After the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861, thousands of northern blacks rushed to enlist in the Union cause, only to be turned away by the Lincoln administration. The stinging rejection of African American patriotism incited an intense controversy within the black community. For several months, blacks debated their proper role in the conflict, searching for a policy that would end slavery and gain equality and citizenship for all African Americans. A full and influential discussion took place in the pages of New York's Weekly Anglo-African in the fall of 1861. The following letters illustrate the controversial issue among African Americans: Should northern blacks fight for a government that guaranteed slavery?
" R. H. V."--most likely Robert H. Vandyne, a frequent New York City contributor to the Weekly Anglo-African--argued that African Americans should avoid military service until emancipation became a northern war aim.
The duty of the black man at this critical epoch is a question of much importance, deeply interesting the friends of liberty, both white and black. The most imposing feature of this duty, I am told, is in relation to military