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White, George H, and Daniel Murray Pamphlet Collection. Army reorganization: speech of Hon. George H. White, of North Carolina, in the House of Representatives, Thursday. [Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off, 1899] Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/91898498/.
. . . Mr. Chairman, it is not so much on account of the recent war with Spain, or the money it took to carry on that war, or the annexation of Cuba, or Porto Rico, or the Philippine Islands that I desire to speak, nor is it so much the pending bill we have before us that I desire to address myself to this House.
But it is another problem, possibly more vexing than the one we have now under consideration. I know that you will pardon me if I do not address myself to the question before us when you recollect that I am the only representative on this floor of 10,000,000 people, from a racial standpoint. They have no one else to speak for them, from a race point of view, except myself. I shall therefore address the remainder of my remarks to another phase of the situation in this country--to another great problem that confronts us, and one which I trust ere long we shall have the manhood to stand up in our places and meet like American citizens, not like sectional cowards. I refer to the race problem. I have sat here in my place and heard discussions pro and con; I have heard my race referred to in terms anything else than dignified and complimentary. I have heard them referred to as savages, as aliens, as brutes, as vile and vicious and worthless, and I have heard but little or nothing said with reference to their better qualities, their better manhood, their developed American citizenship. It is therefore in reply to those seemingly unguarded expressions that I wish to speak.
I have listened to gentlemen here--particularly one of the gentlemen from the State of Mississippi [Mr. Williams] in his great eloquence about "white supremacy ''--just here permit me to say that I have no respect for a “ supremacy," white or black, which has been obtained through fraud, intimidation, carnage, and death--"white supremacy" in the great State of Mississippi; about the Anglo-Saxon ruling this country. I did not know that it required any specific reference of this kind for the world to know the fact that the Anglo-Saxon will rule the United States. We constitute as a race less than one-seventh, possibly, of the population. We have been enslaved; we have done your bidding for two hundred and forty years without any compensation; and we did it faithfully. We do not revert to it grumblingly or regretfully, but we refer to it because it seems ungracious in you now, after you have had all this advantage of us, after you have had all this labor of ours, to be unwilling at this late day, to give us a man’s share in the race of life.
That is the only sense in which I refer to it. It is not with a view to digging up the past. It is not with a view of kindling renewed animosity between the races, but only in answer to those who slur at us and remind us of our inferiority. Yes, by force of circumstances, we are your inferiors. Give us two hundred and forty years the start of you, give us your labor for two hundred and forty years without compensation, give us the wealth that the brawny arm of the black man made for you, give us the education that his unpaid labor gave your boys and girls. And we will not be begging, we will not be in a position to be sneered at as aliens or members of an inferior race. Not at all.
We are inferior. We regret it. But if you will only allow us an opportunity we will amend our ways, we will increase our usefulness, we will become more and more intelligent, more and more useful to the nation. It is a chance in the race of life that we crave. We do not expect any special legislation. We do not expect the mythical "40 acres and a mule."
The mule died long ago of old age, and the land grabbers have obtained the 40 acres. We do not expect any of those things. But we have a right to expect a man's chance and opportunity to carve out our own destiny. That is all we ask, and that we demand.
This problem is confronting the nation. We seem as a race to be going through just now a crucible, a crisis--a peculiar crisis. It is not necessary, nor have I the time, to enter into any explanation as to what brought about this crisis. I may say, however, in passing, that possibly more than by any other one thing it has been brought about by the fact that despite all the oppression which has fallen upon our shoulders we have been rising, steadily rising, and in some instances we hope ere long to be able to measure our achievements with those of all other men and women of the land. This tendency on the part of some of us to rise and assert our manhood along all lines is, I fear, what has brought about this changed condition.
Shall the nation stand by listlessly, or shall it uphold the principles that it has established? Shall it recognize, as declared in the organic law, that all men are born free and equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
During the discussions here since the pendency of the treaty of peace I have heard a good deal said, both in this House and at the other end of the Capitol, about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. I have heard a good deal said about Thomas Jefferson and others who had to do with the drafting of that instrument. And it has been alleged that they did not mean what they said in that declaration, for the reason that at the very time it was promulgated they owned slaves, and therefore when they spoke of all men being free and equal they did not mean the black population. The Constitution is a very elastic instrument when you have a purpose to serve. Public sentiment is law, and law, when properly executed, is public sentiment. . . .
Now, the problem to which I refer not only touches my people, but in my humble judgment it reaches out and ramifies and affects every citizen of the American Republic. How long will we sit-I say "we." I will sit here only two years longer, should I live, and I am going to try mighty hard to live that long. How long will you sit in your seats here and see the principles that underlie the foundation of this Government sapped little by little, but nevertheless surely sapped away? I took the pains this afternoon to run over one or two of the States that have been harping, through their representatives, most about the colored man on this floor since I have been in Congress. . . .