Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

92 THE KU KLUX OF THE NORTH

Isaiah C. Wears

In 1838, Pennsylvania removed the right of African Americans to vote, and it was not until ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment that they regained that right. Several thousand African Americans appeared at the Philadelphia polls in the fall of 1870. In one ward all white men were allowed to vote first, and black men, formed into a separate waiting line, voted afterward. When it was reported that the waiting African Americans were not being allowed to vote, General E. M. Gregory, U.S. marshal for the eastern district of Pennsylvania, sent in a company of marines to keep order and protect black voters. In the fall election of 1871, no federal troops were used in Philadelphia, and violence ensued. Race hatred, stirred up before and during the election campaign, culminated in the murder of three African Americans and the injury of many others. Among those killed was Octavius V. Catto, who had been commissioned a major in the infantry during the Civil War and who after the war had become a high school principal and firm advocate of equal rights in Philadelphia. A large meeting of black citizens was held, "the object of which was to give expression of sorrow at the untimely death of Professor O. V. Catto, Messrs. Chase, Gordon, Boiden, and others." Isaiah C. Wears, a leading Philadelphia African American, delivered the main address.

Catto received a hero's funeral and was buried with full military honors. No one was ever brought to justice for his death.

The address presented here comes from the Christian Recorder, November 18, 1871.

MR. CHAIRMAN, . . . To us these scenes are nothing new. Their horrible and community-disgracing record dates back a whole generation. At last we have gained the public ear; at last, through the success of Republican principles, we are able to hold up to public execration the authors of our woes. The party that stands guilty of the crimes of today is the same class of merciless persecutors that have followed and dogged us as no other people in this country have been followed, and this, too, under the blazing sunlight of a Christian civilization. Whenever and wherever we have made any effort to lift ourselves, mobs were sent to burn our dwellings, our schoolhouses, our churches, and our orphan asylums, hanging us to lamp- posts and clubbing us to death on the highways. Indeed, this persecuting spirit has been so intense, the ostracism inflicted upon us so murderous, its appetite for such immeasurable cruelties so insatiate, that even death itself the common leveler of us all, could not intervene or withstand its poten-

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