Film brings history, debate on slavery to life for teens

Joe Maresco, 16, of Marshfield High School posed a question to professor Kerri Greenidge after watching the film “Lincoln” Tuesday at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe staff

Joe Maresco, 16, of Marshfield High School posed a question to professor Kerri Greenidge after watching the film “Lincoln” Tuesday at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

George Bonner and Zachary Brown were surprised that even in Abraham Lincoln’s day, the most powerful legislators in the country relied on lobbyists to track down votes.

At a special screening of ­Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” in honor of black history month, the two Haverhill High School seniors were struck by the legislative and ideological hurdles Lincoln and his allies overcame while fighting to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.


“History has already judged Lincoln on what he did,” said Bonner. “But the movie showed how he used the Constitution to his advantage to do it, like how he said he could seize the slaves as property during war.”

Bonner and Brown, along with the rest of their Advanced Placement government class, joined students from several Boston-area schools and youth organizations for the screening at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester.

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The film was screened a month after the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln issued Jan. 1, 1863, using his war powers to free slaves in Confederate territory. Congress passed the 13th Amendment, which codified and expanded the proclamation, two years later after a contentious debate. That is the focus of the movie.

“I didn’t realize how much of a process it took to pass the 13th Amendment and the controversy between the ­Democrats,” said Iris Smith-Dagencourt, a sophomore at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School.

Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin’s office organized the screening.


Galvin said in a phone interview that “Lincoln” provided an entertaining and informative platform to honor the Massa­chusetts tradition of abolitionism.

“It seemed like [the kids] were engrossed in the movie,” he said. “I think it was more meaningful and made more of an impact than any lecture.”

As he walked out of the screening room and picked up a complimentary lunch, Jack Ackcornish, an eighth grader at Boston Latin School, said it was a surprisingly fun way to study history, even on a snow day.

“It was excellent, but it stretched on and it was a little dry,” he said. “But it was better than history class.”

Todd Feathers can be reached at
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