(July 26, 2021) Ever since Columbia history professor Barbara Fields told Ken Burns during his 1990 PBS Civil War Documentary that “the slaves freed themselves by walking off the plantations,” her claim has become a mantra. But Field’s politically correct narrative is only partially valid.
Consider the composition of the United States Colored Troops that fought for the Union. The 54% percent that came from the Confederate states generally could not leave their plantations until the Union Armies had liberated their neighborhood. Similarly, the 24% that came from the Border States could not leave their manors until after the July 1862 Confiscation Act set them free from masters who were allegedly sympathetic to the Confederacy. Thus, nearly 80% of the Federal black troops came from the Confederate or Border States where slaves were dependent upon military liberation or legal action at the Federal level before they were freed. Only 22% of the black troops, like the celebrated 54th Massachusetts regiment, came from the so-called “free” states.
Consider also how President Lincoln was greeted when he toured Petersburg and Richmond on April 3rd and 4th of 1865, shortly after the Confederates soldiers left. On Monday the third he conferred with General Ulysses Grant at Petersburg for more than an hour. Before long the yard of Grant’s Headquarters post was crowded with former slaves. According to Admiral David Porter who accompanied Lincoln, Petersburg became “alive with negroes, who were crazy to see their savior, as they called the President.”
The next day Lincoln went to Richmond with his twelve-year-old son, Tad. They went up the James River and beached with an escort of twelve soldiers at 20th Street near Libby Prison, which originally held captured Union soldiers who were later moved to Andersonville, Georgia. The entourage intended to go to the Confederate White House at 12th and Clay Streets.
Before they could get started, they were set upon by a dozen jubilant blacks, including one old white-haired man who rushed toward Lincoln shouting, “Bless the Lord, the Great Messiah! I knowed him as soon as I seed him. He’s been in my heart four long years, and he come at last to free his children from bondage. Glory Hallelujah!” With that he threw himself at the President’s feet, as did the rest, much to Lincoln’s embarrassment. “Don’t kneel to me,” he said. “That is not right. You must kneel to God only and thank him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.” They responded with a hymn, “All Ye People, Clap Your Hands.”
After Lincoln’s group set out for Jefferson Davis’ recently vacated home, still larger black crowds accompanied them. Freedmen and women “came from all the by-streets, running in breathless haste, shouting and hallooing and dancing with delight.” One newspaper quoted an old black lady who maneuvered close to Lincoln, “I know that I am free for I have seen Father Abraham and felt him.” A black patriarch apologized for slowing the President’s walk, “Scuse us, sir; we means no disrepec’ to Mass’ Lincoln; we means all love and gratitude. . . After bein’ so many years in de desert widout water, it’s mighty pleasant to be lookin’ at las’ on our spring of life.” When they arrived within three blocks of the Confederate White House one reporter estimated that the crowd totaled about 3,000. Admiral Porter later wrote, “We all stood a chance of being crushed to death.”
It is odd, is it not, that 155 years later some blacks feel entitled to slavery reparations whereas their ancestors were mostly overwhelmed with gratitude merely to be set free. In the presence of Lincoln their gratitude became like a religious experience that deified the President. Delighted to face the future for the first time as a free people, they demanded no special treatment; no affirmative action; no reparations.
Contrast their gratitude with the special privilege demands of John Thompson who is a black representative in the Minnesota state legislature. Over the July Fourth weekend he was arrested in a routine traffic stop for driving aggressively and failing to have a front license plate. Ten days later he put out a press release complaining that he was racially profiled and urging the St. Paul police to release the arresting officer’s bodycam footage. To his shame the video revealed two problems for Thompson.
First, he was seeking special treatment from the beginning by unhesitatingly telling the arresting white officer that he was a member of the Minnesota legislature, adding “if that makes any difference.” Second, his Minnesota driver’s license had been suspended because he failed to pay child support. Thus, when asked to produce a license he gave the officer one issued by Wisconsin. But as a member of the Minnesota legislature, he is required to be a Minnesota resident. And if he is a Minnesota resident, it’s kind of weird that his driver’s license was issued by Wisconsin.
In short, the body cam footage shows a perfectly respectful cop trying to do his job and an entitled black man trying to worm his way out of a traffic ticket, first by puffing his social status and then by whining about nonexistent racism. Thompson tells the officer, “You givin’ me a ticket for driving while black. What you doin’ is wrong to black men.” Even though it was night and hard to see inside Thompson’s car, Thompson said, “You pulled me over because you profilin’ me as black.”
When running for office last August Thompson spoke at a Black Lives Matter rally in predominantly white Hugo, Minnesota. He shouted through an electric megaphone that the town of “white mother___kers” should be burned to the ground. “We com’in. We com’in for everything you white mother___kers took from us.”
Ironically, John Thompson won his election notwithstanding all the systemic racism he claims is holding black people down; his public and profane diatribes against whites; his dubious residency and possibly illegal driver’s license. The question of how a guy like this gets elected is an important one. Perhaps he won because systemic racism does not exist and cancel culture affords him special privileges.