For 100 years, the Lincoln Memorial has been a gathering place for protests as well as celebrations. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)
For 100 years, the Lincoln Memorial has been a gathering place for protests as well as celebrations. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)

The Lincoln Memorial, dedicated on May 30, 1922, has long served as the nation’s monument built to honor Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. Since then, it has become one of the most iconic structures in America, drawing more than eight million visitors every year. 

On Sunday, the National Park Service (NPS) hosted a rededication service, although the official date for its centennial won’t occur until the Memorial Day weekend. 

Whether it was Marian Anderson, who sang before 75,000 in 1939, or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who preached before a throng of more than 250,000 in 1963, the memorial has been an outdoor sanctuary for generations of color denied fundamental human rights.

But on the eve of the 100th-anniversary rededication, NPS held a twilight celebration that showed how the Memorial has served as a popular backdrop for motion pictures, TV shows and even comic books.

“The Lincoln Memorial, unlike any other monument, has become historic in its own right,” said NPS spokesman Mike Litterst. “From Marian Anderson to Dr. King and of the marches that have taken place here, we’re thrilled that it has an important place in American history.”

Just before sunset Saturday, CBS News reporter Faith Salie joined Litterst in a presentation at Sylvan Theater next to the Washington Monument for a program that illustrated the significance of the Memorial in American society and culture. 

However, it’s also become important in America’s annals of racial history. Salie said after Anderson was denied the opportunity to sing at Constitution Hall because of her skin color, she was given the Memorial as a platform, which Salie called “a true pop culture moment.”

“There was only one African American present that day,” said Salie, who also talked about all of the films that have featured the Lincoln Memorial, including “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Forrest Gump” and “In the Line of Fire” and TV shows from “Wonder Woman” to “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”

Litterst said the Sylvan Theater, located between the Memorial and the Washington Monument, has also been significant in American history. During the annual National Black Family Reunion held on the Mall, Dr. Dorothy Height once introduced the Jackson 5 at the theater, which was also the spot of various 4th of July celebrations hosted by such notables as Latoya Jackson and The Beach Boys.

Many movies have featured the Lincoln Memorial as a venue for love, with life often imitating art. Litterst said many new brides visit the edifice to take photos in their wedding gowns while couples take a stroll to the Memorial while on late-night dates.

On Saturday, the grounds surrounding the Memorial were filled with college graduates taking cap and gown photos with their families. 

“Hopefully, for the next 100 years, it will continue to be a place where people come to speak their mind,” Litterst said.

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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