“Men of Color, To Arms! To Arms,” Broadside, 1863
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Context: At the start of the Civil War African American men were not permitted to serve in the Union army. One of the provisions of the Emancipation Proclamation was to allow men of color to enlist. They did so to prove their courage, patriotism, end slavery, and ultimately argue for citizenship. Frederick Douglass features on this broadside. His sons served in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the first African American unit in the Civil War.
Men of Color: To Arms! To Arms! Now or Never!
This is our golden moment! The Government of the United States calls for every Able-bodied Colored Man to enter the Army for the Three Years’ Service!
And join in Fighting the Battles of Liberty and the Union. A new era is open to us. For generations we have suffered under the horrors of slavery, outrage and wrong; our manhood has been denied, our citizenship blotted out, our souls seared and burned, our spirits cowed and crushed, and the hopes of the future of our race involved in doubt and darkness. But now our relations to the white race are changed.
Now, therefore, is our most precious moment. Let us rush to arms!
Fail Now, & Our Race is Doomed On this the soil of our birth. We must now awake, arise, or be forever fallen. If we value liberty, if we wish to be free in this land, if we love our country, if we love our families, our children, our home, we must strike now while the country calls: we must rise up in the dignity of our manhood, and show by our own right arms that we are worthy to be freemen. Our enemies have made the country believe that we are craven cowards, without soul, without manhood, without the spirit of soldiers, Shall we die with this stigma resting upon our graves? Shall we leave this Inheritance of Shame to our Children? No! a thousand times NO! We WILL Rise! The alternative is upon us. Let us rather die freemen than live to be slaves. What is life without liberty? We say that we have manhood; now is the time to prove it. A nation or a people that cannot fight may be pitied, but cannot be respected. If we would be regarded men, if we would forever silence the tongue of Calumny, of Prejudice and Hate, let us Rise Now and Fly to Arms! We have seen what Valor and Heroism our Brothers displayed at Port Hudson and Milliken’s Bend, though they are just from the galling, poisoning grasp of Slavery, they have startled the World by the most exalted heroism. If they have proved themselves heroes, cannot WE PROVE
Are Freemen Less Brave Than Slaves More than a Million White Men have left Comfortable Homes and joined the Armies of the Union to save their Country. Cannot we leave ours, and swell the Hosts of the Union, to save our liberties, vindicate our manhood, and deserve well of our Country. MEN OF COLOR!
The Englishman, the Irishman, the Frenchman, the German, the American, have been called to assert their claim to freedom and a manly character, by an appeal to the sword. The day that has seen an enslaved race in arms has, in all history, seen their last trial. We now see that our last opportunity has come. If we are not lower in the scale of humanity than Englishmen, Irishmen, White Americans and other Races, we can show it now. Men of Color, Brothers and Fathers, we appeal to you, by all your concern for yourselves and your liberties, by all your regard for God and humanity, by all your desire for Citizenship and Equality before the law, by all your love for the Country, to stop at no subterfuge, listen to nothing that shall deter you from rallying for the Army. Come Forward, and at once Enroll you Names for the Three
Years’ Service. Strike now, and you are henceforth and forever Freemen!
Edited by: Dr. Prithi Kanakamedala
Primary Source Material: “Men of Color, to Arms! to Arms!” broadside, c. 1863, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, OBJECT NUMBER 2012.133.
"Men of Color, to Arms!" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license by Dr. Prithi Kanakamedala at Bronx Community College.