If you missed part 1 of this special 3-part series by Aberjhani please click here. Part 2 begins now:
Scholars of the Civil War will point out that technically the Emancipation Proclamation neither freed Black Americans nor ended slavery in the U.S. as a nation. The proclamation per se addresses specific regions (like this author’s home state of Georgia), and different movements and legislation had already gotten underway to ensure slavery’s eventual downfall.
Some will rightfully note that people of African descent themselves had a long-standing tradition of resisting slavery through a number of means, including escape, hiring themselves out to purchase their freedom, buying other slaves to remove them from oppressive situations or to retain family connections, and murdering masters by whatever means they could get away with. Commentators might also contend that the Thirteenth Amendment two years later accomplished in constitutional fact what the Emancipation Proclamation merely proposed in democratic spirit.
A Crystallization of Moral Conscience
Was the signing and issuing of the document therefore nothing more than a symbolic gesture? With an entire country unraveling at the seams and its citizens dying daily on blood-splattered battlefields, symbolic gesture for its own sake would not have gained President Lincoln or those he served very much.
The proclamation redefined the central goals of the Civil War itself––placing the issue of slavery on equal footing with that of preserving the Union of “These United States.” It gave physical substance to a crystallization of moral conscience which had determined there was no place for slavery in a civilized country of the modern world.
Abraham Lincoln as Hollywood Superstar
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, based on the masterful screenplay by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner and “in part” on the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, has drawn much critical praise for its historical precision and eloquence. It has also been lauded for exceptional performances by Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Fields, and Tommy Lee Jones. Speaking with journalist and television commentator Bill Moyers, Kushner offered this perception of Lincoln’s motives during the Civil War:
“…Lincoln felt that slavery was antithetical to the democratic experiment. And what he says in the Gettysburg Address, ‘This is a proposition, we're testing a proposition,’ he meant it literally. Democracy was a radical idea in the middle of the 19th century still… And the world didn't know yet whether or not democracy was simply another name for chaos.”
Another film released in 2012, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, took a different, but in its own way equally compelling, approach to the Lincoln legend and legacy. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, the screenplay is by Seth Grahame-Smith, based on his novel of the same title. The movie stars Benjamin Walker as Lincoln with the Hurt Locker’s Anthony Mackie as his lifelong friend Will Johnson, and Dominic Cooper as the mysterious Henry Sturges, who teaches him how to deal with the vampires in his life.
As the title indicates, this is a horror and fantasy movie that takes great liberties with American history as we know it. However, although it has not received the kind of public applause that Spielberg’s Lincoln has, the movie accomplishes what the best of horror films do. It employs a terrifying image as a metaphor to communicate a terrifying social truth as a statement of political or spiritual urgency.
In this case, the image is that of vampires secretly working their way into the fabric of American society to take over the government and turn human beings into helpless livestock. It doesn't take the critical prowess of a Leonard Maltin to understand the vampirism symbolizes slavery and those who would deprive others of their “life’s blood,” as it were, during their individual pursuits of happiness.
In some ways, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, is a more powerful film than Lincoln because rather than dignify the practice of slavery with prolonged dramatized ideological debate (though such debate is presented) it embodies it as pure evil capable of mimicking human qualities but which remains pure evil nonetheless. In short, it presents it as a mortal threat to humanity’s collective soul rather than as a political threat to one country’s existence.
co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
and ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love
Notebook on American and African-American History
- Notes on the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation Part 1
- Why Race Mattered in the Re-Election of Barack Obama
- Posted Perspectives on America’s 2012 Presidential Election Part 1
- Notebook on Black History Month Part 1: Carter G. Woodson and Company
- Notebook on Black History Month Part 2: Remembering Arthur Ashe
- Notebook on Black History Month 2012 Part 3 Langston Hughes Celebrated
- Notebook on Black History Month 2012 Part 4 The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
- Notebook on Black History Month 2012 Part 5 Black Power Mixtape continued