Title: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship
Author: Russell Freedman
Pages: 119 pages
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2012.
Douglass and Lincoln had never met, but they had some things in common. They had both risen from poverty and obscurity to international prominence. Both were self-educated. Lincoln, born dirt poor, had less than a year of formal schooling. Douglass, born a slave, wasn’t permitted to go to school. He taught himself to read and write in secret, hiding the few books he was able to get his hands on. And in fact, the two men had read and studied some of the same books.
Even so, in the year 1863 it required plenty of ‘nerve,’ as Douglass put it, for a black man to walk unannounced into the White House and request an audience with the president. [...]
He was determined to wait. (3)
Describing the relationship that Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass had as a friendship might be hard for us to believe, considering they only met each other three times. But since some friendships these days are formed solely through digital communication means like the phone and the Internet, it might not be so hard for people to accept this description as I might think. In this book, Russell Freedman returns to his roots. Having already written a Newbery Medal winning photobiography about Lincoln, I can only imagine the resources he has at his disposal to investigate the relationship between Lincoln and Douglass.
But really the book isn’t just about those three meetings. It covers Lincoln’s and Douglass’s lives before they met up to Lincoln’s assassination. The unique part about this book is it discusses the evolution of Lincoln’s thoughts about slavery. Most students only learn about the Emancipation Proclamation and that Lincoln was against slavery. Freedman’s book shows that Lincoln’s actions and beliefs were never that black and white (pardon the pun). Lincoln maintained during the early part of the war that his only goal was to restore the Union, and didn’t end up issuing the Emancipation Proclamation until over a year into the war. He appears to be a political strategist from the beginning, and he always hesitated before slowly enstating further liberties for African-Americans because of his fear of the public’s response. Douglass had so such fears, and actually fled the country twice to avoid the public backlash against him and his beliefs.
While I can see it being added to numerous African-American History Month reading lists, students will probably have to consult other sources in order to get a complete view of these two influential men and the circumstances that brought them together.