On Thanksgiving day in 1875, Alexander Crummell, founder of the American Negro Academy, made a historic speech called “The Social Principle Among a People and Its Bearing on Their Progress and Development.” His goal was for Blacks to reflect on racial progress in America on Thanksgiving Day.
Crummell was born in New York in 1819, the grandson of a West African chief. He was educated by Quakers, thus leading to his strong religious ties and work in the Episcopal church. By 1853, Crummell had graduated from the Queens College in Cambridge.
As an Episcopalian priest, Crummell spent many years advocating the emigration of blacks to Africa and for African self-help. By 1873, he ran into opposition in Liberia and returned to Washington D.C. to work as a “missionary at large to the colored people.”
He published several articles in his lifetime: “The Future of Africa: Being Addresses, Sermons, etc. Delivered in the Republic of Liberia” (1862); “The Greatness of Christ and Other Sermons” (1882); and “Africa and America: Addresses and Discourses” (1891).
Twelve years before, President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday, despite opposition from Southern whites. Southern Blacks, however, observed the day as Lincoln intended. In his speech, Crummell dispelled the belief that Black people should forget their color to be progressive.
Crummell said: “The only place I know of in this land where you can forget you are colored is the grave!”
Crummell went on to say:
The people, as a body, seem delivered over to the same humble, servile occupations of life in which their fathers trod, because, from a lack of cooperation they are unable to step into the higher callings of business; and hence penury, poverty, inferiority, dependence, and even servility is their one general characteristic throughout the country, along with a dreadful state of mortality.
And the cause of this inferiority of purpose and of action is two-fold, and both the fault, to some extent, of unwise and unphilosophic leaders…..What this race needs in this country is power, the forces that may be felt. And that comes from character, and character is the product of religion, intelligence, virtue, family order, superiority, wealth, and the show of industrial forces. These are forces which we do not possess. We are the only class which, as a class, in this country, is wanting in these grand elements.
Alexander Crummell died in 1898.