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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas: The Story Behind An American Friendship by Russell Freedman


Another winning book by Russell Freedman

To be published in June of 2012 by Clarion Books (DWD's Reviews received an advance copy for review purposes)

Russell Freedman received the Newbery Medal for his 1989 book Lincoln: A Photobiography and he returns to familiar ground with this dual biography. He begins with Douglass and then alternates back and forth between the two men, highlighting important aspects of their lives and the areas that they had in common (such as being self-educated, self-made men).

The almost square shape of the book lends itself to pictures and Freedmen fills the book with drawings, etchings and photographs of the era, including the image I have included here of a "Watch Meeting." Thousands of people gathered together to await word of Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation (he had promised to do so several months earlier unless the Confederate States returned to the Union). I had no idea that such events occurred, but Freedman includes the image I have posted on the left and makes the day and the event come alive as a point of intersection of these two lives.

The first time these men met was after the Proclamation was signed. Douglass was concerned about the African-Americans who were now permitted to join the regular army by the Emancipation Proclamation. He wanted to insure that they would really be able to join the fight, that they would receive the same pay as white soldiers and that they would be able to become officers. He and Lincoln talked for a long time and even though Douglass had sometimes been a bitter critic of Lincoln (he thought he moved too slowly on emancipation), he came away impressed. He and Lincoln seem to have gotten along quite well and Douglass left impressed. For his part, Lincoln told Douglass to come see him whenever he came to Washington, D.C.

Calling Lincoln and Douglass friends is, of course, an exaggeration. They got along well, they respected one another and, if there had been enough time, probably would have become friends. Sadly, the assassination of Lincoln makes that all just speculation.  But, they certainly had an excellent friendly relationship and it always interesting to see how two towering figures of American history interacted with one another.

This is an excellent dual biography for students in middle school and upper elementary and certainly belongs in every school library and social studies classroom library that has students of that age.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on April 21, 1862.

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