Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

graved on the heart of every colored man who has felt the strong arm of oppression.

Behold what a spectacle is presented to the world by the colored race of this country. It ought to excite the sympathy and compel the admiration of men and angels. Doomed through long centuries of barbarism to all the degradations of slavery, we find many of our people, with singular unanimity, forgetting their unnumbered wrongs and the powerful provocations to revenge, coming heartily to the support of the Union cause; and, by their fidelity, their courage and their Christian forgiveness of all they have suffered, trying to win some higher and better place, some recognition, however faint, in the estimation of those by whom they have been oppressed.

They ask only a chance to prove their manhood. Ignorant and debased as we are by what we have endured and suffered, we still entreat them by all that is patriotic in government and sacred in religion to be the witnesses of what we will and can do, to establish our claims to be recognized as men worthy of a chance in the wide world to earn our bread, worthy of the enjoyment of the commonest right, the right to own ourselves.

On many a bloody field, at the head of many a desperate charge, in many a hazardous venture, their regiments have done deeds that white men, with all their boasting, might envy. Their true heroism is as much in their mercy and forgiveness of centuries of intolerable outrage and injury as in their readiness to encounter a new and more infernal slavery, the torture of the whip and faggot, and a lingering and cruel death in defense of the right.■


73 THE MISSION OF THE WAR

Frederick Douglass

In Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America ( New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), Garry Willsdescribes the efforts of both North and South"to win the battle for interpreting Gettysburg as soon as the physical battle had ended."" Lincoln is after even larger game," he writes. "He means to 'win' the whole Civil War in ideological terms as well as military ones. And he will succeed: the Civil War is to most Americans, what Lincolnwanted it to mean. Words had to complete the work of the guns" (37-38).

But Lincoln was certainly not fighting single-handed in this larger battle, as the following speech should make clear. Indeed, as Douglass bluntly notes in his 1876 "Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln," Lin

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