Discuss Negroes Yearly, June 2, 1909




Last Session Ends After Long Debate Upon Resolutions -- Executive Committee of Forty Appointed -- Criticism of President Taft for His Attitude on Race Issues in the South.

When the Conference on the Status of the American Negro adjourned last night, it had effected plans and named an executive committee to create a permanent organization having meetings regularly each year. The resolutions demanded equal civil and educational rights for the negro, protection against violence and assault, and the full enjoyment of his political liberties. More than that, they took President Taft to task for his position on the enforcement of the Fifteenth Amendment.

The resolutions and the recommendations of the committee on permanent organization did not pass until after a long and vigorous debate, in which some of the members of the conference engaged in such aggressive parliamentary practice that the chairman, Charles Edward Russell, was barely able to make any progress at all. As it was, he had to take recourse at times to arbitrary methods in order to expedite business.

If the meeting had been without its resourceful chairman, it is by no means unlikely that the members would be talking yet. Nevertheless not only did the conference finish its work, but it adjourned harmoniously, with the representatives of the several wings of the Afro-American movement working together.

One of the resolutions which aroused discussion was that applying to the protection of the negro from violence. The resolution, as offered by the committee, included "murdered with impunity." Several of the negro speakers wanted it to read, "that lynching be made a Federal crime." W. M. Trotter of Boston, and the Rev. J. Milton Waldron of Washington were leaders in the debate upon almost every one of the resolutions.


In the course of the debates, T. Thomas Fortune declared that the only discrimination against black labor in the South or North was at the hands of labor unions.

Prof. W. E. B. Du Bois, W. M. Cragin, Mrs. Ida Wells Barnett, John E. Millholland, William English Walling, Henry Moscowitz, Max Barber, Joseph C. Manning, and William A. Sinclair were others who entered the argument.

The resolutions which the conference adopted were as follows:

We denounce the ever growing oppression of our 10,000,000 colored fellow citizens as the greatest menace that threatens the country. Often plundered of their just share of the public funds, robbed of nearly all part in the government, some murdered with impunity and all treated with open contempt by officials, they are held in some States in practical slavery to the white community. The systematic persecution of law-abiding citizens and their disfranchisement on account of their race alone is a crime that will ultimately drag down to an infamous end any nation that allows it to be practiced, and it bears most heavily on those poor white farmers and laborers whose economic position is most similar to that of the persecuted race.

The nearest hope lies in the immediate and patiently continued enlightenment of the people who have been inveigled into a campaign of oppression. The spoils of persecution should not go to enrich any class or classes of the population. Indeed persecution of organized workers, peonage, enslavement of prisoners, and even disfranchisement already threaten large bodies of whites in many Southern States.

We agree fully with the prevailing opinion that the transformation of the unskilled colored laborers in industry and agriculture into skilled workers is of vital importance to that race and to the nation, but we demand for the negroes, as for all others, a free and complete education, whether by city, State, or nation, a grammar school and industrial training for all, and technical, professional, and academic education for the most gifted.

But the public schools assigned to the negro of whatever kind or grade will never receive a fair and equal treatment until he is given equal treatment in the Legislature and before the law. Nor will the practically educated negro, no matter how valuable to the community he may prove, be given a fair return for his labor or encouraged to put forth his best efforts or given the chance to develop that efficiency that comes only outside the school until he is respected in his legal rights as a man and a citizen.

We regard with grave concern the attempt manifest South and North to deny to black men the right to work and to enforce this demand by violence and bloodshed. Such a question is too fundamental and clear even to be submitted to arbitration. The late strike in Georgia is not simply a demand that negroes be displaced by that proven and efficient men be made to surrender their long followed means of livelihood to white competitors.

As first and immediate steps toward remedying these national wrongs, so full of peril for the whites as well as the blacks of all sections, we demand of Congress and the Executive:

(1.)  That the Constitution be strictly enforced and the civil rights guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment be secured impartially to all.

(2.)  That there be equal education opportunities for all and in all the States, and that public school expenditure be the same for the negro and white child.

(3.)  That in accordance with the Fifteenth Amendment the right of the negro to the ballot on the same terms as other citizens be recognized in every part of the country.


The committee on permanent organization, in its report, proponed a resolution providing for the "incorporation of a national committee to be known as a committee for the advancement of the negro race, to bring that race from slavery to full citizenship with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto," and another resolution for a Committee of Forty charged with the organization of the national committee with power to call the convention in 1910. The report was adopted.

The resolution, proposed by Mr. Trotter, criticizing the President, was referred to the Committee on Resolutions and reported back by the committee and adopted in the following form:

We deplore any recognition of our concession to, prejudice or color by the Federal government, in any officer or branch thereof, as well as the Presidential declaration on the appointment of colored men to office in the South, contradicting, as it does, the President's just and admirable utterance against the proposed disfranchisement of the colored voters of Maryland.

These were named on the committee to organize a permanent body. William E. Walling, chairman, New York; Prof. W. E. B. Du Bois, Atlanta, Ga; John E. Milholland, New York; Moorfield Storey, Boston; Bishop Alexandar Walters, New York; Albert E. Pillsbury, Boston; the Rev. Francis Grimke, Washington; Samuel Bowles, Springfield; the Rev. Dr. Stephen S. Wise, New York; Prof. W. L. Bulkley, New York; Dr. Henry Moskowitz, New York; Miss M. W. Ovington, New York; Mrs. Mary Church Terrell, Washington; Miss Lillian D. Wald, New York; Mrs. Celia Parker Wooley, Chicago; the Rev. W. H. Brooks, New York; Miss Jane Addams, Chicago; Judge Wendell P. Stafford, Washington; Charles Edward Russell, New York; Leslie P. Hill, Manassas, Va.; President Charles F. Thwing, Cleveland, O.; the Rev. J. H. Holmes, New York; Prof. John Dewey, New York; Jacob W. Mack, New York; Miss Susan A. Wharton, Philadelphia; Dr. C. E. Bentley, Chicago; Miss Maria Baldwin, Cambridge, Mass.; R. R. Wright, Jr., Philadelphia; Dr. O. H. Waller, New York; L. M. Hershaw, Washington; Miss Leonora O'Reilly, New York, and Joseph Fels, Alabama. To be asked to serve are Jacob H. Schiff, New York, and W. S. Scarborough, Ohio.


Among the letters of regret received from those who could not attend the conference was one from Brand Whitlock. He said:

No one who loves the ideals of America and believes fundamentally in democracy, in the equality and brotherhood of men as I do, can regard the present temper of a large portion of our people toward the negro with any emotion other than sadness.

The problem which this condition presents is profound and difficult, and the solution will demand our best thought and most enlightened sympathies. The nation went through a dreadful war to give the negro political freedom, and yet even that has not been accomplished, except in a formal, legal sense, and even in that department there are so many proposals and even achievements in retrogression that [today] the negro is ostracized and by many proscribed and hated. The question is no longer what we once considered it, namely a sectional one; it has become a national one. The negro is treated as contemptuously and used as hardly in the North as in the South. There is even arising among us a kind of snobbery, the most detestable that can be imagined -- namely, an affected dislike of the negro, considered as an evidence of superiority and aristocracy.

The problem is not only social or political; it has its economic side, and more mysterious and baffling than any of these, its psychological and ethnic side. It must be studied in all these various phases. Many profound and learned articles have been written by the eminent and the learned, in which it is insisted that we study the negro. But it seems to me that we need quite as much to study ourselves. The white race has been two centuries in creating this problem, and, according to the law of moral action and reaction, the law of moral equivalents and balances, we cannot in forty-five years solve a problem which we were two hundred years in creating. I do not think the problem is insoluble; I do not think any problem is insoluble, and I think we shall solve this problem only as we recognize and believe devoutly in the ideals and principles of America, which, if they mean anything at all, mean that all men without distinction, are to be free and equal, at least, in opportunity. That is what America is for, and the true American spirit cannot exist until America is for all men on equal terms, no matter who or what they are, or who or what they were, or where they came from, or what they believe, or what their race or color. We can solve this problem, we can solve any problem in politics and economics properly only by adhering to these fundamental principles of our America, only by keeping in mind that truth so well expressed by Mr. Howells:

The first thing you have to learn here below is that in essentials you are just like every one else and that you are different from others only in what is not so much worth while. If you have anything in common with your fellow-creatures, it is something that God gave you; if you have anything that seems quite your own. It is from your silly self, and is a sort of perversion of what came in you from the Creator who made you out of himself, and had nothing else to make any one out of. There is not really any difference between you and your fellow creatures; but only a seeming difference that flatters and cheats you with a sense of your strangeness and makes you think you are a remarkable fellow.

At yesterday afternoon's sessions, A. E. Pillsbury, formerly attorney-general of Massachusetts, argued much enthusiasm by a speech in which he said:

I object in disfranchising, not because the negro is disfranchised, but because the whole performance is political fraud upon the whole community, the whole country, all the non-disfranchising States. Disfranchising the negro has multiplied by at least two the political power of every white voter in disfranchising States and by so much has disfranchised the other white voters in the thirty-seven nondisfranchising States.

William A. Sinclair of Philadelphia said:

"Mr. Taft has made a shameful concession to placate the South. The people of the North support him because they believe him honest. He fairly basked in Southern hospitality, and there are no more hospitable people, nor are there people who know better how to use it to further their own alms. Mr. Taft has bent the knee to the Baal of Southern race prejudice in saying that he would not appoint colored men to office if the white citizens protested. We must take up this challenge and meet it manfully."

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