Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

67 FREEDOM'S JOYFUL DAY

Reverend Jonathan C. Gibbs

Throughout the North, African Americans held meetings and church services on January 1, 1863, to commemorate and celebrate the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Unfortunately, most of the speeches delivered by African American leaders at these celebrations were either not reported in the press or have disappeared. One that has been preserved was delivered by Jonathan C. Gibbs (c. 1827-1874), pastor of the First African Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. Gibbs studied at Dartmouth and Princeton Theological Seminary before assuming his pastorate and was active in the Underground Railroad and black convention movement in the 1850s. After the war, he served as a missionary to freedmen and women in North Carolina and Florida and as Florida's secretary of state, acting governor, and superintendent of public instruction.

In the speech that follows, Reverend Gibbs does not confine himself to celebrating the Proclamation, but calls for meaningful freedom for African Americans, including full participation in the war effort. The Proclamation, he cautions, is but a "half-measure," when full commitment to equality is needed.

Excerpts from the speech are presented here, taken from the Christian Recorder, January 17, 1863.

THE MORNING DAWNS! The long night of sorrow and gloom is past, rosy-fingered Aurora, early born of day, shows the first faint flush of her coming glory, low down on the distant horizon of Freedom's joyful day. O day, thrice blessed, that brings liberty to four million native-born Americans. O Liberty! O sacred rights of every human soul! O source of knowledge, of justice, of civilization, of Christianity, of strength, of power, bless us with the inspiration of thy presence. Today, standing on the broad platform of the common brotherhood of men, we solemnly appeal to the God of justice, our common Father, to aid us to meet manfully the new duties, the new obligations that this memorable day will surely impose.

The Proclamation has gone forth, and God is saying to this nation by its legitimate constitute head, Man must be free.

Scout, deride, malign this intimation, as the enemies of God and man will and may, the American people must yield to His inscrutable fiat, or the legacy of their fathers will be squandered 'midst poverty, ignorance, blood and shame. . . . The people must support this Proclamation, heartily, earnestly, strengthening the hands of our government by all the energies and

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