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tv   Jonathan White A House Built by Slaves  CSPAN  August 3, 2022 9:53am-10:53am EDT

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and doing it in the glow of this statue is perhaps the best way and the most inspiring way to proceed. >> harold holzer, lincoln form a chair, author of the book and many books, but in particular, monument, man the life and art of daniel chester french. thank you so much for joining us on such a warm morning, from there, the lincoln memorial. >> thank you, john. ♪ ♪ ♪ >> if you're enjoying american history tv, then sign up for our newsletter to receive the upcoming programs, lectures, history, the presidency, and more. sign up for the american history tv newsletter today, and be sure to watch american history tv every saturday or anytime online at slash history. shop in chicago i >> good afternoon, and welcome to a house divided, coming to you from abraham lincoln bookshop in chicago.
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if it's on our show's, it's history. my name is bjorn scott sent, and i will be the host for today's episode of a house divided. we will be discussing a house built by slaves with the author of that fine book, jonathan and w. white, and we will be talking to john in just a moment here. this program is coming to you from abraham lincoln bookshop in chicago. we are a retail bookshop, an independent bookshop, 83 years old now, independent, and, bookshop. we specialize in american history, specifically that means books about that life and presidency of abraham lincoln. the u.s. civil war, and the u.s. presidency.
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we carry both old and new books, box that we sell on the secondhand market, and new books like this one. you can get from abraham lincoln bookshop. we also have many other historical artifacts that you can get from us, autographs, photographs, teddy roosevelt, there is abraham lincoln by george pistol. our website -- come and see us on the website. it's a blinken book shop. he will be able to see this author interview and other past interviews on our youtube page. does that sound like -- >> it's a great place. i have to say, to visitors that have never been, go to chicago and stop in. it's really an incredible store. >> thank you very much. one more cap on it, it is an independent bookstore. if you can get your book, a house built by slaves -- if you want to order from us,
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we will sanity it with a signed book plate. if you want chants book, find it at your local independent bookstore. you know who i am talking about. someone in your neighborhood is selling this book to. all right, john, let's talk about a house built by slaves, african american visitors to the lincoln white house. what made you want to look at abraham lincoln's white house visit with african americans? and write a book about that? >> yeah, so it started in 2014. i don't know why, but for some reason, in 2014, i started collecting letters from african americans to lincoln. i wanted to do a book that i was going to call emphatically the black man's president, african americans correspondence and conversations with abraham lincoln. and i realized fairly quickly, that i had so many letters and so many conversations that were
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recorded between black men and women and lincoln, that it was more than i could do in a single book. so, in a 2011, just a couple of months ago, i published this book here, to address you as my friend, african americans letters to abraham lincoln with the university of north carolina. i did the letters as one book, and then i wanted to write a narrative history with the conversations, so i took all of those, and then took it into a house built by slaves. >> so, if got two books, two books that very much work together? >> yeah. >> you need both of them for yourself. >> all right, so we are going to dive into a detailed discussion about a house built by slaves in just a moment, folks. but first, i want to talk about something that happened this week. it happened yesterday. that is the annual announcement of the gilder lehrman lincoln prize. we are going to bring that up
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here today because john has a particular interest in that price. first of all, the winner of the prize -- i am going to share this with you right now. the book is, and of war, the unfinished fight of leaves army after appomattox, and the prized winner is doctor caroline e. jenny. the ends of war. there you see a picture of the dust jacket. she was on this program in september, when end of war cannot. we discussed it. so, you can go back to the archives of this and watch the interviews with her on that book. john white, you served on the jury for the gilder lehrman lincoln prize. am i right about that? >> yes, this year. >> so, the jury, why did you think, as that juror, as someone who had some say in
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their gilder lehrman lincoln prize this year, what made and have worn special to you? >> yeah, and of war is a beautifully written book. i recommend it to everyone. it's a fantastic book. what carry does, is look at what those moments looked like after appomattox. i think, we all, sort of, having our mind, the work came to an end, and the soldiers went home, and that was the end of it. when you read her book, what she does, is she slows down the story, and so instead of, you know, lee surrendered to grant, and the guys go home, and every construction gets underway. she slows it down. she traces the stories of these individual soldiers of the army of northern virginia, who are having to make decisions about where to go, how to get home, do i try to keep fighting, do i surrender, you will get a parole? do i go somewhere other than home? and, the beauty of the book is,
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we all know the end of the story, but when you read her book, you forget, for that little bit of time, that you are reading it, you forget that you know the end of the story, and you want to know what happens to these guys, and she doesn't only trace the stories of these men who serve in the army of northern virginia, she traces the stories of the people they encounter, white civilians, african americans, african americans who were on the confederate home front, others who have been body servant for white confederate soldiers. and so, you see all of these different stories unfolding together, and it paints a really complex and different picture than what happened at the close of the civil war, then i think we've had prior to this book. there were a lot of wonderful books, and it's, being on a jury is a really hard job. i've done it a couple times. you read wonderful books, and you wish you could give a price to many of them, in this case.
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carrie spoke really start out as saying something new, in a new way, and telling us something different about the civil war than we've known before. right, i agree. i agree wholeheartedly and i do recommend, and of war. the unfinished fight of lee's army after appomattox please buy with your copy of a house built by slaves. >> i agree with that as well, thank you for that. >> yes, yeah. we're here to pile on, not to give people too many choices. okay, a house built by slaves. john, i love this book. >> thank you. >> you may have noticed, we are interacting on twitter the last couple days and i've just been pouring through this book. and i love it. the first thing that caught my eye is, okay, you clearly decided, let's look at all of the meetings of african
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american people with abraham lincoln. but clearly you saw that that created, that boiled down into a number of different themes. it seems to me that you've organized this thematically. different people meeting for different reasons, having different interactions with him. context means a lot. so, tell me a little bit about how these themes play out in the book, what are some of the themes that you talk about? >> yeah, so, the book follows a quasi-chronological and also thematic approach. some of the chapters deal with things like people who come to the white house and they want to give gifts to abraham lincoln. they're grateful for what he's done during the war, toward saving the union and freeing the slaves. and, so they want to show their gratitude to him. so, some of them have to do with christian minister's who want money for their ministries
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and they go to lincoln, seeing if he can support them either financially or by giving them passes to travel through the lines to be able to go into the south, so that they can minister to former slaves. some of them have to do with black recruitment, whether it's men in the north who want to fight or men in the north who want to be recruiters for black soldiers. and then, after blackmon joined the union army, some people go to the white house to push lincoln to make sure the black soldiers get equality. on that, point another chapter focuses on three delegations of african americans who travel from the south to push lincoln to support black suffrage. and so, one of the things that you can see is that the themes kind of change overtime, as new issues arise in the war there's different themes that i was able to focus chapters on. >> yeah, i noticed that and i found it very intriguing that
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there are different reasons why people visit with him. so, it's going to be important for different reasons. okay, you spent a lot of time collecting these letters, right? that means you bring a lot of new primary source information to the question. but we started with at least one, well, several published sources, but one crucial published source that, to begin with, was everybody's source about lincoln and african americans in the white house. and that is a story of elizabeth keckley, the story she told with behind the scenes. find a chance with something, else it was awful. >> as going to say, there is
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that parity. >> and horrible parity. but behind the scenes. how has it through keckley's eyes affected historiography, when we come into the book thinking about interactions was about. >> keckley paint's a really important portrait of the lincoln white house, she is and some pivotal moments. she's there on the day of lincoln second inauguration, she is there in the room right after willie dies in february of 1862. so, keckley gives us real insight into how lincoln responded to some really important moments in his personal life and in his presidency. i think your question gets at something that's really true, there are a few individuals or moments that have been very well known, in terms of lincoln's interactions with african americans. so, the black delegation in august of 1862, which dealt with colonization. frederick
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douglass's three meetings with lincoln, sojourner truth. beyond that, and then keckley of course. beyond that, we haven't really known much about lincoln's interactions with african americans. and so, i use those very famous meetings, in some ways, as you said, as starting points. i start with some discussion of lincoln with the white house staff and was someone like keckley, but then i want to tell a much broader story. actually, i just published an article on the blog of the journal of the civil war era yesterday, february 15th, or 14th i guess. it was about the lincoln movie, the spielberg movie. which i think is a really wonderful and important movie. but, if you look at that film, there are a couple of black, characters are the soldiers at the beginning, the one who resides the gettysburg address. the main
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black characters are elizabeth keckley and william slayed. the point i'm making this essay is, in the period covered by the film, lincoln meets with a lot of other african americans and it would've given a more complete picture to the film to have some of them as characters in the film as well. so, that's what i try to do in the book, really bring at the texture of the white house. what it looked like, how crowded it was and then that white people, for decades, had felt free to go to the white house to meet with the president. now, in the lincoln years, african americans feel that they have that right as well, to go and meet with the president. >> and it's brand-new, right? you make at least a couple mentions, once or twice, previous to that, african american people had been in the white house to entertain or something like that. they had always been, you know, abused. >> right. i found, i did as much research as i could on this, and i found a handful of instances where african americans go to the white house as either guests or not as a
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servant. in one case, jefferson met with an african american went to the white house and said, hey, one of the white house servants stole my coat and i wanted back, and jefferson gave it back to him. madison met with paul cuffe, daniel pane meets john tyler in 1833 or 34 and doesn't have a very positive experience. one of the things i show is that african americans were more likely to be bought and sold as enslaved people by a sitting president then to be welcomed, prior to the lincoln presidency. james polk purchased, either bought or sold, at least 19 human beings while he was president. i couldn't find nearly that many black guests at the white house. actually, i close either chapter one of the prologue, i forget, but at the beginning of the book i close it with, during the secession crisis, there was a newspaper story that circulated all over the country. where they made a joke of the idea of a black person
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going to the white house. when i tried to say is, prior to the lincoln presidency, it was seen as a joke, unrealistic that black people would be welcomed at the white house. and that changes in the lincoln presidency, in a way that i don't think people have appreciated before. >> it changes fast. >> yeah. >> it's not a gradual change at all. >> that's right. lincoln begins, one of his first, within a month or a little after a month after becoming president, he meets a black man from pennsylvania named nicholas bittle at the capitol building. bittle had been traveling as a servant with a white passengers who went from baltimore. the day before the baltimore riot, he and the men are passing through and a mob rises up and someone yells and word in uniform and they throw a rock or a brick and hit him in the face. he makes his way to the capitol with the soldiers and he's bleeding on the floor of the capital building, and
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lincoln in the cabinet, some of the cabinet officials, go to the capital to meet the soldiers. lincoln shakes their hands and when he gets to nicholas bittle, he shakes the man's hand and treats him as if he was one of the soldiers. the accounts say that it was a moment he never forgot. within a year that, april of 62, black people will begin coming to the white house. sometimes invited, sometimes uninvited, meeting with the president. that was unprecedented for u.s. history. >> right, right. for those at home, we're not going to be able to or even try to work our way through this whole book. that's why you need to buy it. i'll send you a copy, reminder of what we said at the very beginning, this is a book signing party. not necessarily a lecture by john on what's in his book. we want you to buy, it and if you decide to buy you're going to love it. but let's get to something we should talk about, an elephant in the room. and that is august 14th of 1862 marks the nadir of lincoln's reputation when it
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comes to african american relations. i think. he invited some of the most prestigious minds in the african american community in the district of columbia to the white house. and there, he lectured them about race, he told them that they were the cause of the war. and then he encouraged them to go away, to go move to liberia or what's now panama. can you help us unpack this very bad, horrible day in the reputation of abraham lincoln? was there anything, contextual, about the time, the place, who he met that would mitigate this really, sort of, ugly scene? >> yeah, so, this is one of these moments. i think in the book i call it something like one of the most regrettable moments of the lincoln presidency. as a lincoln scholar, there are two things, that if i could go back in time
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and say hey, abe, don't do that. it would be what he said at the charleston debate with stephen douglas in 1858, about social equality. and then this moment in august of 1862. so, the context is that, in the september of 1862, lincoln has decided to issue an emancipation proclamation. and william seward persuades him to wait until there's a victory on the battlefield, because the war has been going badly for the union in the spring and summer of 62. the peninsula campaign, which went right through where i am here in newport, west virginia, was a disaster for the union. and so, seward was concerned that, if lincoln issued an emancipation proclamation then, that it would look like an act of desperation and it would lead england and france to recognize the confederacy as a legitimate nation. and so, lincoln agrees and lincoln decides to wait until there is a union victory. the problem is, lincoln's generals can't get their act
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together and so there is a major loss at manassas in august and there is not a victory until september, september 17th, at antietam. so while this is going on, lincoln is waiting for this victory to come, he does several things to try to prepare the white, racist north, the white, racist electorate in the north, for what is coming. he knows he's going to issue an emancipation proclamation, he knows he's got to wait, but he might as well begin to prepare and shape public sentiment on this issue. so he does several things. one of its as he writes a very famous letter to horace greely, where he says my paramount object in the struggles to save the union. and it's not either save or destroyed slavery, he's trying to get people on board. if you are willing to fight for the union, think about how ending slavery might help do that. and then, he also calls in this black delegation and he brings a stenographer into the room to write down everything he says. and the messages, what
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you just very aptly described, the reason for the war is because you're here and, if you aren't here, we wouldn't be cutting each other's throats, and so you should go to panama. that's the message. and he wants that message to get out to white northerners, because he knows that there are a lot of white northerners who are not going to support emancipation, he knows there are a lot of white northerners, irish immigrants, midwestern folks, who are going to be concerned that if he frees the slaves, there's going to be an influx of black labor and that's going to drive down prices, labor prices, wages and it's going to cause unemployment among white people. so, lincoln is essentially trying to say to that white electorate, you don't have to be too worried about emancipation when it comes, because i'm pushing colonization too. it's really important to realize this was not forced deportation. for lincoln, this was always
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voluntary. and so, he calls these men in and he tries to persuade them, convince your people to go somewhere else. he's never saying, you have to get out of the country. but, that said, it's a stain on his record. it doesn't look good, he's condescending when he talks to them. now, that said, i want to say a couple things about how it was perceived at the time. >> i wanted to hear that, yeah. >> one of the things i do in the book is i look at the democratic press, and they are appalled that, for the first time, a sitting president has invited a delegation of african americans to the white house to talk about a policy measure. for them, this is inaugurating a new system of social and political equality for black people that, in their minds, is terrible. and so, i try to show that this is a really complicated moment and, if you take it from -- it's not a great moment in the lincoln presidency, and i'm very upfront about that. but at the same time, if you take it out of its context, it's very easy to misunderstand. and the
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context is necessary. i think william lloyd garrison captured it really well. i have two chapters that deal with colonization in the book. one of them is called a spectacle as extraordinary as it was humiliating, or humiliating as it was extraordinary, i think it's that. and what garrison understood was, on the one hand, this was humiliating. here's the president treating people, in a sense, as pawns to get his message out. and the other, hand as extraordinary that, for the first-time, lincoln is engaging with african americans who a president has invited in to talk about policy. so, it's a complicated moment. but it's the only time, the only time, that lincoln does not listen to his audience. every other meeting that i describe in the book is different. and so, i'd say the exception that proves the rule. every other meeting, lincoln listens and does what
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he can to meet the needs of the person who is meeting with, not to try to make a political point or demand out of the meeting. >> right. you make a good point, i got this from the book. lincoln was very careful to make sure that this was going to be a public meeting, with the stenographers and a huge reaction, as you said, from the black press and from the democratic press. so, there is a calculation, there's a political calculation to it and, perhaps overall, he is pointing in the right direction. but, like i said before, i see it as the nadir of his relationship. but i think contextualizing it helps a little. >> the other thing that all very quickly added that, shortly after the meeting, he appears to have had a meeting with a black preacher from washington, d. c., named henry
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mcneill turner. and turner was a correspondent for the christian recorder, which was a philadelphia newspaper published by the african american methodist episcopal church. turner basically hints that lincoln brown to the white house and explained, you don't need to be worried about this. turner's words where that lincoln essentially said, i needed somewhere to point to. it's almost like amuse magician who needs misdirection to get the audience to think one thing when he's doing something else. i get the sense that lincoln wanted the black community to not be too worried about it, and so he kind of leaks it to henry mcneill turner. it was remarkable, what's remarkable about that is that lincoln never told people's innermost thinking on what he was doing. and in this case, he appears to have brought a black leader and to do just that. >> right. i would
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counterbalance that story with something that a mutual friend of ours pointed out, one of these twitter conversations. but kevin levin enjoyed your book, is an author who's been on this program before. and kevin noted out there on twitter, he is a teacher, he says, you know, henceforth, every time he teaches this august 14th meeting, he's also going to teach his students about encounters with ernest romaine. so, basically, if you're going to counterbalance this, how do you balance the treatment of the haitian ambassador, errnest romaine, with a committee of his fellow americans? >> yeah, so, one of the things that's really important in the lincoln presidency is that he gives diplomatic recognition to the two black republics of that era, to liberia and to haiti.
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northern democrats are furious about this, because they say, if we gave diplomatic recognition of these countries, they will be allowed to send ambassadors to washington. and they're going to have to be received by the president and by congress. and lincoln says, yeah, paraphrasing there but, yeah, that's going to happen. lincoln says, if the president of haiti wants to send a negro, that's lincoln's word, that quote has gotten changed to be the n-word but the original quote was not the n-word. but he says, if the president of haiti wants to send a black representative as an ambassador to washington, d. c., of course i'll receive him. so, in the spring of february of 1860, three ernest romaine comes with an assistant to washington, d. c. and lincoln and the cabinet
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are welcoming of him. what's interesting, this is one of the points i try to draw out in the book, is that lincoln's welcoming of african americans and of black people from other countries in this case runs against the grain. most white americans, including abolitionists and reformers, are not welcoming to african americans. but lincoln is. and in romaine's case, he is so poorly treated by white society in washington that, part way through his time, he just decides, i'm out of here and he moves to new york city. but it wasn't because of how lincoln treated him, it was because of how washington, d. c. was a southern city in 1863. and it was that treatment that caused him to go to new york. but it's lincoln that breaks down the barrier, in terms of diplomacy and welcoming a diplomat from haiti, which would've been unfathomable before his presidency. >> in official interactions, he seems to have charmed the town. maybe not charmed the town, charmed with the people that came to state dinners and so on and so forth. he is a polyglot, a man of charming manners.
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>> i found an incredible letter by a woman from iowa. i shouldn't say this out loud because someone will scoop me on it, but her letters are so wonderful and i'm thinking of trying to turn them into a book, to gather them all together. i think there is enough there. excerpts have been published as an article, but i think it could be a book. she just traces washington society and she was certainly charmed with romaine and his assistant. but others were not, unfortunately., so he did leave. it gives a really beautiful picture of what it was like for him, at least at this one dinner party with some other elites of the town. >> yeah, yeah. we do have some folks, at least one question here. i want to dive right in and greet our friend, brian's dean bergen in michigan, hello brian. thank you for watching.
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brian has a question for you, john. did you encounter any stories regarding how the african american white house servants responded to the african american visitors? >> what i can speak to was that there was a very real issue of color, amongst the white house staff. so, lincoln brought some people with him from springfield, who had darker complexion. and he brought them to be servants in the white house, they had been working for him in various ways in springfield. and the lighter skinned white house staff was not open to working with them. in some cases lincoln had to help find them employment elsewhere, and found them employment in the treasury department. so there was a very real issue when i came to the white house staff. but i don't know how they responded to
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these visitors. part of it is, a lot about what we know about the white house staff comes from their children's recollections. so, there is surviving testimony of the son of a waiter who worked at a white house i was able to use, surviving testimony from william slate's daughter, that survives, and of course records from slate himself. a lot of what we know comes from the white house staff children. i did not find any commentary on that particular issue. >> okay, okay. if anybody has any other questions, that you would like to add, and john you have been on this show a couple of times, you know how our regulars usually come up with great questions when we have about five minutes left. hey, i am still inviting you if you have questions or comments for john white, put them in the comments section of this
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facebook feed. and then, we will come back to those later in the conversation. let's move on to another famous person who got to meet lincoln because of her fame, and that is sojourner truth. sojourner truth, in her time, may have been the most famous female african american activist in the country. more so than harriet tubman, probably. but so, sojourner truth ended up having a famous meeting with abraham lincoln. what's her reaction to getting to meet him in person? >> yes, so this is a really controversial one. in some cases, the most controversial part of the book. i think so
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sojourner truth's meeting of lincoln has been mischaracterized over the years. so she decides in 1864 she wants to meet lincoln, she is living in battle creek, michigan at the time. she travels out east, giving lectures along the way. she meets with harriet tubman during this trip, and asked tubman, if you want to compete with lincoln, tubman says no, which was a decision she later regrets. so truth ultimately meets lincoln at least once, maybe more times, the record is unclear, at least once on october 19th, 1864. this is in the lead up to the presidential election, about a week and a half before the election. truth gets there very early in the morning with another woman, named lucy coleman, a white abolitionist. and they wait for a couple of hours until it is their turn. something we must realize is that people can just line up to the president had office hours. i'm sitting in my
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office at christopher newport university, i have office hours, students can lineup and come talk to me. usually they don't but they can. i mean, we as well. people would line up to meet with lincoln. so, truth and coleman are awaiting their turn. they wait for a couple of hours and then some two other black women are in line ahead, they meet with lincoln and over here that conversation. and then finally, it is their turn. they go in and they have a conversation. they talk for a while. and the reason why it is controversial is because, truth and coleman go both gave accounts of this meeting shortly after where they depict lincoln in a pretty positive light. now lucy coleman did not like lincoln. and then november, 1864, she was very upfront about that in her account. she also says that lincoln treated us well. she says, if i could vote, i would not vote for him. he was not radical enough for her, but she did not trash him. in the 18 90s, 1891, i think,
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she publishes a memoir. and in that memoir, she trashes lincoln. she attributes words to him that he ever would've said in october of 1864. i think that 1862, she plucks them in her mind out of their context and then says, well, she missed remembers things that lincoln then said to her, so to your truth, where she quotes lincoln as essentially saying, i did not want to free the slaves. i only did it because i had to. if i could've gotten away with not doing it, i would have. and lincoln would have never said that in october, late october of 1864! the problem is that a lot of scholars, historians, biographers have relied on the 1890s recollection more, they found that, and this is mind-boggling to me, but they have found that more reliable,
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truth was illiterate, but someone wrote down what she said, within weeks of the meeting. so for me, i found a november of 1864 evidence far more reliable, in that truth said that she could feel she was in the presence of a friend. and what's your junior truths that in november, 1864 captures exactly the way other african americans described their meeting with lincoln. i think it is far more plausible that they had, that sojourner truth had a positive interaction with lincoln, not a negative one. unfortunately, lucy coleman's memoir has had a lot of play in historical literature. in the 1960s, somebody wrote and said sojourner truth wrote the first sit-in in america. no, it wasn't a sit-in! she was so pleased to meet with lincoln. they had a positive interaction. i try to untangle how those myths evolved over time, i try to recapture when i think that meeting was like for her with lincoln.
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>> so, to get off of the topic just this much, you mentioned something we talked about sojourner truth, that i had not thought about until manisha sinha talked about it in her book. and for me, it slapped me upside the head. so junior truth almost certainly spoke english with a dutch inflection. and there's just something about, something about our received prejudice towards people who have been enslaved, that makes us, even in our heads hear a certain accent, a certain idiom, and that's almost certainly not how sojourner truth spoke. >> i think that you are right in part that it is part of our preconceived notions that, she was born into slavery, new york, around 1797, i believe. slavery was illegal there until 1821 --
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21, i think -- or 1827. and she was in a dutch culture over there. but if you look at some of the way that her speeches were transcribed in the 1850s, they are transcribed with a southern, black dialect. so that prejudiced was certainly present then. people said, i have to write down what's sojourner truth said. they wrote it in that dialect, it comes down to us today. but the record shows, she almost certainly had a dutch dialect, coming from new york. >> and presumably, could still speak some dutch, years later! i don't know if dutch was a major part of her story. but for me that struck me in the head that, it's almost as though the people she talked to back and heard what they wanted to hear, and didn't actually hear what she was saying. >> i think that is probably
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right. if we could say one other thing that came to mind, that i do talk about in greater detail in the book. sojourner truth's story was remarkable. was this woman overcame, being sold away from her parents, having her children sold away, in one instance, fighting to have her son returned from illegal sale, to alabama. i mean, she has an incredible story. she knew what it was to face prejudice and oppression. so one of the things i tried to do is juxtapose her experience with lincoln, which some modern writers treat as lincoln treating her with disrespect and prejudice. i juxtapose that with other instances in her life where she faced real, real oppression and show -- you know, there is a reason why we saw her interaction with lincoln as positive. she knew what it was like to be mistreated. that's not what i think she encountered at the white house.
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>> yeah. absolutely, absolutely. well, that is an important part of the book and it's an important chapter of the book. you will have to get the book, and read it. and as you see, john is not just relating stories. he is telling the stories of the people, of the people who met with lincoln. h's telling their back stories, he's painting about how things changed because of each of these meetings. that is why this book is so valuable. it is not like this happened, this happened, this happened and this happened. it's the story of change. which brings us to probably the most famous african american that lincoln has to deal with during the civil war, and he deals with him constantly, whether he's in the white house or not. and that's frederick douglass. and we've been talking a lot about frederick douglass, recently, especially since david blight
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wrote that brilliant lincoln prize winning biography a few years ago, frederick douglass has moved back to the front of the conversation. so i want to talk about douglass a little bit, and maybe use some of the last of our time to dig deep on frederick douglass and abraham lincoln. now, they may have had the most controversial relationship, i think, of any african american historical figure and lincoln. i've seen the exact same quotes from douglass used to prove that douglass liked lincoln, or hated lincoln. so before we talk about the specific meetings or anything like that, can you tell us about, what do we think, or what have we thought about douglass and lincoln, why has that been so controversial? >> that is a great question. i
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think that a lot about what we think about douglass and lincoln comes from douglass's speech at the dedication of the lincoln statue in washington, d. c., which of course has gotten a lot of media in the last few years. it's the one that shows lincoln, towering over an enslaved man who's rising up from bondage. and it was paid for entirely by former slaves, started off by charlotte scott, a slave from lynchburg, virginia who became free. and when she found out lincoln was killed, she gave $5 towards the erection of the monument, and 11 years later, it becomes reality. and i think that speech was really misunderstood. it is seen as an indictment of lincoln. i do not think it is that at all. i think that in that speech, what douglass does -- and i should say i open the book with that statue, and i close the book with that statue because i think it makes for useful bookends for understanding the experience of african americans with abraham lincoln. and in that speech, douglass recounts
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his criticism of lincoln. douglass is a wartime -- he's an activist, a reformer, he's an abolitionist. he can go out and say inflammatory things because he is not responsible to a constituency. and so during the war, douglass is really critical of lincoln. when lincoln is inaugurated president he says that lincoln is the south's greatest slave hound, abolitionists'worst enemy. douglass things lincoln will be terrible for the anti slavery caused! he's furious that lincoln has said he will enforce the fugitive slave act. so that was douglass in 1861, in 62. and douglass in this 1876 speech, recounting those criticisms. but then, he pivots. and in the speech in 1876 he essentially concedes that lincoln's approach to emancipation and saving the
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union had been the right one. that lincoln was a statesman who understood that he had a white racist electoral constituency that he was beholden to, you lead you had to balance political concerns that keeping the border states in the union. that is not something douglass had to worry about. and in this 1876 feet, douglass eventually comes around to say that lincoln and his approach was the one that ultimately was successful in both saving the union freeing the slaves. and douglass has great respect for lincoln. and so, to circle back to what we were talking about. i think douglass has great respect for lincoln had a lot to do with his personal interactions with abraham lincoln. >> yes. certainly, david blight pointed out that frederick douglass was a working journalist. he had to write something about issues of the day, every single day and
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publish it in his newspaper. he had to, like other journalists, he had to come up with an opinion about abraham lincoln today, that might change tomorrow, the next day, the next day and the next day. so, douglass as much as anybody else, will see a real, wide variety of opinions based on what he is writing about today. >> yes. i think that is right. one of the interesting things is you get to see douglass, he has got a monthly newspaper. when an event happens, he responds to it. the election of 1860, the inauguration of march of 1861, the black delegation of august, 1862. the emancipation proclamation, january, january of 63. each of these moments, douglass is responding to them. we often talk about, i last when i think about this, everybody talks about well, how did abraham lincoln change? how did he evolve over time? we never talk about how did frederick douglass change overtime? i mean, douglass's views really did change as a result of the war, his experiences, as a
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result of his interactions with lincoln. >> let's talk about the interactions with lincoln. now, let's bring it into that context. when was the first time they met? >> the first time the met was august, 1863. douglass has been working as a recruiter for black soldiers. his sons have joined the 54th massachusetts. and douglass he's really angry at this moment, because he has been telling black man, invest in the union army and you will get paid $13 a month. but instead, what happens is the war department decides, black men will be paid as a laborers rather than as soldiers. so instead of $13 a month, they get $10 a month. and on top of that, they have another $3 deducted as a clothing allowance. so douglass is saying, enlist and you get 13, but they get $7 instead. one issue he is upset about. the
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other one is that the confederate government has said that if black soldiers get captain on the battlefield, they will either be executed or sold into slavery, because they will be treated as slaves who are in insurrection. so douglass, uninvited, goes to the white house in august of 1863 to confront lincoln on these issues. and lincoln talks with him about these. and lincoln formulated a plan for retaliation against confederates who murdered black pows. the problem lincoln had was he did not want to execute innocent confederate prisoners who were sitting in prison who did not commit an atrocity. so lincoln never carried out on that plan. but from lincoln's perspective, if you could find the person who committed the atrocity, then put out the justice on them, but he never did an eye for an eye, because he worried about the implications of that. on the issue of pay, lincoln said, people who are gaining freedom by joining the union army are essentially getting a monetary
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value in freedom. and lincoln says, there's a lot of white prejudice in the north. if i was to give full pay to black soldiers, i would get a lot of pushback. so you have got to take that freedom as part of the value of serving. and douglass was not really fully satisfied with either of the positions that lincoln took in this meeting. people come away with a new understanding of lincoln, with the pressures that were on lincoln. they appreciated that lincoln treated him as a, man douglass went out, gave speeches afterwards and said to the crowds, i felt a big there when he was in the white house. and he said, you know, you might want to know how lincoln welcomed a black man as the white house. he said, as one gentleman would greet another. they meet again in august of 1864. this time it is at lincoln's impeachment. the summer of 1864, going very
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badly for the union war effort. lincoln is convinced he will lose reelection, so he calls for frederick douglass to come to the white house. and he says to douglass, i hate slavery as much as you do. the problem is, that slaves are not running away, not listening to the emancipation proclamation and fleeing to the union lines as much as i had hoped they would. the two men sit down together and come up with a plan, where they will send what douglass calls bands of scouts into the confederacy, basically shouting to the slaves, run away now while lincoln is in office. because if he loses in november, and is out of office next march, the next president will repeal or rescind the emancipation proclamation. and this meeting is really important. at first, it is great that things will come of it, things got better in the union or effort, lincoln won reelection. so the purpose of the meeting was moot. but what does this meeting tell us?
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it tells us that for lincoln, emancipation was not nearly a military necessity. two days ago, i talked to someone who said lincoln did not really care about freeing the slaves, you laid it to increase his own power and win the war. and i told this person about this meeting with frederick douglass. in freeing the slaves in this way, before lincoln's out of office, it has nothing to do with winning the war, nothing to do with military necessity. it has everything to do with spreading freedom. and douglass recognize that, in this moment, lincoln's heart was fully in emancipation. and the third meeting, very briefly, it's on march 4th, 1865. after lincoln's second inauguration, they go back to the white house for a party. douglass shows up with an african american woman. they tried to go in, the guards would not let them in. finally,
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douglass is able to get in and he realizes that the guards are quickly taking him to another exit. so he demands to be able to see lincoln. and he tells someone, go tell the president that frederick douglass is here. and lincoln comes over and says, there is my friend, douglass! and lincoln asks douglass, what did you think of my speech? and douglas says oh, you don't care what i think. and lincoln says, there's no man whose opinion i would rather have. and douglass compares it to the sermon on the mount, and says it was a sacred effort. and douglas is so touched by this final meeting with lincoln. he goes to another person's home afterwards, and is gushing with enthusiasm about what it had been like to have that conversation with lincoln. shortly after that, lincoln invited douglass to tea, and douglass turned him down, because douglass had a speaking engagement. he had a policy, if
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i have a speaking engagement, i will not break it. and of course, lincoln's then assassinated. douglass later said, if i had known i would never get to see him again, i would have forgotten about that speaking thing i had, and i would've gone to meet with lincoln for tea. >> so, you do see quite an art of change in the relationship between frederick douglass and abraham lincoln. and as you say, douglas changed? >> yes, very much so. >> not just the evolution of lincoln. >> yes, yes. >> yes. well, we have a few minutes left here. still, way too much stuff i want to talk about. but that means that you folks at home, reading "a house built by slaves", and really read this remarkable book. i want to take a minute and do a straightforward plug, for, to address you as my friend. this is a different book that you wrote last year and these two books really to go together can you tell us a little bit about, and your role in this book, officially as an editor. but more than most edited
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collections, there's a lot of new information, analysis in this book. so briefly tell us a little bit about how "to address you as my friend" brings us to "a house built by slaves". both of them i guess are about interactions? >> yes. i found that about 125 letters from african americans to lincoln. and most of these letters have never before appeared in print. these very famous, large volumes of freedom, southern society projects, publish out of the university of maryland, right did my phd. but then the vast majority never appeared in print. about 100 of them are from the national archives, some from the national of
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congress and if you are in newspapers i was able to find. and, what these letters do is they give us a very real picture of black life in the 19th century. so these are people who are struggling in slavery, freedom or in that transition. they may be soldiers, they may be enslaved, they might be the family of soldiers. and they have tried, they have got problems they must deal with. they tried to resolve them in various ways. and in many cases, they got to the end of the line. they have nowhere left to turn, so they turned to lincoln. so i think it is just really meaningful that they write to the president about what is going on in their daily lives. because it shows, for the first time, african americans believe they have a president who cares about their welfare. who
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represents them, who sees them as part of the people, and that they are his constituents. and he is a friend. i called the book "to address you as my friend", because people address him as a friend, or say i am someone who is with no friends, i have nowhere else to turn. so one, they give this really incredible picture. the second reason, i think that they are really important is it is often very difficult to capture black voices from the 19th century. literacy rates among african americans were lower in the 19th century, so it is hard to find writing in their own hands. oftentimes when we have black voices, they are mediated through a white pen. so a white person is a conversation with a black person, or overhears something and writes it down and says, here is what i heard. and then, i could turn into the kind of sojourner truth thing we were talking about a moment ago. >> yes! >> one of the things i love about this book is that it captures black voices in a way which is really hard to find, it brings them together, to tell a new story about african
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american interactions with lincoln. >> right, right. and i guess, it little bit of a dan human to the story, this practice of african americans visiting the president does not continue, does it? >> no. that is the unfortunate thing. so andrew johnson continues to meet with some black delegations in 1865. he treats them pretty well. by 1866, he begins to change his treatment of them and in fact, in february of 1866, he meets with frederick douglass and a number of black ministers, who come and push johnson to support black suffrage. lincoln had three meetings, at least three meetings with black delegations. and he shows real support for black suffrage when he meets them. johnson sees douglass and his fellow delegates as way out of line. so when they walk out, johnson calls them the n-word and says, douglass would slip a white
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man's throat. by the time you get to the grand presidency, the idea of black men and women coming to the white house for social occasions is completely gone. so i found an episode where i described, right before a social gathering, someone comes in to meet with julia dent grandin says, what happens if black people come? are we to let them in? julia grant says, well it is my party. yes, they can come in. and then, no one came. as we move into the late 19th century, fewer and fewer black people enter the white house as citizens to beat the president. by the time you get to 1901, when teddy roosevelt invites booker ty washington, the story of black people coming to the white house as guests has been completely forgotten. and southern newspapers respond with outrage at what they see as an unprecedented welcoming of african americans to the white house. i do not talk about this in the book, but it extends
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into the 20th century. i had originally included these four describe it went too far in the 20th century. jfk. when he would not have sammy davis junior say at the white house overnight for political reasons, number one, he was married to a white woman, number two, who is african american. jfk worried about the political implications of having sammy davis junior, this great celebrity stay at the white house. so, it is a long story that has major implications. and the lincoln assassination i think, changes the trajectory of this story. so i don't counterfactuals. i don't know what would have been different head lincoln lived. but i do try to show that for a brief period, for four years, the white house is different than it was before, and it is different than it would be for a long time after. >> well, thank you very much, john.
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