Yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. While America commemorates the occasion this week by recalling Lincoln’s simple yet profound words, filmmaker Ken Burns is honoring the anniversary by encouraging Americans to not just remember, but to record themselves reciting the familiar Address.
Burns is currently at work on a new documentary film highlighting a small school in Vermont that requires its students—all boys who face a range of learning challenges—to memorize and recite the speech; the film, when complete, will interweave the contemporary with the historical to explore the context and importance of Lincoln’s speech. The school’s efforts to annually memorialize the Address inspired Burns to initiate a project in which all Americans internalize the message of unity and equality forwarded in the Address by lending their own voice to the words spoken by one of our most revered presidents. “Learn the Address” is Burns’s challenge for America.
Burns has created a website for his project showcasing videos of YOU that places your voice alongside presidents, politicians, entertainers, journalists, and hundreds of other citizens and students reciting the Address for posterity. It’s a fascinating concept, and one that speaks directly to the core of Lincoln’s speech reminding the nation of its unity and its dedication to equality and the ideals of democracy. It’s almost appropriate, then, that audio recording of Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address does not exist, for it has allowed citizens for a century and a half to recite with authority this great speech written in the third person—inclusive in its reference to the “we’s,” the “us’s,” the “our’s” of America, past and present—and acknowledging through a harmony of voices that the struggle outlined in the Address is ongoing.
So, adopt the challenge to “Learn the Address” and share your Gettysburg Address with the rest of America. Memorize the speech, internalize the message, and recite as a pledge for equality.