I recently picked up a book at a thrift store on the Upper West Side called “Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly” by Jennifer Fleischner for a cool $2.00. The book is a dual biography that goes between the lives of Mary Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckly. The former being the wife of our 16th President and the latter being a freed black woman who became close to the Lincolns as a caretaker and dressmaker. The book is good, I definitely recommend it to any history or Lincoln fans, but there was one part that caught my eye in relation to current events, specifically the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.
may or may not should know, the conversation on race relations in America has flared up again after 18-year-old Ferguson resident, Michael Brown, was shot by police. Missouri has a long and fraught record when it comes to the treatment of African-Americans that goes back hundreds of years. Take 1847, the year Elizabeth Keckly arrived in St. Louis, Missouri. By this year, the state assembly had passed laws “outlawing schools ‘for the instruction of negroes and mulattoes in reading or writing'”, preventing free (and presumably better educated) blacks from entering the state, and barring all forms of assembly. On top of all this, the slave trade was extremely present in St. Louis with slave traders being “noted for…barbarity” by a mixed-race slave named William Wells Brown, who would later become an antislavery activist and writer.