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Essays inspired by Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Presidential library opens display of 272-word essays by leaders such as Jimmy Carter, Sandra Day O'Connor

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[October 21, 2013]  SPRINGFIELD -- As the Gettysburg Address nears its 150th birthday, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is launching an exhibit of essays inspired by that speech's 272 timeless words. Contributors include President Jimmy Carter, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, civil rights leader Julian Bond and dozens more.

The essays were written for the "272 Words" project organized by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. A sampling of the essays is now on display in the museum. The display will change periodically to showcase different writers. In addition, the winning entries in a national student essay contest will be added to the display later this month.

The display is part of the presidential library's celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, which Lincoln delivered Nov. 19, 1863, at the dedication of a cemetery for soldiers killed in the Battle of Gettysburg.

"With just 272 simple words, Lincoln honored the soldiers, challenged the audience to be worthy of their sacrifice and presented the Civil War as a struggle for the nation's soul," said Carla Knorowski, chief executive officer of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. "We thought it made sense to celebrate Lincoln's achievement by asking modern leaders to reflect on something important to them."

Jimmy Carter, for instance, wrote about visiting Gettysburg while negotiating the Camp David peace accords with Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt. When they reached the site of Lincoln's address, the group fell into stunned silence when Begin started reciting the speech from memory. "It was my most unforgettable moment at a memorial to war," Carter writes.

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Julian Bond, a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and former NAACP chairman, writes about his grandfather's life as a slave. "He and his mother were property, like a horse on a chain," Bond says in his essay.

"Interpretations of the Gettysburg Address and its most powerful phrase, 'a new birth of freedom,' multiply through the decades. Its great meaning resounds throughout the world," said Eileen Mackevich, director of the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

More information about the "272 Words" project and the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address is available at Essays will also be posted periodically on the presidential library's Tumblr site,

Events include a special display of the presidential library's handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address (one of just five in the world), a midnight recitation of the address, educational workshops and webcasts and a round-table discussion of the speech's legacy.

[Text from Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum file received from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency]

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