[hw] means handwritten
Written by Mary Church Terrell
1615 S St., N.W.
The Racial Worm Turns.
The colored people of the United States are more restless, dissatisfied and unhappy to day than they have been since they were bound head, hand and foot as slaves. And they are growing more discontented with their status in this country every day. The reason is not far to seek. They staked all their hopes of bettering their condition upon the outcome of the world War and they feel that they have lost out.
The majority of colored people placed implicit confidence in the reasons assigned by the leaders of this country for entering the War, The spokesmen for the United States insisted that they were entering the war to make the world safe for Democracy and colored people really believed they meant what they said. And now since they see that no effort has been made to redeem these promises the majority of colored people believe that the African change his skin and the leopard his spots much more easily than white United Statesians can change their cold-hearted attitude toward them.
Since the War one hears practically nothing about Democracy. Not only has no real, concerted effort been made to establish it in the United States, leaving the “World” entirely out of consideration, but it is almost never referred to and is rarely, if ever discussed. Therefore colored people have lost faith in the white man. The majority now believe that race prejudice is so innate in the white United Statesian, that even though he promises to eradicate it, he is mentally, morally and spiritually incapacitated to do it. The spirit may indeed be willing. It is only fair to give the white man here the benefit of the doubt, but the flesh is too weak. Colored people have about reached the conclusion that the white United Statesian is so irrevocably, hopelessly steeped in race prejudice that nothing but a miracle can change his attitude toward his countrymen whose skins are dark.
It is not because colored people are foolishly gullible that they placed so much confidence in this nation’s enthusiastic espousal of the cause of Democracy, both before and during the War, but because they felt it was their duty to take the white man at his word and believe his utterances on this subject were genuine and sincere. And to day the colored people of this country need not feel ashamed that they allowed themselves to be so hopeful concerning the results of the War, if victory were won by the allies. From their point of view there were many good and sufficient reasons for indulging fond hopes.
Never since the first cargo of dark human beings was deposited on the American shore did the future loom so promising and bright to men and women with African blood flowing through their veins as it did on that 14th day of April, 1917 when the United States entered the War. Thoughtful colored believed that the youth who had their lives before them were to be congratulated upon the opportunities which for many weary, dreary years had been denied the race with which they were identified, but which in all human probability these young people would later enjoy. Out of a cataclysm which had deluged practically the whole world in woe and broken the hearts of millions, suddenly to a heavily-handicapped, cruelly-hindered group of human beings, living in the greatest Republic on earth, the dawn of a new day seemed to appear.
For the first time in history the major portion of the civilized world was fighting not for conquest, but for freedom. If actions speak louder than words. “Give us liberty, or give us death,” was the cry that rang with one of two exceptions from one end of Christendom to another. From their thrones of monarchy the Kings of England and Italy vied with the Presidents of Republican France and the United States in declaring war to the last ditch upon tyranny and oppression and pledging themselves unalterably and irrevocably to the cause of freedom for all mankind. The most spiritual and sanguine seer who had ever dreamed of the day, when the iron heel of oppression would be lifted from the necks of men and women who groaned in bondage could never have imagined a movement so prodigious, so all-embracing and so irresistible as that onward, upward march to universal freedom in which millions of men of all races, colors, classes and kinds engaged for four years.
When the colored people of the United States heard practically the whole civilized world hurling anathemas against oppression and injustice, many of them burst into prophesy and shouted with joy. With a cocksureness and a faith that were beautiful, but pathetic, to behold some of them shook their heads wisely and declared gleefully, “Just you wait and see now, just you wait and see! So far as the colored people of the United States are concerned the result of this war will prove more clearly and more forcibly than anything which has happened since the dawn of creation- with the possible exception of the War of the Rebellion- that out of a terrible evil it is possible for a great good to come.” Some colored people waxed eloquent, as they predicted the beneficial effects which the War would undoubtedly have upon the lives of those who were most cruelly oppressed and were, therefore in the greatest need of relief and aid. As they talked about the war the War started, they said it was very gratifying indeed that those to whom it would undoubtedly bring the blessings of freedom and opportunity had done nothing whatever to precipitate the bloody conflict themselves.
Surely the events which were then transpiring all over the world gave men who loved liberty, but enjoyed it not, sufficient food for thought and ample ground for hope. Surely, in 1917 we were living in a marvelous and fateful time. In the twinkling of an eye we saw an old and strongly entrenched despotism like Russia overturned, almost without bloodshed at first, and then in confusion worse confounded we saw a groping, bewildered people trying to establish a Republican form of government in its place. The Great White Czar- the Czar of the Russias, well-intentioned, no doubt, but very weak-kneed, the scheming, duped Czarina, with their unfortunate family of children were banished to far-off Siberia, to whose icy blasts these erst while monarchs had often banished many an innocent and noble soul.
The Jews of Russia at that time were promised life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, after they had been plundered, persecuted and murdered for years.
The cry of Ireland which had pierced the ears and touched the hearts of men for ages at that time was then apparently heeded and heard. Relief from the terrible burdens she claimed she had borne for centuries seemed really at hand. England which had turned a deaf ear to Ireland’s prayers and entreaties to be allowed to govern herself for nearly eight hundred years appeared, at last, willing to remove the mote from her own eye that she might the more clearly see how to pick the beam from her neighbors.
Nor did Great Britain forget her dark-skinned children across the seas during that period of a radical softening of her heart. For the East Indians were promised recognition along various lines which they felt that they had all along richly deserved, but which they had hitherto failed to receive. Even unto the dark continent did Great Britain’s generosity and mercy extend. In telling the world just why she was unwilling to restore to Germany the African territory wrested from her during the War, England proclaimed that while she did not enter the war for the sake of freeing the natives from German rule, nevertheless, the outrages perpetrated by Germany upon the Africans were so savage and wicked, it would be a crime against civilization and humanity to permit them to bow for a second time under such a cruel yoke.
Then, too, after a long and sensational struggle the cause of Woman Suffrage triumphed in England, One bright morning the newspapers told us that 6,000,000 women would enjoy the franchise in England from that day forth.
And Poland, the very mention of whose name had for years brought before our mind’s eye such pictures of devastation, plunder and destruction that we could not bear to look upon them long, Poland, we were told by those who had their ears to the ground and could also read the signs of the times, would soon come into her own and be a nation once more.
But, Home Rule for Ireland, some may exclaim with impatient disgust, the restoration of Poland, the enfranchisement of the women of Great Britain, the new Russian Republic, the promises made to the East Indians, Great Britain’s sudden, tender solicitude for the African cruelly treated by Germany. Why did the colored people of the United States think that all those things which were happening in the old world would affect their own problem which was crying aloud for solution in the new? And how on earth could they believe that the amelioration of conditions of oppressed people in Russia, Ireland, India, and Africa would improve those under which colored people live in the United States?
The answer to this question is not so difficult, after all. In the first place the adage that the wish is father to the thought is as true in the case of the colored man in this country as it is in that of other men [hw] racial groups all over the world [hw]. In the second place many colored people felt that the relation between the events which were then transpiring across the sea and those which directly affected the Colored-American were not so vague and remote, as they might, at first glance appear. At that time there was every reason to believe that all over the world the hearts of men who loved liberty were softening toward each other more and more, They knew that the yearning for freedom was increasing rapidly day by day. That in certain great crises such as confronted the major portion of the civilized world for four years there is a sort of electric current which runs around the world [hw] earth [hw] and binds together the hearts of men who love the light and yearn to do right.
But it was not necessary for the colored people of the United States to go abroad for good and sufficient reasons on which to base their hope of improved conditions after the War, if the allies won. Almost every day in our own country thoughtful, patriotic white men and women were declaring that the sacrifices which this nation would undoubtedly be obliged to make on account of the War would arouse it from its long-drawn-out, painful indifference to the principles upon which it was built. There were many who said that the wealth which had been piled here so high in such a comparatively short time, that the unprecedented material prosperity which this country had enjoyed so long had caused the people to indulge in luxury to such an extent that they had completely forgotten the ideals which the American flag really represents. Immediately after this country entered the War, the people were urged with one accord to renew their allegiance to the principles and ideals for which this government was supposed to stand, as they had probably never been urged before. “Universal freedom, liberty for all, a world-wide Democracy” were words which fell from the lips of distinguished speakers and appeared in the editorials of our leading journals every day.
On Declaration Day in 1914 immediately after the US entered the War all over the country the atmosphere was charged with appeals in behalf of Democracy and human rights. Facing a great audience at Arlington National Cemetery during the Memorial Day Services President Wilson declared that America’s response to the call of liberty in the struggle of the world would hold the attentional all mankind. He did not pity the men who fell in the Civil War, he said, because theirs was a great work for liberty. “When you reflect upon it,” he said, these men who died to preserve the Union, died to preserve the instrument which we are now using to serve the world- a free nation espousing the cause of human liberty.
He declared that “the great War is a world struggle of men who love liberty. We have said in the beginning he continued that we planned this great government that men who wish freedom might have a place of refuge and a place where their hope could be realized. And now, having established such a government, having the vindicated the power of such a government, we are saying to all mankind ‘we did not set this government up that we might have a selfish and separate liberty, for we are now ready to come to your assistance and fight upon the fields of the world the cause of human liberty.”
Certainly no finer tribute to the men who fell during the Civil War fighting for liberty could possibly be assigned that that as a nation we were going to help in the great world struggle for liberty. Those words were music to the colored man’s ear and the foundation on which he built beautiful castles filled with blessed hopes.
But it was the broad and liberal opinions in the press of the country that especially warmed the cockles of the colored man’s heart. In an editorial one of the largest newspapers in the South declared “This War of Democracy against against autocracy has brought about the formation of a common brotherhood that knows neither race, religion nor peoples.” An editorial of a leading daily in the National Capital read, “If man were endowed with divine wisdom, he would not need to fall into bloody struggles in order to attain his own liberty and concede liberty to his neighbor.” It would be possible to cite volumes of editorials, each and every [one] of which expressed such noble sentiments as those quoted.
Generally speaking in every newspaper in the United States, in every pulpit, on every lecture platform, in every university and school, after the United States entered the War, emphasis was laid upon the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man, as it had never been laid before. The attention of the coming generation was constantly called to the fact that this Republic in which they live had joined hands with the allied, had decided to send American soldiers- the flower of young American manhood to fight on the battle fields and thereby break a long established precedent covering a period of more than one hundred years, had decided to send the flower of American manhood three thousand miles across the sea on which they would be subjected not only to the dangers of the deep, but to the horrors of the German submarines, because it wanted to fight to make the world safe for Democracy and strike a telling blow in defense of human rights..
It is no wonder, therefore, that the colored people of this country felt that after the war, if the allies won, the attitude of their white fellow citizens would be kinder, broader and more just toward them than ever before. It was difficult for trusting colored people to believe that this nation would make the welkin ring with eloquent apostrophes to liberty both before and during the World War and then [hw] after the War [hw] continue to withhold it from a large group of heavily-handicapped, prescribed human beings in their midst. As colored people read and heard the utterances of those in power, who pledged themselves so unalterably and ardently to the cause of liberty for all mankind throughout the War, they did not dream that after the conflict was ended, they would not be allowed to enjoy the fruits of a movement which had so quickened the public conscience and touched the Nation’s heart. Many colored people believed that it would be an unwarranted and an unjustifiable reflection upon the integrity and good faith of the leaders of the United States to believe that they would proclaim to the world that they were fighting in the cause of humanity and democracy against barbarism and autocracy before and during the War and then after the War continue to withhold from at least 12,000,000 of its own citizens rights already guaranteed them by the constitution and deny them opportunities of all kinds freely offered to every individual except to him through whose veins a single drop of African blood is known to flow.
Before the Armistice was signed, there was every reason colored people to believe that genuinely patriotic white men and women. South as well North, would do everything in their power to set their own house in order, not only because their eyes had been opened to the real meaning of Democracy as they had never been before, owing to the continual use of the word [hw] itself [hw] and the discussions evoked, but in order to escape the reproach hurled at the United States, on account of the injustice perpetrated upon a large group of its citizens, not by the Nation’s worst enemies, but by one of its best friends.
For instance, in the London Morning Post a well-known English writer took certain Americans severely to task because of their comments upon the Irish question. He expressed great surprise at the gratuitous advice given by these Americans to Great Britain concerning her treatment of the Irish “during one of the most inveterate trials to which Great Britain was exposed.” “What would Americans do?” he asked, “If we intervened in one of their dilemmas- say, if our ex-ministers, doctors and preachers were to summon them with a passionate appeal to raise their 10,000,000 Colored citizens to equal human dignity, to wipe out the stigma on the Commonwealth that every man or woman born with a dark skin, is born to the shame of exclusion and to the life of a Pariah race?”
It was natural for colored people to believe that such reminders of this nation’s duty to its colored citizens coming from other governments combined with the aroused conscience of the American people themselves would shame if id did not persuade them to renew their allegiance to those lofty principles of liberty, justice, equality of opportunity and equality before the law upon which this government was founded and in which all loyal citizens are supposed to believe. And colored people confidently believed that when this nation was baptized a second time into the faith which it once so eloquently espoused and so passionately proclaimed, their condition would be ameliorated all over the United States.
It may be difficult for some to understand how colored people could be so hopeful despite shocking crimes committed against them immediately after the United States entered the War. Just a few days thereafter, for instance, a colored man was barbarously lynched near Memphis, Tenn. Although there was no proof that he had committed the crime with which he was charged, he was first confined in a steel cage expressly made for the purpose, then his body was soaked with oil, and a little boy only ten years old was forced to watch the flames consume the body of this helpless victim of a savage mob. Shortly after that came the race riot in East St. Louis in which colored men, women and children were shot to death, and beaten into insensibility, while their houses were set on fire and destroyed.
In spite of the fact that colored men were forced to fight for their country, there was fierce opposition to allowing even those who were well fitted mentally, physically and morally to become officers of colored troops. Tremendous obstacles had to be overcome to induce the government to establish training camps for colored officers. Colored women implored the Red Cross Society founded by the immortal Clara Barton who had no race prejudice whatsoever to accept colored women who were trained nurses only to have this request denied.
The Red Cross Society told the colored women who endeavored to have their own nurses sent to France to minister to sick and dying black soldier boys over there that white nurses were unwilling to stay under the same roof with colored women. They listed their nurses alphabetically, Miss Delano explained and if Miss A were white and Miss B were not and these two women were both called at the same time, in all probability they would both have to be quartered under the same roof. The white nurses, Miss Delano stated, were unwilling to accept this arrangement at all. Therefore, the decision to reject the services of colored nurses in the World War was said to be due to “lack of housing facilities.” But the Red Cross Society insisted to the colored women who tried to induce them to accept their nurses that they were not responsible for forcing colored nurses to remain at home. This decision had been made in the office of the Surgeon General, it was explained. “What’s the good of trying to get our nurses to France?” asked a woman who had worked hard to compass this end, “In the language of the street,” she said, “its simply a case of “passing the buck’. The Red Cross Society claims it would cheerfully accept the services of our women and send them to France to nurse the sick and wounded soldier boys, if the Surgeon General’s office would only supply the housing facilities necessary to make it possible. Then that office does not believe the Red Cross needs them. So there you are.” Thus the wives, mothers daughters and sisters of colored men who fell in battle in France had their grief intensified and their anguish increased by the maddening thought that their loved ones who were lying on beds of suffering and pain might be nursed by white nurses so prejudiced against their race that they could not properly minister to their needs. “How can a white nurse so full of race prejudice that in time of War she is unwilling even to remain under the same roof with a colored woman overcome her innate revulsion to representatives of that race sufficiently to perform the many duties, some of which are so repulsive, when she forced to nurse a helpless black man?” colored women asked.
In the beginning of the War about a dozen colored women met in one of the offices of the Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington. A colored woman with a Spanish name had phoned requesting that Miss Delano should see a group of women who wanted to talk with her about a very important matter. The colored woman with a Spanish name did not state either that she herself was colored or that the other members of the group were identified with that race. When the colored women reached the Red Cross Headquarters they were told that no arrangements had been made to see them, “But Mrs, De Nellotz phoned and you promised to see us.” explained one of the women Sure enough there was the memorandum to see the group of women arranged for by Mrs. DeNellotz.
After hearing Miss Delano explain why colored nurses could not be accepted for service in the War, one of group expressed doubt that white nurses could treat sick colored men as they should be, on account of this innate prejudice against their race. But Miss Delano was shocked at the very suggestion of such a thought. She was sure that no white nurse could be so carried away with race prejudice as to be incapable of properly performing her duties to the wounded and ill. It occurred to one of the group to ask if anybody present had ever heard of such conduct on the part of a white nurse. One of the women stated that only two weeks prior to this meeting two nurses had been dismissed from a hospital in a near by Eastern city, because they had refused properly to attend to a colored woman whose baby was only two days old. Then others in the group related similar incidents to explain why colored women feared for the well-being and life of the wounded colored soldiers who would have to be nursed by white women three thousand miles from home. But none of these things moved either the Red Cross Society or the Sourgeon-General’s Office. Colored Nurses Not Wanted was the slogan to the bitter end.
In spite of these and other disheartening exhibitions of race prejudice even during a siege of War, many colored people believed there was every reason to hope that if victory were won by the allies, this Nation would speedily do everything in its power to raise to equal human dignity its 12,000,000 colored citizens, as the English writer expressed it, and to wipe out the national stigma on the American Commonwealth that every man, woman or child born with a dark skin is born to the shame of exclusion from rights guaranteed him by the constitution and from privileges which as a citizen he should be allowed to enjoy.
But nothing filled the colored man’s heart with more hope than the attitude assumed by the leading newspapers of the South. They were continually pleading for better treatment of the colored man. They were showing how dependent upon their dark-skinned brother the white man is in every way. In a goodly number of colleges and schools in the South young white people began to study the unsanitary conditions under which thousands of colored people are obliged to live in their very midst. At least two student secretaries of the International Y.M.C.A. gave many lectures on the race question in the South declaring openly and boldly that the colored people there would have to be given better opportunities and accorded more decent treatment, if the dominant race wished them to remain in that section and do their work. To many it was especially gratifying that these young men insisted in no uncertain terms that greater respect should be shown colored women by men of the dominant race.
To many the exodus of colored people from the South seemed a blessing disguise. Those who entertained this view believed that it would eventually bring about a better understanding between the two races., which would spell fairer treatment for the less-favored group, improved living conditions and above all, better schools. And there seemed to be a good reason for the faith of those who held this opinion. For, in certain parts of the South committees composed of black and white alike began to meet together to discuss questions of vital importance to the less-favored race. Leading citizens of the dominant race began to advocate more schools for colored children, longer school terms,, a decent, living wage for colored teachers which would mean more competent instructors for colored youth. They also talked about building better school houses, so that colored children would no longer be forced to attend school in the unsightly, unsanitary shacks in which thousands of them receive the only education they can get.
Prominent citizens began to recognize the necessity of training leaders for the race. For that reason institutions for the higher education of colored youth were endorsed by men who but a short time before the World War had looked upon them with disfavor and disgust.
Since these changes for the better seemed to be the result of the exodus, [it] was hoped that great good would result from the steady stream of laborers who left the South to go to the other sections of the country where they were offered higher wages, were promised better treatment, and equal school facilities for their children, assured of better police protection plus justice in the courts of law and notified that they need not stand in such dread of being lynched.
As representatives of the race watched developments, they were lifted to the seventh Heaven to see how easily colored men and women who had left their homes in the South to better their condition secured employment elsewhere. By the great World War the industrial status of colored people in the United States was completely revolutionized in a very short time. On all sides it was possible to see wonderful opportunities of employment enjoyed by colored men and women which a few months before nobody would have dreamed they would ever secure. It would be possible to give innumerable illustrations of this point. In the stock yards of Chicago the sight which met the gaze of those unaccustomed to such a spectacle could not easily be forgotten. In practically every department of that marvelous plant colored people and white people worked side by side. At some of the large machines a white girl would be sitting on one side and a colored girl on the other, facing each other, if you please in perfect harmony and happiness as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Colored men and white men worked side by side absolutely without friction. A young white man from the South happened to be the guide who conducted our party through the stock yards and he was loud in his praise of the service rendered by colored men. “I am from Nashville Tennessee,” he declared, and I want to say that many of the colored men who have left the South have done so, because they wanted to better their condition, just as anybody has a right to do. Then folks come here and see these colored men, they talk like they thought they were all a lot of ignoramuses. But that’s not the case. Many of these colored men are intelligent. They do their work well- just as well as the white men and the bosses in this stock yard are perfectly satisfied with them, too.”
During the World War the leading hotels of Chicago and other cities began to employ colored maids which was an innovation indeed. When I saw the first colored maids in a large western hotel I thought she must be a wax figure, for it had been years since I had seen a colored employed in that capcity in a first class place. When I spoke to the little maid, however, I discovered that she was really flesh and blood. I asked her why she came to Chicago and she told me that she had come to “better her condition”. “I was making only $6 a month for cooking, washing and ironing for a whole whole family in Georgia,” she said, “but here I am earning $30 per month as a madi, working only eight hours a day.” “How many hours a day did you work in Georgia?” I asked. “Sometimes I worked till way after dark, if I didn’t get my ironing done. Many a time I’ve worked from sun up till way after sun down. I never counted the hours, but I reckon I’ve worked from twelve to sixteen hours sometimes trying to get through.” And now the little maid was making as much in one month in Chicago working only eight hours a day as it had taken her five months to earn in Georgia working sometimes from sun up till sun down.” Just such a change in a human being’s condition as one’s fairy godmother would be expected to make.
Colored girls were also employed as ushers in some of the best theaters in Chicago. They were employed in factories of various kinds where they were never allowed to enter before.
The barriers which had been erected by a cruel race prejudice were being battered by stern necessity during the War, slowly but surely they seemed to be going one by one. The opportunities which we had sought so earnestly and so long in vain were opening up unto us more and more day by day.
Stern necessity forced those who had so long closed the door of opportunity and hope in our faces to open wide the portals, so that many colored people began to feel we would soon be living under some of the economic conditions for which we had so devoutly prayed.
Many other reasons might be given to show why the majority of colored people believed that their condition in this country would be materially improved after the War. First of all they really believed that the moral sense of the nation had been quickened, that its conscience had been aroused and its heart touched. They hoped that the leaders of this nation meant what they said and that they would exert themselves strenuously to establish a Democracy in the highest and best meaning of that word. immediately after the War.
The colored people of this country knew they had done everything in their power to assure victory for the Allies. In proportion to population many more colored soldiers were sent from the southern States than white men According to their means they bought more war stamps and thrift stamps than any other racial group. They made large contributions to the Red Cross although, as has been stated, not a single colored nurse was sent to minister to the sick and dying colored soldier boys in France. Every black soldier boy who passed into the Great Beyond across the sea looked up into the face of a white nurse, as he whispered his last, dying message to his loved ones at home. The colored soldiers who lay wounded and weak in France knew full well that there were many trained nurses in their own race who would have given a great deal for the privilege of nursing them back to health. But they knew also that colored nurses were banned from their bedside by a cruel, unreasonable race-prejudice which neither the exigencies nor the horrors of War could rout or make afraid. When I think of the tragedy of such a situation I try to comfort myself by hoping that as the souls of colored soldiers winged their way to their Maker they were sustained and soothed by the hope that the blood they had shed in their country’s defense would help to wash away the huge barriers erected by a cruel race prejudice to handicap and hinder their race.
Of the 400,000 colored soldiers who went to France to fight to make the world safe for Democracy practically all have returned. Try as hard as they may, they can not discover that the conditions confronting their race have been improved. Since they have returned they have seen their race victims of the mob violence in various parts of the country including the capital of the United States, although in not a single instance were colored people themselves the cause of the riot, their enemies and traducers to the contrary notwithstanding. There is no doubt whatever that the race riot in Washington D.C. was started by white soldiers and sailor from the South who could could not bear to see colored men wearing the uniform of soldiers and who had threatened more than once to do something to “show the niggers they must stay in their place.”
“Was it for this treatment our race is receiving, the colored solders are asking, “that we fought those battles in France? Was it for this cruel denial of our rights, for this continual wounding of our sensibilities, this ruthless crushing of our hopes, this deliberate attempt to destroy the manhood and the womanhood of the race that many of us lay on beds of suffering and pain, others have returned home crippled and maimed and some have sacrificed their lives?”
Neither colored soldiers nor their friends are asking that they be given lucrative positions or be paid in dollars and cents for the superhuman effort many of them put forth in the defense of the Allies. But they are asking that the leaders of this country tell them the plain, unvarnished truth about Democracy as it is going to apply to them. The colored people of this country now believe that when this country proclaimed to the world that it was “fighting to make the world safe for Democracy,” they were tricked into believing in a cause which was merely “a scrap of paper”, and did not exist at all. The colored soldiers who live and the relatives of those who have died will have no hard feelings toward their country if it forgets them and fails to show appreciation for the invaluable services they rendered. But neither the living soldiers nor those who loved the dead can forgive the leaders of this nation if they discover that all the time they were only the dupes of a regime which if this country had really fought to make the world safe for Democracy” would have forever passed away, whereas it is flourishing as blightingly powerful and as brutally strong in the United States as it ever did to day.
The whole civilized world would be horror-stricken, if this government should condemn all the colored soldiers who went to France “to make the world safe for Democracy” to be shot or hanged on a certain day.
But there are more cruel ways of destroying colored soldiers and their families than shooting or hanging them. They and the other representatives of the race may be throttled, stifled and choked to death by extracting from the air they breathe freedom, brotherly love, sympathy and hope without which, even if human beings manage to survive, they can not possibly thrive. There is nothing more fatal to the welfare of the colored people of the United States than the willful blindness, the obtuseness and the malice of those who deliberately and cold-bloodedly bar them from the privileges, immunities and opportunities which it is their right as American citizens to enjoy.
It may be difficult for some to understand why colored people feel so unusually aggrieved to day, because conditions, they claim, are no worse at the present time than they have always been. But, it is a mistake to assume that, for in some respects conditions are much worse now than they have been and they are growing more intolerable every day.
But even if there were no recrudescence of feeling against colored people even if conditions were no worse now than they were before the War, the inequalities and disabilities of which colored people are victims to day would would plunge them more deeply into despair than they have ever been since they were emancipated, because they had been led to believe by those in power that the War was fought in behalf of justice and freedom for all..
Terrell, Mary Church. “The Racial Worm Turns.” Mary Church Terrell Papers. Library of Congress. Ca. 1920. https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/ms009311.mss42549.0412