Mass Meeting at the African Church
June 13, 1867
Recently a meeting took place at the African church with primarily black people in attendance.Themes of the meeting focus on equality, voting, and Virginia's prosperous future.Voting was emphasized, as one speaker, Charles W. Stovey, claims that Virginia will be turned to Conservative hands if the black people do not vote with the Radicals in elections and a state similar to before the Civil War will return.
Mass Meeting at the African Church. Speeches by Senator Wilson, Colonel Noyes, John Jay, Charles W. Stovey, and Others. A fair audience of colored persons and a very small number of white men assembled last night in the African church pursuant to a call issued yesterday afternoon by the State Central Radical Committee urging a grand rally of loyal males and females to meet the northern delegation to which we have referred in another column. The attendance was very light; but it is only just to say that the call appeared rather late in the day, otherwise, perhaps, there would have been a larger assemblage. The meeting was called to order by John Hawxhurst, of Alexandria; upon whose nomination Governor Peirpoint was called to the chair. Governor Peirpoint, after stating that the meeting was impromptu, and had been known to only a few citizens, suggested that Mr. John Jay, of New York, be invited to address the meeting. Before the latter could take the platform, however, some one proposed a prayer; which was offered by a Rev. Mr. Mitchell, who fervently asked that the "State be delivered from oppression"; a prayer in which we heartily joined. Mr. Jay began by congratulating the audience upon the fact that differences which had threatened to divide the party had been settled, and that the great Republican party of Virginia was now prepared to present an unbroken front. If that division had concerned Virginia only, we should not have come here from northern cities to interfere; but it concerned the whole people, and they were deeply interested in the result. He urged that the Democratic party had basely betrayed the people of the South, and attempted to prove it by the language of the leaders of that party. No charge of duplicity could be brought against the great national party of the Union. They had ever been constant, and were always the advocates of unity, progress, and the development of internal resources. He desired Virginians to consider well, and was convinced that they would be wise enough to cast their lot with the party of the Union. He again expressed his gratification at the BottsHunnicutt coalition, and hoped there would be no more division. Mr. Charles W. Stovey was next introduced, and spoke at more length but somewhat in the same strain. He congratulated himself that he, a Yankee, a citizen of Boston, could speak here in the African church of Richmond to those who were once slaves, and that those slaves and their high-blooded masters were now counselling together upon the affairs of the nation. Though Yankee-born and with Yankee principles, he said he had a perfect right to stand here, and was as proud of Washington and Jefferson as if they had been born upon Plymouth Rock. Colonel George F. Noyes, "distinguished in field and forum," next appeared, and commenced a very exalted harangue, quite in contrast with the oratory of the former speaker. This was the proudest hour of his life; he had never dreamed of such an honor. Twice before he had essayed to reach Richmond under the banners of the Repubic; now he stood here and gazed upon the faces of black and white loyalists with genuine admiration. He desired to wipe out every vestige of State rights, and to bring out the broad banner of perfect equal rights in every respect. Before he would give up this doctrine he would go through another four years war and sacrifice more treasure and more blood. He would fight again, and, if necessary, fight forever. He was not now in favor of confiscation; but rather than abandon equal rights, he was in favor of confiscation, war- and war to the knife. Colonel Noyes spoke in a spread-eagle style, giving utterance to the most radical sentiments, and was frequently interrupted by the most rapturous applause from the colored portion of the audience. Hon. Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts, was then called out, and spoke as follows: I have no time now, Mr. Chairman, to utter my sentiments at length, but can only refer to the record left on a trip from Orange Courthouse to New Orleans, to which every one can refer. I must, however, congratulate you upon the absolute certainty of the fact that the State of Virginia will be carried by an overwhelming vote for the great Republican party. All doubt in the minds of men North and South are now removed, aud I wish the prediction noted that the State will elect a convention of uncompromising Radicals, change the Constitution, conform it to the will of Congress, elect a Republican Governor, Legislature, and a majority of the members of Congress. The Old Dominion in this year of our Lord 1867 will place herself fairly and squarely by the side of New England, the Central States, and the great Northwest, in the foremost rank of the army of freedom, equal rights, justice, and humanity. The Thirty-ninth Congress provided a plan of reconstruction, and placed it in the hands of the 600,000 black men in the rebel States. I knew that it was committed to brave hearts and true, which beat in unison with their couutry. I knew that the brave men had in times past proved their devotion to the cause of truth, and even when oppressed had bided their time, praying God for deliverance from bondage, but without raising a hand against their oppressors. I knew that the 600,000 were God's children, and that instinct would teach them how to cast their votes. Beside these, there were in the South many true and loyal men who, through fire and blood, had proved their devotion to Union and liberty, and these, I know, would unite with the enfranchised to speak for righteousness and to aid the good work of reconstruction. On the 27th of April last I addressed the people of Richmond, and expressed my opinions when some doubted its propriety. I confess that I left the State with some misgivings, as I knew there was division among you. A few brave and good men spoke their sentiments so freely and advocated such ultra measures that even our own men began to look on them with distrust. Now a compromise has been effected, the differences have been adjusted, and Virginia is safe. You are now united from the seaside to the mountains, and will carry every county in the State. The Republicans of Virginia must come squarely out for universal suffrage, equal rights between man and man, humanity which embraces all for whom Christ died, and for the education of the whole people. I will go home with a happy heart, having witnessed the coalition of the factions which threatened disaster, with the firm conviction that Virginia will be one of our most radical States, and that those farther South will not be far behind. The party of progress and civilization will hold the sway on this broad continent for years to come, and the time will yet come when we will all be proud to say, as we look upon the banner of the Union, that this is our flag - our country. Finally, use every means which Providence has given you to defeat your enemies; give them blow for blow, have confidence in yourselves and each other, stand to the 17th of April platform, and you will achieve a victory which will cause a thrill of joy to vibrate in the heart of every lover of humanity, liberty, and civilization. Mr. Slack, of Massachusetts, followed Mr. Wilson, and made a speech rather above the ordinary harangues to which we are so wont to hear. He expatiated upon the great resources of the State; said that he would use his pen and voice to influence the capitalists of the North to pour their riches into the South, and wished all blessings for the people of Virginia. Colonel Van Buren, of New York, was next introduced, and spoke very humorously of his attempted entrance into Richmond three years ago contrasted with the ease with which he entered a day or two since. He wished that he could be able to speak to a few thousand of the men who engaged in the war than to the large assembly before him. He had seen so much to harmonize his feelings that he didn't dislike a rebel. He said, however, that if the men who were not Union men thought as he had heard they did, he would feel towards them like the darkey on the witness stand in the case of a brother who was arraigned for stealing a chicken. He was asked, "What is Jake's character?" Cha-acter, massa; he aint got no cha-ac-ter." "But," was the rejoinder of the magistrate, "do you think Jake would steal a chicken?" "Well, massa," was the reply, "I don't know; but ef I was a chicken, and Jake was eny whar about, dis nigger would roose mighty high." He followed with many arguments urging the colored men to vote with the Radical party, warning them that unless they did the rebels would get the reins of Government, and a virtual state of slavery would be the result. He was followed by Mr. Morse, of Boston, and several others, who spoke pretty much in the strain of those who preceded them; after which, the meeting adjourned.
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“Mass Meeting at the African Church,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed December 5, 2022, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/630.