Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

I hope our poor, downtrodden race may act well and wisely through this period of trial, and that they will exercise patience and discretion under all circumstances.

You may expel us, gentlemen, by your votes, today; but, while you do it, remember that there is a just God in Heaven, whose All-Seeing Eye beholds alike the acts of the oppressor and the oppressed, and who, despite the machinations of the wicked, never fails to vindicate the cause of Justice, and the sanctity of His own handiwork.


88 FINISH THE GOOD WORK OF UNITING COLORED AND WHITE WORKINGMEN

Isaac Myers

Virtually all the labor unions of the 1860s barred African Americans from membership. But at the third national convention of the National Labor Union, held in Philadelphia, August 1869, 9 of the 142 delegates were African Americans. One of these delegates was Isaac Myers, representing the Colored Caulkers' Trades Union Society of Baltimore and the first important black labor leader in the United States. During the convention, Myers was commissioned by the black delegates to voice their thanks for the "unanimous recognition" of the African American worker's right to representation in the gathering. The speech he delivered on August 18, 1869, is a historic appeal for unity of black and white workers and probably the first published labor speech of a black union leader. The reporter for the New York Times of August 19, 1869, where the speech appeared, wrote: "The whole Convention listened . . . with the most profound attention . . . and at its close many delegates advanced and warmly congratulated him" (1).

Myers was born in Baltimore in 1835 and at the age of sixteen was apprenticed to a prominent local African American to learn the shipcaulking trade. Four years later he was in charge of the caulking of large

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After finishing his speech, Turner led the black delegates out of the hall. At the doorway, Turner turned to face the white legislators and scraped the mud off his shoes. At the insistence of Congress, which refused to admit Georgia to the Union until it seated the black legislators, the expelled members of the Georgia legislature were readmitted in 1869 with pay for lost time.

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