‘The President and the Freedom Fighter’ digs into Lincoln, Douglass relationship

Brian Kilmeade's latest book "The President and The Freedom Fighter" comes out Nov. 2, 2021. ALEX KROKE
Caption
Brian Kilmeade's latest book "The President and The Freedom Fighter" comes out Nov. 2, 2021. ALEX KROKE

Credit: Alex Kroke

Credit: Alex Kroke

‘Fox & Friends’ host Brian Kilmeade will be at Books-a-Million Nov. 5 in Lawrenceville.

“Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade in recent years has become a best-selling author of historical books exploring aspects of towering American figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.

He is now tackling another well-trodden subject: Abraham Lincoln. Hundreds of books have picked apart every aspect of his life. But Kilmeade found a fresh angle by studying Lincoln’s relationship with Black abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglass, dubbing his new book “The President and the Freedom Fighter.” It came out Nov. 2 on Sentinel Books.

He is doing a national book tour which includes a stop at Books-a-Million in Lawrenceville from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 5.

“They both came out of nowhere and against all odds became incredibly influential men known around the world,” said Kilmeade in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He was in part inspired to tackle this subject by reading historian David Blight’s 2018 book on Douglass and Ron Chernow’s 2017 deep dive into Ulysses S. Grant.

Kilmeade’s writing style over 256 pages is often easy going and sometimes blunt, reflective of his on-air TV persona. He credited Sentinel editorial director Bria Sanford with helping him focus his prose and he’d often go back to Douglass’ original writings. “What helped me most are Douglass’ actual words,” he said. “I’d get those quotes and build around them.”

He would do the same with Lincoln.

“Both their speeches are thick with vocabulary,” Kilmeade said. “They had such range.”

Douglass, he noted, “had a Muhammad Ali-type delivery and a Martin Luther King Jr.-type intellect. He could see the goodness in people while channeling the anger of the inequities and lack of liberty Blacks had to live through.”

And Lincoln, Kilmeade noted, “was born in abject poverty and had one year of combined formal schooling. He was a Midwesterner with no connections and suffered from chronic depression.”

Lincoln’s viewpoints shifted over time. In his younger years, while believing slavery was wrong and opposed to its expansion, he didn’t feel that Blacks were equal to whites.

When Lincoln became president, he remained a relative moderate, promising to leave slavery as is in the South in his inauguration speech even as several states had already seceded from the union. An angry and disappointed Douglass, a well-respected abolitionist by that time, wrote a screed condemning Lincoln’s speech as too concessionary.

As late as the summer of 1862, Lincoln was still suggesting Blacks leave the country and colonize elsewhere. This outraged Douglass and the unfeasible idea quickly died on the vine.

With the war still hanging in the balance that fall, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in 1863 in at least part of the country. In this case, Douglass broke into song when he heard the news.

But after Black men were recruited to join Union forces, Douglass became incensed over how Black prisoners of war were being executed or sent to slavery by the Confederates. He paid Lincoln a visit at the White House, and the two men finally met face to face, chronicled two thirds into Kilmeade’s book.

Douglass had spent years parsing Lincoln’s speeches and actions in his own newspaper and in speeches. Now face to face with Lincoln, Douglass was impressed by the president’s earnestness and “gravity of his character.” Soon, their viewpoints would mesh, as evidenced by Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address where he famously proclaimed “all men are created equal.”

Sadly, their burgeoning friendship was cut short by Lincoln’s murderer John Wilkes Booth in 1865. Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd Lincoln would send Douglass her dead husband’s favorite walking stick in appreciation. Douglass eventually made peace with Lincoln’s more temperate views about slavery early in the war, noting that had Lincoln “put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union,” he would have alienated Whites and “rendered resistance to rebellion impossible.”

Kilmeade said writing the book only made him appreciate Douglass more.

“In terms of who had more difficult circumstances, Lincoln can’t compare to Douglass,” he said. “You can’t overstate the brutality Douglass faced.”

Kilmeade said his interest in history goes back to fourth grade when he played Benjamin Franklin and had to memorize long stretches of Franklin’s words. “I got to see him as a human being, someone who didn’t get along with his son,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘How could he not get along with his son?’” He said he had great history teachers in high school and recalls the visceral impact of the ABC mini-series “Roots” when he was a young teen.

He said he hopes his book will encourage readers to dig deeper and read other books on Douglass and Lincoln. And he was thrilled that Fox News enabled him to create an hour-long special based on his book that is set to air Sunday at 10 p.m.

Caption
This book comes out Nov. 2, 2021.

Credit: Senti

This book comes out Nov. 2, 2021.
Caption
This book comes out Nov. 2, 2021.

Credit: Senti

Credit: Senti


BOOK SIGNING

Brian Kilmeade book signing “The President and the Freedom Fighter”

6 p.m. to 8 :30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 5

$28 including a copy of the book

Books-A-Million

5900 Sugarloaf Parkway

Lawrenceville, GA 30043

www.eventbrite.com

About the Author

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