“After viewing (Professor Medford’s lecture on video), it didn’t really change my viewing of Wilentz but it did make me look more closely into Hannah Jones’ writing in the “The 1619 Project”. In her writing, she holds Thomas Jefferson and James Madison accountable for their actions in the wrong treatment of African Americans but she also makes a point about Abraham Lincoln. She finds him guilty because within his proclamation he allowed ex slaves to join the union army and fight against their former owners. In her writing, she states, He believed that free black people were a ‘‘troublesome presence’’ incompatible with a democracy intended only for white people“. In this section of her writing, she goes into Lincoln’s actions to invite these former slaves and inform them that he was able to get congress to acquire funds to ship black people once freed to a whole other country. This doesn’t add up. Why would President Lincoln insist they fight in a war for their freedom in America just to be shipped to another country for their efforts? Knowing this, it made me question Professor Medford’s statement when she says that Lincoln did not want to originally include black men in the military because they wouldn’t be strong enough to stand up against their former owners on the battlefield. She then states “He found out very quickly that black men were anything but cowards and that they were spoiling for a fight”. I think he was very disappointed in what America has become and he knew that even with time African Americans will still be wrongly treated within America but he wanted to ensure that equality was written truthfully within the lines of the constitution.”
Perhaps this is what Wilentz means about the “relentless unforeseen.” Despite Lincoln’s fear that free African Americans would never get along with whites in the U.S. after the Civil war, because whites would not accept them, once he took the action to free the slaves in the south during the war and at the same time started the African American brigades in the union army, inviting them to join these brigades, even though he didn’t know it at the time, full citizenship for African Americans would be necessary in the U.S. and perhaps he came to recognize this before he was assassinated.
The point is, once you have the African American military troops, the demand for citizenship and equality is unstoppable. No, it didn’t come immediately; there was continued debate before the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments; and after the 1865-1877 reconstruction period, the south reverted to a racist Jim Crow society. Nevertheless the idea of asking the U.S. army veterans of the African-American brigades to leave the U.S. after the war was obviously untenable and in fact impossible. Which is what happened. They had no intention of leaving and stayed and continued to demand equal rights.
We do not know what is going to happen in the future. But we must fight for our ideals and what we believe is right.
So for Hannah-Jones to just say that Lincoln didn’t believe in equality does not tell the whole story. Perhaps at one point he didn’t. Professor Medford in her lecture says he changed his view during this time.
Perhaps it isn’t so much what a person or some people believe, but what we do to change the laws to create a more just society.