After 150 Years, Black Struggles Echo An Earlier Voice
A hundred and fifty years ago this week, Reverend Henry Highland Garnet became the first Black man to present from the speaker’s platform in the U.S. capital. He preachedto commemorate the January 31st passage by Congress of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. In the sermon, Garnet compared Christians who supported slavery to the biblical Pharisees who observed many rituals, but whose cruelty demonstrated that they did not have a true love for their fellow men in their hearts.
Garnet was an abolitionist and community leader as well as a minister. In his sermon he noted: "It is often asked when and where will the demands of the reformers of this and coming ages end? It is a fair question and I will answer. When all the unjust and heavy burdens shall be removed from every man in the land...When emancipation shall be followed by enfranchisement, and all men holding allegiance to the government shall enjoy every right of citizenship… "
That final quote, for me, resonates so much with today. He’s saying this in 1865, and some of the things he’s envisioning in terms of rights are still rights that many of us continue to fight for, and so he was really a prophetic voice, speaking from February 12 of 1865.
CORRECTION: Due to a technical glitch, an earlier version of this story credited Lewis Wallace rather than Kevin McGruder as the author. Kevin McGruder is an assistant professor of history at Antioch College, and a member of WYSO's resource board and 2015 Community Voices class.