POLITICS
01/30/2016 07:56 am ET Updated Jan 30, 2016

Why Hillary Clinton’s Take On Abraham Lincoln Is 'Total Fantasy'

Ta-Nehisi Coates says Clinton should better understand the South's legacy of racism.

During a Democratic forum this week, Hillary Clinton gave an account of American history that glossed over the racist terrorism that dominated the South after the Civil War.

When asked who her favorite president was, Clinton said it was Abraham Lincoln, but soon lost the plot:

I don't know what our country might have been like had [Abraham Lincoln] not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant. ... But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the re-instigation of segregation and Jim Crow. We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant. So, I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path.

In an interview with the HuffPost Politics podcast "So That Happened," Atlantic columnist and best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates explained what's wrong with this version of history. The idea that arrogant Northern carpetbaggers came to the South and sowed trouble after the Civil War was a common theme in American history throughout the 20th century. But  Southern unrest after the war was due to white racist terrorism. Jim Crow was an extension of a longstanding white supremacist strain in the South, not a sudden response to Reconstruction.

"That sounds like something somebody told her when she was in middle school or high school," Coates told HuffPost. "But the thing that Hillary Clinton didn't account for in her answer is, all of the rancor and the defiance that she's talking about -- right. That defiance was evident when they started the war and 600,000 people got killed. That was the act of defiance. Defiance did not originate after Reconstruction."

Listen to Coates' full interview in the podcast embedded above. The segment starts at the 38:50 mark. In the same discussion, Coates also delves into problems with Bernie Sanders' refusal to endorse reparations.

"Defiance was the act of attempting to raise a country based on slavery. And that's what got Abraham Lincoln shot in the head. … That's what happened. So this kind of easy answer, it's just fantasy."

As Coates notes, Lincoln was assassinated by white supremacist John Wilkes Booth.

"It's not too much to ask that you understand your history. It's not too much to ask that you be aware or cognizant of the letter that John Booth wrote in support of white supremacy where he literally said, 'Here is why I killed Abraham Lincoln.' Abraham Lincoln! He's your favorite president!"

Read Coates' response to Clinton here. For more on his critique of Sanders, go here.

Sign up for HuffPost's upcoming podcast with Killer Mike on the history of Reconstruction here.

 

CONVERSATIONS