I was born the son of a mailman in Springfield, Illinois, where one hundred years earlier Abraham Lincoln practiced law, married, raised his children, and became the sixteenth president of the United States. In the winter of 1946, the year I was born, Springfield hadn’t changed much since the time of Lincoln, or so it seems to me as I look back through the detachment of time. Aside from being the seat of state government, it was a slow-moving place where kids played sandlot football and baseball, and adolescent boys swooned over Annette Funicello. Everyone seemed to know everyone else in the Springfield of my youth. Folks there, at least those that I knew, were pretty down-to-earth, just more or less living to get by and trying not to be consumed by the ever-expanding sense of complexity in our culture.
Although Lincoln set civil rights on the stage of history, in the Springfield of my youth blacks were pretty much shoved off to the east side of town, segregated from us lower middle-class white aristocrats. All of this made me wonder just how much Lincoln really achieved in his search for uniform justice and universal human rights. Blacks were an uncommon sight on downtown Springfield streets in those days of my youth, and, to me, they seemed a caricature of all that Lincoln said they weren’t. This sociopolitical contrast between the real and the ideal was a constant as I came of age, and it undoubtedly shaped me personally and formed the foundation of my attitude toward the idea of human rights. Over time, Abraham Lincoln became my personal hero, a man that I have tried most unsuccessfully to emulate in life. I narrate on this matter to make the point that