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Emancipation And Racial Advancement


[Note 50: An address delivered upon the invitation of the citizens
of Brownsville, Pa., on the occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the
Emancipation Proclamation and also to celebrate the event of Decoration
Day, May 30, 1913.]

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Celebration Committee, Ladies and

We are not here to-day in the capacity of the priest performing the
funeral rights over the graves of the dead; neither are we here simply
to offer tribute to their memory, by the time-honored custom of
decorating their graves with the faded tokens of a nation's love and
gratitude; but we are here, ladies and gentlemen, to cheer the hearts of
the living--not by an optimism impossible of realization--but by a
candid and truthful report of the conduct of that legacy of freedom,
which came to us fifty years ago, through the sacrifice and death of the
patriots, living and dead, whose memories are honored to-day all over
this broad land of ours.

The civilized world will watch for the newspaper reports of to-morrow to
learn the sentiments of the American people uttered to-day upon many of
the burning issues before the Congress of the United States, relating to
our domestic and foreign policies. The opportunities, which this day
gives, will be seized by national orators to record their convictions
upon matters of morality, politics, and diplomacy. Japan will listen
with keen, diplomatic interest to every utterance, official or
unofficial, touching the vexing problems involved in the so-called
"Yellow Peril" and in the Anti-Alien Land legislation, which, like
Segregation and the Jimcrowism of the South, have been enacted into laws
discriminating against citizens, not aliens, but citizens of the United
States of America, such as we are.

Many to-day believe that the gravity of these international matters will
force the Decoration Day orators to ignore the Negro question, which, in
some form or other, has been the livest question in American politics
for nearly three centuries. In this belief I think they will be
disappointed, for no question before the American people to-day, whether
national or international, can overshadow the Negro question in America,
and no day as historic as this would be complete in its observance
without some reference to it.

We, therefore, gladly welcome the Japanese, or any other members of the
colored race in the earth, to come and share with us that notoriety
which our presence begets in this country, for no other people on the
face of the globe, so far as the United States is concerned, will be
able to dispossess us from the limelight of public discussion. We have
not only helped, but we have made history in this country. We are
wrapped up in the history of the United States of America, despite the
attempt in certain quarters to deny us a respectful place therein. There
is not a single page, from the period of its colonial existence to its
present standard of greatness and renown, from which we are absent. From
the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock to the advent of the
Cavaliers at Jamestown; from the stirring periods of the Revolution,
which resulted in the emancipation of the colonists from British
imperialism, to the Rebellion in 1860--resulting in the salvation of the
Federal Union--we have ever and always been a potent factor in the
history of this country.

Our presence here has made this day possible. There would have been no
Decoration Day had the American kidnappers left us in Africa--our
fatherland. The world must, therefore, hear from us upon these special
occasions. So, like other elements of the population, we come to-day to
make our annual report. We come, in company with the others, to review
the past, to study the present, and, if possible, to forecast the
future. In measuring the progress of any successful commercial
enterprise, the mode of procedure is to compare beginnings with
balance-sheets. Commercially speaking, it is to take an inventory. What,
therefore, is true of any commercial enterprise is equally true of races
and individuals. The modus operandi is the same. In fact, we proceed
by comparing beginnings with beginnings; environments with environments,
and the advantages and disadvantages of the past and present. This is
the mode by which the progress of a race or the attainments of an
individual must be measured, and the Negro race offers no exception to
this rule.

It was Wendell Phillips, one of America's greatest statesmen, jurists,
and orators, who said in that marvellous lecture on Toussaint
L'Ouverture--beyond doubt the greatest military genius of the nineteenth
century--that there are two ways by which Anglo-Saxon civilization
measures races. First, by the great men produced by that race; secondly,
by the average merit of the mass of that race. In support of the first
he bravely summoned to his presence, from the regions of the dead, the
immortal Bacon, Shakespeare, Hampden, Hancock, Washington, and Franklin,
offering them as stars, who, in their day, had lent lustre in the galaxy
of history. And with equal pride he gloried in the average merit of
Anglo-Saxon blood, since it first streamed from its German home, in
support of the contention of the second way.

As a race, we shall offer no objection to this principle of judgment. In
fact, we cannot even if we so desired. We shall, therefore, accept it
without any reluctance. We think it is a good principle upon which to
base a judgment. The only consideration we demand, in connection with
it, is that the white American, in his judgment of the Afro-American,
shall strictly observe the rule which the race he represents has set for
itself; that is to say, let him measure our race by the great and useful
men it has produced, since the immortal Abraham Lincoln issued that
Proclamation, whose fiftieth anniversary we celebrate to-day, giving
freedom to four and one-half millions of human beings. Let him measure
us by the average merit of Afro-American blood, since it first streamed
from the land of the Pharaohs, whose wills were inscribed in
hieroglyphics--long before Ph[oe]nicia invented the alphabet; long
before the conquest of Alexander the Great had enabled Eratosthenes and
Appollodorus to construct their synchrony of Egyptian antiquity; long
before the construction of the Pyramids (those silent but eloquent
tributes to the grandeur and majesty of the African intellect) had
proclaimed the immortality of the soul.

Our record in this country, Mr. Chairman, must begin with the
Emancipation period. The Emancipation is our birthday. Mankind,
therefore, in measuring our progress, must, in order to be just, make
Emancipation its starting point. Previous to that period we were like
the earth in its primeval condition, as described by Moses, the great
Lawgiver, in the Book of the Generations; namely, that the "Earth was
without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep." So,
too, were we before the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation; we
were without national form; void of civic rights; and moral and
intellectual darkness covered the minds and souls and spirits of the

What was the condition of the race when the Emancipation Proclamation
was first issued, a half century ago? Commercially speaking, what were
the assets of this race? Had it anything to its credit in the

balance-sheets of human progress, save the evils accruing from a long
period of bondage? The facts will prove that it had nothing to its
credit but the virtues of patience and endurance, under trials and
afflictions, the horrors of which will form one of the darkest chapters
in the history of this country.

The twenty Africans, brought by the slave-traders to Jamestown, in 1620,
representing the introduction of African slavery into the United
States, in two hundred and forty-three years had increased to four and
one-half millions of human souls; and it is fair to presume that an
equal, if not a greater number than this, had perished on account of the
rigors of transmission in crossing the Atlantic Ocean and the
indescribable cruelties of the slave system at home.

The Proclamation of Emancipation found these four and one-half millions
of human beings practically homeless, penniless, and friendless, and
absolutely dependent upon the very same people to whom they were in
bondage for two hundred and forty years, and against whom they had taken
up arms in a civil war. The forty acres of land and two mules, which
were promised by the Federal Government, never materialized. That
promise was like the proverbial pie-crust, made to be broken; and the
descendants of these four and a half millions are to-day entitled, by
every humane consideration, to all the benefits and the equities in the
case. The Federal Government at Washington can only purge itself of this
breach of promise by paying the bill, with legal interest; if not,
according to the legal terms of the agreement (forty acres and two
mules), then in its just equivalents, either by pensioning the survivors
of the slave system--many who are to-day in abject squalor and want--or
by a liberal grant of money to the schools of the land charged with the
educational development of their much proscribed posterity.

What of the race's mental condition at the time of its civic birth?
There were scarcely any at that time who could either read or write
with any degree of proficiency. Not because they were incapable of
learning; not because of any mental inferiority; but because of the
cruel and unjust law prohibiting their education and making it a
criminal offense, not only for the Negro himself, but for any white man
who should undertake to instruct him. Punishment was so severe along
this line that the very sight of a book awed him into fear and fright.
The very existence of such a law was, indeed, an admission of the
educational possibilities of the race. In the year 1863 there were about
twenty members of the race who had received collegiate training.
Mathematically speaking, it took three hundred years to pull twenty
Negroes through the colleges of the land, so great was the combination
against our mental development.

What was our status in the business pursuits and gainful occupations at
that time? The year 1863 is as far back as we desire to go for this
enquiry, when the entire race, with but a few exceptions, were servants,
restricted to menial employment and plantation occupations.

What was the moral status of the race at that period? Here there are two
sides involved in any answer which might be given to this question. The
evidences of unlawful miscegenation present themselves to every traveler
throughout this country, and is in itself a pertinent answer to this
query. Our women have had to fight against indescribable odds in order
to preserve their womanhood from the attacks of moral lepers, who, very
often, were their masters and overseers. Yet, in spite of these
well-known facts, we have produced women among us of pure and good
morals, with unimpeachable reputation for virtue and purity. Sometimes
it is a little amusing to hear the white American expatiate on the
immorality of Negro women. They certainly cannot forget their own record
in their dealings with the helpless Negro women of this country. But
here, we will let the curtain of secrecy fall upon such a scene, while
we shall advance to a higher and nobler plane upon this day when nothing
but good feeling must be allowed a place on the programme.

"Watchman, what of the night?" What tidings does the morning bring, if
any? Has the future nothing in store for America's greatest factors in
her industrial and commercial development?

Let us turn from the past; what of the present? In spite of the
dehumanizing and other efforts to destroy the fecundity of the race, the
twenty Africans of 1620, by the close of the Revolution, had increased
to 650,000, and these 650,000, at the close of the Civil War, had
reached the alarming number of four and one-half millions; and these
four and a half millions, had, according to the last Federal Census,
reached the astonishing number of ten millions or more of native-born
citizens--entitled, though sometimes denied, to every right and
privilege granted by the Constitution of the United States and by the
Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments thereof; the making and sustaining
of which our fathers contributed much of their blood and sacrifice, in
peace, as well as in war.

For we have been present, not only as spectators, but as active
participants in every trying crisis in the history of this nation. In
the beginning of the seventeenth century, when labor troubles threatened
the very life of the infant colony and continuing to the founding of the
Republic--when white men were held in peonage or actual bondage for the
uncanceled financial obligations due to the nobility of Great
Britain--who furnished the labor which solved the vexed problem? Who
furnished the brawn and muscle which cleared the forests, leveled the
hills, tunneled the mountains, bridged the rivers, laid the tracks and
cultivated the fields, until this broad land had become as beautiful as
the lily of the valley and as fragrant as the rose of Sharon?

In 1776, when despotism was enthroned and liberty languished in the
streets of Boston, was it not the blood of a Negro--Crispus
Attucks--which animated the sinking spirit of the Goddess, who was
almost ready to die under the oppression of King George and the
despotism of Cornwallis?

In the Sixties--when Lincoln, despairing of the outcome of the Civil
War, on account of the treachery in his own ranks and repeated reverses
on the battle-field, called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the
Rebellion in the South--who came to the rescue of the Union? In spite of
the effort of McClellan and his company of 50,000 soldiers, who went to
Richmond to prevent "niggers," as they were called, from enlisting, who
came to the rescue of the Union? Whose blood helped to render the
testament of liberty valid? Ask Port Hudson and Milligan's Bend, and
Fort Wagner, and Fort Pillow, and Pittsburg Landing, how the nearly
200,000 Negro soldiers behaved themselves under the fire of the enemy
on these memorable battlefields--rendered sacred by their patriotic

Who saved the Rough Riders and Colonel Roosevelt in the late
Spanish-American War, when San Juan was illuminated with the fire of
Spanish cannonading? Hark! Methinks I hear the tramp of the black boys
of the 24th and the 25th Cavalry, chanting to the strains of martial
music,--"Glory Hallelujah, we are going to have a hot time in the old
town to-night," as they dashed up the dangerous parapet to defend the
honor of their country, and to keep "Old Glory" from trailing in the

At the close of the Civil War we were without homes, lands, or money.
To-day, according to the last census of the United States, we own
600,000 homes, 20,000,000 acres of farm land, covering an area equal to
the political dominions of the kingdoms of Belgium and Holland. We have
under cultivation 40,000,000 acres of farm lands, including those farms
rented by our people and those owned in fee-simple, and worth
$500,000,000. The gross incomes from the farms conducted by Negroes
amount to $250,000,000 annually. We own 10,000 business establishments,
300 drug stores, and 57 banks.

At the close of the Civil War we were without schools, without men of
letters, without men in the various professions and lucrative avocations
of life. To-day, we have 200 universities, colleges, and schools of
lower grade supported by the race. We have 3,000,000 Negro children
attending these schools and the public schools of the land. We have
written 2,000 books. We edit and conduct 200 periodicals and magazines.
In forty years we have contributed, as levies for school purposes,
$45,000,000. With a membership of 4,000,000 we have 35,000 churches,
valued at $56,000,000, and contribute annually $7,500,000 to their
support. We contribute annually $6,000,000 to secret and benevolent
societies. We have about 40,000 teachers, 1,500 lawyers, 2,500 doctors,
20,000 preachers, and 80,000 business men--Marvellous!--Marvellous!

A race that can produce in fifty years, beginning with nothing, such a
report as this, whose minutest detail is supported by official
statistics, needs no pity, Mr. Chairman. A race that can produce a
Douglass, a Langston, a Hood, a Scott, a Turner, a Harvey Johnson, a
Bruce, a Payne, an Arnett, a Revells, a Price, an Elliott, a Montgomery,
a Bowen, a Mason, a Dunbar, a Du Bois, and last but not least, a Booker
T. Washington--the foremost genius of our vocational and industrial
training--asks not for pity. It only asks for an equal opportunity in
the race of life; it asks not for special legislation to accommodate any
necessity; it simply asks for a just application of existing laws to all
citizens alike, without any reference to race or color or previous
condition of servitude. The representatives of this race, in this year
of Our Lord, 1913, ask the American people to judge them upon the record
of their great and useful men and women which the race has produced in
less than a half century--and upon the average merit of the mass of the
race since the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by the immortal

In concluding this brief summary--for at best it can only be regarded as
a brief summary of the doings of the race--and standing on the threshold
of a new era in politics, in commerce, in religion and in ethics--a new
era in the feeling and temper of the white American towards the
Afro-American, I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, what shall be our
conduct in the future? Watchman, what shall be the forecast?

Mr. Chairman, the forecast is bright--brighter than it has ever been in
any previous period of the race's history in this nation--and I make
this statement in the fullest appreciation of the efforts which are
being made all over this land, by adverse legislation, to weed us out of
politics and other public preferments; to push us into a corner to
ourselves, in both Church and State--a propaganda which has brought
gloom to many of our leaders, producing a pessimism inimical to

But why a pessimistic outlook, Mr. Chairman? Is it possible to deprive
ten million native-born American citizens from the enjoyment of their
rights and privileges, guaranteed alike to all by the Constitution of
the United States? I think not. Such a condition, Mr. Chairman, would be
like an established government with no diplomatic representative at
court. No matter what methods are adopted, some of the representative
men of our race, unexpectedly or otherwise, in the final analysis, will
slip in; if not in the Congress of the United States, then in the
legislatures and in the municipal governments of the State--such, for
example, as Lawyer Bass in Philadelphia, Pa.; Councilman Cummings in
Baltimore; Smith in the legislature of Ohio; Fitzgerald in New Jersey,
and Jackson in Illinois. No arrangement, no matter how planned, can
ultimately defeat this logical result which patience alone will

God and Time, ladies and gentlemen, are important factors in the
solution of these questions. Fifty years are not sufficient to determine
the possibilities of a race. No seer who knew the ancestors of the
Anglo-Saxons as Caesar knew them, would have foretold such a future as
they now enjoy. This Anglo-Saxon race, whose ancestors worshipped the
mistletoe, offered human sacrifices, and drank wine out of human skulls,
have now become the conquerors and the dominant race on the earth. Their
literature is the cream of the human intellect, and their tongue
promises to become the official lingua of the earth. God and Time have
wrought these things for them, and what God and Time have wrought for
one race, God and Time can accomplish for another race--if that race
remain true to itself and to God.

If you ask me for the ground of my optimism, I reply it is based upon
two things, namely, the ability of the race itself to overcome
difficulties and obstacles, and the over-ruling Providence of God, based
upon His justice and His righteousness. It is hardly possible for this
Negro race to experience any greater difficulties and obstacles in the
future than it has already experienced in the past. It has overcome
every obstacle with heroic courage--from slavery to the present period
of its marvellous success. Without discounting the human efforts of the
race, it has accomplished all of this by an heroic faith in God and in
the justice and righteousness of His character as practised by our
ancestors in the days of their bitterest afflictions--when weakness
characterized the arm of flesh. Personally, I believe in God and in His
justice and righteousness, and I have never lost faith in the benevolent
brotherhood of mankind. I believe that "Right, like God is eternal and
unchangeable; and since Right is Right and God is God, Right must
ultimately prevail; though its final triumph may be retarded by the
operation of wicked devices--nevertheless--it must prevail."

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