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Music and the Spoken Word: 'The very soul of America'

Posted February 22

Editor's note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast.

The day was Oct. 1, 1925. The place was a remote mountainside in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Hundreds of local residents tramped up a crudely cut road to a mountain peak called Mount Rushmore. For weeks, they had worked at cutting a three-mile route through the forest using picks, shovels and their most sophisticated equipment, horse-drawn scrapers. Tables laden with baked goods and 30-foot flags flying above heralded the announcement of a plan to build a massive monument to four great American presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt (see "Introduction: Mount Rushmore," on American Experience via pbs.org).

It was a bold, daring, almost impossible endeavor. But then, so was America itself. So a stunning work of art carved out of a rough mountainside seemed a fitting tribute to the great leaders who did the stunning work of building and preserving a nation.

In 1991, at the 50th anniversary of the monument’s completion, President George Bush said, “A visit to Mount Rushmore is a moment of communion with the very soul of America” (see "Remarks at the Dedication Ceremony of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota," Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: George Bush, July 1-Dec. 31, 1991).

And what is the soul of America? While the massive granite faces represent men who held the nation’s highest office, the soul of America comprises much more than even its greatest leaders. It is found in the principles these leaders stood for: freedom, equality, progress and unity. Most of all, it is found in the lives of its people.

That includes people like Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor whose skills and determination made the Mount Rushmore monument a reality. It includes the 400-plus laborers, most of them inexperienced, who for 14 years hung from wooden scaffolding to sculpt the 60-foot-tall faces.

And it includes people like you and me. Whenever we make sacrifices for the greater good, when our hearts are filled with love one to another, when we reach out and help those around us, when we courageously stand for our principles, and when we champion goodness and character, we carve our place in the soul of the nation.

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