Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

55 I WILL SINK OR SWIM WITH MY RACE

John S. Rock

Schoolteacher, dentist, physician, lawyer, graduate of the American Medical College in Philadelphia, member of the Massachusetts bar, proficient in Greek and Latin, Dr. John S. Rock was one of the leaders of the movement for equal rights for black Americans in the North. Dr. Rock used the lecture platform effectively to challenge the racist concept that blacks were inferior to whites. A good example is the following speech he delivered at Boston, March 5, 1858, at Boston's Fanueil Hall on the first annual Crispus Attucks Day, an observance organized by Boston's black abolitionists in response to the Dred Scottdecision. Revolutionary War relics were arrayed before the lectern, including paintings and memorabilia honoring black contributions to the American Revolution. Attucks Day was observed in Boston each year until 1870, when the Fifteenth Amendment was passed.

Rock joined William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Theodore Parker on the platform and delivered the most militant speech. Three years before the outbreak of the Civil War, Dr. Rock was predicting that African Americans were destined to play an important role in the impending military conflict over slavery. This speech is also notable for Rock's concluding statements on the beauty and power of black people.

John S. Rock was born in Salem, New Jersey, in 1825. He was a teacher in the public schools during 1844-1848, and in the following year he finished studying dentistry under Dr. Harbert Hubbard. In 1850 he began practicing dentistry in Philadelphia, and in 1851 he received a silver medal for the creation of artificial teeth and another silver medal for a prize essay on temperance. In 1852 he graduated from the American Medical College in Philadelphia, and the following year began the practice of medicine and dentistry in Boston. He was admitted to practice law in Massachusetts in 1861 and on September 21 of that year received a commission from the governor as justice of peace for seven years for the city of Boston and the County of Suffolk. In February 1865, having been supported in his candidacy by Charles Sumner, Rock was sworn in by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase and became the first African American lawyer permitted to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court. He died in Boston on December 3, 1866.

Rock's speech was published in the Liberator, March 12, 1858. For further information on the Crispus Attucks Day observances, see Benjamin Quarles , Black Abolitionists ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), 232-35. On Rock, see James Oliver Horton and L ois E. Horton, "Black Bostonians: Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North"

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