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Address On The Occasion Of The Presentation Of A Loving Cup To Hon Joseph Benson Foraker United States Senator


[Note 39: Delivered, in appreciation of his service on behalf of the
members of Companies A, B and C, 25th Infantry, March 6th, 1909, at
Metropolitan A. M. E. Church, Washington, D. C.]

The Honorable Joseph Benson Foraker, and Colored Citizens:

A little more than two years ago the country was startled one November
morning by a Presidential order for which there is no precedent in the
history of the government. It was an act not only without precedent,
but, as it appeared at the time to many Americans and as it appears to
them now for that matter, not warranted either by law or justice. The
punishment which that order inflicted on a whole battalion of American
soldiers, without trial of any kind seemed unmerited and cruel in the
highest degree, and a wanton abuse of executive power.

The history of this case is known of all men, thanks and yet again
thanks and love without limit to the illustrious man whom we have met to
honor to-night. For it is now and it must forever remain the history of
the Black Battalion and of Senator Foraker. It is the history of the
most masterly and heroic struggle in defense of the rights and liberties
of the individual citizen against executive usurpation and oppression
which this country has witnessed for a generation.

The act of the President, while it affected the rights of all Americans,
bore with peculiar hardship, with crushing injustice, on the one hundred
and sixty-seven men of the Black Battalion who were discharged from the
Army without honor and on a mere assumption of their guilt in the
"Brownsville" affray.

That act was a sad blow to the colored race of the country likewise, and
fell upon them with cruel surprise. For they are people without many
friends and are hard pressed in this boasted land of the free and home
of the brave. They are hard pressed in every part of the Republic by an
increasing race prejudice, by a bitter colorphobia which forgets that
they are weak, forgets their claim at the hands of a Christian nation to
just and equal treatment to the end that they may do and become as other
men with a race and color different from their own. Blows they are
receiving thick and fast from their enemies whose name is legion, blows
against their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in
the South and in the North. We are accustomed as a race to such blows.
Cruel as they are and hard to bear, yet they do not take us by surprise.
For we have learned by long and bitter experience to look for them from
a people who loudly proclaim, in season and out, their belief in the
principles of democracy and of Christianity. But when an old friend
turns against us, and strikes too like an ancient enemy, such a blow is
more grievous to bear, and seems crueler than death itself. The blow of
an old friend is always the unkindest blow of all. One is never prepared
for it, and when it falls the wound which it inflicts cuts deeper than
flesh and blood, for the iron of it enters the soul itself. And so it
happened to us, when, two years ago, the cruel wrong of that executive
order was done to our brave boys in blue by the hand of a trusted
friend, the apostle of the "square deal."

Who can describe the shock of that first terrible amazement, the hot
indignation felt by a race at the huge injustice, at the Draconian
severity of that order which expelled from the American Army one hundred
and sixty-seven men without trial of any kind and on a mere suspicion of
their guilt, and which made them forever ineligible to employment
thereafter in any department of the National Government, whether on its
civil, military, or naval side, and the deep consternation which filled
the homes of every colored man in the land--North and South alike? I for
one can not describe those feelings, although I experienced in unison
with the race at the time the amazement, the indignation, and the
consternation which swept us together and caused us to feel and speak
and act as one man under the wrong done us by the hand of an old friend
whose golden words of hope and fair play we had sometime written in
letters of light on the tablets of our hearts. It is no slight matter
for any man, whether he be President or private citizen, so to wound the
sense of right of a whole race, so to shock its faith in the justice
and righteousness of its rulers and government, as that cruel blunder of
the President of the United States produced among the colored people of
the entire country.

We lifted up our voice as the voice of many waters from one end of the
land to the other in loud protest against the wrong, in stern
denunciation of it, and the press of the North came nobly to our
assistance and swelled the volume of our protest and denunciation. But
alas, all this volume of protest and denunciation on the part of the
race and of the press would have passed over the nation and the
Government like a summer storm of wind and rain--so little do our
outcries against injustice and oppression excite the attention and
sympathy of the Republic any more--had there not arisen in the Senate of
the United States a man for the hour, had not God raised him up to
defend his little ones against the slings and arrows of a sleepless
energy, of an almost omnipotent power seated in the highest place of the
Government. It was the genius, the grandeur of soul of a great man who
was able to gather into thunderbolt after thunderbolt all the sense of
outraged justice on the part of race and press, and to hurl them with
marvelous precision and overwhelming might against that cruel executive
order and the hosts of words and messages and other hordes of blood-dyed
epithets which the President marshalled and sent forth from time to time
in defense of his Draconian decree. If there was sleepless energy in the
White House, there was an energy just as sleepless on the floor of the
Senate. The almost omnipotent power wielded for the destruction of the
Black Battalion by the formidable occupant of the executive mansion was
met and matched, ay, overmatched again and again by an omnipotence in
discussion which a just cause and genius as orator, lawyer, and debater
of the first rank could alone have put into the strong right arm of the
brave redresser of a race's wrongs on the floor of the Senate. For more
than two years he carried the case of the Black Battalion in his big and
tireless brain, in his big and gentle heart, as a mother carries under
her bosom her unborn babe. God alone knows what sums of money, what deep
thought and solicitude, what unflagging energy, what unceasing labor, he
spent in his holy and self-imposed task to right the wrongs of those
helpless and persecuted men. In the Senate their case pursued him like a
shadow, and at home it sat with him like a ghost in his library, and
slept for a few hours only when the great brain slept and the generous
heart rested from the pain which was torturing it. Sir, did you know
what love went out to you during those tremendous months of toil and
struggle, and what prayers from the grateful hearts of ten millions of

Yes, he was one man against the whole power of the Administration and
all that that meant. Perhaps we do not fully understand what a colossal
power that was to confront and grapple with. Almost single-handed he met
that power and threw it again and again in the arena of debate. Every
speech he made in behalf of his clients, whether on the floor of the
Senate or outside of that body, was as terrible as an army with banners
to the enemies of the Black Battalion who had now, alas, become his
enemies too, and who were bent on the destruction of both, the defender
and the defended alike. But he did not hesitate or quail before that
power and the danger which threatened his political life. As the battle
thickened and perils gathered fast about his head he fought the fight of
the Black Battalion as few men in the history of the Republic have ever
fought for the weak, for a just cause against organized power and
oppression in the high places of the Government. Senator Foraker was one
man, but Senator Foraker was a host in himself. We know this, but the
enemies of the Black Battalion know it better than we do, for wherever
they appeared on the field of action during those two years, whether
with their sappers and miners or assaulting columns, there they found
him alert, dauntless, invincible--their sappers and miners hoisted with
their own petard, their assaulting columns routed and driven to cover
before the withering, the deadly fire from the flashing cannon of his
facts, his logic, his law, and his eloquence. Sir, God knows that I
would rather have fought the fight which you fought so gloriously than
be a Senator of the United States, day, than be President of the
Republic itself. For it is better to be a brave and just and true man
than to be either Senator or President, or both.

"Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his
friends." This is what Senator Foraker has done for the Black Battalion
and for the principles of law and liberty which underlie their case. He
has given his political life, his seat in the Senate, all the honor and
power which were his had he chosen to defend the order of the
President, discharging those one hundred and sixty-seven men without
trial of any kind from the Army which their valor had helped to make
glorious--instead of the soldiers whom he did not know but whose pitiful
case, whose unjust and cruel punishment, enlisted the sympathy of his
great heart and the masterly labors of his tireless brain. Yes, I
repeat, and do not let it ever be forgotten by us as a race, that
Senator Foraker might to-day be his own successor in the United States
Senate had he chosen to play in the "Brownsville" affair the part of
defender of President Roosevelt's wanton abuse and usurpation of
executive power, instead of taking the side of the Black Battalion and
the fundamental principle of our law and Constitution that each man
accused of crime is entitled to trial before he is condemned and
punished. He chose the side of the weak, of justice, and the
Constitution in this great struggle, and not that of power and the
Administration. This was the sin which brought upon him all the wrath of
that power and of that Administration, but of which all good men and
true absolve and for which they honor him, and for which, besides, a
grateful race enshrines him in its heart of hearts. For he preferred to
suffer affliction with the Black Battalion and to suffer defeat for the
Senatorship rather than enjoy power and office as the price of his
desertion of the cause of those helpless men.

No man can give as much as Senator Foraker has given to a just cause,
give as generously, as unselfishly, gloriously as he has given of his
very self in this "Brownsville" case and lose that which is best
striving for in life. He may lose place in the Government and power as
a political leader. But what are these but the ephemera of man's fevered
existence and strivings here below? "What shadows we are," Burke said on
a memorable occasion in his contest for a seat in Parliament, "and what
shadows we pursue." Office, power, popularity; what are they but shadows
of passing clouds which a breath blows to us and a breath blows from us
again. No man loses anything in reality when he loses such fleeting,
such shadowy possessions. But if for the sake of them he loses truth,
justice, goodness, his love of the right and his hatred of the wrong,
his sympathy for the oppressed, his passion to help God's little ones,
such a man has bartered away his soul, the immortal part of him for a
rood of grass, which to-day flourisheth and to-morrow withereth and is
cast into the oven of all transitory and perishable possessions.

How many men who now hold seats in the United States Senate or the House
of Representatives do we even know the names of? How many of all that
long procession of them who have been passing for more than a century
though those halls of power have we so much as heard the names of? They
have filed through those stately chambers to dusty death and oblivion,
and the places which knew them once know them no more forever. A few
names only are remembered among all the multitude of them, not because
of the places they occupied or the power they wielded, but because while
in those houses they chose the better part--chose not to busy themselves
with shadows, with the things which perish, but seized and held fast to
the eternal verities of justice and freedom and human brotherhood. The
vast majority of them magnified their brief authority and neglected the
opportunity which their offices offered them to link their names and
official lives with some noble movement or measure for the betterment of
their kind, for the lifting up of those who were down, the strengthening
of those who were weak, the succor of those who were hard pressed by
man's inhumanity to man.

It is beautiful to defend those who can not defend themselves, to lift
up the weak, to succor those who are ready to perish. It is heroic,
divine, when the doing so involves peril and sacrifice of self. It is
the essence of the Gospel preached and lived by one who spoke and lived
as never man spoke and lived. It is simple and undefiled Christianity.
Nothing avails to make Senator or President or people Christian but just
this one thing--not race or color or creed, not learning and wealth and
civilization--but kindness to God's poor, to Christ's little ones. Did
you feed them when they were hungry; did you give them to drink when
they were thirsty; did you visit and comfort them when they were in
prison? Those who do these things to the humblest and the blackest of
these little ones of the Republic have done them unto the divine Master,
are in truth His disciples; and those who do them not are not His
followers, whatever may be their profession, but quite the contrary.
They have no part or lot with Him but belong to the evil forces of the
world which are forever opposing the coming of His righteous Kingdom on
earth when all men shall be brothers, when the strong shall everywhere
bear the burdens of the weak.

Inasmuch as William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Sumner, Wendell Phillips,
John Brown, and Abraham Lincoln did it to the least of His little ones
in this Republic, they did it unto Him. They are a goodly company, the
glorious company of the elect of the Republic, its prophets, its
priests, and its kings. And, Sir, inasmuch as you, too, did it to the
Black Battalion in their dire need, you did it unto Christ, and you are
now henceforth and forevermore to enter into the supreme joy of that
supreme service and sacrifice. You lost, Sir, your seat in the Senate,
it is true, but you have won an enduring place in a race's heart, its
enduring love and gratitude, and the plaudit of the divine Master, "Well
done, good and faithful servant," uttered from the lips of all good men
and true the country over.

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