On the day after the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Abraham Lincoln appeared at a second floor window of the White House. He was acceding to the wishes of citizens who had gathered to serenade their president in this moment of victory. They called for a speech but Lincoln demurred. Instead he asked the band to play Dixie.I'm going to let you go read the rest of it for yourself. But the stories about Lincoln and Wise reminded me that the offer still stands.
The song — a homesick Southerner’s lament — had been the defacto anthem of the Confederacy during 48 bloody months of civil war, but Lincoln declared now that the South held no monopoly on it. “I have always thought Dixie one of the best tunes I have ever heard,” he said. It was probably his way of encouraging a nation that had ripped itself apart along sectional lines to begin knitting itself together again.
Lincoln received an answer of sorts two days later as beaten rebels surrendered their weapons to the Union Army. Union General Joshua Chamberlain remarked to Southern counterpart Henry Wise that perhaps now “brave men may become good friends.”
Wise’s reply was bitter as smoke. “You’re mistaken, sir,” he said. “You may forgive us, but we won’t be forgiven. There is a rancor in our hearts which you little dream of. We hate you, sir.”
Two days after that, April 14, Lincoln received a more direct response. John Wilkes Booth, famed actor and Southern sympathizer, shot him in the head.
Thus ended arguably the most consequential week in American history. This week, the events of that week move fully 150 years into the past. They are further away than they have ever been. And yet, they feel quite close.
Sunday, April 5, 2015
The Offer Still Stands
Leonard Pitts is the most recent person to join with Rev. William Barber, Doug Muder and Eric Foner in suggesting that the 150th anniversary of Reconstruction offers a moment to reflect on how history helps explain our present moment.
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