Back William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown, 1849. (New York Public Library Digital Collections)

Major works:
Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Written by HimselfClotelThe Escape; or, a Leap for FreedomThe Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements

Read an excerpt from

Speeches and Public Letters

William Wells Brown

We cannot tell the evils that exist in the southern States. Like the painter who stands idle by the side of his picture, waiting for the crowd to go out before lifting the screen from the canvas, for fear of frightening his visitors with the unfinished work, so we must wait and let the future historian complete the picture. I know that, having spent twenty years as a slave, one would suppose that I might relate the evils that I witnessed. And so I might. I might stand here for hours and tell you what I saw, and felt, and know, but now is not the time. The time has passed for devoting ourselves to such a purpose. We need not go out of the free States to see its cruelties. They are all about us. Look at the coloured people of the free States, thrown out of your schools, your churches and your social circles, deprived of their political rights and debarred from those avenues of employment that are necessary to a proper maintenance of themselves and families. We find the degrading influences of slavery all about us. Pennsylvania deprives the black man of the elective franchise, and so does New York, except with a property qualification. In most of the northern States, he is looked upon as something to be knocked and kicked about as they see fit.

Read a passage from Speeches and Public Letters by William Wells Brown
Library of America

A champion of America’s great writers and timeless works, Library of America guides readers in finding and exploring the exceptional writing that reflects the nation’s history and culture.

Learn More

From poetry, novels, and memoirs to journalism, crime writing, and science fiction, the more than 300 volumes published by Library of America are widely recognized as America’s literary canon.

Browse our books Subscribe

With contributions from donors, Library of America preserves and celebrates a vital part of our cultural heritage for generations to come.

Support our mission