Friday, December 2, 2022

Booknotes: Knowing Him by Heart

New Arrival:
Knowing Him by Heart: African Americans on Abraham Lincoln edited by Fred Lee Hord and Matthew D. Norman (Univ of Ill Press, 2022).

For a long time, heartfelt gratitude, even adoration, directed toward the "Great Emancipator" and his legacy by both freedpeople and their descendants was an underlying assumption of the popular understanding of the Civil War period and beyond. Of course, it was always much more complicated than that. Among other things, the new reader Knowing Him by Heart: African Americans on Abraham Lincoln reexamines at length how black Americans "have consciously reshaped the sixteenth president's image for their own social and political ends."

More from the description: The fairly massive body of writing (both published and unpublished) compiled by editors Fred Hord and Matthew Norman for this volume "explores the complex nature of views on Lincoln through the writings and thought of Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary McLeod Bethune, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, Gwendolyn Brooks, Barbara Jeanne Fields, Barack Obama, and dozens of others. The selections move from speeches to letters to book excerpts, mapping the changing contours of the bond--emotional and intellectual--between Lincoln and Black Americans over the span of one hundred and fifty years."

In addition to tracing the process and goals of the volume, Hord and Norman's introduction briefly summarizes the evolution of black and white attitudes toward Lincoln's place in emancipation, civil rights, and modern race relations history. The editors also precede each piece of writing with brief commentary contextualizing what follows (ex. some contributions are written as responses) as well as a bit of information about the writer's own background.

Knowing Him by Heart is a wide-ranging survey of Abraham Lincoln's "still-evolving place in Black American thought."

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