Six months after the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, it is worth revisiting scholars’ reflections on what his death, extrajudicial killings of people of African descent, and histories of slavery and diaspora have in common. Last August, Patrick Rael placed present-day re-articulations of respectability politics against a long history of black political rhetoric, beginning with antebellum free black activists’ debates about moral uplift … Continue reading Rael on Ferguson, Respectability Politics, and the Early Republic
Lincoln’s Unfinished Work
Patrick Rael (Bowdoin College)
Special to African Diaspora, Ph.D.
Amidst the widespread discussions of Steven Spielberg’s recent film Lincoln, few have sought to place the film within its own tradition of Civil War films. There’s nothing new, of course, about focusing a film on the character of Abraham Lincoln, though it has been well over thirty years since a major television or film production took him seriously (Hal Holbrook in Sandburg’s Lincoln ).
In the early days it was different. The American film industry grew around his figure. In The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith’s ground-breaking, racist masterpiece of 1915, Lincoln appeared as a wizened and tolerant executive at war with the maniacal Radical Republicans, whose racial tolerance merely masked their desire for vengeance against the rebels. In Griffith’s film, Lincoln’s premature death unleashed the Radicals, necessitating the bloody turmoil of Reconstruction. In the form of the Ku Klux Klan, only the energized spirit of white supremacy could save white womanhood — and, indeed, Anglo-Saxon civilization — from the rampaging black beast.
Rael, Patrick, ed. African-American Activism before the Civil War: The Freedom Struggle in the Antebellum North. New edition. New York City, NY: Routledge, 2008. From the Routledge website: African-American Activism before the Civil War is the first collection of scholarship on the role of African Americans in the struggle for racial equality in the northern states before the Civil War. Many of these essays are … Continue reading BOOK: Rael, et. al. on African-American Activism