“AN AMERICAN CELEBRATION”
EXPANSION AND FRAGMENTATION, 1862–1870s
Ye sons of burning Afric's soil, Lift up your hands of hardened toil; Your shouts from every hill recoil— Today you are free!
—Ode for Emancipation Day,
January 1, 1863
Not the great North and West alone should rejoice in this day. The… period will come when this day shall be celebrated as the nation's second birthday, by the people of all the states.
—New Orleans Tribune, January 1, 1869
A S THE FORCES of the North and South aligned themselves during the early months of 1861, African Americans watched, waited, and pondered the meaning of the sectional crisis. Their attitudes covered a broad range. In Philadelphia, Elisha Weaver, editor of the Christian Recorder, the weekly newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, attempted to refute the notion that the nation's strife had anything to do with African Americans. In his first editorial after the firing on Fort Sumter Weaver claimed to “deeply grieve over the present condition in national affairs” and was quick “to correct what we conceive to be a very great error in the minds of many of our white friends, with regard to the relation of the colored people and the war; this is, that they are fighting about negroes. This is not true. ” The conflict, the editor maintained, was over territory, the control of which was sought by two sectional factions represented by “two great contending [political] parties. ” While he favored national unity on the grounds of loyalty and patriotism, Weaver recognized the potential for backlash if African Americans were construed to be at the root of the nation's “perplexed circumstances. ” 1
In Washington, D. C., twenty-five-year-old Benjamin Tucker Tanner, who would replace Weaver in the Recorder 's editorial seat in 1868, was just beginning a two-year sojourn as interim pastor at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. The young clergyman felt directly the antiblack animus that inspired Weaver's disclaimer, noting in November 1860 that the election