I am seriously impressed with a sense of the responsibility of my position to-night. I stand in the presence of the representatives of that great organization which seems first of all the associations in this country to have distinctly recognized the hand of God in the history of the Negro race in America– to have caught something of the meaning of the Divine purpose in permitting their exile to and bondage in this land. I stand also in the presence of what, for the time being at least, must be considered the foremost congregation — the religious home of the President of the United States, There are present, also , I learn, on this occasion, some of the states men and lawmakers of the land.
My position, then, is one of honor as well as of responsibility, and the message I have to deliver, I venture to think, concern directly or indirectly the whole human race. I come from that ancient country, the home of one of the great original races occupied by the descendants of one of the three sons to whom, according to Biblical history, the whole world was assigned– a country which is now engaging the active attention of all Europe. I come, also, from the ancestral home of at least five millions in this land. Two hundred millions of people have sent me on an errand of invitation to their blood relations here. Their cry is, “:Come over and help us.” And I find among hundreds of thousands of the invited and eager and enthusiastic response. They tell me to wave the answer across the deep to the anxious and expectant hearts, which, during the long and weary night of separation, have been constantly watching and praying for the return– to the Rachels weeping for their children, and refusing to be comforted because they are not– they tell me, ” Wave the answer back to our brethren to hold the fort for we are coming.” They have for the last seventy years been returning through the agency of the Society whose anniversary they have been few compared to the vast necessity. They have gone as they have been able to go, and are making an impression for good upon that continent. My subject tonight will be, The African Problem and the Method of its Solution.
This is no new problem. It is nearly as old as recorded history. It has interested thinking men in Europe and Asia in all ages. The imagination of the ancients peopled the interior of that country with a race of beings shut out from and needing no intercourse with the rest of mankind lifted by their purity and simplicity of character above the necessity of intercourse with other mortals–leading a blameless and protracted existence and producing in their sequestered, beautiful, and fertile home, from which flowed the wonderful Nile, the food of the Gods, Not milk and honey but nectar and ambrosia were supposed to abound there. The Greeks especially had very high conceptions of the sanctity and spirituality vacating Olympus every year and proceeding to Ethiopia to be feasted by its inhabitants. Indeed, the religions known to mankind–if they had not their origin in Africa– were domiciled there in the days of their feeble beginnings, Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism.
A sacred mystery hung over that continent, and many were the aspirations of the philosophers and poets for some definite knowledge of what was beyond the narrow fringe they saw. Julius Caesar, fascinated while listening to a tale of the Nile, lost the vision of military glory. The philosopher overcame the soldier and he declared himself ready to abandon for a time the alluring fields of politics in order to trace our the sources of that mysterious river which gave to mankind Egypt with her magnificent conceptions and splendid achievements.
The mystery still remains. The problem continues unsolved. The conquering races of the world stand perplexed and worried before the difficulties which beset their enterprise of reducing that continent to subjection. They have overcome the whole of the Western Hemisphere. From Behring Straits to Cape Horn America has submitted to their sway. The native races have almost disappeared from the mainland and the islands of the sea. Europe has extended her conquests to Australia, New Zealand, and the Archipelagos of the Pacific. But, for hundreds of ears, their ships have passed by those tempting regions, where “Africa’s sunny fountains roll down their golden sands,” and though touching at different points on the coast, they have been able to acquire no extensive foothold in that country. Notwithstanding the reports we receive on every breeze that blows from the East, of vast ” spheres of influence” and large European possessions, the points actually occupied by white men in the boundless equatorial regions of that immense continent may be accurately represented on the map only by microscopic dots. I wish that the announcements we receive from time to time with such a flourish of trumpets, that a genuine civilization is being carried into the heart of the Dark Continent, were true. But the fact is, that the bulk of Central Africa is being rapidly subjected to Mohammedanism. That system will soon be–or rather is now– knitting together the conquerors and the conquered into a harmonious whole; and unless Europe gets a thorough understanding of the situation, the gates of missionary enterprise will be closely because from all we can learn of the proceedings of some, especially in East Africa, the industrial regime is being stamped out to foster the militant. The current number of the Fortnightly, near the close of an interesting article on “Stanley’s Expedition,” has this striking sentence: “Stanley has triumphed, but Central Africa is darker than ever!”
It would appear that the world outside of Africa has not yet stopped to consider the peculiar conditions which lift that continent out of the range of the ordinary agencies by which Europe has been able to occupy other countries and subjugate or exterminate their inhabitants.
They have not stopped to ponder the providential lessons on this subject scattered through the pages of history, both past and contemporary.
First. Let us take the most obvious lesson as indicated in the climate conditions. Perhaps in no country in the world id is it so necessary (as in Africa) that the stranger or new comer should possess the mens sana in corpora sano— the sound mind in sound body; for the climate is most searching, bringing to the surface any and every latent physical or mental searching, bringing to the surface any and every latent physical or mental defect. If a man has any chronic or hereditary disease it is sure to be developed, and if wrong medical treatment is applied it is very apt to be exaggerated and often to prove fatal to the patient. And as with the body so with the mind. Persons of weak minds, either inherited or brought on by excessive mental application or troubles of any kind, are almost sure to develop an impatience or irritability, to the surprise and annoyance of their friends who knew them at home. The Negro immigrant from a temperate region sometimes suffers from these climate inconveniences, only in this case, after a brief process of acclimatization, he becomes himself again, while the white man never regains his soundness in that climate and can retain his mental equilibrium only by periodical visits to his native climate. The regulation of the British Government for West Africa is that their officials are allowed six months’ leave of absence to return to Europe after fifteen month’s residence at Sierra Leone and twelve months on the Gold Cost or Lagos; and for every three days during which they are kept on the coast after the time for their leave arrives, they are allowed one day in Europe. The neglect of this regulation is often attended with most serious consequences.
Second. When we come into the moral and intellectual world it would seem as if the Almighty several times attempted to introduce the foreigner and a foreign civilization into Africa and then changed his purpose. The Scriptures seem to warrant the ideas that in some way inexplicable to us, and incompatible with our conception of the character of the Sovereign of the universe, the unchangeable Being sometimes reverses years the northeaster portion of Africa and witnessed a wonderful development of civilization. The arts and science flourished in Egypt for generations, and that country was the centre of almost all universal influence; but became the seat of a great military and commercial power which flourished for 700 years. After this the Roman Catholic Church constructed a mighty influence in the same region, but the interior of the continent received no impression from it.
In the fifteenth century the Congo country, of which we now hear so much, was the scene of extensive operations of the ROMAN Catholic Church. Just a little before the discovery of America thousands of the natives of the Congo, including the most influential families, were baptized by Catholic missionaries; and the Portuguese, for a hundred years, devoted themselves to the work of African evangelization and exploration. It would appear that they knew just as much of interior Africa as is know now after the great exploits of Speke and Grant and Livingstone, Baker and Cameron and Stanley. It is said that there is a map in Vatican, three hundred years old, which gives all the general physical relief and the river and lake systems of Africa with more or less accuracy; but the Arab geographers of a century before had describe the mountain system, the great lakes, and the course of the Nile.
Just about the time that Portugal was on the way to establish a great empire on that continent, based upon the religious system of Rome, America was discovered, and, instead of the Congo, the Amazon became the seat of Portuguese power. Neither Egyptian, Carthaginian, Persian, or Roman influence was allowed to establish itself on that continent. It would seem that in the providential purpose no solution of the African problem was to come from alien sources. Africans were not doomed to share the fate of some other dark races who have come in contact with the aggressive European. Europe was diverted to the Western Hemisphere. The energies of that conquering race, it was decreed, should be spent in building up a home for themselves on this side. Africa followed in chains.
The Negro race was to be preserved for a special and important work in the future. Of the precise nature of that work no one can form any definite conception. It is probable that if foreign races had been allowed to enter their country they would have been destroyed. So they were brought over to be helpers in this country and at the same time to be preserved. It was not the first time in the history of the world that a people have been preserved by subjection to another people. We know what God promised Abraham that his see should inherit the land of Canaan; but when He saw that in their numerically weak condition they would have been destroyed in conflicts with the indigenous inhabitants, he took them down to be fitted, both by discipline and numerical increase, for the work that would devolve upon them. Slavery would seem to be a strange school in which to preserve a people; but God has a way of salting as well as purifying by fire.
The Europeans, who were fleeing from their own country in search of wider areas of freedom and larger scope for development, found here an aboriginal race unable to cooperate with them in the labors required for the construction of the material framework of the new civilization. The Indians would not work, and they have suffered the consequences of that indisposition. They have passed away. To take their place as accessories in the work to be done God suffered the African to be brought hither, who could work and would work, and could endure the climatic conditions of a new southern country, which Europeans could not. Two currents set across the Atlantic towards the west for nigh three hundred years– the one from Europe, the other from Africa. The one from Africa had a crimson color. From that stream of human being s millions fell victims to the cruelties of the middle passage, and otherwise suffered from the brutal instincts of their kidnappers and enslavers. I do not know whether Africa has been invited to the celebration of the fourth centenary of the discovery of America; but she has quite as much reason, if not as much right, to participate in the demonstration of that occasion as the European nations, Englishman, Hollander, and Huguenot, Nigritian and Congo came together. If Europe brought the head, Africa furnished the hands for a great portion of the work which has been achieved here, though it was the opinion of an African chief that the man who discovered America ought to have been imprisoned for having uncovered one people for destruction and opened a field for the oppression and suffering of another.
But when the new continent was opened Africa was closed. The veil, which was being drawn aside, was replaced, and darkness once more enveloped the land, for then not the country but the people were needed. They were to do a work elsewhere, and meanwhile their country was to be shut out from the view of the outside world.
The first Africans landed in this country in the State of Virginia in the year 1619. Then began the first phase of what is called the Negro problem. These people did not come hither of their own accord. Theirs was not a voluntary but a compulsory expatriation. The problem, then, on their arrival in this country which confronted the white people was how to reduce to effective and profitable servitude an alien race which it was neither possible nor desirable to assimilate. This gave birth to that peculiar institution, established in a country whose raison d’tre was that all men might enjoy the “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Laws had to be enacted by Puritans, Cavaliers, and Roundheads for slaves, and every contrivance had to be devised for the safety of the institution. It was a difficult problem, in the effort to solve which both master and slave suffered.
It would seem, however, that in the first years of African slavery in this country, the masters upon many of whom the relationship was forced, understood its providential origin and purpose, until after a while, avarice and greed darkened their perceptions, and they began to invent reasons, drawn from even the Work of God, to justify their holding these people in perpetual bondage for the advantage of themselves and their children forever. But even after a blinding cupidity had captured the generality by its bewitching spell, there were those (far-sighted men, especially after the yoke of Great Britain had been thrown off) who saw that the abnormal relation could not be permanent under the democratic conditions established by the fundamental law of the land. It was Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence, who made the celebrated utterance: “Nothing is more clearly written in the Book of Destiny than the emancipation of the blacks; and it is equally certain that the two races will never live in a state of equal freedom under the same Government, so insurmountable are the barriers which nature, habit, and opinion have established between them.”
For many years, especially in the long and weary period of the antislavery conflict, the latter part of this dictum of Jefferson was denounced by many good and earnest men. The most intelligent of the colored people resented it as a prejudiced and anti–Christian conception. But as the years go by and the Negroes rise in education and culture, and therefore in love and pride of race, and in proper conception of race gifts, race work and shorn of its obscurity and repulsiveness, but is being welcomed as embodying a truth indispensable to the preservation and prosperity of both races, and as pointing to the regeneration of the African Fatherland. There are some others of the race who, recognizing Jefferson’s principle, would make the races on by amalgamation.
It was under the conviction of the truth expressed by that statesman that certain gentlemen of all political shades and differing religious views, met together in this city in the winter of 1816- ’17, and organized the American Colonization Society. Though friendly to the antislavery idea, not make their views on that subject prominent in their published utterances. They were not Abolitionists in the political or technical sense of that phrase. But their labors furnished an outlet and encouragement for persons desiring to free their slaves, giving them the assurance that their freedmen would be returned to their Fatherland, carrying thither what light of Christianity and civilization they had received. It seems a pity that this humane, philanthropic, and far–seeing work should have met with organized opposition from another band of philanthropists, who, anxious for a speedy deliverance of the captives, thought they saw in the Colonization Society an agency for riveting instead of breaking the fetters of the slave, and they denounced it with all the earnestness and eloquence they could command, and they commanded, both among whites and blacks, some of the finest orators the country has produced. And they did a grand work, both directly and indirectly, for the Negro and for Africa. They did their work and dissolved their organization. But when their work was done the work of the Colonization Society really began.