Selma: Did King die for his values? What about Lincoln?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Selma
Lincoln's funeral along Pennsylvania Avenue 1865

Famous Civil War photographer Matthew Brady took many photos of Abraham Lincoln and he documented the president’s funeral as well. This photograph, taken from a rooftop, shows Lincoln’s funeral procession along Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C. on April 19, 1865. Crowds gathered all along the route both on the street and on rooftops. Lincoln’s hearse was moving from the funeral held at the White House to the U.S. Capitol where his body lay in state before traveling by train to Springfield, Illinois, for burial. (From the collection of the Library of Congress; available for public use.)


Yesterday I was interviewed by the Voice of America network for its broadcast to North Korea. The subject was my latest book, United America, which documents the 10 core values that Americans share. What do you think the North Koreans reaction will be?

The interviewer’s last question was the most intriguing: “Is there any notable person who sacrificed himself or herself to protect these values?”

Martin Luther King, Jr. was my immediate response, especially since this weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches. King held a mirror up to America, showing the nation where we did not live up to our core values of freedom of expression, equality of opportunities, respect for people of different races and religion, and more. At the time of his death, however, he was the most reviled public figure in America, as shown in public opinion polls (see Monday’s column).

King died for the values he defended. James Earl Ray was his convicted killer, though Ray recanted his confession of guilt. Some claimed a government conspiracy, a charge that has never been fully proven or disproven. In 2027, secret FBI documents about the assassination will be released.

Lincoln was also killed for his values. As Lincoln authority Duncan Newcomer explained, “Historians tell us that John Wilkes Booth became the Confederate Killer because he had heard Lincoln’s recent speech on reconstruction and believed it meant what we now would call racial integration. Booth’s fury at the mere idea of equal association and legal status with blacks pushed him from kidnapping to murder, and from plan to impetuosity.”

What notable person would you add to the list of those who died defending American values?
How do you think the North Koreans will react to my message of unity around core values?

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Series Navigation<< Selma: Did Martin Luther King, Jr. love America?Selma: A snapshot of changing racial attitudes in America >>


  1. Duncan Newcomer says

    Walt Whitman saw Lincoln’s death in terms of its key part in a moral drama. He saw the Muse of history and the Muse of tragedy meeting in “one brief flash…one simple,fierce deed.” While there were six hundred thousand casualties in the Civil War this one stood for the meaning of them all. He called such events “the grand deaths of the race–the dramatic deaths of every nationality…” our “…most important inheritance-value.” Lincoln he names as our first “great Martyr Chief.” Martin Luther King, Jr. would be the second, I think. Heroic deaths bring value to us all.