Imani Hinson and Alan Singer
This dramatization designed for classrooms explores the lives and words of freedom-seekers from New York and the South and Black abolitionist who fought to end slavery in the United States. Each speaker is a real historic figure and
addresses the audience in his or her own words.
Background: The Dutch West India Company (WIC) founded New Amsterdam on the southern tip of Manhattan Island in 1624. The name was changed to New York in honor of the Duke of York after Great Britain took control over the small settlement in 1664. The Duke of York was the younger brother of the King of England and a future king himself. He was also the head of the Royal African Company, which was engaged in the transAtlantic slave trade. Many enslaved Africans were branded with the letters RAC, the company’s initials, or DY, which stood for Duke of York.
The first eleven enslaved Africans were brought to New Amsterdam in 1626 to work for the WIC. The first slave auction in what would become New York City was probably held in 1655. The city Common Council established the Wall Street slave
market in 1711. The last enslaved Africans in New York were freed on July 4, 1827, which meant slavery existed in New Amsterdam/New York for over 200 years, which is longer than there has been freedom in the city.
This play introduces African Americans, some born enslaved and some born free, who helped transform New York City and state into a center of resistance to slavery. It also tells about the ugly truth of slavery in New Amsterdam and New York. Each of the speakers in this play is a real historical figure and the words that they utter are
from their speeches and writing or from contemporary newspaper accounts.
The play opens with a petition from Emanuel and Reytory Pieterson. They were free
Blacks in colonial New Amsterdam. In 1661, they petitioned the Dutch government to recognize that their adopted son, eighteen-year old Anthony van Angola, was a free man because his parents were free when he was born and he was raised by free
Venture Smith was born in Africa, kidnapped, sold into slavery, and transported, first
to Barbados, and then Fisher’s Island off the east coast of Long Island. In a memoir, published in 1796, Smith described brutal treatment while enslaved. Jupiter Hammon was the first Black poet published in the United States. Austin Steward was
brought as a slave from Virginia to upstate New York where he secured his freedom and established himself as a merchant. Peter Williams, Jr. was an Episcopal priest who organized the St. Philip’s African Church in New York City. Thomas James
was born a slave in Canajoharie, New York and later became an important figure in the AME church. John B. Russwurm published the first African American newspaper in the United States. William Hamilton was co-founder of the New York African Society for Mutual Relief. James McCune Smith was the first African American to obtain a medical degree. David Ruggles was a founder and secretary of the New York Committee of Vigilance.
Samuel Ringgold Ward’s family escaped enslavement in Maryland when he was a child. He became an abolitionist, newspaper editor, and Congregationalist minister. Henry Highland Garnet also escaped to the freedom with his family when he was a child and he became one of the most radical Black abolitionists. Solomon Northup was a free Black man in upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana. After twelve years of enslavement he was able to contact his family and secured his freedom. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, Frederick Douglass
became a leading abolitionist orator and newspaper editor. Jermain Loguen was an abolitionist, teacher, minister and Underground Railroad “station master” in Syracuse.
After gaining her freedom when New York State abolished slavery, Isabella Bomfree became Sojourner Truth, an itinerant minister and abolitionist and feminist speaker. Harriet Jacobs wrote about her life enslaved in North Carolina and the discrimination suffered by free Blacks in the North. James Pennington opposed segregation in New York and championed education for African American children. Elizabeth Jennings was a free woman of color who challenged segregation on New York City street cars. William Wells Brown, a former freedom-seeker, worked as a steamboatman on Lake Erie helping other freedom-seekers escape
to Canada. Harriet Tubman was the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was a writer and an activist for African Americans and woman.
New York’s African Americans Demand Freedom
1. Reytory Pieterson: Reytory and Emanuel Pieterson were free Blacks in colonial New Amsterdam. In 1661 they petitioned the Dutch government to recognize that eighteen-year old Anthony van Angola, who they raised after the death of his parents, was born free and should legally be recognized as a free man.
Reytory, in the year 1643, on the third of August, stood as godparent or witness at the Christian baptism of a little son of one Anthony van Angola, begotten with his own wife named Louise, the which aforementioned Anthony and Louise were both free Negroes; and about four weeks thereafter the aforementioned Louise came to depart this world, leaving behind the aforementioned little son named Anthony, the which child your petitioner out of Christian affection took to herself, and with the fruits of her hands’ bitter toil she reared him as her own child, and up to the present supported him,
taking all motherly solicitude and care for him . . .Your petitioners….very respectfully address themselves to you, noble and right honorable lords, humbly begging that your noble honors consent to grant a stamp in this margin of this document . . . declaring] that he himself, being of free parents, reared and brought up without burden or expense of the West Indian Company . . . may be declared by your noble honors to be a free person.
2. Venture Smith: Venture Smith was born in Africa, kidnapped, sold into slavery, and transported, first to Barbados and then Fisher’s Island off the east coast of Long Island. When he was twenty-two years old, Smith married and attempted to escape from bondage. He eventually surrendered to his master, but was permitted to earn money to purchase his freedom and the freedom of his family. He published his memoirs in 1796.
My master having set me off my business to perform that day and then left me to perform it, his son came up to me in the course of the day, big with authority, and commanded me very arrogantly to quit my present business and go directly about what he should order me. I replied to him that my master had given me so much to perform that day, and that I must faithfully complete it in that time. He then broke out into a great rage, snatched a pitchfork and went to lay me over the head therewith, but I as soon got another and defended myself with it, or otherwise he might have murdered me in his outrage. He immediately called some people who
were within hearing at work for him, and ordered them to take his hair rope and come and bind me with it. They all tried to bind me, but in vain, though there were three assistants in number. I recovered my temper, voluntarily caused myself to be bound by the same men who tried in vain before, and carried before my young master, that he might do what he pleased with me. He took me to a gallows made for the purpose of hanging cattle on, and suspended me on it. I was released and went to
work after hanging on the gallows about an hour.
3. Jupiter Hammon: Jupiter Hammon, who was enslaved on Long Island, was the first Black poet published in the United States. He addressed this statement to the African population of New York in 1786, soon after national independence.
Liberty is a great thing, and worth seeking for, if we can get it honestly, and by our good conduct, prevail on our masters to set us free. That liberty is a great thing we may know from our own feelings, and we may likewise judge so from the conduct of the white people, in the late war. How much money has been spent, and how many lives have been lost, to defend their liberty. I must say that I have hoped that God would open their eyes, when they were so much engaged for liberty, to think of the state of the poor blacks, and to pity us.
4. Austin Steward: Austin Steward was born in 1793 in Prince William County, Virginia. As a youth, he was brought to upstate New York where he eventually secured his freedom and established himself as a merchant in Rochester.
We traveled northward, through Maryland, Pennsylvania, and a portion of New York, to Sodus Bay, where we halted for some time. We made about twenty miles per day, camping out every night, and reached that place after a march of twenty days. Every morning the overseer called the roll, when every slave must answer to his or her name, felling to the ground with his cowhide, any delinquent who failed to speak out in quick time.
After the roll had been called, and our scanty breakfast eaten, we marched on again, our company presenting the appearance of some numerous caravan crossing the desert of Sahara. When we pitched our tents for the night, the slaves must immediately set about cooking not their supper only, but their breakfast, so as to be ready to start early the next morning, when the tents were struck; and we proceeded on our journey in this way to the end . . . My master . . . hired me out to a man by the name of Joseph Robinson . . . He was . . .tyrannical and cruel to those in his employ; and having hired me as a “slave boy,” he appeared to feel at full liberty to wreak his brutal passion on me at any time, whether I deserved rebuke or not; . . . he would frequently draw from the cart-tongue a heavy iron pin, and beat me over the head with it, so unmercifully that he frequently sent the blood flowing over my scanty apparel, and from that to the ground, before he could feel satisfied.
5. Peter Williams, Jr.: Reverend Peter Williams, Jr. was an Episcopal priest who organized the St. Philip’s African Church in New York City. In 1808, Williams delivered this prayer commemorating the outlawing of the trans-Atlantic slave trade by the United States.
Oh, God! we thank thee, that thou didst condescend to listen to the cries of Africa’s
wretched sons; and that thou didst interfere in their behalf. At thy call humanity sprang forth, and espoused the cause of the oppressed; one hand she employed in drawing from their vitals the deadly arrows of injustice; and the other in holding a
shield, to defend them from fresh assaults; and at that illustrious moment, when the sons of 76 pronounced these United States free and independent; when the spirit of patriotism, erected a temple sacred to liberty; when the inspired voice of Americans first uttered those noble sentiments, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”; and when the bleeding African, lifting his fetters, exclaimed, “am I not a man and a brother”; then with redoubled efforts, the angel of humanity strove to restore to the African race, the inherent rights of man. . . . May the time speedily commence, when Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands; when the sun of liberty shall beam resplendent on the whole African race; and its genial influences, promote the luxuriant growth of knowledge and virtue.
6. Thomas James: Reverend Thomas James was born enslaved in Canajoharie, New York. When he was eight years-old, James was separated from his mother, brother and sister when they were sold away to another owner. He escaped from slavery when he was seventeen. He later became an important figure in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
While I was still in the seventeenth year of my age, Master Kimball was killed in a runaway accident; and at the administrator’s sale I was sold with the rest of the property . . .My new master had owned me but a few months when he sold me, or
rather traded me, . . . in exchange for a yoke of steers, a colt and some additional property. I remained with Master Hess from March until June of the same year, when I ran away. My master had worked me hard, and at last undertook to whip me.
This led me to seek escape from slavery. I arose in the night, and taking the newly staked line of the Erie canal for my route, traveled along it westward until, about a week later, I reached the village of Lockport. No one had stopped me in my flight. Men were at work digging the new canal at many points, but they never troubled themselves even to question me. I slept in barns at night and begged food at farmers’ houses along my route. At Lockport a colored man showed me the way to the Canadian border. I crossed the Niagara at Youngstown on the ferry-boat, and was free!
7. John B. Russwurm: Freedom’s Journal was the first African American newspaper published in the United States. It was founded and edited by Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm in New York City in 1827. Its editorials stressed the fight against slavery and racial discrimination.
We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the public been deceived by misrepresentations, in things which concern us dearly, though in the estimation of some mere trifles; for though there are many in society who exercise towards us benevolent feelings; still (with sorrow we confess it) there are others who make it their business to enlarge upon the least trifle, which tends to the discredit of any person of color; and pronounce anathemas and denounce our whole body for the misconduct of this guilty one . . . Education being an object of the highest importance to the welfare of society, we shall endeavor to present just and adequate views of it, and to urge upon our brethren the necessity and expediency of training their children, while young, to habits of industry, and thus forming them for becoming useful members of society . . . The civil rights of a people being of the greatest value, it shall ever be our duty to vindicate our brethren, when oppressed; and to lay the case before the public. We shall also urge upon our brethren, (who are qualified by the laws of the different states) the expediency of using their elective franchise.
8. William Hamilton: William Hamilton was a carpenter and co-founder of the New York African Society for Mutual Relief. On July 4, 1827 he delivered an Emancipation Day Address celebrating the end of slavery in New York State.
“LIBERTY! kind goddess! brightest of the heavenly deities that guide the affairs or men. Oh Liberty! where thou art resisted and irritated, thou art terrible as the raging sea and dreadful as a tornado. But where thou art listened to and obeyed, thou art gentle as the purling stream that meanders through the mead; as soft and as cheerful as the zephyrs that dance upon the summers breeze, and as bounteous as autumn’s harvest. To thee, the sons of Africa, in this once dark, gloomy, hopeless, but now fairest, brightest, and most cheerful of thy domain, do owe a double obligation of gratitude.
Thou hast entwined and bound fast the cruel hands of oppression – thou hast by the powerful charm of reason deprived the monster of his strength – he dies, he sinks to rise no more. Thou hast loosened the hard bound fetters by which we were held. And
by a voice sweet as the music of heaven, yet strong and powerful, reaching to the extreme boundaries of the state of New-York, hath declared that we the people of color, the sons of Africa, are free.”
9. James McCune Smith: Dr. James McCune Smith was an African American physician who studied medicine in Glasgow, Scotland. Here he describes a manumission day parade in New York that he attended as a youth.
A splendid looking black man, mounted on a milk-white steed, then his aids on horseback, dashing up and down the line; then the orator of the day, also mounted, with a handsome scroll, appearing like a baton in his right hand, then in due order, splendidly dressed in scarfs of silk with gold-edgings, and with colored bands of music and their banners appropriately lettered and painted, followed, the New York African Society for Mutual Relief, the Wilberforce Benevolent Society, and the Clarkson Benevolent Society; then the people five or six abreast from grown men to small boys. The sidewalks were crowded with wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers of the celebrants, representing every state in the Union, and not a few with gay bandanna handkerchiefs, betraying their West Indian birth. Nor was Africa underrepresented. Hundreds who survived the middle passage and a youth in slavery joined in the joyful procession.
10. David Ruggles: David Ruggles was born free in Norwich, Connecticut in 1810. He moved to New York City in 1827 where he was a founder and secretary of the New York Committee of Vigilance which aided hundreds of fugitive slaves. He also founded the city’s first Black bookstore, was a noted abolitionist lecturer, published a newspaper, and ran a boarding house that was a stop on the Underground Railroad. In 1838, he provided safe-haven in his home for a freedom-seeker named Frederick Bailey who later changed his name to Frederick Douglass.
The whites have robbed us for centuries – they made Africa bleed rivers of blood! – they have torn husbands from their wives – wives from their husbands – parents from their children – children from their parents – brothers from their sisters – sisters from their brothers, and bound them in chains – forced them into holds of vessels – subjected them to the most unmerciful tortures: starved and murdered, and doomed them to endure the horrors of slavery. . . . But why is it that it seems to you so “repugnant” to marry your sons and daughters to colored persons? Simply because public opinion is against it. Nature teaches no such “repugnance,” but experience has taught me that education only does. Do children feel and exercise that prejudice towards colored persons? Do not colored and white children play together promiscuously until the white is taught to despise the colored?
11. Samuel Ringgold Ward: Samuel Ringgold
Ward’s family escaped enslavement in Maryland when he was a child. He became an abolitionist, newspaper editor, and Congregationalist minister. He was forced to flee the United States in 1851 because of his involvement in anti-slavery activity in Syracuse.
I was born on the 17th October, 1817, in that part of the State of Maryland, commonly called the Eastern Shore. My parents were slaves. I was born a slave. They escaped, and took their then only child with them . . . I grew up, in the State of New Jersey, where my parents lived till I was nine years old, and in the State of New York, where we lived for many years. My parents were always in danger of being arrested and re-enslaved. To avoid this, among their measures of caution, was the keeping of their children quite ignorant of their birthplace, and of their condition, whether free or slave, when born.
12. Solomon Northup: Solomon Northup was a free Black man in upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana. After twelve years of enslavement he was able to contact his family and secured his freedom. His memoir
remains a powerful indictment of the slave system.
My ancestors on the paternal side were slaves in Rhode Island. They belonged to a family by the name of Northup, one of whom, removing to the State of New York, settled at Hoosic, in Rensselaer county. He brought with him Mintus Northup, my father. On the death of this gentleman, which must have occurred some fifty years ago, my father became free, having been emancipated by a direction in his will.. . . Though born a slave, and laboring under the disadvantages to which my unfortunate race is subjected, my father was a man respected for his industry and integrity, as many now living, who well remember him, are ready to testify. His whole life was passed in the peaceful pursuits of agriculture, never seeking employment in those more menial positions, which seem to be especially allotted to the children of Africa. Besides giving us an education surpassing that ordinarily bestowed upon children in our condition, he acquired, by his diligence and economy, a sufficient
property qualification to entitle him to the right of suffrage . . . Up to this period I had been principally engaged with my father in the labors of the farm. The leisure hours allowed me were generally either employed over my books, or playing on the violin –
an amusement which was the ruling passion of my youth.
13. Henry Highland Garnet: Henry Highland Garnet escaped to freedom with his family when he was a child and became a Presbyterian minister in Troy and New York City. At the 1843 National Negro Convention in Buffalo, New York, Garnet
called on enslaved Africans to revolt against their masters.
Let your motto be resistance! It is in your power so to torment the God-cursed slave-holders, that they will be glad to let you go free. If the scale was turned, and black men were the masters and white men the slaves, every destructive agent and element would be employed to lay the oppressor low. Danger and death would hang over their heads day and night. Yes, the tyrants would meet with plagues more terrible than those of Pharaoh. But you are a patient people. You act as though you were made for the special use of these devils. You act as though your daughters were born to pamper the lusts of your masters and overseers. And worse than all, you tamely submit while your lords tear your wives from your embraces and defile them before your eyes. In the name of God, we ask, are you men? Where is the blood of your fathers? Has it all run out of your veins? Awake, awake; millions of voices are calling you! Your dead fathers speak to you from their graves. Heaven, as with a voice of thunder, calls on you to arise from the dust. Let your motto be resistance! resistance! resistance! No oppressed people have ever secured their liberty without resistance. Trust in the living God. Labor for the peace of the human race, and remember that you are four millions.
14. Frederick Douglass: Frederick Washington Bailey was born in Maryland in 1817. He was the son of a White man and an enslaved African woman so he was legally a slave. As a boy he was taught to read in violation of state law. In 1838, he escaped to New York City where he married and changed his name to Frederick Douglass. In 1847, Frederick Douglass started an anti-slavery newspaper in Rochester, New York.
“We solemnly dedicate the ‘North Star’ to the cause of our long oppressed and plundered fellow countrymen. May God bless the undertaking to your good. It shall fearlessly assert your rights, faithfully proclaim your wrongs, and earnestly demand for you instant and even-handed justice. Giving no quarter to slavery at the South, it will hold no truce with oppressors at the North. While it shall boldly advocate emancipation for our enslaved brethren, it will omit no opportunity to gain for the nominally free complete enfranchisement. Every effort to injure or degrade you or your cause . . . shall find in it a constant, unswerving and inflexible foe . . .”
15. Frederick Douglass: In 1852 Frederick Douglass delivered a Fourth of July speech in Rochester where he demanded to know, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
“What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? . . . Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence given by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me.
This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn . . . What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality . . . There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.”
16. Frederick Douglass: In a January 1864 speech at Cooper Union in New York City, Frederick Douglass laid out his vision for the future of the country.
What we now want is a country—a free country—a country not saddened by the footprints of a single slave—and nowhere cursed by the presence of a slaveholder. We want a country which shall not brand the Declaration of Independence as a lie. We want a country whose fundamental institutions we can proudly defend before the highest intelligence and civilization of the age . . . We now want a country in which the obligations of patriotism shall not conflict with fidelity to justice and liberty . . . WE want a country . . . where no man may be imprisoned or flogged or sold for learning to read, or teaching a fellow mortal how to read . . . Liberty for all, chains for none; the black man a soldier in war, a laborer in peace; a voter at the South as well as at the North; America his permanent home, and all Americans his fellow countrymen. Such, fellow citizens, is my idea of the mission of the war. If accomplished, our glory as a nation will be complete, our peace will flow like a river, and our foundation will be the everlasting rocks.
17. Jermain Loguen: Jermain Loguen escaped from slavery in Tennessee when he was 21. Once free, Loguen became an abolitionist, teacher and minister. In 1841, he moved to Syracuse, where as the “station master” of the local underground railroad “depot,” he helped over one thousand “fugitives” escape to Canada. In 1850, Reverend Loguen denounced the Fugitive Slave Law.
I was a slave; I knew the dangers I was exposed to. I had made up my mind as to the course I was to take. On that score I needed no counsel, nor did the colored citizens generally. They had taken their stand-they would not be taken back to slavery. If to shoot down their assailants should forfeit their lives, such result was the least of the evil. They will have their liberties or die in their defense. I don’t respect this law – I don’t fear it – I won’t obey it! It outlaws me, and I outlaw it, and the men who attempt to enforce it on me. I place the governmental officials on the ground that they place me. I will not live a slave, and if force is employed to re-enslave me, I shall make preparations to meet the crisis as becomes a man. If you will stand by me and I believe you will do it, for your freedom and honor are involved as well as mine, . . . you will be the saviors of your country. Your decision tonight in favor of resistance will give vent to the spirit of liberty, and will break the bands of party, and shout for joy all over the North. Your example only is needed to be the type of public action in Auburn, and Rochester, and Utica, and Buffalo, and all the West, and eventually in the Atlantic cities. Heaven knows that this act of noble daring will break out somewhere – and may God grant that Syracuse be the honored spot, whence it shall send an earthquake voice through the land!
18. Sojourner Truth: Sojourner Truth, whose original name was Isabella Bomfree, was born and enslaved near Kingston, New York. After gaining her freedom she became an itinerant preacher who campaigned for abolition and woman’s rights.
During the Civil War, Truth urged young men to enlist and organized supplies for black troops. After the war, she worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau, helping people find jobs and build new lives. Her most famous speech was delivered in 1851 at a
women’s rights convention in Ohio.
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about? That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me!
And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman? . . . That little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now
they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
19. Harriet Jacobs: Harriet Jacobs was born
enslaved in North Carolina in 1813. After hiding in
an attic for seven years, she escaped to the north in
She published her memoir in 1861 using the pseudonym Linda Brent. In 1853, Jacobs wrote a Letter from a Fugitive Slave that was published in the New York Daily Tribune.
I was born a slave, reared in the Southern hot-bed until I was the mother of two children, sold at the early age of two and four years old. I have been hunted through all of the Northern States . . . My mother was dragged to jail, there remained twenty-five days, with Negro traders to come in as they liked to examine her, as she was offered for sale. My sister was told that she must yield, or never expect to see her mother again . . . That child gave herself up to her master’s bidding, to save one that was dearer to her than life itself . . . At fifteen, my sister held to her bosom an innocent offspring of her guilt and misery. In this way she dragged a miserable existence of two years, between the fires of her mistress’s jealousy and her master’s brutal passion. At seventeen, she gave birth to another helpless infant, heir to all the evils of slavery. Thus life and its sufferings was meted out to her until her twenty-first year. Sorrow and suffering has made its ravages upon her – she was less the object to be desired by the fiend who had crushed her to the earth; and as her children grew, they bore too strong a resemblance to him who desired to give them no other inheritance save Chains and Handcuffs . . . those two helpless children were the sons of one of your sainted Members in Congress; that agonized mother, his victim and slave.
20. James Pennington: James Pennington was born into slavery on the coast of Maryland and escaped in 1828. He challenged segregation and championed education for African Americans. He authored the first account of African Americans
used in schools, A Text Book of the Origin and History of Colored People.
There is one sin that slavery committed against me, which I never can forgive. It robbed me of my education; the injury is irreparable; I feel the embarrassment more seriously now than I ever did before. It cost me two years’ hard labour, after I
fled, to unshackle my mind; it was three years before I had purged my language of slavery’s idioms; it was four years before I had thrown off the crouching aspect of slavery; and now the evil that besets me is a great lack of that general information, the foundation of which is most effectually laid in that part of life which I served as
a slave. When I consider how much now, more than ever, depends upon sound and thorough education among coloured men, I am grievously overwhelmed with a sense of my deficiency, and more especially as I can never hope now to make it up.
21. Elizabeth Jennings: In 1854, Elizabeth Jennings, a free woman of color, was thrown off a street car in New York City. The New York Tribune printed “Outrage Upon Colored Persons” where she told her story.
I held up my hand to the driver and he stopped the cars. We got on the platform, when the conductor told us to wait for the next car. I told him I could not wait, as I was in a hurry to go to church. He then told me that the other car had my people in it, that it was appropriated for that purpose . . . He insisted upon my getting off the car, but I did not get off . . . I told him not to lay his hands on me. I took hold of the window sash and held on. He pulled me until he broke my grasp and I took hold of his coat and held onto that. He ordered the driver to fasten his horses, which he did, and come and help him put me out of the car. They then both seized hold of me by the arms and pulled and dragged me flat down on the bottom of the platform, so that my feet hung one way and my head the other, nearly on the ground. I screamed murder with all my voice, and my companion screamed out “you’ll kill her. Don’t kill her.” . . . They got an officer on the corner of Walker and Bowery, whom the conductor told that his orders from the agent were to admit colored persons if the passengers did not object, but if they did, not to let them ride . . . Then the officer, without listening to anything I had to say, thrust me out, and then pushed me, and tauntingly told me to get redress [damages] if I could.
22. William Wells Brown: William Wells Brown was born on a plantation near Lexington, Kentucky in 1814 and escaped to Ohio in 1834. He moved to
New York State in the 1840, and he began lecturing for the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society and worked as a steam boatman, which enabled him to assist freedom-seekers on the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War he demanded that Blacks be allowed to serve in the Union Army.
Mr. President, I think that the present contest has shown clearly that the fidelity of the black people of this country to the cause of freedom is enough to put to shame every white man in the land who would think of driving us out of the country, provided freedom shall be proclaimed. I remember well, when Mr. Lincoln’s proclamation went forth, calling for the first 75,000 men, that among the first to respond to that call were the colored men . . . Although the colored men in many of the free States were disfranchised, abused, taxed without representation, their children turned out of the schools, nevertheless, they, went on, determined to try to discharge their duty to the country, and to save it from the tyrannical power of the slaveholders of the South . . . The black man welcomes your armies and your fleets, takes care of your sick, is ready to do anything, from cooking up to shouldering a musket; and yet these would-be patriots and professed lovers of the land talk about driving the Negro out!
23. Harriet Tubman: Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery in Maryland as a young woman, was the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. She served in the Civil War as a scout, nurse, and guerilla fighter. On October 22, 1865, Harriet Tubman spoke before a massive audience at the Bridge Street AME Church in
Last evening an immense congregation, fully half consisting of whites, was presented at the African M.E. Church in Bridge street, to listen to the story of the experiences of Mrs. Harriet Tubman, known as the South Carolina Scout and nurse, as related by herself . . . Mrs. Tubman is a colored lady, of 35 or 40 years of age; she appeared before those present with a wounded hand in a bandage, which would she stated was caused by maltreatment received at the hands of a conductor on the Camden and Amboy railroad, on her trip from Philadelphia to New York, a few days since. Her words were in the peculiar plantation dialect and at times were not intelligible to the white portion of her audience . . . She was born, she said, in the eastern portion of the State of Maryland, and wanted it to be distinctly understood that she was not educated, nor did she receive any “broughten up”. . . She knew that God had directed her to perform other works in this world, and so she escaped from bondage. This was nearly 14 years ago, since then she has assisted hundreds to do the same.
24. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: In May 1866, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a leading African American poet, lecturer and civil right activist, addressed the Eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention in New York.
Born of a race whose inheritance has been outrage and wrong, most of my life had been spent in battling against those wrongs . . . We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul. You tried that in the case of the Negro. You pressed him down for two centuries; and in so doing you crippled the moral strength and paralyzed the spiritual energies of the white men of the country. When the hands of the black were fettered, white men were deprived of the liberty of speech and the freedom of the press. Society cannot afford to neglect the enlightenment of any class of its members . . . This grand and glorious revolution which has commenced, will fail to reach its climax of success, until throughout the length and breadth of the American Republic, the nation shall be so color-blind, as to know no man by the color of his skin or the curl of his hair. It will then have no privileged class, trampling upon outraging the unprivileged classes, but will be then one great privileged nation, whose privilege will be to produce the loftiest manhood and womanhood that humanity can attain.