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(1895) John H. Smyth, “The African in Africa and the African in America”

Virginia-born John Henry Smyth, late 19th Century lawyer and diplomat, had spent nearly five years as the U.S. Minister to Liberia, representing both President Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur.  He was given an L.L. D. degree by Liberia College and appointed Knight Commander of the Liberia Order of African Redemption by Liberia"s President H. Richard Wright Johnson.  In the speech below, given in 1895 at the Cotton States Exposition (where Booker T. Washington made his most famous address) Smyth discussed the nexus between Africans and African Americans.

The fact will be readily admitted by those most familiar with the sentiment of a large and not unimportant portion of our American citizenship, who, by the fortunes and misfortunes of war, viewed from the standpoint of one or the other combatants of the sanguinary struggle of 1861—62—63—64, were made equal before the law with all other citizens, that as a class they are averse to the discussion of Africa when their relationship with that ancient and mysterious land and its races is made the subject of discourse or reflection. The remoteness of Africa from America may be a reason for such feeling; the current opinion in the minds of the Caucasians, whence the American Negroes’ opinions are derived, that the African is by nature an inferior man, may be a reason. The illiteracy, poverty, and degradation of the Negro, pure and simple, as known in Christian lands, may be a reason in connection with the partially true and partially false impression that the Negroes, or Africans, are pagan and heathen as a whole, and as a sequence hopelessly degraded beings. These may be some of the reasons that make the subject of Africa discordant and unmusical to our ears. It is amid such embarrassments that the lecturer, the orator, the missionary must present Africa to the Negro in Christian America.

In view of recent newspaper articles about migration of Negroes to Liberia, so much has been recently said by men of African descent of prominence, and by men of like

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