A letter from Ken Burns

Mar 26, 2014

I live in rural New Hampshire, and across the river in tiny Putney, Vermont, is the Greenwood School, a school for boys with learning differences. Every November, for the past 35 years, the school has had a tradition of challenging its 50 boys to memorize and then publicly recite the Gettysburg Address.

It's a minefield for these boys, and what they do is so heroic that the first time I was asked to be a judge at their recitation, I just wept and said "this should be a film." That was 10 years ago. Then, a few years later, I was asked to be a judge again, and again I wept and said..."this should be a film."

Over the last year, members of our team embedded themselves in the school, and became such a regular part of the daily life that the students seemingly forgot we were there. I was even able to shoot some scenes on my iPhone, something very, very different from how we normally tell our stories.

The result is “The Address,” which thanks to Bank of America and other funders will air on PBS on April 15th. “The Address” was not part of our original agreement with Bank of America. But when I explained what we were doing, once again they offered to help us tell and share this story. Bank of America is the definition of an enlightened underwriter. They are generous in their support, to be sure, but they understand fully our underlying goal: to make the history of our country a riveting and mesmerizing narrative, not homework. To this end, they have partnered with us to come up time and again with novel ways to bring our films to the general public's attention. Most important, they are committed, as we are, to the idea that these films have a long life in classrooms across the country.

“The Address” is a new way to look at one of the most important documents in American history. In a mere 272 words, President Lincoln was able to speak to the nation about the values that were fundamental to our country’s history – and its future. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of his speech last November, and to help further tell the story we’ve tried to capture in “The Address,” we launched www.learntheaddress.org to encourage people to submit their own videos.

Please add yours, and join every living president, media personalities, business people, entertainers and your neighbors.

In his address, President Lincoln said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,” and yet 150 years later, the students of the Greenwood School are using his momentous words to overcome adversity. We wanted to tell this story to inspire everyone across the nation, especially school children, to learn the rich history of American freedom and sacrifice embedded in one of the most important declarations ever made.


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