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To the credit of men of African descent, it may be said, that one of them performed the last act of kindness to our Lord Jesus, and the first individual conversion, of which we have an account in the book of Acts, relates to another one.
Simon, who assisted Jesus to bear his cross to the place of crucifixion, was a native of Cyrene in North Africa. The eastern Church canonized him as Simon, the Black one, because his was the high and holy honor of bearing for the weary Christ, his cross of shame and pain. Our Lord Jesus was not long in the black man’s debt. A few hours later, he paid it back by bearing for him all his weary burdens, on the very cross the African had borne for him. That was a good start for the Black man.
Philip, directed by an angel of the Lord to go south and join himself to the chariot occupied by the Eunuch, a man of great authority under the Queen of Ethiopia, found him reading the prophet Isaiah. Explaining the scriptures to him the eunuch confessed his faith in Jesus, was baptized with water found at the roadside and resumed his journey, homeward from Jerusalem, rejoicing. The record of this Black man’s conversion is the first one of an individual in the book of Acts.
The religious trait of the American Negro has often been the subject of favorable comment. He has never, in all his history, been swayed by the false teachings of infidels, atheists or anarchists.
Dan Crawford, a Scotch missionary, the successor of Livingstone in the central part of the dark continent, recently stated he had discovered the fact, that the most ignorant and degraded natives of central Africa, have a religious instinct, that includes a belief in one God and the immortality of the soul.
Penetrating the jungles of the interior beyond the reach of a previous explorer, he found a tribe of nearly nude cannibals. He saw one of them eating human flesh. Meeting Ka la ma ta, their chief, the next day in the presence of several hundred of his tribe, he made special inquiry in regard to their knowledge of God. The result was an astounding surprise.
Kalamata, gave their name of God as Vi de Mu ku lu the Great King. When further questioned he said:
“We know there is a God for the same reason we know where the goats went on a wet night, when we see their deep foot-prints in the mud. We see the sun and the sun sees us. We see the wonderful mountains and the flowing streams, and both tell us there is a God. He is the one who sends the rain. No rain, nothing to eat; no God, no anything.”
Concerning a future life he expressed the thought; the body is the cottage of the soul. The dead do not really die. When one dies they do not say, “he departed”, but “he has arrived.”
The American Negro, like his native ancestor, has always manifested this religious instinct.
Under the influence of a natural instinct the bee invariably builds its cell in the same form for the next brood and the storage of honey for it; the butterfly prepares the cradle and food for offspring it never sees, and the migratory birds follow the sun northward in the spring and southward on the approach of winter. All this is natural instinct.
Religious instinct is something very different from the natural instinct of any creature. It is a natural power possessed by man alone, and has its sphere in the human conscience. Paul, writing to the Romans in regard to the barbarians of his day, observed, “God is manifest in them, for the invisible things of God, even his eternal power and God-head, are clearly seen by the things that are made.”
Loyal And Patriotic
The Negro in America has always been loyal and patriotic. He has rendered a voluntary service in the army and navy of the United States that is worthy of special commendation. The records of the war department show that the number of colored soldiers, participating in the several wars of this country was as follows:
|Revolutionary War, 1775-1781||3,000|
|War of 1812||2,500|
|Civil War, 1861-1865||178,975|
In the war with Spain in Cuba in 1898 the first troops that were sent to the front were four regiments of colored soldiers, and the service they rendered was distinguished by bravery and courage.
The Freedman, Homeless And Illiterate
In 1860 the number of Negroes that were in a state of slavery was 3,930,760. In 1910 their number in the southern states had increased to 9,000,000; and in the northern states to 1,078,000.
The Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln was issued January 1, 1863, but it was preceded by a preliminary one on September 22, 1862, that gave the public a notice of 100 days of the coming event.
The Act of Emancipation that severed the relation binding them to their masters, left them in a very forlorn and deplorable condition. They were homeless and penniless in a country that had been rendered more or less desolate, by the ravages of war and bloodshed. No provision had ever been made for the spread of intelligence among them. It has been estimated that only about five per cent of them at that time could read and write. Their homeless and illiterate condition rendered them comparatively helpless and dependent.
In 1885 the number of voters enrolled among the Freedmen was 1,420,000 and of these as many as 1,065,000 were then unable to read and write. These illiterate voters then represented the balance of power in eight southern states and one sixth of the national electoral vote. This was a matter of vital importance to the nation as well as the states.
In 1900 the percentage of the Freedmen that could read and write had been increased to 55.5 per cent and in 1910 to 69.3 per cent.
At this latter date however only 56.3 per cent of their children, of a school age, were enrolled as attending school, which left more than one million yet to be provided for.
First Public School
The first day school among the Freedmen was established at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, by the American Missionary Association on September 17, 1861. This school became the foundation of Hampton Institute, to which the ragged urchin wended his way on foot and slept the first night under a wooden pavement that has since been known as Booker T. Washington.
In 1862 similar schools were established at Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Newport News, Virginia; Newbern and Roanoke Island, North Carolina, and Port Royal, South Carolina. In December of that year Gen. Grant assigned Col. John Eaton the supervision of the Freedmen in Arkansas, with instruction to establish schools where practical.
After the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, schools for the Negroes began to be established in those parts of the south occupied by the Federal armies, General Banks establishing the first ones in Louisiana.
In 1865 the Freedman’s Bureau was established, and it made the maintenance of schools one of its objects until 1870, when it was discontinued. The work has since been left to the supervision of the several states, aided by the generosity of the friends of Christian education through the missionary agencies of their respective Churches.
It is estimated that since 1870 the Freedmen, who constitute nearly one half the population of the southern states have received for the support of their schools, only one eighth of the public funds appropriated for the maintenance of common schools. In the rural districts teachers only are furnished, and these are supplied on the condition the Freedmen in the district build, furnish and maintain the school building, the same as they do their Church buildings.
The number of free Negroes in the United States in 1860 was 487,970. The states having the greatest number of them were Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.
A few of these had become graduates of colleges before the war and were thus fitted for intelligent leadership. The beginning and increase in number of these colored college graduates has been as follows; In 1829, 1; in 1849, 7; in 1859, 12; in 1869, 44; in 1879, 313; in 1899, 1,126; and in 1909, 1,613. About 700 of them have graduated from our northern colleges the largest number having attended Oberlin College at Oberlin, Ohio, and Lincoln University at Oxford, Pennsylvania. In 1910 the whole number that had graduated was 3,856.
50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation
The 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation was observed by a number of the states in September, 1913. In Pennsylvania it consisted of an exposition at the city of Philadelphia that lasted one month. The exhibit, showing the progress of the Negroes from their infantile condition of 50 years ago, was characterized as “wonderful”, and the occasion, one for devout thanksgiving and encouragement on the part of those, who have labored patiently and faithfully for their civil, social, moral or religious development.
The Presbyterian was the only one of the white Churches that attempted an exhibit of its work at this exposition. Its exhibit consisted of photographs of Churches and schools, and accounts of the results of the work. It included specimens of industrial work done in the schools by the sewers, cabinet workers and other artisans. It was under the direction of Rev. John M. Gaston, field secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen.