Celebrating Lincoln’s Birthday

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On February 2, 1924, Julia Randall, a young schoolteacher in Payson, brought Abraham Lincoln’s portrait to her classroom in secret. She put it in front of the class. Julia knew that the portrait would not remain there for a long time, since most families in Rim Country did not like Lincoln. Nevertheless, she had a strong urge to tell her pupils about this significant figure in the American history. She wanted these children to know what a prominent person Lincoln was and how he contributed to establishing Arizona as a Territory.

In 1861, the American Civil War began. Tucson was the center of the political power in the area back then and citizens arranged a mass meeting to declare their area to be the Confederate territory. They also elected Granville Oury as a delegate to the Confederate Congress. Afterwards, in February 1862, the Confederate Territory of Arizona was established by President Jefferson Davis. Lincoln quickly reacted to that by invading the area, separating the territory and making Arizona an official territory of the Union. At the time, it was the last continental US area that became a territory.

In Rim Country, most families were ranchers. They strongly supported Confederacy and, moreover, there were families from Texas whose members fought in the Civil War on the side of the South. Even more hardships were to come after the war ended. Carpetbaggers from the North devastated their cattle herds in Texas, the new laws deprived them of the right to use open range, and they suffered from the prolonged drought.

Due to all these circumstances, many families moved to California and Arizona in the mid-1870s. There were a lot of prejudices that occurred as a result of the Civil War. However, under the protection of the Mogollon Rim, many of these families realized that their common struggle for survival in that new land was sufficient to unite altogether as friends and neighbors.

And in 1924, the teacher, who supported the North, decided to tell her class about President Abraham Lincoln and his contribution to the country. She told them about the ways this president’s name was abused by northern carpetbaggers and copperheads and how his reputation was soiled for many people in Rim Country. She also told them why President Lincoln’s birthday was not celebrated in Rim Country, as well as many other areas of the United States. In addition, most importantly, the children learnt from their teacher that Lincoln had pleaded for “malice toward none and charity for all.”

The teacher had a single hope in her heart, the hope that her pupils would be impressed by her story in a good way. When she was finished, she silently took down Abraham Lincoln’s portrait from the classroom wall. She knew that before furious parents could say something, she had to take it home and put it in an honored place.