Martin R. Delany
The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States
“And if thou boast TRUTH to utter, SPEAK, and leave the rest to God.“
In presenting this work, we have but a single object in view, and that is, to inform the minds of the colored people at large, upon many things pertaining to their elevation, that but few among us are acquainted with. Unfortunately, for us, as a body, we have been taught to believe, that we must have some person to think for us, instead of thinking for ourselves. So accustomed are we to submission and this kind of training, that it is with difficulty, even among the most intelligent of the colored people, an audience may be elicited for any purpose whatever, if the expounder is to be a colored person, and the introduction of any subject is treated with indifference, if not contempt, when the originator is a colored person. Indeed, the most qualified colored person is totally neglected. Nothing from them is appreciated.
We have been standing comparatively still for years, following in the footsteps of our friends, believing that what they promise us can be accomplished, just because they say so, although our own knowledge should long since have satisfied us to the contrary. Because even were it possible, with the present hate and jealousy that the whites have towards us in this country, for us to gain equality of rights with them; we never could have an equality of the exercise and enjoyment of those rights: because, the great odds of numbers are against us. We might indeed, as some at present, have the right of the elective franchise, because the elective franchise makes the enfranchised, eligible to any position attainable; but we may exercise the right of voting only, which to us, is but poor satisfaction; and we by no means care to cherish the privilege of voting somebody into office to help to make laws to degrade us.
In religion, because they are both translators and commentators, we must believe nothing, however absurd, but what our oppressors tell us. In Politics, nothing but such as they promulge; in Anti Slavery, nothing but what our white brethren and friends say we must; in the mode and manner of our elevation, we must do nothing, but that which may be laid down to be done by our white brethren from some quarter or other; and now, even on the subject of emigration, there are some colored people to be found, so lost to their own interest and self respect, as to be gulled by slave owners and colonizationists, who are led to believe there is n other place in which they can become elevated, but Liberia, a government of American slaveholders, as we have shown, simply, because white men have told them so.
Upon the possibility, means, mode, and manner of our Elevation in the United States; Our Original Rights and Claims as Citizens; Our Determination not to be Driven from our Native Country; the Difficulties in the Way of our Elevation; Our Position in Relation to our Anti Slavery Brethren, the Wicked Design and Injurious Tendency of the American Colonization Society; Objections to Liberia; Objections to Canada; Preferences to South America, &c., &c., all of which we have treated without reserve; expressing our mind freely, and with candor, as we ar determined that as far as we can at present do so, the minds of our readers shall be enlightened. The custom of concealing information upon vital and important subjects in which the interest of the people is involved, we do not agree with, nor favor in the least; we have therefore laid this cursory treatise before our readers, with the hope that it may prove instrumental in directing the attention of our people in the right way, that leads to their Elevation. Go or stay, of course each is free to do as he pleases, one thing is certain; our Elevation is the work of our own hands. And Mexico, Central America, the West Indies, and South America, all present now, opportunities for the individual enterprise of our young men, who prefer to remain in the United States, in preference to going where they can enjoy real freedom, and quality of rights, Freedom of Religion, as well as politics, being tolerated in all of these places.
Let our young men and women prepare themselves for usefulness and business; that the men may enter into merchandise, trading,and other things of importance; the young women may become teachers of various kinds, and otherwise fill places of usefulness. Parents must turn their attention more to the education of their children. We mean to educate them for useful practical business purposes. Educate them for the Store and the Counting House, to do everyday practical business. Consult the children’s propensities, and direct their education according to their inclinations. It may be that there is too great a desire on the part of parents to give their children a professional education, before the body of the people, are ready for it. A people must be a business people, and have more to depend upon than mere help in people’s houses and Hotels, before they are either able to support, or capable of properly appreciating the services of professional men among them. This has been one of our great mistakes, we have gone in advance of ourselves. We have commenced at the superstructure of the building, instead of the foundation, at the top instead of the bottom. We should first be mechanics and common tradesmen, and professions as a matter of course would grow out of the wealth made thereby. Young men and women, must now prepare for usefulness, the day of our Elevation is at hand, all the world now gazes at us, and Central and South America, and the West Indies, bid us come and be men and women, protected, secure, beloved and Free.
The branches of Education most desirable for the preparation of youth, for practical useful everyday life, are Arithmetic and good Penmanship, in order to be Accountants; and a good rudimental knowledge of Geography, which has ever been neglected, and underestimated, and of Political Economy; which without the knowledge of the first, no people can ever become adventurous, nor of the second, never will be an enterprising people.
Geography, teaches a knowledge of the wealth of nations; or how to make money. These are not abstruse sciences, or learning not easily acquired or understood; but simply, common School Primer learning that everybody may get. And, although it is the very Key to prosperity and success in common life, but few know anything about it. Unfortunately for our people, so soon as their children learn to read a Chapter in the New Testament, and scribble a miserable hand, they are pronounced to have “Learning enough;” and taken away from School, no use to themselves, nor community. This is apparent in our Public Meetings and Official Church Meetings; of the great number of men present, there are but few capable of filling a Secretaryship. Some of the large cities may be an exception to this. Of the multitudes of Merchants, and Business men throughout this country, Europe, and the world, few are qualified, beyond the branches here laid down by us as necessary for business. What did John Jacob Astor, Stephen Girard, or do the millionaires and the greater part of the merchant princes, and mariners know about Latin and Greek, and the Classics? Precious few of them know anything. In proof of this in 1841, during the Administration of President Tyler, when the mutiny was detected on board of the American Man of War Brig “Somers,” the names of the Mutineers, were recorded by young S., a Midshipmen in Greek. Captain Alexander Slidell in his dispatches to the Government, in justification of his policy in executing the criminals, said that he “discovered some curious characters which he was unable to read,” &c showing thereby, that that high functionary did not understand even the Greek Alphabet, which was only necessary to have been able to read proper names written in Greek. What we most need then is a good business practical Education; because the Classical and Professional education of so many of our young men, before their parents are able to support them, and community ready to patronize them, only serves to lull their energy, and cripple the otherwise, praiseworthy efforts they would make in life. A Classical education is only suited to the wealthy or those who have a prospect of gaining a livelihood by it. The writer does not wish to be understood as underrating a Classical and Professional education; this is not his intention; he fully appreciates them, having had some such advantages himself; but he desires to give a proper guide, and put a check to the extravagant idea that is fast obtaining among our people, especially that a Classical, or as it is termed, a “finished education,” is necessary to prepare one for usefulness in life. Let us have an education, that shall practically develop our thinking faculties and manhood; and then, and not until then, shall we be able to vie with our oppressors, go where we may. We as heretofore have been on the extreme; either no qualification at all, or a Collegiate education. We jumped too far; taking a leap from the deepest abyss to the highest summit; rising from the ridiculous to the sublime; without medium or intermission.
Let our young women have an education; let their minds be well informed; well stored with useful information and practical proficiency, rather than the light superficial acquirements, popularly and fashionably called accomplishments. We desire accomplishments, but they must be useful.
Our females must be qualified, because they are to be the mothers of our children. As mothers are the first nurses and instructors of children; from them children consequently, get their first impressions, which being always the most lasting, should be the most correct. Raise the mothers above the level of degradation, and the offspring is elevated with them. In a word, instead of our young men, transcribing in their blank books, recipes for Cooking; we desire to see them making the transfer of Invoices of Merchandise. Come to our aid then; the morning of our Redemption from degradation adorns the horizon.
In our selection of individuals, it will be observed, that we have confined ourself entirely to those who occupy or have occupied positions among the whites, consequently having a more general bearing as useful contributors to society at large. While we do not pretend to give all such worthy cases, we gave such as we possessed information of and desire it to be understood that a large number of our most intelligent and worthy men and women have not been named, because from their more private position in community, it was foreign to the object and design of this work. If we have said aught to offend, “take the will for the deed,” and be assured that it was given with the purest of motives and best intention from a true hearted man and brother; deeply lamenting the sad fate of his race in this country, and sincerely desiring the elevation of man, and submitted to the serious consideration of all, who favor the promotion of the cause of God and humanity.