Monday, May 20, 2013

Jose de la Isla on "Lincoln" and Black Patriots and Loyalists

Jose de la Isla published a striking column on "Lincoln" and Black Patriots and Loyalists providing the real backdrop for the film for the Scipps-Howard newspaper chain here, including the Santa Maria Times, California here, the San Angelo Standard-Times here and the Times-Herald of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania here.. De las Isla writes for the Hispanic Link News Service. For more on "'Lincoln' and Founding Myths" see here and here, and for more on Black Patriots and Loyalists, see here.


Opinion »Columnist »
De la Isla: ‘Lincoln’ suggests we can handle the truth

By JOSE de la ISLA Posted: Sunday, 02/10/13 01:26 pm

For the image of Lincoln, see here.

This image released by Walt Disney Pictures shows Daniel Day-Lewis portraying Abraham Lincoln in the film

Hispanic Link News Service

MEXICO CITY — Steven Spielberg’s movie — based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” — suggests maybe we have matured in how we understand our national past. Maybe some other conceptual changes are in store for us.

The movie portrays Lincoln’s efforts in 1865 to get the House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment, which, upon ratification by three-fourths of the states, banned slavery in the young nation.

But the film raises the obvious question: Where were the blacks in all of this?

Yes, there was a moving first scene with black soldiers and, elsewhere in the film, an excellent performance by Gloria Reuben as Elizabeth Keckley, the former slave, dressmaker and Mary Todd Lincoln’s confidante.

It turns out the film’s storyline has a prequel: Alan Gilbert’s 2012 book, “Black Patriots and Loyalists.” Subtitled “Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence,” it challenges commonly held perspectives about what took place. It highlights a long-held misunderstanding, maybe distortion.

The book by Gilbert, a professor in the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, shows how the historical episode we know as the American Revolution actually involved two revolutions. The white colonies fought successfully for their independence, and blacks fought for emancipation unachieved until decades later.

Gilbert notes that in 1775, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore and the royal governor of Virginia, declared that slaves who left their masters to join the British royalist cause would be emancipated.

This unnerved Gen. George Washington and other patriots. By 1776, he’d lifted the ban against blacks in the Continental Army. And in 1778, short of troops for Valley Forge, he recruited the all-black and Narragansett Indian First Rhode Island Regiment.

Some claimed to be free or thought they would be by serving the cause. Others became free by compensating their owners, but no general emancipation took place.

This matters today, because the national experience was about the pursuit of a spotty human freedom. All humans, regardless of race or gender and origins, have an equal moral capacity for freedom, University of Denver economist Haider Ali Khan recently wrote in the journal Cosmopolis in reviewing his colleague’s book.

People throughout the world come to believe myths and legends more than a verifiable narrative. That’s how the Native American Indians got displaced from the national story. However, we are now coming to regret the loss of understanding.

The “forgotten” black revolution went beyond our acknowledged appreciation and reached Canada, Sierra Leone and the 1804 liberation of Haiti from France. It helped the struggle to abolish slavery in the British Empire by 1833.

The Spanish North American experience was already more advanced in this aspect of human rights than were the Anglo Americans. That episode needs to become joined to the story.

In historical terms, this North American experience has been about culture. It’s high time to get the story straight.

It’s also time to dispose of the prejudice and disdain from telling of the Spanish American and rich Native American heritage, except as how they were supplanted.

It means telling the cultural story of our peoples and not the war story about battles and bullies alone. As with the movie “Lincoln,” the story is not about the battles but about what humans sought from peace.

Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. Email

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