FROM A COLORED VOTER
To the Editor of the Los Angeles Herald: We are now in the midst of one of the most important campaigns in which this state has ever been engaged.
I say important, because it is but preliminary to the great contest which will take place in 1900.
This year the colored voters are no longer standing, as heretofore, shoulder to shoulder with the so-called Republican party, but they have begun to think and act for themselves. They are beginning to see that the Republican party of the present is no longer the party of Lincoln, of Sumner, of Morton. Republicanism no longer stands for principle and justice, but is now the party of trusts, monopolies, syndicates and combines.
The colored people as a race are laborers. They are not office-holders, they own no railroads, they have no banks, they are at the head of no great corporations, but as a rule they are forced to obey the divine command, “By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.”
For more than thirty years the colored voters in every political campaign in this country cast their votes almost as a unit for and in the interest of the Republican party, until its leaders have come to feel that, no matter how much the negro is kicked and cuffed, he will still stand by the party and continue giving it his vote, that they might be again boosted into places of honor and trust; and if, perchance, there is some little office in some undesirable location given to one of our race, they point to it and say, “See what the g.o.p. is doing for your race. Only keep on voting with us, and perhaps some day, when you are better qualified, we will give you some little janitorship, where you may sweep our floors and scrub our windows.”
Do not understand that I would detract one iota from the glorious deed it performed some thirty years ago, when, at an immense sacrifice of life and property, it cast off the shackles from the wrists of the slaves and bade them go free; when they gave them the opportunity to stand forth and show themselves men.
We have not been unmindful of these things, but have gone on letting them do the thinking and planning while we did the voting, until, with a shock, some of us were rudely awakened to a realizing sense that the noble old leaders of our party were gone, and their places filled by those who had only self-interest at heart.
But let me say right here, while I wish to give them full credit for what they have done, yet the original purpose of the Republican party was not the abolition of slavery. When Douglas, Garrit Smith, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, Wendell Phillips, Sojourner Truth and a host of others were standing up nobly, battling for negro manhood, there was not yet any Republican party.
No; there was no Republican party when this army of noble men and women were being mobbed, and rotten-egged and ostracised for creating the issues which culminated in birth of the Republican party, and the precipitation of the civil war.
There was nothing in the Republican platform upon which Abraham Lincoln was elected president which aimed at any more radical measures than confining slavery within the territory then covered by it. When the south opened the war by firing upon Fort Sumpter, the Democrats of the north, like Benjamin F. Butler, rushed in to defend the union, and, without seeming to do so, became members of the Republican party. Indeed, as many men went into the war for the union who had been life-long Democrats as men who belonged to the Republican and other parties. These Democrats came out of the war as good Democrats as when they went in. They did as much to make possible the emancipation as their Republican brethren in arms. The men who controlled the Republican party and the advocates of abolition were distinct from the beginning.
Had the white men been able to subdue the south without the assistance of colored men – had the southern confederacy listened to the repeated overtures of President Lincoln, it is very doubtful if I should be writing this article today. The anti-slavery men had to plead for every concession to freedom from the politicians of the war period.
Let us retrace our steps for a few moments over the pathway by which we have come. Well do I remember that noble hero, Charles Sumner, who so bravely stood by our race in the introduction of the civil rights bill; how he stood by and defended it during the remainder of his life, and then, when on his death bed, he called the Hon. B. F. Butler to his bedside and, with his latest breath begged him to “Take care of my civil rights bill.”
The legality of that law was passed upon by a body composed of the finest legal talent this world has ever known. And yet, shortly after the passage of this law, we see the supreme court of the United States, composed of Republicans, deciding that the government of the United States was powerless to protect its colored citizens in the rights conferred upon them by that bill, asserting that civil rights belonged to the state, thus tacitly acknowledging the doctrine of state rights, over which so much precious blood had been recently spilled.
Now, friends, was this a just decision? Where could we look for justice, if not from the judges of a Republican supreme court? Yet judges are not infallible.
Listen to the Hon. Charles Sumner, in a speech delivered upon the Dred Scott decision:
“Judges are but men, and in all ages have shown a fair share of frailty. Alas! alas! the worst crimes of history have been perpetrated under their sanction. The blood of martyrs and patriots, crying from the ground, summons them to judgment.
“It was a judicial tribunal which condemned Socrates to drink the fatal hemlock and which pushed the Savior barefoot over the pavements of Jerusalem, bending beneath his cross. It was a judicial tribunal which, against the testimony and entreaties of her father, surrendered the fair Virginia as a slave; which arrested the teachings of the great apostle to the Gentiles and sent him in bonds from Judea to Rome; which, in the name of the old religion, adjudged the saints and fathers of the Christian church to death in all its most dreadful forms, and which afterward, in the name of the new religion, enforced the tortures of the Inquisition, amid the shrieks and agonies of its victims, while it compelled Galileo to declare, in solemn denial to the great truth he had disclosed, that the earth did not move round the sun.
“It was a judicial tribunal which, in France, during the reign of her monarchs, lent itself to be the instrument of every tyranny, as during the brief reign of terror it did not hesitate to stand forth the unpitying accessory of the unpitying guillotine. Aye, sir, it was a judicial tribunal in England, surrounded by all the forms of law, which sanctioned every despotic caprice of Henry VIII, from the unjust divorce of his queen to the beheading of Sir Thomas Moore; which lighted the fires of persecution which glowed at Oxford and Smithfield over the cinders of Latimer, Ridley and John Rodgers; which, after elaborate argument, upheld the fatal tyranny of ship money against the patriotic resistance of Hampden; which, in defiance of justice and humanity, sent Sydney and Russell to the block; which persistently enforced the laws of conformity that our Puritan fathers persistently refused to obey, and which afterward, with Jeffreys on the bench, crimsoned the pages of English history with the blood of innocent women.
Aye, sir, and it was a judicial tribunal in our own country, surrounded by all the forms of law, which hung witches at Salem, which affirmed the constitutionality of the stamp act, which it admonished “jurors and the people to obey; and which now, in our day, has lent its sanction to the unutterable atrocity of the fugitive slaw law.”
Had he lived until a later day, and heard the decision of the supreme court of the United States on the civil rights bill, it would no doubt have been placed in the same category.
Now, friends, I do but echo the sentiments of a vast army when I say that the younger and more progressive men of our race are weary of having about two millions of colored votes sacrificed annually upon the altar of gratitude, to give power and emolument to an army of men who neither respect us for the sacrifice made nor reward us for the valuable services rendered. We have not deserted any party; the party has deserted us. We have not played fast and loose with the politicians; they have played fast and loose with us. We are sick of the farce, and we propose to make a change. There are perhaps 20,000 colored voters in the state of California. What good have these votes ever accomplished for us? What measure of respect have they gained us from our white fellow citizens? The negro is simply a political cipher and a voting machine. Why? Because, as voters, we have been entirely too partisan; because we have failed to assert our independence of opinion and freedom of thought; and have “crooked the pregnant fawning.” As a race we have habitually overlooked our own interests in advancing the interests of white politicians, who profit by our loyalty and treat us with contempt after the election is over. One thing is certain – the ultimate solution of the race problem will be reached only when the negro becomes an intelligent, independent and progressive thinker. We must be up and doing. We have already slept too long. We have allowed others to think for us and to dictate our actions entirely too much. That our interests have so long been neglected and our faith abused is due entirely to the fact that we have stood in our own shadow, committing to others the matters we should have looked after ourselves. If we have rights denied us that are ours, we are ourselves to blame.
“Who would be free, himself must strike the blow.”
G. W. ALBRIGHT.
Los Angeles, October 28, 1898.