A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Warren Greer: Kentucky’s Lincoln Trail highlights freedom, equality, and democracy

“I can stand this,” said Black Kentuckian and former slave, Elijah Marrs, as he performed military drills in Louisville in 1864. “Though I do march in line to the tap of the drum, I felt freedom in my bones, and when I saw the American eagle with outspread wings upon the American flag with the motto, E Pluribus Unum, the thought came to me, ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’”

Lincoln Heritage promotional brochure cover

The Kentucky Lincoln Heritage Trail offers inspiration from Elijah Marrs and other figures at more than 20 historic sites and museums across Kentucky. This includes Camp Nelson near Nicholasville, now part of the National Park Service, where Marrs served in the Union army.

Across the Trail, themes of conflict, equality, and democracy are present.

Near Richmond, people can learn about Lincoln’s ally, Cassius Marcellus Clay, a vehement emancipationist who started an anti-slavery newspaper and was attacked by a violent mob.

In Louisville, folks can visit Farmington where an enslaved woman, Diana Thompson, escaped north with her two young children in a courageous move of self-liberation in 1858.

Lincoln Memorial at Waterfrong Park in Louisville

And, at numerous Civil War sites, visitors can understand firsthand what happened when a large minority of Americans refused to accept the results of a free and fair election and took up arms against the Constitution.

Kentucky’s Lincoln Trail welcomes more than 500,000 people to the Commonwealth annually. Nearly half of them travel from more than two hundred miles away.

According to research conducted in 2019, The Trail contributes more than $30 million to the state’s economy every year and supports more than 400 jobs. With tourism set to increase significantly this year, its impact on Kentucky only stands to improve.

If you are looking to enjoy a vacation this year while being inspired by stories of moral courage, equality, and the triumph of democracy, the Lincoln Trail beckons.

As Americans, we must continually remind ourselves that our union is fragile, and the rights and freedoms we enjoy were not only hard won but must be continually protected and cherished.

After serving nearly two years in the Union Army, Elijah Marrs became a minister, teacher, and civil rights leader. He also co-founded what is now Simmons College in Louisville. Marrs ended his autobiography, published in 1885, with the following poem from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

“Lives of great men oft remind us We can make our lives sublime, And, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time.”

Warren Greer serves as director of the Kentucky Lincoln Heritage Trail. He can be reached at warren.greer@kentuckylincolntrail.org.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment