Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

79 AN APPEAL FOR AID TO THE FREEDMEN

J. Sella Martin

The Reverend J. Sella Martin ( 1832-1876) has long been recognized as "one of the most eloquent and able platform orators of the antebellum period" ( John E. Bruce). Martin was born into slavery in Charlotte, North Carolina, and sold eight times while still a child. After his escape in 1856, he entered the ministry. He became pastor of Boston's First Independent Baptist Church on Joy Street, such a regular site of antislavery and black community meetings that it became known as the "Abolition Church." Martin was a nationally renowned antislavery speaker who advocated both slave insurrections and, until the Civil War, emigration to Africa in response to intractable American racism. Breaking with the strict Garrisonian line, Martin was active in politics. In January 1870, he became editor of New Era, a Washington-based weekly journal "for Colored America," soon purchased by Frederick Douglass. Martin committed suicide in 1876.

The following speech text, partly in summary form, of an address delivered in Aberdeen, Scotland, appeared in the New Orleans Tribune (the first black daily newspaper in the United States) of November 12, 1865, After the Civil War, Martin, acting as an agent for the American Missionary Association, made two trips to Britain, where he gained several thousand dollars in contributions to support the freedpeople. In this speech, Martin seeks to impress upon his Scottish audience that they, having supported abolition, have a duty to support the freedpeople and to prove doubting Americans wrong.

ABOUT THE time your Chairman was in the United States I was a slave. Ten years ago I was a slave in the Southern States, with very little hopes of gaining my freedom, and with no hope at all of seeing within so short a period as ten years my whole race redeemed and disenthralled from bondage. I had no hope of it; and it is now almost too glorious for me to credit it when I set to reflecting upon it. I was here four years ago during the American war, and had I then come to Aberdeen I must have spoken to you of the almost unparalleled tyranny of the slave-holders and the altogether unparalleled sufferings of the slaves. I come to-night to tell you a different tale from what I had to tell then--to speak in a different strain from that. I cannot but be grateful for the sympathy we have before obtained from Scotland and Scotchmen in the cause of the slave, but I do not come now to ask you to exercise your moral sympathy; I come to ask you to recognize the answer to your own prayers--the legitimate result of the moral sympathy which you

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