The Red, the Blue and the Gray

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The extraordinary coincidence of the first African American president taking office a few weeks before Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday is just one of the many links between Barack Obama and the Great Emancipator.

Obama himself has promoted the sense of that connection: He launched his presidential campaign from Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Ill., and took the oath of office with his left hand on one of Lincoln's Bibles.

But there is another striking parallel: Obama carried every state that Lincoln won 148 years earlier -- and the percentage of the white vote that he received, or didn't receive, in all the states that existed in Lincoln's day suggests that 144 years after Appomattox, the legacy of slavery and the Civil War continue to cast a heavy shadow over the South.

- Robert S. McElvaine, professor of history at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., and author of "The Great Depression" and "Grand Theft Jesus"

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