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A Defense Of The Negro Race


Member of Congress from North Carolina

[Note 28: Extracts from a speech delivered in the House of
Representatives, January 29, 1901.]

Mr. Chairman:

I want to enter a plea for the colored man, the colored woman, the
colored boy, and the colored girl of this country. I would not thus
digress from the question at issue and detain the House in a discussion
of the interests of this particular people at this time but for the
constant and the persistent efforts of certain gentlemen upon this floor
to mold and rivet public sentiment against us as a people, and to lose
no opportunity to hold up the unfortunate few, who commit crimes and
depredations and lead lives of infamy and shame, as other races do, as
fair specimens of representatives of the entire colored race. And at no
time, perhaps, during the 56th Congress were these charges and
countercharges, containing, as they do, slanderous statements, more
persistently magnified and pressed upon the attention of the nation than
during the consideration of the recent reapportionment bill, which is
now a law. As stated some days ago on this floor by me, I then sought
diligently to obtain an opportunity to answer some of the statements
made by gentlemen from different States, but the privilege was denied
me; and I therefore must embrace this opportunity to say, out of season,
perhaps, that which I was not permitted to say in season.

In the catalogue of members of Congress in this House perhaps none have
been more persistent in their determination to bring the black man into
disrepute and, with a labored effort, to show that he was unworthy of
the right of citizenship than my colleague from North Carolina, Mr.
Kitchin. During the first session of this Congress, while the
Constitutional amendment was pending in North Carolina, he labored long
and hard to show that the white race was at all times and under all
circumstances superior to the Negro by inheritance if not otherwise, and
the excuse for his party supporting that amendment, which has since been
adopted, was that an illiterate Negro was unfit to participate in making
the laws of a sovereign State and the administration and execution of
them; but an illiterate white man living by his side, with no more or
perhaps not as much property, with no more exalted character, no higher
thoughts of civilization, no more knowledge of the handicraft of
government, had by birth, because he was white, inherited some peculiar
qualification, clear, I presume, only in the mind of the gentleman who
endeavored to impress it upon others, that entitled him to vote, though
he knew nothing whatever of letters. It is true, in my opinion, that men
brood over things at times which they would have exist until they delude
themselves and actually, sometimes honestly, believe that such things do

I would like to call the gentleman's attention to the fact that the
Constitution of the United States forbids the granting of any title of
nobility to any citizen thereof, and while it does not in letters forbid
the inheritance of this superior caste, I believe in the fertile
imagination of the gentleman promulgating it, his position is at least
in conflict with the spirit of that organic law of the land. He insists
and, I believe, has introduced a resolution in this House for the repeal
of the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution.

* * * * *

It would be unfair, however, for me to leave the inference upon the
minds of those who hear me that all of the white people of the State of
North Carolina hold views with Mr. Kitchin and think as he does. Thank
God there are many noble exceptions to the example he sets, that, too,
in the Democratic party; men who have never been afraid that one
uneducated, poor, depressed Negro could put to flight and chase into
degradation two educated, wealthy, thrifty white men. There never has
been, nor ever will be, any Negro domination in that State, and no one
knows it any better than the Democratic party. It is a convenient howl,
however, often resorted to in order to consummate a diabolical purpose
by scaring the weak and gullible whites into support of measures and men
suitable to the demagogue and the ambitious office-seeker, whose craving
for office overshadows and puts to flight all other considerations, fair
or unfair.

As I stated on a former occasion, this young statesman has ample time to
learn better and more useful knowledge than he has exhibited in many of
his speeches upon this floor, and I again plead for him the statute of
youth for the wild and spasmodic notions which he has endeavored to
rivet upon his colleagues and this country. But I regret that Mr.
Kitchin is not alone upon this floor in these peculiar notions advanced.
I refer to another young member of Congress, hailing from the State of
Alabama, Mr. Underwood.

* * * * *

It is an undisputed fact that the Negro vote in the State of Alabama, as
well as most of the other Southern States, has been effectively
suppressed, either one way or the other--in some instances by
constitutional amendment and State legislation, in others by
cold-blooded fraud and intimidation, but whatever the method pursued, it
is not denied, but frankly admitted in the speeches in this House, that
the black vote has been eliminated to a large extent. Then, when some of
us insist that the plain letter of the Constitution of the United
States, which all of us have sworn to support, should be carried out, as
expressed in the second section of the fourteenth amendment thereof.

That section makes the duty of every member of Congress plain, and yet
the gentleman from Alabama [Mr. Underwood] says that the attempt to
enforce this section of the organic law is the throwing down of
fire-brands, and notifies the world that this attempt to execute the
highest law of the land will be retaliated by the South, and the
inference is that the Negro will be even more severely punished than
the horrors through which he has already come.

Let me make it plain: The divine law, as well as most of the State laws,
says, in substance: "He that sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his
blood be shed." A highwayman commits murder, and when the officers of
the law undertake to arrest, try, and punish him commensurate with the
enormity of his crime, he straightens himself up to his full height and
defiantly says to them: "Let me alone; I will not be arrested, I will
not be tried, I'll have none of the execution of your laws, and in the
event you attempt to execute your laws upon me, I will see to it many
more men, women, or children are murdered."

Here's the plain letter of the Constitution, the plain, simple, sworn
duty of every member of Congress; yet these gentlemen from the South say
"Yes, we have violated your Constitution of the nation; we regarded it
as a local necessity; and now, if you undertake to punish us as the
Constitution prescribes, we will see to it that our former deeds of
disloyalty to that instrument, our former acts of disfranchisement and
opposition to the highest law of the land will be repeated manifoldly."

Not content with all that has been done to the black man, not because of
any deeds that he has done, Mr. Underwood advances the startling
information that these people have been thrust upon the whites of the
South, forgetting, perhaps, the horrors of the slave-trade, the
unspeakable horrors of the transit from the shores of Africa by means of
the middle passage to the American clime; the enforced bondage of the
blacks and their descendants for two and a half centuries in the United
States. Now, for the first time perhaps in the history of our lives, the
information comes that these poor, helpless, and in the main inoffensive
people were thrust upon our Southern brethren.

* * * * *

If the gentleman to whom I have referred will pardon me, I would like to
advance the statement that the musty records of 1868, filed away in the
archives of Southern capitols, as to what the Negro was thirty-two years
ago, is not a proper standard by which the Negro living on the threshold
of the twentieth century should be measured. Since that time we have
reduced the illiteracy of the race at least 45 per cent. We have written
and published near 500 books. We have nearly 300 newspapers, 3 of which
are dailies. We have now in practise over 2,000 lawyers and a
corresponding number of doctors. We have accumulated over $12,000,000
worth of school property and about $40,000,000 worth of church property.
We have about 140,000 farms and homes, valued at in the neighborhood of
$750,000,000, and personal property valued at about $170,000,000. We
have raised about $11,000,000 for educational purposes, and the property
per capita for every colored man, woman, and child in the United States
is estimated at $75.

We are operating successfully several banks, commercial enterprises
among our people in the Southland, including 1 silk-mill and 1
cotton-factory. We have 32,000 teachers in the schools of the country;
we have built, with the aid of our friends, about 20,000 churches, and
support 7 colleges, 17 academies, 50 high schools, 5 law schools, 5
medical schools, and 25 theological seminaries. We have over 600,000
acres of land in the South alone. The cotton produced, mainly by black
labor, has increased from 4,669,770 bales in 1860 to 11,235,000 in 1899.
All this we have done under the most adverse circumstances. We have done
it in the face of lynching, burning at the stake, with the humiliation
of "Jim Crow" cars, the disfranchisement of our male citizens, slander
and degradation of our women, with the factories closed against us, no
Negro permitted to be conductor on the railway-cars, whether run through
the streets of our cities or across the prairies of our great country,
no Negro permitted to run as engineer on a locomotive, most of the mines
closed against us. Labor-unions--carpenters, painters, brick-masons,
machinists, hackmen, and those supplying nearly every conceivable
avocation for livelihood have banded themselves together to better their
condition, but, with few exceptions, the black face has been left out.
The Negroes are seldom employed in our mercantile stores. At this we do
not wonder. Some day we hope to have them employed in our own stores.
With all these odds against us, we are forging our way ahead, slowly,
perhaps, but surely. You tie us and then taunt us for a lack of bravery,
but one day we will break the bonds. You may use our labor for two and a
half centuries and then taunt us for our poverty, but let me remind you
we will not always remain poor. You may withhold even the knowledge of
how to read God's word and learn the way from earth to glory and then
taunt us for our ignorance, but we would remind you that there is plenty
of room at the top, and we are climbing.

After enforced debauchery, with the many kindred horrors incident to
slavery, it comes with ill grace from the perpetrators of these deeds to
hold up the shortcomings of some of our race to ridicule and scorn.

"The new man, the slave who has grown out of the ashes of thirty-five
years ago, is inducted into the political and social system, cast into
the arena of manhood, where he constitutes a new element and becomes a
competitor for all its emoluments. He is put upon trial to test his
ability to be counted worthy of freedom, worthy of the elective
franchise; and after thirty-five years of struggling against almost
insurmountable odds, under conditions but little removed from slavery
itself, he asks a fair and just judgment, not of those whose prejudice
has endeavored to forestall, to frustrate his every forward movement,
rather those who have lent a helping hand, that he might demonstrate the
truth of 'the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.'"

* * * * *

Now, Mr. Chairman, before concluding my remarks I want to submit a brief
recipe for the solution of the so-called American Negro problem. He asks
no special favors, but simply demands that he be given the same chance
for existence, for earning a livelihood, for raising himself in the
scales of manhood and womanhood that are accorded to kindred
nationalities. Treat him as a man; go into his home and learn of his
social conditions; learn of his cares, his troubles, and his hopes for
the future; gain his confidence; open the doors of industry to him; let
the word "Negro," "colored," and "black" be stricken from all the
organizations enumerated in the federation of labor.

Help him to overcome his weaknesses, punish the crime-committing class
by the courts of the land, measure the standard of the race by its best
material, cease to mold prejudicial and unjust public sentiment against
him, and my word for it, he will learn to support, hold up the hands of,
and join in with that political party, that institution, whether secular
or religious, in every community where he lives, which is destined to do
the greatest good for the greatest number. Obliterate race hatred, party
prejudice, and help us to achieve nobler ends, greater results, and
become more satisfactory citizens to our brother in white.

This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the Negroes' temporary farewell to the
American Congress; but let me say, Ph[oe]nix-like he will rise up some
day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged,
heart-broken, bruised, and bleeding, but God-fearing people, faithful,
industrious, loyal people--rising people, full of potential force.

Mr. Chairman, in the trial of Lord Bacon, when the court disturbed the
counsel for the defendant, Sir Walter Raleigh raised himself up to his
full height and, addressing the court, said:

"Sir, I am pleading for the life of a human being."

The only apology that I have to make for the earnestness with which I
have spoken is that I am pleading for the life, the liberty, the future
happiness, and manhood-suffrage for one-eight of the entire population
of the United States.

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