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Valedictory Address

Margaret Odell

April 18, 1822 — Public Examination, New-York African Free School, New York City


RESPECTED FRIENDS AND PATRONS, I appear before you, as it regards myself, under very interesting circumstances. It is to take my leave of my schoolmates, and my much endeared teachers. In doing this, I feel it difficult to suppress those feelings which such an occasion is calculated to produce on a heart sensible of obligations so numerous as those which I am under to the gentlemen who support, and the teachers who have the immediate superintendence of this institution.

The advantages which this school is calculated to afford to the children of color, have, on former occasions, been resented to your view. I therefore shall be excused from repeating them; I need only to point you to these specimens, and remind you of those exercises this day exhibited before, to demonstrate a truth, which, you must, at no distant period, find its way to the breasts of the now most incredulous; viz. That the African race, though by too many of their fellow men, have long been, and still are, held in a state the most degrading to humanity, and nevertheless endowed by the same Almighty Power that made us all, with intellectual capacities, not inferior to any people on earth.

In looking round on my schoolmates, I see one among them who excites my most tender solicitude, — It is my brother. John, this I feel to be an occasion, which calls up all those tender emotions that Heaven has designed should be felt by brother and sister towards each other. What shall I say to you! O, if I were called to part with you, as some poor girls have to part with their equally dear kindred, and each of us, like them, were to be forcibly dragged away into wretched slavery, never to see each other again — But I forbear: than heaven, it is not, no, it is not the case with us; nor have I even the anxiety which the circumstances of leaving you under the care of strangers would produce. No, I leave you to receive instruction from well known and long tried friends; be obedient, diligent, and studious; and, when the period shall arrive for you to take leave of this school, I trust it will be under circumstances no less affecting to you, that the present is to me.

Before I conclude my address, I must indulge myself in the pleasure of thanking my teachers for all the kindness which they have shown me.

To you, my instructress, I am indebted for what I know of the use of the needle. Allow me, if you please, to leave with you a small piece of my humble performance; it will serve as a testimony of my affectionate regard, and also, as an example to others of my dear schoolmates under the direction, to follow with something in the same way, but I hope, more meritorious.



Source: The History of the New-York African Free Schools, From Their Establishment in 1787 to the Present Time; Embracing a Period of More Than Forty Years, Also a Brief Account of the Successful Labors, of the New-York Manumission Society: with an Appendix, by Charles C. Andrews (New-York: Mahlon Day) 1830, pp. 133-34.