September 2, 1872

Published by the Lyceum for the benefit of the young colored men who are laboring to make themselves intelligent and useful. 

Gentlemen of the Lyceum and fellow Citizens

Notwithstanding the combination of forces, impediments and organized obstructions which have been marshaled for the purpose of clogging the wheels of progress, and paralyzing the enlightened ideas, liberal and advancing agencies of the age.

We meet to-night under the most happy congratulations and friendly greetings ever prompted by the triumphant victories of a civil conquest. It is said that after Galileo had signed the bill of recantation through the coercion of the Roman Inquisition, retracting the truism that the world, planets and their satellites revolved around a solar centre, that he threw his pen on the floor, and stamped with his feet, exclaiming at the same time, “It moves, nevertheless”. But later investigations through the aid of the telescope and mathematics, have demonstrated that the world does move, and that at a marvelous speed, but her axial whirl has never been more rapid, than has the strides of her moral and civil progress within the last few years in this country, where liberty, equality and simple justice has lifted to heaven their banner flags, amid the sweet cadences of a happier dispensation, heralded, as it were, by the strains of an orchestral melody, more enchanting than Apollo’s choir, or the celestial dreams of the Muses.

Here, alone, despotism has had to bite the dust, and shrink before the ascending glories of a brighter era, while equal rights and civil rectitude despite the cunning and strategy of men, have gathered strength at every stride. Though, as Hayes said: With tardy step Celestial Justice comes, that step is sure, unerring in her bolt, but where it falls, eternal will the ruin be.

Had a seraph from some distant region visited our portion of this mundane sphere, about ten years ago, noted our institutions, read our laws and marked the prescriptive provisions of our statutes, and were he now to return for a similar inspection, he would either fail to recognize the locality, or in surprise, exclaim: “God of grandeur what a change.”

He would see no slaves thronging the jungles and fields of our verdant South, or human chattels bartered and sold, he would see no auction blocks suspending between heaven and earth, the image of God, and the horrific hammer of the crier, down, to knock it off to the highest bidder. He would see no heaving hearts and streaming eyes, nor would he hear the anguished groans of the life-separated slave, augmented by the sorrows of unrequited toil; neither would he see a country of inexhaustible resources and incalculable blessings, staggering beneath a burden of organized crime over which heaven’s displeasure was bickering with a lurid flare, and the stentorian voice of immutable justice clamoring for revolution and reform. But, instead, he would see a nation, whose bulwarks and safe guards were the symmetrical notes of the restless chants of a jubilee welcome, where all races, tongues, and people, can in mingled unity claim a common interest and boast a common destiny. He would see the previous vassals of this country, luxuriating in the glories of liberty, free of fetters, stepping with bold tread in aspiring paths, tending upward, moving onward, and marching forward to honor, fame and immortality.

The black skin of the Negro heretofore at great discount, when thrown in the scales of manhood equality, would be seen reposing securely under the shades of a floating banner, which recognizes no distinction between colors or races, nor proscribes a man for either his religious or political creed.

Our country would present the aspects of a redeemed land, and our people a nebulous galaxy of living grandeur, frescoing as it were with surpassing beauty, the interminable arches of an expanded temple, which have been reared by more than transcendental skill, and are supported by the flaming columns of omnipotent sanction.

We are moved as by the genius of undefinable forces, whirled as by the might of that invisible, yet incomprehensible power, which permeates all space, holds the universe in its grasp; and executes His purposes through the domain of innumerable realms; the weight of evidence supporting such an hypothecation even to authenticity, is abundant and indubitable, whether we examine it internally, externally or collaterally, the conviction of its truth penetrates the understanding, and disbands every feature of supposition, through the projective glare of those convergent rays that stream from the combination of a thousand providences. This is manifest in the redemption of our country, the liberation of the oppressed, the purgation of our laws, and the indiscriminate distribution of human rights, thus that precious boon, has again been restored---

“Which lights our gloom—which soothes our care,

Which bids our fears depart,

Transmutes to gems each grief fraught tear,

And binds the broken heart.”

In addressing you tonight, you will pardon me if I should fail to speak in the usual exulting tone, that is so common among our public declaimers. I think that the grave and ponderous responsibilities growing out of the recently developed results, demand more thought and practicalization (sic), than are commonly given them. I am also cognizant of the fact, that a man gains far more popularity by pandering to public vanity, than he does in exacting duty. But I believe that the people of Georgia have accorded me the privilege of saying, whatever I chose, whether they like it or not, and I shall therefore say just what I please, without essaying to measure the amount of popularity my words may carry, so I shall not dwell so much in strains of triumph over writhing opponents prostrated in the dust, as I shall of the duties which lie at the threshold of our very existence. And yet I am aware that for the last six years, nearly every address delivered to our people have been a heterogeneous string of self-constituted advices, neither concordant in principles nor euphonious in sound.

The prevailing impression that have become current through misrepresentation, is that the Negro is either the basest of all creatures, or is so insurmountably ignorant that any train of thought involving argument or reason, or comprehending any of the natural sciences or demonstrable truisms of philosophy, could not possibly find interest space within the sphere of his intellect; in other words, that his mind is so dwarfed and circumvented by the stultifying effects of his previous condition, that any subject which involved an association of ideas, or had to be adduced from abstract principles, or presented by a series of logical inductions, could not be appreciated by him, regardless of the extent of the simplification. Wherefore, profundity of thought and nicety of perception have measurably been claimed as the exclusive province of the white man, while moral principles brought down to an alphabetical or artless simplicity, has been regarded as the specialty of the Negro. This fact I have always, however, thought presaged glorious things for the colored race: for he is admitted by all to be a religious phenomena and he that puts his trust in the Most High will never be confounded. Let man ridicule that idea as they may, but all history will attest its truthfulness, the theory of skeptics, rationalists, and sentimentalists to the contrary notwithstanding.

As we are called upon tonight to address you on vital issues, and as the young men are the only hope of our race, I beg the privilege of digressing from the already stagnant speculations which so frequently evoke applause, and shall ask permission to blaze out a new, though to some a novel rout, which I hope, however, to make sufficiently clear, to convince others that both expediency and utility demand their consideration. They will be directed in the main to the coming men of my own race. I shall endeavor to convince all present that the prospectus of the Negro lies in his own intellectual cabinet. The sweetness of a kiss depends upon the admiration we have for the kissed; the greatness of a people depends upon the admiration they cherish for greatness. It is a quality that is either innate or eternally wanting; it can be excited, aroused, and put in motion, but never substituted. I mean that the Negro must climb his own ladder, if he ever scales the mount of distinction.

I think I hazard nothing in the assertion that notwithstanding the superficial friendship feigned by many for the Negro, when some political object as in contemplation where his aid is sought, that the majority of the whites, so far as our state is concerned, have failed to prove themselves the intrinsic and disinterested friend of the Negro.

Bombastic gas, grandiloquent words, and flippant tongue sophistry, during a political campaign, is no evidence of genuine friendship. We want facts, attested and sustained by such indubitable attestations as will admit of no doubt, and square, right, practically demonstrated and unconditional philanthropy must constitute the motor nerve in this matter. But without reviewing this subject in detail, as there is none more sensitive, I pass on, with the hope of witnessing an early reformation. I would not have you either to understand that I am speaking of those allied with the Democratic Party, absolutely, for I include in this catalogue a regular caravan of doughface Republicans, who have stuck like blood-sucking leeches to the black man in times of political excitement, but scorn him in times of peace and quiet.

Their treachery to the Negro has nearly ruined this state. Some of them have done more to damn the principles of progress than they could undo in a thousand years. But there are noble exceptions in their ranks, among whom we might enumerate grand great names who have expended their talents and strength in the advocacy of the principles which have been incorporated in the organic law of the land. God has seen this exhibition of perfidy, however, much clearer than we have, and in his own good time his negative, will foil the acutest ingenuity of evil designing men. Had Governor Bullock been true to the Negro as the Negro was to him, he would have been still in the Executive chair, respected, honored and admired. Had we sent a negro to the United States Senate in 1870, as I labored so hard to secure, and the Democrats offered to assist us in doing the State today would not only have been a glittering star in the national galaxy, but every house would have been enshrined in the bosom of protection, and blood’s crimson flow would have never stained the verdant soil of our great State – instead thereof the Olive Branch of peace, the Lilly of the Valley, and the Rose of Sharon, would have been blooming in the glow of eternal fragrance.

I have said enough. I trust to present vividly to your minds, the importance of the colored race, observing the morale of an old adage, vulgarly expressed. “Root hog or die,” for these sentiments must be our shibboleth before we can realize what Providence has in reservation for us, and it is high time the negro had found out that fact.

But I tell you today, that so long as we accept the pack horse position, and thus allow ourselves to be saddled up by every political trickster, we will be valued only as political asses to gallop the ingrates of the world into power and respectability, who will reciprocate the compliment by throttling you on the first opportunity.

It is customary to ask, “Is that the kind of gratitude you colored people have?” I would, in reply say; the colored people owe no gratitude to such a herd of cattle. I would rather thank the mosquito that sings Cousin to my car one moment, and goes for my blood the next.

I honor the sons and daughters of liberty. Yes, I could be tempted to thank them for services rendered, were I to meet them in pandemonium. Why, I fancy, I could walk up to the gates of perdition and tender Hon. Thaddeus Stevens my heart-felt gratitude, if I could believe he was among the lost. So with President Lincoln, Wilberforce and a host of lesser lights.

But for a man, be white or black, to assume a false position, merely to deceive the unsuspecting and credulous Negro, is to merit my most bitter detestation.

But, gentlemen, the signs of the times, the contingencies of events, the ingenuities of necessity, yes, Heaven and earth calls upon the Negro, (to) rise and shine. But if this is ever done, it must be the work of his own efforts, and the path will be found leading through the thick maze of repeated disappointments, and attended by Herculean labor to accomplish which a series of struggles will be necessary, as I have already remarked; and I now propose to make some glancing remarks at a few of them, in doing which I beg your indulgent attention.

The primary duty which lies at the threshold of all other considerations by virtue of it being first in importance, is that of acquiring a liberal education. I do not mean such a superficial knowledge of the letter as will barely enable you to read and write and cipher a little, or a dreamy knowledge of Geography and History, for they are merely the alphabets to an education. But I mean a thorough and practical acquaintance with all the branches of English literature, and the classic inclusive. Profound thought and polished diction can only be acquired by rigid training, and perfection in them must be obtained by laying the foundation in youth. You will at once perceive that this is the work of our young men, as those among us of advanced years, are too busily engaged with domestic duties to devote to study the time required, if they were ever so susceptible of impressions which education is wont to fix upon its tablet, so that the pupil should either be above or below the daily concerns of his bread and meat, by having someone to provide for by wealth. It is well known that our ministry is terribly paralyzed, and accomplishes but little for the want of that early intellectual training and moral discipline by which alone they can prepare the community to distinguish falsehood from truth; to comprehend the theological tenets of the day; to receive higher and broader views of duty, and to apply general principles to the diversified details of life, which, too, would no longer leave the domestic and practical duties of life the subject of accidental impulse.

A finished education form the basis of all future success, and the deeper we dive in the limpid truths of reason and philosophy the higher we can rise when we engage our minds in the busy pursuits of life. By this, also, language becomes chaste, perception clear, judgment balanced, and imagination plumes her lofty wings for appalling flights. Our pulpits today groan beneath an ignorant ministry, and polished oratory is comparatively a stranger, while professional pursuits are barren among our people. The late revolution left us free, and the 15th amendment has guaranteed the right of citizenship, but we are lamentably wanting in the sphere of professional men, a necessity too fraught with fearful evils to any people.

Five thousand colored physicians, four or five thousand colored lawyers, and ten thousand educated colored ministers could find ready employment in the Southern States today, and still there would be a vacuum left, besides the great demand for politicians, public lecturers and stump orators. I do not mean Satis eloquentae Sapientiae parum, but those of fecundity of thought and profundity of judgment; and I wish it understood, I have not enumerated in this catalogue such public men as bailiffs, constables, policemen and other executors of the law. Thus you see a field of usefulness, rife for the harvest, almost startling, and in the nature of things should give a double impetus to every colored young man in the country. But these do not include all spheres of usefulness and positions of wealth and honor. I am anxious to see Railroad conductors on the highways, engineers, civil and practical, giving counsel, orders and direction, the same as we now see among the white.

Another obligation we are under now not hitherto required of us, which demands special fitness to enable us to discharge with credit to ourselves, and with honor to our country, I mean to serve as Jurors. Here every faculty of the most acute mind is brought into requisition, and the closest discrimination is necessary to judge accurately on the finest sprung threads of law.

Even the Judge himself is often in doubt as to what is right or just in the premises. And he will give a prolix charge, or a doubtful analysis of what he is inadequate to thoroughly comprehend, which not unfrequently muddles your brains more than they were before, and sends you in the anti-room with your mind all in eclipse to bring forth a verdict, that would have puzzled Lord Erskine with all his legal lore to make up.

Farming is better understood by our people than any other kind of occupation, and, yet, their knowledge of that is but meager. The system of farming in the South has always been defective. The all absorbing idea has heretofore been, how so much land can be planted, plowed and hoed. In other words, by what means can so and so much work land can be planted, plowed and hoed. In other words, by what means can so and so much work be extorted from the bone and muscle of the laborer, regardless of the weather, with but little attention to the seasons or the adaptability of the soil, to the product planted and cultivated.

There must be a speedy revolution in this department, and I know of no people whose condition require it so much as ours. The abolition of slavery and the indiscrimination of human rights, now happily secured, is destined to flood our genial clime with millions of inhabitants, which will eventually necessitate the cutting of these large farms into small homesteads, and in order for such homesteads to yield a living support for our families, it will be necessary for us to understand the science, or art of agriculture: and more than a theoretical knowledge at that will be required for us to make such a practical use of it, as will answer the purpose of life. A good farmer should be able when inspecting his lands, to take up some of the soil in his hand, rub it in his fingers and tell whether or not it possesses the chemical elements or properties to produce cotton, corn, wheat, potatoes, or any other vegetable he may wish to raise. The world is composed of some sixty-four chemical elements, or properties, and they enter into everything on the earth more or less.

Yet to tell some people that, would tempt them to call you a fool, or elicit a refutation based upon the theory, or say so, of what some old grand papa, use to do or say, which would be sufficient evidence that you were either crazy or was a fanatic. But I tell you in defiance of all the bunkum of such timberheads, that such is the truth in the case, and the sooner we learn it, the better for our future.

Another thing deserves more than a passing notice in this connection, that is the want of colored writers. I know of nothing that has worked so much to our disadvantage as our carelessness in this respect. I have been asked a thousand times, why we had no history, and I have both gaped and sighed in giving a reply, so as to make time to fumble with the fingers of my mind, amid the dusty records of the past, trying to scratch up a little, which when collected was too frequently doubtful as to its authenticity. There is no doubt but what we have been too derelict in all ages, about noting events connected with our history.

While we ethnologically claim in our ranks the immortal names of Hannibal, Euclid, St. Augustine, Athanasius and others of like fame, yet we have to dispute with the white race as to their lineage and genealogy. You are aware that many pretend to deny that these persons were actual Negroes, though born and reared in Africa, but they hold them to have been Asiatic.

Had we kept a record of the daring feats performed by the colored race during the war for national independence, when Washington and his compatriots were struggling for liberty, how much more potent would have been the arguments in our favor, during the recent struggle in behalf of our freedom and equality of rights; or, suppose some compiler, who was an expert in the profession, had gleaned the newspapers for specimens of colored ability, even in slave times, what a monument of negro genius would have been erected, and what a wreath of glory it would have woven around his brow, though his brain was fettered by ignorance, and his hands and feet by the shackles of oppression. Our trouble has been a tendency to a superabundance of the crude and material, and a lack of the fine and sensitive. There is too much of the gross sensibilities, which is seldom awakened except by the animal passions. This trait however, is special to any people whose condition has been like ours in the past; and there is no doubt but what years of freedom will eradicate all these defects.

History informs us that when Julius Ceasar went over to England, he found the old Britons living in holes and caves, and eating roots. But the blood of these crude sons of the Jungles have grown so rich since, that long before our day, nations have paled and sought refuge by flight, when stirred by the fear of their superior greatness. Give us time and we will make the world yet fear us: but the point I am trying to make is, that it is now time to commence the work, time to start.

I have often thought of a story my grand mama used to tell when I was a boy. She said when God first made the different races, he concluded to try three kinds first as an experiment, the white man, Indian, and Negro. So he told the boys they would have to work for a living, and he would give them three kinds of tools, plow and hoe; bow and arrow, pen and ink, and laying the down in their front, he said, now make your choice. Mr. Negro made haste and leaped for the plow and hoe, and the Indian grabbed as the next largest the bow and arrow, so the white man moved off slowly and picked up the pen and ink, and said, “Well, I will try you anyhow,” and left the negro in the field, the Indian in the woods, and he went on to his finely carpeted office, and there he remains, molding intellectual thunderbolts for all nations, while he proves to a mathematical demonstration, that not only the tools of a negro and the land of the Indian are his, but that the records of his office clearly establishes the fact that the negro is his by a unalterable law, determined upon by the mighty God five hundred billions of years ago. This calculation being rather too perplexing for the Negro, as he generally counts one by one, he desires to know how you make that. The white man sits down, crosses his legs, puffs his segar (sic), takes up his pen, writes a few lines, scratches a few figures, quotes a little ancient history, adduces some fallacious theories and calls it law, makes some ex parte quotations from the Bible, Zoroaster, or the Alcoran (Koran), epitomizes on some branch of anthropological obscurities, arrives at a false conclusion; but ere he winds up two or more white men come in and swear by their Alpha and Omega that every word is true. So Mr. Negro goes under, as a natural consequence, and rises no more. Thus you see the pen is mightier than the sword. We all know that, from time immemorial, the white race has been shoving the pen, and have emblazoned immortality on their brow by so doing.

If we ever intend to make the world feel and respect us, we must do the same. There is no reason why we should continue this dereliction of duty, because we have been slow in moving in the past. The world is in its infancy yet, the human family have not half reached the zenith of their glory, and he that comes in at the eleventh hour is as sure of his penny, as the one who bears the heat and burden of the day. We have but recently been set at liberty, and the prospects of our career looms up in grandeur, every move on the checker board prognosticates glorious things for the negro race—no man can even surmise what our destiny is to be in the future. This world may stand a million or two year yet, and the Negro race is certainly in their infancy as to the development of their immeasurable facilities. So you see very plainly that we have time enough to make history yet. One of our necessities, therefore, are historians, who will note and date every transpiring event worthy of attention.

This is the only legacy for a generation or two that we will be able to transmit to our children, nor do I know of anything they would prize more than sketches of the heroes of our late war, and the mighty struggles our people has had in changing our relation from slavery to freedom. Another item of history that would be appreciated by unborn millions, would be our fearful contests while passing through the ordeal of reconstruction. How our newly enfranchised orators mounted the platform, destitute of experience and education, and made the woods, old fields, churches, barns, horse stables and constitutional conventions ring with the music of their burning eloquence, while clamoring for equal rights before the law; yes, some grandson of what is commonly called a dirty, black, ignorant negro will, through the aid of such a historian, tune his lyre to the music praise, and hang a bow of glory over the tomb of his grand sire that shall never fade while the sun shines or stars dance.

Do you suppose that such men as Webster, Clay, Calhoun, Everet, Sumner, Chase, Seward and Phillips, were to be found among the signers of the declaration of independence, or the convention that drafted the constitution of the United States. No, such men were not there. Thos. Jefferson, notwithstanding, but for the principles that inspired then, the object sought, and the triumph obtained. Listen, oh muses lend your ear, orchestra of heaven be silent while the statesman, the poet, and the orator, dwells with enchanting strains on their bright memories, and lifts them by the breath of their melody, and trenchant perorations, till they weave around their memories wreaths of fadeless honors. Why will our posterity not desire to do the same for such men as Simms, Campbell, Bradley, Harrison, Belcher, Moore, Long, and Smith, of Columbus, who hid in the marshes of Stewart county three days, to save his life-for advocating his rights; and others in the State, whose labors have been legion, not to mention the black heroes of other states, whose services could hardly be penned on the heavens if they were a scroll, such as the immortal Douglass, and that great and learned man, Prof. John M. Langston, whose abilities the nation admires.

I would like to state another thing….I have grave doubts about this being the ultimate home of the colored race any way. I do not believe we are ever to be expatriated from this country; but I am of the opinion that our people will one day turn their attention to Africa and go to it. I fear we cannot, for a great while, hold our own against the whites, with the numerical strength on the one hand their fearful competition on the other. Besides the land and the money are theirs, and we are not going to be satisfied always in the capacity of water-carriers and wood hewers. We must have railroads, stock in telegraph companies, insurance companies, factories, etc. This is essential to our growth, up building, and material advancement. How are we to acquire it? Either by going to Africa or out West and settling on new territory. It is utterly impossible for menial laborers to ever acquire wealth; one here and one there may overcome the obstacles and rise up a little, but the masses will go from bad to worse. I think the Dutch and Irish are setting us good examples if we would but see and heed it. They land in New York today, poor and degraded, but tomorrow they are on the cars going out West, there they squat on a piece of land, which does not cost one cent per acre; they work all day and fish and hunt at night for their meat. In a few years they are off to New York again to lay in $15,000 or $30,000 worth of goods. You ask what’s up now? Well, I will tell you: he is a wealthy merchant; he lives in great style; one son is gone to Congress, one is a lawyer, the other a doctor, and the old man himself is being talked of for the next Governor. Had this Irishman remained in New York and drove a cart, carried a hod or blacked boots, he would have always been at the point of starvation, his sons drunkards or gamblers, and his daughters night strollers, with his wife in the grave.

Africa holds out the greatest inducements to the colored man of any other spot on God’s green earth; her resources are boundless; her climate unsurpassed; her minerals incomprehensible; her productive resources amply sufficient to feed the world ten thousand years, and her temporary ample enough to give every human being a homestead on the face of the globe, whose value would defy dollars and cents.

Can any sane man presume for a moment that Providence will allow these garnered treasures to lie in the bowels of the earth forever? The idea is preposterous in the extreme. No sir; the time will come when the negro race will thirst for those climes as the hart does for the water brook and omniscient skill will provide the means for his importation. Mr. McQueen, when speaking of the superstition which infested that country, made the following remark: “It is in Africa this evil must be rooted out – by African hands and African exertions chiefly that it can be destroyed.” Wm. Pitt, the great English statesman, in a gust of patriotic eloquence, uses the following language: “We may live to behold the nations of Africa engaged in the calm occupations of industry, and in the pursuits of a just and legitimate commerce; we may behold the beams of science and philosophy breaking in upon their land, which at some happier period, in still later times, may blaze with full luster, and joining their influence to that of pure religion, may illuminate and invigorate the most distant extremities of that immense continent.

Mr. Pitt speaks as if touched by the same finger of prophetic inspiration which was hovering over David, when he, by a higher claim to infallibility, stood gazing in the future and exclaimed “Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands to God; Sing, ye kingdoms of the earth, sing praises to the Lord; for they shall drink at noon the palm’s rich nectar, and lie down at eve in the green pastures of remembered days, and walk to wonder and weep no more on Congo’s mountain coast, or Guinea’s golden shore.”

Africa will rise as sure as ere a nation rose through transverses and inexplicabilties the path may lie. But as Wadsworth says, while soaring on the wings of the muses: “In the unreasoning progress of the world—

A wiser spirit is at work,

A better eye than ours sees.”

I once read an ode, said to have been written by some Rev. Dr. Croswell. I have often repeated it, and if I can I will do so now; and let that suffice for what I have to say about Africa. And why our young men should be compiling a history for future generations on the present condition of our people, the tie is not far distant when millions of redeemed and refined Africans will devour every item of our history in this country, and still thirst for more.

Joy to thy savage realm, O, Africa.

A sign is on thee that the Great I AM

Shall work new wonders in the land of Ham;

And while he tarries for the glorious day

To bring again his people, there shall be

A remnant left from Cushan to the sea.

And though the Ethiopia cannot change his skin,

Or bleach the outward stain, he yet shall roll

The darkness off that overshades the soul,

And wash the deeper dyes of sin,

Princes submissive to the Gospel sway

Shall come from Egypt and the Morian land,

In holy transport stretch to God its hand

Joy to thy savage realm, O, Africa!

I am also anxious to see the negro perambulating with masterly strides the arena of art and science. In this country alone there are four thousand one hundred and twenty-six telegraph offices, one hundred and twenty-five thousand five hundred and sixty-four miles of wire, which transits annually twelve millions nine hundred and four thousand seven hundred and twenty-seven telegrams; and not a solitary negro, that I know of, plays his nimble fingers on the batteries which performs this marvelous task. I am not charging my people to a fault on account of this thing, I am stating a fact to beget in the young men an aspiration.

But the electric telegraph and its operations is only a drop in the bucket compared to what claims our attention. I might speak of air engines, steam navigation, gas lighting, bridge building, ballooning, and several other things which we should not only have a hand in, but improve on. For there is no invention or discovery that has been made which has been brought to perfection; they are all in their infancy yet, leaving ample room for the genius of the negro to increase their utility, and add to the catalogue of inventions and discoveries a thousand blessings yet unknown and undreamed of. Men have been experimenting on air balloons for several years, and up to this time they are unable to control the air or guide their flying monsters. The time must come when these experiments will be reduced to a practical system, and railroads and steamships will give place to trackless paths through the atmosphere, where millions of people will go to and fro in the discharge of their daily avocations. God never intends for the sparrow to walk and ride where men cannot.

But before this great achievement is made some Herculean intellect must grapple with unconquered forces, subdue their eludements (sic), and bring them in subserviency(sic) to the will of man.

The discoveries which have been made are incessantly passing through the ordeals of improvement by virtue of being subjected to the test of more enlightened scrutiny. What Pythagoras, Aristotle, Archimedes, Copernicus, Kepfer, Galileo, and even Bacon, read in hieroglyphics and saw stamped upon every molecule in the infinitesimal realm of nature, could not be solved till the mind of Newton found the key and deciphered the laws of gravitation. Is it a matter of impossibility for some negro to come forth in the consciousness of his ability and make bare a thousand mysteries and unfold a thousand truths never touched by the whirl or dash of imagination or the of imagination, or the finest spun threads of thought? Our highest ambition is too much confined to a mere imitation of the white man; we are not enough disposed to blaze out new routes and cut down fresh timbers. But the time has come in God’s Providence when this will do more to attest our manhood than anything else we could possibly perform. And as Kossuth said to the Irishman: “Wherever there is a will there is a way.” Or as the school book says, “try, try, and try again.” It is time for colored people, especially our young men, to quit saying I can’t, I can, I will, I shall, I must, are the words for these times. We are too poor and ignorant yet to use the words, I can’t, about anything. I never repeated the following poem without becoming electrified; I have to say, huzah for the bee, whether I will to or not. If you will lend me your attention I will repeat it:

With vicious threat, and finger fine,

The spider spun his filmy line,

The extremes with stronger cordage tied,

And wrought the web from side to side.

Beneath the casement’s pendant roof

He hung aloft the shadowy woof;

There in the midst compressed he lies,

And patient waits the expected prize.

When, lo! On sounding pinions strong,

A bee, uncautious, rushed along;

Nor of the gauzy net aware

Till all entangled in the snare

Enraged, he flies, his buzzing wings

His far resounding war-song sing;

Tears all that would his course control,

And threatens ruin to the whole.

With dread, with gladness, with surprise,

The spider saw the dangerous prize;

Then rushed relentless on his foe,

Intent to give the deadly blow.

But as the spider came in view,

The bee his poisoned dagger drew;

Back at the sight the spider ran,

And now hiw crazy work began.

With lengthened came in view,

The bee his poisoned dagger drew;

Back at the sight the spider ran,

And now his crafty work began.

With lengthened arms the snares he plied,

He turned the bee from side to side;

His legs lie tied, his wings he bound,

And whirled his victim round and round.

And now with cautious steps and slow,

He came to give the fatal blow,

When frightened at the trenchant blade,

The bee one desperate effort made.

The fabric breaks, the cords give way,

His wings resume their wonted play;

Far off on gladsome plume he flies,

And drags the spider through the skies.

I could wish myself that bee. He did not kill the spider, but he winged him aloft and carried him captive at his will.

Dr. Adam Clarke once remarked: It’s the soul that makes the man. And so it is. I had rather have one man with a soul, or a will, than ten thousand with none. And, gentlemen, permit me to tell you there is enough for you to do in the field of science and in every other department.

Since the world began the lightning has played harmlessly upon the fringes of distant clouds, or around the mountain, kissing brow-bounds, shooting its thrice bolted artillery from the magazines of the skies in appalling vollies through the rolling embrasures of the ireful storm, till a fatal thunder bolt darted from the seat of Franklin’s brain which out flew the electric spark, and collared the wild steed that had for ages expended his strength in gamboling in the region of space. It pierced the subtle elements and laid the foundation of those discoveries which ties towns, States, and even continents together. Still this imponderable substance has never been analyzed—not even by the masterminds of the world. But some intellectual genius now sleeping in the womb of the future, in due time will, rise and turn this ethereal agent into the test of his laboratory as easily as the chemist now does the most crude material. Why should not this noble achievement be made by a Negro?

Before it was in the province of man to breathe, the magnetic fairies of the North Pole had lived beneath its flickering aurora, enthroned by heaven’s command, yet, unobserved amid the inscrutable oscillations of nature. But, oh! Divine to contemplate, genius steps forth from the rough and hardy exterior of an uncouth and ill-bred rambler, and points a trembling finger toward the north; the needle looks to the pole amid raging billows and fearful storms, and guides the weary mariner through the gloom of night or the howl of the simoom. But the body of this power still lies in the Arcanum of the unexplored bosom of the icebergs of the artic region; some clear massive mind will one day mount the chariot that will defy the long obstructions of by gone ages, and tell the admiring millions of earth how he solved the problem, and will lay bare the mystery of centuries. Why, I ask again, should not this be a Negro?

There is another thought I would like to refer to just here, that is, the general tendency of all things to exposition. Scientifically speaking there are no secrets in nature, every act, however clandestinely executed, effects the universe and the whole intelligent creation, and is read by countless myriads, and are winged in the scales of infinitude. But I will neither stop to philosophize or speculate upon that intricate question at present; the point I wish to touch is this, all motion has legible aspects, and conveys corresponding ideas, whether that be in locomotion, manipulation, or expression. Up to this time the world has to depend upon the atmospheric vibration, or the sound of words, to catch the meaning of the speaker; no regard is had to the motion of the mouth or the quiver of the lips. But this is destined at no distant day to become a practical science; indeed it is now attracting attention, and in less than a century the intelligent classes will likely read a whisper if they can see the motion of the lips, as easily as we can now read print. And more than that, allow me to tell you, our whole physiognomy if full of impressions pregnant with expressive characteristics. The time will come when Judges and juries will be selected who can read these motions and features—impressions, absolutely and alone. The proper and unmistakable delineation of human character will depend upon it, in the court room and everywhere else. Why, I ask, gentlemen, may not the champion of this science be a Negro?

We might follow this train of thought through the various arts and professions of life—to painting, to sculpturing, to engraving, to architecting, to unraveling the wondrous mazes of the heavens, or reading the imprints of geological strata. These scientific branches are simply referred to as an evidence of the spheres of usefulness that we can operate in.

Any man who but scans the signs of the times must be blind not to see that the world is tending to higher and nobler developments. What will be the brightness of our world, when the sun of progress shall rest in its zenith, the most chimerical cannot surmise. But we are satisfied that the overthrow of slavery in America, the present struggles for liberty throughout the world, and uneasiness of the Pope of Rome; the general uniting of the Christian churches; the unprecedented efforts being put forth in the missionary department; the missions of bibles annually published and distributed through charitable contributions; the cessation the civilized world is having from wars and bloodshed; the billions of papers and periodicals teeming from the press, scattering ideas and throwing broad cast facts hitherto reserved in the chambers of the few; the interest manifested in humanity from Congresses and Parliaments down to sanitary commissions, and a score of other indications, are only the precursors of grand results.

Sometime since I had the pleasure of witnessing the examination of the children at the Atlanta University, under the tutelage of that eminent philanthropist and educator, Mr. Ware[1], where I was struck with the evidences of progress made by the pupils, while those black boys and girls were passing through their examination and displaying such an admirable fund of literary knowledge. I could not help, in the revelry of my cogitations, from feeling a malicious sensation toward those who had deprived me of the same privilege when I was young. I thought to myself, O, what a man I would have been today, had I been blessed with an early education; had the functions of that spiritual essence by which man differs from the perishing brutes; cultured and turned loose to stand out in colossal grandeur, it might have been sunk in the rocks of ages, to trace the periods of their petrifaction and the early career of the trilobites and fish-lizards of the hoary past, or buried in the celestial vaults, gazing upon the majesty of countless suns—shooting its perceptive glance up to peerless glories and down the gorgeous drapery of eternal space—feeling by its sweep the rustling groves of Newton, defying mysteries, and leaving a clear field for my children, and children’s children. But, alas! Alas! Too late now; a frosty hair here and there peeps from the covering of my brow and tells me my dial of life is cast, get ready for the grave; but as you go down to the tomb point your race to the 15th Amendment as the ensign of liberty, and march rapidly.

When multitudes of virtues pass along,

Each pressing foremost in the might throng,

Ambitious for the prize, then make room,

For greater multitudes, that wills lo come.

Before concluding these remarks I wish to refer to one example of colored genius, which I found in the Atlanta Daily New Era, of July 13th, 1870:

“Jacob Smith, a Negro boy, publishes at Princess Anne, Md., a paper printed with a pen, on ordinary foolscap paper. It is sent to subscribers for $1.00 a year in advance. The printing is well done, the letters being more of the Italian than the Roman style. The paper is made up of original and selected matter, the original being entirely furnished by Smith. He gets out a copy every week, printing with a pen even the advertisements.”

Here is nimbleness of muscular accuracy, combined with a superb intellectuality. If cultivated by encouragement will rival the most expert literati of the world; besides, it is an unbeaten path—a new road to fame and immortality.

This is the class of men we want in our ranks. There is no more abolition hobbies to ride; no more proscriptive laws to complain of; no wailings to make over Governmental ignoring. We can no longer charge the white race with obstructing the avenues of knowledge, and bolting up the word of God; or filtering the Gospel through the sieve of their prejudices, or cauterizing the qualities of virtue. The nation’s decayed tooth has been extracted, and there’s no more grim features to distort the countenance. Physical fury have expended itself upon the carcass of slavery and all its concomitant evils, and the huge monster lies paralyzed in death, and the voice of God and reason now thunders from on high in the pregnant words of the immortal Milton.

Awake! Arise! Or be forever fallen.[2]

Our orators must now tune their harps for another chant. The words that moved a nation’s heart but yesterday will fall dead upon the auditory organ of today. The line that divided the South and the North into sectional parties have been washed away by the flood-tides of liberty; the shafts of heaven’s vengeance that once plowed the nation, have been entombed by the sons of freedom; and we in common with other American citizens are shielded by the edges of the law. And if there is anything that may well bestir our pride and evoke mutual congratulations, it is the fact that as a race we, the colored people, are law abiding citizens. You never have nor ever will hear of a Negro renting his house for election purposes, and then driving the managers away for the purpose of breaking up an election for a Justice of the Peace, (as was done here last Saturday.) And just here allow me to say, all honor to the Daily Republican and Advertiser for their manly condemnation of the act. When our newspapers shall condemn the guilty, denounce the wrong, and hurl thunderbolts at public crimes, be the perpetrators white, black, Republicans or Democrats, a new era will dawn upon us. Heretofore Negroes were always guilty, white men always innocent; but the time is coming when merit and demerit will be considered, be the person white or black.

By observing these suggestions, gentlemen of the lyceum, what do we next behold but a grand and glorious future. As I look down through the rolling embrasures of the coming hereafter, I see the Negro raising higher and higher; with manly stride and gallant tread he climbs the hill of fame; he writes his name on the scroll of honor, and dignities his black skin; he stamps his deeds in legible characters on the rock that was smitten by the rod of liberty; he vindicates his manhood by intellectual achievements, and snatches the honor of his sires from under the tongue of defamation. Educated, polished, wealthy, and refined, he stands in the blaze of future ages, and pours forth his burning eloquence at the bar, while the earth trembles beneath his feet. His flat nose, his kinky hair, his thick lips, and his long heel, will be admired, while from beneath this rude exterior shall shoot for the incontestable traits of moral purity, and yet grander evidences of an intellectuality that the world cannot and dare not question. The wild gesticulations and the risible idiosyncrasies that now make the Negro the funniest creature on earth, whose peculiar habits and mirthful temperament affords amusement for the world, one day will be sobered down and brought under the most sensitive control. White men then will not be driven to the necessity of blacking their faces, reddening their lips, and wigging their heads with the kinks of some dead Negro’s hair, to furnish laughter for the stage and theatre. But if they are not careful he will spell-bind and trance-chain them as completely when he shall thunder from the rostrum and forum as he does now when he dances and cracks jokes on the comedian stage.

Dr. Knot, Gov. Perry, and even the great Agassiz, have tried to prove that the Negro race did not spring from Adam and Eve. God grant that they may succeed in demonstrating their theories. Just as soon as they prove that we did not originate in the loins of Adam, we, the Negroes, will prove that we are a better race than the white people, because they cannot prove our Adam fell; but we can then prove that we labor under no curse, and are not in danger of their hell-fire when we die, neither have we anything to do with bringing Jesus Christ out of heaven to die for us; and that will be another argument in favor of our grand and glorious future for we are God’s innocent pets. And on this parity of reasoning we, the Negro race, may adjudge ourselves the jewels of the earth and the gem of all nations; for us chiefly the orb of the day climbs the hill of heaven and the stars stud the dome of the skies; the watch fires of ages throughout the grand hereafter will light up our path and blaze down the drapery of time.

Be encouraged ye black sons of America, for there is a better day coming. Already the beacon lights dot the golden shore, and the day-star sheds is meridian splendors. The chrysalis have been rent by the breath of God, and the caterpillar is throwing off the rugged bull in which hull in which he crawled and toiled, it now only remains for him to make a few more struggles, and transmuted into the lovely butterfly he will spread his wings upon the breeze ad drink nectar from the sweetest flowers, as he shall bask and luxuriate in the dimless glare of unclouded splendor. His deeds shall be the subject of praise, and his heroism shall be the subject of praise, and his heroism shall be the theme of the poet; the electric spark shall dart from shore to shore, and whisper his massive thoughts and thundering words, while kings shall tremble and empires quake. The future historian shall dip his pen in the azure heavens when he shall sit down to record his history, and dream, for words to sown his exploits. As Bishop Ward most eloquently remarked: “With a brow bathed in the golden glories of the sun of progress the winds shall sweep, and the forked lightning leap from mountain cave to valley low, and thunder drums mingle their terrific sounds to teach him the ire of God’s wrath; and he shall be humble when he hears God’s thunder-horn summoning his armies to battle. The sun-lit and star-paved sky, and the green clad earth shall be his Alma Mater; and his library shall be the sweeping river, the opening rose bud, the babbling brooklet, the brilliant apple bloom, the thunder-riven oak, the russet peach, the flaming stars, the sparkling limpid spring, the whispering zephyrs, the warbling of heaven’s feathered harpers, the frost bloom of winter, the June bud of summer, and the hoary rocks. From these he shall draw inspiration and learn to honor Him who rewards His followers with a sun bright day, a cloudless noon, and ever-opening morn. And may heaven grant us a part in the mighty host when the race of life is run.”

But I have said enough for one lecture; but before concluding allow me to say, gentlemen, that these thoughts may be regarded rather fanciful if not visionary, but do not be deceived, these results will surely be realized, “for God is able out of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

Let the songsters of the skies sing,

And the heavenly arches ring.

Young men arm yourselves with unconquerable weapons, equip yourselves with invulnerable shields—education, refinement, and manly bearing—be

Men, yes high minded men,

With powers as far above dull brutes imbued,

In forest, brake or den,

As beast excel cold rocks and bramble rude.”

[1]Edmund Asa Ware was a philanthropist and educator who served as the first president of Atlanta University from 1869 until his death in 1885. Yale Obituary Record, page 324 http://mssa.library.yale.edu/obituary_record/1859_1924/1885-86.pdf

[2] Paradise Lost by English poet, John Milton.


Turner, Henry McNeal. A Speech on the Present Duties and Future Destiny of the Negro Race. The Henry McNeal Turner Project. (1872, September 2) http://www.thehenrymcnealturnerproject.org/2019/03/a-speech-on-present-duties-and-future.html

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