An Open Letter to Warren Gamaliel Harding

W.E.B. DuBois

March 1921

Sir:
By an unprecedented vote you have been called to the most powerful position in the gift of mankind. Of the more than hundred million human beings whose destiny rests so largely with you in the next four years, on in every ten is of Negro descent.

Your enemies in the campaign sought to count you among this number and if it were true it would give us deep satisfaction to welcome you to the old and mystic chrism of Negroland, whence many mighty souls have stepped since time began.

But blood and physical descent are little and idle things as compared with spiritual heritage. And here we would see you son of the highest: a child of Abraham Lincoln and Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass; a grandson of Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams; and a lineal descendant of the martyred Fathers of the Free of all times and lands.

We appeal to you: we the outcast and lynched, the mobbed and murdered, the despoiled and insulted; and yet withal, the indomitable, unconquered, unbending and unafraid black children of kings and slaves and of the best blood of the workers of the earth—

WE WANT THE RIGHT TO VOTE.
WE WANT TO TRAVEL WITHOUT INSULT.
WE WANT LYNCHING AND MOB-LAW QUELLED FOREVER.
WE WANT FREEDOM FOR OUR BROTHERS IN HAITI.

We know that the power to do these things is not entirely in your hands, but its beginnings lie there. After the fourth of March, on you more than on any other human being rests the redemption of the blood of Africa and through it the peace of the world. All the cruelty, rape and atrocities of slavery; all the groans and humiliations of half-freedom; all the theft and degradation of that spirit of the Ku Klux mob that seeks to build a free America on racial, religious and class hatred—the weight of all this woe is yours.

You, Sir, whether you will or no, stand responsible. You are responsible for the truth back of the pictures of the burning of Americans circulated in European drawing-rooms; for the spectacle of 82% of the voters of the South disfranchised under a government called a democracy; for the hypocrisy of a nation seeking to lend idealism to the world for peace when within its own borders thee is more murder, theft, riot and crucifixion than was ever even charged against Bolshevik Russia.

In the name of our fathers, President Harding, our fathers black and white who toiled and bled and died to make this a free and decent nation, will you not tear aside the cobwebs of politics, and lies of society, and the grip of industrial thieves, and give us an administration which will say and mean: the first and fundamental and inescapable problem of American democracy is Justice to the American Negro. If races cannot live together in peace and happiness in America, they cannot live together in the world. Race isolation died a century ago. Human unity within and without Nations, must and will succeed—and you, Sir, must start bringing this to pass.

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