Address to the Youth
1863 — Colored Teachers Association of Ohio
That we are beings who occupy a place among intelligent existences, and arc endowed with minds capable of endless duration, and unlimited improvement, is a fact which should engage the attention, and enlist the energies of every individual.
The faculties of the mind, though scarcely perceptible in the first stages of human existence, may, by means of proper culture, become so expended and developed as to form one of the noblest structures of God’s creation.
The cultivation of the mind, then, is the first object to which the youthful attention should be directed. By cultivation is implied the education and training of each faculty, so as not only to be able to acquire a mere physical subsistence, but to apply the means which will invigorate, and strengthen; to enlighten and refine each part, that it may perform its function in such a manner as to elevate the being to that degree of perfection, which will enable him to occupy a position among the higher orders of creation, which the Great Author designed him to enjoy.
It is a fact worthy of notice, that things which are most valuable are placed the farthest from the reach of common agencies. The Creator, in wisdom, has seen fit to place the bright gems, and richest treasures of earth, the deepest beneath the soil, so, in like manner, has he concealed the richest treasures that the mind possess beneath the grosser senses, to be drawn forth only by the most patient, and persevering energy. It is natural that human beings should acquire possessions, and that they should desire those especially which are the most eminent among mortals, yet few of real value ever came into our hands by means of accident.
No man was ever a skilled architect, or physician, or mechanic by chance. The excellencies of the mental powers are not the gifts of genius, or the intuitions of nature, but the precious boon is obtained, or, the shining goal reached, only by those whose care has been the most unceasing, and whose zeal has been the most untiring.
Wealth and honor are not the offspring of ease and luxury, but they are the legitimate reward of constant toil and perseverance. Neither is mental opulence, or intellectual competency enjoyed by the imbecile and indolent.
No one ever slaked his thirst for knowledge from a fountain which gushed spontaneously, but he who would taste the delicious stream must dig deep and toil hard, ere he can enjoy a draught of the pellucid waters.
The knowledge of arts and sciences, which are the most profound and intricate in themselves, and which most deeply concern us, is not granted on easier terms than these. Nor even the lowest organs of the body, not a muscle or a sinew can perform its action without having undergone a lengthened and elaborate process of instruction. The hand, the ear, the eye, must each be trained and taught. And though we may be unconscious of the education, it has as really been received, as that was by which we learned to read and write.
If, then, the most corporeal sense demands an appropriate education, without which they would prove rather incumbrances than messengers with which we keep up our communications with the external world, shall we suppose that the noblest capacities of man’s spirit are alone independent of all training and culture? That the baser senses only are capable of refinement and expansion? That in the whole territory of human nature, this is the only field that promises to reward the tillage with no fruit?
But this question more deeply concerns the youth of the present than of any other age. An age in which intellectual acquirements are more widely diffused than any other preceding it. Let not, then, the youth of the present age, who are the subjects of oppression and outrage, suppose that they are not called upon to solve the questions which so much interest every individual. What are our relations to God and to the universe? What is required of us in the present age? and what are we doing to facilitate the prospects of our people in the future? It is true, that we experience daily many discouragements, and the path of intellectual prosperity seems obstructed with innumerable difficulties, yet the fact is none the less obvious, that we are called upon to act as great a part as any other people, in the great work of human refinement and moral elevation. Yes, we, as a people, have severe conflicts, both with regard to our individual and national rights. We inherit from our fathers nought but subjugation and dishonor. No history records the deeds of our great and good, no tongue ever heralded the praise of our brave and noble. No banner was ever inscribed with the insignia of our national existence, yet our history, humiliating as it may be, is not without a precedent.
Others have endured trials similar to ours, in their struggles for national existence. Yet, by a succession of events, they passed unscathed to the highest point of national glory. God’s chosen people were overwhelmed in Egyptian darkness, only that the light of Jehovah’s truth might be revealed amid the thunderings of Sinai.
If you take a retrospect of the past, you perceive that in the darkest periods, when truth and virtue appeared to sleep, when science had dropped her telescope and philosophy its torch, when the world would have seemed to be standing still, the inscrutable wisdom of Divine Providence was preparing new agents, and evolving new principles, to aid in the work of individual and social improvement.
It would appear as if the world, like the year, had its seasons, and that the seed disseminated in spring time, must first die before it can vegetate and produce the rich harvests of autumn. The developments of one period seem obscured for a season, by the unfolding of the great mysterious curtain, by which to disclose the glories of the next.
History has marked to us such periods, and we are disheartened by the necessary and successive seasons of darkness, because the revolution is so great, or, our own position so humble, that we cannot look beyond the shade that surrounds us, and behold the distant but gradual approach of a better day. Though for a season darkness has covered the land, and gross darkness the people, and the energies of our people have been stultified by the accumulated prejudices of generations, which have been heaped upon us, yet there is reason to be encouraged, for
“From the darkest night of sorrow,
From the deadliest field of strife
Dawns a clearer, brighter morrow,
Springs a truer, nobler life.”
Yes, the sombre clouds of ignorance and superstition which so long enshrouded us and seemed ready to close upon us, as the funeral pall of our national existence, is being dispersed before the light of eternal truth. The sign of promise, the great precursor of a brighter day, has already enlightened the long night of our oppression, and the broad sun of our liberty begins to illuminate our political horizon. The mighty empire of despotism and oppression is trembling to its foundation, it must soon crumble and fall, but will we submit to sink and be buried beneath its ruins? Will we alone be quiescent and passive, while all around us is agitation and progress?
Do the revolutions which surround us awaken in our souls no desire to partake of the onward movement? The world moves right on, and he who moves not with it, must be crushed beneath its revolving wheels. You stand on the eve of a brighter day than has ever enlightened your pathway. The obstacles which have so long barred you from the portals of knowledge, are fast being removed, and the temple of science from which you have hitherto been ousted with tenacious jealousy, will soon disclose to you the glory of his inner sanctuary. Wisdom, with a friendly hand, beckons you to enter and revel in her courts. Suffer not the evanescent pleasures of sensual gratifications to allure you from the pursuit of the great object which lies before you. Will you not arouse from the long slumber of inactivity which pervades you, and prepare for the events which the revolutions of the affairs of men are fast bringing upon you? Who shall answer for you, when you are called upon to take your position among the nations of the earth, if you are found wanting in mental capacity and intellectual energy?
If the high privileges you now enjoy pass by you unimproved, and you are found incapable to fill positions of trust and honor in coming life, great will be your condemnation.
Apply your minds, then, early and vigorously to those studies which will not only endow you with the power and privilege to walk abroad, interested spectators of all that is magnificent and beautiful, above and around you, but to commune with that which is illustrious in the records of the past, and noble and divine in the development of the future.
Would you be eminent among your fellow-mortals, and have you name inscribed on the pages of history, as a living representative of truth, morality and virtue? Would you, by deeds of heroism and noble achievements, vie with the proud sons of honor, and share with them the immortal wreath which the hand of time has placed upon their brow? Would you ascend the hill of science, and there contend with their votaries for the laurels plucked from its fair summit? Would you penetrate the secret labyrinths of the universe, and gather from their hoarded mysteries that knowledge which will bless generations to come? Then apply your minds to study, profound, intricate study. Let your time, your money, your interest all be spent in the pursuit of this one great object, the improvement of your mind. It is only from the deepest furrows that the richest harvests are gathered. The breathings of genius are not produced “ad libitum.” The lyres of the soul bring no sound to the touch of unpracticed hands. So the creative powers of the mind are never developed till drawn forth by the deep, harrowing process of education. Oh, there are wells of inspiration in every human heart, from which angels might draw, and leave them unexhausted. Fathom the depths of your nature, draw from its profound resources those principles which will ennoble and strengthen your intellectual powers. Educate the youth of the present, and our nation will produce a constellation of glowing minds, whose light will brighten the path of generations to come. Hitherto there has scarcely been a mind among us, which has sent forth a spark into the vast region of science. The acts have received but little attention, and literature has found no place among us. Yet, by the efforts which may be put forth by the present generation, the arts, science and literature may be as widely diffused among us, and we may become as eminent, in point of intellectual attainments, as any people who have had an existence.
We call upon you to accept the means which God has placed in your power. The great and the good, and the noble, who have preceded you, and have bequeathed to you the hoarded treasures of their richly cultivated minds, call upon you. The voice of millions, who are perishing without a ray of intellectual light, call upon you. Everything above and around you combine to stimulate you to the work of removing darkness and error, and establishing truth and virtue. And may God speed the work, till science, philosophy and religion, the great elevators of fallen humanity, shall have completed the work of moral refinement, and we in the enjoyment of all our rights, both political and civil, will stand at the summit of national glory.
Source: The Semi-Centenary and the Retrospection of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, ed. Daniel A. Payne, (Baltimore: Sherwood & Co.) 1866, p. 134-139.