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Welcome Remarks for To Address You as My Friend: African Americans’ Letters to Abraham Lincoln

Greetings from the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s conversation with Jonathan W. White about his new book, To Address You as My Friend, which brings together 120 letters written by African Americans to Abraham Lincoln.

Before we begin, I’d like to tell you about two programs you can view later this month on our YouTube channel.

On Thursday, October 14, at 1 p.m., Woody Holton will discuss his book Liberty Is Sweet, a reassessment of the American Revolution that looks at how the Founders were influenced by women, Native Americans, African Americans, and religious dissenters.

And on Wednesday, October 20, at 1 p.m., Francesca Morgan will talk about her new book, A Nation of Descendants, which traces Americans’ fascination with tracking family lineage and explores how genealogy has always mattered in our country.

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Historians come to the National Archives—and other research institutions—for the raw material of history. Sometimes the stories they extract from the records tell of sweeping events and broad movements. And sometimes the stories are more personal—and told by individuals in their own words.

Jonathan White has mined the records in the National Archives and Library of Congress to find these personal stories. In his book To Address You as My Friend, we hear the voices of African Americans during the era of the Civil War, speaking directly to the President of the United States. The letters express opinions and support, ask for help, share private thoughts, and offer sympathy.

Professor White also extensively used the Papers of Abraham Lincoln and the Freedmen and Southern Society Project, both of which received financial support from our own National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

The increasing online availability of these documents allow us all to come face to face with history and gain a greater understanding of the lives of people in the past.

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Jonathan W. White is associate professor of American studies at Christopher Newport University and author or editor of several previous books, including Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep, and Dreams During the Civil War.

Now let’s hear from Jonathan White. Thank you for joining us today.