The Progressive Party and the Negro, November 1912 (fragment)

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REEL 47_0594.jpg

But battleships and fortifications were not the only source of difficulty. During the very first day of the convention, disquieting rumors arose concerning negro delegates, and it was stated that although two groups from Florida, one of the colored men and one of white, had been excluded because of a doubt as to which group had been authorized to elect delegates that the colored men only from Mississippi had been excluded in spite of the fact that the word "white" had been inserted in the call for the State convention which elected the accredited delegates. It did not seem sufficient to many of us that the Credentials Committee, in seating the Mississippi delegation, had merely protested against the use of the word "white", and some of us at once took alarm on behalf of the colored men. With several others, who were also members of the Society for the Advancement of Colored People, I appeared before the Resolutions Committee to point out the inconsistency of pledging relief to the overburdened workingman, while leaving the colored man to struggle unaided with his difficult situation -- if, indeed, the action of the Credentials Committee had not given him a setback.

In reply, we were told that colored men sat as delegates in the convention not only from such Northern States as Rhode Island, but that the Progressives of West Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, and Kentucky had also elected colored delegates, setting a standard which it was hoped the States south of them would attain when the matter was left to those men of the South who are impatient in the thralldom of war issues and old party alignments. It was pointed out that such are the limitations of local self-government that free political expression can be secured to the negro only through the [cooperative] action of the patriotic and far-seeing citizens of the States in which he lives; that only when white men and colored men together engage upon common political problems will the colored man cease to be regarded as himself a problem. We were reminded that, under so-called Republican protection, the colored man has practically lost his vote in certain States, not only through the grandfather clause, but through sheer intimidation in those counties where the line of party cleavage follows the line of race antagonism, all the whites being Democrats who vote, all the blacks Republicans who do not. We were further told that, if there was any disposition to continue old shams, it would be a very simple matter to insert in the Progressive platform the glittering phrases which had done valiant service for so long a time, not only to blind the colored man himself, but to enable the manager of a Republican convention to determine the result through the colored vote.

When I asked myself most searchingly whether my abolitionist father would have remained in any political convention in which colored men had been treated slightingly, I recalled an incident of my girlhood which was illuminating and somewhat comforting. I had given my father an explanation of a stupid decision whereby I had succeeded in bungling the plans of a large family party, and I ended my apology with the honest statement that I had tried to act upon what I thought his judgement would have been. His expression of amused bewilderment changed to one of understanding as he replied: "That probably accounts for your confusion of mind. You fell into the easy mistake of substituting loyalty and dependence upon another's judgement for the very best use of your own faculties. I should be sorry to think that you were always going to complicate moral situations, already sufficiently difficult, by trying to work out another's point of view. You will do much better if you look the situation fairly in the face with the best light you have."

We all believe that a wide extension of political power is the only sound basis of self-government, and that no man is good enough to vote for another; but we surely do not become mere opportunists when we try to know something of the process by which the opinion of the voter has been influenced and his vote secured. If it is done through bribery, we easily admit that the whole system of representative government [page 2] has broken down, and we are not accounted to have lost our patriotism when we estimate how much of a given vote is due to the liquor interests or to manufactured opinion. Only on the political status of the colored man is it still considered unpatriotic to judge, save as one who long ago made up his mind. It is not time that the nation cease to treat the negro as a group of children who are asked to amuse themselves contentedly with red, white, and blue counters, while their inscrutable elders hold the cards in their hands and play the real game above their heads?

Even in that remarkable convention where, for the moment, individual isolation was dissolved into a larger consciousness, and where we caught a hint of the action of the "collective mind," so often spoken of and so seldom apprehended, I was assailed by the old familiar discomfort concerning the status of the negro. Had I felt any better about it, I speculated when I had tried in vain for three consecutive years to have the question discussed by a great national association to whose purpose such a discussion was certainly germane? Was I more dissatisfied with this action than I had often been with no action at all? I was forced to acknowledge to myself that war on behalf of the political [illegible words] impossible, but that there might emerge from such federal actions as the interference with peonage, perhaps, a system of federal arbitration in inter-racial difficulties, somewhat analogous to the function of The Hague <tribunal in international affairs. In fact, it has already been discovered at the Hague> that many difficulties formerly called international were really inter-racial. Through such federal arbitration it may, in time, be demonstrated that to secure fair play between races living in the same nation is as legitimate as it is when irrational race hatred breaks out on those fringes of empire which The Hague court calls "spheres of influence." At least, the Progressive party had taken the color question away from sectionalism and put it in a national setting which might clear the way for a larger perspective.

During the three days of the Progressive convention, one felt not only the breakdown of the old issues which had furnished both parties with their election cries for half a century, but the inevitable emergence of a new position.

A new code of political action has been formulated by men who are striving to express a sense of justice, socialized by long effort to secure fair play between contending classes; men who have learned that it can not be done by a priori reasoning, but must be established upon carefully ascertained facts.

Through the action of the Progressive party, remedial legislation is destined not only to be discussed in every city town and cross-roads of the entire country, but eventually to be introduced into Congress and into every State legislature, by men whose party is committed to the redress of social wrongs and who have promised their constituents specific measures adapted to the changing and varied conditions of our industrial life.