The makers of historical documentaries seldom seek to challenge the received opinions of their audiences. Even the most talented filmmakers tend to exalt the already exalted and shovel dirt on the thankfully deceased. One can, one should be moved by a production like Freedom Riders, which PBS aired this summer on the fiftieth anniversary of that dramatic, violent episode in the civil rights saga.
When asked about his race on the census form, Barack Obama, the child of a white Kansan and black African, did not take the option of checking both “white” and “black” or “some other race.” Instead, he checked “black, African American or Negro.” By doing that, Obama probably did what was expected of him, but he also confirmed an enduring legacy of American racism. According to the Census Bureau, a little over 12 percent of Americans are “black, African American or Negro.” According to geneticist Mark Shriver, “the level of European ancestry in African-Americans averages about 20 percent.” Man
In the wake of Barack Obama’s speech in Oslo, there has been much talk--some of it based on intellectual hearsay--about the influence that theologian Reinhold Niebuhr had on Obama.
Click here to read responses by Michael Kazin, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Fred Kaplan. Click here to read Sean Wilentz's response to his critics. In "Who Lincoln Was" (July 15, 2009), Sean Wilentz accuses me and other scholars of ignorance about Civil War era politics, bemoans the “literary turn” in Lincoln scholarship, and worries that historians now give undue attention to Frederick Douglass and other outsiders rather than the politicians who actually changed society.
The leaves were not all that was changing in Lafayette Park. I had never before seen a patriotic mosh-pit, but I was gladly trapped in one outside the White House in the hours after Barack Obama's inexorable but still unimaginable victory. I had also never seen young people march on the White House in the cause of joy.
Fox News did a joking mockup of what the Lincoln-Douglas debates might look like today that evidently was more of a joke than intended. Evidently the folks at Fox imagine that Lincoln's opponent in the 1858 race for U.S. Senate was not Stephen A. Douglas, but rather abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass.
Frederick Douglass remarked that “the Republican Party is the deck, all else is the sea.” It was the Republican Party, after all, that had been organized in 1854 to prevent the extension of slavery. It was Abraham Lincoln, a Republican president, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation. And it was the Radical Republicans during Reconstruction who issued the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, outlawing slavery and granting citizenship and voting rights to blacks.