“… Our Peculiar Friend and Benefactor.”

The first National Colored Convention in Washington, D.C.  To give an impression of what the assembly at Israel A.M.E. Church might have appeared.
The first National Colored Convention in Washington, D.C. To give an impression of how the assembly at Israel A.M.E. Church might have appeared.

On Monday, April 17, 1865, the “colored citizens of the city and county of Albany” gathered at the African Methodist Episcopal Church at 381 Hamilton Street to mourn the loss of Abraham Lincoln, whose death, they wrote, filled them “with sorrow unspeakable.”  In a series of resolutions passed by that assembly, they acknowledged the magnitude of this “unparalleled disaster” for the nation as a whole.  But they also “deem[ed] it our right to claim his death as our more peculiar loss and affliction, because he has been the instrument of good in striking off the chains from so many millions of our brethren, and because he has ever stood forth as our peculiar friend and benefactor, whose memory will be cherished by and us and our children for generations to come.”

Israel AME ChurchThat sentiment was surely felt poignantly by the small African-American community in Albany.  Slavery had been finally abolished in New York State only in 1827.  Some of the elders gathered that day might have been enslaved at one time themselves, or would have been the children of slaves.  Perhaps some in the congregation had escaped from slavery in the South.  The image of ‘striking off chains’ was not mere rhetoric; it described quite literally what Lincoln’s actions had done for blacks, some of whom would become citizens of Albany.

Most of those gathered at the ‘First’ or ‘Israel’ A.M.E. church that Monday would have remembered a similar gathering back on January 5, 1863, when, in honor of the Emancipation Proclamation, a “Mass Convention” was held in Albany.  An afternoon meeting was held at the the A.M.E. church, and an evening meeting at the African Baptist Church further down Hamilton Street, between Fulton and Grand.  Frederick Douglass attended both meetings, giving a speech entitled ‘The President and Emancipation’ at the Baptist Church.  “The ladies” prepared a “Festival Extraordinary” for the occasion.  It was a joyous, even ecstatic moment – “A Moses is found who will lead the Children of Africa out of American bondage,” as a broadside for the convention declared.

Emancipation Proclamation Convention in Albany.
Emancipation Proclamation Convention in Albany.

But now that new Moses was dead.  And the African-American community seemed to struggle to find words adequate to describe the depth of their sorrow.  They had “heard with profound awe and grief of the death of the Chief Magistrate of the Nation in the height of his renown.”  And they were filled with “unspeakable sorrow” that “he should fall victim to the hate and vengeance of that dark malignant foe which the Nation has so desperately struggled for its life…”  Yet for all its anguish, Albany’s black community was sustained by hope:  “[Y]et we acknowledge the goodness that preserved us through manifold perils, that good and wise ruler, by whose proclamation the chains of the oppressed have been broken, and liberty proclaimed to the captives.”  Finally, they resolved “with renewed vigor and unwavering zeal, in our humble manner, [to] aid the Government in putting down treason in all its forms.”

These resolutions were signed by the president and secretary of the meeting, William H. Anthony and Reuben W. Harris, respectively.  In the 1865 City Directory, Mr. Anthony is listed as being a barber at 27 Maiden Lane, which was also the hairdressing establishment of William H. Johnson, a well-known black abolitionist (whose story is told here:  http://www.hoxsie.org/2013/02/the-autobiography-of-william-henry-johnson.html ).  Anthony lived at 257 Elm Street.  Mr. Harris was listed as waiter, living at 20 Fayette (Lafayette) Street.

The full text of these resolutions was published in the Albany Evening Journal of April 26, 1865.

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