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A decade and a half into the 21st century, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is under fire, and white-on-black violence brings the cry that black lives matter. As we approach the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Lincoln, we would do well to reconsider his most famous imperative: “with malice toward none; with charity for all.”
In his second inaugural address, delivered March 4, 1865, Lincoln declared that the fighting would last “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” The war, he meant, would not end until slavery ended. Lincoln closed that address with the appeal for “malice toward none” and “charity for all,” exhorting his listeners to “strive on to finish the work we are in” and to “do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace.”
Many at the time thought they knew what Lincoln meant, and many today understand those words in the same way: As the Union Army approached triumph, it seemed that Lincoln wanted the conquerors to treat their vanquished Confederates with mercy. But what if that reading misunderstands the fundamental political impulse behind those lyrical directives?
When the war ended little more than a month later, black and white Southerners harbored sharply clashing visions of the nation's future. African Americans envisioned the federal government enforcing freedom, equality and suffrage, and disenfranchising former Confederates. The defeated rebels, for their part, envisioned renewed black subordination and the restoration of their own rights, without federal interference.
Accordingly — despite emancipation and victory — African Americans looked ahead with trepidation. The day after the glorious fall of Richmond on April 3, 1865, Frederick Douglass warned a Boston audience that “hereafter, at the South, the negro will be looked upon with a fiercer and intenser hate than ever before.” When Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, the editors of the New York Anglo-African warned that there remained immense support for “oppressions akin to slavery.”
When the [Civil War] ended ... black and white Southerners harbored sharply clashing visions of the nation's future.
Two days after Lee's surrender, Lincoln addressed a crowd from the White House balcony, reflecting on the nation's reconstruction. He would “prefer,” he submitted, that voting rights be extended to black men who were “very intelligent” and to “those who serve our cause as soldiers.” His cautious suggestion irritated abolitionists. “Why can't he cut down the whole tree,” a white woman wrote in her Massachusetts diary, “instead of lopping off the branches?”
But the same suggestion struck Lincoln's antagonists as entirely too revolutionary. Among them was a young Shakespearean actor who stood in the crowd that evening. “That means nigger citizenship,” snapped John Wilkes Booth. “Now, by God, I'll put him through.” Three nights later, Booth entered the presidential box at Ford's Theatre and fired a single shot into the back of Lincoln's head.
The nation's first presidential assassination did not subdue former Confederates; many expressed glee and many continued to dream of retribution. As President Andrew Johnson sided with white Southerners, black Southerners just as rapidly reached for Lincoln's legacy and for the mandates of his second inaugural. They told Johnson, in petitions to the White House, that he was replacing “a man who had proved himself indeed our friend,” reminding him of the “liberty brought us and our wives and our little ones by your noble predecessor.”
Were these African Americans, and others who echoed their sentiments, ignoring Lincoln's recent call for “malice toward none” and “charity for all”? On the contrary, black mourners seem to have interpreted those words to apply, not to former Confederates, but just the opposite: to themselves.
That's why black mourners inscribed those phrases on the banner they carried through the nation's capital on the Fourth of July, 1865. That's why Douglass surmised that, had Lincoln lived, “the negro of the South would have more than a hope of enfranchisement and no rebels would hold the reins of Government in any one of the late rebellious states.” That's why Douglass concluded that “to the colored people,” Lincoln's death was “an unspeakable calamity.”
At the close of the second inaugural, Lincoln had added the imperative of working toward “a just and a lasting peace.” Douglass told his fellow mourners on July 4 that “permanent peace” could not be accomplished without justice, and justice required going beyond legal freedom, to encompass voting rights. “Slavery,” he believed, “is not abolished until the black man has the ballot.” That's what Lincoln meant too, apparent in his call for the first steps toward black suffrage that was offered in the White House speech that Booth's bullet transformed into his last public address.
Or at least that was the case made by African American victors-turned-mourners, when they looked to the spirit of the slain president to realize their visions of freedom and equality. Lincoln's call to “strive on to finish the work we are in” today holds a special poignancy — and a call to action. For as protesters in New York, Florida and Missouri remind us now, without justice, peace will remain elusive. As will Lincoln's spirit of “malice toward none” and his guiding vision of “charity for all.”
Martha Hodes, a professor of history at New York University, is the author, most recently, of "Mourning Lincoln." marthahodes.com
Amy Adams began her internship in Commissioner Novick’s office in January 2016. Amy grew up in Dothan, AL, and attended Furman University in Greenville, SC. After graduating in 2014, Amy moved to Portland to attend Lewis & Clark Law School. She has previously interned with the Humane Society of the United States, the office of State Representative Tobias Read, and the Oregon Department of Justice’s Child Advocacy section.
Amy is passionate about community outreach, and spends much of her free time volunteering with her church and local non-profits. Some of her volunteer experience includes serving as a Civic Ambassador for the City Club of Portland and a mobile superhero at Portland’s Sunday Parkways. Amy has thoroughly enjoyed becoming a part of Portland’s active transportation scene, and is excited to help make Portland a safer place for bikers and pedestrians.
Tuesday (1/26) marks the 316th anniversary of the last great Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake that shook the entire Pacific Northwest on January 26, 1700. The shaking extended from California to British Columbia, producing a devastating tsunami that swept along our coast and reached as far as Japan. Scientists believe Oregon is in the window of time during which another Cascadia quake could occur.
Thanks to a widely-read article in The New Yorker, OPB's "Unprepared" series, coverage by local media, and the efforts of scientists and emergency managers to raise awareness, more Portlanders than ever are now aware of our region's earthquake danger. But we still need to take action to get ready. Here's what you can do:
And here are a few highlights of what the City of Portland is doing:
Many City bureaus have efforts underway to harden their infrastructure to better withstand an earthquake. Examples include the Portland Water Bureau's Willamette River Crossing project and the Office of Management & Finance's work to revamp the Portland Building. Every new structure built by the City of Portland now takes into account our current understanding of the earthquake danger.
Today at Council, I brought forward a resolution to recognize our City employees for their hard work and quick response to the December 2015 record-breaking rain storm. The City and residents of Portland are very fortunate to have the best city employees in the world!
Portland is in the midst of an affordable housing and displacement crisis that has most affected communities of color and low income families. The stories are sadly all too familiar and data are clear: the impact of the increase in demand for housing is driving up the cost of housing, and people of color and low income people cannot afford to live in most of Portland’s beloved neighborhoods. Without united and concerted action, this situation will only get worse as housing costs continue to climb.
The Anti-Displacement PDX Coalition’s advocacy efforts have successfully brought issues of gentrification and displacement front and center to the public discourse and decision making process. The group’s efforts resulted in the Planning and Sustainability Commission including over two dozen measures in the draft Comprehensive Plan that address these citywide issues.
In recognition of its effective organizing and advocacy I nominated the Anti-Displacement PDX Coalition for a Spirit of Portland award. Last night the Coalition did not accept the award, taking the position that until the recommendations are incorporated by the final comprehensive plan, such an award is premature. The bold action of the coalition to challenge City Council to remain committed to addressing this crisis is just one example of why I continue to stand by my nomination of the Coalition. The Anti-Displacement Coalition embodies the spirit of Portland by their courage and determination to end displacement now.
I believe in direct action and in community organizing, and I agree with the Coalition that there is still much work to be done. The Planning and Sustainability Commission and the City Council have important roles – but are not the only players. Housing affordability and displacement should be at the top of the conversation for our community. To continue this conversation, community members need to continue to advocate. I support the work of the Anti-Displacement PDX coalition and look forward to their advocacy during the upcoming Comprehensive Plan hearings, the first of which is tomorrow, Thursday the 19th in City Hall Council Chambers, located at 1221 SW 4th Ave, second floor. The next two hearings are scheduled for December 3rd and December 10th.
The schedule for tomorrow’s hearing includes testimony about the Economic Opportunities Analysis, Growth Scenarios Report and other supporting documents from 2 to 3pm. Then from 3 – 6 p.m. testimony heard on the Recommended Draft Comprehensive Plan Goals, Policies and Land Use Map. For more information on the procedures around testifying, see here.