“It is an easy thing to ask about the vileness of slavery...but to treat all men according to their moral worth, to treat the man of color in all circumstances as a man and a brother—that is the test.” —Theodore Sedgwick Wright, in an 1837 address to the Convention of the New York State Antislavery Society
Theodore Sedgwick Wright was born in New Jersey in 1797 and went on to become “one of the most prominent Negroes of his time” for his work in the abolitionist movement. Wright, who graduated from Princeton Seminary in 1828, holds a special place in Princeton’s history as the first African American to graduate from the Seminary. To the Seminary’s credit, when the Board of Directors received his application for admission, there was no debate about his color; minutes from the board meeting state that “[the board] resolved that his color shall form no obstacle in the way of his reception.” After graduating from Princeton, Wright became the pastor of the First Colored Presbyterian Church in New York City, where he served for the next seventeen years. Under his leadership, the church developed into the second-largest African American congregation in New York City.
Born a free black man, Wright took a strong stand against slavery and racism, and became deeply involved in the antislavery movement of his time. In the 1830s he participated in the New England Anti-Slavery Society, traveling throughout the region to give speeches against slavery and racial prejudice. In 1833, he became one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society and later served on the Society’s executive committee. In addition, Wright was active in the New York State Anti-Slavery Society and chairman of the New York Vigilance Committee. Wright’s home was also a station on the Underground Railroad, and he assisted many fugitive slaves to freedom. Educator Walter Merrill, in his entry to the Encyclopedia Britannica’s Dictionary of American Negro Biographies, writes: “except for Frederick Douglass, few American Negroes of his generation labored more effectively for the freedom and equality of his race than Theodore S. Wright.” Wright died young at the age of fifty, apparently from overwork. He was a passionate man whose words and actions roused many from apathy, and whose life work contributed greatly to the ongoing struggle for civil rights and the equality of all people.