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Antislavery Poetry from San Francisco

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The Pacific Appeal was the leading African American newspaper on the West Coast during the early 1860s.  A newly-published set of eight antislavery poems from the journal's inaugural 1862 volume captures the sense of expectancy within the African American community for the imminent end of US slavery.  These poems include the work of James Madison Bell, a San Francisco plasterer, brickmason, and poet.  Read more... 
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Color-Phobia (XHTML)

[page 44]

[From the Herald of Freedom of Nov. 10, 1838]


            Our people have got it. They have got it in the blue, collapse stage. Many of them have got it so bad, they can’t get well. They will die of it. It will be a mercy, if the nation does not. What a dignified, philosophic malady! Dread of complexion. They don’t know they have got it — or think, rather, they took it the natural way. But they were inoculated. It was injected into their veins and incided into their systems, by old Doctor Slavery, the great doctor that the famous Dr. Wayland studied with. There is a kind of varioloid type, called colonization. They generally go together, or all that have one are more apt to catch the other. Inoculate for one, (no matter which,) and they will have both, before they get over it. The remedy and the preventative, if taken early, is a kine-pock sort of matter, by the name of anti-slavery. It is a safe preventive and a certain cure. None that have it, genuine, ever catch slavery or colonization or the color-phobia. You can’t inoculate either into them. An abolitionist can sleep safely all night in a close room, where there has been a colonization meeting the day before. He might sleep with R.R. Gurley and old Dr. Proudfit, three in a bed, and not catch it. The remedy was discovered by Dr. William Lloyd Jenner-Garrison.

            This color-phobia is making terrible havoc among our communities. Anti-slavery drives it out, and after a while cures it. But it is a base, low, vulgar ailment. It is meaner, in fact, than the itch. It is worse to get rid of than the “seven years’ itch.” It is fouler than Old Testament leprosy. It seems to set the dragon into a man, and make him treat poor, dark-skinned folks like a tiger. It goes hardest with dark-complect white people.


[page 45]   

They have it longer and harder than light-skinned people. It makes them sing out “Nigger nigger,” sometimes in their sleep. Sometimes they make a noise like this, “Darkey — darkey — darkey.” Sometimes “Wully wully — wully.” They turn up their noses, when they see colored people, especially if they are of a pretty rank, savory habit of person, themselves. They are generally apt to turn up their noses, as though there was some “bad smell” in the neighborhood, when they have it bad, and are naturally pretty odiferous. It is a tasty disorder — a beautiful ailment; very genteel, and apt to go in “first families.” We should like to have Hogarth take a sketch of a community that had it — of ours, for instance, when the St. Vitus’ fit was on. We have read somewhere of a painter, who made so droll a picture, that he died a-laughing at the sight of it. Hogarth might not laugh at this picture. It would be a sight to cry at, rather than laugh, especially if he could see the poor objects of our frenzy, when the fit is on — which indeed it is all the time, for it is an unintermittent. Our attitude would be most ridiculous and ludicrous, if it were not too mortifying and humiliating and cruel. Our Hogarth would be apt to die of something else than laughter, at sight of his sketch.

            The courtly malady is the secret of all our anti-abolition, and all our mobocracy. It shuts up all the consecrated meeting-houses — and all the temples of justice, the court-houses, against the friends of negro liberty. It is all alive with fidgets about desecrating the Sabbath with anti-slavery lectures. It thinks anti-slavery pew-owners can’t go into them, or use their pulpit, when it is empty, without leave of the minister whom they employ to preach in it. It will forcibly shut people out of their own houses and off their own land, — not with the respectful violence of enemies and trespassers, but the contemptuous unceremoniousness of the plantation overseer — mingled moreover with the slavish irascibility of the poor negro, when he holds down his fellow-slave for a flogging. It sneers at human rights through the free press. It handed John B. Mahan over to the alligators of Kentucky. It shot Elijah P. Lovejoy at Alton. It dragged away the free school, at Canaan. It set Pennsylvania Hall a-fire.


[page 46]

It broke Miss Crandall’s school windows, and threw filth into her well. It stormed the female prayer meeting in Boston, with a “property and standing” forlorn hope. It passed the popish resolution at Littleton, in Grafton county. It shut up the meeting-house at Meredith Bridge, against minister and all, — and the homely court-house there, and howled like bedlam around the little remote district school-house, and broke the windows at night. It excludes consideration and prayer in regard to the forlorn and christian-made heathenism of the American colored man, from county conferences and clerical associations. It broods over the mousings of the New York Observer, and gives keenness to the edge and point of its New Hampshire name-sake. It votes anti-slavery lectures out of the New Hampshire state house, and gives it public hearing on petitions, in a seven by nine committee room. It answers the most insulting mandate of southern governors, calling for violations of the state constitution and bill of rights, by legislative report and resolves that the paramount rights of slavery are safe enough in New Hampshire, without these violations. It sneers and scowls at woman’s speaking in company, unless to simper, when she is flattered by a fool of the masculine or neuter gender. It won’t sign an anti-slavery petition, for fear it will put back emancipation half a century. It votes in favor of communing with slaveholders, and throwing the pulpit wide open to men-stealers, to keep peace in the churches, and prevent disunion. It will stifle and strangle sympathy for the slave and “remembrance of those in bonds,” to prevent disturbance of religious revivals. It will sell the American slave to buy bibles, or hire negro-hating and negro-buying missionaries for foreign heathen of all quarters but christian-wasted Africa. It prefers American lecturers on slavery, to having that foreign emissary, George Thompson, come over here, to interfere with American rights and politics. It abhors “church action” and “meddling in politics.” In short, it abhors slavery in the abstract — wishes it might be done away, but denies the right of any body or any thing to devise its overthrow, but slavery itself and slave-holders. It prays for the poor slave, that he might be elevated, while it stands both feet on his breast to keep him down. It


[page 47]

prays God might open a way in his own time for the deliverance of the slave, while it stands, with arms akimbo, right along the way he has already opened. Time would fail us to tell of its extent and depth in this free country, or the deeds it has done. Anti-slavery must cure it, or it must die out like the incurable drunkards.