Speaker-Actor Discusses Upcoming Portrayal of Abraham Lincoln on February 9

February 08, 2010

Speaker-Actor Discusses Upcoming Portrayal of Abraham Lincoln on February 9 Saint Leo University’s Distinguished Speaker Series takes a theatrical turn this month as the main campus welcomes historian Jim Getty in his portrayal of our sixteenth president. Getty began his career as a teacher, but changed course when several people commented that he bears as resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. Drawing on some earlier theater background and his own historical research, Getty began developing one-man shows appearing as Lincoln. Getty varies the presentations according to the ages, interests and needs of his audiences. Getty discussed his upcoming visit to Saint Leo in a telephone interview from his home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he performs during tourist season. His appearance at Saint Leo, “A Visit with Abraham Lincoln,” is scheduled for 7 p.m., Tuesday, February 9, in the Student Community Center. That falls just three days before the February 12 anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, and neatly coincides with a political science course underway at the main campus on the Lincoln Administration.

Question: The theme of our speaker series this year is social justice. Can you comment on Lincoln in that context?

Answer:  Nothing could be more on the plate of social justice than Abraham Lincoln. It was the slavery issue that made him go into national politics. Had there not been slavery, he would not have run for president. He was a state politician. He served in the Illinois Legislature four terms. And he served one term as a congressman from Illinois. Then he came along as a national figure in 1854 when he stood against the expansion of slavery into the federal territories, knowing the Constitution protected slavery where it was already established. As president, he had economic interests to accomplish: he was pro-banking and high-tariff. The Department of Agriculture and the transcontinental railroad started during his administration.

Q: Some of the Honors Program students are planning a theatrical rally, a pro-Lincoln march on campus shortly before your talk begins. They’ll have railroad ties and signs and are half-jokingly calling it the first or the only rally for Lincoln in Florida. What do you think of that?

A: Is that correct? I’ll bet it’s one more rally than they actually had. He certainly didn’t get votes there There were 33 states in 1860, 10 in the South. They would not even list him on the presidential ballot. Then Florida seceded from the union on January 10, 1861.

Q: And we think politics is divisive now. Is that inaccurate, historically?

A:  It repeats itself. In the 1850s, they said senators and congressmen had pistols in their desks in Washington. It was pretty much a ticking time bomb.

Q: How do you view the current comparisons between Lincoln and President Barack Obama?

A: I think that’s a mixed bag. It was easy for Obama to make that claim, coming out of Illinois. But there is a 180-degree difference in their view of government. Lincoln would never have had big government doing everything. But it was good to talk about Lincoln. It takes us back to the reasons we used black troops during the Civil War. One of the reasons was that if everybody saw black men fighting, they would know that black soldiers should also have citizenship and the right to vote. And eventually, from there, the standing to run for office. It’s a natural progression.

Q: What do you do to make your voice sound like Lincoln’s?

A: We don’t have any electronic recordings, so I have learned from the way his contemporaries wrote about his voice inflections, and phrases he liked to use. His “g”s were gone from the “ing” endings of words, like “meetin’ ” instead of “meeting.” And I tried to go listen to a lot of the old-timers in farm country in central Illinois when I speak to get the inflection right. But we don’t absolutely know that it is right.