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Upsetting the Customs of Centuries

After Richmond fell to the Union army, President Lincoln traveled by launch to the Confederate capitol. Forty or fifty black laborers rushed to the wharf to welcome him. When word of his arrival spread, hundreds more newly freed slaves – men, women, and children – streamed toward him through the streets, singing, “Glory to God! glory! glory! glory!”

An elderly black man took off his hat, bowed, and, with tears running down his cheeks, said, “May de good Lord bless you, President Linkum!” According to Bruce Levine’s book THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF DIXIE:

“Lincoln replied by removing his own hat and silently returning the bow. That gesture, [one Boston reporter] noted, ‘upset the forms, laws, customs, and ceremonies of centuries.’ It represented, he thought, ‘a death-shock to chivalry, and a mortal wound to caste.’ (No wonder that a white woman, watching the vignette from a nearby house, turned away ‘in unspeakable disgust.’)”

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