Leonard Collins to Frederick Douglass, March 3, 1848
LEONARD COLLINS1Leonard Collins (1806–?), a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church, was a native of Pennsylvania. He served congregations in Centre County, Pennsylvania, before moving to Philadelphia, where he became pastor of the First Wesley African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. There, Collins participated in various reform movements, including temperance and abolition, and helped to organize Pennsylvania’s black state convention in 1841. In the mid-1840s he moved to New England, where he served as pastor of African Methodist Episcopal Zion churches in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1847 Collins represented Massachusetts at the black national convention. Collins later lost his standing in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church when he developed a problem with alcohol. Philip S. Foner and George E. Walker, eds., Proceedings of the Black State Conventions, 1840–1864, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1979–80), 2:20–22; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 3:452–53n. TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS
Springfield, [Mass.] 3 March 1848.
The North Star, of Feb. 25th, contains an article that seems to reﬂect upon me rather severely, and you will therefore do me a favor, by allowing me to be heard in my own defence.2Collins wrote an editorial for the Springfield (Mass.) Gazette in which he defended the establishment of black congregations as beneﬁcial to African Americans, contrary to Douglass’s view that segregated churches were harmful to blacks. NS, 25 February 1848. I am not aware that my conduct has given you any just occasion to say that I “have taken up my pen to write for a pro-slavery paper, in defence of white ministers and churches, linked as
they are with the blood-stained church and evangelical man stealer of the
South.”3Collins refers to Douglass’s editorial “Colored Churches.” Collins alters what Douglass actually wrote: “That white ministers and churches, linked as they are with the blood-stained church and evangelical man-stealers of the South, should seek to turn off our assaults, and shelter themselves from our rebukes, is natural and to be expected; but that a colored man, one of the oppressed and despised of our land, should take up his pen to write for a pro-slavery paper, in defense of those churches and ministers, is painfully amazing.” Unless otherwise noted, all subsequent quotations are from that editorial and are accurate. NS, 25 February 1848.
I am also at a loss to know, what good reason Mr. Douglass has, to impute to me bad motives simply because I do not think as he happens to think about “separate organizations;” and much less am I able to account for such an unchristian gladiatorial thrust, as Mr. Douglass makes, when he calls me “the recreant Reverend Mr. Collins, who though a black man himself, is willing for the sake of gaining the good will of his oppressors, to play the part of a clerical sycophant.”
Now, Mr. Douglass, you seem to assume that no man can differ from your notions, and still be a sane and honest man, just as though yourself were the great fountain-head of sanity and honesty; the great oracle that every “black” man must consult or die. It may be a startling, and even a “painfully amazing” idea to you sir, that a sane and honest man can dare to disagree with you, yet such is the fact. As to my writing for a pro-slavery paper, that is a dishonest assumption on your part; I hate slavery and its advocates, as cordially as any christian can. The truth is, you did your best in Springfield, to oppose principles, that I honestly think correct, and I deem it my duty, to speak through the papers my sentiments; if I am a greater sinner for having my article published in the “pro-slavery paper,” (as you are pleased to call it,) than you are, for publishing your sentiments in the “pro-slavery” Town Hall,4The Town Hall was located on State Street in Springfield, Massachusetts. The building was the center for local government and was often used for other types of meetings. Douglass spoke there on 1 February 1848. NS, 11 February 1848; Michael H. Frisch, Town into City: Springﬁeld, Massachusetts, and the Meaning of Community, 1840–1880 (Cambridge, Mass., 1972), 23. why then I am sorry. As to playing the part of a clerical sycophant, I am not so ready to plead guilty at your first nod: my opinion is, that colored people are more improved with churches of their own, th[a]n they would be without them. If you think differently, very well, that is your privilege; but it is not your duty to denounce me so unhandsomely and so unjustly. Your paper is your own; but justice is mine, as well as yours, “shame” will not cover me, simply because you blow at me with a scornful breath. But I will not defend myself further; in concluding, I will suggest for your future consideration and discussion, a few
1st. If we disband according to your recommendations, would you have us join the corrupt “white churches, linked as they are, with the blood-stained church and evangelical man-stealers of the South,” as you, without exception call them[?]
2d. To what extent shall we disband, and go and demand “admission” to the white associations?
3d. Shall we have Mr. Douglass set the first example, by dismissing his colored coadjutors in his printing establishment, and knocking loudly at
the door of the “white” printer, demanding to be admitted to “equal” editorship?
4. Who are to determine the degrees of “equal demand” for brotherhood? Early and full answers will much oblige.
PLSr: NS, 24 March 1848.