Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg proposed in his Feb. 2 column that we supplement well-worn Black History Month stories with more tales, “for those who already know the difference between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBoise.”
The story Steinberg offered was Frederick Douglass’s account from his memoir, of being repeatedly turned away at the White House immediately after President Lincoln’s second inaugural. “Now that freedom had become the law of the republic . . . it was not too great an assumption for a colored man to offer his congratulations to the President.”
Alas, Douglass was turned away by policemen, and spent some time persistently talking his way in, until finally:
I walked into the spacious East Room, amid a scene of elegance such as in this country I had never witnessed before.
Like a mountain pine high above all others, Mr. Lincoln stood, in his grand simplicity, and home-like beauty.
Recognizing me, even before I reached him, he exclaimed, so that all around could hear, “Here comes my friend Douglass.” Taking me by the hand, he said, “I am glad to see you. I saw you in the crowd today, listening to my inaugural address; how did you like it?”
I said, “Mr. Lincoln, I must not detain you with my poor opinion when there are thousands waiting.”
“No, no,” he said, “you must stop a little, Douglass; there is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours. I want to know what you think of it?”
I replied, “Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort.”
“I am glad you liked it!” he said, and I passed on.