Mary Church Terrell to Jane Addams, March 18, 1921

1615 S St., N.W.
Washington, D.C.
March 18, 1921

My dear Miss Addams;

It is plainly my duty to write to you concerning a matter in which you are deeply interested, I know. I have been asked to sign a petition asking for the removal of the black troops from occupied German territory. The most terrible crimes are said to be committed by these black troops against the German women. I belong to a race whose women have been the victims of assaults committed upon them by white men and men of all other races. As a rule, these men have ruined and wrecked the women of my race with impunity. For that reason I sympathize deeply with the German women, if they are really the victims of the passions of black men. I pity them in their present peril as I pitied the French women, when the newspapers told us of the brutal treatment they received at the hands of the German soldiers who were quartered in France. Because the women of my race have suffered so long and so terribly from assaults committed upon them with impunity by men of all races, I am all the more pained at the brutal treatment to which German women are now said to be subjected by the black troops.

However, I am certain that the black soldiers are committing no more assaults upon the German women than the German men committed upon French women or that any race of soldiers would probably commit upon women in occupied territory. Our own American soldiers treated the Haitian women brutally. On good authority it is asserted that young Haitian girls were actually murdered by some of our soldiers. I can not vouch for the truth of that statement, but it is not at all difficult for me to believe that white Americans would treat colored women as brutally as our soldiers are said to have treated the Haitian women.

I can not sign the petition asking for the removal of the black troops, because I believe it is a direct appeal to race prejudice. In all the statements concerning the matter great emphasis is laid upon the fact that these troops are worse than white soldiers. That is a reflection upon them which I am sure they do not deserve. Charges are always preferred against soldiers of all races who are quartered in the land they have conquered. I can readily understand that if a German woman were to be outraged, she would prefer to suffer at the hands of a white man than at the hands of a black man. But, even though that be true, I can not sign a petition asking for the removal of these troops, because they are black.

On good authority I have been informed that the charges preferred against the black troops are not all founded in fact. Mrs. Catt investigated the charges against the black troops when she was in Geneva and found, according to the testimony of reputable people living in the region where the atrocities were alleged to have been committed, that these black soldiers had conducted themselves with more courtesy and consideration than any white troops who had been stationed there. Two German delegates told Mrs. Catt that there was no movement in Germany to ask France to remove these colored troops and that, so far as they knew, there was no complaint in Germany on that score. Mrs. Catt says that the three German women with whom she talked in [page 2] Geneva promised to investigate the charges against the colored troops which were being circulated in this country and to let her know later. "I saw all three of them in London early in December", says Mrs. Catt, "and again they reiterated the same statement made in Geneva, which was to the effect that atrocities such as are being described in the United States could not have been committed by the Army of Occupation without the masses of the people of Germany knowing about it, and that they had heard nothing which warranted such charges being made."

And there has recently been an indignant disclaimer of the propaganda campaign against the black troops which was made by some of the leading business men in the Rhineland. Director Ruetten declared that investigation by the Rhineland Traffic Association had shown that the stories of molestation of the population by the troops of occupation were untrue.

I cannot sign the petition asking for the removal of the black troops with these facts staring me in the face. The propaganda against the black troops in this country is simply another violent and plausible appeal to race prejudice.

It is very painful to me not to do anything which you or the organization which I love would like to have me do. Knowing you as well as I do, however, I feel sure you do not want me to be untrue to myself or to the race with which I am identified simply to please my friends. I do not want to be a stumbling block or a nuisance as a member of the Executive Committee. If it will help matters any, I am willing to resign. You have always been such a true friend to me, my esteem and affection for you are so great. I do not want to do anything which will annoy or embarrass you as the head of the International League for Peace and Freedom.

I am not at all sure I can be present at the Annual Meeting next month. I shall try to be there.

Please speak frankly to me and if you can present any facts which seem to you to prove that the petition should be signed, do not hesitate to send them to me. I am not narrow. I want to know the truth and do right.

With gratitude to you for the many kindnesses to me in the past and with the highest esteem, I am sincerely yours,

Mary Church Terrell [signed]