Colored People Must Command Respect: An Address Delivered in Rochester, New York, on 13 March 1848
COLORED PEOPLE MUST COMMAND RESPECT: AN ADDRESS DELIVERED IN ROCHESTER, NEW YORK, ON 13 MARCH 1848
North Star, 24 March 1848.
Douglass resumed his discussion of the issues raised in his February and March editorials in the North Star at a meeting at the Spring Street A.M.E. Zion Church. As at the ﬁrst meeting in the Ford Street Baptist Church, the audience was large and predominantly black. William Cooper Nell wrote the account of the meeting. NS, 18, 25 February, 3, 10 March 1848; Quarles, FD, 88-89.
Mr. Douglass introduced his subject by a reference to the means of ridding the nation from the accursed slave system, declaring them to be available to one and all, whether their influence in the community was great or small. Whenever, wherever, or however the system presented any of its evils, it was their appropriate mission to give it battle. They should make themselves acquainted with the sustaining inﬂuences of the system, that they might labor the more efﬁciently for its annihilation.
He would not attempt to deepen their horror of the slave system; for many, like himself, were familiar with its realities; the victim of Southern oppression was doomed to a long life of injury, from which there was no escape, no progress or advancement. Slavery is sustained to the present time by a combination of wicked inﬂuences, at the North as well as at the South, a perverted moral sentiment, for which the American church is responsible. Only think of a slaveholding minister attempting to preach morality, taking to himself the title of Ambassador of Christ, and at the same time, the robber of men, women and children, made in the image of God, heirs with him to the same immortality, the same judgment!
Henry Clay asserts that to be property which the laws declare such, and estimates the value of slaves in the U[nited] States at $12,000,000,1In a speech delivered in the Senate on 7 February 1839 on the subject of antislavery petitions. Clay had actually valued southern slave property at “twelve hundred millions of dollars.” Congressional Globe, 25th Cong., 3rd sess., 357. and self-styled Christians responded amen to this God-defying doctrine. Man can only be his own owner. He is no other than a thief who calls me or you his own property, and if one sinner is such above all others, it is he who would inflict stripes upon a human being, and quote scripture in justification, as did a master of mine, when brutally flogging a female slave—
“They who know their master’s will and do it not, shall be beaten with many stripes."2Douglass paraphrases Luke 12 : 47.
The slaveholder is a depraved man. His heart is corrupt; it is a citadel of whips, chains and thumb-screws. They originate in the heart before they are used by the hand.
Mr. D[ouglass] here narrated several instances of cruelty perpetrated under his own observation by slaveholders at the South, many of whom were active church members.
When Southern slaveholders and their Northern abettors received no countenance from the community; when they would be rebuked and shunned by respectable and Christian people, there would be reason to expect a speedy downfall of the entire system.
The colored people at the North possess a potent means of changing public Opinion on this great question. Their conduct is observed by friend and foe. They should therefore aim at a high standard of morality and self-respect. That they may command something more than sympathy, they must earn the respect of a community, of a nation; while they could never do this by exclusive organizations, but by making themselves of the people, interested in and for what concerns the whole people. They must be temperance people, otherwise they may expect to remain in degradation.
It is pro-slavery policy to keep the colored man in a subordinate position, mental, moral, and physical. We must declare our independence of such trammel, and avail ourselves of the various avenues to improvement.
Mr. D[ouglass], as a means of encouragement to his audience, and to strengthen himself, detailed his experience in learning to read, when a slave at Baltimore and during his residence in New Bedford; that while laboring at the blacksmith’s bellows, he stationed his book or paper where at intervals he might learn a sentence,3During his early residence in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Douglass took a number of different jobs, though it does not appear that he ever worked in a smithy. He did work the bellows in a brass foundry owned by a Mr. Richmond. Years later he recalled that he “often nailed a newspaper to the post near my bellows, and read while I was performing the up and down motion of the heavy beam by which the bellows was inﬂated and discharged. "Douglass had, of course. learned to read and write before his escape. Douglass, Life and Times, 236; idem, Bondage and Freedom, 350; Quarles, FD, 10. and by similar efforts being persevered in, he succeeded. He subscribed for the Liberator; and the ﬁrst lesson he received from its motto, and which has ever since been impressed upon his mind, was the noble and sublime sentiment, “My country is the world—my countrymen, mankind.” It was all-inspiring to him. It was a
new idea, and one worthy the cause to which the Liberator was zealously devoted. The warm panegyric here bestowed upon William Lloyd Garrison, to whom the colored man owed the largest gratitude, was loudly approbated by the audience, reminding us of a distinguished colored clergyman, at a New England Anti-Slavery Convention, in May, 1836, who thus bore a testimony to the pioneer in the cause of emancipation: “Yes, the friend of the colored man lives! Blessed be God, Garrison lives!” To the uttermost parts of the earth, wherever the colored man can hear this, he would raise his hands to heaven, and thank God that he lived to plead the cause of the slave. This prayer was the slave’s language. His heart yearns towards those who plead in his behalf.4The reporter summarizes and quotes from a speech delivered by Presbyterian minister Theodore Sedgwick Wright to a meeting of the New England Anti-Slavery Society in Boston on 24 May 1836. Wright’s address appears in Lib., 25 June 1836.
Mr. D[ouglass] alluded to his first impressions of Charles Lenox Remond5Noted black antislavery lecturer Charles Lenox Remond (1810-73) was born to free parents in Salem, Massachusetts, where, like his father who was an immigrant from Curacao, he worked as a barber. Remond became active in reform movements at an early age. A member of the Colored Association of Massachusetts when it merged with the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, he became an officer in the latter organization. By 1838, Remond had begun his career as a lecturer, traveling with clergyman Ichabod Codding under the auspices of the American Anti-Slavery Society to hold antislavery meetings in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. A delegate to the 1840 World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London, Remond withdrew from the convention when it refused to seat women delegates from the United States, later explaining that money contributed by various women’s antislavery societies in Maine and Rhode Island had helped pay his travel expenses. Remond traveled and lectured in the British Isles for some sixteen months and publicly signed the pledge of the Edinburgh Total Abstinence Society during his stay. He returned to the United States in December 1841, bearing the celebrated address that urged Irish Americans to support the American antislavery movement. Upon his return, Remond was employed as a lecture agent by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, and he and Douglass frequently traveled together on lecture tours. Their close association was troubled as a rift between Douglass and Garrison threatened, and in 1852 Remond announced his intention to cancel his subscription to Frederick Douglass' Paper in protest of Douglass' adoption of non-Garrisonian views ofthe U.S. Constitution. During the Civil War, Remond was a recruiting officer for the black 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Illness curtailed his reform activities after the war. In 1865 he was appointed a light inspector, and several years later he became a clerk in the Boston customshouse, where he worked until his death. Jane H. Pease and William H. Pease, They Who Would Be Free: Blacks' Search for Freedom, 1830-1861 (New York, 1974), 46; PaF, 21 March, 24 October 1839; FDP, 20 May 1852; New York Colored American, 7 November 1840; Lib., 21 October 1842; New York Times, 26 December 1873; Washington (DC) New National Era, 8 January 1874; George Adams, [comp.], Salem Directory, 1850, 118-19, 154; Boston Directory, 1872, 584; Donald M. Jacobs, “A History of the Boston Negro from the Revolution to the Civil War" (Ph.D. diss., Boston University, 1968), 117; Les Wallace, “Charles Lenox Remond: The Lost Prince of Abolitionism," NHB, 40: 696-701 (May-June 1977); NCAB, 2:303; DAB, 15: 499-500. and Henry H. Garnet, who each addressed New Bedford audiences. The effect produced on the citizens by their arguments and eloquence,
excited in his breast a new hope for the elevation of his downtrodden race. Mind will always command respect. Colored men and women should aspire to the highest intelligence, and remember that knowledge is power. They should earn money, and be prudent in expenditures, curtailing their amusements, contribute rather to the education of themselves and children in all those pursuits calculated to elevate them in the opinion of an observing community.
Many other points were illustrated and enforced at the time; but perhaps enough is here presented to enable the reader to gather a general impression of the occasion. Those under whose auspices the meetings were held, felt abundantly rewarded and gratified. May the good seed thus sown be wisely improved.