Is it a mystery or a myth?
Republicans boastfully claim they are the party of Abraham Lincoln, but was he a racist, or merely not a champion of racial equality?
Has political correctness gone too far if it is suggested that Lincoln’s statue at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. be demolished or at least be moved to New Jersey?
The proposal is not as farfetched as it may seem. Nationwide, several monuments have been toppled or moved to a remote location. Here in North Carolina, consideration is being given to changing the seal of the city of Fayetteville, because it depicts the human slave market once there.
The names of buildings at colleges and universities have been changed because the persons for whom the structures are named have a spotty record on slavery.
Less publicized are rumored efforts to change the names on whiskey bottles, most notably the Johnny Walker label, allegedly because of its use of the word Walker, which some link to the Tennessee Walker horse breed, whose primary ancestral sire was used on a cotton farm alongside human slaves. At play is interest in changing the names of a variety of products, such as computers and names found on food labels (Aunt Jemima comes to mind.)
An out-of-whack evangelical wag reportedly suggested that even Jesus Christ’s halo may be impugned, since he supposedly wore sandals made by a company that employed slave labor. (In ancient times, and later, blacks in the Middle East, such as ancestors of present day African-Iraqis, were brought from Africa to serve as slaves. You can look it up.)
So should the monument to a hallowed ex-president be removed because of a lapse in his early years?
One view is that it matters not if abolishing slavery was not the main reason Lincoln invaded the South, but was instead to preserve the Union and to stop further expansion of slavery into the West. What matters, it says, is that the outcome of the war ended slavery as it was then known.
Out of the war the South got a hallowed hero, Robert E. Lee, and five future U.S. presidents, already trained for the White House. The world got an epic movie, Ben Hur, based on a historical adventure story by Union Major General Lewis “Lew” Wallace.
Although the famous Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free slaves in the North, only in the South (only those who had escaped to ground occupied by federal troops) Lincoln, a superb politician, seized on the slavery issue.
Even before the slave issue was handed to him, Lincoln himself promoted the moniker “Honest Abe.” Some historians claim he refused to lie about chopping down a cherry tree; others say he lied about that as well as denied that he chopped down hundreds of oak and hickory saplings, which he sold at a handsome profit as fence posts.
How else, they ask, did he get enough money to finance traveling all over Illinois and elsewhere debating Stephen Douglas? It was, of course, during the seven debates that Lincoln first publicly indicated he was not all that keen defending slaves.
Probably the most damaging item in Lincoln’s portfolio is his suggestion that all black people be deported, saying separation of races was the most desirable solution.
Of course, he may have been funning.
L.E. Brown, Jr. is based in Magnolia, N.C. Contact him at [email protected]