J. W. C. Pennington to Editor, British Banner
4 January 1850
Opportunities for black achievement existed in Europe that were often denied in the United States. Black abolitionists were quick to recognize and take advantage of their availability. When J. W. C. Pennington attended the Paris Peace Congress in August 1849, he met Professor Friedrich Wilhelm Carove, vice-president of the congress and a member of the theological faculty at the University of Heidelberg. Carove was impressed by Pennington's remarks to the delegates and his contributions to the antislavery cause. During the conference, Pennington asked Carove to help him secure an honorary doctorate from Heidelberg. Pennington claimed that he sought the degree not "on account of any personal merits nor for personal distinction [but] to encourage the entire colored population of the United States." Carove agreed. Citing Pennington's reason and the need for Europe to atone for a "terribly heavy guilt" in robbing Africans of their "sacred human rights," the professor appealed to his faculty colleagues. Carove convinced them to award Pennington the degree in December. Pennington's 4 January 1850 letter to the British Banner outlines his reasons for seeking the degree. Thomas, "Life and Work of Pennington,"94-97, appendix I; AB, 30 September 1843.
London, [ England]
Jan[uary] 4th, 1850SIR: 1I am quite aware, that it is not usual for a gentleman, on receiving an honorary title, to take any notice of it through the newspaper press. But having just received, from the Faculty of Theology at the University of Heidelberg, a diploma, conferring upon me the honorary title of D.D., I believe the circumstances will justify me in departing from the usual course.
1. It is proper to notice this as the first instance in which this method of encouraging Sacred Literature has been applied to my people. For although I am informed, that the degree was conferred, "with full cognizance of my writings, personal character, and merits," yet I know I am only to be regarded as receiving it in trust for my People, and as an encouragement to the Sons of Ham 2 to rise with others in the acquisition of learning: in this view I accept of it in behalf of the Negro Race throughout the world, and especially in America, where we are, at this moment, passing through a crisis, and maintaining a conflict of the most fearful character, where our opponents are attempting to doom us to eternal bondage upon Biblical authority.