It seems eminently fitting and proper in this year, the fiftieth anniversary of the Proclamation of Emancipation that the Negro should give pause and look around him at the things which he has done, those which he might have done, and those which he intends to do. We pause, just at the beginning of another half century, taking stock of past achievements, present conditions, future possibilities.
In considering the literary work of the Negro, his pre-eminence in the field of oratory is striking. Since the early nineteenth century until the present time, he is found giving eloquent voice to the story of his wrongs and his proscriptions. Crude though the earlier efforts may be, there is a certain grim eloquence in them that is touching, there must be, because of the intensity of feeling behind the words.
Therefore, it seems appropriate in putting forth a volume commemorating the birth of the Negro into manhood, to collect some few of the speeches he made to help win his manhood, his place in the economy of the nation, his right to stand with his face to the sun. The present volume does not aim to be a complete collection of Negro Eloquence; it does not even aim to present the best that the Negro has done on the platform, it merely aims to present to the public some few of the best speeches made within the past hundred years. Much of the best is lost; much of it is hidden away in forgotten places. We have not always appreciated our own work sufficiently to preserve it, and thus much valuable material is wasted. Sometimes it has been difficult to obtain good speeches from those who are living because of their innate modesty, either in not desiring to appear in print, or in having thought so little of their efforts as to have lost them.
The Editor is conscious that many names not in the table of contents will suggest themselves to the most casual reader, but the omissions are not intentional nor yet of ignorance always, but due to the difficulty of procuring the matter in time for the publication of the volume before the golden year shall have closed.
In collecting and arranging the matter, for the volume, I am deeply indebted first to the living contributors who were so gracious and generous in their responses to the request for their help, and to the relatives of those who have passed into silence, for the loan of valuable books and manuscripts. I cannot adequately express my gratitude to Mr. John E. Bruce and Mr. Arthur A. Schomburg, President and Secretary of the Negro Society for Historical Research, for advice, suggestion, and best of all, for help in lending priceless books and manuscripts and for aid in copying therefrom.
Again, we repeat, this volume is not a complete anthology; not the final word in Negro eloquence of to-day, nor yet a collection of all the best; it is merely a suggestion, a guide-post, pointing the way to a fuller work, a slight memorial of the birth-year of the race.