An excerpt from my book, Loathing Lincoln, was published this week in the preminent journal of Lincoln studies, the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association (Winter, 2014). The piece is entitled “Holding Up a Flawed Mirror to the American Soul: Abraham Lincoln in the Writings of Lerone Bennett Jr.” The chief argument is as follows:
“The senior editor of Ebony magazine and the author of a landmark 1968 essay titled ‘Was Abe Lincoln a White Supremacist?’ (he answered in the affirmative), Bennett maintained that if by 1865 the Civil War had become a contest over whether American nationalism would remain based solely on white, male ethnicity or if it would be based upon something larger and more inclusive, it was vital for Americans to acknowledge that Lincoln was in the former camp and to drop the fiction that the so-called Great Emancipator belonged in the latter. Such a stance, ironically, served the cause of more conservative or libertarian critics of Lincoln who maintained that the sixteenth president was not all that interested in liberating the slaves and therefore must have had another agenda in mind: centralizing power in Washington, D.C., and asserting the power of the federal government over the states. Consequently, the idea that Bennett’s views were absurd and unworthy of serious attention entirely misses the point that his work on Lincoln did not remain cloistered within the African American community by migrated into venues that reached even larger audiences.”
The piece is from the fifth and sixth chapters of my book and it examines Bennett’s writings about Lincoln. It renders, I think, a fair but tough judgment on his work regarding Lincoln. My essay closes with this line, which is consistent with the article’s overall argument:
“For Lerone Bennett, whose writings indicated a belief that freedom and equality were inextricably linked and necessitated a strong federal government, and that because of a lack of consistent national commitment to racial equality there had never been a true Emancipation Proclamation in the United States, such a result must have been bittersweet indeed.”
If you do not subscribe to the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, you should. It contains excellent and up-to-date scholarship on Lincoln and is well worth the cost.