THE SONS OF "UNCLE TOM"
You are all familiar with that great book of Mrs. Stowe, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," which I believe was the handwriting on the wall to the Southern slavocracy. You have admired the Christly character of Uncle Tom, at whose feet a great German philosopher has said he would gladly sit and learn. Truth is stranger than fiction. Uncle Tom was not a fictitious character. There were hundreds like him. During the last days of the civil war a confederate soldier lay dying on a Virginia battle-field. His faithful slave valet stood at his side. As the master was breathing his last he said to the slave, "Go! go!" "Go where, master?" asked the slave. "Go North and be free. You are too noble a man to be a slave." "No, master, I'se 'bliged to go back. I promised missus that if you fell I would bring back to her the Bible she sewed in your vest pocket. I would like to be free, but I'se 'bliged to go back." The master died. Back the slave went, across rivers, over plains, through cane brakes, till he reached the old Mississippi plantation. When he had delivered the book he was remanded to slavery; when on the day of freedom the slave held up his sable hands that the shackles of two and a half centuries might be removed from them, they were found unstained with the blood of his fellowmen, save that shed in honorable battle.
But I intended to tell you of Uncle Tom's sons in the South, for, as to whether they are proving a success, is not decided by a few who carry off prizes at Northern institutions, but by the general advancement of the mass of them. The black boys of the South are eager to learn. Some time ago a young man walked 175 miles with all his effects upon his back to one of our Southern colleges (spending only 20 cents on the entire journey). He said the people wanted better teachers, and he had come to fit himself for better work. You will be interested to know his name for it stands for victory—Julius Cæsar Alexander.
I have seen the student of New England, and while there are many things about him which the Southern colored student could profitably imitate, yet I should not fear a fair comparison of the two. The Southern colored student is marked for his teachableness, aptness, submissiveness, and impressionableness. He does not prowl about at midnight, gamble, drink, smoke or chew. These are forbidden him by his far-sighted Aunt.
He is not a dullard. A few years ago Mr. Calhoun said that if a Negro could conjugate the Greek verb he would be willing to admit him to the brotherhood. Were he living to-day I could take him to any number of Southern colleges and show him scores of Uncle Tom's sons who can conjugate the Greek verb with as much facility as any of his relatives. More than that, I could take him to Yale, Amherst or Harvard and show him Negroes who could conjugate the Greek verb with as much accuracy as John C. Calhoun himself. More still, I could show him a Negro scholar who has written a Greek text-book once in use at Yale University. If that would not satisfy him I could take him to the halls of Europe where two hundred black students are studying modern and ancient languages with a view to returning to this country and Africa to teach their brethren. Mr. Calhoun, will you now admit him to the brotherhood? But not only as students are Uncle Tom's boys proving themselves worthy, but also as Christians. That which sustained the slave in his darkest hour was his religion. In my work last summer at the South, during a call on one of my parishioners, I observed a well-worn Bible. I asked why was this. Neither she nor her husband could read. She said they could not read a letter in it, but it did them good to handle and feel the Word. Through one of the back districts of a Southern city a Northern missionary was passing one Sunday afternoon. He came up to an aged colored man sitting in the sunshine reading a book. Being asked what he was reading he said: "Mister this is the Bible, and I tell you there is a heap in this Book."
We young men have learned the same lesson, that there is a great deal in this Book. The spirit of Elijah falls upon Elisha.
I have never seen an atheist among our young men. They are pious, moral, Christian. At Fisk they sustain a flourishing "White
Cross Society," pledged to principles of personal and social purity. If time did not fail me I could
tell of a little church founded near Fisk University by its students ten years ago.
In church the new Negro is not as emotional as the old. Nor am I one to laugh at the old folks' religion. In its essence it is good enough for me. It brought my people out of bondage. Were I to choose between the religion of the slave and that of the master my choice would not be uncertain. Give me the religion that caused the slave to steal out from his cabin to a corner of the plantation, at midnight, when master, overseer and slave hounds were asleep, to praise God in a "whispering meeting," as my father has told me, rather than the religion that sold babies to buy Bibles, and robbed trundle-beds to send missionaries to the heathen. The slave's religion was not wholly divorced from morality. That in their emotional joy they were enabled to forget this world seems to me one of the kindest providences of a kind Father who knows all our trials. True, there are excesses in manner of worship no longer tolerable to the young Negro to-day. The young people demand a more approved manner of worship, a sounder exegesis, a more excellent way. In a Southern church of the old type a brother was being tried for shooting marbles. After much discussion it was decided to expel the offender; "for," said the minister, "Christ said 'Marble not.'" The young people want better preachers. This demand is being met by the schools of the American Missionary Association.
As citizens Uncle Tom's sons are proving themselves worthy. At Washington two thousand of them are writing for Uncle Sam. In the communities in which they live they establish homes from which go those influences that must gladden the race. They are never among that class against whom certain crimes are alleged. They are leaders, political, social and ecclesiastical.
What of the future? Bright! Pressed on every side, we are not straitened; perplexed, but not in despair; pursued, but not forsaken; smitten, but not destroyed. Notwithstanding the fact that in the very presence of the majesty of American law and under the shadow of the cross of Christ there occur deeds that do small honor to our boasted civilization, we have faith in the white men of America. We believe that they will finally do right. May God in his own time and way hasten the long-desired day. With a firm faith in God and a strong belief in the ultimate good sense and justice of humanity, we go forth to the future with brave hearts.
Before I close I wish to bring to you the gratitude of Uncle Tom's sons scattered throughout the South. We thank God for the
pen of Harriet Beecher Stowe; we thank God for the zeal of John Brown; we thank God for the sword of Grant, reinforced by
the pen of Lincoln, both sons of this grand old state of Illinois; we thank God for those brave men who went to war and died
that the slave might be free—let these rest
in peace, wrapped as they are in their country's flag and pillowed upon her constitution; but we thank God still more for those brave men and women, who before the smoke of battle cleared away, came South with spelling book in one hand and Bible in the other and set the millions of freedmen on the road toward reading, reasoning and righteousness. Around God's throne their crowns shall glitter with many stars. (Applause).