William Howard Day, Abolitionist and Leader in Tough Times

I was in one of my favorite places yesterday.  The Free Library at 19th & Vine is one of the greatest repositories of knowledge in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  I am blessed whenever I get an hour to read and research.  The Department of Human Services had a Kwanzaa program there yesterday.  The Young Chances Foundation, which is supported by the South Philadelphia EPIC Stakeholders, performed yesterday during the first day of the celebration.  It was on the day dedicated to Umoja or Unity!

I got about ten minutes to run up to the history section while the opening acts were underway.  I found a book entitled African Americans in Pennsylvania.  This book explored the lives of ancestors from throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Most people know about Octavius Catto and Absalom Jones.  Also, I recently wrote a blog about the large amount of people of African descent buried in a grave on Weccacoe street in Philadelphia.  Pennsylvania was a major stop on the Underground Railroad and Mr. Day was instrumental in many people finding freedom.

William Howard Day was born in 1825 in New York.  He might have received some of his admirable leadership skills from his mother Eliza.  She was a founding member of the first African Methodist Episcopal Church.  The 19th century was a time of amazing extremes in this country.  On the one hand, it was events like the abolitionist movement that led to the civil war.  On the other hand, even in Pennsylvania, people fought for the people of African descent, but we had to worship in separate locations.  I am thankful for the abolitionist movement though and the path that it provided for many slaves seeking freedom.

Mr. Day was raised by a white family, the Williston's, of Northampton, Massachusetts.  The family was a supporter of the abolitionist movement.  Mr. Day benefited from this relationship.  He graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio.  I was impressed with the following assessment of Oberlin College:

Oberlin has long been associated with progressive causes. Its founders bragged that "Oberlin is peculiar in that which is good." Oberlin was the first college in the United States to regularly admit African-American students, beginning in 1835. Oberlin College's role as an educator of African-American students prior to the Civil War and thereafter is historically significant.[8]
In 1844, Oberlin College graduated its first black student, George B. Vashon, who became one of the founding professors at Howard University[9] and the first black lawyer admitted to the Bar in New York State. The African Americans of Oberlin and those attending Oberlin College "have experienced intense challenges and immense accomplishments since their joint founding in 1833. Its African American and other students of color have used education and activism to influence the college, the town, and beyond. Their efforts have helped Oberlin remain committed to its values of freedom, social justice, and service."[10] 

Mr. Day surely received some of his activist tendencies from his interaction with leaders like himself.  He probably matriculated with Mr. Vashon, who became a founding professor of Howard University.  It was stated that he was a great orator who was concerned with the success of people of color in the United States.  I am glad that he decided to help people in Pennsylvania.  Even though my Mother and Father were born in South Carolina, I claim this Northeastern state as my own.

Mr. Day was elected Secretary of the National Negro Convention in Cleveland in 1848.  I could imagine the fortitude of the members that organized this convention.  Frederick Douglas was elected President of the Convention.  Martin Delaney led the business contingent.  This convention was dedicated to the business of helping free blacks organize businesses, advocated foe education and prepare to lead in a soon to be fractured society.  During my research, I discovered that Mr. Day also taught Greek, Latin, Logic, Rhetoric, Shorthand and Vocal Music.  He was a walking, talking beneficiary of education and he imparted his wisdom back to many students.

Mr. Day preached in the United Kingdom in 1859.  His biography indicates that he returned to the United States after the civil war.  He missed one of the most destructive events in our history but I am quite sure he was fighting for his people as a Founder of the African Aid Society.  Mr. Day died in 1900 at the age of 75.  A cemetery was established in his honor because people of color were denied interment at the Baldwin cemetery.  Steelton, PA was his final resting place.  I am a more informed person because of my quick stop at the library yesterday.

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