Thursday, December 21, 2006

Lincoln's words, new context

Today I am reading the Daily Nation, a Kenya newspaper, from May 1963 (new project -- looking for news on discrimination against Asians in Kenya, something that troubled Thurgood Marshall). On May 10, page 12, a large headline across the top says only: Alabama, U.S.A., 1963. Below are photographs, mostly from Birmingham, Alabama, earlier that month, when Police Commissioner "Bull" Connor ordered the use of high-pressure fire hoses and police dogs on non-violent civil rights demonstrators. There is no story. Instead, surrounded by the photos is a text, with its own headline:

Gettysburg, U.S.A., 1863
'...It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish for the earth.'

I knew that other nations keenly followed civil rights in Birmingham, and often argued that the U.S. must live up to its own ideals before criticizing other nations for human rights abuses. (On that point, go here.) But I have never seen the point made quite this way.