Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

An Incomplete History of Revered Abolitionists

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

An Incomplete History of Revered Abolitionists

Article excerpt

This month marks the 89th anniversary of Black History Month. Founded by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926 as "Negro History Week," his vision was to encourage U.S. schools to explore and read about what was then little-known African-American history.

Choosing February to honor the birth months of revered abolitionists Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, Woodson's hard work paid off growing from a week to a month and now celebrated annually in schools around the country.

As we think about Lincoln and Frederick Douglass in the context of St. Louis history, it is interesting to study their response to the Dred Scott decision of 1857 which declared black people (whether slave or free) to be noncitizens.

Lincoln made his case against the treatment of Dred Scott in the Illinois Senate race debates against Judge Stephen Douglas in 1858:

"I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the Statute book, in which we find it and tear it out!"

Speaking against Lincoln's position, however, Stephen Douglas wasted no time responding a week later on July 17:

"In his Chicago speech (Lincoln) says in so many words that (the Declaration of Independence) includes the negroes, that they were endowed by the Almighty with the right of equality with the white man, and therefore that that right is divine a right under the higher law; that the law of God makes them equal to the white man. He thinks that the negro is his brother. I do not think that the negro is any kin of mine at all. And here is the difference between us."

This belief that humans are image-bearers of God not only inspired Abraham Lincoln to stand against injustice, but former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass as well. Speaking out against Justice Roger Taney's opinion in the Dred Scott case, Douglass declared,

"Your fathers have said that man's right to liberty is self- evident. …

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