from the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, September 23, 1891 (p. 1):
It was a grand success.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the emancipation of the slaves by Abraham Lincoln, and the colored people of Wheeling celebrated it creditably.
The day opened bright and warm -- a little too warm for comfort, but everybody was glad to accept this alternative rather than the overdue equinoctial rain. The decoration was gratifyingly general and in special cases unique and tasteful in the extreme. The colored race was out in force early in the day, and by 10 o'clock the streets were thronged with colored and white. It was a day to which all had long looked forward, the colored people with eager anticipation and the white people with sincere interest. It was the Afro-American's day, and all recognized the fitness of its observation and gave way to him.
The number of out of town people in the procession was not nearly so large as had been expected, and it was therefore the more creditable to the race in Wheeling that it was in length and appearance an entire success. It was a credit to the committees which organized and arranged it and to the marshals who were in command.
It was a little slow in getting started, owning to the unavoidable delays in forming. The formation was effected on Market street northward from Tenth, and about 11 o'clock moved north on Market to Eighth, on Eighth to Main, down Main to Sixteenth, thence to Market and on Market over the creek and over the route as laid down in advance.
The procession was made up as follows:
The parade was surprisingly long. It seemed as if every carriage in town was in the line. A few of them were from the surrounding towns or the country, but they were generally city turnouts. Crowds admired the display all along the line, the shady side of the streets being simply jammed with people. Frequently special features were applauded on the route.
When the parade disbanded, somewhat after noon, there was a rush of people to the State Fair grounds, and for a time the methods of communication with the Island were so crowded as to recall the scenes of State Fair week, with the exception that yesterday a large majority of the people were black.
There were from fifteen hundred to two thousand people on the fair grounds and of these perhaps not over two hundred were white. There were a great many distinguished looking colored men in the throng, Mt. Pleasant, St. Clairsville, Steubenville and Pittsburgh being well represented. The crowd was about evenly divided as to sex, if any difference the women predominating.
Ample preparation had been made to cater to the hungry and the thirsty mortals, and circus lemonade, peanuts and fruit were plenty, while a modest lunch or a square meal could be had. Striking machines, shooting galleries and other catch-penny devices were also on every hand.
Before the hour for the formal programme to commence, those who cared to danced on the big platform to the music of Meister's orchestra, while others circulated about and shook hands with friends, or sat in the shade to chat.
Mr. Bruce held a sort of informal levee in the grand stand prior to the hour of speaking, and a number of prominent white men were introduced by Hon. G. W. Atkinson, an old friend of Mr. Bruce's.
It was somewhat after 2 o'clock when Prof. J. McH. Jones, after music by the band, introduced Hon. B. K. Bruce, the orator of the day, to the audience of over a thousand people gathered in the grand stand and several hundred outside, but within reach of his voice. Of these many sat in carriages on the race course, just at the speaker's back. The speaker occupied a platform just in the middle of the grand stand's front, which was tastefully decorated.
Prof. Jones in presenting the distinguished orator was very happy. He said he thought it was hardly necessary to detain the audience, but he congratulated the people of Wheeling, black and white, on the magnificent demonstration of the day. It had been shown that there was a fellow feeling among all classes in Wheeling. In the name of the black people he thanked the Mayor, the fire department, and all who had decorated their houses along the line of march. He congratulated the people in the parade, and spoke eloquently of the significance of the day. His remarks were heartily applauded, and when with a glowing eulogy he presented Hon. Blanche K. Bruce, the applause was deafening.
Mr. Bruce has a clear, strong and pleasant voice and graceful bearing which adds to the enjoyment of his auditors. He opened by congratulating the people of Wheeling on the kindly feeling that had been demonstrated to exist between the two races in Wheeling. He had met a few moments before and now saw sitting on the platform a man -- Capt. John McLure -- who was the only surviving Lincoln elector from Virginia in 1860. He had met a distinguished lady -- Mrs. Hornbrook -- who was a friend of his race in other days. Hon. G. W. Atkinson was also on the stand, and beside him the Mayor of the town.
Mention of these names, he continued, shows, as the decorations of the houses have shown, the good will and friendly feeling of the white for the black race; and the presence of such gentlemen is a sufficient guarantee that there shall be no violation of the proprieties of to-day by any reference of a partisan character. [Applause.] The American people are fond of making political speeches, and they have 365 days in the year to make them; but this year we will devote 364 days to politics and this day to the celebration of freedom.
He read some stanza from a poem on Emancipation day by way of introduction.
It has been questioned by some people if any good is accomplished by the celebration of such anniversaries as this. These people argue that these celebrations tend to perpetuate race prejudices, and thus to sever us from the great body of American citizens; they suggest that we should be content to celebrate the birth of American liberty in general by commemorating Independence day. I am not prepared to admit the force of the doubt, the argument or the suggestion. In all ages notable events in the history of races and of nations have been deemed worthy of celebration, and in our own generation no event has been more notable or more significant than the declaration of emancipation by Abraham Lincoln. [Applause.] Just so long as we appreciate the blessings conferred upon us by emancipation will we be inspired to celebrate this day. It is well that we should here meet together to recall the miseries of our former condition, and the better things that came; that we teach our children to value the rights and privileges conferred upon us with freedom. This is a good day to make an inventory of our prerogatives and our privileges, and to note what we have done, how far we have advanced in the years since freedom was born for us.
The Fourth of July and this day are kindred anniversaries; the one marks the birth of a nation and the other of a race. On the one a land won liberty, and on the other a race its freedom, and each of these events will forever be remembered with gratitude. This day we celebrate our natal day -- the birthday of the race.
I want to impress upon you that the bestowal of great prerogatives imposes also great responsibilities. Our heritage of freedom brings new duties with it. There is not better way to improve this occasion than by a frank and intelligent examination of the demands upon us as American citizens.
Personal liberty conveys the idea of personal ownership. A man who has personal liberty owns his own mind and all its powers, his own body and all its energies, his own time and all its possibilities. But personal liberty does not imply license; it is not liberty to do as you please; to indulge the passions, the whims, the inclinations where we please. It is freedom subject to the restraints and limitations of law. Organization is essential to civilization. The common good must be supreme.
I want to speak to you particularly of one of the prerogatives and accompanying duties conferred upon us by emancipation -- the right to acquire property and the obligation to do so. Material prosperity is necessary to advancement. There is no desirable thing which the judicious use of wealth cannot directly or indirectly secure. Among all your gettings get -- not wisdom only, but get a home. [Applause.] Integrity, prosperity, advancement, is impossible among a homeless people. Free a man from domestic restraints and he all the time tends to vagabondage. The homestead is of primary importance to the English and better class of Americans, and it must become so to us if we are to become a prosperous, virtuous and contented race.
If you forget and ignore all I say, if it pass you like the wind, I beg of you to remember this one thing: Get a home! No matter how small, nor how rough the material; no matter if the stars of heaven glisten though its shingles.
"Be it never so humble,
There's no place like home."
Here Mr. Bruce pronounced a glowing eulogy on America, which aroused considerable enthusiasm. This country has, he said, everything the world can offer. An Englishman boasted to an American that the sun never set on Great Britain. "Well," said the American, "the Lord lets it set on America; he knows he can trust us in the dark." There used to be a popular song, "Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm!" Not only is he rich enough to do it, but he is doing it, and he is giving farms to all the nations of the earth besides. Now is your golden opportunity. "Right here in West Virginia you can buy fine lands very cheap, considering their value, for they are valuable. But how long will this be true? I warn you that the time is coming when this state of affairs will not exist, and it may not be far off. It is only a question of time when it will be as hard to acquire a home in this country as in Europe.
How are you to get homes? I answer, by diligence, foresight and economy. It is a peculiarity of our race that we are always willing to work, are always diligent. The old Hebrew law said that he who would not labor should not eat, and it is written in the law of God himself, given when man left Eden, "In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat they bread."
The mass of our race are unskilled laborers, merely workers it is true, but to all comes with equal force the divine injunction, "What thy hand findeth to do, do it with they might." In all the walks of life cheerfulness and earnestness are the keys to success. The difference between success and failure is not in the character of the employment, but in the manner the work is done.
Next I want to urge upon you stringent economy. Man's wealth is not in what he makes but in what he saves. At the end of the year the man who makes $1,000 and spends $900 is no richer than the man who makes $400 and spends $300. Both are on an equal footing as to wealth. It is difficult for some people, especially some of our people, to learn to save. The colored people seem to have holes in their pockets, out of which the money slips as fast as it is put in. The colored man must learn to save the pennies that the pounds may grow. In the Eastern States now they are establishing savings banks in connection with the schools, so that with their earliest education the children learn to save.
I asked an old man to-day how he prospered. He said he was "making a sort of living." A sort of a living! I told him he ought to save something, but he said he was too old to begin. Great heavens, if you are too old to save for your own benefit, think of posterity!
The speaker told a story of seeing young trees planted on Senator Sherman's farm in Ohio. Senator Sherman is too old to hope to receive any advantage from these trees, but he is planting for posterity.
There is a prevalent error that worldly prosperity and a high state of religious development are incompatible. Nothing could be wider of the truth. Why, the most impressive of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount is "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Not twenty acres - the whole earth. You remember the Good Book bids you be, "Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord."
There was an old song much in favor with our race when I was a boy,
"You may have all this world,
Give me Jesus!"
The white people took you at your word; they have all this world, and I do not know whether you have Jesus or not. I do not want you to have less religion; I want you to have more and more religion, but have regard for the affairs of this world as you go along. There are lots of Christians whom I do not expect to see in heaven. Once class is those who do not provide for their families; those who do not send their children to school; those who do not pay their honest debts. There are men who are always criticizing the preacher, but never contribute to his support; who are always dissatisfied with the teacher, but will not send their children to any teacher; men who are the pink of politeness to every lady but their own wives. There will be no place in heaven for such men.
Here I would say a word to you young ladies. I see a few of you here to-day. There comes a time in every woman's life when she expects to change her condition, to become a wife. Our young women are in the habit of complaining that our young men are idle and dissolute, that few of them are what they ought to be. You should raise the standard higher. Tell the young man he must be industrious, be sober, strive for knowledge, if he would wed you. Do not marry a dude. We are all poor, but marry an industrious man, for industry itself is wealth if properly directed. Do not marry a man with fashionable vices.
There is a strange delusion which leads men to reply on luck or chance for prosperity. They expect a sort of special providence to bring them prosperity. Success is not an accident; it is the result of adequate causes intelligently applied. Work will win. Let conscience be your guide. Nothing that is not right will every be safe or wise. If you do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God you may expect success. So work that the seasons will bring it to you. There is much to do, and we must do it. I recognize the disadvantages; everybody admits them. You have done well, but you must do a little better. You must try to do a little better than you can; then you will do your best.
The proudest race on the face of the earth to-day came up from savagery to its advanced civilization, from poverty to its present enormous wealth, from hunger and nakedness to be the best clothed, the best housed, the best fed people under the sun. That was no accident, no miracle. It was the result of painstaking, resolute toil. You can do the same.
Mr. Bruce referred to the numerous schemes of colonizing the Afro-Americans in Liberia or elsewhere. Men say the two races cannot live together in harmony. We have seen to-day in Wheeling that that is false. [Cheers.] The idea of putting all the black people in a western territory will not do, because we have not the territory. If we had, could it be done? We have a quarter of a million Indians and it takes an army of 25,000 soldiers to keep them on their reservations. With 7,000,000 black people cooped up in a territory out there it would take a soldier for every man, woman and child to keep them in, and then the greatest trouble would be to keep the white people out. [Laughter and applause.] Africa is not our mother country, only mother-in-law. Now, a mother-in-law is a good enough person to visit, but they say not to live with. There was an attempt made to colonize our people outside of the United States, but it failed. We would not go.
There might be a reason to talk about this if our progress were not so satisfactory. At the close of the war colored people represented about ten cents each in property. Now colored people pay tax on $200,000,000. Go to Africa? Oh, no! There are in the public schools of this country one and one-third millions of colored pupils, in private schools 37,000 and 8,000 in parochial schools. There is no more sense in sending the colored people abroad than any other class.
Mr. Bruce closed with an eloquent peroration, and after a short speech by Prof. J. McH. Jones the people returned to their social diversions.
There had been some talk of tendering a banquet to ex-Senator Bruce, but different arrangements were made, and it was finally decided to hold a reception last night at Turner hall. Eight o'clock was the hour set, but it was fully nine before ex-Senator Bruce, accompanied by Prof. J. McH. Jones, arrived at the hall in a carriage. Loud applause greeted his entrance. The American band was on the stage, having entertained the crowd during the long wait, and at the entrance of the guest of the evening the band struck up again.
The "Song of the Saints" was excellently rendered by a chorus of twenty. Rev. J. J. Jones led in a fervent prayer, appropriate to Emancipation day, and at the conclusion the entire audience burst forth into the strains of "John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave," and sang it with vim.
Rev. J. J. Jones then introduced Prof. J. McHenry Jones, who delivered a characteristic speech, in his happiest vein.
"This audience," said he, "by its dress and the bright eyes and intelligent faces that I see before me, gives evidence of the higher civilization our race has acquired. In the year 1640 a minister went around preaching the doctrine that the negro's soul should be free. Up to that time it had been supposed that the negro belonged, both body and soul, to his master. The master class did not believe in christianizing the soul of the slave, under the theory that no Christian could keep another in bondage. Comparatively a few years ago Lovejoy taught that the body also should be free. His motto was: 'The world is my country, all men are my countrymen.'
"It has been the fashion lately to denounce the motives of Abraham Lincoln in issuing his proclamation of emancipation. Some young men who wish to detract from other men's great qualities in order to make themselves appear larger, are in the habit of doing this thing.
That Negro who impugns the motives of Lincoln, when he proclaimed the emancipation of the race to which he belongs, exhibits credentials of his own insignificance. And a few words about the press. That great quartett, Douglass, Lynch, Langston and Bruce are frequently assailed by venomous penny-a-liners, who wish to build themselves up by pulling these men down. They call them 'back numbers.' If they are back numbers, God help us to get some more copies."
The orator then paid a sincere tribute to ex-Senator Bruce, who, when associated in the Senate of the United States with some of the greatest men of the country, had shown himself an intellectual, dignified member of the race.
Capt. B. B. Dovener said that he had feared not to be able to speak at the meeting that night, being engaged on a trial at the court house. The subject of Abraham Lincoln had been assigned the speaker. "In speaking of this great man," said Capt. Dovener, "it necessarily throws us into a retrospect. It carries me back to my boyhood days in Virginia, when I lived in the midst of slavery. What a strange history we have had. When I heard your voices swell to-night in the old tune of "John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave," it carried me back to the days of '59, when John Brown, with fourteen followers knocked at the gates of slavery, and slavery trembled on its foundation. The world made him a felon, but he lives in the hearts of the people as a hero. Within fourteen months 300,000 men were gathered in arms, and soon the pine woods of Georgia rang with that same old song.
Disasters were recorded against us, but when Abraham Lincoln rose to the occasion and issued his proclamation that all men should be free under the flag of the United States; our arms met with success and victory perched on our banners. Again the past rises up before me. When I say you to-day, free, I thought of the time when the men who supported Lincoln were stoned in the streets and persecuted. And then I recalled the fact that in that procession was a man of the same race whose signature is now on two-thirds of the currency of the United States. In this country, where there is room for all at the top, a I see the man of whom I speak in a humble home. The advantages of free schools were not his; he had no other teacher in Christianity than his mother.
The captain then traced the life of Abraham Lincoln from his boyhood up to the highest office in the land. He descanted on the troublous times at that period and gave a beautiful description of the ship of state, storm-tossed, her masts bending before the gale, with Abraham Lincoln at the helm.
Captain Dovener further eulogized the martyr President, and gave his audience a splendid picture of the man. His speech was frequently applauded.
Ex-Senator B. K. Bruce, the guest of the evening, was next introduced. He thought it would be more than useless to attempt to say any more about Abraham Lincoln, after the eloquent speech of Captain Dovener, and confined himself to an account of the progress of the race. He told how Horace Greeley was continually calling on Lincoln to emancipate the slaves, and by what arguments Greeley's proposition had been opposed, namely, that the Negroes had been enslaved for centuries, had acquired no provident habits, and would become a charge on the people of the country. The speaker then showed how these gloomy forebodings had proven to be groundless. He showed how they were not only following the simple pursuits of husbandry, but were becoming merchants and manufacturers. The recent fairs held in the South had proven beyond a doubt. The speaker spoke of the ignorance existing among many of the black race in the South on account of their poverty. He favored a congressional grant to force them out of this State, as the perpetuity of free institutions depends on the intelligence of the people.
He differed entirely from those who admit that the Negro has advanced in material prosperity and intellectually, but claim he had not advanced in morality. He claimed their moral improvement had kept pace with their material and intellectual improvement. He said he had never met over ten Negro skeptics. Of eighteen Negro members of Congress not one had ever been before an investigating committee, or had been accused of bribery. He wished that Lincoln might still be alive, to see the improvement effected in the race he had liberated.
In conclusion the speaker said that he carried away with him from Wheeling none but sunny recollections. He recalled the sympathy existing between the two races, as shown by the day's doings, and said he would always recall the kindness and courtesy shown him personally.
Mayor C. W. Seabright was called on for a speech and said a few words. Rev. J. J. Jones made the closing remarks. The audience was then introduced individually to the guest, and walked past him, shaking him by the hand. A pleasant smile, a friendly word or two and a warm grasp of the hand made happy the lowlier members of the race the distinguished man honors.
Service provided by the staff of the Ohio County Public Library in partnership with and funded in part by the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation.