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From the beginning, January 1 celebrations had followed the same model: a history and denunciation of the slave trade and slavery, Christian exhortations, call to political action against slavery and the domestic slave trade, and social and racial uplift. Education, the creation of distinct institutions, temperance, humility, and respectable conduct were deemed essential to the success of the Free Black population.

As years passed, the orations also included issues of concern to the community other than the international slave trade. The deconstruction of white racism, based on the idea of black people's inferiority, was one such issue. In 1810 Rev. William Miller of the African Methodist Episcopal Church departed from the traditional "ignorant African" theme to declare:

Ancient history, as well as holy writ, informs us of the national greatness of our progenitors. That the inhabitants of Africa are descended from the ancient inhabitants of Egypt, a people once famous for science of every description, is a truth verified by a number of writers. One has asserted, and from fundamental evidences, that the first learned nation, was a nation of blacks.

William Hamilton after describing the cruel behavior of slave drivers, concluded sarcastically: "If these are some of the marks of superiority may heaven in mercy always keep us inferior: go, proud white men; go, boast of your superior cunning; the fox, the wolf, the tiger are more cunning than their prey."

One of the most remarkable examples of the orators' shifting interest from the African past to the contemporary American situation is the address given at Bethel Church in 1823 by Jeremiah Gloucester, pastor of the Second African Presbyterian Church. The most prominent black church in Philadelphia, it had been founded by Rev. Richard Allen.

After the traditional history of the slave trade and a strong refutation of biblical and scientific racism, Gloucester turned the tables and stated that whites, if attacked by Africans and treated the way black people in America had been treated, "would arm themselves with the rights of nature, and sweep us from the face of the earth." With these words, he was, if not advocating, at least justifying an armed rebellion. He made this view even more clear when he lauded the 1791 slave revolt in Saint-Domingue, which resulted in its independence in 1804, under the name Haiti:

Ever since the Africans have been striving to unloose every fetter that bind her; yes, a part of her sons, and daughters have effectually broke their chain on the Island of St. Domingo, and have proclaimed the imprescribable rights of man, sealing the covenant made with liberty, by their blood.

The Haitian revolution sent horrified tremors throughout slaveholding societies, and white abolitionists for the most part downplayed it because of the absolute revulsion it inspired in whites. Black abolitionists, nationalists, and activists, on the other hand — men such as John B. Russwurm, Williams Well Brown, James Theodore Holly, David Walker, and James McCune Smith — drew inspiration from it and especially Toussaint L'Ouverture.

They boldly paid tribute to that revolution — rather than to the American Revolution and its white heroes. Gloucester was one of the first to do so. The pastor then tackled an issue that had become controversial within the black community: he denounced the colonization movement that, since 1816, was sending free black men and women to Liberia. Interestingly, he was opposed to it not only on the grounds that the deportation of free African Americans made the country safer for slavery but also because the people who settled in Liberia were, in his view, not educated enough. He added, "Is it not obvious that the inhabitants of Africa notwithstanding they are heathens, can teach the greater part of those that have gone to Africa in a great many respects?"

Anticipating by fifty years the establishment of black colleges and universities during Reconstruction — in the early years, Cheyney University, founded in 1837, offered only secondary education — he advocated the creation in the United States of "a college, or seminary of colour, where all the arts and sciences should be taught, for it is learning that constitutes a good government, it is the life of any country."