Saturday, January 23, 2010

How the Negroes of the District of Columbia Receive their Promised Emancipation

(Washington Cor. N. Y. Tribune.)

In anticipation of the liberty-day that seems so near to them, the slaves all over the city, and the free negroes, who are connected with them by the ties of kindred and sympathy, are dressed in their best to-day (many of them in their seedy best, to be sure,) and are assembled to celebrate this Sabbath as a day of praise and thanksgiving. I have talked with several “candidates” this evening, from whom I gather that this “Thanksgiving Day” has been kept joyously in nearly all their seventeen churches. There seems to have been preconcert among them, and the afternoon was devoted to love feasts.

I attended the Bethel Church, near the Capitol, this morning. The black clergyman preached a very good sermon from the text, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” to an audience of 200 or 300 of his own people.

He spoke of the deliverance of Moses and the children of Israel from bondage; and by a natural transition, referred to the condition of the slaves in America, and especially in this District. He thanked the Lord most fervently that he had been permitted to live to see this day. Forty-three years ago he was tarred and feathered in Washington because he would preach the Lord Jesus as he understood it; “but now,” shouted the sable preacher, “let Ethiopia lift up her hands to God, for a great good is coming out of this war! – A good for me, for us, and for our people, whom every nation has set its heel upon!” His audience was boisterously joyous from the beginning to the end of the discourse. Of course, the expressions and demonstrations were extravagant – true to the quick fancy and fervent hearts of the race. Some rubbed their hands in glee, some laughed outright, some leaped in the air or twisted themselves into grotesque attitudes, as if their joy was too intense to be entertained at a staid perpendicular; many shouted “Glory to God!” “Hallelujah!” “Amen!” “The blessed day has come!” &c.; while nearly all were in tears. When the speaker thanked the Lord that the slaves were to be free, the jubilee became utterly indescribable. What a Babel of triumphant voices! An old “aunt,” off in the right hand upper corner, shouted and wept persistently. Probably she had a reason for it, I thought – perhaps two or three of them, helpless, and in the hands of the kidnappers. “Glory to God!” said the preacher, solemnly and slowly. “Glory to Lovejoy!” yelled a voice at the right that belonged to a strongly built mulatto. “No,” commanded the speaker instantly, “I tell you glory to God!” for he seemed determined from the first word that God should have the undivided praise refusing to give a moiety to the President or Congress. A pair of hands clenched spasmodically the top of the seat in which I was sitting. I looked back and the man was hopping up and down, as if he had just caught a glimpse of Heaven, and presently interrupted the speaker by trying to sing, “I am bound for the land of Canaan.” His face bore a deep scar across the nose, and tears were streaming from the long furrows of his cheeks. He had seen thirty years perhaps, and light gray rage that he gathered about him told me that he had “come out of the house of bondage.” Most of the hearers were partly white; many were mulattoes, quadroons, octoroons – and one or two women, I imagined would attract attention, for their good looks, on Broadway. But what a day of sunshine it was to the stricken souls! They seemed to think little of the kidnapper; they were full of hope, and looked ahead. Such a chorus of exultation I never heard before; such joyful gestures I never beheld – it was a spectacle for men and angels.

– Published in The Davenport Daily Gazette, Davenport, Iowa, Tuesday Morning, April 22, 1862, p. 2

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