The Confession of A Great Whiteman & Leader
The Confession of A Great Whiteman & Leader
LIBERTY HALL, NEW YORK, March I8, I923
My subject for tonight is "The Confession of a Great White Man and Leader." Some Sunday nights ago you heard me speak of the speech made by William Jennings Bryan in Washington at a dinner where he was entertained by a large group of his own people. We commented on Mr. Bryan's speech in Liberty Hall, as well as through my front page article in the Negro World. Other Negro newspapers commented on the speech of Mr. Bryan, and these various comments led the daily "Times" of New York (I speak of the white 'Times') to request of Mr. Bryan to write an article expressing his further opinion on the matter and explain himself for what he said at the dinner in Washington. Mr. Bryan repeated everything he said this morning in his article in the daily "New York Times" and adds even more.1 In concluding the article he said this: "My views upon the race question do not depend upon my present residence in the South; 2 they were formed long before I ever thought of living in the South; they were expressed as the occasion required, and so far as I know do not differ from the views of other white men who have had occasion to express themselves on the fundamental principles involved when these principles would apply to themselves and to their own families."
In this article of today we have Mr. Bryan repeating himself what he said in his talk in Washington a few weeks ago and adding more as expressing his attitude on the race question. He held to his idea of white supremacy and his belief that government should only be in the hands of the white man because white men are best able to interpret the needs of humanity. He concludes this article by saying that his views, he feels sure, are the views and opinion of other white people when called upon to give an opinion upon the subject. The statement of Mr. Bryan confirms the opinion and attitude of the Universal Negro Improvement Assn. of five years and confirms my stand in the matter of the Ku Klux Klan and the misrepresentation that other Negroes tried to make of my interview with that organization and the statement I made after that interview-that all white men in America feel like the Ku Klux Klan, but the only difference is that the Klan is honest enough to give expression to its opinion and carry out its attitude in defiance of any other opposition whilst others are not honest enough to give expression but feel the same way. Mr. Bryan comes out and says as a leader and statesman that his feeling and his opinion on the race question is that there should be white supremacy and that government should be in the hands of the white race because the white race can best interpret the needs of humanity; that such is the feeling of other white men when called upon to give an opinion on the same subject. This should convince us now that the majority of white people in this country feel as the Ku Klux Klan feels and Mr. Bryan feels, and that is that the power of government should rest not with the Negro race in this country, but should rest with the white men. For that they intend to fight and for that they intend to die. Now admitting that is so, and as we know it is so, what is the alternative for the Negro? The alternative is to follow in the cause of the Universal Negro Improvement Assn., that of the Negro building for himself. Hence the Universal Negro Improvement Assn. wastes no time in trying to explain itself. We do not need men like Mr. Bryan or Tillman and Vardaman to tell us that; we understand that well; we know that so long as this difference in numbers between the two opposite races that live in this country exists, the white man is going to carry out a program of white supremacy, and there will be absolutely no chance or opportunity between now and eternity for the colored man in America to take an equal place socially, politically and economically with the race that dominates. The one alternative is for the Negro not to waste his time and energy and ability in contributing to that which will make the other man great, but to use his energy and ability in contributing to build for himself. And that is where the Universal Negro Improvement Assn. differs from all the other movements in this country, in that we feel that whatsoever they do, whatsoever they say in trying to bring about a condition where colored men will co-operate side by side with the white man, at the best they are contributing to the white man's civilization, the white man's power, and are therefore wasting their
energy and their ability that they should use in building for themselves.
PROGRAM OF THE U. N. I.A. CLEAN CUT
The Program of the Universal Negro Improvement Assn. is clean cut as far as our destiny in America and in other parts of the world goes, and when it comes to the carrying out of the program of the Universal Negro Improvement Assn. we need not fear the result or the consequences. This recent propaganda against us has done a great deal of good, for the simple reason that without invitation, without our request, we have brought to our support more and more a large number of men not of our race in this country who have held the view and opinion of the Universal Negro Improvement Assn. probably even before the Universal Negro Improvement Assn. came into being, and it brings to those of us who are leaders of the movement the fact that when the time comes for the Universal Negro Improvement Assn. to draw the line we will draw it with a great deal of support behind us in helping us to put the program over.
I am not going to blame Mr. Bryan for saying this, for the simple reason he is only speaking the truth as he sees it, and is only speaking the truth, as the Universal Negro Improvement Association knows it. I have a better regard and appreciation of Mr. Bryan than the men who would try to deceive us into believing that all will be well in the future when they know that the future holds nothing but darkness to ward this race of ours. By our being able to understand American political psychology, by our being able to understand the intentions of the political leaders of this country, we will be placed in a better position to prepare for ourselves and to act for ourselves. We have lived under this camouflage for over fifty years, so much so that there are many of the other organizations of the race coming forth and telling us they are working towards the time when justice and equality will be meted out to the Negro in this country. Such a time will never come as far as the Negro is concerned if the Negro relies upon the mere question of humanity to solve this great problem of race. Humanity has never settled any great political program between races and nations. The appeal to humanity is a thing that has fallen flat even from the time of Jesus to the present hour. The appeal to humanity will not solve the great human problem. The only appeal that will solve the great human problem is the appeal to power, to force. The Universal Negro improvement Association, therefore, will not waste its time advancing a purely humanitarian cause, believing that one day the dominant race will become so converted in its attitude toward the oppressed that it will hand to the oppressed and weaker peoples of the world that which we call justice and real liberty and freedom and democracy. It has never been in the ages past and will never be in the ages to come. There has been but one resort for those who are oppressed and that was the resort to power, to force, and that is where the Universal Negro Improvement Association is striking 400,000,000 Negroes of the world, endeavoring to accumulate that physical power, that mental power, that political power out of which we will be able to convince the world of our ability to protect ourselves not only in one spot but throughout the world.
Therefore I trust that you have tonight, if not before, a true conception of the program of the Universal Negro Improvement Association as far as it affects us in our American life and in our American attitude. We believe in the eternal existence of man; we believe that in the end of time only the fittest of this great human race will survive. We believe also that at the present time humanity everywhere is preparing itself for a condition through which it will live into eternity; but in this regulation of human affairs we find all peoples heretofore oppressed clamoring for a chance, clamoring for an opportunity to make their impress upon the world, to make their contribution to the world, so as to convince others of their fitness to live, of their fitness to survive, and we can do nothing less than to make some contribution to the civilization of this age. The race or the nation that is to be recognized must be the race or nation, which is capable of doing for itself. Dependent races and dependent nations will be ignored, will be pushed aside, will be weeded out will be exterminated. It is only a question of time, and here we have it. As far as America is concerned, the great statesmen of the nation say that in the regulation of things the white man is the fittest individual to control government and to dominate government, because he is better able to interpret human needs. During the time that he has been interpreting human needs and the time that he has been regulating human society, what has he done? In that time he has brought us from freedom in our own native country to slavery, and kept us there for 250 years. That is his interpretation of the regulation of human society. Who can tell but that may be his interpretation in the next fifty years or the next hundred years? Can you, therefore, trust yourselves to his interpretation? (Cries of "No! No!") Can you, therefore, place your destiny in his hand? ('Cries of "No! No!") Therefore, the only alternative for the Universal Negro improvement Association and all sober minded Negroes is for them to draw 'he line and strike out for themselves, because no one can better interpret your needs than you can yourselves.
I trust, therefore, those of you who doubted that America's attitude toward the Negro is that of white supremacy-that of Government in the and is of the majority group will now be convinced by the utterances of Mr. William Jennings Bryan; and it pains me sometimes when I hear these little insignificant Negroes talking about what the white man can not do and saying that what Mr. Bryan has said is all bosh. They say what Mr. Bryan is saying is bosh and cannot be done, and all the time it is being done. It is all right for you to write in your papers saying it cannot be done, but what are you doing if they are doing it and not asking leave or license to do it? You must decide at the present time between propaganda and idle sentiment and facts. It is a fact that you have an organized strength in the country made manifest in the Ku Klux Klan and you have in conjunction with that the utterances of Mr. Bryan. Mr. Bryan when he speaks carries more weight in what he says than all the Negroes of the United States of America speaking at one time.
Whatsoever Mr. Bryan says, whether he says it in Washington or Florida, carrie[s] more weight with the people of this country and the Government of the country than all our newspapers, magazines and books put together. Therefore, when a man like this, talks we cannot afford to say it is idle bosh. And what has happened? I told you in regard to this Ku Klux business that these newspapers and those local politicians who talk about putting the Ku Klux Klan out of business were only playing with you and were only adopting a clever method of advertising the Klan. This morning's papers brought out that the Klan is now stronger in the Northern States than they are in the South States; that there are more Klansmen in the State of New York than there are in Texas, that there are more Klansmen in Jersey than there are in Alabama, that there are more Klansmen in Illinois than there are in Mississippi.3 And what has happened? Last Sunday fifty Klansmen put on their robes and the leader of them occupied the pulpit of a large church in Newark, 4 and all the other Klansmen had the front seats; and in New York they were so bold and were given the right of way that one of their members died and they paraded and attended the funeral all of them in their regalia, and the New York World tries to deceive and fool us that they are going to crush the Klan.5 What has happened? The great noise that Governor Parker in Louisiana was making that he was going to lead all the governors of the States into a great organization to crush the Klan in every State and he was going to start crushing the Klan in the State of Louisiana and when they got hold of ten of the Klansmen an accused them of killing two men in one of the towns of that State and they were making a great noise how they were going to convict them, the District Attorney of that State closed the case and said there was nothing against the Klan and has given the Klan a clean slate in the State of Louisiana.6 It is nothing else but a skillful game of these men to advertise the Klan by showing the merit of the organization to those who never thought of it before.
So when these ignorant Negro papers talk about doing this and doing that, you will understand that when any group of white men get together in this country and talk about doing something, you had better get busy and look out for yourselves and don't think that appeal to humanity or any appeal to their Christian conduct is going to help you: it is not going to do it.
William Jennings Bryan is as big a Klansman as the Imperial Wizard himself, and not only Mr. Bryan but men bigger than William Jennings Bryan are deep down in the Ku Klux Klan and they are going to put over that program of white supremacy as sure as there is a God; and the only thing you can do is to get busy and get a country of your own and build up there so strong that not even hell and the Klan will be able to move you in the future. (Applause.)
So that my message to you tonight in Liberty Hall is to pay more and serious attention to what is going on, because within another fifty, another hundred years, especially when the world returns to its normal attitude and all these different nations are able to give more attention to their own domestic affairs, you and I will be confronted with a condition in this country, economically, that will end in nothing else but disaster for those of us who will live here at that time. I want you to understand that when the time comes for the white man to carry out his program of white supremacy for the purpose of eliminating the Negro as a political, social and industrial competitor he will not have to shoot you down, he will not have to lynch you and burn you to get rid of you. The Negro problem in America is such that economically he will grind us and push us to the wall, and in the space of two or three years he will solve the Negro problem without the Negro even realizing that the problem is already solved. The white man has laid the plan of economically forcing the Negro to the wall in another few years.
I am going back now to the bread-and-butter question. Do you know that every Negro in Liberty Hall tonight can die out by the end of this month without anybody poisoning you, without anybody putting a rope around your neck, without anybody shooting you or without anybody doing any bodily harm to you? Do you know? By starving. There is not a man in this building tonight who, if denied food for thirty days, would be able to resist death by starvation. What do I mean by that? I mean this: that we are so careless of ourselves, so careless of our future, that tonight 15,000,000 of us in America are dependent upon the white man for our daily existence, our daily sustenance and our daily bread. If the white man should say in another twenty-four hours that "I will not employ any more Negroes in my industry, on my farms or in my business," what would happen? Fifteen million Negroes would be jobless in the United States of America. And if you were kept jobless for a day or a week and rendered unable to go to the grocer to buy your provisions or to pay your rent to your landlord on the 1st or the 15th of the month and you were kept jobless for two weeks, everyone of us would have to leave our homes in Harlem and go out into the streets, unable to go to the grocer, and every one of us would be dying on the streets of New York, and I feel sure the white man would not have any objection to supplying the coffins to bury us by the hundreds, because it will be in keeping with his plan to get rid of us. Such a condition of unemployment would rid this country of 15,000,000 people just as the North American Indian was exterminated. And that was the white man's plan to get rid of the Negro problem in America up to 1913. But God Almighty sent the war and created a breach. We are still in that breach and ff the 15,000,000 Negroes of America remain without action for another five or ten years and allow this country to return to normal to carry out their pre-war program, it is only a question of fifty or 100 years more when you and I will be weeded out from
this Western civilization.
So the Universal Negro Improvement Association is pointing the way to destiny. There is only one relief, which is: While the world is readjusting itself now, while the world is reorganizing itself, while political boundaries are being adjusted, to pitch in and establish some political stronghold of your own. And there is no more logical place than Africa. (Applause.) The selfishness of the present-day Negro leader causes him to see only that in his lifetime he can get all that he wants and accumulate all he wants. Fellows like Du Bols will not think of the future, because they can get all they want. They have so much love for the Negro that if it comes to moving they can move to Brazil or Cuba; and as they do not like the Negro race already, it will be splendid for them to identify themselves with another race; they can be South Americans and Cubans. But you, the common people, who have nowhere to go, who have to struggle for your daily existence, you are the ones to be considered at that time, and you should see this danger that confronts us.
I trust you understand what the Universal Negro Improvement Association is driving at when we say that the time is now that we are to endeavor to create a nation of our own, and I thank God we are gradually creeping toward the realization of that dream. The strength of this movement is: being admitted by the South Africans themselves7 and the white men who have gone to Africa; they admit that the Universal Negro Improvement Association is pressing them to the wall. The best thing you can do is to get behind the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and as they are pressing us to the wall in this Western world, let us unitedly press them to the wall in Africa. If you give to this organization for another five years the moral and financial support that we need I feel sure that we will have a new tale to give to the world and the world will have a new history to write out of the achievement of the twentieth century negro. (Applause.)
Printed in NW, 24- March I923. Original headlines omitted.
1. The article, which appeared on 18 March 1923, was an amplification of Bryan's earlier address to the Southern Society of Washington on 20 February 1923 (NYT,
18 March 1923).
2. In 1916 Bryan and his wife, Mamie, moved to Miami. By I923 he maintained residences in both Miami and Lincoln, Nebr. (Charles Morrow Wilson, The Commoner: William Jennings Bryan [New York: Doubleday, 1970], pp. 357-358; WWWA, 1922-1923).
3. No official records have been found of Klan membership and probably none ever existed. Estimates of Klan membership fluctuated widely; in 1923 membership figures ranged from 1.5 million to 4.5 million (NYT, 14. February 1925; Kenneth T. Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, to13-1930 [New York: Oxford University Press, 1967, p. 235). The Klan itself rarely boasted of over 2 million members. In the early I92O's the Klan's strength had increased markedly, especially in the Midwest and the East. By 1925 New York was estimated to have 300,420 members and Texas, 50,000; New Jersey boasted 720,000 members and Alabama 115,910; Illinois was said to have had 300,324 and Mississippi 93,o40 (NYT, 14 February 1923; Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, pp. 10-12, 235-238, 289).
4. On Sunday, n March t922, forty, hooded Klansmen marched into the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church in Newark, N.J. The pastor of the church, who had arranged the event, then introduced the Klan leader as "the Exalted Cyclops" and permitted him to deliver a speech on the need for white Protestant supremacy. The pastor followed the address with a sermon on "Americanism" (NYT, 13 March 1923).
5. Probably a reference to the series of articles that appeared in the New York Word attacking the Klan. In i92I the World had nm a three-week expose of the Klan which was picked up by other national newspapers and helped lead to the federal investigation of the organization. The Word continued to publish articles on the Klan throughout the 1920s (Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, pp. 11-13; David M. Chalmers, Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan [New York: Franklin Watts, 1981, pp. 42, 227, 294).
6. In September I922 Gov. John M. Parker of Louisiana condemned the Klan for the kidnapping of five men in the small town of Mer Rouge and stated his intention to fight the Klan "to the finish" (New York Age, 16 September 1922). In November Parker informed federal authorities that the administration of state law had come to a virtual halt in Louisiana and that U. S. government administration of law in certain portions of the state might be necessary. The governor also instructed the attorney general to use "the full power of the State, civil and military" in an investigation of the torture and murder of two of the five kidnapped men (New York Age, 25 November 1922). At the annual governors' conference in December, Parker again denounced the Klan and called for federal legislation requiring the registration of secret organizations with the Department of Justice. He also requested that the governors put themselves on record against the Klan's usurpation of the judicial process (NYT, 15 December 1922). No federal intervention was forthcoming, however, and in March 1923 a special grand jury, many of whose members were known Klansmen, failed to return a single indictment against forty-six suspects (NYT, 16 March 1923). Despite this failure, Governor Parker's crusade against the Klan proved successful, and by 1924 the Louisiana Klan was in rapid decline (Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan
in the City, p. 87).
7. A South African newspaper, Cape Argus, carried an article on 29 January 1923 which reported that the Garvey propaganda "among the natives of South Africa... is having an unsettling effect, and is beginning to cause anxiety among the white people, who have worked for the good of the natives, and among the educated natives, who foresee danger in the present situation" (Cape Argus Cape Town, 29 January 1923).