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Proudly Celebrating Black History Month

Serenity House proudly celebrates Black History Month, honoring Black culture and accomplishment. We welcome difficult conversations about race, inequity, and social injustices. Through those conversations, we are taking the opportunity to reimagine the possibilities that lie ahead to create equality and elevate Black voices.

This year we’d like to shine a spotlight on Frederick Douglass. He is well known for being an abolitionist, a supporter of the suffragist movement, and an influential writer and accomplished speaker. According to historian William White, he was also the first prominent recovering alcoholic in America and leader of the Black Temperance Movement, who championed abstinence from alcohol.

In his own words, listen to Douglass describe the impact of alcoholism, how alcohol systematically controlled enslaved people, and the reasons he decided to abstain from alcohol.

An anti-slavery orator and activist (

Temperance and Anti-Slavery (March 30, 1846)

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am proud to stand on this platform; I regard it a pleasure and a privilege—one which I am not very frequently permitted to enjoy in the United States, such is the prejudice against the coloured man, such the hatred, such the contempt in which he is held, that no temperance society in the land would so far jeopardise its popularity as to invite a coloured man to stand before them. He might be a Webster in intellect, a Channing in literature, or a Howard in philanthropy, yet the bare fact of his being a man of colour, would prevent him from being welcomed on a temperance platform in the United States. This is my apology, I have been excluded from the temperance movement in the United States, because God has given me a skin not coloured like yours. I can speak, however, in regard to the facts concerning ardent spirits, for the same spirits which make a white man drunk make a black man drunk too. Indeed, in this I can find proof of my identity with the family of man. (Laughter.) The effect of drink on the one and the other is the same.

The coloured man in the United States has great difficulties in the way of his moral, social, and religious advancement. Almost every step he takes towards mental, moral, or social improvement is repulsed by the cold indifference or the active mob of the white. He is compelled to live an outcast from society; he is, as it were, a border or salvage on the great cloth of humanity, and the very fact of his degradation is given as a reason why he should be continued in the condition of a slave. The blacks are to a considerable extent intemperate, and if intemperate, of course vicious in other respects, and this is counted against them as a reason why their emancipation should not take place. As I desire, therefore, their freedom from physical chains, so I desire their emancipation from intemperance, because I believe it would be the means—a great and glorious means—towards helping to break their physical chains and letting them go free.

To give you some idea of the strength of this prejudice and passion against the coloured people, I may state that they formed themselves into a temperance procession in Philadelphia, on the day on which the legislature in this country had by a benevolent act awarded freedom to the negroes in the West Indian islands. They formed themselves into a procession with appropriate banners, but they had not proceeded up two streets before they were attacked by a reckless mob, their procession broken up, their banners destroyed, their houses and churches burned, and all because they had dared to have a temperance procession on the lst of August. They had saved enough to build a hall, besides their Churches. These were not saved, they were burned down, and the mob was backed up by the most respectable people in Philadelphia. These are the difficulties which beset their path. And yet the Americans, those demons in human shape, they speak to us, and say that we are morally and religiously incapacitated for enjoying liberty with themselves. I am afraid I am making this an anti-slavery meeting. (Cheers.) I want to state another fact. The black population pay sufficient tax to government to support their own poor, besides 300 dollars over and above. This is a fact which no American pale-face can deny. (Cheers.) I, however, love white people when they are good; but this is precious seldom.

I have had some experience of intemperance as well as of slavery. In the Southern States, masters induce their slaves to drink whisky, in order to keep them from devising ways and means by which to obtain their freedom. In order to make a man a slave, it is necessary to silence or drown his mind. It is not the flesh that objects to being bound—it is the spirit. It is not the mere animal part—it is the immortal mind which distinguishes man from the brute creation. To blind his affections, it is necessary to bedim and bedizzy his understanding. In no other way can this be so well accomplished as by using ardent spirits! On Saturday evening, it is the custom of the slaveholder to give his slaves drink, and why? Because if they had time to think, if left to reflection on the Sabbath day, they might devise means by which to obtain their liberty.

I knew once what it was to drink with all the ardour of old soker. I lived with a Mr. Freeland who used to give his slaves apple brandy. Some of the slaves were not able to drink their own share, but I was able to drink my own and theirs too. I took it because it made me feel I was a great man. I used to think I was a president. And this puts me in mind of a man who once thought himself a president. He was coming across a field pretty tipsy. Happening to lay himself down near a pig-sty, and the pig being out at the time, he crawled into it. After a little [while], in came the old sow and her company of pigs. They commenced posing at the intruder. An individual happening to pass at the time, heard a voice demanding order, order. He went forward and looked, when he saw a fellow surrounded by the pigs calling for order, order. (Laughter.) He had imagined he was the president of a meeting, and was calling for order.

There are certain objections urged against the temperance reform. One very frequently urged runs thus:—The gospel of Jesus Christ was given for the purpose of removing all the ills that ought to be removed from society; therefore we can have no union with teetotalism because it is out of the church. It is treason to go out of her borders and join a teetotal society. There is as much truth in this as you can hang a few falsehoods upon. There is truth at the beginning. It will remove slavery, it will remove war, it will remove licentiousness, it will remove fraud, it will remove adultery. All the ills to which flesh is heir will be removed by an application to them of the truths of the gospel. What we want is to adopt the most efficacious means of applying gospel truth. I dined the other day with six ministers in Perth. With the exception of one, they all drank whisky, and that one drank wine. So disgusted was I that I left, and that night I delivered a temperance lectures I need not tell you that I was never again invited to dine at that house. I told the people at Perth that the ministers were responsible for a great part of the drinking habits among the people. The ministers have the influence to aid in removing this curse from the community; 1st, by abandoning drinking habits themselves; and, 2d, by doing what they want to make others follow their example. If the ministers used their moral influence, Scotland might soon be redeemed from this curse; and why? Because the ministers had done it in the United States. A man would not be allowed to stand in an American pulpit if it was known that he tippled the whisky. We feel that it is not proper that a minister of the gospel in the nineteenth century should be a man to mar a advancement of this cause, by using these intoxicating beverages. Our success has been glorious, for in Lynn I never saw a barefooted child in winter—I never saw a beggar in the streets in winter—I never saw a family without fuel in winter. And why have we this glorious result? Because no money is spent for whisky. I am a temperance man because I am an anti-slavery man; and I am an anti-slavery man because I love my fellow men. There is no other cure for intemperance but total abstinence. Will not temperance do, says one? No. Temperance was tried in America, but it would not do. The total abstinence principle came and made clean work of it. It is now seen spreading its balmy influence over the whole of that land. It is seen in making peace where there was war. It has planted light and education where there was nothing but degradation, and darkness, and misery.

It is your duty to plant—you cannot do all, but if you plant, God has promised, and will give the increase. We shall see most gloriously this cause yet triumph in Scotland. Is there a man within the sound of my voice who does not know that nine-tenths of the crime, misery, disease, and death, of these lands is occasioned by intemperance? You may talk of the charter and the corn-laws, but until you have banished the demon intemperance, you cannot expect one day of prosperity in your land. In the name of humanity then I call upon you to abandon your bowl. To those who would feel it no sacrifice, I say give it up. To those who would consider it a sacrifice, I say it is time you had given it up, and then we shall see our cause progressing gloriously. Were this meeting all teetotallers, and to pledge themselves to work in the cause, twelve months would see a most miraculous change in Paisley. Many thanks now for your kind patience; pardon me if I have said anything amiss, anything inconsistent with truth.