Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

spurned woman from him, and she was right. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother. And Jesus wept--and Lazarus came forth. And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and woman who bore him. Man, where is your part?

But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them. But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, and he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.■


45 ORATORS AND ORATORY

William G. Allen

Many black abolitionists regarded oratory as a most powerful instrument for the promotion of social justice. As African Americans gained increasing access to the public lectern and fame in its use, many offered reflections upon the importance of oratory to the quest for freedom. In his June 22, 1852, oration to the Dialexian Society of New York Central College, William Grant Allen insists that the greatest oratory always has human liberty as its central concern and crisis and tumult as its backdrop. He argues "that orators worthy the name must originate in the nation which is in a transition state, either from slavery to freedom or from freedom to slavery." Allen was among the first African American college professors and is the earliest known to have taught rhetoric.

Allen was one of three black American professors employed at New York Central College, a predominantly white institution in McGrawville. He created a furor when he married a white student at the school. In 1853, the year following this speech, the couple fled to England, narrowly escaping a mob that sought to tar and feather Allen. In England, Allen published an account of his travails, The American Prejudice Against Color: An Authentic Narrative, Showing How Easily the Nation Got Into an Uproar ( London, 1853). He spoke on the lecture circuit and gave lessons in elocution. He was later appointed headmaster of the Caledonia Training School at Islington.

In this speech, Allen not only considers the component qualities of oratorical greatness but evaluates noted orators of the day--including black abolitionist speakers--according to these standards. One month after this address, Frederick Douglass came to the campus for a series of

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