Open Letter to President McKinley by Colored People of Massachusetts
Colored People of Massachusetts.
Colored People of Massachusetts.
The Colored People of Boston and vicinity,through the Colored National League, at a massmeeting held in the Charles Street Church, Tuesdayevening, October 3d, 1899, addressed an Open Letterto President McKinley.
The reading of the letter by Mr. Archibald H.Grimké, Chairman of the Committee, was listened towith marked attention and interest, and at the conclusionof its reading the letter was adopted by themeeting with significant unanimity.
The letter was forwarded to President McKinley,signed by the officers of the meeting and others.
Hon. William McKinley,
President of the United States,
We, colored people of Massachusetts in mass meetingassembled to consider our oppressions and the state of thecountry relative to the same, have resolved to addressourselves to you in an open letter, notwithstandingyour extraordinary, your incomprehensible silence on the2subject of our wrongs in your annual and other messagesto Congress, as in your public utterances to the countryat large. We address ourselves to you, sir, not assuppliants, but as of right, as American citizens, whoseservant you are, and to whom you are bound to listen, andfor whom you are equally bound to speak, and uponoccasion to act, as for any other body of your fellow-countrymenin like circumstances. We ask nothing forourselves at your hands, as chief magistrate of therepublic, to which all American citizens are not entitled.We ask for the enjoyment of life, liberty, and the pursuitof happiness equally with other men. We ask for thefree and full exercise of all the rights of Americanfreemen, guaranteed to us by the Constitution and laws ofthe Union, which you were solemnly sworn to obey andexecute. We ask you for what belongs to us by the highsanction of Constitution and law, and the Democraticgenius of our institutions and civilization. These rightsare everywhere throughout the South denied to us,violently wrested from us by mobs, by lawless legislatures,and nullifying conventions, combinations, and conspiracies,openly, defiantly, under your eyes, in yourconstructive and actual presence. And we demand,which is a part of our rights, protection, security in ourlife, our liberty, and in the pursuit of our individual andsocial happiness under a government, which we are boundto defend in war, and which is equally bound to furnish usin peace protection, at home and abroad.
We have suffered, sir,—God knows how much wehave suffered!—since your accession to office, at the handsof a country professing to be Christian, but which is notChristian, from the hate and violence of a people claimingto be civilized, but who are not civilized, and you haveseen our sufferings, witnessed from your high place ourawful wrongs and miseries, and yet you have at no time3and on no occasion opened your lips in our behalf. Why?we ask. Is it because we are black and weak and despised?Are you silent because without any fault of our own wewere enslaved and held for more than two centuries incruel bondage by your forefathers? Is it because we bearthe marks of those sad generations of Anglo-Saxon brutalityand wickedness, that you do not speak? Is it ourfault that our involuntary servitude produced in us widespreadignorance, poverty and degradation? Are we tobe damned and destroyed by the whites because we haveonly grown the seeds which they planted? Are we tobe damned by bitter laws and destroyed by the madviolence of mobs because we are what white men madeus? And is there no help in the federal arm for us, oreven one word of audible pity, protest and remonstrancein your own breast, Mr. President, or in that of a singlemember of your Cabinet? Black indeed we are, sir, butwe are also men and American citizens.
From the year 1619 the Anglo-Saxon race in Americabegan to sow in the mind of the negro race in Americaseeds of ignorance, poverty and social degradation, andcontinued to do so until the year 1863, when chattelslavery was abolished to save the union of these states.Then northern white men began, in order to form a moreperfect union, to sow this self-same mind of the negro withquite different seeds,—seeds of knowledge and freedom;seeds garnered in the Declaration of Independence for thefeeding of the nations of the earth, such as the naturalequality of all men before the law, their inalienable rightto life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and thederivation of the powers of all just governments from theconsent of the governed. These seeds of your own plantingtook root in the mind and heart of the negro, and thecrop of quickening intelligence, desire for wealth, to risein the social scale, to be as other men, to be equal with4them in opportunities and the free play of his powers inthe rivalry of life, was the direct and legitimate result.
The struggle of the negro to rise out of his ignorance,his poverty and his social degradation, in consequenceof the growth of these new forces and ideas within him, tothe full stature of his American citizenship, has been meteverywhere in the South by the active ill-will and determinedrace-hatred and opposition of the white people ofthat section. Turn where he will, he encounters thiscruel and implacable spirit. He dare not speak openlythe thoughts which rise in his breast. He has wrongssuch as have never in modern times been inflicted on apeople, and yet he must be dumb in the midst of a nationwhich prates loudly of democracy and humanity, boastsitself the champion of oppressed peoples abroad, while itlooks on indifferent, apathetic, at appalling enormities andiniquities at home, where the victims are black and thecriminals white. The suppression, the terror wrought atthe South is so complete, so ever-present, so awful, thatno negro’s life or property is safe for a day who venturesto raise his voice to heaven in indignant protest and appealagainst the deep damnation and despotism of such a socialstate. Even teachers and leaders of this poor, oppressedand patient people may not speak, lest their institutions oflearning and industry, and their own lives pay for theirtemerity at the swift hands of savage mobs. But if thepeace of Warsaw, the silence of death reign over ourpeople and their leaders at the South, we of Massachusettsare free, and must and shall raise our voice to you andthrough you to the country, in solemn protest and warningagainst the fearful sin and peril of such explosive socialconditions. We, sir, at this crisis and extremity in thelife of our race in the South, and in this crisis and extremityof the republic as well, in the presence of the civilizedworld, cry to you to pause, if but for an hour, in pursuit5of your national policy of “criminal aggression” abroadto consider the “criminal aggression” at home againsthumanity and American citizenship, which is in the fulltide of successful conquest at the South, and the tremendousconsequences to our civilization, and the durabilityof the Union itself, of this universal subversion of thesupreme law of the land, of democratic institutions, andof the precious principle of the religion of Jesus in thesocial and civil life of the Southern people.
With one accord, with an anxiety that wrenched ourhearts with cruel hopes and fears, the colored people ofthe United States turned to you when Wilmington, N.C.,was held for two dreadful days and nights in the clutch ofa bloody revolution; when negroes, guilty of no crimeexcept the color of their skin and a desire to exercise therights of their American citizenship, were butchered likedogs in the streets of that ill-fated town; and when governmentof the people by the people and for the peopleperished in your very presence by the hands of violentmen during those bitter November days, for want offederal aid, which you would not and did not furnish, onthe plea that you could not give what was not asked forby a coward and recreant governor. And we wellunderstood at the time, sir, notwithstanding your plea ofconstitutional inability to cope with the rebellion inWilmington, that where there is a will with constitutionallawyers and rulers there is always a way, and wherethere is no will there is no way. We well knew that youlacked the will, and, therefore, the way to meet thatemergency.
It was the same thing with that terrible ebullition of themob spirit at Phœnix, S.C., when black men werehunted and murdered, and white men shot and driven outof that place by a set of white savages, who cared not forthe Constitution and the laws of the United States any6more than they do for the constitution and the laws of anempire dead and buried a thousand years. We looked invain for some word or some act from you. Neither wordnor act of sympathy for the victims was forthcoming, or ofdetestation of an outrage so mad and barbarous as toevoke even from such an extreme Southern organ as isthe News and Courier, of Charleston, S.C., hot andstern condemnation. Hoping against hope, we waited foryour annual message to Congress in December last, knowingthat the Constitution imposed upon you a duty to give,from time to time, to that body information of the state ofthe Union. That, at least, we said, the President willsurely do; he will communicate officially the facts relativeto the tragic, the appalling events, which had just occurredin the Carolinas to the Congress of the United States.But not one word did your message contain on this subject,although it discussed all sorts and conditions of subjects,from the so-called war for humanity against Spain to thecelebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the foundingof the national capital in 1900. Nothing escapedyour eye, at home or abroad, nothing except the subversionof the Constitution and laws of the Union in theSouthern States, and the flagrant and monstrous crimesperpetrated upon a weak and submissive race in defianceof your authority, or in virtual connivance therewith.Yes, sir, we repeat, or in virtual connivance therewith.
And, when you made your Southern tour a little later,and we saw how cunningly you catered to Southern raceprejudice and proscription; how you, the one single publicman and magistrate of the country, who, by virtue ofyour exalted office, ought under no circumstances torecognize caste distinctions and discriminations amongyour fellow-citizens, received white men at the Capitolin Montgomery, Ala., and black men afterward in anegro church; how you preached patience, industry7moderation to your long-suffering black fellow-citizens,and patriotism, jingoism and imperialism to your whiteones; when we saw all these things, scales of illusion inrespect to your object fell from our eyes. We felt thatthe President of the United States, in order to win thesupport of the South to his policy of “criminal aggression”in the far East, was ready and willing to shut hiseyes, ears and lips to the “criminal aggression” of thatsection against the Constitution and the laws of the land,wherein they guarantee civil rights and citizenship to thenegro, whose ultimate reduction to a condition of fixedand abject serfdom is the plain purpose of the Southernpeople and their laws.
When, several months subsequently, you returned toGeorgia, the mob spirit, as if to evince its supreme contemptfor your presence and the federal executive authoritywhich you represent, boldly broke into a prison shed,where were confined helpless negro prisoners on a chargeof incendiarism, and brutally murdered five of them.These men were American citizens, entitled to the rightsof American citizens, protection and trial by due processof law. They were, in the eye of the law, innocent untilconvicted by a jury of their peers. Had they been inlegal custody