Rollin, Frank [Frances] A.
|CHAPTER III. -- STUDYING NORTH.|
IN directing his footsteps to Pittsburg, Fortune favored the student in a degree wonderful for that time, while she chilled the energies of the man in later years. There he was compelled to labor faithfully, at whatever work his hands found to do, in order to continue his studies.
Fortunately for him, a way was opened from sources least expected at that time. Great efforts were being made by the colored people themselves, at Pittsburg, to advance their educational interests, together with other measures for the recognition of their political rights. A church was purchased from the white Methodists for a school-house, -- an educational society having been previously organized, -- and Rev. Louis Woodson, a colored gentleman, of fine talents, was placed at the head of it. Under the supervision of this gentleman, during the winter of 1831, his progress in the common branches were such as to warrant his promotion to the more advanced studies. It was commonly said by his friends at school that his retentiveness of history-- his favorite study-- was so remarkable that he seemed to have recited from the palm of his hand.
A young student of Jefferson, seventeen miles distant, who frequently spent his vacation at Pittsburg, assisted him in his difficult studies, as they occupied the same room. While studying together, they conceived the plan for benefiting other young men of like tastes by forming an association for their intellectual and moral improvement. It soon became popular, and the Theban Literary Society was afterwards formed. Judging from the names adopted by their officers, pedantic as they are, they evince an acquaintance with the rudiments of a polite education not expected from that class under their disadvantages, the names, relative to their offices, being taken from the Greek. This was but the small beginning for wider labors. Since then they have associated with other bodies, more important in their character, yet bearing a like relation to humanity. But it was, perhaps, to the literary society of Pittsburg, resembling that formed by Franklin and his young associates, that the germ of their usefulness first came forth.
It was also about the winter of 1831-2 that the little ripple, destined to be the great anti-slavery wave, against which the ship of state would madly contend, was noticed; for, almost simultaneously with the outbreak for freedom at Southampton, Va., known as Nat Turner's Insurrection, appeared "Garrison's Thoughts on American Colonization.
Then, to the casual observer, the action of the one was a ridiculous folly; that of the other, the wild fancies of a fanatic's brain. Now, there is a dark significance in that solitary figure, looming up in the dark background of slavery as an offering on the altar of freedom,
When that great heart broke, 'twas a world that shook;
From their slavish sleep a million awoke;"
When Virginia, the cradle of slavery, became its burial place, the Smithfield of freedom's martyrs, and the battle-ground of a slave-founded Confederacy; while on the other side the "fanatic" stands a witness of the workings of the stupendous powers invoked.
The writings of Mr. Garrison, and the Southampton insurrection, awakened much interest in many minds, which before that time were either absorbed in selfish speculations, and indifferent to the interest of the nation, or despondent of ameliorating the condition of the black race in this country.
The young Delany, not forgetting his mother's persecutions, his father's humiliations in Virginia, and the wrongs of his race generally, caught the spirit of truth, and was fired with a high and holy purpose. With the scene of Nat Turner's defeat and execution before him, he consecrated himself to freedom; and, like another Hannibal, registered his vow against the enemies of his race. To prepare for everything that promised success, to undergo every privation and suffering, if necessary to accomplish this object, was now the resolve of the young neophyte. He
To ethics and metaphysics he devoted his attention; and, while a student, so proficient was he in the essential principles of natural philosophy, as to compete successfully with a teacher in a college of respectability. His progress and attainments, under circumstances to which no people save his own race have ever been subjected, are evidences of the ambition and workings of a mind untamed by impediments which opposed it.
Then, no college or academy of note in the United States received within its walls a black student, no matter how deserving, save under obligations hereafter to be mentioned, not excepting Dartmouth, ostensibly established for Indians, nor the great, independent Harvard, of ancient pride. "At this time," said Martin Delany, "or shortly after, the now learned J. W. C. Pennington, D. D., who received the degree of Doctor of Divinity at the University of Heidelberg, under Prince Leopold, president, was standing either behind the door of Yale College, or perhaps on its threshold, listening to instructions given in the various branches by the professors, and considering it a privilege, as it was the closest proximity allowed him towards entering its sacred precincts as a student."
Such was the limited opportunity for a thorough education among the colored people, and so great was the prejudice against them while Martin Delany was endeavoring to acquire his, that it is safe to infer that no colored person, recognized as colored , previous to the establishment of institutions of learning under the
While pursuing his studies at Pittsburg, his name was solicited and obtained by the zealous Mr. Dawes, agent of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, at the beginning of that now famous institute. He afterwards declined going, it being then but a preparatory school, and his studies being fully equal to those prosecuted there. He, like Byron, could not understand that knowledge was less valuable, or less true as knowledge, without having the parchment to confirm it; while the opportunity of the great poet and that of the get-by-chance student differs; one having no formidable barriers to overcome, the other having first to a tingle against oppositions, in order to create a healthy public sentiment, that others after him might gain it without the giant's task.