Streetwise Professor

July 13, 2020

The Emancipation Memorial–A Coda About Historical Context

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 7:04 pm

I regret to have forgotten an episode during Lincoln’s visit to Richmond in the immediate aftermath of the Confederate capital’s fall in April, 1865. It provides the backstory for the Emancipation Memorial which points out yet again that those who call for the Memorial’s destruction or removal are ignorant fools unfit to render judgment on the Memorial, the towering historical figure it depicts, or the events that it memorializes.

Specifically, on 4 April, 1865, a group of freed slaves, shouting “Glory Hallelujah!” mobbed Lincoln when he disembarked from the USS Malvern and strode the streets of the captured capital, still smoking from the fires set by the retreating Confederates the day before. Several of them knelt before him, some trying to kiss his feet, or the cuff of his pants. Lincoln replied:

“Don’t kneel to me.  You must kneel to God only and thank Him for your liberty.”*

That is is the scene depicted in the Memorial. A slave rising at Lincoln’s injunction not to kneel before him, or any man.

Thus, the Memorial does not symbolize subjugation of black people before the benevolent white father, as the iconoclasts claim. It depicts the exact opposite.

The Memorial therefore does what good public art should do–dramatize an historical event or personage (or, in this case, both) to make a powerful statement about time and place. And in this case, the statement is about liberation and the ending of a great historical “scourge,” which continued “until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”

It is an event that black artists of an earlier generation thought worthy of commemoration. In 1963, at the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the State of Illinois commissioned black artist Gus Nall to create a commemorative painting. What did he paint? Not anything related directly to the Proclamation itself: he painted the meeting between the freed slaves and Lincoln on the streets of Richmond, 98 years before, not 100. This was not a moment of humiliation. It was a moment at which a promise was realized, and at which the promisor disclaimed fealty, rather than demanded it.

About these events, and the direct connection between them and the statue in Washington, the iconoclasts are both ignorant and apathetic–they don’t know, and they don’t care. Yet they are swollen with self-righteous belief in their unerring and forever unchallengeable judgment. In their relentless narcissistic presentism they denigrate not just Lincoln, but newly freed people of color. They think they know everything, and can judge everything and everyone, but they know nothing and are fit to judge nothing and no one.

Lincoln’s words, “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” fall on uncomprehending ears today. What we witness today is people seething with malice towards people and events for whom and about which they not have the slightest understanding, nor the smallest speck of human charity. They deserve no respect, and their demands deserve only scorn and rebuke. The nation should not kneel before this mob. I for one will not.

*The NYT described this event on its sesquicentennial in its “Disunion” series that recounted the events of the Civil War day by day. Will they ever do so in an uncritical (let alone laudatory) way in the future? I seriously doubt it.

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  1. Anything is confirmatory of a prejudice, Prof. And if you’re a dumbo full of prejudice, then …

    Your society is being assailed by communists and their useless idiots*. The news last week that committed communist revolutionary and convicted terrorist Susan Rosenberg is on the board of directors for Thousand Currents, which helps finance Black Lives Matter, tells you all you need to know about who is behind the violence and their aims. For a committed revolutionary and terrorist, anything can be made useful to the cause: history – what actually happened – doesn’t matter, if the perception of that history can be warped and packaged by skilled and unscrupulous manipulators to confirm one’s prejudice of an incorrigibly racist society.

    This wouldn’t be so bad, under ordinary circumstances: the Weathermen had to go underground, remember. But this time the Democratic Party, most likely infiltrated and (for the second time in a row!) trying to get a senile and corrupt candidate over the line in November, is colluding with the uprising. The Republican Party appears to have vacated the field. And the FBI doesn’t seem to be able to do anything but fumble its attempts to frame the President and his entourage with colluding with ‘the Russians’.

    I know I keep asking this, but … where are the adults?? And a new one: how far can the rubber band stretch before it snaps back?

    This is terrifying.

    *Yes, I know that Lenin referred to them as ‘useful idiots’. But genuinely, these people are useless.

    Lastly: understanding the revolutionaries’ thinking, we now have a reason why Hans Christian Heg had to go; his very existence, as a committed abolitionist who paid the ultimate price to remove slavery from the soil of his country, puts the lie to the lies of the communists; can’t have him standing around proving them wrong – he had to be ‘unpersonned’, and quickly. The brightest candles cast the longest shadows.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — July 13, 2020 @ 11:30 pm

  2. Nobody cares about the truth, it is not useful to anyone (moldbug)
    This is about power.
    They do this because they can!
    The more interesting question is how this madness will end…

    Comment by Viennacapitalist — July 14, 2020 @ 2:00 am

  3. “Will they ever do so in an uncritical (let alone laudatory) way in the future?” That will probably depend on what their paymasters want.

    I think you should assume that all papers, all journalists, are crooks. This is bearable if you have a great diversity of crooks to choose from, not least because it might provide an incentive to be honest sometimes.

    That’s one sort of diversity the NYT would never advocate. At least, not sincerely.

    Comment by dearieme — July 14, 2020 @ 6:04 am

  4. This is the oration of Frederick Douglass when the particular monument was dedicated. Douglass was a superb orator, able to express clear thoughts beautifully in the finest words. It is well worth reading this, as well as his other speeches.

    I wonder if any of the morons and idiots today, in the media, in the social media, in Burn Loot and Murder, in antifa, in social media, even know who Frederick Douglass was.


    Happily for the country, happily for you and for me, the judgment of James Buchanan, the patrician, was not the judgment of Abraham Lincoln, the plebeian. He brought his strong common sense, sharpened in the school of adversity, to bear upon the question. He did not hesitate, he did not doubt, he did not falter; but at once resolved that at whatever peril, at whatever cost, the union of the States should be preserved. A patriot himself, his faith was strong and unwavering in the patriotism of his countrymen. Timid men said before Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration, that we have seen the last President of the United States. A voice in influential quarters said, “Let the Union slide.” Some said that a Union maintained by the sword was worthless. Others said a rebellion of 8,000,000 cannot be suppressed; but in the midst of all this tumult and timidity, and against all this, Abraham Lincoln was clear in his duty, and had an oath in heaven. He calmly and bravely heard the voice of doubt and fear all around him; but he had an oath in heaven, and there was not power enough on earth to make this honest boatman, backwoodsman, and broad-handed splitter of rails evade or violate that sacred oath. He had not been schooled in the ethics of slavery; his plain life had favored his love of truth. He had not been taught that treason and perjury were the proof of honor and honesty. His moral training was against his saying one thing when he meant another. The trust that Abraham Lincoln had in himself and in the people was surprising and grand, but it was also enlightened and well founded. He knew the American people better than they knew themselves, and his truth was based upon this knowledge.

    Fellow-citizens, the fourteenth day of April, 1865, of which this is the eleventh anniversary, is now and will ever remain a memorable day in the annals of this Republic. It was on the evening of this day, while a fierce and sanguinary rebellion was in the last stages of its desolating power; while its armies were broken and scattered before the invincible armies of Grant and Sherman; while a great nation, torn and rent by war, was already beginning to raise to the skies loud anthems of joy at the dawn of peace, it was startled, amazed, and overwhelmed by the crowning crime of slavery — the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It was a new crime, a pure act of malice. No purpose of the rebellion was to be served by it. It was the simple gratification of a hell-black spirit of revenge. But it has done good after all. It has filled the country with a deeper abhorrence of slavery and a deeper love for the great liberator.

    Had Abraham Lincoln died from any of the numerous ills to which flesh is heir; had he reached that good old age of which his vigorous constitution and his temperate habits gave promise; had he been permitted to see the end of his great work; had the solemn curtain of death come down but gradually — we should still have been smitten with a heavy grief, and treasured his name lovingly. But dying as he did die, by the red hand of violence, killed, assassinated, taken off without warning, not because of personal hate — for no man who knew Abraham Lincoln could hate him — but because of his fidelity to union and liberty, he is doubly dear to us, and his memory will be precious forever.

    Comment by elmer — July 14, 2020 @ 9:41 am

  5. “Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”-Theo Dalrymple

    Comment by Jeffrey Carter — July 16, 2020 @ 6:26 am

  6. @elmer that is a great quote. Interestingly, if Lincoln had not been murdered, we might not have seen the rise of the KKK and Jim Crow in the South. His successor enabled it.

    Comment by Jeffrey Carter — July 16, 2020 @ 6:28 am

  7. @Jeff. Yes. The point is to get people to genuflect to the absurd. It does not demonstrate power when people accept the reasonable. It demonstrates power when people regurgitate idiocy, or at least give it tacit assent.

    Comment by cpirrong — July 19, 2020 @ 4:31 pm

  8. @Ex-Regulator. Well said. Spot on. Especially re H.C. Heg. Those who refute their assertions are the most dangerous.

    Comment by cpirrong — July 19, 2020 @ 4:34 pm

  9. This story just keeps giving and giving, doesn’t it? It entertains me no end to think of all those MAGA-types being compelled to give a sh*t about all this culture stuff. Even Trump himself is struggling to maintain even a semblance of interest. Being a real estate developer I would be willing to bet big that he has trampled all manner of sites of historic/cultural/etc interest on multiple occasions (he certainly did in Scotland). Also, looking at some of the gossip monstrosities he has constructed, class – and cultural appreciation – he certainly does not possess.

    Comment by David Mercer — July 20, 2020 @ 5:12 am

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