Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

By Philip S. Foner; Robert James Branham | Go to book overview

And every power find sweet employ, In that eternal world of joy.

Our flesh shall slumber in the ground, Till the last trumpet's joyful sound,

Then burst the chains with sweet surprize, And in our Saviour's image rise.


4 PRAY GOD GIVE US THE STRENGTH TO BEAR UP UNDER ALL OUR TROUBLES

Prince Hall

On June 24, 1797, Prince Hall delivered a Masonic sermon to the African lodge at Menotomy (later West Cambridge), Massachusetts, in which he strongly denounced the African slave trade and the shameful abuse of people of color in Boston and expressed faith that God would soon end these and other evils. Boston society was thoroughly segregated in the last decade of the eighteenth century. Racial hostility and discrimination were rampant in every sphere of the city's economic and social life. Hall's 1797 address catalogs some of the daily insults and risks of physical assault to which African Americans in Boston were subjected "at such a degree that you may truly be said to carry your lives in your hands." As in his 1792 address, Hall draws upon the Bible for examples of interracial tolerance and respect and upon the Haitian Revolution as a beacon of hope.

Self-educated, Hall was particularly outraged by the complete denial of formal education to black residents, although he is careful to explain in this speech that unschooled blacks may be intelligent, wise, and knowledgeable. Blacks were taxed to support educational institutions whose services they were denied, he argued in his 1787 petition to the Massachusetts state legislature for educational funding. Hall's petition was denied. In 1796, the year before the speech that appears below, Hall had appealed to the selectmen of the city of Boston to establish a school for black children. The selectmen agreed in principle but said there was no building in which such a school might be held. In 1800, with funding from the city selectmen, Hall started the school in his own home, employing Harvard students as instructors. Hall died on December 4, 1807.

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