STATEMENT OF THE TREATMENT RECEIVED BY
MARY CHURCH TERRELL
AT THE HANDS OF
HOWARD WEST, TICKET AGENT AT
DOVER, DEL., OCTOBER 13, 1920.
Permit me to state the facts concerning the manner in which I was treated by Howard West, ticket agent, at Dover, Del., Wednesday October 13, 1920.
By mistake I reached Dover an hour earlier than Mr. Alfred Raikes, who was to meet me expected me. Since he was not at the station, I went into the telephone booth to phone to him. Unfortunately, I looked into the Wilmington Directory instead of the Dover. Seeing no Bureau of information, I went to the window of the ticket office, and saw a young man standing there reading a magazine.
“Do you know a colored man here by the name of Raikes, I inquired? Mr. Raikes was to meet me and I should like to find him.” A man sitting in the ticket office behind the one addressed said roughly, “go look in the telephone directory.” I was very much surprised at the manner in which he addressed me, but, I said, “I have already looked into the Directory before I came here, and can not find his name.” “Go away from that window”, Howard West stormed at me, “and don’t bother me any more”. I have never heard any man roar at any woman as that ticket agent roared angrily at me.
Thinking West was provoked because he thought I had come to him for information before I sought it at the proper source, I tried to placate him by saying, “I did not come to you till I had looked into the telephone directory. I know enough to do that.” Again West roared, “go away from that window, or I’ll have you arrested, I’ll call the police.” “For what?”, I asked. He then rushed angrily to the telephone, took down the receiver, and began to talk. Naturally I was sure he had carried out his threat.
Feeling that the police would soon come to arrest me, I thought I would ask information for Mr. Raikes number. While I was phoning, I looked up and saw Howard West standing at the door of the booth looking at me, and listening to what I said. At first I thought he came to strike me, he was in such a towering rage, but when he did not do that, I decided he had left the ticket office and had come to the telephone booth, so that I could not leave the station, till the police had arrived.
I made up my mind, then and there, that he should not have the pleasure of forcible detaining me, so I decided to remain in the station, till the police arrived. Every time the station door opened, I looked up expecting to see an officer of the law coming to arrest me. I will not try to describe my feelings. I could not do so, if I tried. I have never been threatened with arrest by any human being before.
After waiting about fifteen minutes, I went to the ticket office and said, “how much longer will I have to wait here before I am arrested?” Howard West fairly raged. “Take your seat”, he shouted, pointing to the waiting room. “Take your seat. The police are coming.” I protested against his storming at me, saying [I] was not accustomed to having to having people treat me in that way. However, I took my seat again and waited for the officer to come and arrest me, still fearing all the more to leave the station, since West stated positively the police were on their way to arrest me.
After waiting about fifteen minutes longer, I again went to the window, “how much longer will I have to wait for the police officers to come”. “Take your seat”, West roared again shaking his fist at me. “I am a busy woman,” I replied, “and it is not right to keep me waiting here so long for arrest. West jumped from his chair, rushed to the telephone. He jerked the handle so viciously, I thought he would break it. He phoned for the police the second time. I waited patiently, what seemed to me a long time, expecting every minute to have an officer open the station door and arrest me.
Finally, I went to the ticket window, and said, “I will not wait any longer for your arrest”. West again shouted, “go away from that window, take your seat; you are disorderly, you know you are”. “No, I am not disorderly.” I replied. “I had no idea of giving offence. I had no idea it would offend you to ask you a civil question.” While I was talking, a woman was coming to the ticket window. The younger of the two men, whose name I do not know, said “Move away from the window, somebody wants a ticket”. “Since you talk to me like a gentleman, I will be glad to comply with your request. You act like a gentleman, don’t let the other man spoil you.”
I then left the waiting room, fearing that Howard West would run out and grab me, and detain me. I asked a white cab man whom I saw standing near the door if he knew where a paper-hanger by the name of Raikes lived. He said he did. I did not dare ask him to take me to Mr. Raikes’ home, after the ordeal through which I had just passed in the waiting room. I felt sure that this white cab man would not allow a colored women to ride in his cab. But, my mind was greatly relieved when he asked me in a kindly way “do you want to go to Raikes’ home?” “Yes, I replied, will you take me?” He said he would, and he did.
When I reached Mr. Raikes’ home, nobody was there, and I had to wait at least a half hour before anybody came. I had been sitting on Mr. Raikes’ front porch at least an hour before he came. He told me he had heard something about the trouble at the station, but he did not tell me what he had heard. I could see he was deeply concerned, but I did not insist upon having him tell me what he had heard, because I wanted to focus my thoughts upon the speech I was to deliver in two hours.
After the meeting that evening, Mr. Raikes came to my stopping place and told me Howard West had sworn out a warrant for “disorderly conduct” against me, and that I would have to appear in court about ten o ’clock the next morning. He said the railroad detectives had come from Clayton on the 8:30 to arrest me, and had come to the theatre while I was speaking, but they told him (Raikes) they had refused to do so.
The next morning, I told my attorney, Mr. Anderson, the whole story. I emphasized the fact that I would never have remained in the waiting room nearly an hour, if I had not feared Howard West would forcibly detain me, if I tried to escape, or if that did not happen that I would be arrested on the public streets, and followed to the jail by a crowd of men and boys.
While I was stating the facts to my attorney, a man who was evidently listening to me in the front room came in and said, “Howard West told somebody he did not really call the police the first time he phoned”. Whether that is true or not, I can not say. I do know however, that he told me to take my seat that the police would be here in a few minutes. Every time I asked him how long I would have to wait to be arrested. I should never have remained in the waiting room one second, if I had not felt sure Howard West had really telephoned the police. For when he threatened me with arrest in less than three minutes after he had seen me for the first time, he suited the action to the word by removing the receiver and talking into the telephone. I did not suspect he was only hoaxing.
---Mary Church Terrell’s repudiation of the charges preferred---
----------------against her by Howard West.---------------------
Each and every one of the charges made by Howard West, in his official report to the railroad company, is false. I did not act in a “very disorderly manner before the ticket window.” He was the only disorderly person there. He stormed and raged at me in the most insulting and outrageous manner. I did not interfere in any way, shape, or form with business and passenger traffic at the ticket window. The next train did not leave for an hour. Only one woman came up to the ticket window to purchase a ticket while I was there.
The younger of the two men said, “move away from the window, that lady wants to get a ticket”. As soon as I saw the lady, I moved aside saying to the young man, “you talk to me like a gentleman, I will be glad to comply with your request”. It is difficult for me to believe that young man would tell a deliberate falsehood in order to convict a colored woman on a charge of which he knows she is not guilty.
I did not annoy and disturb passengers waiting in the public waiting room with loud and abusive language. I have never disturbed or annoyed people any where in the world. I have gone to Europe three times; I studied abroad three years; I have travelled all over the South many times; have spoken in every State in that section, and have never had any trouble any where in my life, till I came to Dover, Del. October 13th.
I have never used loud and abusive language any where in my life, and nobody but Howard West has ever accused me of doing so. I did not refuse to leave the ticket window when “requested” to do so by the person in charge. In the first place, the said person in charge did not “request” me to leave the window. He stormed at me savagely, and ordered me in the most insulting and abusive manner; saying, “get away from that window. Take your seat; the police officer will be here soon. You know you are disorderly”, Howard spat out at me. “No, I am not disorderly, I replied, I had no idea I would give offence by asking you a civil question, and I did not intend to offend you at all”. I did not make myself a public nuisance at Dover as I am charged. I have never made myself a public, or private nuisance anywhere in the world.
I did not disregard requests. Only one request was made of me by the younger of the two men who stood at the window. I complied with this request instantly, and I can not believe that young man would deny that I did. I did not defy any orders, for when Howard West ordered me in the most insulting manner imaginable to take my seat, threatening that the police officer would soon arrive to arrest me, I took my seat and waited quietly for about fifteen minutes for the officer to arrive, If I had refused to remain in the waiting room when I was told I had been placed under arrest, Howard West might claim I had defied his orders. But since I remained in the waiting room for nearly an hour because he ordered me to do so, he can not truthfully say that I defied his orders. However, there is just as much truth in this charge as there is in the others.
I did not give an exhibition of any emotional abuse and disrespect by shaking my fist at Howard West and his clerk through the office window, I did not say, that I would tell General Du Pont how I was being treated, but I did say that:
“A gentleman like General Du Pont would be shocked to know that a colored woman was being treated so brutally in his State.”
I did not say that Howard West was a “low down coward.” I have never called any body a “low-down” anything in my life. When he told me three minutes after he had seen me for the first, I was to be arrested, I did say that nobody but a coward would treat a woman like that. I am of the same opinion now. If I said he did not know how to treat people, as charged, I spoke the truth.
Howard West says that one passenger, an attorney-at-law, expressed the opinion that “this woman should be arrested for disorderly conduct”. There would not be enough jails in Delaware to confine the citizens of that State, if people who violated the law no more than I did were arrested every time an ill-tempered, violent man like Howard West chose to prefer the charge of “disorderly conduct” against them, because they asked him a question and then expressed surprise that he flew into a tempestuous rage at them for so doing.
I did absolutely nothing for which I should be arrested for disorderly conduct. When I think of the provocation to lose my-self control, I wonder now how I was able to preserve it. It is absurd for Howard West to claim that I took exception to his failure to suspend business to look up a telephone number for me. It would never occur to me to prefer such a request to a man who as a public servant was attending to business for which he was paid.
He stormed at me when he told me to look into the telephone directory, he did not “direct” me to do so, as he claims. Howard West says he advised me to call the telephone exchange, and ask for information, which “I understand she eventually did”. He knows I called for information, for, during most of the time I was in the telephone booth asking information to give me Mr. Raikes number, Howard West stood in front of the door glaring at me as though he intended to strike me. I was greatly relieved that he did not do me bodily harm.
The only “further abuse” of which I was guilty, and the only “uncomplimentary opinions as to what I thought of those in office” consisted in asking how long I had to wait to be arrested, what I had done to be stormed at, and stating that I had never been so shamefully treated by any human being in my life before, although I had been to Europe three times, had travelled and spoken in every state of the South more than once.
The only true statement made by Howard West is when he says “she was ordered three or four times to leave the ticket window.” I stayed at the window only long enough to ask how long it would be before the officer would come to arrest me, and hear West command me to leave the window, and take my seat till the police officer arrived. I never once refused to leave the window. If I had really refused to leave, I verily believe West would have come out to the waiting room and thrown me away, so furious and angry had he become.
Howard West makes a misleading statment, and gives the wrong impression by leaving those who read his charges to infer that he did not call up the police department till I had refused to leave the window three or four times when ordered to do so, saying that no one could make me leave.
As I have already stated, a man who heard me relate what occurred in the waiting room told me Thursday morning that Howard West claimed he did not call the policeman, when he went for the first time to the telephone and made me believe he was carrying out his threat to have me arrested. He says, “I then went to the telephone and asked for the police department.” She heard me asking, and said ““that’s right send for a policeman, I want to be arrested”, and repeatedly annoyed the office and those in the waiting room by returning to the ticket window and asking how long it would be before the policeman arrived as she wanted to be arrested”.
Since I had seen Howard West take down the receiver, and talk into the telephone after he had threatened to call the police, I was certain he had done so. Fearing that he would use violence to detain me, if I attempted to leave the station, or that if he did not do that, I would be arrested on the public streets and followed to the jail by a crowd of men and boys, I decided to remain in the station till the officer arrived. There was nothing for me to do but return to the ticket window and ask how long it would be before the policeman would arrive.
Howard West had phoned for a policeman twice. It was, therefore, quite natural that I should want to get over the ordeal and be arrested as soon as possible, and I did say “I wanted to be arrested as soon as possible for I was suffering mental anguish during that terrible suspense.
Mary Church Terrell.
Remarks made by
Mary Church Terrell on the
I had to choose between gaining an unpleasant notoriety, or maintain myself respect. I chose to maintain myself respect, however serious the consequences might be. Howard West made an attack upon me, not as an individual, so much as the thing which I represented. He stormed, raged at me, and threatened me with arrest, because I represent everything which he probably scorned and detests most.
When I asked him to give me some information at the ticket window, he saw standing before him the representative of a race which he probably would like to see in slavery today, and he is determined to keep in its place so far as in him lies. He saw before him a woman of that race who was using the English language correctly, and whom he had advertised to speak to colored people on the political issues of the day. I knew I had come especially to urge colored women to register and vote the Republican ticket, the very sight of me raged him. He lost control of himself completely. He saw he had a good chance to wound my feelings and insult me, and he availed himself of it to the very last degree.
I have travelled all over the South, have been through all the Southern States many times, have spoken in every one of them, and I have delivered few addresses to audiences in the South in which no white people were present. I have never failed to express my opinion as forcibly and as clearly on the race problem as I possibly could, but I have always done so as tactfully, and as politely as a woman discussing this delicate problem should do without stirring up strife and doing more harm than good. Some of the finest letters of recommendation I have that have been given me by leading Southern White people who volunteered to commend both the matter presented, and the manner in which it was given.
First, I regretted the whole occurrence exceedingly, but now I rejoice that I had the presence of mind and the courage to do the only thing which a woman with any selfrespect sould have done. I would rather have gone to jail than to have stood silently by and allowed Howard West to storm and rail at me simply because I had asked him t politely for some information without resenting it.
For many years I have tried to promote the welfare of my race in every way I could. But, I have never done anything which I believe did more to compass that end than when I resented the insulting manner in which Howard West stormed and raged at me. I have never been the victim of unpleasnat notoriety before. It sometimes happens that a woman has to decide to do her duty, to live up to her highest ideals even if she knows that by so doing she may be the victim of unpleasnat notoriety herself and bring grief to those who love her best. I would rather be the target of the criticism of those who condemn me for resenting the insult no only to myself, but through me to the womanhood of the whole race, than to lose my self-respect, because I was too cowardly in a crisis to do what I know to be right.
Terrell, Mary Church. “Statement of the Treatment... Received at the Hands of... [a] Ticket Agent at Dover, Del.” Mary Church Terrell Papers. Library of Congress. 13 October 1920. https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/ms009311.mss42549.0409