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(1877) John E. Bruce, “Reasons Why the Colored American Should Go to Africa”

 As African Americans increasingly realized that Reconstruction would not usher in permanent citizenship rights and in fact did not protect them from violence, some black leaders began to call for alternative approaches. Not surprisingly a some again urged African American colonization in Africa. In October, 1877 journalist John Edward Bruce added his voice to the colonization movement in a speech outlining why African Americans should return to the ancestral homeland. The speech which was first published in the Christian Recorder on November 1, 1877, appears below.

I shall endeavor to show tonight why the colored American should emigrate to Africa first, because Africa is his fatherland; secondly, because, before the war, in the South he was a slave, and in the North, a victim of prejudice and ostracism; and thirdly, because, since the close of the war, although he has been freed by emancipation and invested with enfranchisement, he is only nominally free; and lastly, because he is still a victim of prejudice, and practically proscribed socially, religiously, politically, educationally, and in the various industrial pursuits.

First, then, he should emigrate to Africa because it is his fatherland. Africa is a country rich in its productions, offering untold treasures to the adventurer who may go there. It has a peculiar claim upon the colored American in this country, and that claim is as just and as equitable as any could be. One hundred and fifty millions of our people are on the other side of the broad Atlantic, groveling in darkness and superstition; five millions are on this side surrounded by all the advantages that could be desired in the march toward civilization. It is our duty to carry to those benighted, darkened minds a light to guide them in the march toward civilization. For centuries the colored race has not been highly educated. This has not always been the fact, and history, which shows what has been done, proves what may yet be. The Africans held possession of southern Egypt when Isaiah wrote, "Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God." When the Queen of Sheba brought added wealth to the treasures of Solomon, and when a princely and learned Ethiopian became a herald of Christ before Paul the Hebrew, Cornelius, or the European soldiers were converted. The race to whom had been given the wonderful continent of Africa, can be educated and elevated to wealth, power and station among the nations of the earth.

Secondly, why the colored American should emigrate to Africa is because before the war, in the South he was a slave and in the North a victim of prejudice and ostracism. During the cruel days of slavery the colored American had no right which the white American was bound to respect; he was a nonentity before the law an automaton with an immortal soul. "Old Massa" had full power and control over him and his posterity. His relatives, children and friends who were dear to him were snatched up any time by "Old Massa" and sold into slavery, driven into misery everlasting, woe and discontentment. So much for slavery.

Thirdly, why the colored American should emigrate to Africa is because, since the war, although he has been freed by emancipation and invested with enfranchisement, he is only nominally free. His rights are abridged; he is an American only in name. The doors of the public schools are closed against his children, notwithstanding the fact that he is taxed to support them. The common carriers, hotels and places of amusement, refuse to recognize him as a free man; no matter what his rank or station may be, he cannot enjoy the privileges which the Constitution (the supreme law of the land) guarantees to the humblest citizen. The atrocious massacre of unoffending colored men during the past five years in the states of Mississippi, South Carolina and Louisiana have blackened the page of American history and cast a gloom over the whole civilized world. Innocent men and women were butchered in cold blood by the inhuman wretches who glory in the name "American citizen." These brutal murders were committed in defiance of all law and justice. Men can never forget them. The blood of thousands of our race cries aloud unto the God of justice, and the day of retribution is not far distant.

And lastly, why the colored American should emigrate to Africa is because he is still a victim of prejudice, and practically proscribed socially, religiously and politically. He cannot enter a hotel and obtain accommodations without paying a double price, should he be successful in entering at all. If he go to the church of God in this Christian land, he is thrust into the gallery. If he wants to go South, he is packed in the car nearest the engine so that he will be the first killed in case of a collision. Politically he is a failure and cannot begin to compete with his white brother. He is used by him in all dirty jobs to advance his interests to fill his pockets with ill gotten gains; he is virtually a tool and a scapegoat in this respect, and he is regarded as an indispensable auxiliary in time of elections by these unscrupulous and unprincipled demagogues, who axe a disgrace and a curse to such a republic as this claims to be.

And now Mr. President, I think I have shown why the colored American should emigrate to Africa. It is to his interest and his gain to do so. He is surrounded on every hand by prejudice and opposition, and it remains for him to carve out for himself a destiny among the nations of the earth.

Sources:

The Christian Recorder, November 1, 1877.
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