Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

104 THE DESTINED SUPERIORITY OF THE NEGRO

Alexander Crummell

Born in New York in 1819, eminent scholar Alexander Crummell attended the African Free School and graduated from Beriah Green's integrated Oneida Institute in 1839. Crummell was ordained as a priest in the Protestant Episcopal Church and was active in antislavery efforts and the convention movement. Crummell lived abroad for a quarter of a century. Living in England from 1848 to 1853, he graduated from Queen's College, Cambridge. He then journeyed as an Episcopal missionary to Liberia and became a citizen of that country and a member of the faculty at Monrovia's Liberia College. Dismissed from his teaching post and fearful for his life, Crummell left Liberia in 1872.

"The 1870s," according to biographer Wilson Moses, "marked a dramatic shift in Crummell's political ideology" ( Alexander Crummell, 207). Crummell refashioned sermons originally written to extol Liberian nationalism and "recast them as American loyalist manifestos," abandoning appeals for African American efforts to establish a separate black nation. Nevertheless, Crummell's American sermons retain powerful elements of Pan-Africanism.

In "The Destined Superiority of the Negro," Crummell's Thanksgiving sermon of 1877, he searches the history of Africans and African Americans for clues to God's plans for them. "Is this a race doomed for destruction?" Crummell asks. Instead, Crummell argues, the centuries of slavery and abuse endured by African Americans should be regarded as "disciplinary and preparative" for a destined moral role in worldly affairs. Such trials, he insists, show that God "is graciously interested in such a people." Crummell embraces certain characteristics sometimes used in derogatory stereotyping of blacks, such as adaptability and imitation, and claims them as qualities that demonstrate greater capacity for survival, education and cultural growth than is possessed by Caucasians. Let us "march on in the pathway of progress," he instructs his listeners, "to that superiority and eminence which is our rightful heritage, and which is evidently the promise of our God!"

The speech was delivered in the same fateful year when President Hayes withdrew most federal troops from the South, initiating a period of racist violence and persecution. Crummell argues for a kind of social Darwinism in which the sterner the test, the greater the people who survive it.

The speech text is taken from Alexander Crummell, The Greatness of Christ and Other Sermons ( New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1882), 332-52. We are grateful to Professor Wilson Jeremiah Moses, author of

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