Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Rev. Dr. Henry Highland Garnet

The Rev. Dr. Henry Highland Garnet, the first African American to address the U.S. House of Representatives on 12 February 1865.

On the 12th of February, 1865, at the request of the Chaplain, the Rev. Wm. H. Channing, the Rev. Henry H. Garnet preached to an overflowing audience in the House of Representatives, Washington, D. C. The following, from the pen of an eye-witness, * gives an admirable description of the scene:

"I arrived at the Hall of Representatives, at 11 A. M., and found every seat upon the floor occupied, and the galleries filled to overflowing. "The choir of the Rev. gentleman's church, which, by the way, is one of the very best we have in the country, was also invited to serve on this occasion, and crowned itself with honor. It was a strange sight, in the presence of the assembled wisdom, and, I may add, if not of the old prejudice, certainly of the feeling which always succeeds it—it was a strange sight, I say, to see this little band of vocalists, stand up in places where but one year ago only white persons were allowed to stand, and there chant up hymns of praise to God for his goodness and his wonderful works to the children of men; and it was a sight stranger still to see this colored divine stand up in the dignity of his high oflice as a priest of the Most High in that Speaker's desk.

The Rev. Dr. Henry Highland GarnetTitle: A memorial discourse. Author: Henry Highland Garnet. Contributor: James McCune Smith. Publisher: J.M. Wilson, 1865. Original from: Harvard University. Digitized: Sep 8, 2006. Length: 77 pages. Subjects: Slavery, Slavery in the United States, Slaves, Social Science / Slavery.

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"But, we are assembled; white and colored—all mingled and all seemingly comfortable. Perhaps it is always thus when we occupy the highest places at the feast. It is then, that our white friends, even the most fastidious of them, feel truly comfortable, and it is only natural that they should. But we are all seated, or positioned on our feet, as the case may be, and are as still as the lake at even-tide. All eyes are turned toward the reverend gentleman, who in that quiet dignity which impresses every one, rose and offered up a fervent prayer to the throne of Grrace. His words were unction, and I have wondered, who of that vast assembly were not touched by their pathetic wail as they came forth from one who wrestled with an angel. The preacher then read the first hymn,

'All hail the power of Jesus' name.' Then followed the reading of the Scriptures. Then all eyes were turned towards the choir as in sweet and touching melody it warbled forth the beautiful sentiment,

'Arise, my soul, shake off thy fears.' And now the text is read; from the choir back again to the clergyman, attention is turned as a wheat-field upon a sudden change of wind. All the attention which that vast congregation can give, is, unreservedly at the speaker's command, while he proceeds to unfold the text, make plain its meaning, and apply its divine teachings to the hearts and understandings of his hearers. For the space of an hour what a breathless house! What suppressed emotions!

"Breathless house, did I say? When standing in the Speaker's place, with the full length portrait of Washington on his right and that of Lafayette on his left, the eloquent preacher appealed as authority to both 'that our land was made for free men and free women,' the silence was broken, and, but for the Sabbath morning the restrained applause would have been unbounded: so also when, in a sudden outburst, he exclaimed, 'Should any poet have attempted to write in praise of American Slavery, the ink would have frozen upon the point of his pen!' and, too, in his tribute to Washington, Jefferson, and Adams, and the host of freedom's champions who have passed away, a thrill ran through the house which surpassed all the applause I have ever heard. When he said, 'These worthies, if they looked down on the scene which transpired in this hall a few days since, when the great National Work was consummated, they must have responded, with the angel choir, a hearty amen!' an uncontrollable emotion, for the moment, took entire possession of the audience.

"It is needless to say more. Men who went to the house to hear a colored man, came away having heard a Man in the highest and fullest sense. Many who went there with feelings of curiosity, came away wrapped in astonishment. Not only a man, but a great representative man had spoken, and they were amazed."

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