Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

74
GIVE US EQUAL PAY AND WE WILL GO TO WAR

Reverend J. R Campbell

Although most of the outstanding African American leaders in the North served as recruiting agents urging blacks to join the Union army, the response from black men was less enthusiastic than they had anticipated. In part, the reason was that for the first time, owing to the booming war economy, African Americans enjoyed full employment. But the main reason was the fact that black soldiers did not enjoy equal rights with white soldiers and experienced discrimination in such matters as pay, opportunities to become officers, and provisions and equipment. African Americans were paid $10 per month, $3 of which were deducted for clothing, while white privates received $13 per month plus a clothing allowance of $3.50. When Maryland, which had recently abolished slavery, was called upon to fill its quota for the Union army, a meeting of African American men was held in Baltimore, on February 29, 1864, at the Methodist Episcopal Sharp Street Church, for the purpose of hearing addresses to encourage black volunteers. ("This was the first meeting of the kind ever held in the city of Baltimore or in the State of Maryland," a reporter wrote.) The leading address was delivered by the Reverend J. P. Campbell, of Trenton, New Jersey, a high official of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Reverend Mr. Campbell used the opportunity to mobilize pressure upon Congress to achieve passage of a bill equalizing the pay of black soldiers. On June 15, 1864, Congress finally provided equal pay for African American soldiers. His speech, presented here in part, is taken from the Christian Recorder, March 19, 1864.

IF WE ARE ASKED the question why it is that black men have not more readily enlisted in the volunteer service of the United States government since the door has been opened to them, we answer, the door has not been fairly and sufficiently widely opened. It has been opened only in part, not the whole of the way. That it is not sufficiently and fairly opened will appear from the action of the present Congress upon the subject of the pay of colored soldiers. It shows a strong disposition not to equalize the pay of soldiers without distinction on account of color.

When the news of the first gun fired upon the flag of the Union at old Sumter reached the North, the friends of the Union were called upon to defend that flag. The heart of the black man at that hour responded to the call. He came forward at once and offered his services to the government, and failed to act immediately, because he was denied the opportunity of so doing.

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