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I cannot leave Oneida Inst.i.tute without paying the tribute of my heart’s warmest admiration and love to the President thereof–Reverend Beriah Green. America has few such men–men of that true greatness which comes from a combination of wisdom and virtue. Wherever found in that country, they are the “chosen few,” consecrating their energies to the cause of Humanity and Religion–n.o.bly and earnestly seeking to rid their country of its dire disgrace and shame. President Green still lives. He is a profound scholar, an original thinker, and, better and greater than all these, a sincere and devoted Christian. To the strength and vigor of a man, he adds the gentleness and tenderness of a woman. He has never taken an active part in the world of stir and politics; but in the line of his proper profession has immeasurably advanced the cause of human progress. May such men be multiplied in America, and elsewhere, for surely there is need.
Out now in the great world of America, my ambition was to secure a professorial chair. That any man having the slightest tinge of color, nay, without tinge of color, with only a drop of African blood in his veins, let his accomplishments be what they may, should aspire to such a position, I soon found was the very madness of madness. But something must be done. I repaired at once to the city of Boston, and entered the law office of E. G. L—-, Esq. a distinguished barrister, who had already shown his regard for the colored race by having brought to the bar a colored young man–now practising with much success in Boston.
Black men may practice law–at least in Ma.s.sachusetts. I remained in the office of this gentleman two years, and was just entering my third and last year, when, unsolicited on my part and to my great surprise, I received the appointment of Professor of the Greek Language and Literature in New York Central College–a college of recent date, and situated in the town of M’Grawville, near the centre of the State of New York. This was the first college in America that ever had the moral courage to invite a man of color to occupy a professor’s chair; and, so far as I know, it is also the only one.
The college was founded by a few n.o.ble-minded men, whose object was to combat the vulgar American prejudice, which can see no difference between a man and his skin. They sought to ill.u.s.trate the doctrine of Human Equality, or brotherhood of the races; to elevate the nation’s morals, and give it more exalted views of the aims and objects of Christianity. Such a college, in the midst of corrupt public sentiment, could not fail to meet with the greatest opposition. It was persecuted on all sides, and by all parties, showing how deep-seated and virulent is prejudice against color. The legislature countenanced the college so far as to grant it a charter, and empowered it to confer degrees, but would not, seemingly on no earthly consideration, give it the slightest pecuniary patronage. The debates which took place in the State House at Albany when the bill relating to the college came up for consideration, would, in vulgar flings at “negroes,” cries of “amalgamation,” and such like, have disgraced a very a.s.semblage of pagans. However the college held on its way, and is still doing its work, though its efficiency is of course greatly marred. All the other professors were white; so also were the majority of the students.
I was four years in connexion with this college as professor, and in all probability would have been in M’Grawville still, but for the following circ.u.mstances.
I bethought me now of marriage, having what might be termed good prospects in the world. Visiting the town of Fulton, County of Oswego, State of New York, about forty miles from New York Central College, on an occasion of public interest, I was made the guest of the Rev. L.
K—-, a highly esteemed minister of the gospel, and greatly distinguished for his earnest and zealous advocacy of the principles of abolition. He was a white man. This gentleman had a large family of sons and daughters. A feeling of friendship sprung up between one of his daughters and myself on the occasion of this visit, which feeling eventually ripened into emotions of a higher and more interesting character. The father welcomed me: the mother was long since deceased.
The parties immediately concerned were satisfied–why should others demur? I knew something of prejudice against color, but I supposed that a sense of dignity, not to say decency, would deter the most bitterly opposed from interference with a matter wholly domestic and private, and which, in its relation to the public, was also wholly insignificant. I reckoned without my host however. The inhabitants of Fulton had received the impression that there was an union in contemplation between the lady and myself; and they determined that it should not take place, certainly not in their town, nor elsewhere if they could prevent it. They stirred the town in every direction, evoking all the elements of hostility, and organizing the same into a deadly mob, to act at convenient opportunity.
I was ignorant of the great length to which this feeling had attained; so also were the parties immediately interested in my personal safety. I was therefore greatly surprised when, on the occasion of my last visit to Fulton, and while in company with the lady, both of us visiting at the house of a mutual friend, residing about two miles out of town, a party rushed into our presence in hot haste, bidding me, if I wished to escape with my life, to “fly with all possible speed!” The party who performed this kindly office had scarcely gone, when, on looking out of the window, I beheld a maddened mult.i.tude approaching–about six hundred white men, armed with tar, feathers, poles and an empty barrel spiked with shingle nails! In this barrel I was to be put, and rolled from the top to the bottom of a hill near by. They also brought a sleigh, in which the lady was to be taken back to her father’s house. They intended no harm to her.
Knowing the character of an American mob, and also knowing how little they value the life of a man of color, I expected, as I saw the mult.i.tude surrounding the house, to die–in fact, prepared for death.
Having a.s.sembled about the premises, they began to cry out in the most uproarious manner, “Bring him out!” “Kill the n.i.g.g.e.r!” “Hang him!” “Tear down the house!” Shouts, groans, maledictions of all sorts and degrees followed. No one who has not witnessed an American mob can have the slightest idea of the scene which presented itself at this point. Had six hundred beasts of the forest been loosed together, in one promiscuous a.s.semblage, they could scarcely have sent up howls and yells and mad noises equal to those made by these infuriated men. There is no exaggeration in this statement. For the sake of humanity, I only wish there was. Nor were the members of the mob confined entirely to the rabble; far from it. Many of its members were also members of a Christian church. The mob occurred on a Sabbath evening, about six o’clock, so that these men absolutely deserted their pews on purpose to enjoy the fun of “hunting the n.i.g.g.e.r.”
There came with this mob a self-const.i.tuted committee of gentlemen, lawyers, merchants, and leading men of the town, who, although partaking of the general feeling of prejudice against color, did not wish, for the sake of the reputation of their town, to see bloodshed; besides also many of them, I doubt not, entertained feelings of personal friendship for myself.
This committee divided itself. One half came up to the drawing-room, and advised that the young lady should consent to go home in the sleigh provided, and that I should consent to leave the town. Conceding so much to the mob, they thought my life might be spared. The other half of the committee remained below, to appease the maddened mult.i.tude, and deter them from carrying their threats into execution.
We agreed to the propositions of the committee. The young lady was taken home in the sleigh aforesaid, about one third of the mob following on foot, for what purpose I know not. I was then conducted by the committee through the mob, many members of which giving me, as I pa.s.sed, sundry kicks and cuffs, but doing me no serious bodily harm. I was next taken by the committee to an hotel, where arrangements had been made for my reception. The mob followed, hooting and hallooing, the sight of their victim seeming to revive their hostile feelings. They would have broken into the hotel, had not the proprietor held them back by his threats. He was not a friend of mine, but he had agreed to shelter me, and he was, of course, determined to protect his property.
The committee then secured the use of two sleighs, one of which they placed at the back entrance of the hotel, and the other they caused to be driven about four miles out of the town. Into the first sleigh I was to get when I could find my opportunity, and be driven to the other sleigh, in which I was to be finally conveyed to the town of Syracuse, about twenty-five miles distant. I made several attempts to get into the sleigh at the back entrance of the hotel, but was driven back by the mob every time I made my appearance at the door. Meanwhile the committee furnished the mobocrats with spirits to drink, and cigars to smoke, for all of which I had to pay. Comment upon this extraordinary act of meanness would be entirely out of place. One would have thought that these mobocrats would have been content to have mobbed me free of expense, at least. Not so it seemed however.
But midnight drew on, and of course the mult.i.tude grew weary. Presently, seeing my opportunity, I jumped into the sleigh at the back entrance of the hotel, drove rapidly off to the second sleigh, and reached the town of Syracuse early next morning. Some of the mobocrats attempted chase, but soon gave it up.
Had this tumult ended here, I should probably have been in my chair at the college today; and the whole affair, so far as it related only to myself, would have been regarded by me as merely a bit of an episode in my life–of course a most exciting one. But the worst was to come, at least so far as it concerned the lady personally; and the very worst it would be better to say nothing about.
After we had been disposed of in the manner already described, the next step taken by the inhabitants of the town of Fulton was to place the lady under a most degraded surveillance. True, she was to continue in her father’s house, but so overpowering had the mob-spirit become, that the mobocrats commanded (and were obeyed!) that no communications should be sent to her or from her, unless they had been previously perused and sanctioned by duly deputed parties. Nor would they permit any persons to call upon her, unless they too had been previously approved.
There was a line of railway between the towns of Fulton and Syracuse.
Guards were placed by certain individuals at the various stations on the line, in order to prevent the possible escape of either party, or rather to prevent the possible meeting of the parties, _i.e._, of the lady and myself. Meanwhile the telegraphic wires and newspapers spread the news throughout the length and breadth of the land; the consequence of all which was, I became so notorious that my life was placed in jeopardy wherever I went. On one occasion particularly I barely escaped with it.
On the day after the occurrence of the mob, and for several days after, the town of Fulton presented a scene of unparallelled excitement. Had the good people witnessed the approach of an invading army, but, by some lucky chance, succeeded in driving it back, they could not have been more extravagant in their demonstrations. Their countenances indicated the oddest possible mixture of consternation and joy. Seriously, if one can be serious over such details, never before did the contemplated marriage of two mortals create such a hubbub.
The inhabitants of Fulton immediately a.s.sembled _en ma.s.se_, and voted unanimously, in congress especially convened for the purpose, that Mr.
and Mrs. P—-, school teachers, our friends, at whose house we were being entertained at the time of the mob, “DO GIVE UP THEIR SCHOOL, AND LEAVE THE TOWN FORTHWITH.” For what crime? None, save that of showing us hospitality. Our friends had therefore not only to give up their business at an immense pecuniary sacrifice, but had absolutely to make off with their lives as best they could.
During all this time the lady who had been thus rudely treated was true to her n.o.ble and heroic nature; but so much outward pressure, and of such an extraordinary character, produced its consequences upon her health. It failed, and it became necessary that she should be released from her thraldom. Once more at liberty she visited, incognito, the town of Syracuse, where I was still tarrying. The mobocrats would not have permitted her to have left Fulton in peace, if they had known whither she was going.
We met again: reviewed the past and discussed the future. As I am not detailing sentiment, but merely stating facts, suffice it to say, that we made up our minds that we would not be defeated by a mob.
But to the future. What was to be done? We came to the conclusion that I could no longer expect to hold my position in M’Grawville. The college had already received a terrible shock by reason of the cry of “amalgamation” which had been raised by the mob. And though the trustees were willing, at heart, to face the storm of prejudice, worldly wisdom, they considered, dictated that they should not incur the odium which they could not avoid bringing upon the college, if they persisted in retaining me longer as one of their professors. The trustees thought it would be better to be cautious, and save the college for the good it might do in the future. Such a union as ours was, in fact, but one of the logical results of the very principles on which the college was founded. I do not profess to sit in judgment, and therefore attempt no comment. They were now evidently anxious that I should resign, though, of course, they did not express so much to me in words.
I also came to the further conclusion that I could no longer, under the circ.u.mstances, whatever I might be able to do in future, hold my position in the country. For, however willing I might be to endure all things in my own person, I felt that I ought not to expose to any further danger one who already suffered so much and so heroically for my sake. I knew several of the lady’s friends who were bitterly opposed to our union, solely on account of my color, and who were prepared, if the occasion should require it, to go to desperate lengths. They would not have hesitated to have sworn her into the lunatic asylum. I therefore decided not only to resign my professorship in the college, but also to leave the country.
Our plans being now quietly arranged, the lady returned to Fulton, and it was then supposed that all communication between us was for ever broken off. The mob had ordered that it should be so, and doubtless thought it was so. The most mistaken idea they ever entertained. The lady remained for a short time in Fulton, and then retired into the interior of the state of Pennsylvania. I continued to remain in the town of Syracuse.
Soon a favorable opportunity presented itself, and we met in the city of New York, on the 30th March, 1853, and then and there a.s.serted our rights in due and legal form: after which we immediately took the train for Boston.
Owing to the great publicity which the newspapers had given to our affairs and the consequent excitement thereon, we found it necessary to use the utmost caution, such as walking apart in the streets, and travelling in the trains as strangers to each other. It would have been fool-hardy to have provoked another mob.
We remained in Boston ten days, quietly visiting among our friends, and then set sail for England. Wishing to get out of the country without farther ado, we were compelled to submit to many sacrifices, pecuniary and otherwise, of which it is not necessary to speak. In England and Ireland, including a short trip to Scotland, we have been ever since, and have constantly received that generous and friendly consideration which, from the reputation of Great Britain and Ireland, we had been led to expect; and for which we are grateful.
To go back for a single moment to New York Central College. On receiving the appointment to the professorial chair, the pro-slavery newspaper press of the country opened a regular a.s.sault. The “_Washington Union_”
“What a pity that college could not have found white men in all America to fill its professors’ chairs. What a burning shame that the trustees should have been mean enough to rob Mr. L—- of his law student, and the Boston bar of its ebony ornament.” I was never at the Boston bar, and therefore could not have been its ebony ornament. The imagination of the editors supplied them with the fact, and that answered their purpose as well.
A reverend doctor of divinity writing in a Cincinnati newspaper, wondered “how a man of sense could enter that amalgamation college. If this professor would go to Liberia and display his eloquence at the bar there; or, if he has any of the grace of G.o.d in his heart, enter the pulpit, he would then be doing a becoming work.”
From Augusta, Georgia (Slave State), I received the following doc.u.ment, signed by several parties, and containing the picture of a man hanging by the neck, under which was written, “Here hangs the Professor of Greek!”
“Augusta, Geo. Nov. 1850.
“Sir,–We perceive you have been appointed Professor of Greek in New York Central College. Very well. We also perceive that you have occasionally lectured in the North on the ‘Probable Destiny of the African Race.’ Now, Sir, if you will only have the kindness to come to Augusta, and visit our hemp yard, you may be sure that your destiny will not be _probable_, but certain.
Of course I did not go to Augusta, Georgia.
These a.s.saults and attempts at ridicule served to bring me into general notice. I soon found that, by reason of them, and without merit or effort of my own, I had become known throughout the whole country as “the Colored Professor.” I had a status. The lady being the daughter of a highly respectable minister, she also had a status. To permit therefore the union of these parties would be to bring the principle of amalgamation into respectability. So reasoned those who attempted to reason on behalf, or rather in excuse, of the mob. “We are sorry,” they went on condescendingly to say, “for Professor Allen, for though a man of color, he is nevertheless a gentleman, a Christian and a scholar. But this union must not be; the ‘proprieties of society,’ must not be violated!” Here then was the secret of this extraordinary outbreak. Had we moved in what these good people would have been pleased to term a lower strata of society, they would have let us alone with infinite contempt.
The most lamentable feature of this Fulton mob was the fact, that we could not, if we had sought it, have secured any redress. No court of law in the State would have undertaken to bring to justice the perpetrators of this outrage. But on the contrary, such court would have been inclined to take sides with the mobocrats, and to justify them in the means which they employed wherewith to chastise a colored man who had presumed so grossly to violate the “proprieties of society.”
Before closing I cannot forebear a further word with regard to New York Central College. During the four years I was in connexion with that college as professor, I never experienced the slightest disrespect from trustees, professors or students. All treated me kindly, so kindly indeed that I can truly say that the period of my professorship forms one of the pleasantest remembrances of my life. Terrible as prejudice against color is, my experience has taught me that it is not invincible; though, as it is the offspring of slavery, it will never be fully vanquished until slavery has been abolished.
In ill.u.s.tration of the direct influences of slavery as they affect the free man of color, I again go back for a single moment. Having spent three years at Oneida Inst.i.tute, I proposed to myself a visit to Virginia, to look once more into the faces of beloved parents, relatives and friends, to walk again upon the strand at Fortress Monroe, where I had so often in childhood beheld the sunbeams play upon the coves and inlets, and seen the surf beat upon the rocks. I, at first, had some difficulty in getting a pa.s.sage to Virginia, most of the masters of the New York vessels to whom I applied seeming to be of a friendly nature, and not willing to expose me to the slave laws of Virginia. I, however, succeeded at last–the captain of a Philadelphia vessel consenting to land me at the fortress of Monroe. I remained in the home of my childhood and youth seven days in peace; but on the morning of the eighth day, while walking on the strand, I was rudely a.s.saulted by a person who had known me from my infancy. I had always supposed him to be a gentleman, and was therefore greatly surprised and shocked. But slavery is relentless; it ruins both the morals and the manners. This individual, after belaboring me in a savage manner, gave me distinctly to understand that unless I left Virginia speedily, I might find myself in trouble. He afterwards remarked, as I understood, to his friends that “this Allen has been off to an abolition college and returned among us.
Let us look out for him.”
I took the hint; and on the next morning secured the services of a party who rowed me off in a small canoe to a vessel lying in the harbor, where I bargained with the captain, who, for a handsome sum, consented to take me quietly out of the state. I left Virginia at once, and have never returned to it since, though I would gladly have done so, as relatives and friends near and dear to me have since died, by the side of whose death beds I desired to stand. In conclusion I have only to say that were I in the United States of America to-morrow, it would be more than my life or liberty would be worth to put foot upon the soil of my native state. Is this freedom? If it be, then give me slavery indeed.
A word or two with regard to my course in this country. Hitherto my income has been derived solely from lectures, tuitions, and such other odds and ends of work in my line as my hands could find to do. I desire a more permanent settlement for myself and family, and hope that the sale of this little narrative may help to create means to that end.
I send it forth therefore, desiring that it may stand upon its own merits, at the same time earnestly hoping that it may interest all into whose hands it may fall.
From LORD SHAFTESBURY.
“Lord Shaftesbury sympathizes most heartily with Professor Allen and sincerely wishes him success in his undertaking. It will give Lord Shaftesbury great pleasure to a.s.sist, in any way that he can, a gentleman of the colored race, who is a hundred times wiser and better than his white oppressors.