On April 14, 1865, at 10:15 in the evening at Ford’s Theater in Washington DC John Wilkes Booth entered the back of Lincoln’s theater box, crept up from behind, and fired at the back of Lincoln’s head, mortally wounding him. After being attended by doctors, Lincoln was taken across the street to Petersen House. Lincoln died at 7:22 in the morning on April 15.

President Abraham Lincoln
Charlotte Scott

The morning following the assassination, upon hearing of President Lincoln’s murder Charlotte Scott, an emancipated slave, brought five dollars to her former master, Mr. William P. Rucker, then a Union refugee from Virginia, and residing in Marietta, O. It was her first earnings as a free woman, and she begged that it might be used “to make a monument to Massa Lincoln, the best friend the colored people ever had.”

Cordelia Ray

That memorial called the Freedmans Memorial, and also known as the Emancipation Monument would be dedicated 11 years later, and a young 23 year-old African American poet named Cordelia Ray, would present her poem, LINCOLN, a tribute to the fallen President….

To-day, O martyred chief, beneath the sun

We would unveil thy form; to thee who won

Th’applause of nations for thy soul sincere,

A loving tribute we would offer here.

’T was thine not worlds to conquer, but men’s hearts;

To change to balm the sting of slavery’s darts;

In lowly charity thy joy to find,

And open “gates of mercy on mankind.”

And so they come, the freed, with grateful gift,

From whose sad path the shadows thou didst lift.

Eleven years have rolled their seasons round,

Since its most tragic close thy life-work found.

Yet through the vistas of the vanished days

We see thee still, responsive to our gaze,

As ever to thy country’s solemn needs.

Not regal coronets, but princely deeds

Were thy chaste diadem; of truer worth

Thy modest virtues than the gems of earth.

Stanch, honest, fervent in the purest cause,

Truth was thy guide; her mandates were thy laws.

Rare heroism, spirit-purity,

The storied Spartan’s stern simplicity,

Such moral strength as gleams like burnished gold

Amid the doubt of men of weaker mould,

Were thine. Called in thy country’s sorest hour,

When brother knew not brother—mad for power—

To guide the helm through bloody deeps of war,

While distant nations gazed in anxious awe,

Unflinching in the task, thou didst fulfill

Thy mighty mission with a deathless will.

Born to a destiny the most sublime,

Thou wert, O Lincoln! in the march of time,

God bade thee pause and bid the oppressed go free—

Most glorious boon giv’n to humanity.

While slavery ruled the land, what deeds were done?

What tragedies enacted ’neath the sun!

Her page is blurred with records of defeat,

Of lives heroic lived in silence, meet

For the world’s praise; of woe, despair and tears,

The speechless agony of weary years.

Thou utteredst the word, and Freedom fair

Rang her sweet bells on the clear winter air;

She waved her magic wand, and lo! from far

A long procession came. With many a scar

Their brows were wrinkled, in the bitter strife,

Full many had said their sad farewell to life

But on they hastened, free, their shackles gone;

The aged, young,—e’en infancy was borne

To offer unto thee loud paeans of praise,—

Their happy tribute after saddest days.

A race set free! The deed brought joy and light!

It bade calm Justice from her sacred height,

When faith and hope and courage slowly waned,

Unfurl the stars and stripes, at last unstained!

The nations rolled acclaim from sea to sea,

And Heaven’s vault rang with Freedom’s harmony.

The angels ’mid the amaranths must have hushed

Their chanted cadences, as upward rushed

The hymn sublime: and as the echoes pealed,

God’s ceaseless benison the action sealed.

As now we dedicate this shaft to thee,

True champion! in all humility

And solemn earnestness, we would erect

A monument invisible, undecked,

Save by our allied purpose to be true

To Freedom’s loftiest precepts, so that through

The fiercest contests we may walk secure,

Fixed on foundations that may still endure,

When granite shall have crumbled to decay,

And generations passed from earth away.

Exalted patriot! illustrious chief!

Thy life’s immortal work compels belief.

To-day in radiance thy virtues shine,

And how can we a fitting garland twine?

Thy crown most glorious to a ransomed race!

High on our country’s scroll we fondly trace,

In lines of fadeless light that softly blend,

Emancipator, hero, martyr, friend!

While Freedom may her holy sceptre claim,

The world shall echo with Our Lincoln’s name.


“Words for the Hour”: A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry, edited by Faith Barrett and Cristanne Miller (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005)

Emancipation Monument

The Emancipation Monument was dedicated to President Abraham Lincoln by the former enslaved Americans in Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Park on April 14, 1876, the 11th Anniversary of his assassination. With President Lincoln is the former enslaved individual Archer Alexander.

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