“Another Word to Colored Men”
Source: Douglass Monthly, April 1863
Let me sound once more the trump of war. We should have blast on blast from that trumpet, till thrilled with its notes every brave black men of the North, capable of bearing arms, shall come forth, clad in complete steel, ready to make the twin monsters, slavery and rebellion, crumble together in the dust. The white man’s soul was tried in 1776. The black man’s soul is tried in 1863. The first stood the test, and is received as genuine-so may the last. The brad eye of the nation is fixed upon the black man. They are half in doubt as to whether his conduct in this crisis will refute or confirm their allegations against the colored race. They stand ready to applaud, or to hurl the bolt of condemnation. – Which shall it be, my brave and strong hearted brothers? The decision of our destiny is now, as never before, in our hands. We may lie her low in the dust, despised and spit upon by every passer-by; or we may, like brave men, rise and unlock to ourselves the golden gates of a glorious future. Depend upon it, we have no time to lose. To hold back is to invite infamy upon ourselves, and upon our children. All the Negro hating vermin of the land may crawl over us, if our courage quails at this hour. He is whipped oftenest who is whipped easiest. As with individuals so with nations and classes. It has been the fashion in this country- even in some of our Northern cities- to assault and mob colored citizens, for no other reason than the ease with which it could be done. We have it in our power to do something towards changing this cowardly fashion. When it is once found that black men can give blows as well as take them, men will find more congenial employment than pounding them. The black man, in arms to fight for the freedom of his race, and the safety and security of the country, will give his countrymen a higher and better revelation of his character. The case stand thus: We have asked the nation for a chance to fight the Rebels- to fight against slavery, and to fight for freedom. Well, the chance is now given us. We must improve it, or sink deeper than ever in the pit of social and political degradation, from which we have been struggling for years to extricate ourselves. When the nationality of the United States is set in safety, in part of your hands, the whole world would cry shame upon any attempt to denationalize you.
To fight for the Government in this tremendous was is, than to fight for nationality and for a place with all other classes of our fellow-citizens. I know that Congress has been pleased to say in deference to prevailing prejudice that colored men shall not rise higher than company officers. They might as well have passed a law that black men shall not be brave; that they shall not learn to read; that they shall not shoot straight; and that they shall not grow taller than five feet nine inches and a half. The law is even more absurd than mean. Enter the army and deserve promotion, and you will be sure to get it in the end. To say you will not go into the army until you can be a Colonel or a General, is about as wise as to say you won’t go into the water until you shall learn how to swim.-When the priest told Patrick that he had prayed his father’s head and shoulders out of purgatory, and a litter more money was wanted to complete the work, Paddy declined to give it, on the ground that if his father had been so fortunate as to get his head out he would risk getting his whole body out.- Pat’s wisdom will be good in our case. Once let colored men be made Captains of companies, and demonstrate their capacity for such captaincy, and I’ll risk their upward progress. The great thing to be done first of all is, to get an eagle on you button and a musket on your shoulder. “It is the first step that costs.” Take it, and all will come right after that first step is well and firmly taken.
Some say wait till New York shall call us a part of her quota. My answer to this objection is, that New York will be far more likely to call us if she finds us responding to the call of Massachusetts. If the call to Massachusetts shall prove a success, other States will follow her example. If she fails, visibly fails, no State will be foolish enough to follow in her footsteps. If you are in earnest, and really wish to get at the foe, you will go by way of Massachusetts, since that is the only way now open. Our first business is to make the Bay State regiment a success.
To fail there is to fail everywhere and to succeed there is to succeed everywhere.
Do not flatter yourselves that the colored troops at the South can do our woek. They cannot do it, no matter how brave and enduring they may prove themselves to be. The fact that they make better soldiers than we will be quoted against us. Their good behavior will be set to the credit of slacery, and we shall be told that while slacery elevates the character of the colored man to the level of the soldier, freedom debases him to the level of a spiritless coward. There is no mistake about it, colored men of the North; we shall either go up, or we shall go down, precisely as we ourselves shall determine in view of the demands of this hour. The day that’s sees the fifty fourth regiment of Massachusetts march down Broadway, composed of well drilled, well-uniformed, well-armed, well-appointed colored soldiers, under the ample folds of the Star Spangled Banner-lifting their high and orderly footsteps to the inspiring notes of “Old John Brown,” singing those words with a spirit and meaning with which they were never sung before, will be the proudest and happiest day for the colored race ever witnessed in the United States. After that spectacle, colored men and women in New York will walk among their country men and women without asking pardon for having been born – and with a higher consciousness of the dignity of human nature.
But enough of this. I have undertaken to raise at least one company for the fifty fourth Massachusetts regiment. I am anxious to have the work done speedily. This may be hastened by the co-operation of friends in different parts of the State. Let them get together and talk the matter over and send me the names of such of their number as are willing to go when called upon. During the past week I have twice visited Buffalo, and at one meeting obtained the names of seven good looking young men – every one of whom can read and write. In Rochester I have thirteen names, my son heading the list. A letter from Oswego assures me that eight or nine men are ready to go from there. This week I shall visit Auburn, Syracuse, Troy and Albany. If I were recruiting with advantages held out to white soldiers for this State I could raise a regiment more easily than I can raise a company under present circumstances.