Beriah Green (1795-1874), theologian, educator, and reformer was a radical abolitionist at a time when the voices for freedom in America were few in number. From 1833 to 1845, he fostered an experiment in practical abolitionism at the Oneida Institute, Whitesboro, New York. Green embraced an educational and social vision that went beyond the mere ending of slavery and embodied equal opportunity for all. Green was a charter member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, the New York Anti-Slavery Society, and the Liberty Party. He constructed a theological and intellectual argument against slavery to rival that of the pro-slavery apologists.
Born in New England, Beriah Green trained for the ministry with the intent of becoming a foreign missionary. He found his true calling, however, as an abolitionist educator and Biblical scholar, first at Western Reserve College in Hudson, Ohio, and after 1833 as President of Oneida Institute, Whitesboro, Oneida County, New York. Green assumed leadership of the manual labor school on two conditions. He must not be hindered in advancing the immediatist cause sparked by William Lloyd Garrison, and he must be able to admit students without restrictions as to race or class.
In spite of opposition from religious conservatives and the public, Green transformed Oneida Institute into an abolitionist school, revised its curriculum to reflect the urgency of practical reform, and admitted more African American students than any other school of the time period.
An able scholar whose expertise in Biblical studies and moral theology benefited the development of abolitionism in North Star Country, Green wrote important essays in opposition to the pro-slavery interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. His reputation suffered, however, when he adopted a political philosophy critical of democracy which he had adapted from Thomas Carlyle's writings.
Much of Green’s abolitionist career was devoted to dismantling the intellectual apparatus used to defend “the peculiar institution.” While yet a professor at Western Reserve College, Hudson, Ohio, he emerged as a champion of freedom during the nation’s first academic controversy over slavery. During his decade long tenure as President of the Oneida Institute, he fostered educational reforms that dealt with the great social ills of the nation. He created a theological argument in support of an interpretation of the Bible that gave abolitionists a manifesto for attempting to break the yoke of slavery. Green’s argument that “the self-evident principles of reason” (the moral law) and an enlightened interpretation of the Bible (the divine law) gave abolitionists a set of ideas with which to do battle with Southern apologists for slavery and with conservative Northern thinkers looked blindly while racism and segregation existed in their own communities.
Green forged a close personal relationship with Gerrit Smith of Madison County. The two men, so different in temperament, shared a common bond in advancing liberty's cause. Smith became a benefactor of Green's school, and Green was instrumental in Smith's conversion from colonization to immediatism. Smith named a son after his friend and colleague. Green and Smith supported the Liberty Party but broke with one another when Smith was elected to Congress.
After the Oneida Institute closed in 1845 due to financial problems and the hostility of religious and political conservatives, Beriah Green cut ties with many of his abolitionist colleagues, but the African Americans who had attended his school continued to think highly of him. Alexander Crummell, who became one of the most important black intellectuals of the 19th century, referred to the Rev. Beriah Green as "that Master-thinker and teacher.” He recalled “3 years of perfect equality with upwards to 100 white students of different denominations at Oneida Institute.”
Abolition's Axe: Beriah Green, Oneida Institute, and the Black Freedom Struggle (New York State Study) Paperback– February 1, 2004 by Milton Sernett
Oneida County Freedom Trail-