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150 Years Ago in Syracuse

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Sponsored by Councilor Khalid Bey, the Office of the Mayor, and the Syracuse Common Council


Wednesday, February 12, 2014  at City Hall Commons Atrium, Syracuse NY


Keynote Address: “150 Years Ago in Syracuse” 

written and delivered by Sharif Anael Bey

Good Evening.

I rise giving praise to the One God, called and known by many names, but is Universally recognized as the Causeless Cause and the Rootless Root from which all things have their being.  I next give honor to all men and women throughout time that submitted their puny individual wills totally to the task of bringing them in tune with the Deific Will; it is through their sacrifice and labor that the Human Family draws closer to God.

I give honor to each and every one of you present on this very auspicious day.  I would like to give special honor to the august body of elected and non-elected officials and their representatives present today.

I am both honored and humbled to stand before you today to share with you an event in Black History that few Syracusans know about.  150 years ago, with the end of the Civil War approaching and the outcome of it increasingly clear, the central political issue of the nation was the fate of the South, and the fate of the black population in the postwar period.  While this is well known, what is NOT well known is that over 500 black leaders, asserting their will to actively participate in the planning, called a National Convention, October 4th-7th, 1864, right here in downtown Syracuse New York.

Among the leaders representing Syracuse were abolitionist and religious leader Rev. Jermain Loguen, W.H. Brown and T.A. Keen.   Rev. Henry Garnet of the African Colonization Society and Paschal Beverly Randolph, Grandmaster of the Brotherhood of Luxor and keynote speaker for the convention, were among those representing New York City, with the celebrated Frederick Douglass elected President of the convention.

As the work of this convention promised to be the starting point of a new era in the history of people of African descent in America, there were plenty of highlights.  Of particular note were the contributions of Henry Garnet, who insisted on the importance of what he called a “negro nationality” as the platform for collective self-determination and an answer to social and political disenfranchisement, and the keynote address delivered by P.B. Randolph, whose fiery rhetoric was highly regarded and well received, calling on men of African descent to demonstrate equality on the basis of Manhood, brains and Will, rather than depend on a social recognition that others were quite reluctant at that time to give.  In his speech he prophetically predicts the March on Washington with the words

My very soul leaps onward a full century; and its vision falls on fertile fields, with no slave-driver there, no hearts crushed by fierce oppression, no more heads bowed down.  My soul listens already to the glad prelude of a song of triumph welling up from myriad of hearts, and swelling into a sound that fills the vast concave of heaven itself with the deep toned melodies of a universal jubilee.”

P.B. Randolph, among other things, worked to organize African American men to fight in the Civil War; the purpose of this was not specifically to support either the Union or the Confederacy, but to make a very bold assertion of African American Manhood.  During this time period the sociologists of the day labeled the African American male as feminine, and used this to bolster barring him from the entitlements of full citizenship.  As the ideal of Manhood was central to citizenship qualifications, African Americans realized that any opportunity to demonstrate possession of the qualities of Manhood would force America to see them as MEN and thus make their claims to full citizenship undeniable.  The Bible teaches us that there is no greater love than this; that a MAN lays down his life for his friend. What better way to demonstrate this principle-what stronger statement of Manhood can be made, than to show a willingness and ability to fight and die for the nation?  The struggle to obtain Union governmental funding to pay African American recruits, and the organizing of African American troops, culminating in approval from Secretary Stanton in November of 1863 for federal payment to 1000 African American recruits, should be seen in its proper context as a powerfully commendable display of African American Self-Determination.

The official work of this convention was the establishment of a “National Equal Rights League” to obtain by appeals to the minds and conscience of the American people, or by legal process when possible, a recognition of the rights of American inhabitants of African descent as American citizens.  This purpose, mainly to obtain suffrage for African Americans, was to be accomplished by exhortation, and to this end the magnum opus of this league of leaders was the drafting of a Declaration of Rights and Wrongs, which owed its approval to the work of P.B. Randolph.

This Declaration of Rights and Wrongs, written and approved in 1864, is just as fresh and relevant to our condition in 2014 as it was 150 years ago, and if tweaked only slightly, would read like this:

Declarations of Rights and Wrongs

1.             As a branch of the human family, we have for long ages been deeply and cruelly wronged by individuals whose might constituted their right; we have been subdued, secretly by the power of ideas, and openly by brute force, and have been unjustly deprived not only of many of our natural rights, but systematically debarred the privileges, opportunities and advantages freely accorded to other men.

2.             We have been made to suffer well-nigh every cruelty and indignity possible to be heaped upon human beings; and often times for no fault of our own. We have been manipulated and conditioned via economic, political, social, intellectual, biological, emotional and physical warfare, which has been inflicted upon on our people by others fueled by fear and ignorance and, veiled by position and color of law.

3.             We have been taunted by a passive-aggressiveness that suggests our inferiority and by agencies whose statute-books contained laws inflicting the severest penalties for the exercising of rights assured by our Constitution and our God; in the past we have been denounced as incurably ignorant and today as incurably violent, and, at the same time, have been, through subtle manipulations, debarred from taking even the first step toward self-enlightenment and personal and national elevation; we have been declared incapable of self-government by those who refused us the right of experiment in that direction, and we have been deemed unpatriotic when expressing disdain by men and women who refused to level the playing field in a way that would provide honest equal opportunity, causing one to truly be proud to be an American.

4.             As a people, we have been denied the ownership of our lives, our bodies, homes, children, and the products of our own labor; we have been compelled, under threats of arrest and acts of violence, to submit to wrongs deeper and darker than the earth ever witnessed in the case of any other people; we have been forced to silence and inaction in full presence of the infernal spectacle of our sons groaning under the baton, our daughters fondled, our wives violated, and our properties vandalized, damaged and destroyed, while we ourselves have been led to the courts in shackles reminiscent of slave markets and sold under the laws of the Uniform Commercial Code to the highest bidder.

5.             When the nation in her trial hour called her sable sons to arms, we gladly went to fight her battles: but were denied the pay accorded to others, until public opinion demanded it; and then it was tardily granted and today for our veterans shamefully, it remains the same. We have fought and conquered, but have been denied the laurels of victory. We have fought where victory gave us no glory and where captivity meant cool murder on the field, by gunfire or explosion; and yet no black man ever flinched.

6.             We are taxed, but denied the right of representation. We are practically debarred the right of trial by jury; and institutions of learning which we help to support are cultural biased and economically closed against us.

We submit to the American people and world the following Declaration of our Rights, asking a calm reconsideration thereof:

1st. We declare that all men are born free and truly equal; that no man or government through colorable law has a right to annul, repeal, abrogate, contravene, or render inoperative, this fundamental principle, except it be for crime; therefore we demand the immediate and unconditional elimination of any attempts of suppression acted upon the people of urban communities around these United States.

2nd. That, as natives of American soil, we claim the rights of all others who occupy said soil: and that any attempt to deprive, remove, eliminate, or compromise our rights in any way is against the will of the people, and therefore unjust; for here were we born, for this country our fathers and our brothers have fought, and here we intend to remain in the full enjoyment of enfranchised manhood, and its dignities.

3rd. That, as citizens of a Republican form of Government, we are able to enact our rights. We claim that we are, by right, entitled to respect; that due attention should be given to our needs; that proper rewards should be given for our services, and that the immunities and privileges of all other citizens and defenders of the nation’s honor should be conceded to us. We claim the right to be heard in the halls of Congress; and we claim our fair share of the public domain, whether acquired by purchase, deed, patent, or judgment.

4th. That, emerging as we are from the long night of gloom and sorrow, we are entitled to, and claim, the sympathy and aid of the entire international community; and we invoke the considerate aid of mankind in this crisis of our history, and in this hour of continued sacrifice, suffering, and trial.

Those are our wrongs; these, a portion of what we deem to be our rights as men, as patriots, as citizens, and as children of the common Father. To realize and attain these rights, and their practical recognition, is our purpose. We confide our cause to the universal and just God, whose benign aid we solemnly invoke. To him we appeal.

I now ask our elected leaders and their representatives to stand and turn towards the audience.  I am EXTREMELY PROUD to announce to you all that what I just read to you is a resolution sponsored by Councilor Khalid Bey, and passed by the Syracuse Common Council 2 days ago, and through these elected leaders and their representatives standing before you today, was sent to every legislative body from the County Legislature, NY State Assembly, NY State Senate, US Congress, US Senate, and the Office of the President of the United States.


WHEREAS, on October 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th, in 1864 Frederick Douglass and the National Convention of Colored Citizens of the United States visited Syracuse, New York for a meeting to discuss the state of the ex-slave post the Civil War; and

WHEREAS, this Common Council wishes to commemorate Black History Month and the visit of the National Convention of Colored Citizens of the United States to the City of Syracuse, New York;

WHEREAS, the National Convention of Colored Citizens of the United States wrote a document modeled after the Declaration of Independence which was entitled “Declarations of Rights and Wrongs” that was read during the Convention’s visit to Syracuse, New York; and

WHEREAS, this Declarations of Rights and Wrongs is still relevant today in many ways and to commemorate Frederick Douglass’ and the National Convention of Colored Citizens’ of the United States words, this Common Council hereby makes its own, updated version staying true to the message of Frederick Douglass and his Convention, to draw attention to the fact that the fight for rights of all human beings is not over.

In closing, let me state emphatically that our history is American History.  Our history is SYRACUSE History, and today, with your help and the help of our elected officials, we have reconnected ourselves to a significant part of that glorious history in a way that uplifts us ALL and encourages us all to achieve greatness.  Today we show Syracuse and the world that among the once fallen descendants of Africa there is still MUCH wisdom to be learned for the redemption of the sons of men.  Thank you all for honoring me with your time and attention.  I leave you as I came, in Peace.

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