Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

14
THE CONDITION AND PROSPECTS OF HAITI

John Browne Russwurm

No event of the late eighteenth century alarmed the slaveholders of the United States and aroused the enthusiasm of black Americans, free and slaves, as much as the insurrection of the slaves in the French island of Saint Domingue. The revolt began in August 1791 and, after a decade of bloody conflict, ended with the expulsion of the French, the defeat of Napoleon's crack army of 25,000 soldiers under General Le Clerc, and the establishment on January 1, 1804, of the Republic of Haiti--the first black republic in the world, the first independent country in Latin America, the second independent nation in the hemisphere, and the one land in which black slaves defeated those who had enslaved them.

It is not surprising then, that when the second black college graduate in the United States delivered his commencement address, he should have chosen the Haitian revolution and the future of Haiti as his subject.* The graduate was John Browne Russwurm; the institution, Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine, and the date September 6, 1826. Russwurm was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, October 1, 1799, of a black mother and a white father who was an English merchant in the West Indies. At the age of eight, Russwurm was sent to school in Quebec. When the elder Russwurm moved into the District of Maine a few years later, he brought his son with him. Russwurm entered Bowdoin College in the fall of 1824 and graduated in 1826. In March 1827, he became coeditor and copublisher with Samuel B. Cornish of Freedom's Journal, the first black newspaper published in the United States. But Russwurm soon became convinced that because of the strength of racism here no black man could really live a life of freedom and dignity in the United States. He turned to colonization and in 1829 went to Africa as superintendent of public schools in Liberia. In 1836 he was appointed governor of the Cape Palmas district of Liberia, and he continued in his position until his death on June 17, 1851.

Russwurm's commencement address at Bowdoin College aroused some interest at the time it was delivered. An extract from the speech was published in the Portland Eastern Argus of September 12, 1826; this

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The Eastern Argus also published the following interesting report of the commencement: "The Commencement of the Bowdoin College took place on Wednesday last, (Sep-
The first black college graduate was Edward Jones, who received his degree from Amherst College on August 23, 1826.

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