Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

they had the intelligence and wealth; but he wanted the power to protect himself against unfriendly legislation. Justice should be like the Egyptian statue, "blind and recognizing no color."■


87 I CLAIM THE RIGHTS OF A MAN

Reverend Henry McNeal Turner

As each of the ten former Confederate states fulfilled the requirements set by the Reconstruction Acts of Congress, it was restored to the union. On July 21, 1868, Georgia was restored. But White Democrats, the majority of the legislature, voted to unseat the two Republican state senators and twenty-five Republican state representatives on the grounds that they were black. On September 3, 1868, Henry McNeal Turner, one of the expelled members, stood before the assembled representatives and delivered a magnificent attack on the men who had refused to seat the African American senators and representatives.

Turner ( 1834-1915) was born in Columbia, South Carolina, of free black parents, and in 1855 moved to Macon, where he joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church and became a preacher. "His eloquence," a church paper noted later, "attracted the attention of the white citizens, who considered him to be 'too smart a nigger' to remain in the South, and he was obliged to leave." Turner went to Baltimore and finally to Washington as pastor of Israel Bethel Church. Here he rapidly became a leader of the black community and an outstanding and militant fighter for racial justice in the capital. In 1863 he was appointed by President Lincoln as chaplain to the first U.S. black troops. After the war Turner moved to Georgia, where he continued preaching and played a prominent part in Reconstruction politics. "I was, on one occasion," he wrote in the Christian Recorder of March 24, 1866, "lecturing to the young men on the political prospects of the colored people, when it was announced they were preparing outdoors to shoot me through the window. I cried out to let them shoot, and commenced speaking on as I had been. . . . In a few moments the church was picketed by brave young men, and everything went on smoothly. This is the second time my life has been aimed at through the window. But I am still alive." This fearlessness is reflected in his lengthy but militant speech in defense of the rights of African Americans in Georgia to sit in the legislature, excerpts from which follow.

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