett, Jr.
  • Killer Angels, Michael Shaara

Other book-based programs: "The Civil War Novel," "Civil War Fiction Beyond Gone with the Wind." biographies of personages of the era; contrast popular biographies of Lincoln.

ALA developed a "Let's Talk About It" book discussion series during the 1980s titled, "Rebirth of a Nation: Nationalism and the Civil War," using the books Two Roads to Sumter, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Ordeal by Fire, Reconstruction: After the Civil War, and The Private Mary Chesnut: The Unpublished Civil War Diaries. Contact ALA for information--we have a few brochures left that can be copied.

Find people in your community who have family stories, diaries, artifacts from the eras of the Civil War and Lincoln's Presidency. Create related exhibits or ask them to speak at a program. Tape their stories.

Ask community actors to act out scenes from their lives or books.

Music programs featuring Civil War era music, Gospel music from the period
Music presenters from first tour:

Genealogy programs
Tony Burroughs, author of Black Roots, presents programs on "Voices of Freedom: African American Soldiers in the Civil War"Â

Dance of the 19th century, with costumes and dance lessons.

Create displays or complementary exhibits based upon the following:

  • Local historical personages from the mid 19th century
  • 19th century popular literature, art, and music
  • 19th century daily life
  • 19th century recipes and food

Most popular films in the first "Forever Free" tour (see list of Films for details):

  • Glory
  • Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided

Program topics:
(many of these are from libraries on the first Forever Free tour)

  • International dimensions of the Abolition movement--How was the movement in the U.S. affected by, or how did it influence freedom movements in other slaveholding areas, such as Latin America and the Caribbean?
  • American poets and the Civil War
  • Compare Presidential leadership in times of crisis, with emphasis on Lincoln.
  • How was Lincoln perceived in the rest of the world during his Presidency? What was European reaction to the Civil War?
  • Who were major figures in the Abolition movement? What did they want from Lincoln?
  • What was the reaction in your area to Lincoln's assassination?
  • What was the role of women in the Abolition movement, in the Civil War?
  • This nation's early republican ideals did not extend to tens of thousands of people of African descent who were kept in enforced servitude. Treat this as a national and/or a local issue. In your area, how did people feel about slavery in the 19th century? What was the majority opinion? What did the newspapers say? What was the debate?
  • Trace Lincoln's positions on slavery throughout his life.
  • Examine the contribution of black soldiers to the Civil War effort through biography, film, diaries.
  • Examine the occupations of African Americans in free states in the 19th century.
    Plan a program around slave narratives.
  • Theatre in the age of Lincoln: Traveling Stock Companies in 19th century America.
  • If you have access to 19th century American newspapers, compare how they covered Lincoln's presidency and personal life with newspaper coverage of presidents in later periods, e.g., World War II, the 1990s.
  • Make the themes of the exhibition particular to your area--e.g., the Civil War, the Underground Railroad, the Abolition Movement, in New York State, Ohio, Kansas, Alabama--who were the prominent people, what were the primary political attitudes, what did people care about, how did local papers cover national politics?
  • What was the state of medicine in the last half of the 19th century in America: What did people do when they were sick? How was a Civil War hospital set up? What medical instruments were used at the time? What was the effect of 19th century medicine on Lincoln? (for a long time, he took a remedy called "blue mass," which contained toxic amounts of mercury)