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This Week in History – Dixie, Lincoln in Richmond, a Slave Revolt, and Lee’s Surrender

April 4

Sheet music for "Dixie" circa 1900.
Sheet music for “Dixie” circa 1900.

1859
The Debut of “Dixie”

The song that was to become the de facto Confederate anthem debuted on this date as part of the Bryant’s Minstrel Show, a troupe made up of white performers in blackface. The actual origin of the song is uncertain, but more than a few historians believe the evidence points to it being composed by Daniel Decatur Emmett and two of his black neighbors in Ohio. This theory puts forward that it had been, in some way or another, a black American folk song. Emmett himself proposed this origin, though he had proposed several others as well. Following its debut, the song took off quickly, being picked up by other minstrel shows. Two years later, it was taken up by secessionists as an anthem, despite its northern origins.

The song was originally to be performed in blackface using an imposed “negro” dialect, though some performers dropped both as early as 1860. While the vast majority of white people did not find the use of blackface offensive, Frederick Douglass, especially, railed against the gross exaggerations portrayed. More here. Douglass on black minstrel shows here.

1865
Lincoln visits Richmond

Following the fall of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Abrham Lincoln himself entered the city. While white Richmonders generally shunned him, he was greated with rejoicing by the black citizenry. “My poor friends,” spoke Lincoln to them, “you are free—free as air. You can cast off the name of slave and trample upon it; it will come to you no more. Liberty is your birthright. God gave it to you as he gave it to others, and it is a sin that you have been deprived of it for so many years.” More here.

April 5

1839
Robert Smalls Born

Until the Civil War, Smalls had spent his entire life as a slave in South Carolina. Siezing an opportunity to escape, he stole a Confederate ship, loaded his family and friends upon it, and sailed it out of Charleston Harbor into Union lines. Now free, he spent months trying to convince the War Department to allow black men to serve in the army. He returned to serice as the first black United States Navy captain. Following the war, he bought his former master’s home, was elected to the South Carolina House, Senate, and eventually the US House. You can read more about his escape here.

April 6

1712
New York Slave Revolt of 1712 Begins

Though there seems to have been no specific event that touched off this revolt, twenty-three black slaves and some number of Natives gathered together and decided they no longer wished to be slaves. Armed with guns and tools, they set fires and attacked whites, killing nine. The militia was called in and the round ups began. In all, twenty-one were executed – some being burned alive – and six committed suicide. Rather than address their grievances, the colony doubled down and enacted strict slave codes. You can read a first hand account from the Governor here.

April 7

1940 Booker T. Washington stamp.
1940 Booker T. Washington stamp.

1940
Booker T. Washington on US Stamp

Historian Booker T. Washington became the first black American to be featured on a United States postage stamp. Washington was born a slave in Virginia, but went on to found the Tuskegee Institute. He stirred up controversy within the black community, including W.E.B. Du Bois, in his reaction to rampant lynchings across the South. Rather than protest, he called for blacks to educate themselves and to build a solid economy. You can read a bit more about him here.

April 9

1865
Lee Surrenders to Grant

Unable to continue the fight, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to United States General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. More here.

McLean House, Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Site of Lee's surrender.
McLean House, Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Site of Lee’s surrender.
Eric
Eric has always had a love for history and the Civil War. During the 150th anniversary of the war, he wrote the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, which published daily for nearly five years. Wishing to continue the exploration, following the Charleston murders in 2015, and the activism around removing the Confederate Battle Flag, he decided to dig a little deeper into the causes and repercussions of the War.
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