Few presidents have been as excited about pardon powers as Donald Trump.
In recent months, Trump has issued a rare posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson and a much more contemporary one to conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza. He has commuted the sentence of Alice Johnson, in the wake of lobbying by Kim Kardashian West, and drawn a rebuff from Muhammad Ali’s attorney for suggesting that the boxer might also receive a posthumous pardon, even though his name was already cleared by the Supreme Court.
He even asked NFL players, amid continued conflict over protests at football games, to suggest people he should pardon — though as of Friday none had taken him up on the idea, and the request drew criticism for seeming to misunderstand the reasons behind the protests.
Some have argued that Trump is using these high-profile pardons — especially of D’Souza and former vice presidential adviser Scooter Libby — to send signals to associates being targeted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigations that he may pardon them if they don’t cooperate, prompting his attorney Rudy Giuliani to clarify that was not his intention. (Trump and his lawyers have even asserted, contrary to public opinion, that he could pardon himself if he wanted to.)
But Trump has long been a fan of executive action — witness the signing ceremonies he schedules for executive orders — and it seems likely that he’s going to continue issuing pardons.
With that in mind, we asked historians for some notable figures from American history that they think could merit a posthumous pardon. Not every suggestion was literal (many never received the federal conviction that would open a person up for such a pardon, and one is a fictional character) but all were thought-provoking. Here are a selection of the responses.
Photography has made it possible for pretty much everyone to sit for a portrait—or at least a selfie. But having your portrait painted by a genuine artist is still an honor reserved for the rich, the powerful or the friends of art students. It was the same in the past—only the wealthy could afford to have their likeness put on canvas, which is why our art museums are full of rich people wearing their finest outfits glaring at us from their good sides. But the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts is also highlighting the hidden warts, adding signs to its portrait collection illuminating many of the subjects’ deep connections with slavery, reports Maria Garcia at WBUR.
Elizabeth Athens, then the Worcester Art Museum’s curator of American Art, came up with the idea while assessing the museum’s early American gallery. “It was exclusively wealthy, white people and they’re presented in this very kind of valorized way,” she tells Garcia. “We were missing a whole swath of humanity that was part of American history. And I really wanted to correct that.” (Athens is now at the National Gallery of Art.)
By the time word of freedom had drifted west to Texas, it was old news elsewhere. On June 19, 1865, the nearly two hundred thousand men, women, and children enslaved in Texas learned of their emancipation, two and a half years after Lincoln had issued the proclamation terminating slavery in states rebelling against the union. The institution of slavery was essentially an open-air prison, and proved remarkably successful, at least in this instance, at the kind of information control that exploitation relies on. Juneteenth, the annual celebration marking the day that this postponed freedom arrived in Texas, occupies a strange niche in American culture, isolated as a black tradition, as if the currents of slavery and its death did not shape the direction of the nation in its entirety. Read more...
Beginning in September, Dr. Berry will be the Oliver H. Radkey Professor of History and African and African Diaspora studies. She is a Faculty Affiliate in the Department of American Studies, the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, and the Warfield Center for African and African American Studies.
SDUSMP highlighted the award in a press release last month announcing its 2nd Annual Sons & Daughters of the United States Middle Passage Conference this past Saturday, June 2, at Rider University in New Jersey. “The conference is a celebration of the lives of individuals enslaved in the United States and early English America. Without them, African-Americans, their descendants, would not exist and our country would be unrecognizable. They endured the horrors and brutality of American slavery and we must never forget them.” Read more...
When I visited Berlin five years ago, I was awed and thrilled by the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Topography of Terror museum. Thrilled because those places and other blunt expressions of public accountability in the German capital for the nation’s horrific past were a break from the ignored or euphemistic, happy-faced storytelling of the painful parts of U.S. history. I marveled at the ability of a nation to unflinchingly look itself in the mirror and then permanently report back its findings to the world in word and architecture.
America’s inability to replicate that kind of raw, historical honesty has always pained me. That’s not to say we’re not getting better. At the National Museum for African American History and Culture, the sin of slavery is not just some distant institution of commerce, but it’s also accurately depicted as an evil that destroyed real lives. We are still grappling with its consequences, and our failure to atone for it mars our ability to collectively recover. Read more...
If the impressions of the first-day visitors to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery hold true, the memorial's designers achieved their intent of creating a compelling experience to spark awareness of the horrific legacy of lynching.
Tom Perryman, a teacher at Greenhill School, a private school in Dallas, has followed the development of the memorial from afar but said that did not prepare him for the power of seeing it in person.
"I had seen the museum in virtual form on the Internet for months and had been looking forward to getting here," Perryman said this afternoon. "But when you actually walk under the columns it's just breathtaking.
WORCESTER, Mass. — On previous visits to the Worcester Art Museum, I had paused to consider the reserved posture and elegant dress of Lucretia Chandler Murray; however, I had not ever considered where her wealth and privilege came from — until now. While the older museum label for the portrait had underscored the characteristic style of 18th-century painter John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) and pointed to his allusion to styles adopted by the British nobility, a new label now caught my eye. It informed me that Lucretia’s father owned two enslaved persons whom he later left in his will to family members. One was named Sylvia and the other Worcester. While Lucretia’s father and husband had the financial means to pay for Copley’s talents, their enslaved persons did not.
The CWR Network and Donell Edwards: VIEWPOINTS is proud to present nationally recognized and award winning author Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, who is an Associate Professor of History and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Berry is a specialist in the history of gender and slavery in the United States with a particular emphasis on the social and economic history of the nineteenth century. Dr. Berry has appeared on several syndicated radio and television shows including NPR, NBC, PBS, C-SPAN, and the History Channel. Dr. Berry's phenomenal book, The Price for their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from the Womb to the Grave, in the Building of a Nation, is the first book to explore an enslaved person's ascribed value throughout their lifespan, including before birth and after death. During this very special program we will discuss with Dr. Berry slavery in America, then and now; the divisive racial climate in America; and the plantation mentality still prevalent among many black and white people in America. Don't miss this powerful and educational program.
The University of Virginia and its Commission on Slavery teamed up with the Slave Dwelling Project to organize a symposium called “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory and the Built Landscape.” This four-day conference will end with a field trip to Montpelier, Monticello and Highland on Saturday. WMRA’s Marguerite Gallorini was at the opening reception Wednesday [October 18] and filed this report.
This symposium on slavery started with a little history of the cadaver trade. Texas Professor Daina Ramey Berry talked about this trade where big medical schools like Harvard and New York purchased the corpses of slaves for dissection for anatomy classes. Read more...