Speech by J. Sella Martin Delivered at the Athenaeum, Bristol, England 27 October 1865
J. Sella Martin gave his last major public lecture at a meeting sponsored by the Freedmen's Aid Society at the Athenaeum in Bristol. The poorly planned and modestly attended gathering began at one o'clock on Friday afternoon, 27 October 1865. The audience consisted largely of English and Welsh Congregationalist clergymen and lay delegates simultaneously attending a denominational congress in Bristol. After an opening hymn, Benjamin Scott, presiding FAS vice-president, characterized black emancipation as "one of the most momentous revolutions which the world has witnessed." The meeting then unanimously approved a resolution thanking God for emancipation. Martin's speech sounded a theme echoed by other blacks touring Britain after emancipation: American racial prejudice might confine the freedman as effectively as slavery. Rev. J. C. Holbrook, Martin's recently arrived replacement in Britain, made some concluding comments. The session closed with a hymn and benediction. Joseph Davis to Aspinall Hampson, 30 October 1865, British Empire MSS, UkOxU-Rh; NC, 1 November 1865; FML, 1 December 1865.
Men enter into conversation with me in railway carriages, and they say, "We are as much opposed to slavery as you are; but then, after all slavery ought to have been gradually abolished, and not immediately." Well now, suppose it ought, it was not. (Laughter.) It would cost just as much blood and treasure to get the negroes back into slavery as it has cost to get them out, and if these people really meant to criticise where they can remedy, and not to find fault merely in a querulous spirit, they would accept the state of facts as they present themselves and make the best of it. (Hear, hear.) I will tell you what is the fact. The people that find fault with abolition generally do not want it, gradual or immediate. They say that the negroes were very well contented when they were in slavery. "I have seen them," some will say, "and heard them say they were contented." They have told me that frequently, and there was never a greater mistake in the world. Here a white man says that the negroes were contented. Well, I am a negro, and I was not contented. (Loud applause.) The white man was not in slavery; I was, and I know where the shoe pinched; and I say I was not contented. But then, Mr. Chairman, suppose it were the fact that the black man was contented in bondage, suppose he was con