Sunday, April 16, 2006
Good Friday was a good day for me. I hung out with a a buddy of mine from law school and his cousin from red state Texas. We drove down I95 to the nation's capitol to check out the sites, and to satisfy my red state friends hunger for all things American. Did I mention that he is fiercely patriotic, and a card carrying republican to boot? Yes, this former military man, personal fitness trainer, and fellow Texan like frat boy, was darn near foaming at the mouth to see where his leaders live and play.
Once in DC, we headed straight for the mall area and the Lincoln memorial. If you are a tourist to DC, this is where you go. Of all the monuments in DC the Lincoln memorial is the most historic and holds the most significance to Americans. It is where Martin Luther King delivered his "I have a dream" speech on a hot August day in 1963. It is, in fact, where most protesters gather when they go to the capitol to bring their grievances to their elected officials. It is also where, on good Friday, April 14, 2006, I saw pretty much all foreign visitors and white Americans celebrating America and it's history. "Hey, where are the black folks?" My friend -the lawyer- kept teasing me. "I thought DC was supposed to be chocolate city?" His constant heckling made me defensive, "heck I don't know, just because I live on the east coast, doesn't make me an expert on black folk in DC." And so it went all day, we could actually count the number of black folks we saw on one hand. Lot's of foriegners, but no black folks.
Of course my red state buddy was so beside himself with glee, he didn't have time to notice who was and who wasn't there. -As maybe he shouldn't have- He was acting like a kid who had just been told his parents were buying Disney World. I mean we couldn't keep up with the guy. The Korean war memorial, the World War II memorial, the Smithsonian, the Jefferson memorial, and finally, the Lincoln Memorial. What we all basically come to see in the first place. There he was, staring intently at honest Abe, and listening with rapt attention as someone described all that honest Abe has meant to the republic. He was no doubt feeling proud to be an American, and even more so, a republican, just like honest Abe.
Now all the way down to DC from Philly, my buddy -the lawyer-kept singing a Hank Williams Jr. song. The words went something like this: "Mr. Lincoln I wish you were here the republics changed alot in a hundred years. I don't think it's working like you planned. Mr. Lincoln we sure could use a hand.." or something like that. Now I kept thinking, what does old Hank mean by those profound words, and was my buddy even singing a real song? Well I looked it up, and my buddy was right, it is a song and those are the words. Now I am standing there staring at the great emancipator, with my buddies terrible singing and that song stuck in my head. All the while my red state buddy is clicking away with his camera while I am trying to read the words on the monument. Now I must confess, given what I know about honest Abe, I am not impressed, and I would suspect many other black people feel the same way. So as I am standing there, tourist from India, Japan, and who knows where else, clicking away around me, I am starting to understand the dearth of chocolate in chocolate city.
To some Americans -myself included- Lincoln wasn't the great emancipator everyone made him out to be. Now this might sound like blasphemy to most other Americans, but if we could put down our flags for a minute, and review the facts, maybe we could see honest Abe from a slightly different perspective. Say a field-negroes maybe?
Let's look at the facts for a minute; the great emancipator never publicly called for the emancipation of slaves. James M. McPherson writing in the New York Times said; "Lincoln lagged behind abolitionist, and was last to support the enlistment of black union soldiers. "
Lincoln wrote a letter to Alexander Stephens in 1860 stating; "Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a republican administration would directly or indirectly, interfare with their slaves?" Lincoln went on to write that "There is no cause for such fears." I bet you won't hear that quote from black conservatives the next time they are touting the republican party as the party of Lincoln. You see in my humble opinion, Lincoln was a politician first, and a very smart one, who did what he thought was necessary to keep the union together. Nothing wrong with that, and it doesn't make him a bad person. In fact, of all the politicians of the time, Lincoln probably had the most vision and was the most pragmatic. Does that make him the great emancipator who loved and saw an equal in black people? The answer is no.
Lincoln married Mary Todd who was from a wealthy family that owned slaves. Hardly the actions of a slave lover or a true abolitionist. He also balked at signing the Confiscation Act which had far more teeth than the Emancipation Proclamation, and which sought to punish slave owners who owned blacks at the time. Instead, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation which was based on the president's war powers as commander in chief to sieze the enemies property (i.e. slaves) The Emancipation Proclamation, contrary to popular beliefs, did very little in terms of actually freeing the slaves. Under the act, only 40,000 out of 4 million slaves were freed making it hardly the great document it's made out to be. The fact of the matter is this; Lincoln didn't want the Confiscation Act -which has far more teeth- in place until he could set up a deportation plan for blacks. Yes, a deportation plan. Lincoln believed in the colonization of blacks and actually received $600,000 from congress at the time to put this plan in place. Keep in mind that Liberia was established in 1821 as a colony for freed slaves. Again, I don't think honest Abe necessarily wanted blacks colonized because he hated us. On the contrary, he thought of the political ramifications of millions of freed slaves running around the United States, and thought it would be better if they were some place else. Hey, politically speaking he might have been right. I am sure he was thinking of the strain it would put on the countries resources to teach all these former slaves to read, to find them jobs, land to farm, and to assimilate them into American society. It couldn't have been an easy undertaking, and the politician Lincoln was no doubt thinking along these lines.
Now before you, the reader, think that I have some real issues with honest Abe, let me say for the record that I do not. He did support the 13th amendment which formally abolished slavery throughout the United States, and Fredrick Douglas thought he was an honorable man. And who am I to dispute what a true field-negro like Fredrick Douglas says? So there, I do have some love for honest Abe. But let's not get it twisted, honest Abe could easily have gone in another direction on this slavery thing. Had he done that, there is no telling where we would be now. Maybe old Hank would not have written his song; heck, he wouldn't need to, cause I am sure the republic would have been more to Hank's liking.
"Mr Lincoln I wish you were here the republics changed alot in a hundred years. I don't think it's working like you planned." I don't think so either Hank.
I gotta go to the white house now, my republican buddy would never forgive me if I didn't take him to see where his President and fellow Texan lives.
Posted by field negro at 2:59 PM