Six Months at the White House/LIX
"On New Year's day, 1865," wrote a correspondent of the New York "Independent," "a memorable incident occurred, of which the like was never before seen at the White House. I had noticed, at sundry times during the summer, the wild fervor and strange enthusiasm which our colored friends always manifest over the name of Abraham Lincoln. His name with them seems to be associated with that of his namesake the Father of the Faithful. In the great crowds which gather from time to time in front of the White House, in honor of the President, none shout so loudly or so wildly, and swing their hats with such utter abandon, while their eyes are beaming with the intensest joy, as do these simple-minded and grateful people. I have often laughed heartily at these exhibitions. But the scene yesterday excited far other emotions. As I entered the door of the President's House, I noticed groups of colored people gathered here and there, who seemed to be watching earnestly the inpouring throng. For nearly two hours they hung around, until the crowd of white visitors began sensibly to diminish. Then they summoned up courage, and began timidly to approach the door. Some of them were richly and gayly dressed; some were in tattered garments, and others in the most fanciful and grotesque costume. All pressed eagerly forward. When they came into the presence of the President, doubting as to their reception, the feelings of the poor creatures overcame them, and here the scene baffles my powers of description.
"For two long hours Mr. Lincoln had been shaking the hands of the 'sovereigns,' and had become excessively weary, and his grasp languid; but here his nerves rallied at the unwonted sight, and he welcomed this motley crowd with a heartiness that made them wild with exceeding joy. They laughed and wept, and wept and laughed, exclaiming, through their blinding tears: 'God bless you!' 'God bless Abraham Lincoln!' 'God bress Massa Linkum!' Those who witnessed this scene will not soon forget it. For a long distance down the Avenue, on my way home, I heard fast young men cursing the President for this act; but all the way the refrain rang in my ears,--God bless Abraham Lincoln!'"
Miss Betsey Canedy, of Fall River, Massachusetts, while engaged in teaching a school among the colored people of Norfolk, Virginia, had in her school-room a plaster bust of the President. One day she called some colored carpenters who were at work on the building, and showed it to them, writing down their remarks, some of which were as follows:--
"He's brought us safe through the Red Sea." "He looks as deep as the sea himself." "He's king of the United States." "He ought to be king of all the world." "We must all pray to the Lord to carry him safe through, for it 'pears like he's got everything hitched to him." "There has been a right smart praying for him, and it mustn't stop now."
A southern correspondent of the New York "Tribune," in Charleston, South Carolina, the week following the assassination, wrote:--
"I never saw such sad faces, or heard such heavy hearts beatings, as here in Charleston the day the dreadful news came! The colored people--the native loyalists--were like children bereaved of an only and loved parent. I saw one old woman going up the street wringing her hands and saying aloud, as she walked looking straight before her, so absorbed in her grief that she noticed no one,--
"'O Lord! O Lord! O Lord! Massa Sam's dead! Massa Sam's dead! O Lord ! Massa Sam's dead!'
"'Who's dead, Aunty?' I asked her.
"'Massa Sam!' she said, not looking at me,--renewing her lamentations: 'O Lord! O Lord! Lord! Massa Sam's dead!'
"'Who's Massa Sam?' I asked.
"'Uncle Sam!' she said. 'O Lord! Lord!'
"I was not quite sure that she meant the President, and I spoke again:--
"'Who's Massa Sam, Aunty?'
"'Mr. Lincum!' she said, and resumed wringing her hands and moaning in utter hopelessness of sorrow. The poor creature was too ignorant to comprehend any difference between the very unreal Uncle Sam and the actual President; but her heart told her that he whom Heaven had sent in answer to her prayers was lying in a bloody grave, and she and her race were left--fatherless."
In 1863, Colonel McKaye, of New York, with Robert Dale Owen and one or two other gentlemen, were associated as a committee to investigate the condition of the freedmen on the coast of North Carolina. Upon their return from Hilton Head they reported to the President; and in the course of the interview Colonel McKaye related the following incident.
He had been speaking of the ideas of power entertained by these people. He said they had an idea of God, as the Almighty, and they had realized in their former condition the power of their masters. Up to the time of the arrival among them of the Union forces, they had no knowledge of any other power. Their masters fled upon the approach of our soldiers, and this gave the slaves a conception of a power greater than that exercised by them. This power they called "Massa Linkum."
Colonel McKaye said that their place of worship was a large building which they called "the praise house;" and the leader of the meeting, a venerable black man, was known as "the praise man." On a certain day, when there was quite a large gathering of the people, considerable confusion was created by different persons attempting to tell who and what "Massa Linkum" was. In the midst of the excitement the white-headed leader commanded silence. "Brederin," said he, "you don't know nosen' what you'se talkin' 'bout. Now, you just listen to me. Massa Linkum, he eberywhar. He know eberyting." Then, solemnly looking up, he added,--"He walk de earf like de Lord!"
Colonel McKaye told me that Mr. Lincoln seemed much affected by this account. He did not smile, as another man might have done, but got up from his chair, and walked in silence two or three times across the floor. As he resumed his seat, he said, very impressively: "It is a momentous thing to be the instrument, under Providence, of the liberation of a race."