“For the sake of your race, you should sacrifice something of your present comfort for the purpose of being as grand in that respect as the white people.”

Pop quiz: from whose lips did the above quote tumble forth: Strom Thurmond? Bull Connor? George Wallace? Perhaps Senator Robert Byrd in his heyday? The passive observer might be forgiven for thinking that sound bite was a product of one of those Segregation-era firebrands, when it in fact is attributed to none other than The Great Emancipator himself — Abraham Lincoln.

Widely considered by scholars and citizens alike to be one of the America’s greatest presidents (and sufficiently transcendent to have his face immortalized in granite), Lincoln has also occupied a seminal place in civil rights history as the man who single-handedly galvanized the cause of black freedom. Now, a new book is raising pointed questions about whether “Honest Abe” was as truly committed to racial equality as some initially believed.

In Colonization After Emancipation, authors Philip Magness and Sebastian Page use newly discovered documents to make a startling yet nonetheless compelling charge: that Lincoln’s emancipation efforts were honed by the belief that blacks and whites were incapable of peaceful coexistence in the same nation. The book draws heavily from papers found both in the British and U.S. National Archives, and details a top-secret and highly controversial policy in 1863 to resettle freed slaves to far-flung outposts in the Caribbean and South America. According to the documents, infighting within Lincoln’s own administration eventually doomed the plan before it barely began, paving the way for Congress to repeal all the funding.

Hero worship, being the fickle beast it is, always results in crushing letdown. Colonization After Emancipation portrays the former president’s sincerity about racial equality in a new an altogether unflattering light. Taken at face value, Lincoln’s positions on expatriation are a blunt reminder that exalted public figures often fall far short of the romantic standards we foist onto them. Given that he never fully embraced the notion of black equality, the tome will likely result in vigorous but legitimate debate about whether Lincoln deserves to be canonized as the Great Emancipator. Because of how closely Lincoln is associated with civil rights, his motivations should be considered fair game.

Yet lest the debate skew too negatively, the facts about Lincoln’s views should be put in their appropriate context. While most of it has been omitted from the history books, Lincoln’s private musings about colonization have long been an open yet hotly debated secret amongst most scholars.

Colonization and segregation enjoyed differences of degree rather than kind. But Lincoln’s seemingly contradictory impulses on the subject of racial equality were a reflection of the fluid nature of that era’s complex debate about race. The movement to grant blacks complete citizenship was a full-fledged polemic for most of American history, and Lincoln’s thoughts hardly were the final subject on the debate. Lincoln is considered a spiritual leader of the abolition movement and unquestionably galvanized its development, but his influence over racial equality policies has always been slightly overstated.

It took the ratification of the 14th Amendment — three years after Lincoln’s demise — to grant blacks full U.S. citizenship. Even then, it took at least seven separate iterations of civil rights legislation to grant blacks full freedom under the law. As many times that it took to get the law right, those initiatives did little to liberate people-of-color from institutionalized bigotry and state-sponsored racism.

To a large extent, the battle for black equality was joined in earnest after Lincoln’s untimely assassination, and was waged primarily in Congress and the courts. In short, the moral impetus of civil rights became exponentially bigger than Lincoln himself. His private views ultimately became irrelevant to the larger trend toward racial equality.

Outrage over Lincoln elides the fact that even some freed blacks appeared to embrace the colonization movement. History is peppered with blacks that proselytized racial separatism: the most noteworthy evangelist of that movement was black orator Marcus Garvey. His unapologetic advocacy of “Black to Africa” (which, incidentally, predated Garvey himself) helped give rise to some of the more controversial strains of black self-actualization such as Black Nationalism and the Nation of Islam.

Another argument in Lincoln’s defense is advanced by the book’s author himself: Lincoln’s ideas on the subject weren’t fully matured. In an interview with the British paper The Independent, Magness told an interviewer that former president “never had a chance to complete his vision. Lincoln’s racial views were evolving at the time of his death.”

Lincoln is neither the first nor the last public figure to have his legacy undermined by posthumous revelations. To this day, progressive icon Woodrow Wilson’s name christens on schools and minority scholarships nationwide with nary a mention of his well-documented racism. Byrd, West Virginia’s late senior Senator, was also embraced as a liberal hero, although his stint as a KKK-member is often omitted from paeans about his political career. Honest Abe’s views about colonization are significant to the broader narrative about black equality. But they shouldn’t completely overwhelm the cultural and moral import of his policies, which overwhelmingly benefited the cause of racial equality.