THE FREE BLACK WORKERS’ RESPONSE TO OPPRESSION
The relatively small number of northern blacks in the crafts and mechanical pursuits, compared with menial labor and the service industries (as waiters, porters, barbers, and the like), caused difficulties beyond simple poverty; over time this came to mean that whites expected blacks to work only in those occupations, which created an oversupply of labor in those areas which were open to black workers.
To counter this pattern of employment, blacks fashioned several institutional responses. The American League of Colored Laborers was organized in New York City in July 1850 with Frederick Douglass as vice president. Its main objectives were to promote unity among mechanics, foster training in agriculture, industrial arts, and commerce, and assist members in establishing business for themselves. Clearly, the League was interested in industrial education rather than trade union activity, and was oriented toward the self-employed artisan (Doc. 1).
The Negro Convention Movement was another institutional response to the problems of restricted labor mobility. During the Ante-Bellum Era, black leaders gathered in conventions, both on the local and national level, to discuss issues of mutual concern, and to reach some agreement as to the appropriate group response. Many of the documents in Part VI refer to the proceedings of these conventions (DOC. 2–17). One of the most interesting corrective proposals called for the construction of an “industrial college” for black youths (Doc. 15–17). This idea gained currency at several conventions during the 1840s and 1850s, and won support from the most prominent black leaders, including Alexander Crummell and James McCune Smith (Doc. 8), and Frederick Douglass (Doc. 15). Several eminent white abolitionists also favored the concept, among them William Lloyd Garrison (Doc. 5), and Harriet Beecher Stowe (Doc. 12). No one phrased the alternatives more starkly than Douglass, who suggested that blacks must “Learn Trades or Starve” (Doc. 11).
The gradual expulsion of blacks by immigrants from traditional jobs, as waiters and porters for example, further necessitated this reassessment regarding the long-range strategy for black workers. The question broke over the age-old dilemma of whether blacks should integrate into or separate from American society (Doc. 18–20). Some, such as Martin R. Delany, saw no end to the oppression and therefore advocated emigration (Doc. 19), while others, such as Frederick Douglass, were determined to fight against discrimination and for integration (Doc. 20).
An Association under this name was formed in New-York during the anniversary week, the object of which is to promote union and concert among the people of color in means for their own improvement; especially in their social and physical condition.
They recommend as general and thorough an education of their youth in agriculture, the mechanic arts, and commerce as in science; that every colored mechanic should, if able, carry on business for himself, and for such as have not the means, that
“A fund should be established in every community, for the purpose of loaning sums of money to colored men of integrity to assist them to go into business on their own account, or in such way as they may find most convenient and profitable.
They “recommend skillful, honorable, profitable labor to the free colored men of the United States, not merely because it is productive of wealth, and all its accompanying advantages; but because it is indispensable to that development and perfection, both of body and mind, which we so much need, and which many of us so much desire.”
The following plan of organization and list of officers, were adopted:
1. That the editors present, and all friendly, be requested to publish, repeatedly, the propositions adopted by this meeting.
2. That there be an Executive Committee whose office shall be in the City of New-York, the members of which, residing in said City, shall be a quorum for the transaction of business for the Association generally, and said City in particular; all other Committees or Associations, for the same object, shall correspond with said Executive Committee at least once a month; and said Committee shall consist of 23 members.
3. That the details of carrying out the work be left to the colored communities in the various parts of the country, who are hereby respectfully recommended to form Associations in co-operation with the Executive Committee.
4. Every Association or Committee, when formed, shall publish its proceedings in our papers, (and pay for the same,) and also in one local paper.
5. That an Industrial Fair shall be held in New-York City in the second week in May, 1852; of the proceeds of which 70 per cent shall be given to the producers, and 30 per cent. shall be devoted to carrying out the views of this organization; and that colored mechanics, artisans and agriculturists, be earnestly requested to exhibit at the several national Fairs, specimens of their skill and industry.
6. That an Agent shall be employed by the Executive Committee to lay these views before the Colored People of the United States.
S. R. WARD, President.
New York Tribune, July 3, 1850.
There is now in session in this City a Convention composed entirely of colored citizens. The object of the Convention is to consider the present condition of the Negro race, and to devise means for its improvement. On Tuesday evening, Dr. J. McCune Smith read a report from the Committee on the Social Condition of the Colored Race. It was an elaborate document, containing a great many curious facts. The first question discussed was, whether the colored people should endeavor to organize themselves in the City, or devise a plan of settling in the country. The report made, considers the subject:43
The advantages about city life with us are, that a larger number of us can be within short distances of each other, and thereby may easily organize without such disadvantage as would grow from the same number being banded in a single country.
We get a large amount of friction without being so condensed as to be reached by a law for removing us from any rural locality—such laws as expatriated Indians and Mormons. We can be, if we will, much better provided for in the matter of education in the city than we could in the country. We can, if we shoose, throw vastly more trade of our own and of other people, in the way of each other in the city, than we could in the country.
The disadvantages of our City life—I mean those peculiar to us, for all city life is, after all, a kind of hot-house forcing of human beings—are the following:
1st. Our lives are much shortened. Look at the preponderance of widows and children among us. They so far exceed the calamities of mere sickness, that our benevolent societies have been obliged to cut off the widows and orphans, in order to help the sick.
2nd. Next, the seductions of the City—policy gambling, porter houses, with their billiards and cards, create a gang of lazaroni of both sexes, women hastening through the streets, with their bonnets untied; men, shirtless and shoeless, hanging round the corners, or standing, walking, gutter-tumbling—signs which our foes call the type of our condition.
3d. City life shuts us from general mechanical employment; while journeymen in the cities refuse to work with us, and colored bosses have either too little capital, or too little enterprise, to bring up and employ apprentices and journeymen.
4th. From the necessity of seeking employment in the city, as servants, porters, &c., our manhood is, in a measure, demeaned, lowered, kept down; and I doubt much whether manhood flourishes very much among citizens of any class.
5th. The enormous combination of capital, which is slowly invading every calling in the city, from washing and ironing to palace steamers, must tend more and more to grind the face of the poor in the cities, and render them more and more the slaves of lower wages and higher rents.
No sane man can doubt, from this or any comparison of the kind, that country life is the better choice of our people; not consolidated, isolated country life, but a well mixed country and village life. The matter of education, the great disadvantage of country life, might be remedied by concert of action.
As to the practicability of removing to the country, it was argued, that savings might be effected by the two thousand colored families in the city, in a rigid economy of house-rent and fuel, enough to establish a bank, which would soon colonize the entire class. The topic was first illustrated in the matter of house-rent thus:
In the rear of No. 17 Laurens-street, is a back lot which cost $2,500; on it are erected two buildings, which cost $6,000, Total, $8,500. Interest on which, at 7 per cent, is $595; and add for taxes, insurance and wear $100, making full cost $695 per year. These two buildings are occupied by twenty colored families, who pay an average of $7 each per month; that is $1,680 per year. Here is a clear profit to the landlord of $985 per year, above interest and expense.
Again: If those buildings were owned by a colored Savings Institution, whose surplus funds should be devoted to setting up colored young men on farms, such institution, after paying depositors six per cent would have a splendid surplus for starting farmers or men in others business. If we take a larger view of this matter of house rent, the results are amazing. According to the above estimate, each one of the twenty families in the rear of 17 Laurens-st. are paying $37 per year too much for house rent.
There are some 2,500 colored families in New York and its vicinity; say that each family pays only $10 a year too much for house rent, and that these families could, by organization, retrench and accumulate that sum per year, and we would save, in this one item, $25,000 per year!
In respect to the use of fuel, it was also shown, that it is next in importance. Our 2,000 families consume at least two and a half tons coal each year per year, making 4,500 tons. At least two-thirds of these 2,000 families buy their coal by the bushel or peck, thereby paying $2 per ton more than the market price, which is a sacrifice of $6,000 per year. Then, if these 2,000 families combined to buy their own coal at the wharf, they could save, by purchasing cargoes, $1 on each ton, at least, which is $10,500. Allowing the hire of a coal yard at $800 per year, and the pay of two good clerks at $800 each, there would be clear gain of $8,100 in the single matter of coal, if we would thoroughly organize the matter.
By similar calculations, it can be shown that we could easily save $20,000 on groceries and food, and $10,000 on wearing apparel; beside setting up in successful and commanding business such men as are capable, intelligent and trustworthy.
In order to accomplish these, the report proposed the establishment of a mutual bank, in which all the depositors should be at the same time stockholders, and which should have power to buy and sell real estate, to discount paper, to lend money on bond and mortgage, and to deal in merchandise. The Doctor, after concluding the reading of the report, said that there were $40,000 or $50,000 belonging to colored people invested in savings banks in Wall-st., and he then presented the following resolution:
Resolved, that a Committee of three be appointed, with power to present the form of a Mutual Savings Institution, embracing the matters of house rent, fuel and other domestic wants, and that one of the conditions of membership of said institution shall be a pledge to abstain from policy-gambling.
A discussion of the subject at great length took place, in the course of which fearful revelations were made of the extent of policy gambling among the blacks, and the resolution adopted.
New York Daily Tribune, March 20, 1851.
White Fellow Citizens:
The great truth of moral and political science, upon which we rely and which we press upon your consideration, have been evolved and enunciated by you. We point to your principles, your wisdom, and to your great example for the full justification of our cause this day. That “ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL,” that “LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS” are the right of all; that “THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES WAS FORMED TO ESTABLISH JUSTICE, PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE AND TO SECURE THE BLESSING OF LIBERTY TO ALL THE PEOPLE OF THIS COUNTRY.”
WE ASK to be disencumbered of the load of popular reproach heaped upon us — for no better cause than that we wear the complexion given us by our God and Creator.
WE ASK that in our native land, we shall not be treated as strangers.
WE ASK that, speaking the same language, and being of the same religion, worshipping the same God, owing our redemption to the same Savior, and learning our duties from the same Bible, we shall not be treated as barbarians.
WE ASK that, having the same physical, moral, mental, and spiritual wants, common to other members of the human family, we shall also have the same means which are granted and secured to others to supply those wants.
WE ASK that the doors of the schoolhouses, the work-shop, the church, the college, shall be thrown open as freely to our children as to the children of other members of the community.
WE ASK that as justice knows no rich, no poor, no black, no white, but, like the government of God, renders alike to every man reward or punishment according as his works shall be — the black and white may stand upon an equal footing before the laws of the land.
WE ASK that the complete and unrestricted right of suffrage, which is essential to the dignity even of the white man, be extended to the colored man also.
We shall invite the cooperation of good men in this country and throughout the world — and above all, we shall look to God, the Father and Creator of all men, for wisdom to direct us and strength to support us in the holy cause to which we solemnly pledge ourselves.
In numbers we are few and feeble; but in goodness of our cause, in the rectitude of our motives, and in the abundance of argument on our side, we are many and strong. The number in our land who already recognize the justice of our cause, and are laboring to promote it, is great and increasing.
As a people, we feel ourselves to be not only deeply injured, but grossly misunderstood. Our white fellow-countrymen do not know us. They are strangers to our character, ignorant of our capacities, oblivious of our history and progress. It is believed that no other nation on the globe could have made more progress in the midst of such universal and stringent disparagement. In view of our circumstances, we can, without boasting, thank God, and take courage, having placed ourselves where we may fairly challenge comparison with more highly favored men.
Among the colored people we can point with pride and hope, to men of education and refinement, who have become such, despite of the most unfavorable influences.
While conscious of the immense disadvantages which beset our pathway, we are encouraged to persevere in efforts adapted to our improvement, by a firm reliance upon God, and a settled conviction, as immovable as the everlasting hills, that all the truths in the whole universe of God are allied to our cause.
“Address of the Colored National Convention to the People of the United States,” held at Rochester, N.Y., on July 6–8, 1853.
Spoken by a pupil at a public examination 1819, embracing also his Valedictory on that occasion.
RESPECTED PATRONS AND FRIENDS,
To me is allotted the honor of inviting the attention of this philanthropic assembly to the various specimens of improvement, which the constant efforts of the Trustees and Teachers of this school, have caused us to make, since the last public examination, and I am happy in having been one of the favored number who have enjoyed the blessed advantages of this Institution. We have been the objects of your care, and I still earnestly solicit your sympathy. Had I the mind of a Locke, and the eloquence of a Chatham, still, would there not be in the minds of some, an immeasurable distance that would divide me from one of a white skin? What signifies it! Why should I strive hard, and acquire all the constituents of a man, if the prevailing genius of the land admit me not as such, or but in an inferior degree! Pardon me if I feel insignificant and weak. Pardon me if I feel discouragement to oppress me to the very earth. Am I arrived at the end of my education, just on the eve of setting out into the world, of commencing some honest pursuit, by which to earn a comfortable subsistence? What are my prospects? To what shall I turn my hand? Shall I be a mechanic? No one will employ me; white boys won’t work with me. Shall I be a merchant? No one will have me in his office; white clerks won’t associate with me. Drudgery and servitude, then, are my prospective portion. Can you be surprised at my discouragement? Child as I am, of the same Almighty Being, and equally accountable both here and hereafter, as much so as any of the great human family!
You will not have an opportunity of seeing that many of us have acquired a commendable knowledge of the various branches taught in this School. This, the exercises now to be introduced, will, I hope, more fully demonstrate.
Charles G. Andrews, The History of the New-York African-Free Schools (New York, 1830), p. 132.
At the meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society at Franklin Hall on Monday evening last, the following resolution was passed.
Whereas, Education must be regarded as the first and principal means of improving the moral condition and character of the Free People of Color in this country; and whereas those people do not at present enjoy the privilege of obtaining an education on terms of equality with others, such as is necessary to qualify them to become highly useful as teachers:
Therefore, Resolved, That this Society will immediately take measures to raise, by voluntary contributions, subscriptions and donations, the sum of Fifty Thousand Dollars, for the purpose of establishing a school on the manual labor system, for the education of Colored Youth; and that a committee now be appointed to have the special Charge of this subject, and to promote its accomplishment by all reasonable ways and means, as to them shall seem right and proper.
The Committee chosen were, the Rev. Moses Thacher, Samuel E. Sewall, Esq., Mr. Arnold Buffum, Mr. James G. Barbadous, and Mr. John T. Hilton.
Proposals for establishing a School on the Manual Labor System, for the Education of Colored Youth.
It appears by the official census of 1830, that there were then in the United States of America 600,000 free people of color, and 2,000,000 slaves. This great multitude, constituting one fifth part of our whole population are by the influence of an unholy prejudice virtually excluded from our seminaries of learning, and but very few of them are able to obtain an education to qualify themselves for usefulness as teachers of persons of their own color. We know not that there is in the whole country a single institution above that of a common grammar day school, established for their benefit.
We regard them as a deeply injured and suffering people, having claims upon us which are as imperative and obligatory as the positive injunctions of the gospel can make them, to do for the promotion of their welfare, all that Christianity requires at the hand of man for his brothers and we believe that nothing short of an improved system of education, the benefits whereof may be diffused through the entire community, can ever place them in that rank of society to which they are justly entitled, as a portion of the American family, and which will prove an legislatible argument against the [illegible] objections to the safety and propriety of gaining the blessing of universal freedom to their brethren who are now in bondage. We are assured that there are numbers of unfortunate individuals who are the offspring of white fathers and that are now held in bondage by their near relatives, who would gladly embrace the opportunity to free them, and place them in an institution where they might receive a liberal as well as a moral and virtuous education to fit them for usefulness and respectability. Deeply impressed with the importance of speedily entering upon the discharge of the duties which we owe to the people of color among us, and not doubting the liberal patronage and support of the stewards of the bounties of indulgent heaven, we have resolved to make an appeal, not to the avarice of the sordid miser, but to the spirit of benevolence, the swift winged messenger of love from on high, for the pecuniary means necessary for establishing a seminary on the manual labor system for the education of colored youth of both sexes, where at the same time that the males are instructed in such useful employments in agriculture and the mechanic arts, and the females in such domestic concerns, as will qualify them for extensively promoting the improvement of the condition of the people of color in our country, they will also be educated in useful literature and science, and where the most careful and persevering guardianship will be exercised over their habits and morals, and all those virtues which adorn life and render it a blessing, may be cultivated.
It is therefore proposed to raise by voluntary donations and subscriptions the sum of fifty thousand dollars to be applied, under the direction of a board of trustees, to be chosen at a general meeting of those who have contributed to the amount of $10 and upwards for the establishment and support of such an institution, under an act of incorporation to be obtained from the legislature of the State in which it may be situated.
Considering that the degradation and sufferings of the unfortunate people in whose behalf we now present ourselves before a liberal and enlightened generation, have been entailed upon them through the mistaken policy of the government under which our fathers lived, at a time when they constituted a dependent portion of the British Empire, and knowing that distinguished philanthropists of that empire at the present day, with their abundant means, posses abundant feelings of sympathy and benevolence toward those people,—we regard this as one of those very peculiar cases in which it is not only our right, but our duty, to invite them to participate with us in the prosecution of our plan for conferring upon the unfortunate children of sorrow and oppression in our land, those inestimable benefits which arise from cultivating and enlightening their intellectual and moral powers. We therefore propose simultaneously to solicit, both in England and America, precuniary contributions from the friends of virtue, justice, humanity and religion, for the promotion of this interesting object.
Relying upon the benign influence of the spirit of the gospel, to incline those who are blessed with means, to contribute liberally and freely, and more especially to qualify for their high duties those on whom the government of the institution may devolve, we reverent commend our cause to whom we are bound by the highest obligation, to devote all that we have, and all that we are.
In behalf of the New England Anti-Slavery Society.
ARNOLD BUFFUM, President.
Wm. Lloyd Garrison, Corresponding Sec.
Joshuan Coffin, Recording Sec’y.
Boston, Sept. 26, 1832.
The Liberator, September 29, 1832.
This Society will aim to accomplish the following objects: To visit every family in the ward, and make a register of every colored person in it—their name, sex, age, occupation, if they read, write, and cipher—to invite them, old and young, and of both sexes, to become members of this society, and to make quarterly payments according to their ability—to get the children out to infant, Sabbath, and week schools, and induce the adults also to attend school and church on the Sabbath—to encourage the women to form Dorcas societies to help clothe poor children of color if they will attend school, the clothes to be loaned, and to be taken away from them if they neglect their schools; and impress on their parents the importance of having the children punctual and regular in their attendance at school—to establish mental feasts, and also lyceums for speaking and for lectures on the sciences, and to form moral societies—to seek out young men of talent, and good moral character, that they may be assisted to obtain a liberal education—to report to the board all mechanics who are skillful and capable of conducting their trades and with respectable farmers for lads of good moral character—giving a preference to those who have learned to read, write and cipher—and in every way to endeavor to promote the happiness of the people of color, by encouraging them to improve their minds, and to abstain from every vicious and demoralizing practice.
The Liberator, June 29, 1833.
To promote the virtuous and guarded education of the free Colored Youth in the United States; to form in them habits of industry, economy, and morality, as well as to extend to them the benefits of literature and science:—we, the subscribers, agree to pay to the Trustees, to be chosen as hereinafter expressed, the sums affixed to our respective names, for the purpose of establishing a School in some part of New-England, for the education of colored youth on the Manual Labor System, on the following terms:
ARTICLE I. Such part of the sums subscribed, as may be necessary, shall be invested in lands, buildings, and farming and mechanical stock and apparatus, and other things requisite for the establishment and support of the proposed institution, and shall remain forever a fund for the support of an institution for promoting an economical and judicious system of education for young persons of African descent, having especial reference to their qualifications to become extensively useful as teachers and examples and benefactors to their brethren.
ART. II. The Trustees may invest such part of the funds as to them shall seem advisable in permanent stocks, the income to be appropriated to defray the expense of educating such pupils as may be otherwise unable to enjoy the benefits of the institution.
ART. III. While virtue and piety are to be regarded as essential parts of the education to be given in the proposed institution, and while Christianity will form the basis of the system, young persons of all sects and denominations shall be equally admitted to the school, and shall enjoy equal rights and privileges therein; there shall be no infringement of the liberty of conscience in any manner whatever; and no measures shall ever be adopted tending to give any denomination the ascendancy in the government of the proposed seminary. In order to preserve these fundamental principles from violation, a majority of the Trustees shall never consist of persons of the same denomination of Christians. This article is to be unalterable.
ART. IV. As soon as it shall be ascertained that ten thousand dollars or upwards have been subscribed, the President of the New-England Anti-Slavery Society shall call a meeting of the contributors, by giving notice in at least three newspapers published in Boston, and one or more in Providence, New-Haven, New-York, Philadelphia, and Washington, and by giving notice by mail to every person who may have subscribed to the amount of one hundred dollars or upwards, to assemble in Boston at such time and place as he may designate, then and there, in conjunction with the Board of Managers of the New-England Anti-Slavery Society, to elect twenty Trustees, who, with their successors, shall have the perpetual government of the institution and management of its funds. If practicable, the Trustees thus chosen shall obtain an act of incorporation from the Legislature of the State in which the seminary may be situated, for the better security of the funds and interests of the institution, and embracing the principles of these articles as far as possible.
ART. V. After the first election, the Trustees shall be chosen annually, by a joint ballot of the existing Trustees and the Board of Managers of the New-England Anti-Slavery Society.
ART. VI. No subscription shall be called for until the amount of Ten Thousand Dollars has been subscribed, while such sums as may have been paid will be invested in stocks by the Treasurer of the New-England Anti-Slavery Society, to remain until Trustees are chosen, when it shall be paid to them.
Boston, January 28, 1833.
The Liberator, February 16, 1833.
Resolved, That the founding of a collegiate institution, on the manual labor plan, well endowed, placed in some central position, is calculated to lessen the restraint and timidity, which must long exist, from the existence of caste in social and consequently college life; to call forth larger numbers in the pathway of learning, and to rouse a new spirit and temper among our people, wholly favorable to learning and intellectual advancement.
Therefore, Resolved, That this Convention places before the colored people of the United States, the founding of a college, as its leading and most prominent object.
Resolved, That a committee of twenty-five be appointed, with full powers to devise a plan, and, if possible, to commence obtaining subscriptions and funds, to designate proper and capable persons to conduct such an institution, to fix upon a site, and to make such other arrangements as may seem to them fit and proper, for the founding of a collegiate institution, where the facilities of education of colored youth may be abundantly increased, but which shall not be exclusive; and this committee report to this convention at its next annual session.
JAS. M’CUNE SMITH.
P. G. SMITH.
The North Star, January 21, 1848.
A corporation, having in charge a fund to be applied to the instruction of coloured boys in trades, literature and agriculture, having requested that a committee of coloured persons should be appointed to assist them in carrying out this important object, the following named persons have been appointed for this purpose.
Rev. William Douglass, Rev. S. H. Gloucester, Peter Lester, Nathaniel W. Dupee, Morris Brown, Jr., Samuel Nichols, John P. Burr, James M. Bustill, Nicholas G. Bolivar, J. J. G. Bias, Chas. Simpson, Morris Hall, Clayton Miller.
The name of this organized body will be, The Board of Education, auxiliary to the guardianship of the estate of the late Richard Humphreys bequeathing a legacy for the instruction of coloured boys in trades, literature and agriculture.
Officers.—President, Rev. William Douglass; Vice President, John P. Burr; Rec. Sec, James M. Bustill; Cor. Sec, Nicholas G. Bolivar.
Examining Committee.—J. J. G. Bias, Morris Hall, Samuel Nichols.
Committee for securing places for Boys.—Rev. Stephen H. Gloucester, Clayton Miller, Morris Brown, Jr.
Committee on Guardianship.—Peter Lester, Nathaniel W. Dupee, Charles Simpson.
The applicants for the benefit of the fund must be intelligent, of good moral character, and instructed in the elementary branches, such as reading, writing and arithmetic, when the selections are made. A reasonable compensation will be paid to respectable mechanics, white or coloured, who will take the boys on condition that they shall be well instructed in their several trades. An evening school will also be opened for their instruction in the higher branches of education.
Mechanics who wish apprentices will apply to G. W. Taylor, N. W. corner of 5th and Cherry streets, Rev. S. H. Gloucester, Lombard street above 5th, Morris Brown, Jr., South street above 9th, or Clayton Miller, No. 13 Currant Alley. Persons who wish places for boys will apply to J. J. G. Bias, 6th street below Pine, Morris Hall, Cherry street above 7th, Samuel Nichols, Shippen street near 9th, John P. Burr, and N. W. Dupee, South street below 8th, N. G. Bolivar, office of the Lebanon Cemetery, or to any other member of the Board.
N. G. BOLIVAR, Cor. Sec.
The Non-Slaveholder, 4 (1849):141.
TO COLORED MEN:—Such is the caption of an article of advice to black men, in Douglass Paper of 18th inst. It is the key note for the redemption of your race—strike it often. Apprentice your children to useful and honorable employments. Waiting upon those who should wait upon themselves, shaving those who should perform such service themselves, or go unshaven, if as honorable, is not as useful employment as building houses, or ships, or engines, or cars; make your son’s mechanics, therefore, not waiter, and let the latter position be occupied by those who can afford to bear the estimation society has for those thus employed.
The black man cannot afford longer to occupy such position; he has difficulties to overcome, lost ground to gain, an elevation of character and social standing to acquire. He must make himself useful, and his usefulness will be acknowledged. In proportion to his usefulness as a part of the great industrial force of the country, will be the necessity of his remaining with us, and being of us. Up, then, and make yourselves men, useful men, necessary men. Let the anvil ring back the echo of your determination to work out your own redemption. Let you saw, your hammer, and trowell ring around the rising cottage and the proud dome. “Put money in your purse.” Yes, put money in your purse; take to yourselves land, enough of it for a home; or, at least enough to entitle you to suffrage. You have seen with how much more respect a $250 man is treated, than one who has no land. With your work get money—with your money get land—with your land get respect that you can never obtain for your mere manhood.
The Jews, in most Christian countries have been under as severe disabilities as the free blacks in this. Even employments were denied them, that are open to black men here. These very disabilities were incentives to exertion and economy. Thrift and wealth were the consequences, until the Jew monarchs of Europe dictate peace, war, policy, to the moneyless kings and emperors of the continent. I would not make you Jews; but I would have you remember that what you regard as obstacles in your path may be the necessary stimulants to arouse your energies to the employment of the means not only to remove them, but to give you a preeminence. The demand for builders and artizans is rapidly increasing in this country, while a foolish pride or ambition is deminishing the supply and overcrowding the professions of the merchandizing, pedling and half idle classes. If the present generation must live on in the habit that have become too strong to be broken, (and to a great extent it must be so,) let the young men devote themselves to useful mechanical employments and we shall soon cease to hear of colonization schemes or such statutes as disgrace Illinois. Let the black man get land and exercise their right of suffrage, and they will command a respect (however mean the feelings that prompt it) that will be important and useful to them.
The white natives of this country are becoming rapidly enervated by idleness and easy life; and this will continue while foreigners and the blacks are willing to do the drudgery and menial services. Acquaint yourselves with the pursuits most indispensible and necessary—have a proper self-respect without that foolish vanity, ruinous to the black as well as the white man—and then shall a good time come even for the black man. In slavery, black men become superior mechanics—prove that by freedom they do not love this capacity.
(We thank our friend “B,” not only for his valuable words on this subject, but for the “material aid” which accompanied them. We hope to hear from him often—a hope which we are sure our readers will participate, especially if his future contributions shall be marked with the same wisdom as the present.)—Ed.
Frederick Douglass’ Paper, April 8, 1853.
By Frederick Douglass
These are the obvious alternatives sternly presented to the free colored people of the United States. It is idle, yea even ruinous, to disguise the matter for a single hour longer; every day begins and ends with the impressive less that free negroes must learn trades, or die.
The old avocations, by which colored men obtained a livelihood, are rapidly, unceasingly and inevitably passing into other hands; every hour sees the black man elbowed out of employment by some newly arrived emigrant, whose hunger and whose color are thought to give him a better title to the place; and so we believe it will continue to be until the last prop is levelled beneath us.
As a black man, we say if we cannot stand up, let us fall down. We desire to be a man among men while we do live; and when we cannot, we wish to die. It is evident, painfully evident to every reflecting mind, that the means of living, for colored men, are becoming more and more precarious and limited. Employments and callings, formerly monopolized by us, are so no longer.
White men are becoming house-servants, cooks and stewards on vessels—at hotels.—They are becoming porters, stevedores, wood-sawyers, hod-carriers, brick-makers, white-washers and barbers, so that the blacks can scarcely find the means of subsistence—a few years ago, and a white barber would have been a curiosity—now their poles stand on every street. Formerly blacks were almost the exclusive coachmen in wealthy families: this is so no longer; white men are now employed, and for aught we see, they fill their servile station with an obsequiousness as profound as that of the blacks. The readiness and ease with which they adapt themselves to these conditions ought not to be lost sight of by the colored people. The meaning is very important, and we should learn it. We are taught our insecurity by it. Without the means of living, life is a curse, and leaves us at the mercy of the oppressor to become his debased slaves. Now, colored men, what do you mean to do, for you must do something? The American Colonization Society tells you to go to Liberia. Mr. Bibbs tells you to go to Canada. Others tell you to go to school. We tell you to go to work; and to work you must go or die. Men are not valued in this country, or in any country, for what they are; they are valued for what they can do. It is in vain that we talk about being men, if we do not the work of men. We must become valuable to society in other departments of industry than those servile ones from which we are rapdily being excluded. We must show that we can do as well as be; to this end we must learn trades. When we can build as well as live in houses; when we can make as well as wear shoes; when we can produce as well as consume wheat, corn and rye—then we shall become valuable to society. Society is a hard-hearted affair.—With it the helpless may expect no higher dignity than that of paupers. The individual must keep society under obligation to him, or society will honor him only as a stranger and sojourner. How shall this be done? In this manner: use every means, strain every nerve to master some important mechanical art. At present, the facilities for doing this are few—institutions of learning are more readily opened to you than the work-shop; but the Lord helps them who will help themselves, and we have no doubt that new facilities will be presented as we press forward.45
If the alternative were presented to us of learning a trade or of getting an education, we would learn the trade, for the reason, that with the trade we could get the education, while with the education we could not get the trade. What we, as a people, need most, is the means for our own elevation.—An educated colored man, in the United States, unless he has within him the heart of a hero, and is willing to engage in a lifelong battle for his rights, as a man, finds few inducements to remain in this country. He is isolated in the land of his birth—debarred by his color from congenial association with whites; he is equally cast out by the ignorance of the blacks. The remedy for this must comprehend the elevation of the masses; and this can only be done by putting the mechanic arts within the reach of colored men.
We have now stated pretty strongly the case of our colored countrymen; perhaps some will say, too strongly; but we know whereof we affirm.
In view of this state of things, we appeal to the abolitionists, What boss anti-slavery mechanic will take a black boy into his wheelwright’s shop, his blacksmith’s shop, his joiner’s shop, his cabinet shop? Here is something practical; where are the whites and where are the blacks that will respond to it? Where are the anti-slavery milliners and seamstresses that will take colored girls and teach them trades, by which they can obtain an honorable living? The fact that we have made good cooks, good waiters, good barbers, and white-washers, induces the belief that we may excel in higher branches of industry. One thing is certain: we must find new methods of obtaining a livelihood, for the old ones are failing us very fast.
We, therefore, call upon the intelligent and thinking ones amongst us, to urge upon the colored people within their reach, in all seriousness, the duty and the necessity of giving their children useful and lucrative trades, by which they may commence the battle of life with weapons commensurate with the exigencies of the conflict.
You kindly informed me, when at your home, a fortnight ago, that you designed to do something which should permanently contribute to the improvement and elevation of the free colored people in the United States. You especially expressed an interest in such of this class as had become free by their own exertions, and desired most of all to be of service to them. In what manner, and by what means, you can assist this class most successfully, is the subject upon which you have done me the honor to ask my opinion.
Begging you to excuse the unavoidable delay, I will now most gladly comply with your request. . . . What can be done to improve the condition of the free people of color in the United States? The plan which I humbly submit in answer to this inquiry—and in the hope that it may find favor with you, and with many friends of humanity who honor, love and co-operate with you—is the establishment in Rochester, N. Y., or in some other part of the United States equally favorable to such an enterprise, of an Industrial College in which shall be taught several important branches of the mechanical arts. This college is to be opened to colored youth. I will pass over, for the present, the details of such an institution as I propose. It is not worth while that I should dwell upon these at all. Once convinced that something of the sort is needed, and the organizing power will be forthcoming. It is the peculiarity of your favored race that they can always do what they think necessary to be done. I can safely trust all details to yourself, and the wise and good people whom you represent in the interest you take in my oppressed fellow-countrymen.
Never having had a day’s schooling in all my life I may not be expected to map out the details of a plan so comprehensive as that involved in the idea of a college. I repeat, then, I leave the organization and administration to the superior wisdom of yourself and the friends who second your noble efforts. The argument in favor of an Industrial College—a college to be conducted by the best men—and the best workmen which the mechanical arts can afford; a college where colored youth can be instructed to use their hands, as well as their heads; where they can be put into possession of the means of getting a living whether their lot in after life may be cast among civilized or uncivilized men; whether they choose to stay here, or prefer to return to the land of their fathers—is briefly this: prejudice against the free colored people in the United States has shown itself nowhere so invincible as among mechanics. The farmer and the professional man cherish no feeling so bitter as that cherished by these. The latter would starve us out of the country entirely. At this moment I can more easily get my son into a lawyer’s office to learn law than I can into a blacksmith’s shop to blow the bellows and to wield the sledge-hammer. Denied the means of learning useful trades we are pressed into the narrowest limits to obtain a livelihood. In times past we have been the hewers of wood and the drawers of water for American society, and we once enjoyed a monopoly in the menial employments, but this is so no longer. Even these enjoyments are rapidly passing away out of our hands. The fact is—every day begins with the lesson, and ends with the lesson—the colored men must learn trades; and must find new employment; new modes of usefulness to society, or that they must decay under the pressing wants to which their condition is rapidly bringing them.
We must become mechanics; we must build as well as live in houses; we must make as well as use furniture; we must construct bridges as well as pass over them, before we can properly live or be respected by our fellow men. We need mechanics as well as ministers. We need workers in iron, clay, and leather. We have orators, authors, and other professional men, but these reach only a certain class, and get respect for our race in certain select circles. To live here as we ought we must fasten ourselves to our countrymen through their every day cardinal wants. We must not only be able to black boots, but to make them. At present we are unknown in the Northern States as mechanics. We give no proof of genius or skill at the county, State, or national fairs. We are unknown at any of the great exhibitions of the industry of our fellow-citizens, and being unknown we are unconsidered.
The fact that we make no show of our ability is held conclusive of our inability to make any, hence all the indifference and contempt with which incapacity is regarded, fall upon us, and that too, when we have had no means of disproving the infamous opinion of our natural inferiority. I have during the last dozen years denied before the Americans that we are an inferior race; but this has been done by arguments based upon admitted principles rather than by the presentation of facts. Now, firmly believing, as I do, that there are skill, invention, power, industry, and real mechanical genius, among the colored people, which will bear favorable testimony for them, and which only need the means to develop them, I am decidedly in favor of the establishment of such a college as I have mentioned. The benefits of such an institution would not be confined to the Northern States, nor to the free colored people. They would extend over the whole Union. The slave not less than the freeman would be benefited by such an institution. It must be confessed that the most powerful argument now used by the Southern slaveholder, and the one most soothing to his conscience, is that derived from the low condition of the free colored people of the North. I have long felt that too little attention has been given by our truest friends in this country to removing this stumbling block out of the way of the slave’s liberation.
The most telling, the most killing refutation of slavery, is the presentation of an industrious, enterprising, thrifty, and intelligent free black population. Such a population I believe would rise in the Northern States under the fostering care of such a college as that supposed.
To show that we are capable of becoming mechanics I might adduce any amount of testimony; dear madam, I need not ring the charges on such a proposition. There is no question in the mind of any unprejudiced person that the Negro is capable of making a good mechanic. Indeed, even those who cherish the bitterest feelings towards us have admitted that the apprehension that Negroes might be employed in their stead, dictated the policy of excluding them from trades altogether. But I will not dwell upon this point as I fear I have already trespassed too long upon your precious time, and written more than I ought to expect you to read. Allow me to say in conclusion, that I believe every intelligent colored man in America will approve and rejoice at the establishment of some such institution as that now suggested. There are many respectable colored men, fathers of large families, having boys nearly grown up, whose minds are tossed by day and by night with the anxious enquiry, “what shall I do with my boys?” Such an institution would meet the wants of such persons. Then, too, the establishment of such an institution would be in character with the eminently practical philanthropy of your trans-Atlantic friends. America could scarce object to it as an attempt to agitate the public mind on the subject of slavery, or to dissolve the Union. It could not be tortured into a cause for hard words by the American people, but the noble and good of all classes, would see in the effort an excellent motive, a benevolent object, temperately, wisely, and practically manifested.
Frederick Douglass’ Paper, December 2, 1853.
WHEREAS. The social condition of the colored inhabitants of this country, in its developments shows, beyond a question, the necessity of social reform, and a better regulation of our domestic habits; therefore,
Resolved. That this Convention urge upon the clergy, who are not only our spiritual, but our social and moral instructions to begin the reform, by urging upon the people who attend their preaching the necessity of a social reform; to use more untiring exertion than heretofore; to induce parents to pay more attention to the domestic education of their children; to prepare them for a better condition in society; to instill in them a desire for their elevation in society; to instill in them a desire for better occupations than the mass are brought up to; to give them higher notions of what the genius and spirit of the country requires of us, than they now have; to teach them more regular habits; and this Convention would urge upon parents the fact, that while the mass of the people are generally employed in menial service, from necessity, while this may not, of itself, bring reproach upon a people, yet it must be admitted that, should we bring up our children to the same employment, it will of necessity, engraft upon them unstable habits—a disregard for the mechanical branches, as well as unfit them for regular employments; and instead of elevating their character for the future, we shall place them beneath our own position and give them rather the downward, than the upward tendency.
Resolved. That to secure a more permanent attention to business habits than heretofore, and the acquisition of mechanical branches, it is necessary that some decisive measure be taken to open and secure the avenues of mechanical trades to our youth; and that, as a primary measure, it is necessary that it be known to parents and youth who are willing to take colored apprentices in their workshops; and further, that it is now expedient that intelligence offices be established, which shall register the names and places of business of such mechanics as are willing to employ colored youth; and also the names, age, [illegible] youth as are desirous of learning trades.
Resolved. That it is the duty of colored men, in any way connected with mechanical or business houses, enjoying the confidence of their employers, to use all fair and honorable means to secure for themselves business advantages, and especially, to secure the admission of their children, or the children of others into mechanical establishments; and in every way practicable to use their influence to secure and extend business advantages and business connection to those now excluded from it.
Frederick Douglass’ Paper, July 22, 1853.
Our earnest youth have gone asking to be cared for by the workshops of the country, but no acknowledgement has been made of their human relationship; their mental and bodily fitness, have had the same contumely heaped upon them, as is received by those unfortunate beings who in social life bear upon their persons the brand of illegitimacy. As a consequence, we have grown up to too large an extent—mere scholars on one side and muscular giants on the other. We could now equalize these discrepancies—We would produce a harmonious development of character. In the sweat of their brows, we would have our scholars grow powerful, and their sympathies run our for humanity everywhere. On the altar of labor, to whom have every mother dedicate her child to the cause of freedom; and then, in the breeze wafted over the newly plowed field, there will come encouragement and hope; and the ringing brows of the anvil and the axe, and the keen cutting edge of the chisel and the plane will symbolize how on one hand human excellence is rough, by self-exertion, and on the other fashioned into models of beauty by reflection and discipline.
Let us educate our youth in such wise as shall give them means of success, adapted to their struggling condition, and are long following the enterprise of the age, we may hope to see them filling everywhere positions of responsibility and trust, and gliding on the triple tide of wealth, intelligence and virtue, reach eventually, . . . distinction and happiness.
Chas. L. Reason
Geo. B. Vashon
Chas. H. Langston46
Frederick Douglass’ Paper, August 5, 1853.
The undersigned, the Committee on Manual Labor School, appointed by the National Council of the colored people, in offering a plan for the organization of the school, beg leave respectfully to state,
1st. That the location of the school, which is to be within one hundred miles of the town of Erie, Pennsylvania, will be selected as soon as three thousand dollars are paid in; the school building and work-shop will be commenced as soon as fifteen thousand dollars are paid in; and that in no case will a contract be made beyond the sum of money actually paid in. The site of the school will be at least two hundred acres of land, one hundred and fifty of which shall forever be used as a farm or agricultural instruction.
2d. In accordance with a vote of the Rochester Convention, the teachers are to be selected for, and pupils admitted into, the school without reference to sex or complexion.
3d. Special provision will be made to make this, from the beginning, an industrial school for females as well as males; a prominent principle of conduct will be to aid in providing for the female sex, methods and means of enjoying an independent and honorable livelihood.
John D. Peck,
Amos G. Beman,
J. D. Bonner,
J. McCune Smith,
Committeeon Manual LaborSchool.
1. The title shall be “THE AMERICAN INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL.”
2. The foundation fund shall be thirty thousand dollars.
3. Twenty thousand dollars shall be in stock of 2000 shares, at ten dollars per share.
4. Ten thousand dollars shall be in donations to be solicited from the friends of the cause.
5. The shares shall be payable, ten percent, at the time of subscribing, and ten percent, every first day of July, October, January and April thereafter, until the whole is paid in.
6. The School shall be organized and conducted entirely by a board of fifteen trustees.
7. Six of these trustees shall be the Committee on Manual Labor School, appointed by the National Council of the People of Color; and nine of the trustees shall be elected by the stockholders when three thousand dollars shall have been paid in by them, (the Stockholders) and annually thereafter. Each share of stock shall count as one vote at all such elections. And stockholders may vote by proxy, on affidavit made and acknowledged before a Commissioner of Deeds.
8. In organizing the School, the following regulations shall be strictly enforced:
a. For every branch of Literature taught, there shall be one branch of handicraft also taught in the School.
b. Each pupil shall occupy one half his time when at School, in work at some handicraft, or on the farm.
The agent appointed by the Committee, Frederick Douglass, Esq., shall be empowered to receive donations and take subscriptions for stock, giving a receipt for the latter, signed by himself and Rev. Amos G. Beman, the Secretary of the Committee. As soon as, and as often as the Agent aforesaid shall receive two hundred and fifty dollars, either in subscriptions or donations, he shall pay the same over to the Treasurer, John Jones, Esq., of Chicago, who shall deposit the same forthwith in the Bank of America, Chicago, Ill.: the Treasurer aforesaid, as soon as he shall receive one thousand dollars, and for every thousand dollars hereafter, shall give bonds with two sureties to the President and Secretary of the National Council of the Colored People, for double the amounts aforesaid. For his services, the Agent shall receive five per cent on all stock instalments paid in by him, and ten per cent on all donations above two hundred dollars paid in by or through him.
10. The members of the Committee on Manual Labor School shall also be empowered to receive donations for the same; and they shall transmit all said donations to the Treasurer, by draft, within ten days after receiving the same. They shall also be entitled to five per cent on all such donations paid in by him.
11. The Treasurer shall publish at least once a fortnight a list of all the donations and subscriptions of stock received by him; and shall transmit to each donor or stockholder, a copy of the paper, (Frederick Douglass’ Paper, or Aliened American,) which shall contain the acknowledgement of their gift or subscription.
Frederick Douglass’ Paper, March 24, 1854.
A word oft-times is expressive of an entire policy. Such is the term Abolition. Though formerly used as a synonym of Anti-Slavery, people now clearly understand that the designs of those who have ranged themselves under the first of these systems of reform are of deeper significance and wider scope than are the objects contemplated by the latter, and concern themselves not only with the great primary question of bodily freedom, but take in also the collateral issues connected with human enfranchisement, independent of race, complexion, or sex.
The Abolitionist of to-day is the Iconoclast of the age, and his mission is to break the idolatrous images set up by a hypocritical Church, a Sham Democracy, or a corrupt public sentiment, and to substitute in their stead the simple and beautiful doctrine of a common brotherhood. He would elevate every creature by abolishing the hinderances and checks imposed upon him, whether these be legal or social—and in proportion as such grievances are invidious and severe, in such measure does he place himself in the front rank of the battle, to wage his emancipating war.
Therefore it is that the Abolitionist has come to be considered the especial friend of the negro, since he, of all others, has been made to drink deep from the cup of oppression.
The free-colored man at the north, for his bond-brother as for himself, has trusted hopefully in the increasing public sentiment, which, in the multiplication of these friends, has made his future prospects brighter. And, to-day, while he is making a noble struggle to vindicate the claims of his entire class, depending mainly for the accomplishment of that end on his own exertions, he passes in review the devotion and sacrifices made in his behalf: gratitude is in his heart, and thanks fall from his lips. But, in one department of reformatory exertion he feels that he has been neglected. He has seen his pledged allies throw themselves into the hottest of the battle, to fight for the Abolition of Capital Punishment—for the Prohibition of the Liquor Traffic—for the Rights of Women, and similar reforms,—but he has failed to see a corresponding earnestness, according to the influence of Abolitionists in the business world, in opening the avenues of industrial labor to the proscribed youth of the land. This work, therefore, is evidently left for himself to do. And he has laid his powers to the task. The record of his conclusions was given at Rochester, in July, and has become already a part of history.
Though shut out from the workshops of the country, he is determined to make self-provision, so as to triumph over the spirit of caste that would keep him degraded. The utility of the Industrial Institution he would erect, must, he believes, commend itself to Abolitionists. But not only to them. The verdict of less liberal minds has been given already in its favor. The usefulness, the self-respect and self-dependence,—the combination of intelligence and handicraft,—the accumulation of the materials of wealth, all referable to such an Institution, present fair claims to the assistance of the entire American people.
Whenever emancipation shall take place, immediate though it be, the subjects of it, like many who now make up the so-called free population, will be in what Geologists call, the “Transition State.” The prejudice now felt against them for bearing on their persons the brand of slaves, cannot die out immediately. Severe trials will still be their portion—the curse of a “taunted race” must be expiated by almost miraculous proofs of advancement; and some of these miracles must be antecedent to the great day of Jubilee. To fight the battle on the bare ground of abstract principles, will fail to give us complete victory. The subterfuges of pro-slavery selfishness must now be dragged to light, and the last weak argument,—that the negro can never contribute anything to advance the national character, “nailed to the counter as base coin.” To the conquering of the difficulties heaped up in the path of his industry, the free-colored man of the North has pledged himself. Already he sees, springing into growth, from out his foster work-school, intelligent young laborers, competent to enrich the world with necessary products—industrious citizens, contributing their proportion to aid on the advancing civilization of the country;—self-providing artizans vindicating their people from the never-ceasing charge of a fitness for servile positions.
Abolitionists ought to consider it a legitimate part of their great work, to aid in such an enterprise—to abolish not only chattel servitude, but that other kind of slavery, which, for generation after generation, dooms an oppressed people to a condition of dependence and pauperism. Such an Institution would be a shining mark, in even this enlightened age; and every man and woman, equipped by its discipline to do good battle in the arena of active life, would be, next to the emancipated bondman, the most desirable “Autograph for Freedom.”
Chas. L. Reason
Julia Griffiths (ed.), Autographs For Freedom (New York, 1854), pp. 12–15.
At the Conference referred to, only the States of New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Illinois were represented.
WM. C. NELL, an original member from Massachusetts, although happening to be present, was predisposed against any participation, because of valid objections, constitutional and otherwise. As, however, the Council insisted upon his voting, he negatived all the questions submitted during his stay.
The principal topic discussed was the Industrial College, on which ability and earnestness were exhibited on both sides.
Mr. BONNES, of Illinois, thought the colored people had too long been dependent upon what might be done for them by the whites. It was time that they did something for themselves. He hoped this report would be adopted, for he did not believe that the colored youth could otherwise find channels through which to elevate themselves to a position of independence and respectability.
Mr. DOUGLASS fully concurred with the last speaker in the propriety of adopting the report; but he deemed the Industrial College of so much moment, that he hoped it would be more fully discussed. He believed that if an agent had been appointed at the time the plan was first proposed, it would now be placed in a position of success beyond all doubt. This scheme had been pronounced, by the first periodical in the world, to be the greatest and most comprehensive for elevating the colored race in this country yet proposed. That is the opinion of the New York Tribune. He was aware that some of the abolition papers had opposed the plan, but if the colored people would ever arrive at a respectable place in society, they must do their own thinking. The colored people are now the sick man of America; those who pretend to be their friends measure their place and guage their ideas and pat them on the back, but if they step beyond that narrow place, those friends become villifiers and enemies. He wanted the colored men to feel that they possessed the power to overcome the prejudice against their color. He did not see why colored men’s enterprises should be stigmatized by their color. When white men start a school for their children, no one stigmatizes it as proscriptive; why, then, do they charge the colored man with proscriptiveness when he seeks to overcome the disabilities attendant upon his position? The proscription is theirs, not his.
Mr. D. said he hoped that if they voted down this proposition, the Council would remember that they decided that it was proscriptive for the colored people to make an effort to elevate themselves; that they were incompetent to do any thing to help themselves. The fiat had gone forth from the central organ at Boston, that all efforts to elevate the free colored people, while slavery existed in America, are useless. He expected to see the school voted down, and should say no more.
Mr. STEPHEN SMITH, of Philadelphia, said that most of the colored mechanics in Philadelphia had received their education in the South, and he knew that the colored people of the city of Philadelphia could not obtain opportunity to learn mechanical trades. But wherever a colored man understood a trade he was sustained in Philadelphia.
Dr. PENNINGTON thought that the colored people ought to do their part in educating men with the whites. The white people established schools for black and whites; why should not the colored people start schools and workshops for white and black?47
Dr. J. McCUNE SMITH, in a speech answering objections, asked—Is not this school practicable? Gentlemen, we have to do impracticable things. We must sing, as sings the Black Swan,—we must write, as writes Dumas,—speak, as Douglass speaks,—before we are acknowledged. We have to struggle harder to be on the level of society than those already there. The impracticability of this measure is one of its choice features, in my mind: but I think it to be practicable; for, make it a fact before the free colored people, and you will find that you will gather up the mass of public sympathy, which now can find no real vent, for our benefit.
[The query here arises—Did Dumas learn rhetoric or Frederick Douglass oratory in a colored college?]
Mr. EDWARD V. CLARK, of New York, differed from Mr. Douglass in regard to the cause of the opposition manifested by the colored people to the proposed school. The Manual Labor School never could develop any degree of perfection in mechanical or agricultural education among its pupils. At Oberlin, Oneida, and elsewhere, this fact had long since become apparent. And if they established it, what white man would teach colored children a trade? How could such an institution be self-sustaining? What would the $30,000—not the first cent of which had been collected—amount to? He would suggest that social communities of colored people be established, so that the mechanic arts could be nurtured within their limits.
Mr. GEORGE T. DOWNING, of Rhode Island, was not able to see clearly the practicability of this plan. There is, and the truth must be spoken, too much apathy on our part. We might, if we pleased, find plenty of opportunities of learning trades and working at them afterward. He enumerated many instances in proof of his position. The only argument that could be advanced in favor of this school was that it might tend to induce colored people to feel the necessity of educating their children to trades. The natural tendency of proscriptive measures is depressive. An instance of this kind is shown by the schools of Worcester, where, at the wish of the colored citizens, a separate school was started, and failed. Such, he thought, would be the fate of the Manual Labor School.48
Mr. Douglass had stated that the will is all that is wanted—there is the rub! There is actually not interest enough in the matter to carry it into effect. He believed there was no necessity for it, and that conviction had been strengthened by the remarks of to-day.
Mr. J. E. BROWN, of Elmira, New York, instanced several colored workshops and workmen in Elmira, where white and colored are employed. He believed that colored mechanics could always find employment.
Mr. PHILIP A. BELL, of New York, opposed the establishment of the Manual Labor College, contending that the whole plan was impracticable, and had been proved to be so at Oberlin, Oneida, Central College, and every where else. Even in Prussia, where Labor Colleges are largely endowed by the government, they have not been self-supporting. The colored people had frequently made efforts to establish educational institutions, and always failed, and they would not succeed in this.
The members of State Councils present being invited to an expression of opinion, J. W. DUFFIN, of Geneva, N. Y., hoped that the report would not be adopted. I feel, said he, that we are not yet prepared for its passage. I have been convinced of this by the speeches this afternoon. I live in the pro-slavery county of New York. The Abolitionists have abandoned our ground to the heathen, and there, out of three hundred colored people, I can get any number of colored youth, from one to twenty, into any educational institution, from the blacksmith shop to an entrance into the free college.
I do not go to abolitionists—I do not believe they are more ready to do us good than others. Where is the necessity for establishing such an institution as is proposed, when we feel assured it will fail for want of patronage?
CHARLES LENOX REMOND, of Massachusetts, held that what the colored race most wanted in this country was equal rights in the community—a fair field and no favor. This he believed the Anti-Slavery party would afford him. And with such a field, he did not need any such school as the one proposed. The great want was a public sentiment recognizing the colored man as an American citizen. Whatever position the colored race had attained to in this country, was due to the efforts of the abolitionists, and whatever they had to hope for would be through their assistance, and he was not prepared to turn his back upon them.49
Of the thirteen present, seven voted in the affirmative, and the Chairman decided the report adopted.
It is an undeniable fact, that the colored people of the several States are not in harmony with the National Council and its proceedings. At a meeting of colored citizens, recently held in New York, in Rev. Mr. Hodges’ church, the following resolutions were adopted, which we copy from the Salem (Ohio) Bugle:—
Resolved, That we do not acquiesce with the National Council of Colored People in the establishment of proscriptive institutions, or in other measures set forth by that body.
Resolved, That we protest against any attempt, by any body of men, of any color, to strengthen that which is dying out of itself.
Resolved, That it is unwise and impolitic, at this time, to establish an Industrial School, or erect a building for free colored youth. If free, let them have the freedom of schools in free States.
Resolved, That we hail with pleasure the example of the Star in the East, (Massachusetts,) which shines brighter than ever. She has opened the doors of her schools to youth, irrespective of complexion, and we look forward to the day when the State of New York will follow her example.
A Committee of the Council have issued a call for a National Convention in Philadelphia next October, to which delegates are to be chosen in September. Should they conclude to make it an Anti-Slavery Convention, and invite those friendly, irrespective of complexion, some good might be anticipated. Otherwise, in the present advanced state of public sentiment, it looks like taking steps backward.
Boston, July, 1855.
W. C. N.50
The Liberator, July 27, 1855.
All persons having a shade of philanthropy in their composition, must have that feeling excited by witnessing the poverty and degradation in which the African race exist in this city. Systematically shut out from all mechanical pursuits, and expelled from almost all the inferior positions they were once allowed to hold here, they have seen their places filled by Germans and Irish; and now there are not more than half a dozen occupations in which they can engage. Even as waiters in our hotels—one of the last and best strongholds left them—they find that they are constantly losing ground by the abler competition of immigrants from Europe. The expulsion of the negroes from almost every branch of industry has had its natural effect in thinning their numbers. And while during the last ten years they have increased in the Southern States at the ratio of thirty per cent, the negro population of this State has fallen from fifty to forty-seven thousand.
Under such circumstances, would not the wisest and most philanthropic measure be, to promote, by all possible means, the emigration of the colored people of this State to the republic of Liberia? and would it not be prudent and politic in our government to appropriate a certain annual sum for this purpose? The States of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Indiana, have, from time to time, made considerable appropriations in favor of the scheme of colonization, which has been found to work admirably. The State of New York should not remain passive to the wretched condition of so many of her colored citizens, but do what humanity and sound policy alike suggest—make such an appropriation as would enable all negroes wishing to emigrate to Liberia to do so free of expense. We trust that the Legislature, at its next session, will not be undmindful of the claims of the poor African, condemned to a life of abject penury and estitution in this State, and longing for means to enable him to become a good citizen of the modern black republic. Let him have them.
New York Herald, April 12, 1853.
To the colored inhabitants of the United States
Fellow-Countrymen! The duty assigned us is an important one, comprehending all that pertains to our destiny and that of our posterity—present and prospectively. And while it must be admitted, that the subject is one of the greatest magnitude, requiring all that talents, prudence and wisdom might adduce, and while it would be folly to pretend to give you the combined result of these three agencies, we shall satisfy ourselves with doing our duty to the best of our ability, and that in the plainest, most simple and comprehensive manner.
Our object, then, shall be to place before you our true position in this country—the United States—the improbability of realizing our desires, and the sure, practicable and infallible remedy for the evils we now endure.
We have not addressed you as citizens—a term desired and ever cherished by us—because such you have never been. We have not addressed you as freemen—because such privileges have never been enjoyed by any colored man in the United States. Why then should we flatter your credulity, by inducing you to believe that which neither has now, nor never before had an existence. Our oppressors are ever gratified at our manifest satisfaction, especially when that satisfaction is founded upon false premises; an assumption on our part, of the enjoyment of rights and privileges which never have been conceded, and which, according to the present system of the United States policy, we never can enjoy. . . . Were we content to remain as we are, sparsely interspersed among our white fellow-countrymen, we never might be expected to equal them in any honorable or respectable competition for a livelihood. For the reason that, according to the customs and policy of the country, we for ages would be kept in a secondary position, every situation of respectability, honor, profit or trust, either as mechanics, clerks, teachers, jurors, councilmen, or legislators, being filled by white men, consequently, our energies must become paralysed or enervated for the want of proper encouragement.
This example upon our children, and the colored people generally, is pernicious and degrading in the extreme. And how could it otherwise be, when they see every place of respectability filled and occupied by the whites, they pandering to their vanity, and existing among them merely as a thing of conveniency. . . .
Where, then, is our hope of success in this country? Upon what is it based? Upon what principle of political policy and sagacious discernment, do our political leaders and acknowledged great men—colored men we mean—justify themselves by telling us, and insisting that we shall believe them, and submit to what they say—to be patient, remain where we are; that there is a “bright prospect and glorious future” before us in this country! May Heaven open our eyes from their Bartemian obscurity. . . .
“Political Destiny of the Colored Race, on the American Continent,” Proceedings of the National Emigration Convention of Colored People. . . . I854 (Pittsburgh, 1854), pp. 33–43.
Sir, I am not for going anywhere. I am staying precisely where I am in the land of my birth. Here I can hope to be of most service to the colored people of the United States. . . . Our minds are made up to live here if we can, or die here if we must; so every attempt to remove us, will be, as it ought to be, labor lost. Here we are, and here we shall remain. While our brethren are in bondage on these shores; it is idle to think of inducing any considerable number of free colored people to quit this for a foreign land.
For two hundred and twenty-eight years has the colored man toiled over the soil of America, under a burning sun and a driver’s lash—-plowing, planting, reaping, that white men might roll in ease, their hands unhardened by labor, and their brows unmoistened by the waters of genial toil; and now that the moral sense of mankind is beginning to revolt at this system of treachery and cruel wrong, and is demanding its overthrow, the mean and cowardly oppressor is meditating plans to expel the colored man entirely from the country. Shame upon the guilty wretches that dare propose, and all that countenance such a proposition. We live here—-have lived here—-have a right to live here, and mean to live here.
The North Star, January 26, 1849.