The man who gave one of the most memorable U.S. presidential speeches had less than a year of formal education, but he realized that reading was the key to success and later was hailed as a literary genius.
Abraham Lincoln would have turned 202 on Saturday, and those gathering to commemorate the nation's 16th president at the Los Angeles National Cemetery remembered him as much for inspiring literacy as keeping the country together in its darkest hour.
"He's inspiration for young people and the nation to acquire better reading and literacy," said Duke Russell, who founded the Abraham Lincoln Remembrance ceremony in 1993. "While he was learning to read, it dawned on him that reading is the key.
"And that's what we want to spread to this city and this nation," said Russell, a retired television lighting technician, who was disappointed there was no city celebration to mark Lincoln's birthday. "What happens to America if our young people keep dropping out of school?"
Vilma Poroj, student body president of Birmingham High School in Lake Balboa, said Lincoln was a great inspiration to her generation.
"No matter what your dreams are ... there's nothing that says you can't achieve (them)," Poroj said. "And you have Abraham Lincoln to prove that."
Among the works Lincoln read were the Bible, which his mother read to him when he was young, "Robinson Crusoe," Shakespeare, "Aesop's Fables" and U.S. history.
Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, founder of a nonprofit aimed at providing high-quality education to needy children, closed the ceremony by reading the famous Gettysburg Address - and did "a good job" - except for a few minor points, said Yvonne Sias.
Sias, a veteran who served as a captain stationed at an Army hospital at West Point, recited the speech to herself as Riordan spoke, and even corrected him under her breath when he said "subtract" instead of "detract."
"I think (the history) is a good thing to bring to children's attention," said Sias, who had to memorize the speech in high school. "This is lost on them."
The remembrance included bands that played some of Lincoln's favorite music and birthday cake for those in attendance.
"I think it's so important to have role models in the world," Riordan said after the ceremony. "I wish some of our recent presidents would have used Abraham Lincoln as a role model. He is so honest and he was so brilliant. He knew how to put a balance between ending slavery and saving the union, and found out ways to make both of them work."
Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pa. It was 41/2 months after the Army of the Potomac defeated the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Lincoln began his speech of slightly more than two minutes by recalling that the nation had been founded 87 years earlier ("Four score and seven years ago"), "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."