Civil War Talk Radio: January 23, 2009

by Brett Schulte on January 23, 2009 · 0 comments

Air Date: 012309
Subject: Lincoln’s Views on Race
Book:  The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War) & The Price of Freedom: Slavery and the Civil War – Volume II
Guest: Professor Edna Greene Medford

Summary: Professor Edna Greene Medford of Howard University discusses Lincoln and his views on race with host Gerry Prokopowicz.

Brett’s Summary: Guest Professor Edna Greene Medford starts the hour by discussing her birthplace along the James River between Richmond and Williamsburg.  She says her interest in history is mainly a function of where she grew up, surrounded by plantations.  She indicated she has not been able to find any enslaved ancestors back to at least 1779, and covered her interest in her family’s personal history.  She did study history as an undergraduate, but had expected to teach for a living, though she didn’t initially like it.  In the process of going to graduate school, she realized she not only wanted to teach but also grew to enjoy it.

Professor Medford was near the inaugural event earlier this week, but was not close enough to see the ceremony in person.  The Professor does not believe we as a nation have reached any real semblance of a “post-racial” society even with the election of an African-American to the office of President.

She points out that in the past, some have been afraid to take an honest look at Lincoln and his racial views for fear of tarnishing his image.  She believes we should take into account the time he lived in to place his words in context, but that at the same time scholars should not avoid taking a hard look those words.

As the second portion of the program opens, Gerry asks the Professor about the Redlands Lincoln Memorial Shrine.  Gerry reminds listeners that Lincoln’s Bicentennial Birthday celebration is coming up in February 2009.

Professor Medford also goes into a bit of a history of Howard University and its place as a Historically Black University.  Interestingly, its first four graduates were White females.

The discussion moved on to talk of the Emancipation Proclamation, including Professor Medford’s recent book on the subject.  She believes sometimes Lincoln is separated from his connections to slaves and his role in their freedom.  His image as “The Great Emancipator” seems, she says, in the past, to have been swept under the rug.  She goes on to affirm Lincoln’s role in regards to slavery and freedom, and the efforts to emphasize this role for the celebration of the Bicentennial of Lincoln’s birthday.  Professor Medford goes on to point out that although White historians were not writing much about the Emancipation Proclamation in the first half of the 20th Century, many Black historians WERE writing on the subject, but were ignored simply because they were Black.

“What else can be said about the Emancipation Proclamation?” Gerry asked to start the final 20 minutes.  Professor Medford believes you can as long as you approach the topic from a new perspective.  She focused on the topic from the view of an enslaved person in her portion of The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views.  Slaves believed this was a step towards eventual equality, including such things as the ability to get an education and to vote.  She looks at the hero worship of Lincoln among Blacks in the late 19th Century to the present day apathy towards the man.  She believes Blacks became disillusioned over the course of a century as some expected rights did not quickly become reality.  Professor Medford does not believe Lincoln would have been very radical in his approach to Black rights, handling the topic just as cautiously as he handled other topics.

She believes the system of slavery started to erode after those who were enslaved found out what the Proclamation said.  Slaves began to leave the plantation, talk back to their owners, and generally started to break down the slave system to a point where it had no chance to return regardless of the end result of the war.  Professor Medford also believes that some slaves were immediately freed as a result of the Proclamation, a statement Gerry agrees with wholeheartedly.

To end the hour, Gerry asked the Professor what books she would recommend on Lincoln.  She mentioned Harold Holzer’s book on the Cooper Union Address and almost anything by David H. Donald, among others.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC.

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