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Advisory Committee of African Colonization

Christian Recorder: January 4, 1883

I have rarely been more amused than I was a moment ago, while reading an article in your issue of the 7th last, entitled “Advisory Committee on African Colonization.” From the narrative as given, it appears that the Pennsylvania Colonization Society decided to confer with some of the recognized leaders of the colored people, as to the course which should be taken in order to secure the cooperation of the colored people of the United States on their work, and that Rev. B. T. Tanner, D. D., a man of learning and vast reading, was elected to designate the recognized leaders and meet a similar committee of members of the said Society.

The committee was accordingly designated and met in the name and on behalf of the colored people of the United States of America. Let us see who they were.

1st. Rev. Dr. Tanner, whom I have known for twenty-four years, a gentleman whom I also know to be a Christian scholar, an able expounder of the Word of God and a man of large, yes, very large reading, but who has not…..traveled among the colored people of this country in eighteen years, and has been confined to Philadelphia alone for nearly all that time, and is about as able to represent the sentiments of the aggregate negro as I would be the wants of the Navy department, editor of a religious paper though he be. Moreover, his very assumptions of representation are at fault. 1st. He starts out with a train of invectives against Africa—its climate, its mortality, its everything, as well as to the sentiments of the Colonization Society. 2nd. He says, or virtually says, his expressions are the would-be expressions of the colored people of the United States if they had been there, which I know is not a fact, yet Dr. Tanner is too truthful to say it unless he believed it. Thus his incapacity to represent the views of the colored people of the United States on that subject, to say the least. 3d. Everybody who knows Dr. Tanner, knows that any man with his large development of concentrativeness and motive power, would not be likely to represent anybody or anything beyond his personal convictions. He could not do it if he ever so much desired. Dr. Tanner was not born with a temperament that could subordinate his convictions to the sentiments of others. If he thinks so, you have no right to think otherwise, till you satisfy his scrupulosity at least. And living, as he does, in the realm of literature and province of theory, he sees but little else than the higher phases of Christianity, law, human rights, common justice and the horrors of caste distinctions, and upon these his theories and speculates all the time, as his editorials will testify.

But, O Jumbo! There are a host of us who see our condition from another standpoint, and our future equally as differently, and that host believes that Africa somehow is to give the relief for which our people sigh, and not the theories and speculations of Dr. Tanner, founded in moral philosophy though they be. A statesman of this country, in high repute, puts the murders and outrages perpetrated upon our people in the South alone, since 1867, at two hundred thousand. Many of us think that the acclimating headaches of Africa, though sometimes possibly fatal, are not to be compared with such an orgie of blood and death.

Passing by much that might be said on that subject, I beg to say that Dr. Tanner does not represent even the ministry of his own church. I have asked at least fifty ministers of our church before they knew my opinion, if they agreed with Dr. Tanner’s African position, &c., and I am sure not over a half dozen have answered in the affirmative, though I confess some have, but I have heard no man, minister or layman, endorse his attacks upon Dr. Blyden. I cannot speak for the North, but I know the South generally disapproves of them. Let us here leave Tanner.

2nd. Who is the next recognized leader of the colored people of the United States? Rev. Dr. Reeve, the learned and polished pastor of Lombard street Presbyterian Church, and once a distinguished professor of Howard University—a gentleman who is an ornament to his race, whom also I have known for twenty years. But if Dr. Reeve will say he is acquainted with the general sentiment of our people in the United States, when he has lived in Philadelphia and Washington all of his official life, I will give it up.

3d. The next recognized leader of the colored people of the United States on the programme, is Rev. Dr. Miller, pastor of Cherry Street Baptist Church. As an orator and pulpit declaimer he ranks with any; he is excellent at hurling philippics at pseudobaptists, I am sure, for I have heard him spread himself; but for all he did not tell us how people in the region of the Saharan Desert were to procure water for immersion purposes. I proudly concede to him ability, learning and a Christian reputation, but I think he is only known as a Philadelphia pastor, and that he would be too honest to say he knew the sentiments of our people generally, upon African colonization.

4th. The next recognized leaders of the colored people of the United States are Manager Gould, (my personal friend) and Rev. C. T. Shaffer, both whom are men of consummate ability, and could represent us grandly on the Senate floor of the United States, provided they knew in what character to represent us. But neither of these able and successful divines would pretend to tell us they knew the sentiments of our people as it relates to African immigration. As to the other two divines, I will not speak, for I do not know them, and the very fact of me not knowing them, make them doubtful recognized leaders of the colored people of the United States, for I know them all.

Now I beg to say that I do not question the character, ability, or race patriotism of any one of the distinguished gentlemen above referred to, but I do say if the delegation or committee of the recognized leaders who spoke for the colored people of the United States, before the Pennsylvania Colonization Society, endorses the position of Dr. Tanner, they are greatly at fault. There never was a time when the colored people were more concerned about Africa in every respect, than at present. In some portions of the country it is the topic of conservation, and if a line of steamers were started from New Orleans, Mobile, Savannah or Charleston, they would be crowded to density every trip they made to Africa. There is a general unrest and a wholesale dissatisfaction among our people in a number of sections of the country to my certain knowledge, and they sigh for conveniences to and from the continent of Africa. Something has to be done. Matters cannot go on as at present, and the remedy is thought by tens of thousands to be in a negro nationality. This much the history of the world establishes, that races either fossilized, oppressed or degraded, must immigrate before any material change takes place in their civil, intellectual or moral status, otherwise extinction is the sequence.

I am not through, but it is time to open the Mississippi Conference, which is now in session; and I must leave for church.

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