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MSU Williams Lecture to focus on lessons Lincoln learned from African American troops in combat

October 23, 2023
Williams lecture invite

STARKVILLE, Miss.—In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. War Department implemented a new military policy for African American troops in combat. This policy, how the country learned from it, and its impact on Lincoln’s broader plans for the postwar nation, is the focus of the 2023 Frank and Virginia Williams Lecture Series on Abraham Lincoln and Civil War Studies at Mississippi State.

Susannah J. Ural, the inaugural Frank and Virginia Williams Chair for Abraham Lincoln and Civil War Studies, presents “To Keep the Jewel of Liberty within the Family of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and African American Military Service in the U.S. Civil War” on Nov. 2. The 6 p.m. event is in the John Grisham Room of Mitchell Memorial Library.

Open to the public, the lecture is free and will be followed by a reception on the fourth floor, outside the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library and the Williams Collection Gallery. The evening also will feature a personal tour of the Lincoln collection by former Rhode Island Chief Justice Frank Williams—the artifacts and papers donor—who will discuss some of his favorite items on display.

Williams said Ural brings a sense of history “reminding us we must explore the past to understand the present” to both the chair position and lecture series.

“This will be the sixth lecture in our series which started with Harold Holzer in 2017,” Williams said. “The lecture series is an outreach of the Frank and Virginia Williams Collection on Lincolniana that we gave to the Mississippi State Libraires. It is to be an outgrowth of the collection. So, they are really combined.

The idea is to bring to the MSU campus people who have not spoken here before,” Williams added. “We want to spread the gospel, so to speak, of the unifying nature of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Ural’s talk fits in well with that mission.”

Ural said it’s an honor for her to present the 2023 lecture as the first Williams Chair.

“This event is a wonderful example of the kind of outreach we’ll be doing more of. It’s also evidence of the incredible impact that donor support can have on the university, the surrounding community and beyond,” she said.

“My topic comes from my next book, which I’m currently researching. It began as I was reading reports from Mississippi that discussed the recruitment, training and combat experiences of African American soldiers,” Ural said.

“As I read the responses to those reports from commanders in the area and especially in Washington, I became curious about what President Lincoln and the War Department learned from this revolutionary military policy—the use of Black troops in combat—and how it changed ongoing military and political policies,” the historian explained. “It’s also significant to see how African American military service changed Lincoln’s personal views on Black citizenship. It’s a fascinating story, and I’m excited to share it with our audience on Nov. 2.”

Ural is a military historian whose numerous books, articles and other publications focus on Civil War soldiers and families. Her latest research explores the enlistment and experiences of soldiers who were part of the U.S. Colored Troops in the Mississippi Valley between 1863 and 1865 and considers how these experiences shaped Lincoln’s and the U.S. War Department’s policies in the last two years of the Civil War and the years that followed. 

The Williams Lecture Series is made possible by Frank and Virginia Williams, the MSU Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President, and the MSU Libraries. To assist with parking on the MSU campus, the gates will open at 5:15 p.m. 

For more information about the Williams Collection, visit

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