soldier with rifle american civil war THE
SESQUICENTENNIAL
EDITION

 

 

National Racism as it Was

James JohnsonJim Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1871. His father was a self-employed shop keeper, carpenter, and draysman whose ancestors were Africans brought as slaves in British ships to Jamaica. Johnson became a high school teacher, a university professor, a lawyer, a song writer, a poet, a writer, a diplomat, and a founding executive organizer of the N.A.A.C.P. He died in a car accident, in Maine, in 1938. In 1933, his autobiography—Along This Way—was published. The book contains scenes of his experience with human racism, more particularly American racism as it was during his lifetime.The scenes of his encounters, edited for brevity, are set forth here.

Jacksonville

Jacksonville 1900In 1871, Jacksonville was, what might be called a cigar manufacturing town consisting of eight blocks of stores set on the bank of the St. John's River, with street cars that ran on narrow gauge tracks drawn by mules. As a teenager growing up there, Johnson met Frederick Douglass and President U.S.Grant, shaking hands with both men. During Johnson's childhood, the town's population was composed of almost equal numbers of whites, blacks, and Cubans, who shared in the town's political community on an equal basis: blacks holding public office as judges and councilmen.

"There was yet some years for me to live before I would feel the brutal impact of race and learn how race prejudice permeated the whole American social organism. At first, my brother was my only playmate. The first outside playmates I can recollect were two white boys, brothers, both of them older than I. I can't recall their names or where they lived, but for a while they came from somewhere over to our yard to play. One day they were playing with me on our front steps, it must have been a few days after Christmas, for I had a new drum, my first. The bigger brother persuaded me to let him cut open the head of the drum so as to see where the sound came from. After his successful operation the only sounds made came from me. My mother rushed out and drove both boys away. Those two playmates vanished from my life completely, but the incident remained in my mind. It was a low, mean trick; however, I am glad I remembered it."

Comment

I remember being about Johnson's apparent age, playing with older boys I encountered a few doors from my home, on a vacant lot. One of the boys picked up a large chunk of concrete laying in the dirt and, whether intentionally or not, dropped it on my toes. Boys do mean things.

"The Negro citizens of Jacksonville took great pride in the part they played in the ceremonies honoring Douglass and Grant; I suppose if the truth be known the taciturn Grant was greatly bored by the performances of both whites and blacks. It occurs to me that the Negro citizens of Jacksonville would not at the present time (1933) be accorded an equivalent degree of [public] recognition and participation in ceremonies of this kind. And that comment would apply, I think, to Southern communities generally. The shift in attitude is principally due to the rise to [political] power of the poor whites, between whom and the Negro there is an old antagonism based on the differences in their actual economic status under the slave system, an antagonism that then bore more heavily upon the poor whites than upon the blacks. Of course, the settling down from the temporary heights of Reconstruction must be taken into account.

Long after the close of Reconstruction Jacksonville was known far and wide as a good town for Negros. When I was growing up, most of the city policemen were black; several members of the city council were black; one of the justices of the peace was black. When a paid fire department was established, one station was manned by Negros. Many of the best stalls in the city market were owned and operated by Negroes; a firm of Negro commission merchants were land stewards for the Clyde Steamship Company; and there was no such thing as a white-owned barber shop. But, today, Jacksonville is a cracker town.

In this is epitomized one of the paradoxes of American democracy that the Negro has to wrestle with. We are told and we tell ourselves that as a race we belong to the poletariet and that our economic and political salvation lies in joining hands with our white fellow workers. Notwithstanding, it is true that the black worker finds getting into most of the white labor unions no easier than getting an invitation to a white bourgeois dinner party.

Perhaps to confirm it further, there is another fact that must strike every observant person who goes through the deep rural South: Among the white people of those regions, people who have not yet tasted social or political power nor yet possessed the rewards of industrialism or come within its brutal field of competition, active antagonism against the Negro is lowest; so low, indeed, it would probably die out if it were not continuously and furiously stirred by the working classes and the politicians—by the working classes, determined to hold certain grades of work for white men only; and by the politicians, bent on preserving their rotten oligarcy by keeping alive the old political issue upon which the `solid South' rests."

A Walk in the Park

"There was a lady from New York who was an occasional visitor to Jacksonville before the time of the fire (which leveled the place in 1901). A very handsome woman she was, with eyes and hair so dark that they blanched the whiteness of her face. She asked me one day to meet her in a park, to discuss a literary piece she had written, and I agreed. I went on the cars. I was alone on the car, only the conductor and motorman as companions on the ride. When the car came to a stop, I saw the lady I was to meet, approaching, so I jumped off the car and we went together across a little bridge, then along a path until we came to a clearing on the other side of which was a barbed wire fence. I helped her through the fence and we walked through the trees until we came to the bank of the river, where we found a bench and sat down.

We sat talking. The sun was still bright, but was preparing for its plunge under the horizen. Watching it, I became conscious of an uneasiness, an uneasiness that no doubt, had been struggling for the while to get up and through my consciousness. I became aware of noises, of growing, alarming noises; of men hallooing back and forth, and of dogs responding with the bay of bloodhounds. One thought that they might be hunters flashed through my mind; and yet, what men would hunt with such noises? I rose to go, and my companion followed.

Just across the clearing were eight or ten militia-men in khaki with rifles and bayonets. The abrupt appearance of me and my companion seemed to have transfixed them. Quick as a flash, I remembered the conductor and motorman; they had seen me join the woman and go into the park; they had rushed to the city with a tale of a Negro with a white woman and, as there was no civil authority because of the fire, the military have sent a detachment to get me.

I lose self-control. But a deeper self springs up and takes command: I follow orders. I take my companion's parasol from her hand. I raise the loose strand of fence wire and gently pass her through. I follow and step into the group. The spell is instantly broken. They surge round me. They seize me. They tear my clothes and bruise my body; all the while calling their comrades, `Come on, we've got im. Come on!' And from all directions these comrades rush, shouting—'Kill the dammed nigger! Kill the black son of a bitch!'

I catch a glimpse of my companion, it seems that the blood, the life is gone out of her. There is the truth, but there is no chance to state it. As the rushing crowd comes running and cursing, I feel that death is bearing in upon me, death with the blazing eyes of a frenzied brute. And yet, I am not terror-stricken. I am carrying out the chief command that has been given me, `Show no sign of fear; if you do you are lost.' Among the men rushing to reach me is a slender young man in a white uniform. He breaks through the men who have hold of me. We look at each other. He claps his hand on my shoulder and says, `You are my prisoner."I ask him, `What is the charge?' He answers: 'Being out here with a white woman.'

The eternity between stepping through the barbed wire and the officer's words putting me under arrest passed, I judge, in less than sixty seconds. As soon as the lieutenant put his hand on me and declared me his prisoner, the howling mob of men became soldiers under discipline. Two lines formed and we were marched to the street car and taken into town, to the headquarters of the Provost Marshall. The Provost showed astonishment and some embarassment when he recognized me. I said, 'What is the charge?' And he repeated it.

I went on, 'You assume the lady is white? I tell you that according to the customs, if not the law of Florida, the lady is not white.' In spite of appearances he, of course, knew that I was right. He spoke of the report, his duty, of how he had not dreamed what the actual facts were. As we left, the Provost was flushed and flustered. I felt relieved and satisfied. It was now dark and I took her to her stopping place, The Boyland Home, a school for colored girls supported by Northern philantropy.

Through it all I discerned one clear and certain truth; in the core of the heart of the American race problem the sex factor is rooted; rooted so deeply that it is not image white woman black manalways recognized when it shows at the surface. Other factors are obvious and are the ones we dare to deal with; but, regardless of how we deal with these, the race situation will continue to be acute as long as the sex factor persists. Taken alone, it furnishes a sufficient mainspring for the rationalization of all the complexes of white racial superiority. It may be inane; I do not know. But I do know that it is strong and bitter; and that its strength and bitterness are magnified and intensified by the white man's perception, more or less, of the Negro complex of sexual superiority."

Taking the Bar Exam

"The day came. I went over to the courthouse in a state of high tension. I had spent the greater part of the night before in a last effort at preparation. There was one fact that was reassuring to me as I entered the building: I was to be examined before Judge R.M. Call, a very fair man. Negroes in the South have a simple and direct manner of estimating the moral worth of a white man. He is good or bad according to his attitude toward colored people. The results on the positive side are, I think, invariably correct; I myself have yet to know a Southern white man who is liberal in his thoughts toward the Negro and on the race question and is not a man of moral worth. But, my bit of reassurance was quickly lost in the realization that my examination had taken on the aspect of a spectacle. The main courtroom was full. Probably half the lawyers of Jacksonville were present. Some were there out of curiosity, some out of mid interest, and others to see the fun.

The judge had appointed a committee of three. One was E.J. L'Engle, a son of one of Florida's ruling families. Another member was Major W.B. Young, a bantam-like man, who, in the Negro idiom, `strutted his stuff.' He had red hair, fierce gray eyes, a beak of a nose, and wore a mustache after the pictured tradition of the Southern aristocrat. In the estimation of the colored people of Jacksonville, he was a bad white man. The third member was Doncan Fletcher, one of the outstanding members of the bar, with a reputation as a fair and just man.

The examination started. The questions were fired at me rapidly; little time being allowed for consideration. Before it was over, Major Young took up a copy of the Statues of Florida and began examining me on them. After two hours there was a lull in the questioning. A lawyer named W.T. Walker, sitting near the committee, leaned over and asked, 'Well, what are you going to do about it? Mr. Fletcher answered, 'He's passed a good examination; we've got to admit him. Major Young chimed in—I quote him precisely; for his words blurted out in my face—'Well, I can't forget he's a nigger; and I'll be dammed if I'll stay here to see him admitted.' With that, he stalked from the courtroom. Mr. Fletcher conferred for a moment with Judge Call. The judge then asked me a few questions in equity and international law. Mr. Fletcher conferred with him a moment more, then stood before the bench and made the motion for my admission. Judge Call bade me rise and swore me in as a counselor and attorney-at-law in the courts of the State of Florida. Mr. Fletcher and Mr. L'Engle both congratulated me. Two or three other lawyers offered me a good word.

I began to handle criminal cases, and I got cases of many kinds. It took me a while to rid myself of the state of depression resulting from the fact that my client in my first murder case was hanged. I gained some relief, however, from the reflection that he, being a Negro, would have been hanged anyhow, had his lawyer been Major Young.

One day I went to the State Capitol and went into the Supreme Court. Walking through the corridors I came upon a lawyer named Frank Clark, I told him I was there to get admitted and he took me along with him into the courtroom, and in less time that it takes to tell it, he had made the motion and I was admitted. A short while later, Clark was elected to Congress. For a number of years he justified his presence there by introducing at each session a bill to provide for 'Jim Crow' street cars in the District of Columbia."

The New York City Riot

NY TImes

news"On the night of August 15, 1900, we were at our rooms in West 53rd Street. I walked to the corner of Eight Avenue with Billy, who would there take a street car to go down where he lived, somwhere around Thirtieth Street. We waited fifteen minutes, a half hour, an hour; no car passed going in either direction. We thought it strange. Billy finally hailed a hansom.

I had just gone off to sleep when the door bell rang. There was a white man at the door, who asked if I knew Barry Carter. He told me that Carter had been beaten up and was in jail. When I said I would go see him, the white man said that I shouldn't try as there was a mob raging up and down Eight Avenue and the side streets attacking Negroes. The next morning the newspapers told the story of a great race riot.

I found Carter. A crowd of young hoodlums had run up from behind and begn beating him over the head with pieces of lead pipe. He struggled away and ran to a squad of policemen on the Avenue, but they met him with more clubbing. His scalp was cut open in several places and his arms were terribly bruised and swollen to twice their natural size from the blows received in trying to protect his head. It was a beating form which he never fully recovered.

This was the fourth great clash in New York involving the Negro. The first was the so-called 'Negro Insurrection' in 1712; the second was the so-called 'Conspiracy of the Negro Slaves' to burn New York and murder the inhabitants in 1741; the third was the draft riot of 1863. The riot of 1900 grew out of an altercation between a white policeman in plain clothes and a Negro, in which the former was killed. The outbreak was, beyond doubt, formented by New York police, but it was, in fact, only a single indication of the national spirit of the times toward the Negro. By 1900 the Negro's civil status had fallen until it was lower than it had been at any time since the Civil War; and, without noticeable protest from any part of the country, the race had been surrendered to Disfranchisement and Jim-Crowism, to outrage and violence, to the fury of the mob. In the decade ending in 1899, according to the records printed in the daily press, 1,665 Negroes were lynched, numbers of them with savagery that was satiated with nothing short of torture, mutilation, and burning alive at the stake."

NAACP poster

Riding the Cars in Georgia

"In 1896 I was returning from New York to Jacksonsville. I went by steamer to Charlston, and from there to Jacksonville by train. When I boarded the train at Charleston I got into the first-class car. The car was almost full, but I found a seat to myself, arranged my luggage, and settled down comfortable. The conductor took my ticket quietly, and made no reference whatever to the fact that the train carried a special car for me. A while later, however, he came to me and said that I would have to go into the car forward. His manner wa not objectionable; in fact, it was rather apologetic. I asked him why. He replied that the train had just crossed the Georgia line, and that it was against the law in Georgia for white and colored people to ride in the same car. I then asked him what he proposed to do if I did not move. We were discussing the question without heat, and he answered in a matter-of-fact manner that he would call the first available officer of the law and have me arrested.

I realized that my opposition to the law and all the forces of the State of Georgia would have hardly any other effect than to land me in some small town jail, so I said to the conductor that I would have a look at the car designated for me. I went to the car. It was the usual 'Jim Crow' arrangement: one half of a baggage coach, unkempt, unclean, and ill smelling, with one toilet for both sexes. Two of the seats were taken up with piles of magazines and the baskets of fruits of the 'news-butcher.' There were half dozen or so Negroes in the car and two white men. White men in a 'Jim Crow' car were not an unusual sight; they went in the car to smoke or gamble or drink, or to hit on the women.

After my inspection I went back and told the conductor that I couldn't ride in the forward car either. When he asked why, I gave as the reason the fact that there were two white passengers in that car, too. He looked at me astonished, and hastily explained that the two men were a deputy sheriff and a dangerously insane man, who was being taken to the asylum. I listened to his explanation, but pointed out that it didn't change the race of either of the men. He pleaded, 'But I can't bring that crazy man into the white car.' 'Maybe you can't,' I said, 'But if I have to break the law I prefer breaking it in the first class car.' The conductor was, after all, a reasonable fellow; and he decided to stand squarely on the law, and bring the two white men into the 'white' car.

While this colloquy between the conductor and me was going on the pasengers were fully aware of what it was about. There had been no open threats regarding me being in the car. However, when I began to get my belongings together there were smiles and nudges and sotto voce comments all through the car. The sheriff and the insane man were brought in and I began to move out. As I left the car, there were protests from men and women against the change. The maniac was raving and cursing and breaking things, but both I and the conductor stood squarely by the law.

Several years later, I was going from Jacksonville to New York. I had a Pullman ticket. Negroes who are interstate passengers on a Pullman car are not subject to the 'Jim Crow' laws of the various states. Of course, they are not exempt from violence. When I entered, the main body of the car was empty, except for three women. I started for the men's room to smoke a cigar while the porter made up my berth. I reached the door, and saw there were five men in the compartment, sprawled out over all the seating space. In an instant, as Negroes must often do, I was rapidly balancing the vital chances in a suddenly presented situation that involved 'race.' That instant took me past the open door to the extreme end of the car. There I came to a physical and mental stop. I pulled myself together, and I turned and walked quietly into the compartment. The three men on the long seat moved up. I sat down in the corner and proceeded to light my cigar.

As I sat down, the conversation ceased, and I could feel myself being scruntinized more carefully than politely. A stout, ruddy, successful-looking man sat in the armchair. A clean-cut young man sat on the side seat, directly in front of me. The silence was broken by the young man, just back from Cuba, who said, 'Dad, there's a genuine Panama hat.' He addressed me in Spanish and I replied in kind. They thought from my skin color, my speaking Spanish, and the hat, that I was from the Carribbean. As we spoke, the elder man looked over and, without saying anything, I took it off and passed it to him for closer inspection. The hat was passed round and examined with expressions of admiration; it was a very good one. The trip took three hours to get to Savannah. The whole party spent the entire time talking, joking, laughing. The older man went into his bag and brought out a flask of whisky, from which each of us took several samples, all drinking out of the same glass. My newly made friends got off at Savannah, and I went to bed repeating to myself: In such situations any kind of a Negro will do; provided he is not one who is an American citizen."

Mormon Hospitality In Salt Lake City

"In 1903, I was traveling in the West and stopped at Salt Lake City to see the Tabernacle. I took a carriage, and directed the driver, a jovial Irishman, to take me to a good hotel. He took me to the best. Porters carried the luggage into the lobby, and I went to the desk, turned the register around and wrote in my name. The clerk was busy at the key rack. He glanced at me furtively, but kept himself occupied. Finally he came to the desk, turned the register round, examined my name, and while his face flushed said, 'I'm sorry, we have no vacant room.' This statement set a number of emotions in action: humiliation, chargrin, indignation, resentment, anger. It was then eleven o'clock, and I asked if he expected any rooms to be vacent at noon. He stammered that he did not. I said I would wait for the evening. He said, I had better try someplace else. I tried two more hotels, no luck.

I had become hungry, so I had my cabman take me to a restaurant. I went in, sat down at a table and waited to be served. At length a man came to the table and said I could not be served. I was forced to come out from the place under the stare of a crowd who knew what had taken place. Finally, I asked the cabman if he knew of a colored family in town who had rooms for let. I was taken to a lodging house for laborers and there given a dingy bed and something to eat."

Social Equality

"In 1916, at the invitation of W.E.B. Debois, I attended a conference of the N.A.A.C.P in New York City. The conference was held at a time when the fundamental rights of the Negro were in a state of flux. At no time since the days following the Civil War had the Negro been in a position where he stood to make greater gain or sustain greater loss in status. The great war in Europe, its recoil on America, the ferment in the United States, all conspired to break up the sterotyped conception of the Negro's place that had been increasing in fixity for forty years, and to allow of new formations.

What new forms these conceptions would assume depended largely upon what attitude and action the Negro himself and the white people willing to stand with him would take. These gathered at the conference, determined to help shape the future more in accordance with real democracy and the heart's desire of the Negro. And so, when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced its platform of Equality for the Negro, a great many people were startled. Such a platform, as was to be expected, aroused fierce antagonisms to the organization. It was denounced as radical, revolutionary, subversive. But the most telling attack was made by those who called it a 'social equality' society; for that had the effect of making a good many white friends of the Negro's uneasy, and of placing Negroes themselves on the defensive.

This term, 'social equality,' is, at the same time, a most concrete and a most elusive obstacle in the Negro's way. It is never defined, it is shifted to block any path that may be open; it is stretched over whole areas of contacts and activities; it is used to cover and justify every form of restriction, injustice, and brutality practiced against the Negro. The mere term makes cowards of white people and puts Negroes in a dilemma. Very few, even among the most intelligent Negroes, could find a tenable position on which to base a stand for social among the other equalities demanded. As a matter of truth, self-respect demands that no man admit, even tacitly, that he is unfit to associate with any of his fellow men, whether he actually wants to associate or not.

Brooker T. Washington, in his great Atlanta speech, felt the necessity of declaring: 'In all things purely social we can be as separate as the five fingers, and yet one as the hand in all things essential to material progress.' It was this figure of speech, this stroke of consummate diplomacy, that made the whole of his eloquent appeal swallowable for Southern throats, and straightway brought him recognition as a statesman. And a fine figure of speech it is, but it does not stand logical analysis. For it raises the question of what do 'all things essential to material progress' consist?

There ought not to be any intellectual dilemma in this question for a self-respecting Negro. He can, without apology to himself or to anyone else, stand for social equality on any definition of the term not laid down by a madman or an idiot. Certainly, he does not mean to present himself uninvited for a dinner or a party, or that he has intentions of seizing some white woman by the hair and dragging her off. Certainly, he knows that nothing can compel social intercourse. He sees many Negroes that no force within the race can compel him to invite to his house; and he sees many white people that he would not, under any circumstances, have in his house. But he holds that there should be nothing in law or public opinion to prohibit persons who find that they have congenial tastes and kindred interests in life from associating with each other, if they mutually desire so to do.

But I am fully aware that in writing as I have in the last pages I have been arguing about 'social equality' only from the surfaces of the question. And these surfaces give the whole matter the aspect of a preposterous and absurd farce; especially in the region where 'social equality' is talked about most. For, in that region, a white gentleman may not eat with a colored person without the danger of serious loss of social prestige; yet he may sleep with a colored person without incurring the risk of any appreciable damage to his reputation. To every thinking Southern white man 'social equality' signifies a series of far-flung barriers against amalgamation of the two races, except as it may come about by white men with colored women."

Note: At the time Johnson's autobiography was published, segregation in all its forms existed throughout the entire United States. Though there might not be signs, as there were in the South, informing the American of African descent that this restaurant did not serve "Negroes," or that this hotel did not give rooms to Negroes, or that this theater required Negroes to find a seat in the balcony, if a seat was provided at all, the blacks in the Northern cities knew.

In the North there were no "Jim Crow" buses and street cars, but the Negroes knew their seats were in the back. Negroes knew, without a sign, that the public parks, golf courses, swimming pools, and tennis courts were for the enjoyment of white people only. In the North, from sea to sea, a Negro could not purchase a house on any street that was not reserved for black people. Though extreme violence was more often than not, a Southern thing—the crackers in the film, In the Heat of the Night, being realistic characters—violence frequently erupted in the form of riots in every major city north of the Mason-Dixon Line, with mobs of white people, as in New York in 1900, sweeping through black communities attacking and murdering people.

From the time the Constitution was ratified by the white people of the States, in 1789, they carried with them through the suceeding generations the racial fear of amalgation with the Africans. And yet, the political rhetoric taught children in the public schools, is that America was, and is, a "melting pot;" that this is its strength. The rhetoric aside, all one needs do, to see the objective truth, is drive through a major Northern city in America and see the enclaves, the strains of races separated by neighborhoods: The Africans here, the Mexicans there, the Chinese over there; the Japanese yet elsewhere; the Koreans hunkered at the edge; the whites with money separated from the whites without; and, of course, the new strangers finding their ghettos—the Iranians in one place, the Iraqi another; the Somali another.

In the evolution of the human race, America is the experiment in which amalgation provides the key to its special greatness, and the African experience is what portends its future where all these contrasting strains come together as Americans at the latter day, believing as one people in its unique human experience of freedom.

Paris

"From the day I set foot in France, I became aware of the working of a miracle within me. I became aware of a quick adjustment to life and to environment. I recaptured for the first time since childhood the sense of being just a human being. I was suddenly free, free from a sense of impending discomfort, insecurity, danger; free from the conflict within the Man-Negro dualism and the innumerable maneuvers in thought and behavior that it compels; free from the problem of many obvious or subtle adjustments to a multitude of bans and taboos; free from special scorn, special tolerance, special condescension, special commiseration; free to be merely a man.

On the boat we had made pleasant acquaintances from among our white compartriots. Of several of these I still have a distinct recollection. One was a West Point cadet. It was this young man who recommended that we put up in Paris at the Hotel Continental, in the Place Vendome.

HotelContinentalWe knew nothing of Paris hotels, and he appeared to know so much; so we followed his advice. When we had registered and been assigned to our rooms, we found ourselves in possession of a suite of two bedrooms, sitting room, and bath, opening on the beautiful court. At dinner time we dressed and started out. As we stepped from our rooms a uniformed attendant standing at the door—waiting, it seemed for our exit—bowed low and said, 'Messieurs.' We walked toward the elevator, and there stood another uniformed attendant, who bowed low and said, 'Messieurs.' As we passed through the lobby, there came from various functionaries a chorus of 'Messieurs.' As we went out the great gate, and attendant uniformed like a major general saluted and said, 'Messieurs.' We laughed heartily over all this when we got back to our rooms, and declared whatever it cost to stay at the Cotinental, it was worth it.

Olympia In coming through the lobby we had been joined by a young man we had met on the ship. He knew his Paris, and we were glad to be taken in tow. After dinner, we went to see a performance at the Marigny; and after the theater our friend piloted us to the Olympia cabaret. I was amazed at the size of the place, the size of the orchrestra seated in the center, and the great gayety of the whole scene. We found a table and were seated. The next number played by the orchrestra was Under the Bamboo Tree. We attached no particular importance to that but when it was followed by The Congo Love Song, we took notice and sent our compliments to the leader with the request that he and his men order whatever they wished. Soon four girls joined our party; only one of them, a German girl Bamboo Treewith lovely dark eyes, being able to speak English, and she knew only a few words. Nevertheless, they all chatted with and at us gayly while they sipped their beer or black coffee drunk from tall, thin glasses. All the while we were in Paris we generally ended up each evening at Olympia; and, generally, this same group of girls joined us at our table. I stopped trying to make an interpreter out of the German girl, and took my firs plunge into the practical use of French. My ability to take the language increased in geometrical progression. I had studied French at school, but Olympia proved to be the best school for learning French I ever attended."

 

 

What War Brings

Black Soldiers on trial

24 regiment flagIn August 1917, the Twenty-Fourth (colored) Infanry Regiment of the United States Army arrived at Houston, Texas, to begin field preparation for its transfer to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force going to the Allied Front on the Somme.

The 24th Regiment was originally organized in January 1865. It served as provost guard at Richmond, from the Surrender to October 1865 when it was mustered out. The Regiment was reactived in 1869 and remained in service until 1951. Between 1869 and 1898, the Regiment was engaged in active operations on the Western frontier, garrisoning forts, fighting Indians and bandits, and guarding the border. In 1898, the 24th Infantry deployed to Cuba as part of the U.S. Expeditionary Force and, after successfully storming of the Spanish Fortress at El Caney, engaged at the battle of San Juan Hill, assaulting and capturing the blockhouse and trench system atop the Hill.

24th regiment troopsIn 1899, the Regiment was sent to the Philippines, where it fought in a number of battles against the insurgents. In one encounter, nine of its soldiers, outnumbered ten to one, charged a line of trenches routing the defenders. Returning to the United States, in 1905, the Regiment ws on duty in Panama, Nigagura, and along the Mexican border, where it participated in General Pershing's invasion of Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa's army which had encroached upon several of the border towns in 1916. In August 1917, the Regiment was removed to Houston, Texas, in preparation for its transfer to France.

Upon arriving at Houston, the men of the 24th Infantry came quickly into conflict with the white police force of the town. The soldiers were instructed to conform their conduct to the prevailing custom of segregation: to sit only in the back of the streetcars, to drink water only from designated public fountains, and to treat the white people they encountered with due deference, especially the police. The consequence of this, was the boiling build-up of anger generated by the countless episodes the men experienced, of being insulted and physically abused. Every encounter between the soldiers and the white townspeople brought a slur, which, if the soldiers replied in kind, brought on a confrontation with the white police who, at each encounter, became increasingly violent.

On the night of August 23, the Regiment's white commanding officer, Major Kneeland Snow, warned of the rising tension within the Regiment, cancelled all liberty passes to the town and attempted to place the soldiers' rifles under guard. But, when he saw soldiers carrying their rifles away from the collection point and went to supervise the collection himself, he was stopped at gunpoint. "I couldn't get any response at all in the way of obedience," he testified at the first court martial; "No man paid any more attention to me that night than as though I had been a mosquito on his face. I appealed to the men to stand by me, but was ignored."

The reason for the angry excitement Snow found the Regiment was in, was a report the soldiers in camp received that one of their comrades was dead. Charles Baltimore, a corporal of I Company, had been shot, it was said, by a police officer. Two officers of the Houston police force had attempted to break up a gambling game in the black bottom of the town. When one of the players ran into a nearby house, the officers pursued; not finding the culprit, they dragged the homeowner, Sara Travers, out into the street and began beating her. At this point, Baltimore intervened, telling the officers to leave the woman alone. The officers pistol-whipped him and took him to the police station. Learning this had happened, another black soldier went to the station to check on Baltimore. When he inquired about Baltimore, the white officers pistol-whipped him, kicking him into the gutter on the street in front of the station. When the soldier staggered to his feet, backing away, the officers shot at him with their pistols. Informed of what had happened between his officers and the soldiers, the Houston police chief suspended the officers from duty, but the tinder had already be lit.

Back at the camp, Major Snow was desperately trying to disarm his soldiers and maintain control, but a shot was heard, fired from somewhere, and a voice boomed from the crowd of soldiers milling around the cache of rifles Snow was trying to control—"Here comes the mob! Grab your rifles, men!" The effect was instant panic. Soldiers, who had turned their rifles in, rushed the tent where they were stacked, knocking aside Snow and his guards, grabbed rifles and began firing into the woods surrounding the camp. Someone yelled: "Let's go to town and get to work."

A general hub bub ensued and in the midst of it, First Sergeant Henry, a severe by-the-book stickler for discpline whose loyalty to the army had never been in doubt among his superiors, was heard to shout—"Fill your canteens, men, and fall in!" Within minutes a group of over one hundred black soldiers, with rifles on their shoulders, and ammunition belts strapped around their waists, were marching in rank and file out of the camp and down Washington Ave toward the business district of Houston, heading for the city jail. Moving through the white neighborhoods which bordered the Avenue, the column of soldiers was fired upon, and Henry ordered skirmishers out on the flanks and, returning the fire, the skirmishers killed several white men. Soon, the soldiers had reached the black district of the town and a series of skirmishes followed, some with police, some with white civilians. These left sixteen people dead and twenty-two more wounded.

After several hours of this, knowing heavy military response would soon be coming, the soldiers' excitement and anger began to wan; some began to straggle away into the night, while the hard core continued forward toward the jail for a time, only to stop the advance when they realized it was too far, and they began to retire down a railroad track toward the bayou surrounding the town. Here, Sgt. Henry left the men and went off into the night. As their column passed soldiers sitting away, a gun shot was heard.

The next morning, white children playing found Henry's body on the tracks, his Springfield rifle next to it. The back of his head was blown off. Somehow, it seemed, he had managed to put the rifle in his mouth and pull the trigger. Within three weeks, the Army had held a court martial with sixty-three black soldiers in the dock. The men were represented by a single white officer with no training as a lawyer. Thirteen were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Forty-one were given life sentences. The executions took place on December 1, 1917, with no appeal being permitted and with no public notice until the men were dead.

Mr. Johnson describes his involvement in the subsequent effort to prevent more executions resulting from the second and third court martials of the black men.

"It was in this period that I rushed to Memphis to make an investigation of the burning alive of Eli Parsons, a Negro, charged with being an 'ax murderer.' I was in Memphis ten days. Nowhere could I find any evidence that Parsons was the man guilty of the crimes that had been committed. And yet, without a trial, he was burned alive on the charge.

Newspaper

On the day I arrived, I went to the place where the burning had taken place. A pile of ashes and pieces of charred wood still marked the spot. While the ashes were yet hot, the bones had been scrambled for as souvenirs by the mobs. A lone Negro in the hands of his accusers, who for the time were no longer human. He is chained to a stake, wood is piled under and around him, and five thousand white men and women, the women with babies in their arms and women with babies in their wombs, look on with pitiless anticipation, with sadistic satisfaction while he is baptized with gasoline and set afire. The mob disperses, many of them complaining, 'They burned him too fast.'"

St. Louis newspaper

"In the middle of the same summer, on July 2, 1917, the colored people of the whole country were appalled by the news of the East St. Louis massacres, a riot in which four hundred thousand dollars worth of property was destroyed, nearly six thousand Negroes driven from their homes, hundreds of them killed, some burned in the houses set afire over their heads. This coming when Negro citizens were being urged to do their bit to 'make the world safe for democracy.' I suggested a silent protest parade, to go down Fifth Avenue in New York, and on July 28, nine thousand Negroes marched silently to the sound of muffled drums. The procession was headed by children, some of them not older than six, dressed in white. These were followed by the women dressed in white, and bringing up the rear came the men in dark clothes. They carried banners, some of which read—'Treat us so that we may love our Country.'

parade 5th ave

Within less than a month after the silent protest parade, news flashed up from Texas about the Houston affair. A battalion of the Twenty-Fourth Infantry was stationed at Fort Sam Houston. Late in the night of August 23, the city was shot up; two Negroes and seventeen white people, five of the latter police officers, were killed. The N.A.A.C.P. sent Martha Gruening to Houston to get at the facts. She found there had been cumulating bad feeling between the soldiers and the police; that the friction was chiefly from the fact that the police had refused to recognize the provost guard as the policing agency for the troops on liberty; that the police had been insulting and brutal in enforcing their powers; that they had cruelly clubbed a number of soldiers, that on the day of the shooting, Corporal Baltimore had been seriously beaten, that the news had reached the camp that he had been killed.

The Association attempted to assist in the defense, through the services of Texas attorney, A.J. Houston, son of Sam Houston. Sixty-three members of the regiment were court-martialed, and on December 11, early in the morning before it was quite daylight, almost surreptitiously thirteen of them were hanged. The Negroes in the country were agony-stricken. They thought back over the fifty years of the Negro regiments in the regular Army; how in that time those regiments had been stationed in every section of the country without ever a serious blot on their record for discipline and soldierly conduct, except for two instances, and both of those incidents had happened in Texas; and they felt that the primary cause of the trouble lay not in the Negro soldiers, but in Texas.

In a second court martial, five more of the men were sentenced to be hanged, fifty-one to life imprisonments, and five to long terms. Before the court was finally discontinued, eleven more of the men received the death sentence, bringing the number condemned to sixteen. A committee of which I was a member hastened to Washington to see President Wilson, to ask for executive clemency for the condemned men.

A short while before, I had gone to Washington to see the President, but his secretary acted as a buffer. This time the President received us graciously. He asked us to be seated. Mr. Wilson did not sit behind his desk, he sat out from it in a comfortable chair, and we sat grouped in a sort of semi-circle in front of him. I rose, as spokesman, and said: 'We come as delegates of the Association, representing the sentiments and aspirations and sorrows of the great mass of the Negro population of the United States, and we urge you to extend executive clemency to the five Negro soldiers of the Twenty-Fourth Infantry now under sentence of death from court martial. We feel that the history of the regiment, and the splendid record for bravery and loyalty of our Negro soldiery in every crisis of the nation, give us the right to make this request. And we make this request in the name of the twelve million Negroes whose loyalty to America places them with the stock that landed at Jamestown.'

My presentation done, the President did not rise, and I retook my seat. He talked with us about the mission that had brought us to the White House. We were surprised when he admitted that he had not heard of the burning of Parsons. he asked us to give him the facts about it; and declared that it was hard for him to think that such a thing could have happened in America. We pressed him for a promise to make a specific statement against mob violence and lynching. He demurred, saying that he did not think any word from him would have special effect. Finally, he promised that he would 'seek an opportunity' to say something.'

President WilsonMr. Wilson talked on in a social manner. He sat with his knees straight, his elbows resting on the arms of his chair, his hands joined at the tips of his fingers and thumbs, and pointing in front of him in the shape of a wedge.

Sitting in front of him, I realized the official air had been dropped, and that he was, as we say, very human. His head, no longer inclined forward, rested back easily, and the sternness of his face relaxed and, occasionally in a smile, became completely lost. He asked us questions about the colored people, and we answered them as wisely as we could. He chatted a short while longer, even recounting one or two slight reminiscences of his youthful days in Virgina. We had been with the President a few minutes longer than a half hour when he rose, signifying that the interview was at an end. We left with a last plea in behalf of the condemned men of the Twenty-Fourth Infantry. When I came out, it was with my hostility toward Mr. Wilson greatly shaken; however, I could not rid myself of the conviction that at bottom there was something hypocritical about him.

Note: Elsewhere Mr. Johnson said of Wilson: "The South, it appeared, had taken the election of a Southern-born president, the first (to be elected) in sixty-four years, together with a Cabinet in which the proportion of Southern born portfolio holders was one-half, as a signal that the country had been turned over not only to the Democratic Party in general, but to the South in particular. One of the effects of this impression held, I should say, by a majority of Southern white people, was a determination to nullify what remained of the Negro's national citizenship. Going back to the days of Reconstruction, the Negro in the South had always felt, no matter what his local status might be, that he was a citizen of the United States. This feeling was manifest especially when such a Negro entered a federal building. There he felt that he was on some portion, at least, of the ground of common citizenship; that he left most of the galling limitations on the outside. This, in reality, was little more than a feeling; but, at that, it was worth something. In parts of Florida, at any rate, efforts were made to take even that away from him. The steps begun during President Wilson's first term to sweep away the remaining vestiges of the Negro's federal citizenship would have gone far had they not been halted bt the World War."

The president did take some action. He prohibited the execution of any more American soldiers before the sentences of court martial had been reviewed by the War Department. As to the sixteen condemned men, he commuted the sentences of ten of them to life imprisonment."

Final Thoughts

"Some of the contributions that the Negro has made to America are quite obvious—for example, his contribution of labor—and their importance, more or less, has long been recognized. But the idea of his being a generous contributor to the common cultural store and a vital force in the formation of American civilization presents a new approach to the race question. The common view of white people toward Americans of African descent might be something like this: These people are here; they are here to be shaped and molded and made into something different and, of course, better; they are here to be helped; here to be given something; in a word, they are beggers under the nation's table waiting to be thrown the crumbs of civilization. However true this may be, it is also true that the Negro has helped to shape and mold and make America; that he has been a creator as well as a creature; that he has been a giver as well as a receiver. It is, no doubt, startling to contemplate that America would not and could not be precisely the America it is, except for the infuence, often silent, but nevertheless portent, that the Negro has exercised in its making.

Comment

Boy, how the man speaks right on. The black politicians of our time, holding their hand out—begging for reparations. They disrespect the great contribution the Americans of African descent made to our country. Without the experience of amalgating with them, not standing on their shoulders, where would the nation be?

Estimate, if you can, the effect upon the making of the character of the American people caused by the opportunity which the Negro has involuntarily given the dominant majority to practice injustice, wrong, and brutality for three hundred years with impunity upon a practically defenseless minority. There can be no estimate of the moral damage done to every American community that has indulged in the bestial orgy of torturing and mutilating a human being and burning him alive. If I am wrong in these opinions and conclusions, if the Negro is always to be given a heavy handicap back of the common scratch, or if the antagonistic forces are destined to dominate and bar all forward movement, there will be only one way of salvation for the race that I can see, and that will be through the making of its isolation into a religion and the cultivation of a hard, keen, relentless hatred for everything white. Such a hatred will burn up all that is best in the Negro, but it would also offer the sole means that could enable him to maintain a saving degree of self-respect in the midst of his debasement.

But, if the Negro is made to fail, America fails with him. For it is in the nature of a truism to say that this country can actually have no more democracy tha it accords and guarantees to the humblest annd weakest citizen. It is both a necessity and to the advantage of America that she deal with this question right and righteously; for the well-being of the nation depends upon taking that course. And it cannot be met and answered by the mere mouthings of the worn platitudes, of religion, of abstractions. For the black Americans directly concerned are not in far off Africa; they are in and within our midst."

The New York Times, 1900

Johnson poem

Johnson poem cont

The Times, the next day, editorialized.

Query: What exactly did The Times mean, "the land certainly is not?" Grudgingly, it seems to me, The Times is recognizing that Americans of African descent have long since earned their place in The United States of America. Without them with us in Nam who knows where we would be, not embracing our brothers-in-arms.

Joe Ryan for Jim Johnson

 

Postscript

Mr. Johnson wrote a book of fiction, published in 1912, which he titled The Autobiography of an ex-Colored Man. In the book, he sets forth a scene in a smoking car which, edited for brevity, is set forth below:

"During the trip from Nashville to Atlanta I went into the smoking compartment of the car to smoke a cigar. When I entered the car, I found only a couple of men there; but in a half hour there were half a dozen or more. From the general conversation I learned that a fat Jew was a cigar-manufacturer, that a slender bespectacled young man was from Ohio and a professor in some State institution in Alabama; that a white-moustached, well-dressed man was an old Union soldier, who had fought through the Civil War, and that a tall, raw-boned, red-faced man, who seemed bent on leaving nobody in ignorance of the fact that he was from Texas, was a cotton planter.

In the North men may ride together for hours in a 'smoker' and unless they are acqquainnted with each other never exchange a word; in the South men thrown together in such manner are friends in fifteen minutes. There is always present a warm-hearted coriality which will melt down the most frigid reserve.

The talk in the car was for a while miscellaneous—the weather, crops, business prospects. Finally the conversation drifted to politics; then, as a natural sequence, turned upon the Negro question.

In the discussion of the race question the diplomacy of the Jew was something to be admired; he had the faculty of agreeing with everybody without losing his allegiance to any side. He knew that to sanction Negro oppression would be to sanction Jewish oppression and would expose him to a shot along that line from the old soldier, who stood firmly on the ground of equal rights and opportunity to all men; long tradition and business instincts told the Jew when in Rome to act as a Roman. Altogether his position was a delicate one, and I gave him credit for the skill he displayed in maintaining it.

The young professor was apologetic. He had had the same views as the G.A.R. man; but a year in the South had opened his eyes, and he to confess that the problem could hardly be handled any better than it was being handled by the Southern whites. To which the G.A.R. man responded somewhat rudely that he spent ten times as many years in the South as his young friend and that he could easily understand how holding a position in a state institution in Alabama would bring about a change of view.

The Texan was fierce, eloquent, and profane in his argument, and, in a lower sense, there was a direct logic in what he said, which was convincing; it was only by taking higher ground, by dealing in what Southerners call 'theories,' that he could be combated. Occasionally some one of the other men in the 'smoker' would throw in a remark to reinforce what he said, but he really didn't need any help; he was sufficient in himself.

In the course of a short time the controversy narrowed itself down to an argument between the old soldier and the Texan. The latter maintained hotly that the Civil War was a criminal mistake on the part of the North and that the humilitation which the South suffered during Reconstruction could never be forgotten.

The Union man retorted just as hotly that the South was responsible for the war and that the spirit of unforgetfulness on its part was the greatest cause of present friction; and it seemed to be the one great aim of the South to convince the North that the latter made a mistake in fighting to perserve the Union and liberate the slaves. 'Can you imagine,' he went on to say, 'what would have been the condition of things eventually if there had been no war, and the South had been allowed to follow its course? Instead of one great, prosperous countrhy with nothing before it but the conquests of peace, a scorce of petty republics, as in Central and South America, wasting their energies in war with each other or in revolutions.'

Note: The white people of the North certainly went to war to preserve the Union, but the idea of liberating the slaves had absolutely nothing to do with it. The nature of war liberated the Africans, nothing more, nothing less.

'Well,' replied the Texan, 'anything—no country at all—is better than having niggers over you. But anyhow, the war was fought and the niggers were freed, for it's no use beating around the bush, the niggers, and not the Union, was the cause of it; and now do you believe that all the niggers on earth are worth the good white blood that was spilt? You freed the nigger and you gave him the ballot, but you couldn't make a citizen out of him. Do you mean to claim that niggers are equals of white men?'

'That's not the question,' answered the old soldier, 'but if the Negro is so distinctly inferior, it is a strange thing to me that it takes such tremendous effort on the part of the white man to make him realize it, and to keep him in that same place into which inferior men naturally fall. But let's grant for argument's sake that the Negro is inferior in every respect to the white man; that fact only increases our moral responsibilithy in regard to our actions toward him. inequalities of numbers, wealth, power, even intelligence and morals, should make no difference in the essential rights of men.'

'If he's inferior and weaker, and is shoved to the wall, that's his own look-out,' said the Texan. 'That's the law of nature; and he's bound to go to the wall; for no race in the world has ever been able to stand competition with the Anglo-Saxon. The anglo-Saxon race has always been and always will be the masters of the world, and the niggers of the South ain't going to change all the records of history.'

The old soldier challenged the Texan's assumptions, pointing out that not one single fundamental intellectual acheivement can be credited to the Anglo-Saxon. "We have carried many of these great things to their highest point,' he said; 'but the foundation was laid by others. We are a great race, the greatest in the world today, but we ought to remember that we are standing on a pile of past races. We are simply having our turn at the game. After all, racial supremacy is merely a matter of dates in history.

The Texan was somewhat disconcerted. 'All that may be true, but it hasn't got much to do with us and the niggers here in the South. We've got em here, and we've got em to live with, and its a question of white man or nigger, no middle ground. You want us to treat niggers as equals. Do you want them sitting around in our parlors? Do you want to see a mulatto South? To bring it right home to you, would you let your daughter marry a nigger?'

Note: Mr. Johnson is writing this fictional scene in 1912. And he nails the whole case right on. The cause of the war was, indeed, the niggers: they were there in huge numbers, challenging the whites for political control of the state governments as soon as they were free. It was the fear of this, underpinned by the fear of amalgation, that drove the white people of the South to take their states out of the Union the moment a Northern political party, with a platform of African freedom, took control of the Federal Government. There is nothing plainer than this reality and Mr. Johnson sees it and reveals it in the fictional scene he created, in 1912.

'I don't see what fair treatment has to do with niggers sitting round in your parlors,' said the old soldier; 'they can't come there unless they are invited. Out of all the white men I know, only a handful have the privilege of sitting round my parlor. As for the mulatto South, you are talking as though, should you treat the Negro fairly and take the anti-intermarriage laws off the books, the white women would rush into the arms of black lovers and husbands. It's a wonder they don't resent the insult.'

'Colonel,' said the Texan, as he reached into his handbag and brought out a large flask of whiskey. 'All you say sounds good, but it ain't got nothing to do with facts. You can say what men ought to be, but they ain't that; so there you are. down here in the South we are up against facts. We don't believe the nigger is, or ever will be, equal to the white man, and we ain't going to treat him as an equal. Have a drink.' Everybody except the professor partook of the generous Texan's flask, and the argument closed in a general laugh and good feeling.

I went back into the main part of the car with the conversation on my mind. Here I had before me the bald, raw, naked aspects of the race question in the South; and it was far from encouraging. The sentiments of the Texan fell upon me with a chill. I was sick at heart. And yet, in spite of myself, I have been compelled to accord the same kind of admiration to the Southern white man for the manner in which he defends not only his virtues but his vices. He knows that, judged by a high standard, he is narrow and prejudiced, that he is guilty of unfairness, oppression, and cruelity, but this he defends as stoutly as he would his better qualities.

This same spirit obtains in a great degree among the blacks; they, too, defend their faults and failings. This they generally do whenever white people are concerned. And yet among themselves they are their own most merciless critics. I have never heard the race so terribly arraigned as I have by colored speakers to strictly colored audiences.

But today, as I think over that smoking-car argument, I can see it in a different light. The Texan's position does not render things so hopeless, for it indicates that the main difficulty of the race question does not lie so much in the actual condition of the blacks as it does in the mental attitude of the whites;and a mental attitude, especially one not based on truth, can be changed more easily than actual conditions. That is to say, the burden of the question is not that the whites are struggling to save ten million despondent and moribund people from sinking into a hopeless slough of ignorance, poverty, and barbarity in their very midst, but that they are unwilling to open certain doors of opportunity and to accord certain treatment to ten million aspiring, education-and-property-acquiring people. In a word, the difficulty of the problem is not so much due to the facts presented as to the hypothesis assumed for its solution.'"

Note: in its January 15, 2020 edition, Time quotes Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Q. How do you see the state of equality today fitting into the history of equality?

A. One of the most dramatic shifts to the structure of the African-American community has been the doubling of the black middle class and the quadrupling of the black upper middle class since 1970. Usually when we're talking about equality, we're talking about the black community vs the white community. But I'm very concerned about the inequality within the black community.

Comment: So whose fault is it, now, that there is an "inequality" within the black community? In 1912, Mr. Johnson wrote: "The colored people may be said to be roughly divided into three classes, not so much in respect to themselves as in respect to their relations with the whites. There are those constituting what might be called the desperate class—the men who work in the lumber and turpentine camps, the ex-convicts, the bar room loafers are all in this class. These men conform to the requirements of civilization much as a trained lion with low muttered growls goes through his stunts under the crack of the trainer's whip. Happily, this class represents the black people of the South far below their normal physical and moral condition, but in its increase lies the possibility of grave dangers. I am sure there is no more urgent work than the decreasing of this class of blacks.

The second class comprises the servants, the washerwomen, the waiters, the cooks, the coachmen, and all who are connected with the whites by domestic service. These may be generally characterized as simple, kind-hearted, and faithful; intensely religious and about as honest and wholesome in their lives as any other grade of society.

The third class is composed of the independent workmen and tradesmen, and of the well-to-do and educated colored people. These people live in a little world of their own. These people strive to better themselves, better their physical and social surroundings in accordance with their financial and intellectual progress, are simply obeying an impulse which is common to human nature the world over.This latter class of colored people are well-disposed toward the whites, and always willing to meet them half way. They, however, feel keenly any injustice and generally show their resentment."

The objective fact is, that among those living in any particular human community defined by race, the mass strives to be within Mr. Johnson's third class, and, as Mr. Gates says, the black American community has, in large measure, become part of the class that achieves happiness in their lives. The fact that, in every community, a large number of a generation fail to take advantage of the times and rise themselves up, is their fault and no one else's, certainly not the Government's, or the American tax payer whatever may be the color of his or her skin..

Q. Was there ever a point at which full racial equality could have been achieved?

A. Oh, yes. If the founders had actually believed that all men were created equal, they should have acted on it and abolished slavery. . . The next great opportunity was 1865. If land in the South had been redistributed as reparations for their contribution to the economy and the horrible traumas of slavery, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Comment: Mr. Gates speaks silliness: First, all men are not, as a matter of objective fact, "created equal." Second, the founders certainly did not "believe" that the 500,000 Africans, held as slaves in the King's American colonies in 1775, were entitled to be treated as "equal" to the whites, in the sense of social and political rights. Third, the "founders" had no power to abolish slavery as it existed in their newly recognized "States." Because there could never have been formed a "Union" of these states, in 1775, had the "founders" written a constitution for the Union which prohibited the existence of the institution where the Africans were. Fourth, Mr. Gates is being clever when he links the idea of redistributing land—that is, stripping the owner of legal title and handing it to a black man as "reparations" for what? For the trauma of slavery and in compensation for his past labor. Americans of African descent, with their kids attending U.S.C. and Yale, today, need to get over it. Ancestors they can only imagine of, may have suffered "trauma" and they may have received no wages beyond clothing, room, board, and health care, but this does not support a transfer of tax payer dollars, today, to the African-American community. Its sink or swim for all of us. Get over it.

Joe Ryan