Mary Church Terrell

Colored People and World Peace - 1932

Mary Church Terrell
January 01, 1932
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Colored People and World Peace


Colored Women and World Peace.


No group of citizens in the United States should desire peace more than colored people and none should strive harder to put an end to war than they should. It does not require a college education and one does not have to be “wondrous wise” to understand why they should entertain this opinion.

Any group whose population and wealth are small and whose advantages are few when compared with others will suffer more from war than the more highly fevered. No matter in what country people may live the less fortunate always suffer more from war than do those in better circumstances. It would be possible to cite many cases to prove that this is true.

We were told that the World War was fought “to make the world safe for Democracy” and many of us believed that the conditions under which colored people live in the United States would be greatly improved if victory was won by the allies. Consequently colored people worked hard to bring this about. Colored men fought valiantly as soldiers across the sea and those who stayed at home did their bit with a right good will. Colored women worked with the [R]ed Cross whenever it was possible to do so and performed the various tasks which their hands found to do. In some sections of the country colored women dressed like men and worked in the railroad yards, loading and loading cars. They lifted lumber and did a great deal of heavy work which the women of othe racial groups did not attempt to do. Colored people bought liberty bonds also and it is said they contributed more money in this way according to their wealth than did any other racial group.

But, were the conditions under which colored people live in the United States improved by the World War? If anybody believes they were it would be interesting to know his reasons for making this claim. Thirteen years after the World War was supposed to have ended people everywhere are suffering from its disastrous effects. In nearly every civilized country in the world the times are hard; there is misery, there is hunger and there is unemployment with its attendant evils. Those who are competent to judge declare that these terrible conditions are the direct outcome of the that awful World carnage in which 10,000,000 men were killed. And yet there was no war in history, perhaps, which gave greater promise of bringing blessings to those who fought it than the World War. Three fourths of the people in the civilized world really believed it would usher in a better and brighter day. But now those who fondly trusted that this horrible exhibition of brute force would make life happier freer abd easier for them see clearly that they pinned their faith to a forlorn hope.

War is so brutal and bloody in itself and it brings so much death and destruction in its wake it seems a pity not to urge people to do everything in their power to banish it from the earth for this reason alone. One is almost shamed to persuade people to oppose war on the ground that those who survive derive no benefit from it. And yet it is necessary to call attention to the fact that war tears down and destroys instead of building up and saving some of the most precious things which mankind possesses, because so many claim it is instrumental of good.

But it would be easy to prove that the so-called good things which war is said to have bestowed upon mankind might have been secured without the loss of life and without the unspeakable horrors which always follow in its wake wake. However, even if we granted for the sake of argument that war has sometimes seemed necessary and instrumental of good in the past, it does not follow that the same thing is true at the present time. The necessity for war no longer exists to day, if it ever did in the past. The world has outgrown the necessity for war, just as it has outgrown the necessity for many things which were once used. There are many things which were regarded as essential to our comfort and happiness only a few years ago which have been thrown into the discard and are considered nuisances to day.

It is possible for nations to settle their disputes and differences by human and Christian methods to day instead of resorting to the wholesale slaughter of human beings which has been sanctioned by civilized people for centuries under the name of War.

But many despair of ever ridding the world of war because they are told by wiseacres that the day will never dawn when men will cease to fight if one nation believes it has been injured or insulted by another. But we were once told by these same wise men that the day would never dawn when gentlement would not settle their “affairs of honor” by duels which were quite the fashion some years ago. But nowadays duels are comparatively rare. Those who indulge in them are made the butt of ridicule. People poke fun at them and laugh at them all over the world.

Wiseacres once declared also that the slaves of this country would never be fired, that women would never be enfranchised and enjoy their political rights. But both of these impossible things have happened which proves conclusively that many who are addicted to the habit of predicting do not possess the gift of prophesy at all.

Whenever an effort is made to displace evil with good there is always a large number of people who cry out that it can not be done. But the world has moved forward, nevertheless, because there were those wgo were determined to make it a better and a safer place for human beings to live in. Whenever the world takes a step forward in progress some silly custom or some ugly evil falls dead at its feet.

There is no doubt whatever that war can be outlawed immediately if the citizens of the leading nations agree to do so. Those who dictate the policy of governments would not dare to resort to brute force to settle national disputes if the citizens took a decided stand against it. It is the duty of each and every one of us therefore, to throw our personal influence on the side of peace and to help any organization which is working toward this end.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom is striving earnestly and successfully to create public sentiment in behalf of peace. It is also doing a great deal to bring about a better understanding between the races. In a number of cities there is an interracial composed of white and colored people who are working side by side to secure justice and fair play for everybody without regard to color or race.

It is the duty of colored people who want to smooth out some of the rough places over which they have to travel every day and to enjoy the privileges to which they are entitled as citizens to support an organization like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom which is trying both to establish peace throughout the world and to remove the many evils which arise from race prejudice. In no way can the colored people of this country serve themselves in particular and humanity on general principles than by allying themselves with an organization which is trying to end war and to remove the disabilities under which they labor to day.

Especially is it the duty of colored women to work for peace. No group of women in this country has more to losr and less to gain from war than colored women. Whenever a race or a group is subjected to hardships of any kind it is the women who invariably suffer most. In ever community in which colored people live women should strive to instill into the hearts of their children and their youth a love of peace. Children’s clubs should be formed for this purpose in which games should be played and exercises arranged to impress upon young people the blessings of peace as contrasted with the horrors of war. Children should be discouraged from playing “soldier”, shootin[g] off toy pistols and imitating the activities incident to war.

It is possible for a few women to form themselves into a peace club bh simply meeting together, stating the object for which they are organizing and selecting the members who are to take the lead. Very little formality is required for such a club. Suggestions concerning the forming of a peace club and literature upon the subject will be sent to those who request it if they will write to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, hose headquarters are at 1924 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pa.

It is gratifying and encouraging to know that the greatest advocate of peace in the world to day is a man who belongs to one of the darker races. mahatma Gandhi has devoted his life to winning freedom and independence for India, his native land. from Great Britain. But he has done so by peaceful methods and has taken a definite stand against resorting to war. When he [h]as been persecured for righteousness sake, he has not attempted to strike back and defend himself by physical force. During all the fiery ordeals through which he has passed he has relied solely upon the tactics dictated by peace. For this reason Mahatma Gandhi has won the admiration of practically the whole civilized world. Thousands syjpathize with him go day who would have bitterly opposed him if he had advised his country to take up arms and resort to war.

It is also gratifying to know that some of the most distinguished men our group have placed themselves unmistakably and strongly on the side of peace. Many years ago before the subject of peace was generally discussed Frederick Douglass expressed himself as follows: “Such is my regard for the principles of peace; such is my deep, firm conviction that nothing can be obtained for liberty universally by war, that were I to be asked the question whether I would have my emancipation by the shedding of one single drop of blood, my answer would be in the negative.”

Dr. W.E.B. Dubois who is editor of the Crisis and one of the most scholarly men his group has produced has declared: “There is only one way for the colored races to acquire their rights and opportunities in the world, an that is through disarmament and world peace. Any other program would mean a war of races which would cost the conqueror whatever color he be just as much as it would cost the conquered, and it would bankrupt civilization.

Honorable Oscar Depriest, who is the only colored man in the House of Representatives and the first one to represent his race in the National Congress for nearly thirty years has sent me the following expression on the subject of peace: “The time has come in the history of the world when intelligence and not brute force should control. It is a sad commentary on the inhabitants of the world when disputes have to be settled by force of arms. All wars should be condemned and forever barred; all civilized people, believing in a Supreme Being, should settle their differences, either through arbitration or at a round table conference. There is absolutely no occasion whereby lives should be sacrificed to settle disagreements, either between individuals or nations.”

Millions of men were killed, wounded and rendered helpless invalids for the rest of their lives by the World War. The hearts of millions of women and children were broken. There is untold destitution and suffering in the world to day as the result of that awful carnage. Diabolical engines of destruction were used to poison, gas, bomb and shoot to death the sons of mothers, the husbands of wives and fathers of girls and boys.

But experts tell us to day that the weapons used during the World [W]ar were nothing but toy pistols compared with the monstrous devices which have already been invented, so that may be used if another war is declared. These experts tells us also that these awful engines of destruction will be able to wipe out whole cities and towns and snuff out the lives of countless men, women and children in the twinkling of an eye.

Unless a human being has reached the conclusion that it is time to wipe out civilization from the face of the earth and to destroy every man, woman and child in the civilized world, it is hard to understand how he can still argue that nations should settle their disputes and differences by resorting to war.

Terrell, Mary Church. “Colored People and World Peace.” Mary Church Terrell Papers. Library of Congress. 1932.