Abraham Lincoln Was Assassinated in the Name of White Supremacy
As we’ve learned from recent battles over how American schools should teach about the history of racism, many white folks steadfastly reject the idea that white supremacy is deeply ingrained in that history and has shaped the nation as we know it.
To understand how something so obvious can be denied by so many, you need look no further than one of the best-known events from our past — and specifically, what most Americans were never taught about it.
Namely, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
It’s one of the most pivotal events in American history: the first time a president was assassinated. And not just any president, but one who had shepherded the nation through four years of bloody warfare, finally defeating an insurrectionist army and preserving the Union.
It was a president widely considered the greatest in the republic’s history by scholars — an assessment shared by a large percentage of the American public.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation only offered freedom to enslaved persons in states actively waging war on the U.S. — and even then was hardly enforceable until the North won and a Constitutional Amendment outlawing the practice was ratified — we all recall learning of him as the “Great Emancipator” in school.
Like many, I remember my 8th-grade field trip to DC, visiting Ford’s Theatre where Lincoln was shot, then climbing the stairs to the boarding house bedroom next door, where he had been taken after the shooting, and would ultimately die.
And I remember learning that he was killed by an actor named John Wilkes Booth, who leaped from Lincoln’s box to the ground, yelled a Latin phrase about the legitimacy of killing tyrants, and was ultimately found and shot in a Virginia farmhouse.
But what I didn’t know until many years later was why Booth had done what he did.
In school, all we were told — and it’s probably what most of you came away with too — is that Booth was a madman, motivated by a personal hatred of Lincoln, but for no discernible ideological reasons.