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(1879) Ferdinand L. Barnett, “Race Unity”

Today Ferdinand L. Barnett is best known as the husband of anti-lynching crusader, Ida Wells Barnett. However by 1879, Barnett, a graduate of Chicago’s College of Law and editor the Chicago Conservator, the city’s first black newspaper, which he founded in 1878, was one of a rising number of post-Reconstruction black leaders. On May 6 9, 1879, at a national conference of African American men meeting in Nashville, Tennessee where most of the issues discussed related to Southern black poverty and anti-black violence in the region, Barnett, the delegate from Chicago gave a speech which called for race unity as the necessary precondition of African American progress. His address specifically called African Americans to unite both politically and economically; to set aside jealousy and in fighting, to assist the poor and support black-owned businesses which in turn would hire African American workers and urged the black schools of the South to be staffed by African American teachers not only to build a middle class but also because he believed these teachers would be especially committed to education and racial uplift. Far from being unique, Barnett’s calls echoed earlier leaders such as Henry Highland Garnet and anticipated future leaders such as Booker T. Washington and W.E. B. DuBois. His speech appears below.

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Conference: The subject assigned me is one of great importance. The axioms which teach us of the strength in unity and the certain destruction following close upon the heels of strife and dissension, need not be here repeated. Race elevation can be attained only through race unity. Pious precepts, business integrity, and moral stamina of the most exalted stamp, may win the admiration for a noble few, but unless the moral code, by the grandeur of its teachings, actuates every individual and incites us as a race to nobler aspirations and quickens us to the realization of our moral shortcomings, the distinction accorded to the few will avail us nothing. The wealth of the

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