New Jersey-born John Sweat Rock was one of the first African American dentists in the United States. He was also a medical doctor and in 1861, after studying law, was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1861. On January 23, 1862, Rock addressed the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Boston. Since the Civil War had already commenced, he believes it will bring about the destruction of slavery but he also reminds his audience of the ongoing challenge of racial discrimination that the nation will still need to confront. His address appears below.
Ladies and Gentlemen: I am here not so much to make a speech as to add a little more color to this occasion. [Laughter.] I do not know that it is right that I should speak, at this time, for it is said that we have talked too much already; and it is being continually thundered in our ears that the time for speech-making has ended, and the time for action has arrived. Perhaps this is so. This may be the theory of the people, but we all know that the active idea has found but little sympathy with either of our great military commanders, or the national Executive; for they have told us, again and again, that “patience is a cure for all sores,” and that we must wait for the “good time,” which, to us, has been long a-coming.
It is not my desire, neither is it the time for me to criticize the government, even if I had the disposition so to do. The situation of the black man in this country is far from being an enviable one. Today our heads are in the lion’s mouth, and we must get them out the best way we can. To contend against the government is as difficult as it is to sit in Rome and fight with the Pope. It is probable that, if we had the malice of the Anglo-Saxon, we would watch our chances and seize the first opportunity to take our revenge. If we attempted this, the odds would be against us, and the first thing we should know would be—nothing! The most of us are capable of perceiving that he man who spits against the wind, spits in his own face! [Laughter.]