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(1867) John Sella Martin, A Speech Before the Paris Antislavery Conference

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John Sella Martin was born into slavery in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was carried to Georgia and escaped from there to the North in 1856. Martin lived successively in Chicago, Detroit and Buffalo, where by that point he was a minister and led a church in the city. By the early 1860s Martin was minister of the Joy Street Baptist Church in Boston and a prominent abolitionist speaker. Martin traveled to England three times to promote the antislavery cause and on August 27, 1867, he addressed the Paris Antislavery Conference as a representative of the American Missionary Association. His address appears below.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: Mr. Garrison justly rejoices that the statute-books of his country have been cleansed from the thousand clauses that sanctioned its greatest crime and curse; and even I, as a Negro, can rejoice with him that it is not now as it formerly was, when every white man who escaped persecution did so by carrying a lie in his right hand. Looking at the results of emancipation from the standpoint of a white man, there are many things to make the flush of triumph deepen into a blush of shame.

The Negroes are free as to their chains, but everywhere their prospects are darkened by prejudice and proscription, which Fred Douglass forcibly calls the shadow of Slavery. And this fact shows how deeply corrupted the Americans were by that system which they deliberately made their own, in defiance of every claim of justice for those who helped them to win the battle of national independence, and who, in their generous confidence, came again to the rescue when these same breakers of faith were sinking in the waters of strife upon which they had so confidently entered at the beginning of the late war. There is, nevertheless, a hopeful sign about the present state of things, and that is, that even those who used to vilify the Negro are now beginning to apologize for his present state. Yet I