Through a modern lens

Centerville Library’s Lincoln exhibit

By Kevin J. Gray
photo: The Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil Warexhibit at the Centerville-Washington Public Library runs through May 31

Abraham Lincoln presided over arguably the most turbulent period in American history. The decisions made during Lincoln’s tenure still affect our lives today, from the freeing of the enslaved peoples to the confirmation of the United States as a single nation rather than a confederation of individual sovereign states. The Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War exhibit at the Centerville Library examines Lincoln’s constitutional crisis and Civil War through modern lenses of states’ rights, civil liberties and the boundaries of power for wartime presidents.

The exhibit is the result of a collaboration of two national organizations. The National Constitution Center and the American Library Association Public Programs Office worked together to organize the traveling exhibit, which – along with the Centerville library – will travel to 200 libraries across the country.

Over the past three years, the Centerville library has been incorporating a lecture series into their public offerings. In 2011, the series on Great Religions of the World led to high-capacity crowds, as did last year’s series on the Middle East. The national Lincoln exhibit, with its requirement to host a set of scholarly talks to accompany the educational panels, was a natural extension of the successful series. Centerville was awarded a grant by the founding organizations to host the exhibit and to conduct the scholarly series.

The exhibit itself is housed in the main Centerville Library. The first thing visitors will notice is the large, introductory panel just inside the main entrance and the four panels that make up the meat of the exhibit set back about 25 yards. The introduction explains the issues facing the nation at the time of Lincoln’s first term – slavery, secession and civil liberties. It also delves into Lincoln’s inauguration, using primary source text and images to set the scene.

The library’s website ( explains the purposes of each of the remaining sections:

“Divided” asks the question, “Are we a single nation or a confederacy of sovereign and separate states?” Lincoln believed that his inaugural oath compelled him to preserve the Union, that secession was unconstitutional and undemocratic. The Southern states believed that they were under attack.

“Bound” reflects the nation’s struggle with the problem of slavery, with which it had been vexed since America’s founding. The Constitution left the matter of slavery in the hands of the individual states. But many asked, “How can a country founded on the belief that ‘all men are created equal’ tolerate slavery?”

“Dissent” raises the question: “Must civil liberties give way to save the Union?” In the face of the chaos and danger facing Lincoln and the Union, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus – the constitutional provision that protects citizens of the United States against arbitrary arrests.

“Legacy” focuses on the Gettysburg Address and on the work yet to be done to achieve the ideals of equality, freedom and democracy articulated in the Constitution and cherished by Lincoln. Acknowledging the shortcomings of his own age, Lincoln challenged future generations of Americans to continue the work of realizing our nation’s highest ideals.

The panels are paired with an engaging lecture series. The first session, “Before the War,” was held on April 23 and set the scene for the onset of the Civil War. The remaining lectures take place on subsequent Tuesdays at the Hithergreen Center and feature local and regional experts exploring topics related to the exhibit:

April 30, 7-8:30 p.m. – The Confederate States of America: Richard Cooper and Carl Westmoreland of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center of Cincinnati discuss state secession and the competing interests of the states that divided our country.

May 7, 7-8:30 p.m. – Great Battles of the Civil War: Allan Howey, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, talks about some of the Civil War’s memorable battles, including Gettysburg, Antietam and Vicksburg.

May 14, 7-8:30 p.m. – The Gettysburg Address: Centerville Mayor Mark Kingseed discusses Lincoln and his famous 1863 speech, regarded one of the best speeches ever written.

May 21, 5-6:40 p.m. – Documentary screening: Slavery By Another Name; 7-8:30 p.m. – Reconstruction Amendments: Elizabeth Orlando of Sinclair Community College explores why the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to our Constitution were necessary and if they have been adequate.

May 28, 7-8:30 p.m. – Lessons from Lincoln: All the series presenters reconvene for a panel discussion moderated by Rick Lewis of Hithergreen Center.

In addition to the lecture series, the library has further extended the Lincoln exhibit through the following events:

· Civil War Days Saturday, May 4, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on the Centerville Library Lawn, where re-enactors will demonstrate what life in the Civil War was like.

· After-Hours Underground Railroad Quest Friday, May 10, 7-9 p.m. at the library, where teens in grades 6-12 explore the passage to safety from the south to the north. Registration required.

· Extra Credit Worksheets: Centerville Schools students can complete worksheets about the exhibit and turn them in for extra credit.

· Book club discussions for kids and adults focusing on the 1860s, Lincoln and the Civil War.

The Centerville-Washington Library presents Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War through Friday, May 31. For information about the exhibit, go to or call 937.433.8091. The Centerville-Washington Library is located at 111 W. Spring Valley Rd. The Hithergreen Center, which hosts the lecture series, is located at State Route 48 at 5900 Hithergreen Dr.

Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.comv

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