Looking for Lincoln

PPBS3-5629725reg PBS does some of the finest documentary presentations in contemporary television. To celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln PBS did a two-hour special (now available on DVD) titled: Looking for Lincoln. It features Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Gates travels around the country from Gettysburg to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. He stops in Springfield and rural Indiana. He interviews friends and foes of Lincoln, including a group of Southern Civil War supporters who see Lincoln as a terrorist. From Lincoln re-enactors at a unique convention to relic hunters and collectors he shows the impact of our sixteenth president on our national identity, past and present.

Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are featured as well. Both interact with Lincoln's legacy and what it must have been like to live in the White House in those darkest days in our nation's lowest point. Clinton is particularly impressive in his grasp of Lincoln's religious nature and the impact of his faith on his presidency. As always President Clinton reveals an inquisitive and intellectual side that makes him such interesting person in an interview context. Bush is less engaging but none the less worth hearing on Lincoln. He takes the viewer into the Lincoln bedroom and reminds us that this was the war room during his presidency.

Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the best-seller on Lincoln, A Team of Rivals, provides some very important commentary and challenges Gates, at one point in particular, when he wonders about the Lincoln legacy. Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, who I have the privilege of knowing through my membership in the Abraham Lincoln Forum, is brilliant.

The Lincoln legend is just that, legend. But the real Lincoln was a man of his times. His feelings, perspectives and legacy are all examined in a generally helpful way on this program. I encourage anyone of middle school age or above to see Looking for Lincoln. It is well done.