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Title: Open Letter to President McKinley by Colored People of Massachusetts
Author: League, Colored National
Language: English
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                              OPEN LETTER


                           PRESIDENT McKINLEY




             “_Not as Suppliants do we Present Our Claims,
                      but as American Citizens._”


                              OPEN LETTER


                           PRESIDENT McKINLEY




             “_Not as Suppliants do we Present Our Claims,
                      but as American Citizens._”


The Colored People of Boston and vicinity, through the COLORED NATIONAL
LEAGUE, at a mass meeting held in the Charles Street Church, Tuesday
evening, October 3d, 1899, addressed an Open Letter to PRESIDENT

The reading of the letter by MR. ARCHIBALD H. GRIMKÉ, Chairman of the
Committee, was listened to with marked attention and interest, and at
the conclusion of its reading the letter was adopted by the meeting with
significant unanimity.

The letter was forwarded to President McKinley, signed by the officers
of the meeting and others.

                                     BOSTON, MASS., October 3, 1899.


              _President of the United States_,


    We, colored people of Massachusetts in mass meeting assembled to
    consider our oppressions and the state of the country relative
    to the same, have resolved to address ourselves to you in an
    open letter, notwithstanding your extraordinary, your
    incomprehensible silence on the subject of our wrongs in your
    annual and other messages to Congress, as in your public
    utterances to the country at large. We address ourselves to you,
    sir, not as suppliants, but as of right, as American citizens,
    whose servant you are, and to whom you are bound to listen, and
    for whom you are equally bound to speak, and upon occasion to
    act, as for any other body of your fellow-countrymen in like
    circumstances. We ask nothing for ourselves at your hands, as
    chief magistrate of the republic, to which all American citizens
    are not entitled. We ask for the enjoyment of life, liberty, and
    the pursuit of happiness equally with other men. We ask for the
    free and full exercise of all the rights of American freemen,
    guaranteed to us by the Constitution and laws of the Union,
    which you were solemnly sworn to obey and execute. We ask you
    for what belongs to us by the high sanction of Constitution and
    law, and the Democratic genius of our institutions and
    civilization. These rights are 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 your
    constructive and actual presence. And we demand, which is a part
    of our rights, protection, security in our life, our liberty,
    and in the pursuit of our individual and social happiness under
    a government, which we are bound to defend in war, and which is
    equally bound to furnish us in peace protection, at home and

    We have suffered, sir,—God knows how much we have
    suffered!—since your accession to office, at the hands of a
    country professing to be Christian, but which is not Christian,
    from the hate and violence of a people claiming to be civilized,
    but who are not civilized, and you have seen our sufferings,
    witnessed from your high place our awful wrongs and miseries,
    and yet you have at no time and 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 we were enslaved and held for more than two centuries in
    cruel bondage by your forefathers? Is it because we bear the
    marks of those sad generations of Anglo-Saxon brutality and
    wickedness, that you do not speak? Is it our fault that our
    involuntary servitude produced in us widespread ignorance,
    poverty and degradation? Are we to be damned and destroyed by
    the whites because we have only grown the seeds which they
    planted? Are we to be damned by bitter laws and destroyed by the
    mad violence of mobs because we are what white men made us? And
    is there no help in the federal arm for us, or even one word of
    audible pity, protest and remonstrance in your own breast, Mr.
    President, or in that of a single member of your Cabinet? Black
    indeed we are, sir, but we are also men and American citizens.

    From the year 1619 the Anglo-Saxon race in America began to sow
    in the mind of the negro race in America seeds of ignorance,
    poverty and social degradation, and continued to do so until the
    year 1863, when chattel slavery was abolished to save the union
    of these states. Then northern white men began, in order to form
    a more perfect union, to sow this self-same mind of the negro
    with quite different seeds,—seeds of knowledge and freedom;
    seeds garnered in the Declaration of Independence for the
    feeding of the nations of the earth, such as the natural
    equality of all men before the law, their inalienable right to
    life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the derivation
    of the powers of all just governments from the consent of the
    governed. These seeds of your own planting took root in the mind
    and heart of the negro, and the crop of quickening intelligence,
    desire for wealth, to rise in the social scale, to be as other
    men, to be equal with them in opportunities and the free play of
    his powers in the rivalry of life, was the direct and legitimate

    The struggle of the negro to rise out of his ignorance, his
    poverty and his social degradation, in consequence of the growth
    of these new forces and ideas within him, to the full stature of
    his American citizenship, has been met everywhere in the South
    by the active ill-will and determined race-hatred and opposition
    of the white people of that section. Turn where he will, he
    encounters this cruel and implacable spirit. He dare not speak
    openly the thoughts which rise in his breast. He has wrongs such
    as have never in modern times been inflicted on a people, and
    yet he must be dumb in the midst of a nation which prates loudly
    of democracy and humanity, boasts itself the champion of
    oppressed peoples abroad, while it looks on indifferent,
    apathetic, at appalling enormities and iniquities at home, where
    the victims are black and the criminals white. The suppression,
    the terror wrought at the South is so complete, so ever-present,
    so awful, that no negro’s life or property is safe for a day who
    ventures to raise his voice to heaven in indignant protest and
    appeal against the deep damnation and despotism of such a social
    state. Even teachers and leaders of this poor, oppressed and
    patient people may not speak, lest their institutions of
    learning and industry, and their own lives pay for their
    temerity at the swift hands of savage mobs. But if the peace of
    Warsaw, the silence of death reign over our people and their
    leaders at the South, we of Massachusetts are free, and must and
    shall raise our voice to you and through you to the country, in
    solemn protest and warning against the fearful sin and peril of
    such explosive social conditions. We, sir, at this crisis and
    extremity in the life of our race in the South, and in this
    crisis and extremity of the republic as well, in the presence of
    the civilized world, cry to you to pause, if but for an hour, in
    pursuit of your national policy of “criminal aggression” abroad
    to consider the “criminal aggression” at home against humanity
    and American citizenship, which is in the full tide of
    successful conquest at the South, and the tremendous
    consequences to our civilization, and the durability of the
    Union itself, of this universal subversion of the supreme law of
    the land, of democratic institutions, and of the precious
    principle of the religion of Jesus in the social and civil life
    of the Southern people.

    With one accord, with an anxiety that wrenched our hearts with
    cruel hopes and fears, the colored people of the United States
    turned to you when Wilmington, N.C., was held for two dreadful
    days and nights in the clutch of a bloody revolution; when
    negroes, guilty of no crime except the color of their skin and
    a desire to exercise the rights of their American citizenship,
    were butchered like dogs in the streets of that ill-fated
    town; and when government of the people by the people and for
    the people perished in your very presence by the hands of
    violent men during those bitter November days, for want of
    federal aid, which you would not and did not furnish, on the
    plea that you could not give what was not asked for by a
    coward and recreant governor. And we well understood at the
    time, sir, notwithstanding your plea of constitutional
    inability to cope with the rebellion in Wilmington, that where
    there is a will with constitutional lawyers and rulers there
    is always a way, and where there is no will there is no way.
    We well knew that you lacked the will, and, therefore, the way
    to meet that emergency.

    It was the same thing with that terrible ebullition of the mob
    spirit at Phœnix, S.C., when black men were hunted and murdered,
    and white men shot and driven out of that place by a set of
    white savages, who cared not for the Constitution and the laws
    of the United States any more than they do for the constitution
    and the laws of an empire dead and buried a thousand years. We
    looked in vain for some word or some act from you. Neither word
    nor act of sympathy for the victims was forthcoming, or of
    detestation of an outrage so mad and barbarous as to evoke even
    from such an extreme Southern organ as is the _News and
    Courier_, of Charleston, S.C., hot and stern condemnation.
    Hoping against hope, we waited for your annual message to
    Congress in December last, knowing that the Constitution imposed
    upon you a duty to give, from time to time, to that body
    information of the state of the Union. That, at least, we said,
    the President will surely do; he will communicate officially the
    facts relative to the tragic, the appalling events, which had
    just occurred in 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
    the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the founding
    of the national capital in 1900. Nothing escaped your eye, at
    home or abroad, nothing except the subversion of the
    Constitution and laws of the Union in the Southern States, and
    the flagrant and monstrous crimes perpetrated upon a weak and
    submissive race in defiance of 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 race prejudice and
    proscription; how you, the one single public man and magistrate
    of the country, who, by virtue of your exalted office, ought
    under no circumstances to recognize caste distinctions and
    discriminations among your fellow-citizens, received white men
    at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala., and black men afterward in a
    negro church; how you preached patience, industry moderation to
    your long-suffering black fellow-citizens, and patriotism,
    jingoism and imperialism to your white ones; when we saw all
    these things, scales of illusion in respect to your object fell
    from our eyes. We felt that the President of the United States,
    in order to win the support of the South to his policy of
    “criminal aggression” in the far East, was ready and willing to
    shut his eyes, ears and lips to the “criminal aggression” of
    that section against the Constitution and the laws of the land,
    wherein they guarantee civil rights and citizenship to the
    negro, whose ultimate reduction to a condition of fixed and
    abject serfdom is the plain purpose of the Southern people and
    their laws.

    When, several months subsequently, you returned to Georgia, the
    mob spirit, as if to evince its supreme contempt for your
    presence and the federal executive authority which you
    represent, boldly broke into a prison shed, where were confined
    helpless negro prisoners on a charge of incendiarism, and
    brutally murdered five of them. These men were American
    citizens, entitled to the rights of American citizens,
    protection and trial by due process of law. They were, in the
    eye of the law, innocent until convicted by a jury of their
    peers. Had they been in legal custody in Russia or Spain or
    Turkey they had not been slaughtered by a mob under like
    circumstances; for the Russian military power, or the Spanish or
    the Turkish, would have guarded those men in their helpless and
    defenseless condition from the fury of the populace who were
    seeking their blood. Sir, they were men; they were your
    brothers; they were God’s children, for whom Jesus lived and
    died. They ought to have been sacred charges in the hands of any
    civilized or semi-civilized State and people. But almost in your
    hearing, before your eyes (and you the chief magistrate of a
    country loudly boastful of its freedom, Christianity and
    civilization), they were atrociously murdered. Did you speak?
    did you open your lips to express horror of the awful crime and
    stern condemnation of the incredible villainy and complicity of
    the constituted authorities of Georgia in the commission of this
    monstrous outrage, which out-barbarized barbarism and stained
    through and through with indelible infamy before the world your
    country’s justice, honor and humanity?

    Still later, considering the age, the circumstances and the
    nation in which the deed was done, Georgia committed a crime
    unmatched for moral depravity and sheer atrocity during the
    century. A negro, charged with murder and criminal assault, the
    first charge he is reported by the newspapers to have admitted,
    and the second to have denied, was taken one quiet Sunday
    morning from his captors, and burned to death with indescribable
    and hellish cruelty in the presence of cheering thousands of the
    so-called best people of Georgia, men, women and children, who
    had gone forth on the Christian Sabbath to the burning of a
    human being as to a country festival and holiday of innocent
    enjoyment and amusement. The downright ferocity and frightful
    savagery of that American mob at Newnan outdoes the holiday
    humor and thirst for blood of the tiger-like populace of Pagan
    Rome, gathered to witness Christian martyrs thrown to lions in
    their roaring arenas. The death of Hose was quickly followed by
    that of the negro preacher, Strickland, guiltless of crime,
    under circumstances and with a brutality of wickedness almost
    matching in horror and enormity the torture and murder of the
    first; and this last was succeeded by a third victim, who was
    literally lashed to death by the wild, beast-like spirit of a
    Georgia mob, for daring merely to utter his abhorrence of the
    Palmetto iniquity and slaughter of helpless prisoners.

    Did you speak? Did you utter one word of reprobation, of
    righteous indignation, either as magistrate or as man? Did you
    break the shameful silence of shameful months with so much as a
    whisper of a whisper against the deep damnation of such defiance
    of all law, human and divine; such revulsion of men into beasts,
    and relapses of communities into barbarism in the very center of
    the republic, and amid the sanctuary of the temple of American
    liberty itself? You did not, sir, but your Attorney-General did,
    and he only to throw out to the public, to your meek and
    long-suffering colored fellow citizens, the cold and cautious
    legal opinion that the case of Hose has no federal aspect! Mr.
    President, has it any moral or human aspect, seeing that Hose
    was a member of the negro race, whom your Supreme Court once
    declared has no rights in America which white men are bound to
    respect? Is this infamous dictum of that tribunal still the
    supreme law of the land? We ask you, sir, since recent events in
    Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia and Louisiana, as well
    as in Georgia and the Carolinas, indeed throughout the South,
    and your own persistent silence, and the persistent silence of
    every member of your Cabinet on the subject of the wrongs of
    that race in those States, would appear together to imply as

    Had, eighteen months ago, the Cuban revolution to throw off the
    yoke of Spain, or the attempt of Spain to subdue the Cuban
    rebellion, any federal aspect? We believe that you and the
    Congress of the United States thought that they had, and
    therefore used, finally, the armed force of the nation to expel
    Spain from that island. Why? Was it because “the people of the
    Island of Cuba are, and of right ought to be free and
    independent?” You and the Congress said as much, and may we
    fervently pray, sir, in passing, that the freedom and
    independence of that brave people shall not much longer be
    denied them by our government? But to resume, there was another
    consideration which, in your judgment, gave to the Cuban
    question a federal aspect, which provoked at last the armed
    interposition of our government in the affairs of that island,
    and this was “the chronic condition of disturbance in Cuba so
    injurious and menacing to our interests and tranquillity, as
    well as shocking to our sentiments of humanity.” Wherefore you
    presently fulfilled “a duty to humanity by ending a situation,
    the indefinite prolongation of which had become insufferable.”

    Mr. President, had that “chronic condition of disturbance in
    Cuba so injurious and menacing to our interests and tranquillity
    as well as shocking to our sentiments of humanity,” which you
    wished to terminate and did terminate, a federal aspect, while
    that not less “chronic condition of disturbance” in the South,
    which is a thousand times more “injurious and menacing to our
    interests and tranquillity,” as well as far more “shocking to
    our sentiments of humanity,” or ought to be, none whatever? Is
    it better to be Cuban revolutionists fighting for Cuban
    independence than American citizens striving to do their simple
    duty at home? Or is it better only in case those American
    citizens doing their simple duty at home happen to be negroes
    residing in the Southern States?

    Are crying national transgressions and injustices more
    “injurious and menacing” to the Republic, as well as “shocking
    to its sentiments of humanity,” when committed by a foreign
    state, in foreign territory, against a foreign people, than when
    they are committed by a portion of our own people against a
    portion of our own people at home? There were those of our
    citizens who did not think that the Cuban question possessed any
    federal aspect, while there were others who thought otherwise;
    and these, having the will and the power, eventually found a way
    to suppress a menacing danger to the country and a wrong against
    humanity at the same time. Where there is a will among
    constitutional lawyers and rulers, Mr. President, there is ever
    a way; but where there is no will, there is no way. Shall it be
    said that the federal government, with arms of Briareus,
    reaching to the utmost limits of the habitable globe for the
    protection of its citizens, for the liberation of alien
    islanders and the subjugation of others, is powerless to
    guarantee to certain of its citizens at home their inalienable
    right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, because
    those citizens happen to be negroes residing in the Southern
    section of our country? Do the colored people of the United
    States deserve equal consideration with the Cuban people at the
    hands of your administration, and shall they, though late,
    receive it? If, sir, you have the disposition, as we know that
    you have the power, we are confident that you will be able to
    find a constitutional way to reach us in our extremity, and our
    enemies also, who are likewise enemies to great public interests
    and national tranquillity.

                    I. D. BARNETT, _President_.
                    EDWARD E. BROWN, _Vice-President_.
                    EDWARD H. WEST, _Secretary_.
                    ARCHIBALD H. GRIMKÉ.
                    EDWIN G. WALKER.
                    JAMES H. WOLFF.
                    EMERY T. MORRIS.
                    WILLIAM O. ARMSTRONG.
                    THOMAS P. TAYLOR
                    AND OTHERS.


                ● Transcriber’s Notes:
                   ○ The spelling of “defenseless” was corrected to
                     “defenseless” on page 7.
                   ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores

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