Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

posing he was sleeping, went up and cowhided him, but he was cowhiding a corpse, thinking he was asleep! Such is the condition of Slavery: it is a hard substance; you cannot break it or pull it apart, and the only way is to escape from it. I think it is the North that keeps up Slavery. Such is my opinion. I am thankful to the community that has been so kind and charitable to help me out of the scrape, and now I would like to have my sons out. (Applause)■


49 THERE IS NO FULL ENJOYMENT OF FREEDOM FOR ANYONE IN THIS COUNTRY

John Mercer Langston

One of the foremost American orators, educators, and politicians of the nineteenth century, John Mercer Langston ( 1829-1897) was born in Virginia. After the death of his parents, Langston moved to Ohio, where he was educated by George Vachon, the first black graduate of Oberlin College. Langston entered Oberlin himself in 1844 and completed both his undergraduate degree (with high honors) and his M.A. there. Langston sought to enter law school in New York but was denied admission because of his color. The president of the law school offered to admit Langston if he pretended to be a Spaniard, but he refused. After reading law under the supervision of Judge Philemon Bliss, in whose home Langston lived, he was at last admitted to the Ohio bar in 1854.

In 1855, Langston was elected town clerk of Brownhelm Township, Ohio, and thus became perhaps the first African American voted to public office in the United States. In the April 20, 1855, edition of Frederick Douglass's Paper, an elated Langston described the election of "the only colored man who lives in this township" "by a very handsome majority indeed:"

It argues the steady march of the Anti-Slavery sentiment, and augurs the inevitable destruction and annihilation of American prejudice against colored men. What we so much need at this junction, and all along the future, is political influence; the bridle by which we can check and guide to our advantage the selfishness of American demagogues.

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