Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Robyn Pearce: From Diamond to Platinum - celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee

Last one today

To celebrate Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee Discovering Diamonds is hosting a series of excerpts or articles written by our wonderful review team. For our author reviewers: the theme is an excerpt from one of their novels portraying royalty - or an equivalent leader-type character. For our non-writer reviewers: a favourite monarch and/or novel about Royalty... In other words, an enjoyable mix of entertainment to acknowledge Queen Elizabeth II's longest reign in British history! 70 years! 

God Bless you Ma'am. 

(say ma'am to rhyme with 'jam' not 'farm')

Excerpt from:  

They Said I Couldn’t Do It: John Mercer Langston: Young Black Lawyer In A White Man’s World (Book 2 in The Freedom Series)  

by Robyn R Pearce  

On pre-order with Amazon, Due for publication July 2022

About John Mercer Langston and the book:

John Mercer Langston, orphaned at four, loves to learn. His guardian says, ‘Black boys don’t need schooling.’

Against intense opposition, John wins admission to abolitionist Oberlin College, Ohio. It’s a radical town ― one of the few institutions in the 1840s and 50s to teach blacks and women alongside white students. 

Once educated, John sets out to be a lawyer. More opposition ― law schools slam their doors in his face.

But he’s a fighter. Refuses to be limited by other people’s prejudices. He’s driven to succeed, not only for himself, but also for the good of all people of color. He becomes one of the first black lawyers in America. But there’s more. He also becomes the first black ever elected by a white community to a civic position.

John and Oberlin form a great alliance. The town nurtures the young man, and he supports the townsfolk. Then, in 1858, the respectable God-fearing people of Oberlin defy the hated Fugitive Slave Act. They rescue a captured runaway slave. A David and Goliath battle of wills begins with the tiny town fighting the evil perpetrated by President Buchanan and his Federal officials. The Oberlin Rescuers, including John’s older brother Charles Langston, refuse to buckle under intense pressure. For ten months, September 1858 to July 1859, the community remains front-page news across the nation as legal battles rage. 

Only by a whisker does Ohio not fire the first bullets in what will become the most dreadful bloodbath in American history—the Civil War. Yet, since then, the history of John Mercer Langston, and the story of the Oberlin Rescue, have faded into the folds of history. It’s time to honor them again.

Chapter 24

1855, Brownhelm, North Ohio 

Apart from being the location of my lovely farm, there was something else very significant about Brownhelm Township. Like Oberlin and Elyria, its early settlers were New Englanders with firm opinions about respect and fairness to all. There were only a few exceptions—the most notable being one of my nearest neighbors. 

At first, he was dismissive and rude. Refused to engage in conversation as he rode past my fence. If he could have gone to town any other way, he assuredly would have taken it.  

‘I don’t talk to darkies,’ he was heard to say. Over time, using humor and good manners, I won him over. Eventually we became firm friends.

However, most residents were for the abolition of slavery and some were also conductors of the Underground Railroad. I quickly became well known in the community and enjoyed the open acceptance of many. 

In March 1855 the township needed to elect a new clerk. I was on my way to a meeting to help choose a candidate for the Liberty party, when along came my friend Charles Fairchild, also on horseback. As we walked our horses along the street he said, ‘John, I’m intending to nominate you tonight for the position of Town Clerk.’

I pulled on the reins. Brought my horse to a stop in the middle of the street. Looked at him in shock. ‘Oh no, you mustn’t do that, Charles. My name, I fear, would kill our ticket. We can’t afford to take such risk. We must nominate men who have a chance.’

Charles refused to listen. ‘I don’t care what you say, John. No-one has better qualifications than you for the job. It would be beyond wrong not to put your name forward.’ 

Pole-axed, I ceased arguing, sure that the rest of the nominating committee would reject his nomination.

But he was right, and I was wrong. That night they chose me as the Liberty Party’s candidate, and on polling day, to my delight and surprise, I was elected with a sound majority. It’s not putting too fine a point on it to admit I was beyond delighted—I was the first Negro in the nation elected to public office in an open contest with whites. The publicity did no harm to my career!

‘Mr. Langston, I’d like you to take on my case.’ 

‘Mr. Langston, there’s a matter of law I need to discuss with you.’

‘Mr. Langston, my neighbor’s trying to steal some of my land. He’s planted trees on my side of our boundary. Can you help?’

Day after day, new clients came to my door, and with the role of Town Clerk came many other legal matters as well. I was so busy I had no time to help on the farm. Thank goodness I’d hired an excellent manager. 

Then, one day, an opportunity of a different stripe arrived by letter, post-marked New York.

Dear Mr. Langston

We hear you’ve become the first black man in America to be elected to a civic position by a white community. We tender our most sincere congratulations. Your achievement is hugely significant for the promotion of equality between the races.

The American Anti-Slavery Society invites you to speak to our twenty-second anniversary conference, to be held May 1855 at the Metropolitan Theater, New York. Your time-slot, should you accept, will be for thirty minutes on the morning of May 9th., the anniversary of our founding. Exact time to be confirmed.

If you can join us on this important occasion, we will pay you an honorarium of $50, plus cover all expenses of travel and accommodation. 

Yours respectfully,

Edmund Quincy

Corresponding Secretary

American Anti-Slavery Society

No one had ever paid me for a speech before. I could scarce contain my excitement! This request to speak to the AASS would put me in front of some of the most high-profile abolitionists in the nation, people I was keen to meet. 

I thought about who might be there—people I’d either read about, or Frederick Douglass had mentioned. William Lloyd Garrison, one of its founders and the publisher of the abolitionist paper The Liberator; Wendell Phillips, lawyer and such a brilliant orator that people called him ‘abolition’s golden trumpet’; John G. Whittier, poet, Quaker and abolitionist; Gerrit Smith, the wealthiest landowner in New York State, who believed his wealth was a divine gift to be used for the oppressed. He’d already spent at least a million dollars on freeing slaves and supporting abolitionist causes. Would Harriet Beecher Stowe or her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, be there? And James and Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Stephen and Abby Kelley Foster? Heady stuff for a twenty-five-year-old black lawyer from a modest village in North Ohio!

Charles Fairchild called into my office while I was still holding the open letter, my brain spinning at the possibilities and opportunities it would open up. 

‘Look at this, friend!’ I passed the letter to him. ‘If you hadn’t insisted on nominating me, this would never have happened!’

He clapped a hand on my shoulder. ‘John, you so deserve it. How did they hear about you, I wonder?’

I tried to look humble. ‘I dropped a note to Mr. Douglass, telling him of the election result. As you know, he’s been my mentor in political matters for the last few years. He’s on the AASS Executive Committee. Perhaps he put a word in.’

‘Of course he did! Couldn’t happen to a better chap! Tell me, what do you know about their aims and objectives? There’s many abolition societies now.’

‘Mr. Douglass tells me the AASS don’t just fight for abolition. They also work to elevate the character and condition of people of color by combating prejudice and discrimination throughout the nation. He’s been wanting me to meet these people for over a year.’

***

On May 9th, with a cold rain washing the streets of New York, three thousand people crowded into the Metropolitan Theatre. 

I tried to quell my nerves as I waited to go onstage. Not possible. Rubbed my sweaty palms nervously on my trousers. Took several deep breaths. Imagined myself speaking to a friendly audience in Oberlin. The nerves settled a little.

Then I heard the Master of Ceremonies introduce me. I stepped out, blinking momentarily in the bright stage lights. I could only see people in the first few rows; the rest of the audience disappeared into the dimness. 

I began. ‘There is not, within the length and breadth of this entire country, from Maine to Georgia, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, a solitary man or woman who is in possession of his or her full share of civil, religious and political liberty. […] Why? Because slavery is the great lord of this country, and there is no power in this nation today strong enough to withstand it.’

I talked about the unfreedom of black and white, Northerners and Southerners, rich and poor. Of how the evils of slavery contaminated the entire nation, because prejudice was its fruit. And I shared an example I knew intimately. 

‘I wish to speak now of […] the class which I have the honor to represent—the free people of color. What is our condition regarding civil, religious and political liberty? In the State in which I live, Ohio, they do not enjoy the elective franchise, and why? It is owing to the indirect influence of American slavery. Slavery in Kentucky, the adjoining State, says to the people of Ohio, “You must not allow colored people to vote and be elected to office, because our slaves will hear of it and become restless, and directly we shall have an insurrection and our throats will be cut.” And so the people of Ohio say to the colored people, that they cannot allow them the privilege of voting, notwithstanding the colored people pay taxes like others, and in the face of the acknowledged principle that taxation and representation should always go together.’

I finished with a challenge. ‘Shall our free institutions triumph and our country become the asylum of the oppressed of all climes? […] May God help the right!’

As the audience rose to their feet, cheering and clapping, my heart raced. I’d done it! I’d spoken to this mighty audience and they liked what I had to say! I walked on air for the rest of the day! The following morning’s New York dailies printed my speech in full, as did all the main anti-slavery papers and journals around the country. 

After that huge congress, nothing was the same. Everything I’d done until then had been but a training ground for the wider fight. My ability to influence others for the good of my race changed, thanks to that invitation. 

***

Pre-order your copy now to discover the first thirty years of inspirational John Mercer Langston’s life. Help him take back his rightful place in American history as one of the outstanding black leaders of his century. 

Amazon links: 

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Amazon.ca

Amazon.au

About Robyn

New Zealander Robyn Pearce writes both historical fiction and non-fiction. An amazing collection of family letters and journals started her digging into freedoms lost and won, thanks to intrepid ancestors who made the long and dangerous voyage to New Zealand in the mid-1800s. Abolitionist forebears, conductors on the Underground Railroad, are the inspiration for her current series. Bless them, they saved their correspondence! 

See her fiction and more about her at www.robynrpearce.com/ 

Her eight non-fiction titles, a number of them best-sellers, all relate to improved productivity and effectiveness. They’ve been written during her thirty-year international career as the Time Queen. Find heaps of free resources and help with time management at www.gettingagrip.co

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