Meeting at the African Church

May 15, 1867


There was a meeting here in which many prominent citizens of all races attended.The speakers talk of reconciliation and reconstruction, as well as the current status of Virginia, encouraging people to come together to improve the state.


MEETING AT THE AFRICAN CHURCH. SPEECHES BY HORACE GREELEY AND GERRITT SMITH. The old African church on Broad street, which has recently been the scene of so many gatherings of the colored people exclusively, was last night crowded to its utmost capacity by an audience of a far different character. A fair proportion of the assemblage were colored people, but immediately in front of the pulpit were seated a large number of our prominent citizens, while many of both races occupied the rear of the church, and crowded around the doors anxious to gain admission. Several Federal officers, with their ladies, were given places near the speaker. We do not remember to have seen so respectable an audience in the " Old African " since the spring of 1865, when Jefferson Davis and Judah P. Benjamin addressed the citizens of Richmond from the platform upon which were last night seated Horace Greeley and Gerritt Smith, of New York, with Judge Underwood, Governor Peirpoint and his aid, Colonel C. H. Lewis, of this city. At quarter to 8 o'clock the editor of the Tribune advanced, and was greeted with faint applause. We give the substance of his speech: Fellow-citizens of Richmond, -- I do not understand that I am invited to speak here to-night by invitation of the representatives of any particular party, sect, or race. Therefore, though all present are acquainted with my views upon the great questions now at issue, I shall not speak either to or for a party, but as a citizen of New York to citizens of Virginia in consultation about the welfare of a common country. And though I shall frankly proclaim my views, they shall be expressed with due deference to the opinions of others. " Shall the sword devour forever?" exclaimed the Hebrew prophet; and so may I exclaim, as I stand amid the ruins of our country, encircled by one hundred thousand graves, filled by many who fought for and against the Union, and viewing the continued strife of sections and races. Has not the time come when the old feuds and animosities should be forgotten forever? Rivers of blood have flowed, mountains of debt have been piled up, sacrifices and sufferings abound, to show the valor and sincerity with which the American people on both sides fought. The wise king said there is "a time for war and a time for peace." The time for peace has come. What, then, has impeded the great work of reconciliation, and what now remains to stop its progress? True, we have a peace in name, but people still look distrustfully upon each other; there is still enmity at heart. The war for and against the Union virtually ended two years ago at the surrender of General Lee, and according to ordinary calculations, one year should have seen peace. What, then, has prevented this result? First, when the people of the Union were in the flush of perfect triumph, and glorying over the achievements of their arms, an assassin's hand struck down the nation's chief. I would be the last to argue that it was the work of the southern people, but certain facts led many to believe such a grave accusation. The conspirators were all thoroughly identified with the cause of the South, and defenders of its "peculiar institution." They were heart and soul with the Confederacy, and as the tidings flashed through the loyal North that the Chief Magistrate had fallen, and that his chief assistant was lying mangled on a bed of suffering, wild passion and grief pervaded the whole country, while we, who counselled magnanimity, were silenced by the hoarse cry for revenge. The people would not hear that the bloody deed was the work of an unauthorized man and unknown to the leaders of the rebellion. That act, I repeat, was a calamity to both sections, and the military trials which succeeded it were melancholy terminations of the tragedy. They heightened the popular wrath, and all now agree that it would have been far better had justice been attained through the ordinary channels. But before the frenzy cooled, legislatures, mainly composed of disloyal men, or men prominent in rebellion, assembled in the southern States. Their first aspect was one of unfriendliness toward their colored fellow-citizens. They passed laws or revised statutes which seemed to he designed to punish the colored race for sympathy with their liberators. Of these I can only mention the laws in relation to marriage, contracts for labor, forbidding negroes to bear arms, and regulating testimony in courts of justice; all of which, if ever necessary, had ceased to be applicable when slavery breathed its last. To one of these I will particularly allude: The law in regard to bearing arms might have been reasonable and proper when slavery existed ; that a slave should carry weapons was, perhaps, incompatible with the public safety; but when the man was free, the necessity no longer existed, and it was in direct hostility to the Constitution of the United States. But Confederate soldiers, donned in the garb of police, took away the arms from black men, which were frequently paid for, and often well earned. These things looked like a revival of the rebellion, and in a much worse form than when it appeared at Gettysburg and Chickamauga. So, in regard to testimony, laws equally absurd and unjust were passed, and widened the breach. The Memphis and New Orleans massacres, as they are known with us, also prevented the desired consummation. You do not know how much these events affected the elections which shortly after took place. We believed that the reassembling of the Louisiana Convention was only a pretext for the massacre of a score of our citizens. All these things made their impression, and fastened upon the minds of many, if not of a majority, of the northern people the conviction that no sure reconstruction is possible without a full guarantee of equal rights to every citizen, black or white, native or naturalized. The party holding these views has steadily increased in numbers and power since the development of President Johnson's policy.
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