The Negro Element in American Life
A 1900 speech by Abraham Lincoln DeMont in Montgomery, Alabama. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
Abraham Lincoln DeMond was a well-recognized African American minister in the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was the first black graduate of the State Normal School at Cortland, New York, and later studied theology at Howard University. DeMond served as a pastor at Fort Payne, Alabama; Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama; the First Congregational Church, Buxton, Iowa; and the First Congregational Church of New Orleans. This is the only known publication by DeMond.
The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where DeMond gave this speech, later became known as the church from which Martin Luther King led the Civil Rights Movement. It is today a National Historic Landmark. The Emancipation Proclamation Association that published the speech was one of several so-named African American social and beneficent organizations in the US South. William Watkins, who offered the resolution to publish the speech, was a contractor and lay leader of the congregation responsible for building much of the church.
Given on January 1, 1900, at the inauguration of the twentieth century, the speech reviews African American history as a map for the American nation’s future. DeMond’s intense national patriotism colors the text’s sentiments and history. He identifies the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation as the twin pillars of the American Republic, the latter constituting fulfillment of the former. (3) DeMond argues that the Emancipation Proclamation enabled African Americans to join in loyal patriotism, and he lauds the participation of black soldiers in the Spanish American War. (4) He pays tribute to such antislavery figures as Douglass, Garnett, Garrison, Phillips, Beecher, Stowe, Whittier, Lowell, Longfellow and Sumner for voicing a desire for freedom that informed the re-fashioning of the United States. (8) According to DeMond, American history is informed by three basic characters: “the Cavalier, the Puritan and the Negro.” (9) Much of the rest of the text is constituted of panegyrics to the role of African Americans in contributing “all that is noblest and best in American life.” (22) The tone of the speech is heavily patriotic and illustrates a rhetorical incorporation of the antislavery movement into early twentieth-century nationalist discourse on freedom and the destiny of the United States.
- Joe Lockard