Kate Masur

Address of a Virginia Black Convention to "the Loyal Citizens and Congress of the United States of America," 1865

In this Address, the convention explained why it was important for the federal government to protect the rights of Black Virginians. You can read the proceedings of the Alexandria convention, including the entire Address, here.


To the Loyal Citizens and Congress of the United States of America.

We, the undersigned members of a Convention of colored citizens of the State of Virginia, would respectfully represent that, although we have been held as slaves, and denied all recognition as constituent of your nationality for almost the entire period of the duration of your Government, and that by your permission we have been denied either home or country, and deprived of the dearest rights of human nature: yet when you and our immediate oppressors met in deadly conflict upon the field of battle—the one to destroy and the other to save your Government and nationality, we, with scare an exception, in our inmost souls espoused your cause, and watched, and prayed, and waited, and labored for your success . . . .

Well, the war is over, the rebellion is ‘put down,’ and we are declared free! Four fifths of our enemies are paroled or amnestied, and the other fifth are being pardoned, and the President has, in his efforts at the reconstruction of the civil government of the States, late in rebellion, left us entirely at the mercy of these subjugated but unconverted rebels, in everything save the privilege of bringing us, our wives and little ones, to the auction block. He has, so far as we can understand the tendency and bearing of his action in the case, remitted us for all our civil rights, to men, a majority of whom regard our devotion to your cause and flag as that which decided the contest against them! This we regard as destructive of all we hold dear, and in the name of God, of justice, of humanity, of good faith, of truth and righteousness, we do most solemnly and earnestly protest. Men and Brethren, in the hour of your peril, you called upon us, and despite all time-honored interpretation of constitutional obligations, we came at your call and you are saved; and now we beg, we pray, we entreat you not to desert us in this, the hour of our peril.

We know these men—know them well—and we assure that you that, with the majority of them, loyalty is only ‘lip deep,’ and that their professions of loyalty are used as a cover to the cherished design of getting restored to their former relations with the Federal Government , and then, by all sorts of ‘unfriendly legislation,’ to render the freedom you have given us more intolerable than the slavery they intended for us.

We warn you in time that our only safety is in keeping them under Governors of military persuasion until you have so amended the Federal Constitution that it will prohibit the States from making any distinction between citizens on account of race or color. In one word, the only salvation for us besides the power of the Government, is in the possession of the ballot. Give us this, and we will protect ourselves. No class of men relatively as numerous as we were ever oppressed, when armed with the ballot. But, ‘tis said we are ignorant. Admit it. You who denies we know a traitor from a loyal man, a gentleman from a rowdy, a friend from an enemy? The twelve thousand colored votes of the State of New York sent Governor Seymour home and Reuben E. Fenton to Albany. Did they not know how to vote for?” . . . .

In view of the late occurrences, can any one of you doubt for a moment our fate, if left to the Legislatures and Governors of these restored States? . . . . We are ‘sheep in the midst of wolves,’ and nothing but the military arm of the Government prevents us and all the truly loyal white men from being driven from the land of our birth. Do not then, we beseech you, give to one of those ‘wayward sisters’ the rights they abandoned and forfeited when they rebelled until you have secured our rights by the aforementioned amendment to the Constitution. . . .

Trusting that you will not be deaf to the appeal herein made, nor unmindful of the warnings which the malignity of the rebels are constantly giving you, and that you will rise to the height of being just for the sake of justice, we remain yours for our flag, our country and humanity.

Discussed in Until Justice Be Done, 310-11.