The following quote, from an 1858 debate when Abraham Lincoln was running for Senate in Illinois, is not pretty. I'm no kind of Lincoln scholar, so I don't know if he held white supremacist views his whole life. People do change. And I knew that Lincoln's primary reason for abolishing slavery was not a moral one, but the preservation of the United States. All that said, I still was semi-shocked to reads this Lincoln quote in Randall Kennedy's book "The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency":
"I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races (applause) ... I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."
Kennedy goes on to write, in his own words:
"Yet (Lincoln) did take steps to end slavery, and allowed his perception of African Americans to evolve, and even warmed to the idea that some blacks should be accorded civil and political rights. Frederick Douglas once described Lincoln as "emphatically the Black man's President."
Yes, 1858 was 150 years ago. That's a long time. But when you read something like that, from one of the most admired men in American history, it somehow feels much closer.
Jesse Washington is a Senior Writer for ESPN's TheUndefeated.com