“Lewis was a fireball”
Robert H. Cooley III talks about the antislavery activities of his ancestor Lewis Woodson and Woodson’s associate John B. Vashon.
Occupation: Minister; Teacher; Barber
Born in Greenbrier County, Virginia, Lewis Woodson moved with his family to Chillicothe, Ohio, about 1821. He became a teacher and a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. In 1831 Woodson, his wife, Caroline Robinson, and their children relocated to Pittsburgh, where he started the first school for black children in the city and worked as a barber.
A trustee of Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio, Woodson was instrumental in its founding in 1863 as the first college owned and operated by African Americans. He was a dedicated abolitionist, active in the Underground Railroad. His newspaper writings forcefully advocated separate and independent institutions, like churches, schools, and communities, for African Americans, leading one author to call him the “Father of Black Nationalism.”
Lewis Woodson writes about the importance of education.
Advantages are opening for educational purposes among us, but we must prepare our minds to avail ourselves of these advantages; and if we cannot adorn our children’s bodies with costly attire, let us provide to adorn their minds with that jewel that will elevate, ennoble, and rescue the bodies of our long injured race from the shackles of bondage, and their minds from the trammels of ignorance and vice. (Lewis Woodson, 1856, in History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 404)
Lewis Woodson uses the Declaration of Independence in his argument for separate black settlements.
Theme: Struggle for Equality
.... When you asserted that the whole history of the past was in favor of “contact,” as being the most powerful means of destroying antipathies, the history of our own country must have entirely escaped your memory. The very act which gave it political existence, was an act of separation. Is the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, therefore, a “weak and foolish” document, and were its framers “weak and foolish” men? Have you forgotten the history of the separation of the Friends, the Methodists, and even the Presbyterians? Of the utility of these several separations I do not now pretend to speak. My object in referring to them is, to show that other men than me, or old father Abraham, have been “weak and foolish” enough to resort to separation, and the formation of societies of their own, as a means of curing existing antipathies.
The principle which I have endeavored to maintain in my three preceding letters on separate settlements is this, that it is right, and in accordance with the mind of God, for men whose condition has been rendered unhappy in one place, to better it if they can, by removing to another; and that the manner, time, and place of such removal, should be exclusively matters of their own choice. And through what kind of glasses you were looking, Mr. Editor, when this simple principle appeared to you like “colonization magnified,” I am at a loss to know. Those which I use are a plain pair of Parisian manufacture;–and when I look at it through them, it has no such appearance. Purchasing contiguous tracts of land from the Congress of our native country, and settling upon them, so as to have society, churches, and schools of our own, without being subject to the humiliation of begging them from others, looks very much like being exiled to the cheerless coast of Africa, don’t it? Surely your readers will be able to distinguish the difference....
But I can assure you that in the West it [issue of separate black settlements] is not merely a matter of theory; it has long since been reduced to practice. My father now resides, and has been for the last eight years residing in such a settlement, in Jackson county, Ohio. The settlement is highly prosperous and happy. They have a church, day and Sabbath school of their own. The people of this settlement cut their own harvests, roll their own logs, and raise their own houses, just as well as though they had been assisted by white friends. They find just as ready and as high market for their grain and cattle, as their white neighbors. They take the newspapers and read many useful books, and are making as rapid advancement in intelligence and refinement as any people in the country generally do. And when they travel out of their settlement, no colored people, let them reside where or among whom they may, are more respected, or treated with greater deference than they are....” (“Augustine” [Lewis Woodson] to editor, 13 July 1838, in Colored American, 28 July 1838)