Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

thralled by the irresistible Genius of Universal Emancipation." (Enthusiastic applause.)

[The choir then sang Mrs. Howe "Battle Hymn of the Republic," the congregation joining in the chorus at each verse.]■


71 THE POSITION AND DUTIES OF THE COLORED PEOPLE

J. W. C. Pennington

On July 11, 1863, the provost marshal's office opened for conscription in New York City. That same day wild mobs began to riot, and for five infamous days they stormed through the streets of New York City, unleashing their hatred against the National Conscription Act and committing unspeakable atrocities against the black community, murdering or maiming any African American whom they came upon. The riots went unchecked until eleven Union regiments were released by the secretary of war to quell the rioters.

The Draft Riots resulted from a combination of factors. New York City's poorer white classes, supporters of the Democratic Party, were not, in the main, sympathetic to the war's purposes and feared the emancipation of the slaves would be followed by an influx of black workers who would compete for their jobs. There was a huge criminal class in the city, and the riots gave an opportunity for looting. The Conscription Act passed by the government aroused indignation because it allowed richer members of the community to buy their way out of the draft.

After the riots had been crushed, many African Americans in the North met to discuss its significance for their future. The most important speech arising out of these meetings was delivered by James W. C. Pennington in Poughkeepsie, New York, on August 24, 1863. Pennington ( 1809-1870) had been born in slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and was trained as a blacksmith, a trade he followed until he was about twenty-one, when he decided to run away. Pennington was befriended by a Pennsylvania Quaker, stayed with him for six months, and began what was to be an extensive education under his direction. After attending evening school in Long Island, he taught in black schools and, at the same time, studied theology. Pennington became a pastor in the African Congregational Church, held pastorates in Hartford, Connecticut, and repre-

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