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Benjamin Coates to Frederick Douglass, February 25, 1852


Frederick Douglass: Dear Sir:—It is to me one of the most discouraging things connected with our colored population, that they show so little ambition and evince such a want of appreciation of the true means to improve their condition, otherwise they would make much greater efforts as individuals to rise above the difficulties that depress them, and would see and feel the necessity of sustaining such men as yourself, Mr. Ward, and others, in their efforts to secure justice and equal rights for all. There ought to be at this time at least fifty newspapers, conducted by colored men, and well sustained among themselves, if they really desire to place themselves on an equal footing in all respects with their white fellow-citizens. Instead of that, one after another is suffered to go down for want of support, till at last yours is, I believe, the only one left in the United States. This is really a disgrace to the whole race.—But if the mass will not see their own interest and duty in relying on their own efforts for their elevation, the greater responsibility rests upon a few intelligent men like yourself, Mr. Ward, &c., for continued, and if possible, increased efforts to impress upon those within your influence the necessity of obtaining for their children a good education, with habits of industry and thrift, so that they may become useful citizens. Associated action, in my opinion, is what is needed—a union of interest, of purpose, with a union of means, either for educational, manufacturing or mercantile purposes, which will thus bring strength out of weakness, and give a power and ability to the enterprising and ambitious but poor colored man, to complete successfully with his more opulent and better educated white neighbor. This associated action, in a national effort, has already given power, respect and position to the colored man in the Republic of Liberia; and, without desiring to argue the colonization scheme with you at this time, I must say that a vast majority of those who so violently and bitterly oppose that measure, both white,black and colored, seem entirely satisfied with their remaining in a subordinate capacity in this country. Yes, sir, even the black and colored people themselves, as well as their white friends, do not seem to desire for them or expect them to become anything more than good waiters, good servants, barbers or boot-blacks. Is not this the case? and does


it not become those who oppose emigration to Liberia or elsewhere, to use more strenuous efforts to place our colored population in a position to become men, to develop their talents for something better and higher than driving carriages, cleaning knives and waiting on tables, and occasionally good suppers?—What would President Roberts now be, had he remained in America? What would Teage, Warner, Benson and others, who are now distinguishing themselves as statesmen, as writers and merchants in Liberia? Probably good porters, or waiters, or barbers, "respectable colored men," nothing more. And others, no doubt, would receive a much less deserving epithet. How much better would the world be at this day if my ancestors, and the "pilgrim fathers" of New England, had remained in England, suffering persecution for opinoin's sake, contending for their just rights it is true, but to little purpose, instead of coming to the wilds of America, suffering hardships and privation beyond anything known in our day, that they might enjoy civil and religious liberty for themselves and their descendants, and build up a mighty nation based on more correct principles, whose influence should be felt over the wide world? But I have got into an argument without intending it. I have just read your comments on Mr. Bir[ ]'s pamphlet, which has led me to make remarks on this subject that I had intended to avoid for the present. My object in writing was to say that if my mite will be received towards the circulation of your paper, or in any other manner aiding your efforts to promote the anti-slavery cause and the improvement of your brethren, please make use of it as you think best. I only regret that I cannot do more; and this much, at least, I am indebted to you for publishing what I know you do not approve.—


Yet, if you decline it on that ground, you will allow me to make it as a donation for the cause of the oppressed. And as I do not wish to do anything to injure your cause in any way, nor to call forth any personal remark on myself, it will probably be best not to make any acknowledgement yet in your paper. I have no desire to see my name in the paper in any shape, and instead, henceforth, not to hurt the feelings of any of the subscribers to your paper, by seeing in it the name of one so thorought devoted to the colonization cause as I am known to be. At my leisure, I may possibly write a private letter to yourself on the subject, but not for publication; for I believe you are sincerely devoted to the best interest of your people, and although at present as [honestly], and perhaps I may say bitterly, opposed to what you consider the objects of the founders and supporters of the colonization society, yet I believe you have sufficient strength of mind and independence of action to be able to overcome even the most deep rooted prejudice, if convinced that it was founded in error; and I have not the slightest doubt that I can prove to you that it was from no hate of the colored man, and no love for the institution of human slavery, that took an A[ ]man, a Mills, a Pinney, a Buchanan to Africa, and for which three of these noble men laid down their lives, two of them, Pinney and Buchanan, my most intimate and particular friends; and it is with my advice that the noble and excellent Buchanan went both the first and second time to Africa, knowing, as we both did full well, all the dangers he had to encounter, and leaving, as he did, a widowed mother and orphan sisters to mourn his untimely death. Yet, it was Buchanan, J. P. Pinney and such men as they, who were the real supporters of the colonization cause in its darkest days and not a few southern politicians who make speeches at public meetings, &c.

You must excuse the length of this letter, but when I get on this subject, it seems impossible for me to stop.

Yours, very truly,

Benjamin Coates.

Philadelphia, Feb. 25, 1852.


Coates, Benjamin




Benjamin Coates to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick Douglass' Paper, 20 May 1852. Supports black colonization in Africa as means to black progress.


This document was calendared in the published volume and has not been published in full before.


Frederick Douglass' Paper



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Frederick Douglass' Paper