Abraham Lincoln: Racist or Hero?
1) He was born in a log cabin.
2) He freed the slaves.
3) He got assassinated.
4) He's on the penny.
No matter how much you fell asleep in history classes, you probably know those exact same things. Indeed, Abraham Lincoln, as much as he was hated in his own day and age, is one of our most heroically mythologized presidents. My eight year-old son can even tell me about Lincoln!
Like my son, I remember being taught in school all about Lincoln. Indeed, the story of Lincoln the emancipator, the prophet of American equality has, over time, sunk deeply into the American conscience. My teachers taught that if not for Abraham Lincoln, I’d still be a slave.
And then I went to college and met people who said Lincoln was nothing more than a white supremacist who freed the slaves because it was the only way to crush the South and win the Civil War. If it hadn't been politically expedient for him to do so, he wouldn't have done it. According to this point of view, Lincoln didn’t care anything about black people. He saw them in the same light as the most racist slave-owning Southerner.
So which is it? Was Lincoln an emancipating saint or a white supremacist? Should I be grateful for him or toss darts at his head?
Well, a program airing on PBS tonight, called, “Looking for Lincoln” delves deeply into this complex discussion. Put together by Harvard professor, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr, and featuring commentary from Lincoln scholars like Doris Kearns Goodwin and David Blight, the show, which airs at 9 pm no matter where you are, tackles the question unflinchingly.
Here's Dr. Gates talking about the program on the Today Show this morning:
You can also watch the whole thing on the PBS site. I watched the whole thing today and thought it was great. I suppose I liked it because until we start to really tell the truth about this country and our history, no matter how multi-faceted and complicated it may be, how do we ever truly make progress?