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Scripto | Transcribe Page
Proceedings of the National Conference of Colored Men of the United States, Held in the State Capitol at Nashville Tennessee, May 6, 7, 8 and 9, 1879.
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To say that the dawn of freedom fifteen years ago found him other than very poor, without land, without education, without homes, without protection, universally prescribed, and wholly dependent, would be to deny facts with which all are familiar.
Although without a penny in his pocket, the gnawings of hunger soon admonish him that he must have something wherewith to satisfy this demand of nature. He is without a roof over his head. In this condition he is not safe either in sunshine or storm. Those who procured his freedom, save the army, are in distant parts of the country, far from being accessible to his immediate pressing appeals. But not so with those whom he had so recently been compelled to serve. They are all around him. In needing a shelter, or employment, or a piece of land to till or to purchase, or a store where to buy his provisions, clothing, medicine, or what not ; a physician to attend him when sick, a lawyer to defend him when in trouble, a scribbler to write him a receipt or an agreement, or a conveyancer to draw him up a deed, the only sources to apply to in ninety nine cases out of a hundred were those from under whose yoke he had been delivered.
Viewed in this light, what possible reason was there for supposing that millions of people thus situated would have other than severe and sore trials to encounter for at least a score of years before he could reap largely the fruits of freedom. Common sense alone would abundantly prove that without education, however industrious, he would be but poorly qualified to protect and economize his had earnings. And without being thus prepared to protect himself, how is he to get property? How is he to become a thrifty farmer or planter? How is he to get a footing as a storekeeper or tradesman? How is he to advance and become a skilled mechanic, an able attorney, a good physician, or a man capable of properly divining the word of truth in espousing the teachings of the Bible?
So long as the masses are found in this uneducated attitude the day is not yet when their peculiar troubles will cease. The fact that there was a universal hungering and thirsting for education among the freedmen when freedom had come, and at the same time a goodly number of noble- hearted, liberty loving men and women in the North who were ready and willing to brave the perils of the South to help satisfy this thirst and hunger, is abundant cause for trusting that the race will in due time be uplifted.
Surely there never was a people more needy and deserving of education. And it hardly can be too much to add that this generation will find it difficult, in surveying the various fields of Christian missions and philanthropic works, to find any laborers who have more nearly emulated the example of Him who said, "For I was hungered and ye gave me meat ; I was thirsty and ye gave me drink," [ & c.,] than some of the teachers among the freedmen in the South, as I shall endeavor more fully to indicate in another part of this paper.
This silent, potent force, this labor of love to God and good will to man has kept in a great measure the heads of the freedmen above the waves and billows.
In earlier dark days of his struggles, seeing his unprotected and wretched condition, the Government instituted the Freedmen's Bureau with a view of meeting his immediate pressing wants in various ways. Through this agency a great deal was accomplished for a short time, but through the politicians and bad management its usefulness was soon brought to naught.
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