John S. Rock: “Whenever the Colored Man Is Elevated, It Will Be by His Own Exertions”

(1858)

First delivered in Boston’s Faneuil Hall in March 1858, “Whenever the Colored Man Is Elevated, It Will Be by His Own Exertions” was an address given by the black physician and abolitionist John Swett Rock. Coming one year after the Supreme Court’s pronouncement in Dred Scott v. Sandford that African Americans lacked all legal rights, Scott’s speech was at once a challenge to the Court and a plea for blacks to shift their emphasis away from formal legal equality and toward economic power. Although African Americans had endorsed racial nationalism earlier, Rock differed from proponents of self-help like Martin R. Delany by rejecting the idea that African Americans should return to Africa, as proposed by the American Colonization Society in 1817.

Image for: John S. Rock: “Whenever the Colored Man Is Elevated, It Will Be by His Own Exertions”

Illustrated sheet music cover for an antislavery song meant to recruit free-state settlers to Kansas (Library of Congress)

View Full Size