White discusses letters from African Americans to Abraham Lincoln at MSU’s fourth annual Frank and Virginia Williams conference


Contact Person: Allison Matthews

Jonathan W. White, author of the recently published book “To Address You As My Friend: African Americans ‘Letters to Abraham Lincoln”, was the guest of Frank and Virginia Williams’ Fourth Annual Lecture on Lincoln and Civil War Studies . (Photo by Beth Wynn)

STARKVILLE, Mississippi — An author whose recently published book highlights 125 letters written by African Americans throughout the Civil War to President Abraham Lincoln was the guest speaker on Thursday. [Oct. 28] for a series of signature talks in the State of Mississippi.

Jonathan W. White, associate professor of American studies at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, was the guest of Frank and Virginia Williams’ fourth annual lecture on Lincoln and Civil War Studies. The timely visit came just two days after the publication of his latest book, “To Address You As My Friend: African Americans’ Letters to Abraham Lincoln” (The University of North Carolina Press). Donald M. Shaffer Jr., associate professor of English at MSU and director of the African American Studies program, praised the book, calling it a “page turner.”

White said he had researched letters from various sources and more than 20 were held in the Library of Congress, while the majority were from the National Archives. “These are letters Lincoln kept in his personal collection, so we feel like these letters probably meant something special to Lincoln,” White said.

He shared several stories of people – mostly African American men, but also women – who had sent Lincoln deeply personal letters on many topics. Some of the letters were from people who had met or knew Lincoln well, and others were from people concerned with a variety of national issues or personal situations. They came from writers who were slaves and others who were free. Most of the letters asked for permission to perform missionary or military service.

White explained that at the start of the Civil War, Lincoln had been a supporter of the colonization of formerly enslaved African Americans in other countries. “A number of African Americans have written public letters about colonization. A few were in favor of colonization, ”he explained,“ but most were against colonization ”.

Jonathan W. White, center, receives a print of Abraham Lincoln as a gift presented by Acting Dean of MSU Libraries, Tommy Anderson, left, and Frank Williams, right.
Jonathan W. White, center, guest for Frank and Virginia Williams’ Fourth Annual Lecture on Lincoln and Civil War Studies, receives print of Abraham Lincoln as a gift presented by Acting Dean of MSU Libraries Tommy Anderson, left, and Frank Williams, right, who, along with his wife Virginia, made the lecture series possible and donated the extraordinary Lincoln Collection to the university in 2017. (Photo by Beth Wynn)

An excerpt White read from a letter written by AP Smith said, “Please tell us, is our right to a home in this country less than yours, Mr. Lincoln?”

He later continued, “If through all these years of grief and affliction, there is one thing that has stood out to us more than anything, and that is our love of the country, our patriotism,” Smith wrote.

White said patriotism is one of the “big themes” that emerges from these historical correspondences.

“’This is our country, we don’t want to go anywhere else. We want equality and political rights here, ‘”White summed up the sentiments he had sought, explaining that these types of communications changed Lincoln’s view of colonization and other matters.

Another story White recounted was the story of Dr. Alexander T. Augusta, who wrote about how he had to leave the United States due to racial prejudice in order to pursue his dream of education and becoming a doctor. . He later wrote to Lincoln asking for permission to become a surgeon in the United States Army. When he arrived for examination, he was the victim of racial discrimination. Nonetheless, Augusta persevered through scrutiny and a “squeeze process,” but those who examined him recognized the likelihood that Augusta had knowledge beyond those he spoke to. He was later made a major in the Union Army and was the most senior African American of the Civil War era, although he continued to face “an extraordinary amount. discrimination as a soldier ”.

White said Augusta’s story will be detailed in the next spring issue of the Lincoln Forum Bulletin. White is vice president of the Lincoln Forum, which Frank Williams helped establish over 25 years ago. The author of a dozen books on Lincoln and the Civil War is also a member of the boards of directors of several associations based on Lincoln and the Civil War.

Lincolniana’s Frank and Virginia Williams Collection is located in the Mitchell Memorial Library and represents a lifetime of work collecting documents, books, artifacts, ephemera, stamp collecting, numismatics, paintings and statuary related to the life of the 16th US President and the Civil War in general. The lecture series brings leading academics to campus to share their knowledge and expertise.

In addition to housing the Williams Collection, MSU is home to the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library, making the university a premier destination for research on the Civil War, reconstruction, and the country’s 16th and 18th Presidents.

For more information, visit www.library.msstate.edu.

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