Frederick Douglass: “Men of Color, To Arms!”

(1863)

Frederick Douglass, a prominent African American who had escaped from bondage and became an outspoken abolitionist, delivered his speech “Men of Color, To Arms!” before a crowd in his hometown of Rochester, New York, in 1863. In this speech Douglass encourages free blacks in the North to see the Civil War as the means of ending the system of human bondage that was still thriving in the American South. These African Americans continued to encounter discrimination, as they were denied citizenship and were often consigned to low-paying menial labor, but in Douglass’s eyes, blacks could overcome such prejudice by performing heroically on the battlefield. His Rochester speech has since been considered one of the clearest appeals for the enlistment of African Americans in the Union army, and it serves as an excellent example of Douglass’s talent for oratory and his position as the leading black intellectual of his day.

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Frederick Douglass (Library of Congress)

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