Lois Leveen


April 23, 2012

World Book Night

It's World Book Night. Or at least English-speaking World Book Night. All over the UK, Ireland, and the US, people are giving away free books. Bestsellers. Classics. Books donated by authors and publishers, to spread the joy of reading.

I paired up with some of the staff at Multnomah County Library to give away Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.

We went to some of the parks downtown, like the rest of the pushers.

The first book is free. After that, you need a library card.

I was particularly pleased to turn my leopard-print bicycle into a minibook mobile. You can ride 3 miles with 20 copies of a bestselling novel onboard.

The highlight of the day was meeting these kids
Kids getting free books
They're from a small town in Washington. They were visiting Portland together because one of them is about to leave for military training.

We gave them 3 books. They're giving a lot more.

They did love the cat ears.
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April 20, 2012

Dangerfield, all too aptly named

Dangerfield Newby. That's the sort of name you can't make up as a novelist. I'll be reading a passage about Newby tomorrow, and I'm afraid I'll choke.

Not over his fantastic name. Over the letters his wife, who was a slave, wrote him, once he was free and trying to save the money to buy her.
Dangerfield Newby photograph
Here's one--real people, real letter.


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April 19, 2012

Remembering Shiloh

Is this a brilliant, touching way to show the horror of war, or a Martha Stewart project gone awry?
On the one hand, it makes visible the thousands who died. On the other hand, it looks like a garden party, albeit a somber one.
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April 17, 2012

You’re free. As in, free to go.

The good news: you're free. The (potentially) bad news: as in free to leave the country.

Today's Civil War fact: The law that emancipated DC slaves compensated owners $300 per slave. It also offered those former slaves $100 each to emigrate.

It's one of the sharpest examples of the racism of many (though certainly not all) white abolitionists, who might have objected to slavery as an institution but were not quite up for accepting blacks as equal citizens of the United States. The colonization movement mostly focused on sending former slaves to Liberia, although the DC law didn't specify where a former slave had to go.

From the perspective of free blacks--whether newly freed or whether born free to free parents--emigration was more complicated. Some free blacks chose, even without any compensation, to move to Liberia, or to Haiti or Canada. Why? Because even in states were slavery was illegal, discrimination was not. Schools, jobs, housing, public transit, the right to vote--any of that might be denied to someone purely based on race. In some cases, well into the second half of the twentieth century.
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April 16, 2012

Abraham Lincoln Pays Off Slaveholders

150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln paid slaveowners $1million. Yes, that Abraham Lincoln.

The slaves in Washington D.C. were freed through "compensated emancipation." That means slaveowners were paid $300 for each of their slaves, who then became permanently free. The U.S. government picked up the tab, allocating a million dollars to buy the freedom of three thousand slaves living in D.C.

This was not the first time Lincoln advocated for compensated emancipation. Earlier in 1862, he proposed paying $400 per slave to emancipate all the slaves in "the border states"--states that had not seceded but still allowed slavery. Why? Here's how I explain it in The Secrets of Mary Bowser, by putting words into the mouth of Confederate cabinet member Judah Benjamin:

Four hundred dollars for every slave in Delaware is but half the cost of one day of war for the Union. Four hundred dollars for every slave in Maryland, Missouri, the District of Columbia, and Mrs. Lincoln’s own Kentucky would be the cost of eighty-seven days of war. Lincoln gambles that compensated emancipation will shorten the war by that many days or more, by ensuring the loyalty of the border states.”

The larger compensated emancipation was never passed--and the slaves in the border states were the last to be emancipated, legally. They were not freed until *after* the Civil War, because the Emancipation Proclamation applied only to slaves in states that had seceded.

Tomorrow, I'll write about the other $100 Lincoln was willing to pay per slave in Washington, D.C.
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