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  • Writer's pictureJill Newmark

A White House Reception

Breaking the Color Barrier

White House reception 1862

In late February 1864, Anderson R. Abbott and Alexander T. Augusta made their way to the White House to attend an evening reception. The house was ablaze with lights and a cordon of soldiers was guarding the entrance. After their coats were taken, Abbott and Augusta were escorted down a hallway and introduced to President Lincoln. It would not have been unusual for two military officers in dress uniforms to be seen at a White House reception, but the sight of Abbott and Augusta, two Black officers, was quite startling to most attendees.

Courtesy Oblate Sisters of Providence, Library of Congress, and Toronto Public Library
Augusta, Lincoln, and Abbott - Courtesy Oblates Sisters of Providence, Library of Congress, and Toronto Public Library

President Lincoln warmly greeted them with an outstretched hand before they proceeded to the East Room where they admired the paintings on the wall and observed the other guests in attendance. They became the focus of everyone’s eyes. “We could not have been more surprised ourselves,” Abbott said, “or created more surprise if we had been dropped down upon them through a sky-light.” As the first Black men in uniform to attend a reception at the White House they attracted much attention and mixed reactions. Some attendees looked at them with curiosity, some with interest, and others with great disdain clearly indicating their feelings on the “Negro question.”[1]

How did two Black medical officers receive an invitation to a reception at the White House? Find out more in Without Concealment, Without Compromise: The Courageous Lives of Black Civil War Surgeons, available June 2023. Pre-order today at Southern Illinois University Press and use SIUP20 for a 20% discount. Also available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

[1] Anderson Ruffin Abbott Papers, Toronto Reference Library, Toronto, Canada.

© Jill L. Newmark 2022

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