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(1839) Andrew Harris, “Slavery Presses Down Upon the Free People of Color”

Andrew Harris, (1810-1841), graduated from the University of Vermont in 1838. One year later in an address delivered to nearly five thousand abolitionists at New York City’s Broadway Tabernacle on May 7, 1839, young Harris argued that slavery in the South influenced racism in the North. He was particularly mindful of his own situation, having been denied admission to Union and Middlebury Colleges because of his race. Harris’s speech appears below.

It is with no pleasant feeling, said he, that I stand here to speak in relation to the wrongs of a portion of the inhabitants of this country, who, by their complexion, are identified with myself. It is with feeling of great responsibility that I stand here as their representative.

Who of our Pilgrim fathers, when they entered ship, and committed themselves to the waves—when the breeze carried back the echo of their songs, ever thought the day would come, when an assembly like this would meet on the island of Manhattan, for such an object? Who would then have supposed, that the oppression and wrongs of millions in this country, would have been so great as to call together an audience like this? If an inhabitant of another world should enter one of these doors, and look abroad upon these thousands, and ask, "For what are you assembled?" and the voice of this multitude should be heard in answer, "We have come to hear and converse about the wrongs of our fellow men;" would he esteem it a light or trifling thing, which has brought this audience together?

But from whence spring these wrongs? The original source from which they spring, is the corruption of the human heart. The beginning of its development is slavery. Shall I again point to the South, and depict the sufferings of the slave? If the groans and sighs of the victims of slavery could be collected, and thrown out here in one volley, these walls would tremble, these pillars would be removed from their foundations, and we should find ourselves buried in the ruins of the edifice. If the blood of the innocent, which

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28 Unknown Facts: Black History