A Call to Rebellion is one of the most prominent speeches given by Henry Garnet at a Negro Convention in New York. He gave the speech in 1843. He intended to inspire African Americans to rise against slavery that was widespread in the United States. When the country gained independence, all Americans were promised freedom. However, 67 years later, African Americans were yet to be free. They were still slaves who had no right in a country they considered their own. Gates and McKay write, “go to your lordly enslavers and tell them plainly, that you are determined to be free” (1375).
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Henry believed that the enslavers would not be interested in freeing their slaves. The slaves offered them services at insignificant costs. One unique characteristic of this speech that distinguishes it from other speeches given in the same period is that it called for the use of violence as a way of gaining freedom. Gates and McKay say, “You had far better all die, die immediately, than live slaves” (1376).
He believed that many people would die fighting for freedom. However, he says that if that is what it takes to liberate the African Americans enslaved in their own country, then so be it. He goes on to say, “There is not much hope of Redemption without the shedding of blood” (1378). To him, there were no other means of fighting for the freedom of the slaves other than the use of violence and shedding of blood. Other peaceful means had been used since independence, but they bore no fruits.
African American children were still barred from attending schools like their White peers. The only way of survival was to work in the farms and industries of the Whites. In his speech, he uses an analogy to an event in the Bible. He says, “Yes, the tyrants would meet with plagues more terrible than those of Pharaoh” (1379). He is equating the enslavers to the Pharaoh of Egypt, who enslaved the Israelites for so many years. He says that the African American slaves in the United States will be liberated in the same way the Israelites were freed from pharaoh.
One social behavior presented in this speech that is still common in modern-day society is the use of street protests by people who feel oppressed. In this speech, Henry is telling his people that they have to go to the streets and demand their rights because this is the only language that those in power can hear. According to Shiffrin, street protests have remained very popular among people who feel disadvantaged (51).
When employees feel that their employers are not offering them packages that commensurate to what they deliver, thethe best way of addressing their grievances is to go to the streets. That is why trade unions still exist to this day. Students go to the streets to demand amenities in schools or protest decisions made by the administration but seen to be oppressive in nature (Schor 1107).
Gates, Henry Louis, and Nellie McKay. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. Print.
Shiffrin, Steven. The Rhetoric of Black Violence in the Antebellum Period: Henry Highland Garnet. Journal of Black Studies, 2.1 (2001): pp. 45-56.
Schor, Joel. Henry Highland Garnet: A Voice of Black Radicalism in the Nineteenth Century. The Journal of American History, 64.4 (2000): 1106-1107.