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BlackCommentator.com: Black History Month - Sarah Parker Remond’s Tale: Letter from London, 1866 By Dr. Marion Kilson, PhD, BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator

   
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Note: Although this is an imagined letter from Sarah Parker Remond to her elder brother, Charles Lenox Remond, it is based on historical facts including some of Sarah Parker Remond’s own words.  Charles Lenox Remond was the first African American agent for the American Antislavery Society and celebrated as its foremost spokesman until the advent of Frederick Douglass.

Charles Lenox Remond

Salem, Massachusetts

My dear Brother:

I write you at the opening of a new chapter in my life.  Tomorrow I begin my journey to Italy to pursue my medical studies at the Santa Maria Nuovo Hospital in Florence.  In two years I expect to receive my certification to practice medicine.   I am ready to go, as England is no longer the welcoming country that I found  when I arrived in 1859.   Color prejudice is rearing its ugly head in this land where I came in search of freedom.

How grateful I am for your encouragement to become a spokeswoman for the noble antislavery cause.   You, Mr. William Lloyd Garrison, and Mrs. Abby Kelley Foster gave me the courage to become a lecturer despite my poor education. My heart was in the work and in time I found my voice. I wish that I had had the courage to begin sooner.  

Do you remember our first trip through Upper New York state in 1856?  We traveled with Miss Susan B. Anthony and Mr. and Mrs. Foster.  I often recall how you and I were frequently refused lodging at the inns that provided accommodation Miss Anthony and the Fosters and that we had to take refuge with local colored families.   For two years you and I traveled together on the antislavery circuit from New York through Michigan and Canada West to Cape Cod—sometimes alone, often with others.

Then in 1859, as you know, I decided to come to England in search of freedom and to serve the antislavery cause.  What a terrible voyage it was!   I was seasick for the entire time and had to recuperate with friends when I arrived.  However, I managed to give my first lecture in Liverpool within a week of my arrival.  I introduced myself “as the representative of four millions of men and women robbed of every right, deprived of every privilege; the representative of a class so mercilessly abused, so recklessly crushed, and so ruthlessly outraged, that the story of their wrongs was a subject which should command the earnest sympathy of every friend of humanity.” I then spoke for an hour and a half; thanks to your training, I did not use any notes.  Over the next two years I gave more than forty-five lectures throughout England, Scotland and Ireland.   I spoke not only about slavery and especially the abuse of slave women but about the civic and social constraints that free people like ourselves confront.  At the same time I was able to attend Bedford Ladies College in London and to pursue the studies previously denied to me in our own country--ancient history, Latin, French, English literature, and geography.  I now work for freedmen with the Ladies’ London Emancipation Society.

Charles,  as I told an interviewer several years ago, “Prejudice against colour has been the one thing, above all others, which has cast its gigantic shadow over my whole life.  In joy or sorrow, whether pursuing the pleasure or business of life, it has thrust itself, like a huge sphinx, darkening my pathway, and, at times, almost overwhelming the soul constantly called to meet such a conflict.”   Our mother “taught us to gather strength from our own souls and that to be black was no crime, but an accident of birth.”

I have always sought to speak out against color prejudice whenever I encountered it.  You will remember how William Cooper Nell, our sister Caroline and I were forcibly ejected from the Howard Atheneum in Boston when we went to hear an opera and how I successfully sued for the harm done to my arm and my dress.  Then in London when the minister of the American legation denied me a visa to travel to Paris, because he maintained I was not a U.S. citizen though I had a valid passport,  I protested in the British press and got a visa from the British Foreign Secretary.  When Caroline was denied first class privileges on the Cunard line, I again wrote to the press; she sat at the captain’s table on her return voyage.  Recently I have published a pamphlet in support of  “Negroes and Anglo-Africans as Freedmen and Soldiers.” 

Now my soul is tired.  I seek a new way to serve humanity and so I go to Florence.

 I remain your affectionate and ever grateful sister,

Sarah Parker Remond

BlackCommentator.com Dr. Marion Kilson, received her Ph. D. in Social Anthropology from Harvard University in 1967 and retired as Dean of the Graduate School at Salem State College (MA) in 2001. Since that time she has been a Museum Scholar at the Museum of African American History in Boston. Click here to contact Dr. Kilson.

 
 
 
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Feb 10, 2011 - Issue 413
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Est. April 5, 2002
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