Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

swered, repeat the prayer of Ruth: "Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest I will die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me." [Great applause.]■


96 EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW

John Mercer Langston

The battle for an effective and meaningful civil rights law was waged by African Americans outside Congress as well as in the halls of the legislative body. On May 17, 1874, in a speech at Oberlin College, of which he was a graduate, John Mercer Langston ( 1829-1897) brilliantly depicted the prevailing prejudices against black Americans and analyzed the reasons for the enactment of the bill proposed by Senator Sumner, partly based on the evolution of the American concept of citizenship. At the end of his address, he urged African Americans to rally in support of the Cuban people then engaged in the long and bitter war for independence from Spain.

Born in slavery in Virginia, Langston was emancipated after the death of his father and slaveholder and was sent to Ohio, where he attended school. He graduated from the literary department of Oberlin College in 1849 and from the theological department in 1852. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1854. In 1855 he became the first African American elected to public office in the United States when he won the post of township clerk in Brownhelm, Ohio. During the Civil War he was a recruiter for the famed Colored Regiments of the Fifty- fourth and Fifty-fifth of Massachusetts and the Fifth Ohio. He was dean of the law department of Howard University from 1869 to 1876 and served in Congress from September 23, 1890, to March 3, 1891, representing the Fourth District of Virginia.

On May 17, 1874, Langston returned to Oberlin to celebrate the anniversary of the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment. He presented the following address and, according to the Oberlin Weekly News, "held the unbroken attention of his audience to the close," whereupon "the expressions of approval were loud and protracted."

The speech text appears in John M. Langston, Freedom and Citizenship: Selected Lectures and Addresses of John M. Langston

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