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Proceedings of the Colored National Labor convention : held in Washington, D.C., on December 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th, 1869.
1869-WASHGINGTON DC-Colored national Labor Convention 27.pdf
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And who would venture to deny that between the one result and the other—between the clumsy attempt of barbarism and the skillful achievement of civilization—lay a chasm which could be bridged over only by the letters which Cadmus had brought from Phoenicia? Without their aid there can be no question that the Greek of the age of Pericles would have shown himself to have been but little, if any, better off than his ancestor centuries removed. The grand difference between the two was that the one was uncultured, and the other educated. It is clear, therefore, that education is the necessary condition of the most efficient labor ; and such being the case, it becomes a matter of great moment to colored workingmen to inquire as to their present condition and future prospects in reference to it.
Two and a half centuries are now on the eve of completion since a Dutch vessel landed upon the shores of Virginia the first cargo of human merchandise that had ever been brought from the ill-fated continent of Africa into a British colony. Through the servile agency thus introduced, and extended also to the adjoining provinces, the eminent agricultural resources of the country were largely developed ; and shortly after the epoch of the Revolution, such an impulse was given to the culture of cotton by the invention of the cotton-gin as to engender a desire for the perpetuation of slavery. But the curse, thus destined to work so much evil both to Africa and America, did not prove to its immediate victims one of entirely unmitigated severity. Throughout the several colonies the relation of master and slave soon lead to the existence of a class in whose veins the blood of the oppressed was mingled with that of the oppressor ; and, in behalf of this class, the voice of nature did not in many cases plead in vain. Besides, the constant and daily intercourse of slaveholding families with that portion of their property known as house-servants was frequently illustrated by such marked instances of devoted fidelity upon the part of the latter as appealed successfully for a grateful recognition from their owners in return. To these fortunate individuals, either the offspring or the favorites of their masters, the rudiments of education, to a greater or less extent, were often imparted.
Through manumission and the privilege granted to slaves to purchase their freedom, quite a large free colored population was added in course of time to American society ; and in the principal cities a few schools were tolerated for the benefit of this class. These schools were generally taught by colored persons who had been lucky enough to acquire a sufficiency of education for that purpose ; and through their instrumentality a knowledge of reading and writing and the other common branches of learning was quite extensively disseminated. Throughout the free States of the North such schools met with but little opposition ; and, indeed, were frequently encouraged ; but the case soon became far different in the South. With that distrust which always characterizes tyranny, the instruction of the slaves was first vigilantly guarded against by the imposition of heavy fines and penalties ; and afterwards, when the insurrection of Denmark Vesey in South Carolina, and that of Nat Turner in Virginia, had aroused terror and dismay throughout the entire South, public opinion almost universally demanded and secured the prohibition of the schools for free colored people also. Nor was this prohibition a mere brutum fulmen, as was made apparent in 1854, when a Mrs. Douglass, a white lady of Southern birth, was imprisoned in the common jail of Norfolk, Virginia, for having acted in contravention of it. In spite of legislative severity, however, there is no doubt that, in a few instances, schools for colored children were still secretly continued. For, among the many secret things brought to light by the opening of the Southern prison-house, there was one at least not challenging the public attention by its atrocity, but rather by the evidence which it afforded of the futility of oppressive enactments in crushing out the South's nobler aspirations. This was a school of character mentioned, in Savannah, Georgia. For upwards of thirty years it had existed there, unsuspected by the slave power, and successfully eluding the keen-eyed vigilance of its minions. Its teacher, a colored lady by the name of Deveaux, undeterred by any dread of penalties, had throughout that long period of time silently pursued her devoted and assiduous labors in her native city, and in the very same room that she still occupies ; and now she has the satisfaction of knowing that numbers, who are indebted to her for their early learning, are, in these more auspicious days. co-workers with her in the elevation of their common race.
It was reserved for the South itself to abrogate, not only all this iniquitous legislation, but also the slave system which had prompted it, by its insane attempt to break up the Federal Union. It was reserved, too, for the shores of Virginia, which had witnessed the inception of the wrong, to behold, also, the first step in its expiation.
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