Febraury 13, 2020
Henry headed to the pulpit as the congregation finished their hymn. As people settled in their seats, Henry looked out among the vast room. A renowned preacher and orator, he had given many, many sermons and speeches. Yet this wasn’t just any ordinary building, it was the Capitol Building. It wasn’t just a typical congregation. It included United States Representatives and Senators their families and from both parties. Henry wasn't just a random preacher. He was specifically chosen for this very special and prominent event.
Taking his text from Matthew 23:4, Henry did not mince words. "They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them." His message was poignant and clear as he compared slaveowners to the Pharisees. While the Jewish leaders were placing burdens of laws and traditions on the Jewish people, slaveowners loaded their slaves down with physical labors.
Such messages were expected from Henry, yet this address was particularly meaningful and especially historical. On February 1, 1865, Republican President Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment, freeing all slaves throughout the country, which was passed by Congress the day before. (see ) The only amendment signed by a president, Republicans immediately began bringing blacks, both free and former slaves, into positions equal to whites even though the Constitutional Amendment was not yet ratified. Before Lincoln’s ink dried, Republican Party founder Senator Charles Sumner marched John S. Rock into the Supreme Court of the United States and demanded the black lawyer be approved to argue in front of the court, which he was. (see ) Likewise, Lincoln invited Henry Highland Garnet, an escaped slave, to preach at the Capitol.
Born a slave, Henry joined a sister, Mary, around December 23, 1815, in Kent County, Maryland. His father was the son of a Mandingo warrior prince. As was common at the time, he was taken prisoner following a defeat in battle and sold to slave traders. Brought to America and bought by Colonel William Spencer, he became known as George Trusty and learned the trade of shoemaking. Henry’s mother, Henrietta, was also a slave.
Several weeks after Col. Spencer died in 1824, the 11-member extended Trusty family asked for permission to attend a family funeral. Receiving permission, they never intended on return. Traveling by both covered wagon and then by foot, the group separated upon reaching Wilmington, Delaware. They found help among the Quakers as well as with Underground Railroad stationmaster Thomas Garrett. (see and ) Henry’s family of four continued on to New Hope, Pennsylvania, while the other seven entered New Jersey.
Henry immediately began schooling but the family moved on to New York within a year to reunite with the rest of the Trusty family. Troubled on how to keep his family safe from slave capturers, George prayed sincerely about his solution. Satisfied it was the right thing to do, he gave his family new names. Their surname changed to Garnet while Henrietta became Elizabeth and Mary became Eliza. It is unknown if George’s or Henry’s previous names were different or not. George continued his trade as a shoemaker and became active in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. (see )
Finding a new school, Garnet's studies including navigation, allowing him to start working on several ships around 1829 as a cabin boy, cook, and steward. Taking two trips to Cuba, he obtained steady employment on schooners traveling between New York and Washington D.C. Upon returning home after one of theses trips, Garnet discovered slave hunters had come after his family. His parents escaped, but his sister was not so lucky. However, she successfully convinced her captors she had always lived in New York and thus was not a fugitive slave. They escaped with their lives and their freedom, yet all their furniture was either stolen or destroyed. Legend records that 14-year-old Henry acquired a knife and started walking the streets in efforts to find those who terrorized his family. Fearing for Garnet's life, his friends finally persuaded him to end his mission for vengeance and hide out in Long Island.
Now responsible for supporting himself, he entered an indentureship as a farm worker. Henry continued his studies, receiving tutoring from the farmer's son. Yet life dramatically changed for Garnet the following year while playing sports. He sustained a serious injury to his knee, damaging it so severely he now permanently relied on crutches. Unable to work the farmland anymore, Henry lost his contract. With no means of taking care of himself, Garnet returned to his parents.
Once back in New York, Garnet resumed a formal education at local black schools. Around age 13, Henry started attending First Colored Presbyterian Church's Sunday School, where he met Theodore Sedgewick Wright. The first black graduate of Princeton's Theological Seminary, Wright influenced Henry in two very important aspects. As a minister, Wright recognized Henry's potential and encouraged him to enter the ministry. As an abolitionist, Wright helped Henry focus his frustration with slavery in a more productive manner.
Taking actions on his principles, Garnet co-founded the Garrison Literary and Benevolent Association in 1834, named for renowned abolitionist William Llyod Garrison. Finding inspirations in Garrison’s scripture-based arguments, the group gathered a following despite protests from locals.
Multiple academies opened their doors to black students, yet not everyone agreed. One school, Oneida Institute in Whitesboro, New York, survived the protests, where Garnet and other celebrated abolitionists went to complete their education. Classmate, minister, and abolitionist Alexander Crummell commented that the institution had "perfect equality" between the students regardless of race.
In 1841, Garnet married a former classmate, Julia Ward Williams, and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church. His knee injury continued to plague him and deteriorate, forcing him to amputate his leg that same year. Garnet and Julia had three children of their own and also adopted a fugitive slave.
Garnet started his ministry at Liberty Street Negro Presbyterian Church in 1842 while also gaining notoriety in abolition movement. The following year, he was invited to speak to the National Negro Convention. On August 21, he delivered his controversial "Call to Rebellion" speech, which shocked many attendees. Instead of calling on white citizens to peacefully end slavery, Henry reverted to his childhood tendencies of revenge.
After praising several rebels such as Nat Turner, holding them up as heroes, Garnet stated, "Brethren, arise, arise! Strike for your lives and liberties. Now is the day and the hour. Let every slave throughout the land do this, and the days of slavery are numbered. You cannot be more oppressed than you have been—you cannot suffer greater cruelties than you have already. Rather die freemen than live to be slaves...."
Prominent abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison both rejected Garnet's radical ideas. (see ) They were well aware that Turner's Rebellion and other such slave uprisings actually harmed the abolition movement and increased harsher and more oppressive legislation against blacks and slaves. (see and ) Convention goers were split about Henry's message, narrowly voting to not endorse the speech as their movement's message.
In 1850, Garnet traveled to Europe where he continued his crusade against slavery. Like many at the time, he advocated for allowing blacks to return to African, establishing places like Liberia, which were settled by primarily freed slaves. (see ) Two years later, Garnet accepted a call to serve as a missionary in Jamaica for a few years.
Ministering to several Presbyterian congregations in New York, he found himself in Washington D.C. at the time of the Civil War as the pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. Since a war was being fought and Lincoln emancipated slaves, Garnet's radical resistance views of his youth were replaced with more reasonable actions. (see ) Instead of encouraging slaves to rise up against their owners, he donated his time in war-related efforts and later assisted the government in designing programs to help former slaves.
To celebrate the passing of the 13th Amendment, Congress requested a special service. Since services had been conducted in the Capitol since it was built, proving the Founders had no intention to keep the church and the state mutually exclusive, the service was nothing new. (see ). However, Garnet preaching was unprecedented. He received the privilege of becoming the first black minister to preach in the House Chambers on February 12, 1865. It was an honor for Garnet, but not the last one the government would bestow upon him.
Continued his ministry through the 1860's and 1870’s, Garnet achieved his lifelong dream of going to Africa at age 65. A strong advocate for Civil Rights, Republican President James A. Garfield appointed Garnet as U.S. Minister in Liberia, or ambassador in today's terms. (see ) The position was extremely important to Henry as his still advocated for the emigration of American blacks to Africa. Henry arrived in Liberia at the end of 1881, yet died shortly after on February 13, 1882, of malaria. So admired by the Liberian government, they provided Garnet a funeral fit for a prince.
Liberty, America's history is full of movements fighting for freedom and liberty. While proponents are pushing for the same goal, they don't always agree on the path to it. One camp desires to peacefully change hearts and minds. The other believes the only means of victory is violent resistance. This struggle occurred here between Henry and Douglass before the Civil War. We saw it between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois at the end of the 19th century. (see ) More recently, we experienced it with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. (see ).
Garnet rightfully confronted Christians in America, pointing out that enslaving a fellow human being is inconsistent with God's Word. Unfortunately, he also strayed from God's message by calling on a violent uprising to achieve the end he wanted. It the difference between following Divine Providence and imposing Manifest Destiny. (see and )
During his "Call to Rebellion" speech, Henry proclaimed: “Let your motto be RESISTANCE! RESISTANCE! RESISTANCE! No oppressed people have ever secured their Liberty without resistance. What kind of resistance you had better make, you must decide by the circumstances that surround you, and according to the suggestion of expediency.”
Following the election of Republican President Donald Trump, another 'Resistance' movement was birthed in America. Supporters honestly believe they are rebelling against a dictator. The Democratic Party and the Main Stream Media have convinced them that given the opportunity, Trump will tear up the Constitution and eradicate every right they ever had.
Trump has actually removed debilitating regulations and burdensome laws that have expanding freedoms and liberties for Americans that we haven't seen in decades. But as we have seen since his inauguration, their primary focus is a 'woman's right to choose.' (see ) This is confirmed every year during the Women's Marches conducted in January as women take to the streets to celebrate Roe vs. Wade while wearing vagina hats. In reality, they have equated oppression with the possibility of losing the ability to kill their unborn child because it's inconvenient for them. This is a far cry from what slaves experienced from their owners, however slaveowners did use the same argument in the Dred Scott Decision as they did in Roe vs. Wade. Both decisions declared the humans, i.e. blacks and babies, as property, which their ‘owners’ could do with as they please. (see and )
Protesters believe they are resisting tyranny. However, they're simply resisting Trump and his millions of supporters who threaten their access to abortions. With their mind-boggling embrace of socialism, they openly reject capitalism and ultimately, responsibility. They aren't oppressed. They're refusing to grow up. What is so dangerous about this movement is it is not freeing people from oppression, it is advocating for it and using violence to intimidate those who disagree. (see ) We find this demonstrated in the conduct and outcomes of the American Revolution and the French Revolution. (see , , and )
History in America has shown us that when reasonable Americans are confronted with a violent movement and a peaceful one, the people ultimately choose the latter. It is why Douglass, Washington, and MLK adamantly preached peace and rejected calls for rebellion. With the help of God, may America choose correctly again this time.
That’s my 2 cents.
CALL TO REASON