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(1879) John Mercer Langston, “The Exodus: The Causes Which Led The Colored People of the South to Leave Their Homes – The Lesson


In 1879 an unanticipated migration of nearly seven thousand African Americans from Mississippi and Louisiana to Kansas prompted a debate among national black leaders.  Frederick Douglass thought it unwise that black women and men would leave the South.  John Mercer Langston disagreed.  As in this speech below he gives his reasons for supporting the movement of African Americans to the North and West.

Seventeen years ago, on the 22d day of September, Abraham Lincoln published his preliminary Proclamation of Emancipation, and one hundred days thereafter, on the 1st day of January, 1863, he issued the proclamation in which he designated the States and parts of States in which the abolition of slavery, as a war measure, was declared. The abolition of slavery in the border States soon followed; and those persons who, prior to this action, had been held and designated as things, chattels persona], sustaining in the eye of the law only the status of four-footed beasts and creeping things, were given emancipation, and, as supposed, all those dignities which are implied in self-ownership and manhood.

The measure of emancipation, however, was not granted as the consequence of a healthy, moral, public sentiment pervading the country; not upon political considerations advanced, elucidated, and enforced by our leading statesmen; not in answer to appeals of abolition reformers and philanthropists, but as a military necessity at the time felt by the Government and the loyal North engaged in a struggle with and against the slave oligarchy of the South. Had emancipation rested upon moral and political bases, as the result of agitation and debate, the condition of the emancipated class might have been considerably changed. Some distinct governmental provision might have been taken for its due settlement, even upon lands appropriated specially for this purpose; and some system of education provided whereby it might have, in an earlier and more thorough manner, mastered lump and more fully appreciated the lessons taught and

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