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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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worthy, who labor for the benefit of the multitude. We are a race of leaders, every one presuming that his neighbor and not himself was decreed to be a follower. To-day. if any one of you should go home and announce yourself candidate for a certain position, the following day would find a dozen men in the field, each well prepared to prove that he alone is capable of obtaining and filling the position. Failing to convince the people, he would drop out the race entirely or do all in his power to jeopardize the interest of a more successful brother.
Why this non-fraternal feeling? Why such a spirit of dissension? We attribute it, first, to lessons taught in by-gone days by those whose security rested in our disunion. If the same spirit of race unity had actuated the Negro which has always characterized the Indian, this Government would have trembled under the blow of that immortal hero. John Brown, and the first drop of fratricidal blood would have been shed, not at Fort Sumter, but at Harper's Ferry. Another cause may be found in our partial enlightenment. The ignorant man is always narrow-minded in politics, business or religion. Unfold to him a plan, and if he cannot see some interest resulting to self, however great the resulting good to the multitude, it meets only his partial approbation and fails entirely to secure his active co-operation. A thin reason applies, not to the unlearned, but to the learned. Too many of our learned men are afflicted with a mental and moral aberration, termed in common parlance " big-headed." Having reached a commendable degree of eminence, they seem to stand and say, " Lord, we thank Thee we are not as other men are." They view with perfect unconcern the struggles of a worthy brother; they proffer him no aid, but deem it presumption in him to expect it. They may see a needed step but fail to take it. Others may see the necessity, take steps to meet it, and call them to aid. But, no; they did not lead; they will not follow, and half of their influence for good is sacrificed by an insane jealousy that is a consuming fire in every bosom wherein it finds lodgment.
A few of the prominent causes which retard race unity having been noticed, let us look for the remedy. First, our natural jealousy must be overcome. The task is no easy one. We must look for fruits of our labor in the next generation. With us our faults are confirmed. An old slave once lay dying, friends and relatives were gathered around. The minister sat at the bedside endeavoring to prepare the soul for the great change. The old man was willing to forgive every one except a certain particularly obstreperous African who had caused him much injury. But being over-persuaded he yielded and said: " Well, if I dies I forgives him, but if I lives - dat darkey better take care." It is much the same with us; when we die our natures will change, but while we live our neighbors must take care. Upon the young generation our instruction may be effective. They must be taught that in helping one another they help themselves; and that in the race of life, when a favored one excels and leads the rest, their powers must be employed, not in retarding his progress, but in urging him on and inciting others to emulate his example. .
We must dissipate the gloom of ignorance which hangs like a pall over us. In former days we were trained in ignorance, and many of my distinguished hearers will remember when they dare not be caught cultivating an intimate acquaintance with the spelling-book. But the time is passed when the seeker-after-knowledge is reviled and persecuted. Throughout the country the public school system largely obtains; books without number and papers without price; lend their enlightenment; while high schools, colleges and universities all over our broad domain throw open their inviting doors and say, " Whosoever will may come."
We must not fail to notice any dereliction of our educated people. They must learn that their duty is to elevate their less favored brethren, and
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