As a child coming to a realization of what it meant to be Black in this country, I was relieved to “study” President Abraham Lincoln, who, we were told “freed the slaves.”
What we were not told or taught was that while disliked slavery, he did not believe that Black people were equal to whites and that the best way to deal with the “problem” of their being in the United States was to get them to move – to go somewhere else so that whites could live in this country without the menace of their presence.
In 1862, he said to a group of Blacks he had invited to the White House to discuss resettling Blacks in Caribbean Islands or perhaps sending them “back” to Africa, he said, “Your race suffer from living among us while ours suffer from your presence…It is better, therefore, for us to be separated.” (https://www.history.com/news/abraham-lincoln-black-resettlement-haiti)
He had thoroughly looked into places to which Americans of African descent could be sent, and with a man named Bernard Kock, an entrepreneur and cotton planter who lived in Florida had settled upon a plan that would use federal funds to send 5,000 African Americans to Cow Island, located off the coast of Haiti, where they would work on a cotton plantation, receive access to housing, hospitals, and schools, and after working on the plantations for four years, would be given 16 acres and wages for the work they had done over those four years.
The agreement was made the night before Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
While federal funds were allocated to support the emigration (expulsion) of 5,000 formerly enslaved persons, only 453 made the maiden journey. Once on Cow Island, they lived horrific lives. There were no houses; they slept on the ground in huts made with foliage from the island. There were no hospitals; they suffered and many died from illnesses they contracted while there. Kock was with them during this disastrous project, and when the wretched, expelled American citizens rose up to rebel, he fled.
It is clear that African Americans are still considered to be a problem. We are not wanted here in spite of the fact that it was our labor that built this economy. Whiteness and an almost desperate effort to hold onto white power, privilege, and control still result in the lives of African Americans being made more miserable than white citizens.
The stress of being Black in this country cannot be overstated. Our white brothers and sisters to not want to believe it or hear it; they are adamant about claiming that they are not racist, nor is the system racist, but the facts cannot be ignored. African Americans are still the targets of state-sanctioned violence, discrimination in housing and health care, unfair economic policies, and criticism for speaking out about any of it. A recent PBS documentary exploring the maternal health and death rates of pregnant Black women includes accounts of Black women whose health issues during pregnancy were ignored, causing serious post-partum health issues, and in many cases, death of the mother. (https://www.pbs.org/video/surviving-pregnancy-as-a-black-woman-6o33so/), and the repeal of Roe v Wade unfortunately will probably mean that the horrid statistics for pregnant Black women will only get worse.
We are still a “problem.” The narrative was created a long time ago that we were the problem, not the system that created laws and policies that from the beginning worked against us. Former US Secretary of Education Betsy Vos recently, in talking about the low numbers of American students knowing American history cited CRT, learning about diversity and inclusion, and history included in the 1619 Project as the reason, instead of students learning about the US Constitution and Thomas Jefferson. (https://www.foxnews.com/video/6326762773112) The attack on American history including more about the history of African Americans is only getting stronger, as white parents, educators, and politicians continue to try to keep the history of white supremacy in this country where the narrative has placed it, effectively allowing the narratives that have been the substance of bigotry against Black students in place. To be “woke” to them is to seek a deeper truth about America’s history with Black people, which they absolutely do not want.
Many white Americans still want the “problem,” i.e., African Americans, to go away. They want an all-white America, which they believe was the intent of God in allowing or leading the Pilgrims to cross the Atlantic Ocean from England to get here. They clearly believe that “America” is supposed to be a white nation, and that an American citizen includes only white people. They want people of color deported, removed, and forgotten – unless and until, of course, they need their bodies for cheap labor in order to maintain the American economy.
Abraham Lincoln’s spirit lives on – not so much, for me, because he “freed” enslaved people, but because in the end, he was no less racist than the planters and citizens who wanted African Americans to be put out of the country whose economy was built by their unpaid labor.