Slave in Jefferson Davis' home gave Union key secrets

Story Highlights

  • William Jackson, a slave, learned key details inside the home of Jefferson Davis
  • Davis was president of the Confederacy; Jackson leaked key secrets to the Union
  • "Because of his role as a menial servant, he simply was ignored" by Southerners
  • Author said history must never forget the sacrifice of African-Americans in Civil War

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- William Jackson was a slave in the home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis during the Civil War. It turns out he was also a spy for the Union Army, providing key secrets to the North about the Confederacy.

William Jackson, a slave, listened closely to Jefferson Davis' conversations and leaked them to the North.

William Jackson, a slave, listened closely to Jefferson Davis' conversations and leaked them to the North.

Jackson was Davis' house servant and personal coachman. He learned high-level details about Confederate battle plans and movements because Davis saw him as a "piece of furniture" -- not a human, according to Ken Dagler, author of "Black Dispatches," which explores espionage by America's slaves.

"Because of his role as a menial servant, he simply was ignored," Dagler said. "So Jefferson Davis would hold conversations with military and Confederate civilian officials in his presence."

Dagler has written extensively on the issue for the CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence . Video Watch the stories of slaves as spies »

In late 1861, Jackson fled across enemy lines and was immediately debriefed by Union soldiers. Dagler said Jackson provided information about supply routes and military strategy.

"In Jackson's case, what he did was ... present some of the current issues that were affecting the Confederacy that you could not read about in the local press that was being passed back and forth across local lines. He actually had some feel for the issues of supply problems," Dagler said.

Jackson and other slaves' heroic efforts have been a forgotten legacy of the war -- lost amid the nation's racially charged past and the heaps of information about the war's historic battles. But historians over the last few decades have been taking an interest in the sacrifice of African-Americans during those war years.

Jackson's espionage is mentioned in a letter from a general to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell refers to "Jeff Davis' coachman" as the source of information about Confederate deployments. Video Watch grandson of slaves: "They call me Little Man" »

Dagler said slaves who served as spies were able to collect incredibly detailed information, in large part because of their tradition of oral history. Because Southern laws prevented blacks from learning how to read and write, he said, the slave spies listened intently to minute details and memorized them.

"What the Union officers found very quickly with those who crossed the line ... was that if you talked to them, they remembered a great more in the way of details and specifics than the average person ... because again they relied totally on their memory as opposed to any written records," he said.

Jackson wasn't the only spy. There were hundreds of them. In some cases, the slaves made it to the North, only to return to the South to risk being hanged. One Union general wrote that he counted on black spies in Tennessee because "no white man had the pluck to do it."

No one was better than Robert Smalls, a slave who guided vital supply ships in and out of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. He eventually escaped and provided the Union with "a turning of the forces in Charleston Harbor," according to an annual report of the Navy secretary to President Lincoln.

"A debriefing of him gave ... the Union force there the entire fortification scheme for the interior harbor," Dagler said.

One of the most iconic spies was Harriet Tubman, who ran the Underground Railroad, bringing slaves to the North. In 1863, she was asked by the Union to help with espionage in South Carolina. She picked former slaves from the region for an espionage ring and led many of the spy expeditions herself.

"The height of her intelligence involvement occurred late in 1863 when she actually led a raid into South Carolina," Dagler said. "In addition to the destruction of millions of dollars of property, she brought out over 800 slaves back into freedom in the North."

As the nation marks Black History Month in February, Dagler said that history should include the sacrifices of the African-Americans who risked their lives for their nation. Many paid the ultimate sacrifice.

"They were all over the place, and no one [in the South] considered them to be of any value. Consequently, they heard and saw virtually everything done by their masters, who were the decision-makers," Dagler said.

Whatever happened to William Jackson, the spy in Jefferson Davis's house? Unfortunately, that remains a great unknown.

"He simply disappeared from history, as so many of them have."

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A nation of cowards?

By Charles M. Blow

Most whites harbor a hidden racial bias that many are unaware of and don’t consciously agree with. And getting them to talk frankly about race is still hard.

This began as a relatively quiet Black History Month. The biggest highlight was a 72-year-old former Klansman scratching “apologize to John Lewis for beating him up” off his bucket list.

Then came Attorney General Eric Holder’s scathing comments about America being “a nation of cowards” because we don’t have “frank” conversations about race. That got a lot of attention.

I take exception to Holder’s language, but not his line of reasoning. Calling people cowards is counterproductive. It turns the conversation into a confrontation — moving it beyond the breach of true dialogue and the pale of real understanding.

That said, frank conversations are always welcomed. But, before we start, it might be helpful to have a better understanding of the breadth and nature of racial bias.

According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last month, twice as many blacks as whites thought racism was a big problem in this country, while twice as many whites as blacks thought that blacks had achieved racial equality.

Furthermore, according to a 2003 Gallup poll, two in five of blacks said that they felt discriminated against at least once a month, and one in five felt discriminated against every day. But, a CNN poll from last January found that 72 percent of whites thought that blacks overestimated the amount of discrimination against them, while 82 percent of blacks thought that whites underestimated the amount of discrimination against blacks.

What explains this wide discrepancy? One factor could be that most whites harbor a hidden racial bias that many are unaware of and don’t consciously agree with.

Project Implicit, a virtual laboratory maintained by Harvard, the University of Washington and the University of Virginia, has administered hundreds of thousands of online tests designed to detect hidden racial biases. In tests taken from 2000 to 2006, they found that three-quarters of whites have an implicit pro-white/anti-black bias. (Blacks showed racial biases, too, but unlike whites, they split about evenly between pro-black and pro-white. And, blacks were the most likely of all races to exhibit no bias at all.) In addition, a 2006 study by Harvard researchers published in the journal Psychological Science used these tests to show how this implicit bias is present in white children as young as 6 years old, and how it stays constant into adulthood.

(You can take the test yourself.)

So why do so many people have this anti-black bias?

I called Brian Nosek, an associate professor in psychology at the University of Virginia and the director of Project Implicit, to find out. According to him, our brains automatically make associations based on our experiences and the information we receive, whether we consciously agree with those associations or not. He said that many egalitarian test-takers were shown to have an implicit anti-black bias, much to their chagrin. Professor Nosek took the test himself, and even he showed a pro-white/anti-black bias. Basically, our brains have a mind of their own.

This bias can seep into our everyday lives in insidious ways. For example, a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in October found that many white doctors also had an implicit pro-white/anti-black bias, while black doctors showed almost no bias for one race or the other. The paper suggested that these biases may contribute to the unequal treatment of blacks, and that doctors may not even be conscious of it.

Can we eradicate this implicit bias? Maybe.

According to a Brown University and University of Victoria study that was published last month in the online journal PLoS One, researchers were able to ameliorate white’s racial biases by teaching them to distinguish black peoples’ faces from one another. Basically, seeing black people as individuals diminished white peoples’ discrimination. Imagine that.

Now that we know this, are we ready to talk? Maybe not yet. Talking frankly about race is still hard because it’s confusing and uncomfortable.

First, white people don’t want to be labeled as prejudiced, so they work hard around blacks not to appear so. A study conducted by researchers at Tufts University and Harvard Business School and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that many whites — including those as young as 10 years old — are so worried about appearing prejudiced that they act colorblind around blacks, avoiding “talking about race, or even acknowledging racial difference,” even when race is germane. Interestingly, blacks thought that whites who did this were more prejudiced than those who didn’t.

Second, that work is exhausting. A 2007 study by researchers at Northwestern and Princeton that was published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science found that interracial interactions leave whites both “cognitively and emotionally” drained because they are trying not to be perceived as prejudiced.

The fear of offending isn’t necessarily cowardice, nor is a failure to acknowledge a bias that you don’t know that you have, but they are impediments. We have to forget about who’s a coward and who’s brave, about who feels offended and who gets blamed. Let’s focus on the facts, and let’s just talk.

I invite you to visit my blog, By the Numbers. Please also join me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at chblow@nytimes.com.

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Please help spread the word

Dear Friend,

Yesterday, the day after President Obama signed his stimulus bill into law, the NY Post ran a cartoon depicting the bill's "author" as a dead monkey, covered in blood after being shot by police. You can see the image by clicking on the link below.

In the face of intense criticism, the Post's editor is standing by the cartoon, claiming that it's not about Obama, has no racial undertones, and that it was simply referencing a recent incident when police shot a pet chimpanzee. But it's impossible to believe that any newspaper editor could be ignorant enough to not understand how this cartoon evokes a history of racist symbolism, or how frightening this image feels at a time when death threats against President Obama have been on the rise.

Please join me and other ColorOfChange.org members in demanding that the Post apologize publicly and fire the editor who allowed this cartoon to go to print:


The Post would have us believe that the cartoon is not about Obama. But on the page just before the cartoon appears, there's a big picture of Obama signing the stimulus bill. A reader paging through the Post would see Obama putting pen to paper, then turn the page to see this violent cartoon. The imagery is chilling.

There is a clear history in our country of racist symbolism that depicts Black people as apes or monkeys, and it came up multiple times during the presidential campaign.

We're also in a time of increased race-based violence. In the months following President Obama's election there has been a nationwide surge in hate crimes ranging from vandalism to assaults to arson on Black churches. There has been an unprecedented number of threats against President Obama since he was elected, with hate-based groups fantasizing about the killing of the president. Just a week ago, a man drove from Louisiana to the Capitol with a rifle, telling the police who stopped him that he had a "delivery" for the president.

There is no excuse for the Post to have allowed this cartoon to be printed, and even less for Editor Col Allan's outright dismissal of legitimate concerns.

But let's be clear who's behind the Post: Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, the Post's owner, is the man behind FOX News Channel. FOX has continually attacked and denigrated Black people, politicians, institutions at every opportunity, and ColorOfChange has run several campaigns to make clear how FOX poisons public debate.

I don't expect much from Murdoch. However, with enough public pressure, we can set the stage for advertisers and subscribers to think long and hard before patronizing outlets like the Post that refuse to be held accountable.

You can help, by making clear that the Post's behavior is unacceptable, and by asking your friends and family to do the same. Please join me:




Bill Cosby's “Pound Cake Speech”

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(2004) Bill Cosby, “The Pound Cake Speech”

On May 17, 2004, the NAACP staged a gala celebration at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Comedian, actor and philanthropist Bill Cosby was asked to deliver the main address. Cosby unexpectedly used the occasion to deliver a controversial speech that profiled current African American social, economic and cultural deficiencies. His speech ignited a firestorm of protest and debate. It appears below.

Ladies and gentlemen, I really have to ask you to seriously consider what you’ve heard, and now this is the end of the evening so to speak. I heard a prize fight manager say to his fellow who was losing badly, “David, listen to me. It’s not what’s he’s doing to you. It’s what you’re not doing."

Ladies and gentlemen, these people set -- they opened the doors, they gave us the right, and today, ladies and gentlemen, in our cities and public schools we have 50% drop out. In our own neighborhood, we have men in prison. No longer is a person embarrassed because they’re pregnant without a husband. No longer is a boy considered an embarrassment if he tries to run away from being the father of the unmarried child.

Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic and lower middle economic people are not holding their end in this deal. In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on. In the old days, you couldn’t hooky school because every drawn shade was an eye. And before your mother got off the bus and to the house, she knew exactly where you had gone, who had gone into the house, and where you got on whatever you had one and where you got it from. Parents don’t know that today.

I’m talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was two? Where were you when he was twelve? Where were you when he was eighteen, and how come you don’t know he had a pistol? And where is his father, and why don’t you know where he is? And why doesn’t the father show up to talk to this boy?

The church is only open on Sunday. And you can’t keep asking Jesus to ask doing things for you. You can’t keep asking that God will find a way. God is tired of you . God was there when they won all those cases. 50 in a row. That’s where God was because these people were doing something. And God said, “I’m going to find a way.” I wasn’t there when God said it -- I’m making this up. But it sounds like what God would do.

We cannot blame white people. White people -- white people don’t live over there. They close up the shop early. The Korean ones still don’t know us as well -- they stay open 24 hours. I’m looking and I see a man named Kenneth Clark, he and his wife Mamie. Kenneth’s still alive. I have to apologize to him for these people because Kenneth said it straight. He said you have to strengthen yourselves, and we’ve got to have that black doll. And everybody said it. Julian Bond said it. Dick Gregory said it. All these lawyers said it. And you wouldn’t know that anybody had done a damned thing.

Fifty percent drop out rate, I’m telling you, and people in jail, and women having children by five, six different men. Under what excuse? I want somebody to love me. And as soon as you have it, you forget to parent. Grandmother, mother, and great grandmother in the same room, raising children, and the child knows nothing about love or respect of any one of the three of them. All this child knows is “gimme, gimme, gimme.” These people want to buy the friendship of a child, and the child couldn’t care less. Those of us sitting out here who have gone on to some college or whatever we’ve done, we still fear our parents. And these people are not parenting. They’re buying things for the kid -- $500 sneakers -- for what? They won’t buy or spend $250 on Hooked on Phonics.

Kenneth Clark, somewhere in his home in upstate New York -- just looking ahead. Thank God he doesn’t know what’s going on. Thank God. But these people -- the ones up here in the balcony fought so hard. Looking at the incarcerated, these are not political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake! Then we all run out and are outraged: “The cops shouldn’t have shot him.” What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand? I wanted a piece of pound cake just as bad as anybody else. And I looked at it and I had no money. And something called parenting said if you get caught with it you’re going to embarrass your mother." Not, "You’re going to get your butt kicked." No. "You’re going to embarrass your mother." "You’re going to embarrass your family." If you knock that girl up, you’re going to have to run away because it’s going to be too embarrassing for your family. In the old days, a girl getting pregnant had to go down South, and then her mother would go down to get her. But the mother had the baby. I said the mother had the baby. The girl didn’t have a baby. The mother had the baby in two weeks. We are not parenting.

Ladies and gentlemen, listen to these people. They are showing you what’s wrong. People putting their clothes on backwards. Isn’t that a sign of something going on wrong? Are you not paying attention? People with their hat on backwards, pants down around the crack. Isn’t that a sign of something or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up? Isn’t it a sign of something when she’s got her dress all the way up to the crack -- and got all kinds of needles and things going through her body. What part of Africa did this come from? We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don’t know a damned thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Shaligua, Mohammed and all that crap and all of them are in jail. (When we give these kinds names to our children, we give them the strength and inspiration in the meaning of those names. What’s the point of giving them strong names if there is not parenting and values backing it up).

Brown versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem. We’ve got to take the neighborhood back. We’ve got to go in there. Just forget telling your child to go to the Peace Corps. It’s right around the corner. It’s standing on the corner. It can’t speak English. It doesn’t want to speak English. I can’t even talk the way these people talk. “Why you ain’t where you is go, ra.” I don’t know who these people are. And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. Then I heard the father talk. This is all in the house. You used to talk a certain way on the corner and you got into the house and switched to English. Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can’t land a plane with, “Why you ain’t…” You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth. There is no Bible that has that kind of language. Where did these people get the idea that they’re moving ahead on this. Well, they know they’re not; they’re just hanging out in the same place, five or six generations sitting in the projects when you’re just supposed to stay there long enough to get a job and move out.

Now, look, I’m telling you. It’s not what they’re doing to us. It’s what we’re not doing. 50 percent drop out. Look, we’re raising our own ingrown immigrants. These people are fighting hard to be ignorant. There’s no English being spoken, and they’re walking and they’re angry. Oh God, they’re angry and they have pistols and they shoot and they do stupid things. And after they kill somebody, they don’t have a plan. Just murder somebody. Boom. Over what? A pizza? And then run to the poor cousin’s house.

They sit there and the cousin says, “What are you doing here?” “I just killed somebody, man.” “What?” “I just killed somebody; I’ve got to stay here.” “No, you don’t.” “Well, give me some money, I’ll go….” “Where are you going?” “North Carolina.”

Everybody wanted to go to North Carolina. But the police know where you’re going because your cousin has a record.

Five or six different children -- same woman, eight, ten different husbands or whatever. Pretty soon you’re going to have to have DNA cards so you can tell who you’re making love to. You don’t who this is. It might be your grandmother. I’m telling you, they’re young enough. Hey, you have a baby when you’re twelve. Your baby turns thirteen and has a baby, how old are you? Huh? Grandmother. By the time you’re twelve, you could have sex with your grandmother, you keep those numbers coming. I’m just predicting.

I’m saying Brown versus the Board of Education. We’ve got to hit the streets, ladies and gentlemen. I’m winding up, now -- no more applause. I’m saying, look at the Black Muslims. There are Black Muslims standing on the street corners and they say so forth and so on, and we’re laughing at them because they have bean pies and all that, but you don’t read, “Black Muslim gunned down while chastising drug dealer.” You don’t read that. They don’t shoot down Black Muslims. You understand me. Muslims tell you to get out of the neighborhood. When you want to clear your neighborhood out, first thing you do is go get the Black Muslims, bean pies and all. And your neighborhood is then clear. The police can’t do it.

I’m telling you Christians, what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you hit the streets? Why can’t you clean it out yourselves? It’s our time now, ladies and gentlemen. It is our time. And I’ve got good news for you. It’s not about money. It’s about you doing something ordinarily that we do -- get in somebody else’s business. It’s time for you to not accept the language that these people are speaking, which will take them nowhere. What the hell good is Brown V. Board of Education if nobody wants it?

What is it with young girls getting after some girl who wants to still remain a virgin. Who are these sick black people and where did they come from and why haven’t they been parented to shut up? To go up to girls and try to get a club where “you are nobody....” This is a sickness, ladies and gentlemen, and we are not paying attention to these children. These are children. They don’t know anything. They don’t have anything. They’re homeless people. All they know how to do is beg. And you give it to them, trying to win their friendship. And what are they good for? And then they stand there in an orange suit and you drop to your knees: “He didn’t do anything. He didn’t do anything.” Yes, he did do it. And you need to have an orange suit on, too.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for the award -- and giving me an opportunity to speak because, I mean, this is the future, and all of these people who lined up and done -- they’ve got to be wondering what the hell happened. Brown V. Board of Education -- these people who marched and were hit in the face with rocks and punched in the face to get an education and we got these knuckleheads walking around who don’t want to learn English. I know that you all know it. I just want to get you as angry that you ought to be. When you walk around the neighborhood and you see this stuff, that stuff’s not funny. These people are not funny anymore. And that‘s not my brother. And that’s not my sister. They’re faking and they’re dragging me way down because the state, the city, and all these people have to pick up the tab on them because they don’t want to accept that they have to study to get an education.

We have to begin to build in the neighborhood, have restaurants, have cleaners, have pharmacies, have real estate, have medical buildings instead of trying to rob them all. And so, ladies and gentlemen, please, Dorothy Height, where ever she’s sitting, she didn’t do all that stuff so that she could hear somebody say “I can’t stand algebra, I can’t stand…" and “what you is.” It’s horrible.

Basketball players -- multimillionaires can’t write a paragraph. Football players, multimillionaires, can’t read. Yes. Multimillionaires. Well, Brown v. Board of Education, where are we today? It’s there. They paved the way. What did we do with it? The White Man, he’s laughing -- got to be laughing. 50 percent drop out -- rest of them in prison.

You got to tell me that if there was parenting -- help me -- if there was parenting, he wouldn’t have picked up the Coca Cola bottle and walked out with it to get shot in the back of the head. He wouldn’t have. Not if he loved his parents. And not if they were parenting! Not if the father would come home. Not if the boy hadn’t dropped the sperm cell inside of the girl and the girl had said, “No, you have to come back here and be the father of this child.” Not ..“I don’t have to.”

Therefore, you have the pile up of these sweet beautiful things born by nature -- raised by no one. Give them presents. You’re raising pimps. That’s what a pimp is. A pimp will act nasty to you so you have to go out and get them something. And then you bring it back and maybe he or she hugs you. And that’s why pimp is so famous. They’ve got a drink called the “Pimp-something.” You all wonder what that’s about, don’t you? Well, you’re probably going to let Jesus figure it out for you. Well, I’ve got something to tell you about Jesus. When you go to the church, look at the stained glass things of Jesus. Look at them. Is Jesus smiling? Not in one picture. So, tell your friends. Let’s try to do something. Let’s try to make Jesus smile. Let’s start parenting. Thank you, thank you.
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Gaddafi wants Caribbean in Africa

Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi has said he would like a United States of Africa to include "Caribbean islands with African populations".

Col Gaddafi, speaking in Tripoli as the African Union's (AU) new chairman, said this could include Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

The Libyan leader also sympathised with Somali pirates, describing their actions as self-defence.

Last week he said that multi-party democracy was not right for Africa.

The BBC's Rana Jawad in the Libyan capital says Col Gaddafi's critics believe he is too erratic to be chairman of the 53-nation AU.

A week into his appointment his agenda for Africa is expanding and his views remain as controversial as ever to some people, she says.

Praise for pirates

Celebrating his new role at his compound in Tripoli on Tuesday, Col Gaddafi suggested Caribbean islands should join the AU and become a bridge between Africa and Latin America.

He went on to tell a gathering of some 400 guests that Somali pirates were only hitting back against other countries stealing marine wealth from the region's waters.

Col Gaddafi said the United Nations should protect Somali waters from the piracy of other countries.

He also said he would use his 12 months at the helm of the AU to try to resolve Africa's conflicts, including Darfur and Somalia.

Last week, the Libyan leader used his inaugural address as rotating head of the AU in Ethiopia to push his long-cherished pet project of a United States of Africa.

He envisages a single African military force, a single currency and a single passport for Africans to move freely around the continent.

But the response from many of his fellow African leaders was lukewarm, with some saying the proposal would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.

He also raised eyebrows by saying that multi-party democracy only led to bloodshed in Africa and that the best model for Africa was his own country, where opposition parties are not allowed.

View source article

Darwin was an abolitionist

...while many of his contemporaries approved of slavery, Darwin did not. He came from a family of ardent abolitionists, and he was revolted by what he saw in slave countries: “Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have stayed in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal .... It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty.”

-- Olivia Judson

Read full article on Darwin's 200th birthday here


Commentary: Lincoln's remarkable tie to former slave

CNN Editor's note: James Oliver Horton is Benjamin Banneker professor emeritus at George Washington University and a professor at the University of Hawaii. He is a member of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and author of "Landmarks of African American History."

James Horton says Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass had a relationship of shared respect.

James Horton says Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass had a relationship of shared respect.

(CNN) -- Few relationships in American history have been more remarkable than that between President Abraham Lincoln and black abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass.

Lincoln was born a Southerner 200 years ago, on February 12, in a rough-hewn cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky. He spent most of his adult life in the North, working a series of odd jobs before becoming a lawyer and a leading Illinois politician.

Finally, in 1860, he became the first Republican president of the United States.

Douglass escaped slavery in Maryland in 1838 and found shelter with the Underground Railroad's Vigilance Committee in New York.

He was joined there by Anna Murray, a free black woman from Maryland who had helped him escape. The couple married and soon moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Douglass became deeply involved in the abolition movement and became one of its most effective anti-slavery speakers. iReport.com: Hear Douglass's descendants read Lincoln's second inaugural address

After an abolitionist lecture tour in Ireland, Scotland and England, Douglass moved his family to Rochester, New York, where he started a newspaper, The North Star. For more than 30 years, he edited a variety of newspapers that focused on issues of racial justice and equality.

Through the 1850s, Douglass became one of the most respected and influential abolitionists in the nation. His support of Lincoln's presidential candidacy in 1860 was measured and based on his pragmatic analysis of national politics at that time.

Before the election, he addressed a crowd of anti-slavery voters in Geneva, New York, most of whom were skeptical of Lincoln's qualified and relatively mild opposition to slavery.

Douglass argued that although Lincoln was not the perfect abolitionist choice for president, he was by far the best of the alternatives. Even though he understood that Lincoln was no hard-core abolitionist, he hoped that the election of a Republican to the presidency might help move the nation in an antislavery direction.

Douglass's reaction to Lincoln's presidential victory in 1860, like that of many African-Americans and abolitionists, was hopeful. "God be praised," he exclaimed.

Lincoln's reaction to Southern secession and the formation of the Confederacy encouraged Douglass and other abolitionists.

Many anticipated that a war with the slaveholding South would inevitably mean a war on slavery and an end to that inhumane institution. Douglass called the Civil War "the American Apocalypse" and argued that "not a slave should be left a slave in the returning footprints of the American army gone to put down this slaveholding rebellion."

Despite Douglass's optimism, many African-Americans lacked faith in Lincoln's administration. Their misgivings sprang from a knowledge of his pre-presidential political career.

During his unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate seat in 1858, Lincoln faced an attempt by his Democratic opponent, Stephen A. Douglas, to portray him as an abolitionist who favored racial equality.

Understanding the potential political devastation among Illinois voters of such a charge, Lincoln defended himself with strong declarations of white supremacy.

"I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races," he declared during his debate with Douglas in Charleston, Illinois.

Although he was committed to the containment of slavery, not allowing it to expand into the Western territories, Lincoln explained that he believed that the Constitution protected the slave property of Southern slaveholders.

This stand on slavery's protection deeply concerned Douglass and others who hoped that Lincoln's election might lead to its abolition.

In his first inaugural address in early March 1861, just a month after the Southern states seceded and formed the Confederacy, Lincoln sought to assure slaveholders that they had nothing to fear from his administration.

"I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists," he said. He then added a personal note on the question of slavery, as he had done during the 1858 Illinois Senate race. He assured slaveholders that "I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so."

Although Lincoln's words did not convince the South, they raised fears for Douglass and other black Americas. Early in the war Lincoln's actions exacerbated these fears as he revoked emancipation orders issued by Union Gens. John C. Freemont and David Hunter and even relieved Freemont from duty. He also disbanded the black regiment Hunter had formed.

Yet, in fall 1862, when Lincoln announced that he would emancipate the slaves of rebel slaveholders as of New Year's Day 1863, Douglass reacted immediately in the pages of Douglass's Monthly.

Though impatient with what he saw as Lincoln's "cautious, forbearing and hesitating way," Douglass announced, "we shout for joy that we live to record this righteous decree."

When the Emancipation Proclamation was announced January 1, 1863, it also authorized the recruitment of African-Americans into the Union armed forces.

Douglass agreed to recruit African-American troops but was greatly disturbed when blacks received roughly half the pay of whites at the same rank. During their first conversation in summer 1863, Lincoln and Douglass discussed this pay inequity

As Douglass recalled, he first met Lincoln in August. Later he explained to a meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia "how the president of the United States received a black man at the White House."

To great applause, he explained that the White House messenger respectfully invited him into the president's office. Lincoln rose and extended his hand as Douglass entered. "Mr. Douglass, I know you; I have read about you, and Mr. Seward [William Seward, the secretary of state] has told me about you."

Douglass explained that Lincoln "put me at ease at once."

Although Lincoln did not promise immediate action on the equal pay issue, he was clearly impressed with the service of African-American troops and seemed to agree that "ultimately they would receive the same [pay]."

Douglass left the meeting much impressed with the president, a man much like himself, sincere, self-educated and self-made. Lincoln, he believed, was worthy of "the prefix Honest" before the nickname Abe.

Lincoln's respect for Douglass encouraged a clearer anti-slavery position. In his second inaugural address after his re-election in 1864, Lincoln linked the hardships of war to the sinfulness of slavery.

Perhaps, he speculated, the Almighty would continue to punish America "until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword."

For Douglass, these words were further proof of "the solid gravity of [Lincoln's] character."

As a further sign of respect, Lincoln invited Douglass to the White House reception after the address, a gesture unprecedented in presidential history.

As the former slave entered the room, the president announced to his guests, "Here comes my friend Douglass." Then, taking Douglass' hand, he asked for a comment on the inaugural speech and added, "there is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours." Douglass complimented the speech, whereupon Lincoln thanked him.

Lincoln had dealt with other blacks during his time in the White House but never on such an equal footing as with Douglass. Both men were well aware of the significance of race for their time. Douglass was realistic in his understanding of Lincoln's racial assumptions and never regarded him as a thoroughgoing racial egalitarian.

Still, long after Lincoln's assassination in 1865, Douglass remembered his finer qualities. In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant unveiled the Freedmen's Monument in Washington, dedicated to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. Douglass then delivered a speech gracious in its praise of the former president.

Although Lincoln "shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race," Douglass explained to the interracial audience, his actions made him the man whose name was "near and dear to our hearts."

Then speaking directly to the African-Americans in the audience, Douglass urged gratefulness for "the vast, high and preeminent services rendered to ourselves, to our race, to our country and to the whole world by Abraham Lincoln."

This relationship between a former slave and a sitting president of the United States was unique indeed. Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, evidently understood the mutual respect that the two men shared. After Lincoln's death, she presented Douglass with Lincoln's favorite walking cane, saying her late husband would have wanted him to have it.

She also wrote, "I know of no one that would appreciate this more than Fred. Douglass."

Her judgment was sound, for Douglass later wrote, "She sent it to me at Rochester, and I have it in my house to-day, and expect to keep it there as long as I live."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Oliver Horton. The article was adapted from "Lincoln and Douglass: Hope, Ambivalence and Change" published in New York Archives, Winter, 2009

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New book: Joaquim Nabuco and the British Abolitionists

Leslie Bethell & José Murilo de Carvalho (organizadores), Joaquim
Nabuco e os abolitionistas britanicos: Correspondencia 1880-1905
(Rio de Janeiro: Topbooks/ Academia Brasileira de Letras, 2008),
450pp. (Bi-lingual edition of 110 letters, with an introduction
by the editors, a chronology and a bibliography)
Published December 2008.

English edition to be published February/March 2009:

Joaquim Nabuco, British abolitionists and the end of slavery in
Brazil: Correspondence 1880-1905 edited with an introduction by
Leslie Bethell & José Murilo de Carvalho (London: Institute for
the Study of the Americas, 2009).

From the Introduction to English edition:

‘A little studied aspect of the struggle to abolish slavery in
Brazil in the 1880s is the relationship established and
maintained between Joaquim Nabuco, the leading Brazilian
abolitionist, and the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in
London. The correspondence between Nabuco and Charles Harris
Allen, Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, and other British
abolitionists throughout the decade and beyond reveals a
partnership consciously sought by Nabuco in order to
internationalise the struggle in Brazil. These letters provide a
unique insight into the evolution of Nabuco’s thinking on both
slavery and abolition and at the same time a running commentary
on the slow and (at least until 1887-8) uncertain progress of the
abolitionist cause in Brazil.’

New book: Race and the Politics of Solidarity


Race and the Politics of Solidarity
Juliet Hooker

Solidarity--the reciprocal relations of trust and obligation between citizens
that are essential for a thriving polity--is a basic goal of all political
communities. Yet it is extremely difficult to achieve, especially in
multiracial societies. In an era of increasing global migration and
democratization, that issue is more pressing than perhaps ever before. In the
past few decades, racial diversity and the problems of justice that often
accompany it have risen dramatically throughout the world. It features
prominently nearly everywhere: from the United States, where it has been a
perennial social and political problem, to Europe, which has experienced an
unprecedented influx of Muslim and African immigrants, to Latin America, where
the rise of vocal black and indigenous movements has brought the question to
the fore.
Political theorists have long wrestled with the topic of political solidarity,
but they have not had much to say about the impact of race on such solidarity,
except to claim that what is necessary is to move beyond race. The prevailing
approach has been: How can a multicultural and multiracial polity, with all of
the different allegiances inherent in it, be transformed into a unified,
liberal one? Juliet Hooker flips this question around. In multiracial and
multicultural societies, she argues, the practice of political solidarity has
been indelibly shaped by the social fact of race. The starting point should
thus be the existence of racialized solidarity itself: How can we create
political solidarity when racial and cultural diversity are more or less
permanent? Unlike the tendency to claim that the best way to deal with the
problem of racism is to abandon the concept of race altogether, Hooker stresses
the importance of coming to terms with racial injustice, and explores the role
that it plays in both the United States and Latin America. Coming to terms with
the lasting power of racial identity, she contends, is the starting point for
any political project attempting to achieve solidarity.
Product Details
240 pages; 6 1/8 X 9 1/4; ISBN13: 978-0-19-533536-1ISBN10: 0-19-533536-8
About the Author(s)

Juliet Hooker is currently Assistant Professor of Government at the University
of Texas at Austin. She has published numerous book chapters in edited volumes
and journal articles that span Political Theory and Latin American Politics,
with a special focus on Theories of Multiculturalism, Latin American Political
Thought, and Afro-descendant and Indigenous Politics in Latin America.


The Black Power of Capoeira

(Photo from the Black Belt archive)

By D. David Dreis
Published in Black Belt magazine in the early 1970s

The nation of Brazil is taking a long, hard look at its checkered past. Some of what it sees is in need of a whitewash, cleaned up and scrubbed so that it makes good reading in history books. Slave uprisings, the likes of which were steeped in bloodshed, are part of its folklore. And Brazil is finally accepting capoeira as the true black power of its nation.

For several years now, Brazil has skirted its heritage with capoeira. It has been overlooked, disregarded and dismissed. Historians battled against bureaucratic red tape to find the clearing, some gaps in history had to be filled in. A few years ago an 81-year-old Portuguese man, an eyewitness to the open gaps in history, told his story; the story was about capoeira.

Vicente Ferreira Pastinha was the man who did the filling. What he talked about at length were the slave uprisings against the cruelty of persecution and the tool of self-defense employed by the slaves, created by the blacks.

Now that Brazil is taking its reluctant look, it is learning about capoeira and wincing at what it has learned. Descriptions aptly outlined by the old man attest to fast-moving arms and legs battling the onslaught of intemperate slave owners, fighting against the huge organization of oppression only to be pressed down in bloody defeat. Capoeira had its most terrifying results in the slave uprisings against the plunderers of human dignity, the landowners who were in operation since the colonization of Brazil by the Portuguese. With each suppression came more and more restrictions until at last, weary and beaten, the insurgent African natives, the slaves, were defeated. As the white populous worked on the ledgers of history, they erased the black marks of capoeira, pretending it never happened. Pastinha remained alive and brought the reality of the past into full focus.

Kept alive in the secrecy of hardened souls, the martial art continued to be taught and learned, and if movements were displayed, they were said to be a harmless native dance. This was the way capoeira survived the torture of time.

Pastinha revealed how the cultural aspects of the art seemed to vanish and how desperate students used the art to break down the statutes that were placed in their way. That they used capoeira for damage and destruction without rhyme or reason is also part of the haggard history. Without the culture and the heritage, much as that taught in the world of the martial arts, there was nothing save destruction and demolition. Again and again, insurgent blacks were put down in one after another bloody encounters. Capoeira’s heritage seemed to vanish for good.

Now, 81 years old and blind, destitute save for the income that has been secured from devoted followers of the art, Pastinha is cared for with the respect of students who look at him with the same dedication that Japanese karate and judo students look toward their sensei. He lives in Salvador, Brazil, and still partakes in the martial art, although the years and the disregard have taken their toll on his prowess.

But as Pastinha has revealed the past, a 68-year-old instructor known only as “Master Bimba” is advancing it to the future with his instruction in the martial art. Since he has been teaching capoeira, many practitioners have passed through his hands and are advancing the art further still.

Five years ago, a group headed by Benjamin Muniz started to make a true and schematic study of the “kata” of capoeira, transferring what Pastinha related into viable and teachable terms. Reluctantly, the nation began to recognize capoeira and accept it for what it was although they have staunchly refused to accept it as a national sport, knowing all too well that capoeira is not a sport at all. Today, it has been “washed down” as a cultural, native dance. In this manner capoeira is, to the Brazilian hierarchy, “acceptable.”

International Prestige

Muniz and his group, the Olodum, are performing demonstrations wherever they can find an audience. Their efforts at folklore festivals have garnered them international prestige, despite the backhanded help given them by national officials.

In 1968, the Olodum represented Brazil at the Third Latin American Folkloric Festival staged in Argentina and took second place after finding themselves winners of three gold medals and one silver. This year, they garnered a first place win at the Latin American Festival held in Peru. So commanding was their performance, supported by musical instruments, which are part of its clean-scrubbed look, that the Brazilian Ministry is paying homage to the art with the inclusion of capoeira demonstrations on its “official” schedule of national demonstrations.

But its homage is to the development of the black man in the martial arts. Although the students today are members of all races, much like many of those studying Oriental martial arts are Caucasians, the Negroes are paid the most homage through their development of capoeira.

Nothing is making the black man walk tall more than his tie in the culture of the martial arts. This heritage has become entrenched in the folklore of the martial arts history. And there’s nary a tinge of the Oriental in its makeup.

How strange it was for the heritage to start in Brazil and seemingly end there, because slaves were traded and deposited all over the world. Quite possibly, had there been instructors in the martial art in the United States, capoeira might have changed the face of history in North America.

This is not a treatise on civil rights; it is a testimony to an austere and legitimate martial art that identifies with all of the traditions of the other martial arts forms. As the Japanese warlords oppressed the Okinawan populace, causing them to seek an effective means of self-defense, so it is with capoeira, developed from the black African who was trained to fight the elements in his homeland but turned to use his training to fight against the tormentors of human dignity in Brazil.

Representatives of Brazil, those who wish to look with pleasure on the history of their nation, would like the demonstrations of the dance to continue and be treated as a dance. Indeed, capoeira, because of its potentially dangerous aspects, must be practiced as a dance, as a “kata,” but there cannot be a “kumite.” The practitioners know the law and are forced to accept it, but they earnestly believe that the art could be a dynamic sport if the reigns of government myopia were removed.

Admittedly, there have been many practitioners of the art who are working out with no punches or kicks pulled. It has resulted in some damaging effects, and even they recognize that the unleashed power of the art must be tempered somewhat for a sport in which the nation could take pride. As Gichin Funakoshi tempered karate and Jigaro Kano tempered judo, the leaders of capoeira, perhaps Master Bimba, are looking for that combination of sport-art.

The emphasis on capoeira is on muscular strength, joint flexibility and rapid movements. All of these are calculated to subdue, and subdue fast, any threat, any battle.

Quick Body Movements

Capoeira makes much of quick body movements as most of the martial arts do. But it places a greater emphasis on the power of the legs, strong weaponry in the employ of trained fighters. A capoeira man may meet a fighter face to face, but in a fraction of a second he can flip to the ground, shooting a strongly placed foot into a vital attacking area. It has been said that the capoeira fighter, trained to put punch-power in his foot, can effectively destroy a man mortally with a well-placed kick!

That it whets the interest of those who see it has been fairly well documented. In Los Angeles to attend a folklore festival, the members of Olodum were besieged with requests from students to demonstrate at local colleges and universities. At every demonstration, there was much interest in bringing the martial art instruction to the United States. Many of those people making the requests were, to no one's surprise, from the black community.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, Waldemar Dos Santos is the man in charge of making capoeira popular. His is a mission that has seen the face of determination muddied by blockades to his perseverance.

Dos Santos, a short, strong man with scarred hands and forehead, learned his capoeira on the streets. But he is the foremost teacher in this city where study in judo and karate have reached a new high in interest and attendance. At 37, the man is determined to have capoeira become even more important than these other martial arts. “This is Brazilian,” he says with assuredness. “This fighting art is in the blood.”

So pronounced is Dos Santos about capoeira and its nationalistic ties that more than 100 students are studying with him. He learned the martial art in the beaten-earth clearings, which were to become “academies” for capoeira in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but having now returned to Sao Paulo, the young man is determined to make the art “official.”

He, too, has suffered from the oppression of red-tape authority. He has titled his “course” a Brazilian folklore movement. His students practice in what was once the parlor of a townhouse, its walls now smeared with dirty palms and feet. After six months of “dance” movements, which in reality is the “kata,” Dos Santos instructs his students into the violent phase of the art. “I admit,” he says, not too proud of the statement, “that Brazilian capoeira is one of the dirtiest, formalized fighting styles known.”

How “dirty” has capoeira been or become? The history books are not clear on this point, either. There are many legends surrounding the martial art and explaining how it was used by Brazilian sailors who picked it up and “adapted it” from the slaves before them. According to some sources who reluctantly admit it, the sailors used capoeira to “fight for keeps,” taping knives and razor blades to their bare feet and hands before entering a fight. Dos Santos shrugs his shoulders on this facet. Perhaps that was how the art was “bastardized” by the Brazilian sailors, but he has enough confidence in “empty hand” and “empty foot” facets of the art to bypass that addition.

Recent Police Records

Recent police records in Rio show what happens when capoeira gets out of hand. Military police tried to arrest a drunken capoeira (the term is used for the fighter as well as the art) nicknamed “Master Satan.” Satan took on a 24-man platoon and fought them to a draw. Seven policemen were hospitalized, two with broken arms and two with split livers. When Satan still stood defiant after a battering by 24 billy clubs, police had to decide whether to shoot him or let him sleep it off. They decided to try the latter.

“The feet are man’s most deadly weapon,” says Paulo Romero, a Rio capoeira practitioner. “The head is the weakest. Capoeira aims at bringing the strongest weapon to the point of weakness.”

Master Bimba has defined the modern sport-art and outlined 72 separate movements that have colorful names, similar to those given in tai chi chuan, such as “Daddy’s Scissors,” “Banana Plant” and “Tail of the Dragon Fish.”

“Before World War II,” Master Bimba says, “capoeira was illegal.”

Police were called wherever it was practiced. Now, at long last, it is being appreciated for the thing of physical beauty that it really is. Speed, agility and multiplication of force is the key.

Master Bimba knows that this definition is in conflict with the view taken by the fighters in the art. “Capoeira is as graceful as a ballet, but it was invented to kill,” he admits. “In a street fight in old Colonial Brazil, capoeira was a fight to the finish. A knife, a razor, a broken bottle made a capoeira the equal of 20 men.”

Pastinha, however, shirks the contempt against the art. Historically, it belongs to Brazil and it should be recognized, in his opinion. “As a Brazilian,” he says, “I am proud of this friendly country. The capoeira meeting his adversary has the possibility by means of lightness and quickness of the art to disarm any opponent, either taking the weapon from him or vanquishing him by throwing the armed adversary to the ground.”

Pastinha is still the prime authority on the art, and he has seen it develop to a point of respectability. Master Bimba is the foremost practitioner and teacher in Brazil, and his students are as enthusiastic over the techniques as students anywhere. There are some who are unhappy that it is locked into the demonstration aspect, colorful though it may be with its musical accompaniment and bright costumes, ofttimes striped trousers that give off a garish and more “carnival” appearance than most. At least the art is being nurtured and someday perhaps, if it continues to live and gain in popularity, capoeira may grow into a full-fledged martial art and a national endeavor.

Right now, one university accepts it as part of its curriculum within its folklore program. Moving it over to physical education may be a tricky accomplishment, but until that day does arrive, the followers of the art will continue to demonstrate it, allowing people to forget it is really an example of black power.