2007-04-11 01:05:43 UTC
perhaps one of the most important Federal Holidays. It marks the
defeat and destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia near
Appomattox Court House and the Capture of Richmond, and the
dissolution of efforts to destroy the Union in order to enslave, rape,
and torture other human beings.
Celebrations in Lexington, like celebrations in Springfield, are
particularly robust. The most ardent bitter-enders in South Carolina
and Georgia would put that down to the undue influence of the
prominent and large Black community in Lexington, which was fostered
by Hillman University, the second largest "Freeman's University"
established on June 19th, 1866. In fact, celebrations have been large
throughout the 142 years of the holiday; Kentucky was, after all, the
birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, who led the nation to victory in the
Civil War and through Reconstruction, as well as that of his second
Vice President, John C. Breckenridge, who had helped to keep Kentucky
in the Union in early 1861; only the bitterest pro-Confederate
historians have suggested that his swerving loyalty to the Union was
the result of a fall from a horse, while the view is widely taken that
his loyalty to the US was through a chance meeting with Col. George
Henry Thomas on the eve of South Carolina's secession.
Breckenridge's Vice Presidency was part of Lincoln's efforts to mend
the wounds, as he had stated in his Second Inaugural Address. He was
largely inert, as is common with 19th century holders of the office,
save that his friend Brigadier General Thomas encouraged him to rebuke
America's first and worst homegrown terrorist organization, the Ku
Klux Klan, during his Vice Presidency. Though that did little to
diminish the terrorism that Southern Whites perpetrated against the
newly freed Blacks, it helped Congress pass a series of acts expanding
federal power in the Former Confederacy, as well as arranging the
passage of several Constitutional Amendments, which would prove vital
in the defense of the voting and civil rights of blacks throughout the
rest of the 19th century, and bills that targeted what could now be
called "domestic terrorism."
Despite his kindhearted gesture, or perhaps because of it, he did not
run for the presidency in 1868, retiring to private life in Kentucky
when General Thomas succeeded Lincoln. He used his considerable
Democratic connections to slow the readmission of the most reactionary
states, like Mississippi and South Carolina, who had most unabashedly
supported domestic terrorism against their fellow citizens and federal
Though he did not enter public service again, he was a supporter of
both President Thomas, through his death in 1870, and President Grant,
who succeeded him, presiding over the dismantling of Reconstruction
and the admission of the last of the former Confederate States at the
end of his Second Term.
Celebrations in Kentucky are marked by a three-part procession. It
begins at Hillman University, before the Eternal Flame of Liberty that
stands before the statue of Frederick Douglass, proceeding to the
Fayette County Court House, where wreaths are lain before the twin
statues of Lincoln and Vice President Breckenridge, and then to
Constitution Park, in which the Governor reads Lincoln's Second
Inaugural, followed by a rendition of "We Are Coming, Father Abraham"
by the Hillman University Choir, and a barbecue with fireworks
throughout the evening.