Antebellum African Americans took enormous pride in Haiti. The nation of the enslaved rose in rebellion in 1791 and on January 1, 1804 won its independence from France. At that moment the Republic of Haiti was born as the first black republic in the world, the first independent country in Latin America, the second independent nation in the hemisphere, after the United States.
Twenty two years later John Browne Russwurm, the second black college graduate in the United States chose the Haitian Revolution and the future of the nation as the subject of his commencement address at Bowdoin College in Brunswick Maine, on September 6, 1826. Russwurm was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, October 1, 1799, of a black mother and a white father who was an English merchant in the West Indies. At the age of eight, Russwurm was sent to school in Quebec. When the elder Russwurm moved into the District of Maine a few years later, he brought his son with him. Russwurm entered Bowdoin College in the fall of 1824 and graduated in 1826. Six months later in March 1827, he became coeditor and copublisher with Samuel B. Cornish of Freedom’s Journal, the first black newspaper published in the United States. But Russwurm, convinced that racism prevented African Americans from full citizenship and dignity, became an emigrationist. In 1829 Russwurm became the superintendent of public schools in Liberia which was then under the control of the American Colonization Society but which became with independence in 1847, the second black republic in the world. In 1836 he was appointed governor of the Cape Palmas district of Liberia, and he continued in his position until his death on June 17, 1851. The full text of Russwurm’s speech is presented here with the permission of the Bowdoin College Archives, where the original is kept.
The changes which take place in the affairs of this world show the instability of sublunary things. Empires rise and fall, flourish and decay. Knowledge follows revolutions and travels over the globe. Man alone remains the