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Fellow-citizens, - Our duty is not only plain, but practicable. The desolations of war surpass immeasurably our imaginations. Its moral desolation is the worst of all. Its churches are in ruins. Its school-houses, long used as hospitals and prisons, are dismantled. Its people without money, without even sufficient food or clothing, long for public schools, but have not the means to establish them. It behooves us, not in the spirit of Pharisaic pride and fancied superiority, but as to equal fellow countrymen, to say, " Take the benefit of our experience. Study the models which for half a century we have been framing. Improve on the models which we show you. Select from our army of experienced teachers the best men we have. Take from our overflowing purse the means to commence those systems which your own great resources will soon enable you to perfect and carry on.” The proffer will be accepted. The educational problem of half a continent will be solved. And in the universal establishment of popular education we shall find the best assurance of the perpetuity of the Union.
Ebenezer D. Bassett, Principal of the Colored High School, Philadelphia (a colored man), said:
As a humble member of the profession to which this Institute is dedicated, or as a disciple most willing to learn even at the feet of the eminent gentlemen to whom I have so often listened with profit in the sittings of this Institute in years gone by, I could never violate my own sense of propriety so far as to ask the attention of this Association, or to speak in this presence. But you will not deny me a peculiar interest in the subject under consideration. The hopes, the interests, the aspirations, the future of myself, my children, and my kindred, are bound up and interlinked with the future of the freedmen in the South. Their interests are mine, and
mine are theirs. Whatever awaits them awaits me, my children, and
kindred. I have listened with the deepest interest to the remarks of the eminent gentlemen who have just preceded me; and a thought has pressed upon me, which, at the suggestion of several members of the Institute on whose judgment I rely, I ask leave to present.
I take it that the terrible war through which we have just passed has settled, and settled forever, some simple truths which may henceforth be regarded as axioms in American politics. I wish to mention four of them :
(1.) The Union of these States is to remain intact and indivisible.
(2.) Every man born on American soil, every one who, no matter what sun has burned upon him, casts his lot here, and spreads his tent beneath the broad shield of the Constitution, shall be free, the national ensign shall nowhere and no more float over a single slave.
(3.) With the country destined to remain a republic undivided, indivisible, and free, made up of heterogeneous nationalities, it is the duty of a well-directed patriotism so to mould and blend these differences as to make every class feel a common interest in the welfare, the prosperity, the perpetuity of the whole, so that all may be assured that they are heirs to one inheritance alike here and hereafter, that “ E Pluribus Unum” may be the motto of the people as it is of the States.
(4.) As the negro, who — Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas being omitted — is fifty per cent. of the Southern population, and, allowance for the changes and devastations of war being made, is one-seventh of our entire population of over thirty millions, is fully resolved to remain on this, the soil of his birth, in all coming time, any attempt at his deportation to the tropics, his colonization to other countries, or his segregation here, must, in all the likelihood of the case, fail in the future, as they ever have failed in the past. I can hardly believe that any American statesman would hazard the opinion that the negro will ever be disintegrated from the great American republic.
Now I take it that the great duty of American educators is to educate and christianize in the light of these truths. Any special system of education, any exclusive dispensation of religious truth for any particular class, unless it be very temporary and carefully guarded, will in some measure surely defeat its own end. The oneness, the solidarity, of the nation, — this is the aim. I know, however, that the negro is behind, and that the first work ought to be to lift him up to the level of American intelligence by the safest, most practical, and the most speedy method. Then, when this work is done, whatever difference it may be proper to observe in other respects, there shall be none in the work of education and religion. And the thought that I have to urge is, that the safest, swiftest method of effecting this work is to encourage the negro, not exclusively but in unison with others, to fit and receive members of his own household for laborers in this field of christian education. There are some special reasons for this policy. The negro's contact with the dominant race of the country, North and South, has been such as to beget a lack of confidence in their sincerity. He has heard, for instance, the loudest professions of liberty and equality in one section, of christianity in the other, and of humanity in both sections, and at the same time has met the foul and haggard curse of bondage in the one, the most blighting, unchristian caste-prejudice in the other; and in both sections a seemingly settled determination to rob him of his manhood, and deny him of his inheritance of a christian
civilization. He is said to be childlike. What child could witness in its own person these contradictions, and not lose confidence ?
Let me illustrate further. The abolitionists started with the entire sympathy and hearty cooperation of the colored man. They had two aims : (1). The abolition of slavery. (2). The elevation of the free people of color. In course of time the abolitionists had at their disposal an annual sum of several thousand dollars, and several offices of trust and emolument. The colored man considered that they carefully shut him out from a share in these; and this fact, with other evidences of infidelity to one aim of the organization, almost completely bereft the colored man of confidence in the sincerity of the abolitionist. It is true that the noble defence of principle made by Mr. Garrison, the single-heartedness of some, the magnificent eloquence of Wendell Phillips, won our respect; but confidence was gone; and I speak advisedly when I say that not one in ten of the colored men of the country has for the last twenty years given confidence or coöperation to the abolitionists. Again, take the colonizationists, who claimed a special interest in the welfare of the free colored man; indeed, with him were confined their entire labors. But when the colored man found colonizationists professing to seek his elevation to the dignity of a nation in Africa, but chiming in with his degradation and ostracism here, no professions of christian regard, however strong, could retain his confidence. To-day (and here, again, I speak advisedly), no class of men, not even the slaveholders themselves, by whom the negro feels that he has been so sadly and sorely wronged, are so much disliked and distrusted by the colored man as the colonizationists. Every colored child seems to imbibe with its mother's milk dislike and distrust of the colonizationists. The colored man may have possibly been wrong in all this. I have neither defence nor apology to make for it. But the fact that concerns us now is, that the abolitionists and the colonizationists, both professing a special interest in the negro's elevation, lost his confidence and his coöperation.
Now, you profess to seek the elevation of the freedman that he may become a better man, a better citizen, a better member of society. This is certainly well; and every negro will stand by you, and give you his humble offering of prayer. But if, when he is educated, he receives nothing of what you yourselves claim as due to worth and intelligence; if, for instance, you ask for the educated efforts of humane and christian people in this great vineyard of the Lord, and at the same time show no disposition to encourage the fitting and calling to your aid of the competent colored missionaries, in your case, as in that of the abolitionists and the colonizationists, confidence will die out, and your work of imbuing the heart of the freedman with christian intelligence will in all probability fail.
This coöperation of the colored man in the education of his own people, besides gaining his confidence, so necessary in the work, will carry with it a double force ; it will inculcate the lesson of self-reliance of which he is supposed to stand greatly in need, — and will also hold out a tangible, practical inducement for him to fit himself and his children for positions of trust and usefulness. Moreover, the means for his education must be placed on a firmer and more permanent foundation than a mere transitory sympathy of the kind-hearted in the North. I would not undervalue or speak otherwise than in the highest terms of the true christian concern for the welfare of the freedman which has been manifested in the North, and especially by ladies, many of whom have left comfortable homes and loving relatives to labor in this missionary field.