American Egyptomania Search

The Ethiopian Manifesto: Issued in Defence of the Black Man's Rights in the Scale of Universal Freedom

New York: Robert Alexander Young, 1829

Of all of the traditions associated with African American interest in ancient Egypt, there is perhaps none so well-known as what is called “the black Jeremiad.” Named for the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, a Jeremiad is a form of prophetic literature associated with the divine destruction of a wicked people and the deliverance of the children of God; the Jeremiad warns that those who have sinned against God or God’s chosen people will soon pay the consequences of their sinful actions, and that the chosen people who have lived in the midst of oppression will be delivered to a “land of milk and honey” – a land of safety and peace far from the pains of their oppressors. Needless to say, though the Jeremiad predated American slavery, its relevance as a literary form made it extremely popular with black writers and orators, and its rootedness in scriptural tradition meant that it was woven into the very fabric of black rhetorical culture, whether oral or written.

As did David Walker and Henry Highland Garnet, Robert Alexander Young understood African Americans to be living in a land of wickedness and sin akin to the Old Testament land of ancient Egyptian bondage, and that, because of this, God would deliver His children to a state of grace in direct proportion to the suffering they had already endured. The devil, so to speak, was, however, in the details, in just how this deliverance would be delivered: for Walker, God would act on His own, punishing the unrepentant in a retributional apocalypse; for Garnet, God’s children would have to act on their own behalf, joining together in a collective mass uprising under God’s divine mandate. For Young, though, deliverance would take a more mundane, more specific form: that of a single messiah. The figure of the messiah has an enormous significance in African American religious and political oratory; whether Noah, Moses, or Jesus Himself, the divinely appointed messenger of God who acts as a point of contact between the human and the divine appears with one primary purpose – to rescue God’s chosen people from a land doomed to destruction – and, for African Americans during slavery, neither the identities of the sinners nor the identities of the saved needed much clarification.

In the 1829 “Ethiopian Manifesto” Young identifies all members of the African diaspora as “Ethiopians,” using an archaic form of address for all of those peoples Young understands as having been descended from Africa and referencing Psalm 68:31, which states, “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands to God.” In calling all self-aware black people “Ethiopians,” Young claims a common connection between all black people, and thus Young is definitely classifiable as an early black nationalist; yet, at the same time, Young clearly instructs his “Ethiopian” audience that one single messiah will appear to deliver them from their state of oppression, and thus instructs them to do that which many black nationalists would find to be the exact wrong thing: wait. Waiting for the messiah, Young argues, is the only thing which God’s suffering Ethiopian children can do. Young thus acts as a symbol of some of the most complex issues facing African Americans during slavery: to what degree do slaves wait for a messiah to deliver them from bondage, and for how long?

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Ethiopians! the power of Divinity having within us, as man, implanted a sense of the due and prerogatives belonging to you, a people, of whom we were of your race, in part born, as a mirror we trust, to reflect to you from a review of ourselves, the dread condition in which you do at this day stand. We do, therefore, to the accomplishment of our purpose, issue this but a brief of our grand manifesto, herefrom requiring the attention towards us of every native, or those proceeding in descent from the Ethiopian or