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Robert G. Ingersoll quotation from the title page of “The Dresden Edition, Vol. 4”
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Walking Tour Stop 5

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Lincoln Hall, c. 1870-79
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Lincoln Hall, c. 1870-79

Lincoln Hall at the NE corner of 9th and D Streets, N.W. (not extant)

Built in 1867, Lincoln Hall featured one of the finest auditoriums in the nation's capital during the 19th century. “Constructed of brick, stuccoed and scored to resemble stone,” the 9th Street and the D Street facades “were identical in their symmetrical design.” Lincoln Hall “was a massive, Victorian counterpart to the present-day Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts” (Goode, 1979, p. 357). Housing lecture halls and a theater, it was the cultural center of Washington and served as an opera house when it burned down in 1886. The site is today an office building with the Caucus Room Restaurant on the ground floor. (Sic transit Gloria mundi.)

Site of Lincoln Hall
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Site of Lincoln Hall

Ingersoll was invited to address a mass meeting at Lincoln Hall on May 6, 1879, in sympathy with “Kansas colored emigrants.” However, the YMCA, which controlled the building at that time, would not permit Ingersoll to speak there. Instead of appearing in person, Ingersoll sent a letter, which was read to the audience. He said that he would gladly have accepted the invitation to address his fellow citizens in Lincoln Hall but for the fact that the controllers of the building had passed a resolution denying him the privilege of speaking within its sacred walls. He enclosed $100 “to aid a little so great a cause.”

Interior of Lincoln Hall, c. 1880
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Interior of Lincoln Hall, c. 1880

Four years later, things had changed. After being introduced by Frederick Douglass, Ingersoll delivered his famous civil rights oration on October 22, 1883, before a packed house in Lincoln Hall. He spoke in opposition to a recent Supreme Court decision upholding segregation (109 U.S. 3, 1883). His 50-page speech included the following statement:

What are the fundamental rights, privileges and immunities which belong to a free man? Certainly the rights of all citizens of the United States are equal. Their immunities and privileges must be the same. He who makes discrimination between citizens on account of color, violates the Constitution of the United States.

“On October twenty-fifth, a group of twenty-five citizens headed by Douglass begged Ingersoll for a repeat of the address. He complied” (Smith, 1990, p. 215).

Walking Directions (printable version)

To walk to tour stop #6:

Go south 1 block on 9th Street.

 
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