by Jon Wiener
Daniel Day Lewis deserves the Oscar for best actor for his wonderful portrayal of Lincoln in the new Steven Spielberg movie. But while the acting is great, there’s a problem with the film: It is dedicated to the proposition that Lincoln freed the slaves. Historians say that’s not quite right. The end of slavery did not come because Lincoln and the House of Representatives voted for the Thirteenth Amendment.
The best work I know about the end of slavery is Eric Foner’s unforgettable book The Fiery Trial: Lincoln and American Slavery, published in 2010, which won the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize and the Lincoln Prize. Foner and many other historians over the last couple of decades have emphasized the central role played by the slaves themselves, who are virtually invisible in this movie.
During the three weeks that the movie deals with, Sherman’s army was marching through South Carolina, where slaves were seizing plantations. They were dividing up land among themselves. They were seizing their freedom. Slavery was dying on the ground, not just in the House of Representatives. You get no sense of that in the movie.
In the film, Lincoln is dedicated to the great task of getting the House to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment. But the film fails to note that Lincoln did not support the Thirteenth Amendment when it was proposed in 1864 — by the Women’s National Loyal League, led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Lincoln’s view at that point, as Foner shows, was that slavery should be abolished on a state-by-state basis, since slavery had been created by state law. He changed his mind in response to political pressure from Radical Republicans.
According to the film, Lincoln in 1865 was in “a race against time” (this synopsis comes from the semi-official Internet Movie Data Base), because “peace may come at any time, and if it comes before the amendment is passed, the returning southern states will stop the amendment abolishing slavery before it can become law.” That is simply not true. The movie focuses on the lame duck Congress that met in January 1865.
If it had failed to ratify the amendment, Lincoln had announced that he would call a special session of the new Congress in March, where the Republicans would have a two-thirds majority. It would have passed the amendment easily — slightly more than one month later than the lame-duck Congress featured in the film.
The film makes another false argument, that once the Southern states were back in the union, they would have the power to block the amendment’s ratification, which required the vote of three-quarters of the states.
Lincoln and the rest of the Republicans were not going to allow the Confederate state governments to remain in power after surrender — that was what “Reconstruction” was all about. Louisiana, Tennessee and Virginia had already formed new governments that abolished slavery. There was no “race against time” — and thus the central drama of the film is bogus.
Another question raised by the film but not really answered is why the Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln issued on January 1, 1863, did not free all slaves.
Lincoln knew that, under the Constitution, the president had no power to repeal laws passed by states — including the laws making slavery legal in the South. But he did have the power as commander-in-chief to take action in wartime that he deemed a “military necessity” to save the government — in this case, undermining the Confederacy by declaring its slaves free and recruiting them as Union soldiers.
Thus the Emancipation Proclamation was a military measure that applied only to slaves in areas under Confederate control. A half-million slaves in the four border states and West Virginia remained enslaved. Lincoln believed that once the “military necessity” had passed, legislation would be required to end slavery permanently.
Abolitionist critics argued that the Emancipation Proclamation in fact freed no slaves at all. But as Foner explains in The Fiery Trial, the proclamation “was as much a political as a military document.” Before the war Lincoln and many others had argued that slavery should be ended by the states, gradually, and by compensating slaveholders. Now his proclamation “addressed slaves directly, not as the property of the country’s enemies but as persons with wills of their own whose actions might help win the Civil War.”
Foner emphasizes the point made by the Abolitionist Wendell Phillips, that the proclamation “did not make emancipation a punishment for individual rebels, but treated slavery as ‘a system’ that must be abolished.”
“Never before had so large a number of slaves been declared free,” Foner concludes. “By making the army an agent of emancipation and wedding the goals of Union and abolition, it ensured that Northern victory would produce a social transformation in the South and a redefinition of the place of blacks in American life.” All that is missing from Spielberg’s film.
It is altogether fitting and proper that this film honor Lincoln. But historians have shown how slavery died as the result of the actions of former slaves. As Eric Foner concludes, “That would be a dramatic story for Hollywood.”
Jon Wiener is a contributing editor for The Nation magazine and teaches US history at UC Irvine. His most recent book is How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America.
Lenny Kravitz performs on stage during Rock in Rio Madrid 2012 on June 30, 2012 in Arganda del Rey, Spain. (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)
Rock star Lenny Kravitz has been rapidly building up his filmography with high-profile supporting turns in 2009′s Precious and this year’s The Hunger Games. Yet his next major role may propel him to the next level as an actor.
The singer has been cast as the legendary Marvin Gaye in an upcoming biopic according to London’s Evening Standard.
The film, which is slated to be directed by acclaimed British filmmaker Julian Temple, is supposed to focus on Gaye’s late career when he lived in the United Kingdom and was battling financial difficulty and alcoholism.
Marvin Gaye biopics have been rumored for years, with actors as diverse as Jesse L. Martin and rapper Common expressing interest in the lead role. However, none of these projects appear to have advanced past the stages of early development.
No title or start date for the Temple-Kravitz film has been announced yet.
El Paso, Texas (AP) — Friends and family remembered actor Sherman Hemsleyat his funeral Wednesday in Texas by showing video clips of him as George Jefferson, the TV role that was his best known.
About 150 people attended the service at Cielo Vista Church in El Paso. Hemsley, 74, died of lung cancer on July 24, but a fight over his estate delayed his burial.
Mourners couldn’t help but laugh as they watched the clips of Hemsley playing the feisty, bigoted owner of a chain of dry-cleaning businesses on “The Jeffersons.”
“He helped us to laugh, gave us an opportunity to forget the troubles, the stresses of life,” El Paso Police Department chaplain Sam Faraone said during Hemsley’s eulogy.
Hemsley, an Air Force veteran, was buried at the Fort Bliss National Cemetery.
“The best way I can describe it is by how we released a dove” at the burial, longtime friend Flora Enchinton Bernal said after the Fort Bliss ceremony. “Just set him free, let him be. Let him explore the universe, be one with the universe.”
She was named as Hemsley’s heir in his will, but the late actor’s half-brother from Philadelphia, Richard Thornton, challenged it. An El Paso judge ruled the will valid earlier this month.
Sherman Alexander Hemsley was the son of a printing press-working father and a factory-working mother. He served four years in the Air Force and worked for eight years as a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service.
Having studied acting as an adolescent at the Philadelphia Academy of Dramatic Arts, he began acting in New York workshops and theater companies, including the Negro Ensemble Company. For years, he kept his job at the post office while acting at night, before transitioning to acting full time.
He made his Broadway debut in 1970′s “Purlie,” a musical adaptation of Ossie Davis’ Jim Crow-era play “Purlie Victorious.” (Hemsley would later star in a 1981 made-for-TV version of “Purlie” as well.) It was while touring the show that Hemsley was approached by television show producer Norman Lear about playing a character on the sitcom that would become “All in the Family.”
Hemsley joined that show in 1973, immediately catapulting himself from an obscure theater actor to a hit character on the enormously popular show. Two years later, his George Jefferson character from “All in the Family” became the lead on the spin-off “The Jeffersons.”
The Jefferson character was devised, Hemsley said, as “pompous and feisty.”
“All of it was really hard … because – rude, I don’t like to be that way,” Hemsley said in a 2003 interview for the Archive of American Television. “But it was the character, I had to do it. I had to be true to the character. If I was to pull back something, then it just wouldn’t work.”
Robert Almonte, the U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas who also was a friend of Hemsley, said during the funeral that the actor was “a down-to-earth man” and “didn’t like to be seen as George Jefferson.” He said Hemsley was completely different from that character.
“That’s how great an actor he was,” Almonte said.
After “The Jeffersons” was canceled, Hemsley starred as fiery Philadelphia church deacon Ernest Frye in the sitcom “Amen” from 1986 to 1991.
He frequently turned up as a guest on sitcoms including “Family Matters” and “The Hughleys.” He even landed a voice role in “Family Guy.”
Hemsley twice reprised the George Jefferson role – on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and last year on “House of Payne.”
In the later years of his life, he moved to El Paso in West Texas and made it his home. Almonte said he once asked Hemsley about his family in Philadelphia and the actor said: “I’m from Philly, but El Paso is my home now and Flora is my family.”
Enchinton Bernal said after four months of fighting to have her beloved friend Hemsley buried, she is looking forward to having a peaceful Thanksgiving. She said she will “set a plate on Sherman’s position, where he used to sit.”
“The Green Mile” star and Academy Award-nominated Michael Clarke Duncan (pictured) is in the intensive care unit (ICU), after going in to cardiac arrest Friday morning, and his girlfriend, reality show villainess Omarosa Stallworth (pictured below), actually saved his life, according to TMZ.
Stallworth reportedly discovered that Duncan was unconscious and barely breathing at around 2:00 a.m. Acting quickly, Stallworth reportedly began to perform emergency CPR, which resuscitated him.
Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when blood flow to a portion of the heart is blocked. The situation is a medical emergency and if not treated immediately, a person can die. CPR or rapid compressions to the chest can improve survival until emergency medical technician workers (EMT) arrive to take over.
The 54-year-old Duncan, who is 6’5″and more than 315 pounds, was transported to the ICU of a nearby hospital, and according to sources who spoke to TMZ, his heart is stable. In addition, Omarosa, his girlfriend of two years, has not left his side throughout the entire episode.
Doctors are now working to find out why Duncan’s heart failed in the first place.
In 2009, Duncan stopped eating meat, became a staunch vegetarian, and began touting the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle.
The larger-than-life actor is best known for his “Green Mile” role as the gentle giant “John Coffery.” He also tickled America’s funnybone as “Franklin ‘Frankie Figs’ Figueroa” in the adventure crime comedy film ”The Whole Nine Yards,” which earned him a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Supporting Actor.
Recently, writer (Terrell Jermaine Starr) did an article (Newsone) on beloved actor Jimmy Walkers Obama views while being interviewed on the O’Reilly Factor. Of course, the mere fact that Jimmy Walker was even on O’Reilly’s show gives you a clue that Walker was likely going to bash Obama in some way or another. Walker did imply that Obama was a nice guy, but blacks are mainly voting for Obama because he’s black and will not be voting Obama and he didn’t in the past. So in response to that, heres at least 3 reasons blacks are proud of Obama administrations dealings with us.
1) Obama Signed The Crack Cocaine Bill (Fair Sentencing Act)
Crack users are disproportionately sentenced to longer jail terms than those who use powder. This unfair-sentencing practice has historically punished African Americans more severely than their White counterparts who tend to use cocaine. With the signing of the Fair Sentencing Act, though, President Obama narrowed that disparity significantly.
2) Obama Expanded Funding For HBCUs
In February of this year, President Obama signed an executive order increasing funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to $850 million over the next 10 years. The funding is being administered through the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities that was, ironically, started by the late Ronald Reagan.
3) Obama Awarded $1.2 Billion To Black Farmers
President Obama’s administration oversaw the $1.2 billion settlement awarded to Black farmers who have been denied loans and assistance by the Agricultural Department for decades.