Letter from Rev. Dr. Henry McNeal Turner: January 26, 1876

Letter from Rev. Dr. Henry M. Turner

From: The African Repository: Vol. LI, LII, LIII, 1875-76-77. Washington City, 1877

Savannah, Ga., January 26, 1876

DEAR SIR: Your letter of the 19th instant apprising me of my election to a vice presidency of the American Colonization Society, is received. I am at loss for language to express my deep sense of the honor conferred, but accept the position with emotions of gratitude, and promise to render full service to the best of my ability.

No man, however distinguished, could feel other than proud of such recognition from an organization so world-wide renowned as the American Colonization Society, especially when it has always mustered in its ranks many of the best and most gifted statesmen, philanthropists, and divines upon which the light of heaven ever descended.

A man of my humble ability and in my circumscribed sphere would be callous to every instinct of nature and honor not to feel deeply honored in being called to associate with such eminent characters as compose the society-men who stand deservedly high by deeds of great disinterestedness and of immeasurable worth.

If it will not be considered an inopportune remark, permit me to say that I have never been a Colonizationist, as popularly understood by my people. I have always, however, believed that the founders, supporters, and directors of the society were actuated by pure impulses and Christian desires, having constantly in view the gradual abolition of slavery in the United States, and the civilization and evangelization of the millions of Africa.

Even granting the very most alleged by its fault-finders and traducers, let the American Colonization Society be considered in the light of the work accomplished, and all must admit that it has been signally favored with rich and glorious fruits, via: The suppression of the slave trade on the Western Coast of Africa, and the establishment in its stead of a negro nation, with schools, a college, churches, and all the appliances of a Republican government. Nor should it be forgotten that through this very society the attention of the civilized world has been called to the sad condition of a vast and outraged continent, until expedition after expedition after expedition has sought to bring to light its interior parts, and missionary societies have sent thither hundreds of men and women, bearing the torch of divine truth for its illumination and redemption.

The question naturally arises, now that slavery in this country is dead and Africa is being elevated, why continue the American Colonization Society? I answer that, in my judgment, there is more occasion for I than ever before. Every right-thinking man, who will ponder the Negro question twenty-four hours, must come to the conclusion that my race cannot long remain in the land of its centuries of thralldom unless it be a state of serfdom or ward-espionage. This I know would be revolting to its every member and to its friends. But just so long as we are a people within a people vastly our superiors in numbers, wealth, &c., having no government of our own, we shall be nothing, and be so treated by the civilized world. The Negro may wax as eloquent as Demosthenes, Pitt, or any of the renowned orators of the past ages; still he will be considered a cipher until he wins distinction in manipulating and running the machinery of government. Nothing less than nationality will bring large prosperity and acknowledged manhood to us as a people.

How can we do this? Not by constantly complaining of bad treatment; by holding conventions and passing resolutions; by voting for white men for office; by serving as caterers and barbers, and by having our wives and daughters continue as washerwomen and servants to the whites. No;--a government and nationality of our own can alone cure the evils under which we now labor, and are likely yet the more to suffer in this country.

It may be asked, where can we build up a respectable government? Certainly not in the United States, perhaps not in South America, possibly not in the West Indies. For myself, I am sure there is no region so full of promise and where the probabilities of success are so great as the land of our ancestors. That continent appears to be kept by Providence in reserve for the Negro. There everything seems to be ready to raise him to deserved distinction, comfort, and wealth. Ample territory, rich in all the productions of the tropics and many of those of the temperate zone, with coal, iron, copper, gold and diamonds, await the trained hand of civilization with capital and intelligent enterprise. And the time is near when the American people of color will seek that genial clime as the European has this Western world, and there erect the UNITED STATES OF AFRICA. Even now thousands of them freely admit that they see here no hopeful future, but are quietly staying where they are simply because they have not the means of removal. If the Colonization Society were able to send them, ship-load after ship-load after ship-load might leave every month for Liberia.

There is no instance mentioned in history where an enslaved people of an alien race rose to respectability upon the same territory of their enslavement and in the presence of their enslavers, without losing their identity or individuality by amalgamation. Can any other result be hoped for the Negro, in the United States? I think not.

Very truly, yours,

H.M. TURNER.