31 Jul 2019

Samuel R. Cassius: Abraham Lincoln the “Negroes Moses”

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Black History, Culture, Frederick Douglass, Politics, Race Relations, Restoration History, S. R. Cassius, Slavery
Samuel Robert Cassius

Back in the late 1990s I was working on a thesis in graduate school. This required spending hours and hours in a room that I came to call “The Cave of Microfilm.” My thesis was on R. L. Whiteside. I had to wade through years of microfilm of the Gospel Advocate, Firm Foundation and journals that have long been forgotten like the Christian Monitor.

One forgotten journal was the Christian Leader. In the Christian Leader, I discovered a person who signed his articles by the name of S. R. Cassius. I was blown away by this man. Up to that point in life, I had never heard of him. Most of the history books do not mention him even once. I ended up making notations of his interesting articles and then spending the money to have copies of articles I found. Later I discovered that Edward Robinson was doing research for a PhD on Cassius. I shared everything I had with him (Robinson was kind enough to mention me in the acknowledgments of his published bio by the University of Alabama Press).

In the Lost Cause mythology, Lincoln is presented as a hater of black folks and was worse than any slaver in the South. This agenda is designed to exonerate Jefferson Davis and especially Robert E. Lee. Lincoln was, of course, a child of his times in many ways but it is probably no exaggeration to claim that no person in government wrestled with the “race issue” as much as Lincoln did … ever. Perhaps one of the finest studies on Lincoln in these matters is a look at his relationship with another of Cassius’s heroes, Frederick Douglass. See James Oakes, The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics.

I mention Lincoln because he was revered by Samuel Robert Cassius and because of some misinformed comments in a recent discussion on my wall. Cassius was born a slave in 1853. His father was white. His mother “unfortunately” was pretty. His “father” exercised what was called “the white man’s privilege,” that is of using female slaves as sex toys. His father raped her on numerous occasions. His father was his slave “master.”

In 1903, in an article called “The Race Problem,” Cassisus laments the inconsistency of white Christians regarding people of color. If he keeps to himself then he is “sulking.” If he stands up for himself like a “man” then he is “getting too smart.” If he minds his own business then “he is studying devilment.” There was no way to win. The specific occasion of Cassius’s piece is that Theodore Roosevelt held a reception at the White House in which a Mr. Darcy, his wife and daughter (all black) were invited … and the uproar that came with it.

To defend “Mr. Roosevelt” and his course of action, Cassius goes down memory lane to the habit of Abraham Lincoln …

“Mr. Lincoln opened his receptions to the ex-slaves, and I can well remember my mother taking me by the hand [about 11-12 yrs old] and going to the White House to see the negroes Moses. I shook hands with Mr. Lincoln, and remember the scene as though it was yesterday. I saw old, grey-headed men and women not only shake hands with President Lincoln, and weep with tears as they kissed his hand … [he] made no distinction in color, and the only comment ever made on it was one of commendation.” (S. R. Cassius, “The Race Problem,” Christian Leader 17 [10 March 1903], 9).

A number of startling facts come out of this small vignette. First and foremost is that Abraham Lincoln not only welcomed blacks to and interacted with blacks at the White House but that he would discourse and shake hands with (if you do not think this was radical then you simply do not comprehend the history of white/black relations in America). But he welcomed slaves, of freshly freed, or escaped whatever you want to call them, into the White House. It reveals something of how Lincoln was viewed by four million people who regarded him almost as a Messiah.

Cassius ended up naming his son in honor of Lincoln, Amos Lincoln Cassius who would become a well known preachers in the 1920s and 30s among black churches in Southern California.

Cassius minces no words about the South, the church and racism. To this day, I remember being completely taken aback by his forthrightness … and that it was published in the CL … which was based in Cincinnati which may be one reason it COULD be published in a ‘brotherhood’ paper of the day.

Maybe one day we can talk about his comments on the brutal murder of Sam Hose after being questioned about it. The brother had said “the good people of Georgia” had taken care of him. The brutality of the Hose affair was instrumental in turning W. E. B. DuBois from an academic to a social activist.

It is a wonder what primary sources will do for you when we take the time to absorb them. We might learn that Lincoln was viewed by African Americans in the same light as Moses …

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