Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

84 TO MY WHITE FELLOW CITIZENS

B. K. Sampson

During and after the Civil War, the black population of Ohio increased more than that of any other state, due to migration from the South. Yet in the fall of 1867, a statewide referendum for black suffrage was resoundingly defeated and the Democrats won control of both houses in the legislative elections. Weeks later, on Thanksgiving Day, 1867, the white citizens of Fairfield, Ohio, invited B. K. Sampson, a young black orator in the community, to be the speaker at the festivities that had been planned. The invitation aroused considerable comment in Ohio and other parts of the country, since Fairfield had a reputation of having been exceedingly hostile to the presence of black people. But the white citizens came "from far and near," and Sampson delivered a speech, the major portion of which appears below, as taken from the Christian Recorder, January 13, 1868.

Sampson begins by directly confronting the history of prejudice in the community and audience before him; he attempts to find common ground in the Union cause of the Civil War and to extend this common purpose to the postwar era. He concludes in sermonic fashion, calling upon his sinful "congregation" to renounce racial prejudice.

MY WHITE FELLOW CITIZENS: Whatever may have been your motives for elevating me with this profound honor, I know not; but as a black man, fully appreciating the tokens of this public regard, I make you my audience. With all veneration we come to return thanks to Almighty God for the munificent blessings which He has vouchsafed to the American people. I understand that you have been an austere people; that you have hated with a perfect hatred every likeness of the Negro, and that to the Southern lords you have long bowed. No proposition or measure concerning justice to the black man ever met your approval. Your reckless persistency in wrong has gained for you much publicity. No man of somber complexion could tarry in your midst and call his life his own. Even a dark-skinned white man would find himself unsafe among you. You lapsed from the doctrines of our fathers to a perverted idea of democracy, and through your apostacy your children deemed it right to be called democratic. They become indoctrinated in the faith, and slavery became the stone of the corner on which was founded the Democratic party.

The American government has long been looked upon as the purest and best under the sun; but the great obstruction in her path to national glory, was the blasting system of human slavery. To sanctify and make it right was arrayed the learning and genius of some of our ablest men. Our popular in-

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