A warm welcome in Lincoln’s White House

“On April 29, 1864, a delegation of six black men from North Carolina—some born free, others enslaved—came to the White House to petition Lincoln for the right to vote. As the men approached the Executive Mansion, they were directed to enter through the front door—an unexpected experience for black men from the South, who would never have been welcomed this way in their home state. One of the visitors, Rev. Isaac K. Felton, later remarked that it would have been considered an ‘insult’ for a person of color to seek to enter the front door ‘of the lowest magistrate of Craven County, and ask for the smallest right.’ Should such a thing occur, Felton said, the black ‘offender’ would have been told to go ‘around to the back door, that was the place for niggers.’”

“In words that alluded to the Sermon on the Mount, Felton likened Lincoln to Christ:

“We knock! and the door is opened unto to us. We seek, the President! and find him to the joy and comfort of our hearts. We ask, and receive his sympathies and promises to do for us all he could. He didn’t tell us to go round to the back door, but, like a true gentleman and noble-hearted chief, with as much courtesy and respect as though we had been the Japanese Embassy he invited us into the White House.”

“Lincoln spoke with the North Carolinians for some time. He shook their hands when they entered his office and again when the meeting ended. Upon returning home, the delegation reported back to their neighbors about how ‘[t]he president received us cordially and spoke with us freely and kindly.’ ”

— From “Black Lives Certainly Mattered to Abraham Lincoln” by Jonathan W. White in Smithsonian magazine (Feb. 10, 2021)

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