As the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth nears, many are familiar with the holiday’s significance celebrating the thousands of slaves finally being freed in Galveston, Texas and across the Deep South on June 19, 1865.
In an event that preceded Juneteenth, also 150 years ago in the same month, famed orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass eulogized slain President Abraham Lincoln while calling him the “Black Man’s President” – a nod to the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 which officially ended slavery.
Lincoln was assassinated that April, shocking the nation just as the Civil War was coming to an overall end. Celebrations occurred across the nation, but a New York City processional event was marred by racism. Despite the adoration Blacks had for Lincoln, the Common Council (now known as the City Council) kept them from attending the event, although a few did under the protection of legal authorities.
Many leaders and affluent Blacks in the city balked at the decision, thus prompting Douglass and others to stage a separate event that was held on June 1, 1865.
In Douglass’ speech, which is now one of many of his many preserved documents, he aimed some words towards Lincoln and his poor treatment of Blacks. In fact, Douglass was a known critic of the president, which was noted by St. Joseph’s College associate professor and chair of Journalism, Theodore Hamm, in the New York Daily News.
However, Douglass softened his position during the speech to seemingly come full circle on his view of Lincoln. Many of the Black leaders and fraternal group members in attendance at the eulogy were said to be fond of the fallen president. Douglass used the moment to show that freed Blacks in the North were in solidarity with the Union and deplored the practices and ruling methods of the Confederacy.