Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lincoln: Still Relevant 200 years later

Lincoln's 200th birthday just passed.

Last week, the following words jumped out on

Was Lincoln a Racist?

This is the thought provoking article by Henry Lewis Gates Jr. on The Root website. It's must read material. I'll attempt to summarize:

The suggestion that Lincoln held racist views is a disturbing one to modern day Americans. Not only is Lincoln considered our best president ever (poll out this week to confirm the no-brainer), he's likely the most beloved president as well. He stretches beyond party lines, for both Republicans and Democrats claim connection to him.

There is a sense with Lincoln that he was a man before his some ways he is so mythical that he seems so beyond the ordinary human being.

The article suggests (correctly, I believe) that Lincoln was more conflicted about African Americans than we'd like to believe. While it's pretty clear that he detested slavery (for various reasons), the article points to various sources to make a clear argument that Lincoln did not consider Blacks to be equal to Whites for the majority of his life.

It appears he continued to struggle with what to do with African Americans in the United States until he met Frederick Douglass. Gates suggests that in Douglass, Lincoln recognized his intellectual equal. It was perhaps the crucial turning point in his thinking.

Gates makes the point that we have more to learn from this Lincoln than the mythical one:

"It should not surprise us that Lincoln was no exception to his times; what is exceptional about Abraham Lincoln is that, perhaps because of temperament or because of the shape-shifting contingencies of command during an agonizingly costly war, he wrestled with his often contradictory feelings and ambivalences and vacillations about slavery, race and colonization, and did so quite publicly and often quite eloquently."

Gates concludes: "By the end of the Civil War, Lincoln was on an upward arc, perhaps heading toward becoming the man he has since been mythologized as being: the Great Emancipator, the man who freed—and loved—the slaves. But his journey was certainly not complete on the day that he died. Abraham Lincoln wrestled with race until the end. And, as Du Bois pointed out, his struggle ultimately made him a more interesting and noble man than the mythical hero we have come to revere."

Read the article for yourself.

1 comment:

Jen Carbonneau said...

Thank you for sharing the article. I'll link to it next. It's unfortunate how many people are unable to reach their potential for one reason or another.