Gospel Preacher In West Tennessee
The Freedmen - Their Condition
Union City, Obion County
January 9, 1868.
A Letter By E.R. Osborne
& A Response By David Lipscomb
Brother Lipscomb: —Poor negroes! I don't know what is to become of them. They won't work for love nor money. The Yankee has cursed them awfully. When left to pursue their own road, they show ever disposition to go back into heathen superstition. Down the river below us, they go to the grave-yards where their friends are buried, and with their heads butt down the boards set at the head and foot—they scratch down the dirt on top of the graves, and then dig little holes and kneel down and whisper in those holes, as though they were talking to the departed spirits. They bow down to an old negro woman, alleging she is the mother of Abraham Lincoln. They contend that the God of the Rebels is dead, and they worship the God of the "New Surrender." Poor negro! No human being can tell what your fate will be.
Believing as I do, that God superintends the destinies of mankind and over rules all things to His honor and the good of the human family, I am wholly unable to see either honor to God or good to man in the late civil commotion which has shook our land like a mighty earthquake. The Northern people, I know, could point to the chains struck off of four millions of human beings, as the blessed result of this war. But those who have long lived among them, and seen them before and since their liberation, do not consider their freedom as a blessing to them. One million of them dead, and no tongue can tell the extent of their demoralization. Some are benefitted, but a vast majority is thought not to be. Where is the good? Has it come, or must we still look for it?
We have but few preachers in the country. We have but one in the county. We lost much in the death of Bro. Holmes. We have four young brethren just started in the field—young brethren of ability, and we expect much from their labors. We have had accessions to the churches in this county during the summer and fall.
Bro. Jno. N. Mulkey preached for us last Lord's day. He lives in Illinois.
I hope you will greatly add to your list of subscribers. The name I send you is a Baptist, but says he can't do without your paper. Graves' piece is a good thing—it is a lick in the right direction. Immediately physical conversion is the stronghold of sectarianism. The mind is entirely withdrawn from God's Word and directed to their own emotions as evidence of pardon. Give this subject special attention.
Response: Our brother gives a truly deplorable picture of the condition of the freedmen, but from numerous testimonies, as to their condition, where large numbers of them live, we feel sure it is not worse than the reality. These sad truths bring impressively to bear upon our minds the thought that a weighty responsibility rests upon us to try, if possible, to deliver the negroes from the fearful superstition and degrading barbarism from which they were, to some extent, delivered, but into which they now seem rapidly relapsing. The duty rests upon us. God cast her lot with us, and imposed upon us the work and obligation of doing what we can to elevate, educate, Christianize them. We are prone, as Bro. Caskey aptly remarks in his article last week, to look afar off for work to do and suffering to relieve. The truth of what he says, has often exhibited itself in my own thoughts and feelings. Last year, while in Cleveland, Ohio, on one Lord's day afternoon, we strolled through a Dutch beer-garden. We saw the day spent by ten or fifteen thousand persons of all ages, conditions and sexes, in dissipation, gaming, licentious frivolity and drunkeness. We saw children of only a few years' growth in a state of beastly intoxication. We thought we never saw such a number of people systematically training themselves and children to a disregard of God's law and to licentiousness and corruption as were these. Since then our mind has been continually running after those Cleaveland Dutch, and thinking what work for Cleaveland Christians to do. While we have been thinking of these, Bro. Errett and his brethren in Cleaveland have scarcely ever thought we presume of these poor depraved Dutch, but their affections have been running out after the poor negroes here around Nashville and further South. We read Bro. Caskey's article, and come to the conclusion God had placed the Dutch near Bro. Errett and the brethren North and the negroes in contact with us Sourthern people, and that in doing this He has laid a heavy obligation upon each one to labor for and with those which whom Providence has cast his lot. Our duty should be to try to improve, convert and save the negro. It will require patience, self-denial, and much forbearance.
God overrules all things to His honor and to the good, not of the whole human family, but of those who serve and obey Him. His honor oftentimes in the world has been vindicated by the destruction of the nations that persistently reject Him. By the impoverishment and punishment of His unfaithful children. God's honor may have required our punishment and humiliation. The terrible truth sometimes rises to our minds it may require the destruction of a race. Whatever the result may be, the Christian's duty is one—humbly accept the punishment as from God—let it prove a chastening rod to drive us closer to Him—to a firmer reliance upon him and His appointments, and a weaker trust in man and his institutions, and let it prompt us to labor to direct the minds of all of God's creatures—the most lowly offcasts to Him who alone is able to save and bless. The moment we are thus humbled before God, through means severe, we are blessed and benefitted, although we may be in rags and tatters. D.L.
—Gospel Advocate, 1868, pages 147,148
Directions To The Grave of E.R. Osborne
To get to the cemetery. Coming from Martin, TN on Reelfoot Avenue, turn right on to Miles Avenue, continue past the schools (High school on left, Elementary on right) until you see the entrance to East View Cemetery on your right. Directly across from the entrance to East View you will turn left onto High Street. Go four blocks to the stop sign and turn left on Clover Street. You will see the old City Cemetery directly ahead. The Grave is in the middle, almost in line with the old tree that stands in the middle.
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Special thanks for photos taken by Tom and Julie Atkinson of Union City, Tennessee, October, 2011
Courtesy of Scott Harp