Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

27 THE SLAVE HAS A FRIEND IN HEAVEN, THOUGH HE MAY HAVE NONE HERE

Theodore S. Wright

Born in New Jersey, Theodore Wright ( 1797-1847) attended the African Free School in New York City. His teachers included Samuel Cornish, founder of Freedom's Journal, who became Wright's lifelong mentor and collaborator. Together they composed a powerful anticolonization manifesto, The Colonization Scheme Considered ( 1840). After attending Princeton Seminary, Wright succeeded Cornish as pastor of New York City's First Colored Presbyterian Church. Wright was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society and an active campaigner for black suffrage in New York State.

In Boston on May 24, 1836, Wright delivered the following address at the convention of the New England Anti-Slavery Society. Formed in 1832, the society was dedicated to the immediate and complete abolition of slavery, opposed to gradual emancipation and to colonization schemes. The 1836 convention was the largest to date, drawing over five hundred delegates from every state in New England.

Wright rose to speak on behalf of the resolution, "That in carrying forward this great work, we must strive to act in accordance with the will of God." Wright speaks of the promise of liberty in heaven, where at last "the chains of the slave will be knocked off" and the prejudice that afflicts free blacks on earth "will not exclude us." Not content to wait for freedom in the afterlife, however, Wright urges his "down-trodden brethren to stand up and be free," even if their "blood may be spilt." A few months after this speech was delivered, Wright himself was assaulted by a southern student while visiting Princeton Seminary, his alma mater.

The text of the speech is taken from the Proceedings of the New England Anti-Slavery Convention ( Boston: Isaac Knapp, 1836), 20-22. The preceding year, Wright was among the first African Americans to have addressed an integrated antislavery society meeting. Such speeches were still unusual, as is evident from the following editorial comment through which Wright's 1836 speech is introduced in the Proceedings:

Rev. Theodore S. Wright, of New York, (an educated black gentleman, the pastor of a Presbyterian church in the city of New York) seconded the resolution. We give his language, as near as possible, precisely as he spoke, in order that those who doubt the capacity of the colored

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