Nannie Helen Burroughs

What the Negro Wants Politically - 1928

Nannie Helen Burroughs
January 01, 1928
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We believe this speech was given in 1928 due to her discussion of the recent election between Herbert Hoover and Al Smith. The transcript, itself, is undated.

You heard about the election.

The Democratic Party is pretty well banged up, the Republican Party is all set up. It was a Landslide! It was a political miracle! It is a waste of time trying to explain how it happened. It got started and nobody could stop it.

Now that a grand and glorious victory has been achieved in the name of Righteousness, let no group or race try to hog the victory. “We cannot say that this great victory is attributed to any one source *Take your share.”

Of course the “Wiseacres” will say, “I told you so,” and then proceed to tell how it all happened. The job-seekers will say, “I did it. With my bow and arrow, I killed ‘Cock Smith.’” So over against what they put down as the “How + the why” please do not allow them to overlook the real factors that gave to the Republican Party an unprecedented victory.

1st The strength of the platform

2d The superior fitness and sanity of the candidates

3d The efficiency of the Hoover organization

4th The perfection of the radio

5th The power of the press

6th The service of the “Spell-Binders”

7th The horse sense of the electorate

8th The Democratic Party that unwittingly ran a showman instead of a statesman. He woke them up and brought them out.

9th And above all, millions of women who talked Herbert Hoover up and talked Al Smith out.

Despite the fact that the campaign was begun on an elevated platform from which the American people were to discuss their ideals, hopes, and dreams in terms and promises of prosperity, projects, protection and peace, it ended in a fight on the sidewalks of New York, over rum, race, and religion.

The injection of the race issue into the campaign raised two questions -

First - Did many Negroes bolt the Republican Party? No. It is true that a larger number of colored people voted the Democratic ticket this year than at any time since they have had the franchise. There were two reasons:

(a) The race is actually chafing under national injustice and the Republican Party is justly charged with some “sins of omission” and dereliction of a patriotic duty. (b) Tammany Hall helped finance the Democratic Party, and Tammany Hall bids for Negro votes because it needs them and it knew that in order to help the Democratic Party win, they would have to get a large defection of Negro votes. They did not get the large defection and Tammany Hall was kicked from the side walk into the sewer and the Democratic Party, which is the “solid South” was smashed to pieces and “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will never put the “solid South” together again.” The Republican Party cannot sweep the country without the Negro’s vote. Oh, yes, it is said, they can but try it - “It can’t be did.”

Secondly - What does the Negro want politically? He wants his rights as an American citizen and not simply jobs for a few politicians. That’s what he wants.

Thirdly - He wants general relief from demoralizing evils, rather than personal rewards for party fealty.

He will, therefore, calls upon the Republican Party to -

  1. Enforce the Constitution and all of its amendments.
  2. Compel the Interstate Commission to make the railroads operating in “Jim Crow” states provide equal accommodations for the races on the trains and in the waiting rooms. The railroads are guilty of highway robbery. They charge Negroes firstclass fares and give them cattle accommodations.
  3. Break up segregation in the Departments at Washington.
  4. Appoint a National, Non-Partisan, Bi-racial Welfare Commission whose duty it will be to make unbiased investigations and practical suggestions that will give relief from: (a) Disfranchisement. (b) Unequal accommodations in travel. (c) Segregations in Federal Departments. (d) Race discrimination in Civil Service appointments. (e) Discrimination in relief work in times of floods and disasters. (f) Unequal opportunity, in times of peace, to lean the arts of war in army, navy, and aerial service.
  5. Appoint two colored women, specialists, to work in the Childrens Bureau and the Woman’s Bureau, the former for child welfare and the latter for industrial and economic welfare among women. Both positions would require highly trained women and their work among colored women and children would parallel the work that is being done by the heads of these two bureaus, primarily for white children and women and incidentally, for colored children and women. Conditions and needs among the children and women of the Negro race justify these appointments. Politicians need not try to further deceive the Republican Party by trying to make them believe that a recordership, registership, ministership, assistantship, or any of the usual “sop” appointments will ever be accepted by the Negro race as substitutes for simple justice and equal opportunity.

At the proper time and the proper way the men and women who are seeking relief for the masses from the injustices herein listed, will prepare their case, secure the backing of every Negro organization, political and non-political, and lay their petition before Congress and the Chief Executive and seek and work for redress.

In preparation for more effective action, the Negroes throughout the country should keep all of their clubs in tact, hold regular meetings, carry on a campaign of education and enlightenment and thereby build up a vigorous morale and be ready for the “fire-works” four years from now.

The best advice to give our people, politically, is organize and keep organized, study men and measures, put down every “sin of omission, or commission”, get every congressman’s number-- know what he is saying and how he is voting, and “meet him at Philippi.” At the same time do not forget to repudiate all of the Negro political leaders who drag around begging for jobs for themselves and never contending for justice and opportunities for the race. They are more responsible for our political undoing than the whites. Do not let them out.

There is one thing that we do not want to see again--“Jim Crow” National Republican Headquarters--We had three. Ye gods. What [illegible] a duplication of machinery, a place for Negroes to disagree on everything from the personnel and the modus operandi to the postage stamp and sheet of paper, which they cannot get without an order.

We are calling upon the Republican Party to break up segregation in the Departments and in the same breath we ask the National Republican Committee--the machine which puts the Party in power--[illegible] us three “Jim Crow” headquarters. “Consistency, thou art a jewel”

Four years are not too long to work and wait. The smashing victory in Ky was due to the Negro vote. The breaking up of the “solid South,” regardless of whether we believe it now or not, and the building up of a two-party government in the South is a move in the right direction. As long as the South remains a government of white men, by white men, and for white men instead of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the Negro will never enjoy his rights as an American citizen nor receive anything like just consideration in the distribution of funds from the taxes which he pays for public education, protection and general welfare.

With the ballot in his hand he has a weapon of defense, protection, and expression. Both parties will need his vote and he will learn to use it wisely.

Regardless of the cost to the Negro race of a few offices which we have held in the South as political rewards for party fealty, the gain to the race and to the Negroes of the South in a two-party government will be worth transcendently more than all the jobs which are given a few Negro politicians who have not been able and who would never be able to build up a Republican Party in the South and thereby deliver their race from political bondage. Only one Negro, [illegible] Church has really been able to build up a fighting organization.

The only hope for a semblance of even handed justice for the Southern Negro is in a two-party government. It is an American ideal and without two parties this country is not a democracy. It is half democracy and half oligarchy. On with the two-party government in the South or out with some of the representatives in Congress who ride into office on the backs of Negroes whom they use as political ponies.

Since the Negro vote helped the Republican Party win the 1928 victory, the question has been asked again and again, what does it profit the Negro to give his vote to keep the republican Party in power? Here is the answer, With all its faults it is the better party. In this campaign the Negro voted against Democratic ideals for his race, against tampering with the Constitution, against an increase of the emigration quota, against tinkering with the tariff, against a man who is not qualified to be president of the United States. The Negro simply voted for the strongest platform and the better qualified man.

The Negro gave his vote to Herbert Hoover, because Mr. Hoover stood four-square on the strong platform of the Republican Party and pledged equal opportunities to all, regardless of faith or race. The American Negro asks nothing more and will be satisfied with nothing less.