Jonathan W. WhiteJan 8, 2023
To Address You as My Friend
African Americans' Letters to Abraham Lincoln
University of North Carolina Books 2021
Many African Americans of the Civil War era felt a personal connection to Abraham Lincoln. For the first time in their lives, an occupant of the White House seemed concerned about the welfare of their race. Indeed, despite the tremendous injustice and discrimination that they faced, African Americans now had confidence to write to the president and to seek redress of their grievances. Their letters express the dilemmas, doubts, and dreams of both recently enslaved and free people in the throes of dramatic change. For many, writing Lincoln was a last resort. Yet their letters were often full of determination, making explicit claims to the rights of U.S. citizenship in a wide range of circumstances.
Jonathan W. White's To Address You as My Friend: African Americans' Letters to Abraham Lincoln (UNC Press, 2021) presents more than 120 letters from African Americans to Lincoln, most of which have never before been published. They offer unflinching, intimate, and often heart-wrenching portraits of Black soldiers' and civilians' experiences in wartime. As readers continue to think critically about Lincoln's image as the "Great Emancipator," this book centers African Americans' own voices to explore how they felt about the president and how they understood the possibilities and limits of the power vested in the federal government.
Omari Averette-Phillips is a graduate student in the department of history at UC Davis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org