Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

36 AN ADDRESS TO THE SLAVES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Henry Highland Garnet

Henry Highland Garnet ( 1815-1881) was born in slavery in Maryland, escaped with his parents in 1824 and settled in New York City. Garnet was educated in the African Free School No. I and at Oneida Institute. A brief stay at the Canaan Academy in Canaan, New Hampshire, in 1835 was interrupted when the academy was destroyed by an infuriated mob opposed to the education of black students. Garnet prepared for the ministry, and in 1842 was licensed to preach. He became pastor of the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church in Troy, New York, and later of the Shiloh Presbyterian Church in New York City, a pastorate he held for more than forty years, during which time he became the foremost African American clergyman in the city.

In 1843, Garnet attended the National Convention of Negro Citizens at Buffalo, New York, and on August 16 delivered a militant speech calling for slave rebellions as the surest way to end slavery. It was perhaps the most radical speech by a black American during the antebellum period. The proposal stirred the delegates and failed by one vote of being adopted. After he had read the speech, John Brown, the martyr of Harper's Ferry, had it published at his own expense in 1848.

Garnet's speech is ostensibly addressed to an audience not present to hear it. Garnet speaks "to" the enslaved "on behalf of" the assembled conventioneers. Apologizing for the timidity and ineffectiveness of abolitionist efforts, Garnet encourages slaves to "Arise! Strike for your lives and liberties." For Garnet's immediate audience, the conventioneers who "overhear" Garnet's address to slaves not present, his message is one of anger, frustration, and a call for greater militancy.

Garnet's address is published in A Memorial Discourse by Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, Delivered in the Hall of the House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., on Sabbath, February 12, 1865,with an introduction by James McCune Smith, M.D. ( Philadelphia, 1865), 44-51. For further infromation on Garnet's oratory, see Cynthia R. King, "Henry Highland Garnet," in Richard Leeman, ed., African-American Orators: A BioCritical Sourcebook ( Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1996), 143-50.

BRETHREN AND FELLOW CITIZENS: Your brethren of the North, East and West have been accustomed to meet together in national conventions, to sympathize with each other, and to weep over your unhappy condition. In these meetings we have addressed all classes of the free, but we have never, until this time, sent a word of consolation and advice to you. We

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