The Chicago Defender

This site analyzes The Chicago Defender as a location of Lincoln memory, particularly in regards to cartoons. Schwartz and Schuman’s work on history, commemoration, and belief highlights the way in which historical narratives include newspapers “at a more popular level” [1]. Launched by Robert S. Abbott in 1905 [2] and targeted toward African Americans in particular as a medium of the black press [3], The Chicago Defender newspaper has featured cartoons about Lincoln since a decade following the newspaper’s inception, promoting a positive yet usable [4] and instrumental [5] memory of him. In addition to other libraries across the country, Davis Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has archived these newspapers, making their coverage available in microform and PDF format online [6]. In Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America, Barry Schwartz contends “earlier Defender cartoons showed Lincoln endorsing the ideal of justice” [7]. This description is consistent with the first Lincoln cartoons identified in the The Chicago Defender.

December 12, 1915, retrieved from Proquest Historical Newspapers database

Figure 1. The Chicago Defender, December 12, 1915, retrieved from Proquest Historical Newspapers database [8]

The carton shown in Figure 1 presents an optimistic view of Abraham Lincoln, situating him as part of a legacy that Booker T. Washington is continuing through their shared label of “The Emancipators.” The Lincoln quote displayed in this cartoon is drawn from his 1858 House Divided Speech, and its inclusion helps to depict Lincoln as an opponent of slavery [9]. Thus, this cartoon is consistent with “The Great Emancipator” image presented by Barry Schwartz and Howard Schuman in “History, Commemoration, and Belief: Abraham Lincoln in American Memory, 1945-2001,” by which Lincoln is remembered through his efforts to abolish slavery [10]. This representation of Lincoln in the Defender exemplifies one of Zelizer’s premises about collective memory being both particular and universal: she writes “memory acts as a social, cultural, and political glue,” as particular events create thematic memories and understandings [11]. The theme being evoked is freedom, as well as its extension to education and those who secured it, thus working as a social, cultural, and political glue for readers by tying them to a common past and a commitment to freedom and education in the future.

May 30, 1931, received from the Proquest Historical Newspapers database

Figure 2. The Chicago Defender, May 30, 1931, received from the Proquest Historical Newspapers database [12]

The cartoon shown in Figure 2 depicts Lincoln as mournful of those who died in war, displaying him with his hat off across his chest  and his knee bent in reverence surrounded by grave markers. The cartoon engages with Zelizer’s memory practice of retrospective nominalization [13], as it includes “World War” among its list of wars, which Lincoln did not live to see or commemorate. However, it situates him in a way that juxtaposes the upper image and its reference to “all races” being honored as veterans who died with the lower image which reads “while dishonor shrouds the living” due to the implications of Jim Crow, which is displayed as a plank that African Americans must cross. Lincoln is gesturing with anguish toward the words Jim Crow in this cartoon. As suggested by Schwartz, this cartoon shows Lincoln supporting the ideal of justice [14].

June 13, 1931, retrieved from the Proquest Historical Newspapers database

Figure 3. The Chicago Defender, June 13, 1931, retrieved from the Proquest Historical Newspapers database [15]

This is the second image that accompanies the cartoon titled "The Reward of Treason"

This is the second image that accompanies the cartoon titled “The Reward of Treason”

The cartoon shown in Figure 3 displays Jefferson Davis as head of the Confederacy fighting to uphold slavery in the first image. In the second image of the cartoon, Jefferson Davis is pictured between Lincoln and Grant, who appear with question marks above their heads. The quote in the bottom left corner, reading “today, we encourage treason by placing his [Jefferson Davis’] monument in the Nation’s Capitol,” represents a challenge to Lincoln’s legacy, as it evokes the contradiction between erecting a statue to Davis in Washington, DC and his affiliation with the Confederacy. This cartoon conveys the way in which The Chicago Defender used Lincoln cartoons as a way to demand the fulfilled promises of his legacy, and it becomes further evident in the cartoons that follow it in the Defender.

June 27, 1931, retrieved from Proquest Historical Newspapers database

Figure 4. The Chicago Defender, June 27, 1931, retrieved from Proquest Historical Newspapers database [16]

The left image of the cartoon shown in Figure 4 pictures the speaking of Herbert Hoover at the rededication of Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois (https://livinglincoln.web.unc.edu/2015/03/23/lincolns-tomb/) (http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/education/tombtimeline.htm), in support of the enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment, while the right half of the cartoon shows Lincoln asking for the enforcement of the laws for which he died and evoking the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. Thus, this cartoon elevates Lincoln to martyrdom and continues to question whether Lincoln’s legacy is being fulfilled and enforced for the benefit of all citizens.

May 4, 1935, retrieved from the Proquest Historical Newspapers database

Figure 5. The Chicago Defender, May 4, 1935, retrieved from the Proquest Historical Newspapers database [17]

In the cartoon shown in Figure 5, Uncle Sam is confronted with injustices imposed upon African Americans in the South, including lynching, peonage, Jim Crow, race hatred, social ostracism, disregard of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, and limited employment, while Lincoln holds a scroll evoking liberty and equality through words from his Gettysburg Address (https://livinglincoln.web.unc.edu/2015/04/15/gettysburg-national-cemetery/) [18]. The emphasis on race hatred and lynching is made more blatant by the hanging of a person displayed through the window in the cartoon. According to Schwartz’s assessment of this cartoon, Lincoln “challenges whites to make justice a reality” [19]. Its evocation of equal rights relates to Schwartz and Schuman’s findings that “many respondents gave answers [to their surveys] that went well beyond Emancipation, and these seemed to call for a separate code, which we labeled ‘Equal Rights,” since respondents “described Lincoln as a prophet of the contemporary ideal of racial equality” [20].

 

June 5, 1926, retrieved from Proquest Historical Newspapers Database

Figure 6. The Chicago Defender, June 5, 1926, retrieved from Proquest Historical Newspapers Database [21]

This image is a continuation of "While He Slumbers (This Week's Cartoon)"

This image is a continuation of “While He Slumbers (This Week’s Cartoon)”

Although the text displayed in Figure 6 may not appear as a cartoon of Lincoln, it is listed in the Defender as “this week’s cartoon,” and it powerfully illustrates the way in which Lincoln’s memory is increasingly used, from as early as 1926, to challenge the nation to uphold freedom, equal protection of the laws, and voting rights. This is evident in “This Week’s Cartoon” by the quote “we thought the spirit of Lincoln was so firmly imbedded in American life that real Americanism would prevail when it was put to the test. But it hasn’t” [22]. Thus, this cartoon critiques America’s racial climate, calling on Lincoln’s memory to do so.

 

Because The Chicago Defender targeted African American audiences in particular, it reflects a vernacular form of memory [23]. In a span of twenty years from 1915 to 1935, it is apparent from the cartoons featured in The Chicago Defender that the collective memory of Lincoln is processual, usable, and partial [24]. It is processual–constantly unfolding, changing, and transforming [25]–because Lincoln’s image depicted in the cartoons transitions from the Great Emancipator theme [26] to a challenge for America to uphold Lincoln’s promises of freedom, not just symbolic freedom accompanied by having to walk the plank of Jim Crow shown in Figure 2 or living with race hatred, social ostracism, lynching, deprivation of rights, and limited employment shown in Figure 5. His memory is usable because it is evoked in order to remind Americans of Lincoln’s image, sacrifice, and promises, as well as the south’s betrayal of him, which is displayed in “The Reward for Treason” cartoon, Figure 3. Thus, these cartoons are usable because they shape the political, social, and cultural identities of Lincoln and the Defender‘s readers [27]. As discussed by Patrick S. Washburn in The African American Newspaper: Voice of Freedom, even following the end of the Civil War, the ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, and several Civil Rights Acts passed by Congress, “it quickly became apparent that not even with the end of slavery, and with all of the overwhelming force brought to bear by a victorious federal government, could white supremacy be vanquished or easily tamed in the South” [28]. Thus, when considered in context, it is clear that The Chicago Defender‘s projection of Lincoln’s memory is a response to both his legacy and the enduring mistreatment of African Americans, thus conveying the cartoons usability as a form of collective memory. The Defender‘s cartoons also display instrumentalization at work, a form of collective memory coined by Michael Schudson. Similarly to usability, instrumentalization refers to how the past is put to work, selecting and distorting “in the service of present interests” [29]. The interest that the Defender served, and continues to serve, is the function of tying together a group of people who had long been torn apart and refused autonomy and rights to equal citizenship, thus contesting African Americans’ disenfranchisement and oppression with a portrayal of Lincoln as being on their side.

The way in which Lincoln’s memory is used in The Chicago Defender may also be considered partial [30] because cartoons like “A Birthday Reminder,” shown in Figure 5, which connect Lincoln memory with equal rights and notions of racial equality, overlook “considerable evidence to the contrary” [31], especially quotes by Lincoln saying he did not believe in the political and social equality of the black and white races [32] [33]. Therefore, cartoons of Lincoln in the Defender convey Michael Schudson’s concepts of cognitivization [34] and narrativization [35] as well because we prefer to remember a consistent, neat, and ordered version of history, which comes at the cost of overlooking nuance. However partial Lincoln’s memory is projected in the Defender, it functioned as a strategy of both coping and resistance to racism for African Americans from as early as 1915 with its first Lincoln cartoon. In regards to the partiality of memory, Zelizer writes “no single memory contains all that we know, or could know, about any given event, personality, or issue” [36], so the memory of Lincoln that the Defender presents is inherently partial, as any memory of him. According to Metz Lochard, “the Defender had given Negroes dignity; they breathed the strength of solidarity in reading about their group and their common interests in fighting discrimination” [37]. Since Lincoln was assassinated by someone, John Wilkes Booth, who was against racial inequality, he has been and will continue to be considered a martyr for that cause.

An analysis of The Chicago Defender’s Lincoln cartoons reveals the way in which, contrary to oscillating opinions of him during his own era and the years following that are evidenced by the range of cartoons available at the The Lehrman Institute of American History (https://livinglincoln.web.unc.edu/2015/03/27/the-lehrman-institute-of-american-memory/), the Chicago Defender’s cartoon coverage of him remained consistently celebratory of his Presidency and legacy, though his image was used to different ends. Beginning in 1915, with the first appearance of a Lincoln cartoon in The Chicago Defender, the newspaper celebrated Lincoln’s legacy and even connected him to present concerns via Booker T. Washington. He continued to be evoked in the Defender throughout the beginning and middle of the 20th century, as the newspaper used his memory as a way to promote needs of the black community and hold the nation accountable for unsustained promises about representation, consideration, and protection of equal rights by the federal government [38]. The Chicago Defender was itself a rallying point for the needs and demands of the black community.

Since newspapers formerly passed through multiple hands or an entire neighborhood [39] and the internet did not exist, these cartoons existed as material forms of collective memory [40]. However, Lincoln cartoons endure more publicly today through online accessibility to the Defender. Contemporarily, Lincoln’s memory continues to be evoked in The Chicago Defender (http://chicagodefender.com/2014/04/16/president-lincoln-abolished-slavery-in-d-c-on-this-day-in-1862/), as his legacy as the Great Emancipator endures today [41]. Schwartz and Schuman describe Lincoln as “central to the American people’s changing self-definition” [42], and this description continues to apply to The Chicago Defender more than one hundred years after its inception and one hundred fifty years after Lincoln’s assassination.

 

[1] Schwartz and Schuman, 185

[2] Washburn, 81

[3] Washburn, 84

[4] Zelizer, 227

[5] Schudson, 351

[6] Proquest Historical Newspapers database. http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/publication/46913

[7] Schwartz, Barry. Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. page 46.

[8] “The Emancipators”; “Editorial Cartoon 1 — no Title.” The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966), Dec 25, 1915. http://search.proquest.com/docview/493335048?accountid=14244.

[9] House Divided Speech

[10] Schwartz and Schuman, 186

[11] Zelizer, 230-231

[12] “The Final Resting Place”; “Editorial Cartoon 2 — no Title.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), May 30, 1931. http://search.proquest.com/docview/492293741?accountid=14244

[13] Zelizer, 222

[14] Schwartz, Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era, p. 46

[15] “The Reward of Treason”; “Editorial Cartoon 1 — no Title.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Jun 13, 1931. http://search.proquest.com/docview/492306880?accountid=14244

[16] “Reopened But Not Rededicated”; Editorial cartoon 1 — no title. 1931. The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Jun 27, 1931. http://search.proquest.com/docview/492279443?accountid=14244 (accessed April 14, 2015).

[17] “A Birthday Reminder”; “Editorial Cartoon 2 — no Title.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), May 04, 1935. http://search.proquest.com/docview/492428251?accountid=14244

[18] Schwartz, “Collective Memory and History,” 484

[19] Schwartz, “Collective Memory and History,” 484

[20] Schwartz and Schuman, 189

[21] “White He Slumbers”; The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), June 05, 1926.

[22] Figure 6

[23] Bodnar, 14

[24] Zelizer

[25] Zelizer, 218

[26] Schwartz and Schuman, 183

[27] Zelizer, 227-228

[28] Washburn, 45

[29] Schudson, 251

[30] Zelizer, 224

[31] Schwartz and Schuman, 189

[32] Class Notes, April 13

[33] Fredrickson, 53

[34] Schudson, 358

[35] Schudson, 355

[36] Zelizer, 224

[37] Lochard, 125

[38] Figure 6

[39] Washburn, 50

[40] Zelizer, 232

[41] Chandler, D.L. “President Lincoln Abolished Slavery in D.C. on This Day in 1862” http://chicagodefender.com/2014/04/16/president-lincoln-abolished-slavery-in-d-c-on-this-day-in-1862/

[42] Schwartz and Schuman, 186

 

 

Sources:

Bodnar, Jon. “The Memory Debate: An Introduction,” from Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century (Princeton 1994), 13-20.

Chandler, D.L. “President Lincoln Abolished Slavery in D.C. on This Day in 1862” Chicago Defender. April 16, 2014. http://chicagodefender.com/2014/04/16/president-lincoln-abolished-slavery-in-d-c-on-this-day-in-1862/

Class Notes, April 13, 2015, American Studies 384. Lecturer: Dr. Tim Marr.

Fredrickson, George M. “A Man but Not a Brother: Abraham Lincoln and Racial Equality,” The Journal of Southern History 41(1): 39-58. Southern Historical Association. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2206706

House Divided Speech. 1858. Mr. Lincoln and Freedom. A Project of the Lincoln Institute, Founded by the Lehrman Institute. http://www.mrlincolnandfreedom.org/inside.asp?ID=17&subjectID=2

Lincoln Tomb Highlights. Abraham Lincoln Online. http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/education/tombtimeline.htm

Lochard, Metz T. P. “Phylon Profile, XII Robert S. Abbott–‘Race Leader'” Phylon (1940-1956) 8(2): 124-132. Clark Atlanta University, 1947. http://www.jstor.org/stable/271719

Proquest Historical Newspapers database. http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/publication/46913

Schudson, Michael. “Dynamics of Distortion in Collective Memory,” in Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains, and Societies Reconstruct the Past. Eds. Daniel L. Schacter et al. (1995): 346-378).

Schwartz, Barry. Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America. University of Chicago Press, 2009. Chicago Scholarship Online, 2013. doi: 10.7208/chicago/9780226741901.003.0003.

Schwartz, Barry. “Collective Memory and History: How Abraham Lincoln Became a Symbol of Racial Equality.” The Sociological Quarterly. 38(3): 469-496.

Schwartz, Barry and Howard Schuman. “History, Commemoration, and Belief: Abraham Lincoln in American Memory, 1945-2001.” American Sociological Review. 70(2): 183-203.

Washburn, Patrick S. The African American Newspaper: Voice of Freedom. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2006.

Zelizer, Barbie. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies,” Critical Studies in Mass Communications (June 1995): 214-39.

 

Cartoons:

  • “The Emancipators” (Figure 1). “Editorial Cartoon 1 — no Title.” The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966), Dec 25, 1915. http://search.proquest.com/docview/493335048?accountid=14244.
  • “The Final Resting Place (Figure 2). “Editorial Cartoon 2 — no Title.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), May 30, 1931. http://search.proquest.com/docview/492293741?accountid=14244
  • “The Reward of Treason” (Figure 3). “Editorial Cartoon 1 — no Title.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Jun 13, 1931. http://search.proquest.com/docview/492306880?accountid=14244
  • “Reopened But Not Rededicated” (Figure 4). Editorial cartoon 1 — no title. 1931. The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Jun 27, 1931. http://search.proquest.com/docview/492279443?accountid=14244 (accessed April 14, 2015).
  • “A Birthday Reminder” (Figure 5). “Editorial Cartoon 2 — no Title.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), May 04, 1935. http://search.proquest.com/docview/492428251?accountid=14244
  • “White He Slumbers” (Figure 6). The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), June 05, 1926.