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An Address Delivered Before The House Of Representatives Of Massachusetts





BY WILLIAM H. LEWIS

Assistant Attorney-General of the United States

[Note 46: Boston, Massachusetts, Wednesday, February 12, 1913.]


Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives:

The power of the House to summons forthwith any citizen of the
Commonwealth has never been resisted; and so by designation of the
Honorable Speaker, in accordance with the order of the House, I am here
in answer to your summons. You have invited me, as a member of the
liberated race, to address you upon this Lincoln's Birthday in
commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Words would be futile to express my deep appreciation of this high
honor, however unworthily bestowed. Twice before have I met this
honorable House. I came first as an humble petitioner seeking redress
against discrimination on account of color. You then granted my prayer.
Some years later, I came as a member of this House, the last
representative of my race to sit in this body. You treated me then as a
man and an equal. And now the honors of an invited guest I shall cherish
as long as memory lasts.

To-day is the anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the preserver
of the Union, the liberator of a race. "The mystic chords of memory,"
stretching from heart to heart of millions of Americans at this hour,
"swell the chorus of thanksgiving" to the Almighty for the life,
character, and service of the great President.

Four brief, crucial years he represented the soul of the Union
struggling for immortality--for perpetuity; in him was the spirit of
liberty struggling for a new birth among the children of men.

"Slavery must die," he said, "that the Union may live."

We have a Union to-day because we have Emancipation; we have
Emancipation because we have a united country. Though nearly fifty years
have elapsed since his martyr death and we see his images everywhere,
yet Lincoln is no mere legendary figure of an heroic age done in colors,
cast in bronze, or sculptured in marble; he is a living, vital force in
American politics and statecraft. The people repeat his wise sayings;
politicians invoke his principles; men of many political stripes profess
to be following in his footsteps. We of this generation can almost see
him in the flesh and blood and hear falling from his lips the sublime
words of Gettysburg, the divine music of the second inaugural and the
immortal Proclamation of Emancipation. We see this man of mighty thews
and sinews, his feet firmly planted in mother earth, his head towering
in the heavens. He lived among men but he walked with God. He was
himself intensely human, but his sense of right, of justice, seemed to
surpass the wisdom of men. A true child of nature, he beheld the races
of men in the raw without the artificial trappings of civilization and
the adventitious circumstances of birth or wealth or place, and could
see no difference in their natural rights.

"The Negro is a man," said he, "my ancient faith tells me that all men
are created equal."

As a man he was brave yet gentle, strong yet tender and sympathetic,
with the intellect of a philosopher, yet with the heart of a little
child. As a statesman he was prudent, wise, sagacious, far-seeing and
true. As President he was firm, magnanimous, merciful, and just. As a
liberator and benefactor of mankind, he has no peer in all human
history.

As Lowell said in his famous commemoration ode, it still must be said:

"Great captains, with their guns and drums,
Disturb our judgment for the hour,
But at last silence comes;
These are all gone, and, standing like a tower,
Our children shall behold his fame,
The kindly-earnest, brave, foreseeing man,
Sagacious, patient, dreading praise, not blame,
New birth of our new soil, the first American."

There are only three great charters of freedom among Anglo-Saxon
peoples: the Magna Charta, which the barons wrung from King John at
Runnymede; the Declaration of Independence, which a few colonials threw
at the head of an obstinate king; the Emancipation Proclamation, which
Lincoln cast into the balance for the Union. The Magna Charta gave
freedom to the nobility; the Declaration of Independence brought freedom
down to the plain people; the Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln set free
the under-man, and proclaimed liberty to the slave and the serf
throughout the world.

Massachusetts had no small part in the second great charter of liberty.
This is attested not only by the signatures of Hancock, the Adams's,
Paine, and Gerry to that great document, but here are Boston, Concord,
Lexington, and Bunker Hill, and a thousand memorials of the Revolution
besides. Great indeed as was the part that Massachusetts played in
achieving independence, greater still was her share in the Emancipation
of the slave. Lincoln himself said that Boston had done more to bring on
the war than any other city; and when Emancipation had been achieved he
generously credited the result "to the logic and moral power of Garrison
and the anti-slavery people."

This day, therefore, belongs to Massachusetts. It is a part of her
glorious history. Emancipation was but the triumph of Puritan
principle--the right of each individual to eat his bread out of the
sweat of his own brow or not at all. The history of the abolition of
slavery in America could not be written with Massachusetts left out; the
history of Massachusetts herself, since the Revolution, would be but a
dreary, barren waste without the chapter of her part in the
Emancipation.

The House does well to pause in its deliberations to commemorate this
anniversary. In 1837 your predecessors threw open the old Hall of
Representatives to the first meeting of the New England Anti-Slavery
Society. A year later, the legislature adopted resolutions against the
slave-trade, for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia,
and the prohibition of slavery in the territories.

The fathers early enacted that there should be neither bond slaves nor
villeinage amongst us except captives taken in just wars and those
condemned judicially to serve. When it was attempted to land the first
cargo of slaves upon her soil, the people seized them and sent them back
to their own country and clime. In spite of the prayers and resolutions
and acts of the early fathers, a form of slavery grew up here, but it
was milder than the English villeinage: it resembled apprenticeship
except in the duration. The slave had many of the rights of free men;
the right to marry and the right to testify in court. Either with the
decision of Somerset's case in England or the adoption of the first
Constitution of the Commonwealth, during the Revolution, that
institution passed away forever. The voices of freedom were first raised
here. Whittier, Lowell, and Longfellow sang the songs of Emancipation.
Garrison, Phillips, and Parker were the prophets and disciples of
Lincoln. In the darkest days of slavery, John Quincy Adams held aloft
the torch of liberty and fed its flame with his own intrepid spirit.
Sumner was the scourge of God, the conscience of the state incarnate.

The people of Massachusetts were not only idealists, dreamers, and
molders of public opinion, but when thirty years of agitation had
reached its culmination in the Civil War, Massachusetts sent 150,000 of
her sons to sustain upon the battle-fields of the Republic the ideals
which she had advocated in the Halls of Congress, in the forum and the
market-place. The people of Massachusetts, true to their history and
traditions, have abolished here, so far as laws can do so, every
discrimination between race and color, and every inequality between man
and man.

I have recalled these things for no vainglorious purpose. We should
remind ourselves constantly that we have a history behind us, that we
have a character to sustain. Are we of this generation worthy
descendants of tea spillers and abolitionists? Are we living up to the
traditions of the Commonwealth, to the principles of the fathers in
relation to the treatment of citizens of color? I have observed with
aching heart and agonizing spirit during the last twenty years not only
the growing coldness and indifference on the part of our people to the
fate of the Negro elsewhere; but here in our own city the breaking up of
the old ties of friendship that once existed between people of color and
all classes of citizens, just after Emancipation; the gradual falling
away of that sympathy and support upon which we could always confidently
rely in every crisis. I have watched the spirit of race prejudice raise
its sinister shape in the labor market, in the business house, the
real-estate exchange, in public places, and even in our schools,
colleges, and churches.

I say all this with pain and sorrow. I would be the last to "soil my own
nest" or to utter one word that would reflect in the slightest degree
upon Massachusetts or her people. I love inexpressibly every foot of
Massachusetts soil, from the Berkshires to Essex, from the Capes to the
islands off our southern coast. I have studied her history; I know her
people, and when I have played out the little game with destiny, I want
to rest upon some Massachusetts hillside.

I can never forget the emotions that filled my breast when first I set
foot in Boston just a quarter of a century ago, a Negro lad in search of
education, freedom, and opportunity. As I walked these sacred streets I
lived over the Revolution, I saw them peopled with the mighty men of the
past. I hastened to make my obeisance first to the spot where Attucks
fell, the first martyr of the Revolution. I next looked out upon Bunker
Hill where Peter Salem stood guard over the fallen Warren. I said to
myself "here at last no black man need be ashamed of his race, here he
has made history." And then to scenes of still another period I turned
my gaze. I looked upon the narrow streets where Garrison was mobbed for
my sake. I viewed the place where a few brave men gave Shadrach to
freedom and to fame. The pictured walls of the old "cradle of liberty"
seemed still to echo to the silvery tones of Phillips. The molded face
of Governor Andrew spoke a benediction: "I know not what record of sins
awaits me in that other life, but this I do know, I never despised any
man because he was ignorant, because he was poor or because he was
black."

I felt that here at last was liberty, and here I would make my home.

You say to me, "certainly you can find no fault." I gratefully
acknowledge the debt which I owe the people of Massachusetts, but I
cannot forget my brethren here. I cannot forget my children too, who
were born here and by the blessings of God and your help I will leave to
them and their children a freer and better Massachusetts even than I
have found her.

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

I want upon this day to remind Massachusetts of her old ideals of
liberty, justice, equality for all beneath her pure white flag. Laws,
customs, institutions are nothing unless behind them stands a vital,
living, throbbing public sentiment in favor of their enforcement in the
spirit as well as in the letter. My friends, unless we can stay the
rising tide of prejudice; unless we can hark back to our old ideals and
old faiths, our very statues and memorials will some day mock us and cry
shame upon us.

National Emancipation was the culmination of a moral revolution, such as
the world has never seen. It was not as Garrison intended, a peaceful
revolution, the unanimous verdict of an awakened national conscience.
Thirty years of fierce agitation and fiercer politics made an appeal to
arms absolutely certain. A conflict of arms brought on by a conflict of
opinion was bound to be followed by a conflict of opinion, whichever
side won. So for fifty years since Emancipation, there has been more or
less conflict over the Negro and his place in the Republic. The results
of that conflict have in many instances been oppressive and even
disastrous to his freedom. Many things incidental to Emancipation and
vital to complete freedom are unfortunately still in the controversial
stages. The right of the Negro to cast a ballot on the same
qualifications as his other fellow citizens is not yet conceded
everywhere. Public sentiment has not yet caught up with the
Constitution, nor is it in accord with the principles of true democracy.
The right of the Negro to free access to all public places and to exact
similar treatment therein is not universal in this country. He is
segregated by law in some sections; he is segregated by custom in
others. He is subjected to many petty annoyances and injustices and
ofttimes deep humiliation solely on account of his color.

The explanation of this reactionary tendency sometimes given is that the
Negro is only a generation from slavery. It should not be forgotten that
individuals of every other race in history have at some time been held
slaves. The bondage of Israel is to-day only an epic poem. The Greek
Slave adorns simply a niche in some palace of art. The Servii of Rome
instructed the masters of the world. The Anglo-Saxon has not only worn
the Roman and Norman collars, but individuals of that race were sold as
slaves in the West Indies as late as the seventeenth century. White men
have enslaved white men, black men have enslaved black men. The place of
human slavery in the divine economy I do not understand, nor do I defend
it; I am glad that the human race has long since passed that stage in
its development. No race has a right to lord it over another or seek to
degrade it because of a history of servitude; all have passed through
this cruel experience; the history of the black race is a little more
recent, that is all. The fact of slavery, therefore, should not impose
the slightest limitation upon the liberty of the Negro or restriction
upon his rights as a man and citizen.

The one great phase of the race question agitating the country to-day is
that of intermarriage and miscegenation. It is a serious question; it is
a vital question. No one will deny the right of any man to protect his
family stock, or the right of a group to preserve its racial integrity.
The facts show, however, that laws, however stringent, will not
accomplish it. I submit for the serious consideration of the American
people that the only danger of infusion from the Negro side is simply
one thing, and that is summed up in one word "injustice." Why is it that
thousands of colored men and women go over to the other side, "pass" as
we say? It is for no other purpose than to escape the social ostracism
and civic disabilities of the Negro. Why is it that we see so many
pathetic attempts to be white? It is simply to escape injustice. In a
country where every opportunity is open to the white, in business, in
society, in government, and the door shut against or reluctantly opened
to the black, the natural unconscious effort of the black is to get
white. Where black is a badge of an inferior caste position in society,
the natural effort of the black is to find some method of escape. I do
not advocate intermarriage; I do not defend miscegenation. The same
thing is true to-day as it was true in the time of Lincoln. In his
debates with Douglass in 1858, he noted "that among the free States,
those which make the colored man the nearest equal to the white have
proportionally the fewest mulattoes, the least amalgamation."

I submit therefore, that the only sure way to put an end to this
tendency or desire, so far as the Negro is concerned, is to accord him
all his public and political rights and to treat each individual upon
his merits as a man and citizen, according to him such recognition as
his talents, his genius, his services to the community or the state
entitles him. Make black, brown, yellow, the "open sesame" to the same
privileges and the same opportunities as the white, and no one will care
to become white.

Upon this day which commemorates the emancipation of the black and the
larger freedom of the white race, the redemption of the state and the
birth of a new nation, I would bring to you a message not of blackness
and despair but of hope--hope triumphant, hope, that Watts has pictured
as blind with one string to her lyre, that sees not the star just ahead,
but sits supreme at the top of the world.

Emancipation redeemed the precious promises of the Declaration of
Independence. It rid the Republic of its one great inconsistency, a
government of the people resting upon despotism; it rescued the ship of
state from the rocks of slavery and sectionalism, and set her with sails
full and chart and compass true once more upon the broad ocean of
humanity to lead the world to the haven of true human brotherhood. We
have encountered storms and tempests at times; the waves of race
antipathy have run high, and the political exigencies of the hour seem
to overcast the heavens with clouds of darkness and despair, yet I have
never lost faith, because the fathers set her course, and God, the
Master Mariner, has ever been at the helm. "In giving freedom to the
slave we insured freedom to the free." In a country where all men were
free none could be slaves. Emancipation raised labor to its true dignity
and gave a new impetus to industry, commerce, and civilization. Under
free labor men of many climes have come here to help develop the natural
resources of the country, and the nation has entered upon a period of
progress such as the world has never before witnessed in any time or
place.

What of the Negro himself? Has he justified Emancipation? The statistics
of his physical, intellectual, and material progress are known to all.
He has increased his numbers nearly threefold. The Negro population is
to-day nearly three times that of the whole country at the time of the
adoption of the Constitution. It is nearly three times that of New
England in 1860. He has reduced his illiteracy to thirty per cent. He
owns nearly $700,000,000 worth of property including nearly one million
homes. He has shown that his tutelage in American civilization has not
been vain; that he could live under the most trying and oppressive
conditions.

Three milestones in his progress have been reached and passed:

First: The North and South agree that the abolition of slavery was right
and just.

Second: The people of the North and South agree that every industrial
opportunity shall be given to the Negro.

Third: The right of the Negro to be educated and the duty of the state
to see to it that he has every opportunity for education are
established. Public opinion has settled forever the right of the Negro
to be free to labor and to educate. These three things constitute no
slight advance; they are the fundamental rights of civilization.

The prophecy of Lincoln has been fulfilled, that Emancipation would be
"An Act, which the world will forever applaud and God must forever
bless." Moreover it should not be forgotten, as Bancroft the historian
has said, that "it is in part to the aid of the Negro in freedom that
the country owes its success, in its movement of regeneration--that the
world of mankind owes the continuance of the United States as an example
of a Republic." The American Negro in freedom has brought new prestige
and glory to his country in many ways. Tanner, a Georgia boy, is no
longer a Negro artist, but an American artist whose works adorn the
galleries of the world. Paul Laurence Dunbar, an American poet, who
singing songs of his race, voicing its sorrows and griefs with
unrivalled lyric sweetness and purity, has caught the ear of the world.
The matchless story of Booker Washington, the American educator, is told
in many tongues and in many lands.

The history of the world has no such chapter as the Negro's fifty years
of freedom. The duty of the hour is to unshackle him and make him
wholly free. When the Negro is free from the vexatious annoyances of
color and has only the same problems of life as any other men, his
contribution to the general welfare of his country will be greater than
ever before.

Whatever be his present disadvantages and inequalities, one thing is
absolutely certain, that nowhere else in the world does so large a
number of people of African descent enjoy so many rights and privileges
as here in America. God has not placed these 10,000,000 here upon the
American Continent in the American Republic for naught. There must be
some work for them to do. He has given to each race some particular part
to play in our great national drama. I predict that within the next
fifty years all these discriminations, disfranchisements, and
segregation will pass away. Antipathy to color is not natural, and the
fear of ten by eighty millions of people is only a spook of politics, a
ghost summoned to the banquet to frighten the timid and foolish.

I care nothing for the past; I look beyond the present; I see a great
country with her territories stretching from the rising to the setting
sun, with a climate as varied as a tropical day and an Arctic night,
with a soil blessed by the fruits of the earth and nourished by the
waters under it; I see a great country tenanted by untold millions of
happy, healthy human beings; men of every race that God has made out of
one blood to inherit the earth, a great human family, governed by
righteousness and justice, not by greed and fear--in which peace and
happiness shall reign supreme.

Men more and more are beginning to realize that the common origin and
destiny of the human race give to each species the right to occupy the
earth in peace, prosperity, and plenty, and that the duty of each race
is to promote the happiness of all. The movements for social and
industrial justice and the right of the people to rule are world-wide.

The American people are fast losing their provincial character. They are
to-day a great world power with interests and possessions upon every
part of the globe. Their horizon is the world; they are thinking in
terms of the universe, and speaking in the tongues of all men.

With the widening of men's visions they must realize that the basis of
true democracy and human brotherhood is the common origin and destiny of
the human race; that we are all born alike, live alike, and die alike,
that the laws of man's existence make absolutely no distinction.

I wandered recently into Westminster Abbey. I beheld all around me the
images and effigies of the illustrious and the great,--kings, rulers,
statesmen, poets, patriots, explorers, and scientists; I trampled upon
the graves of some; I stood before the tombs of kings, some dead twelve
centuries; there the wisest and merriest of monarchs and the most pious
and dissolute of kings slept side by side. As illustrating the vanity of
triumphs of personal glory, on one side of the Chapel of Henry VII,
rests Mary, Queen of Scots, and almost directly opposite, all that
remains of Elizabeth, her executioner. I stood before the tomb of the
great Napoleon; I wandered through his palaces at Versailles and
Fontainebleau with all of their magnificence and splendor, and I
recalled the period of his power and glory among men, and yet, he too
died. Then I passed a Potter's field and I looked upon the graves of the
unknown, graves of the pauper and the pleb, and I realized that they
were at last equal, those who slept in Valhalla and those who slept in
the common burying-ground, and that they would each and all hear the
first or the second trump of the resurrection "according to the deeds
done in the body and the flesh, according to whether they were good or
evil." In the democracy of death all are equal. Then men, my brothers,
our duty is to make life in human society the same great democracy of
equality of rights, of privileges, of opportunities, for all the
children of men. There is nothing else worth while.

God grant to the American people this larger view of humanity, this
greater conception of human duty. In a movement for democracy, for
social and industrial justice, for the complete Emancipation of the
Negro from the disabilities of color, Massachusetts must now, as in the
past, point the way. If we fail here, with traditions and history such
as are ours behind us, can we succeed elsewhere? The Great Emancipator
speaks to us at this hour and furnishes the solution for all our race
problems. "Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the
other man, this race and the other race, and the other race being
inferior and therefore must be placed in an inferior position. Let us
discard all these things and unite as one people throughout this land,
until we shall once more stand up declaring that 'all men are created
equal.'"

God grant that the American people, year by year, may grow more like
Lincoln in charity, justice, and righteousness to the end that "the
government of the people, for the people, by the people, shall not
perish from the earth."





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