Richard T. Greener’s “Young Men, To the Front!” [National Era, April 24, 1873]

Richard T. GreenerFrederick Douglass is known for running away from slavery. In his nearly 50 years as a free man Douglass ran with fugitive slaves, militant abolitionists, suffragists, journalists, authors, presidents, senators, freedmen and the next generation of civil rights leaders from Ida B. Wells to Mary Church Terrell to Richard T. Greener, the first black graduate of Harvard University.

Douglass mentored Greener, a frequent guest at Douglass’s Capitol Hill home and later Cedar Hill. The two men knocked heads in public debates at Douglass Hall, formerly at the corner of Howard Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Greener was an intellectual of the first order. In some of the earliest editions of the New Era (later re-named the New National Era) Greener’s byline is seen. Greener would later purchase an ownership stake in the New National Era when it merged with a smaller Washington weekly.

Recently Greener has been in the news. With his name in the news let us reprint one of his most well-known essays, “Young Men, to the Front!,” first published in the National Era.

Young Men, to the Front!

The adage which was once so common, if not so thoroughly axiomatic as to gain universal credence – “Old men for council and young men for war” – assumes additional notoriety to-day, when the old men are quarreling in the council chamber and the young men are kept outside the door. While the young men are willing to allow much to the school of experience; many of them are the followers of Locke, and believe in the doctrine of innate ideas. They believe, to continue the comparison, that experience and wisdom do not always spring from length of years, nor does ignorance appertain to youth as a necessity. They dare assert that, as there are those who would never be men, lived they to be as old as Methuselah, so there are some whose minds are as well filled, whose judgments are as mature at twenty-five and eight, and their energy as decisive as though they were in their tenth lustrum. Conscious of this fact, it is the absurdity of folly for the young colored men of the country to sit idly by and see the grandest opportunities slipping away, the best cases lost by default because of the lack of energy displayed by many of our so-called leaders who have been longer on the field. With some very few exceptions, honorable as they are rare, they have done well for their day and generation; but with regard to the needs and policy of the negroes of the present hour they are as innocent as babes. Men for the most part of excellent temper and good working capacity, they lack that which is the handmaid and often the indispensable auxiliary of knowledge and all effective work – judgement. Unconscious puppets often, they dance to unseen music, moved themselves by hidden wires.

The convention was the favorite resort of the leading negro of ten years ago. He convened and resolved, resolved and unconvened – read his own speeches, was delighted with his own frothy rhetoric, and really imagined himself a leading man. He talked eloquently then it must be granted, because he spoke of his wrongs; but when the war overturned the edifice of slavery “Othello’s occupation” was “gone,” indeed The number who have survived and held their own under the new order of things may be counted upon one hand. They survive through that grand old law so much combated but ever  true – the survival of the fittest. They alone give character and reputation to the Negro. They make for him a fame which begets respect where his wrongs only excited pity. The field is comparatively clear now some of the older hacks have fallen by the way or lie spavined at the roadside. The question is, Will the young men of color throughout the country resolve to begin now to take part in public affairs, asserting their claim wherever it is denied, maintaining it wherever contested, and show that they young may be safe in counsel as well as good for war?

There are some who arrogate to themselves wisdom because of their years, just as some equally absurd people think they are wise because they never went to a high school or an academy – men, Heaven save the mark! who pride themselves on having never slaked their thirst at the fount of knowledge. It is not our purpose to disparage age. We remember what Cicero has written, so delightfully, of its pleasures; what Cephalus and Socrates thought of it in the Republic. We look “toward sunset” with reverences and respect; but it its with a reverence that makes us conscious of our own duty. The young men are now studying, working some, alas! idling away their time who ought to be the active, earnest men in the next Presidential campaign; young men who are to control the destinies of their race. Many of them are of marked ability and decidedly energetic in character. Not so fluent, perhaps, as their fathers, they are more thoughtful. They are found throughout the country. We feel that, if  like Roderick Dhu, we should put the whistle to our lips and blow a stirring blast, they would spring up in every part of the country ready with voice, pen or muscle to do their share in any honorable work. In spirit we do this, as young men ourselves, willing to blow a blast which, would that the young men of the country would hear and heed! Young men, to the front! Young men, rouse yourselves! Take the opportunities; make them where they are denied! “Quit you like men; be strong.”

YOUNG MEN, TO THE FRONT! 

Source:

New National Era, Vol. 4, No. 16, 24 April, 1874, p. 2

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  1. #1 by Hannah on October 9, 2014 - 6:29 pm

    Hi, I am a college student doing work for a professor that requires documents from the New national era newspaper. I was wondering how you found your source?

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