New York City newspaper editor T. Thomas Fortune in 1887 called upon African Americans to form an organization to fight for the rights denied them. Three years later the National Afro-American League, became the first black civil rights organization in the United States. One hundred forty one delegates from twenty-three states met in Chicago in January, 1890 to officially launch the League. Fortune gave the keynote address. The text of the speech, originally printed in his newspaper, the New York Age, appears below.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Afro-American leagues, we are met here to day, representatives of 8,000,000 freemen, who know our rights and have the courage to defend them. We are met here to day to emphasize the fact that the past condition of dependence and helplessness upon men who have used us for selfish and unholy purposes, who have murdered and robbed and outraged us, must be reversed. It is meet and proper that we have met for such high purpose upon the free soil of Illinois. It was here that Elijah Lovejoy, the first martyr to freedom’s sacred cause, died that we might be free. It was here that Abraham Lincoln lived, and in this soil he sleeps, having died ‘that the Nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from earth.’ It was here that John Alexander Logan,’ like Saul of Tarsus, was convicted of his error in persecuting the people of the Lord, and buckled on his sword and went forth to lead the volunteer hosts in freedom’s fight, pausing not until struck down at his post of duty by the angel of death; he, too, sleeps in the imperial soil ‘where law and order reign,’ ‘where government is supreme. And we do not forget the living sons of this soil who fought in freedom’s ranks when we mention here the names of Gen. Walter Q. Gresham, or Private Fifer, the Chief Executive of this Commonwealth, and of his generous opponent, Gen. John M. Palmer. Upon such historic ground, surrounded by the spirits of such famous dead, and cheered by the presence of such living friends of the black soldiers who followed where they led :
`Into the jaws of death, Into the mouth of hell’
borne down in the wild charge, baptized with fire and shot and shell, contending like heroes for freedom’s priceless smile, shall we not take fresh courage? Shall we not bravely buckle on the armor and march with unhesitating step, with unfaltering hearts to the convention before us for absolute justice under the constitution? By the name of Elijah Lovejoy, embalmed in song and story, by the name of Abraham Lincoln, which shall illustrate and illuminate the pages of history brightest in the annals of our glory; by the names of the black heroes who died at Battery Wagner, Fort Pillow and the awful crater at Petersburg by the names of these honored dead I conjure the spirit of universal emancipation to be with us here, and to enthuse us with the devotion to high principle which Wm. Lloyd Garrison emphasized when he exclaimed, ‘I am in earnest; I will not equivocate, I will not retreat a single inch and I will be heard. Fellow members of the League, I congratulate you upon your presence here. I congratulate you upon the high resolve, the manly inspiration, which impelled you to this spot. I congratulate you that you have aroused from the lethargy of the past, and that you now stand face to face, brave men and true, with the awful fact that ‘who would be free themselves must strike the blow.’ I congratulate you that you now recognize the fact that a great work remains for you to do, and that you are determined, with the countenance of Jehovah, to do it. And, finally, I congratulate myself that I have been chosen as the humble spokesman to voice at this time and in this manner the high resolves which move you as one man to perfect an organization which shall secure to ourselves and to our children the blessings of citizenship so generally denied us. The spirit of agitation which has brought us together here comprehends in its vast sweep the entire range of human history. The world has been rocked in the cradle of agitation from Moses to Gladstone. The normal condition of mankind is one of perpetual change, unrest and aspiration a contention of the virtues against the vices of mankind. The great moving and compelling influence in the history of the world is agitation, and the greatest of agitators was He, the despised Nazarene, whose doctrines have revolutionized the thought of the ages. The progress of mankind has been greatest in eras of most unrest and innovation. Iconoclasm has always been the watchword of progress. It was an idle dream of the poet that a time would ever come in the history of the race
“When the war drum beats no longer, When the battle flag is furled, In the parliament of nations, The federation of the world.
Equally fatuous was Longfellow’s lament that
Were half the power that fills the world with terror, Were half the wealth bestowed on camps and courts Given to redeem the human mind from error, There were no need of arsenals and forts.
Apathy leads to stagnation. The arsenal, the fort, the warrior are as necessary as the school, the church, the newspapers and the public forum of debate. It is a narrow and perverted philosophy which condemns as a nuisance agitators. It is this sort of people who consider nothing to be sacred which stands in the pathway of the progress of the world. Like John crying in the wilderness, they are the forerunners of change in rooted abuses which revolutionize society. Demosthenes, thundering against the designs of Philip of Macedon upon the liberties of Greece; Cicero, holding up to scorn and ridicule the schemes of Cataline against the freedom of Rome; Oliver Cromwell, baring his sturdy breast to the arrows of royalty and nobility to preserve to Englishmen the rights contained in Magna Charta; Patrick Henry, fulminating against the arrogant and insolent encroachments of Great Britain upon the rights of the American colonies; Nat Turner, rising from the dust of slavery and defying the slave oligarchy of Virginia, and John Brown, resisting the power of the United States in a heroic effort to break the chains of the bondsman these are some of the agitators who have voiced the discontent of their times at the peril of life and limb and property, Who shall cast the stone of reproach at these children of the race? Who shall say they were not heroes born to live forever in the annals of song and story? Revolutions are of many sorts. They are either silent and unobservable, noiseless as the movement of the earth on its axis, or loud and destructive, shaking the earth from centre to circumference, making huge gaps in the map of earth, changing the face of empires, subverting dynasties and breaking fetters asunder or riveting them anew. Jesus Christ may be regarded as the chief spirit of agitation and innovation. He himself declared, ‘I come not to bring peace, but a sword.’ St. Paul, standing upon Mars Hill, read the death sentence of Grecian and Roman mythology in the simple sentence, ‘Whom ye ignorantly worship Him I declare unto you.’ A portion of mankind remains always conservative, while the other portion is moved by the spirit of radicalism; and no man can predict where the conflict may lead when once the old idea and the new one conflict, and must needs appeal to the logic of revolution to arbitrate between them. Few Romes are large enough to hold a Caesar and a Brutus. The old idea and the new idea, the spirit of freedom and the spirit of tyranny and oppression cannot live together without friction. The agitator must never be in advance of his times. The people must be prepared to receive the message that he brings them. The harvest must be ripe for the sickle when the reaper enters the field. As it was in ancient Greece and Rome, so it is in modern Europe and America. The just cause does not always prevail. The John Browns and Nat Turners do not always find the people ready to receive the tidings of great joy they bring them. Martin Luther, opposing the vice and corruption and superstition of the religion of his times, putting in motion influences which aroused all Christendom, needed only to have failed in his self imposed reformation to have died by the tortures of the thumbscrew and the rack of the Inquisition. Nothing succeeds like success, nothing is more severely condemned than failure. Napoleon Bonaparte, at the head of a million soldiers, firmly seated upon the throne of the Bourbons of France, is courted and flattered and feared by the whole of Europe. Whipped at Waterloo, his vast armies scattered and demoralized, exiled to a rock in the Atlantic Ocean, chained as Prometheus, all pronounce him a Corsican adventurer, a base upstart, a human monster. It does not pay to fail. Napoleon Bonaparte was the avenging Nemesis of the medieval conditions of government and society. He heralded the reaction against abuses in civil and ecclesiastical administration which had been the slowly developed fungi of centuries. It was terrific, but it was necessary. It is always the most drastic medicine that kills the deep seated disease or the patient. We yet live in the swim of that tremendous revolution. To it we may trace the dominating impulses that lead to the independence of the United States, the independence of Hayti and San Domingo, the independence of the South American Republics, the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies, the liberation of the Russian serfs, the abolition of slavery in this country, the recent manumission of Brazilian slaves, and that agitation for larger individual freedom, battling against the incubus of conservation, whether in the garb of tyranny in the state, oppressions of the nobility, superstitious and unjust assumptions of priestly inquisitors, as in Europe, or of arrogant and insolent intolerance, as in the United States. Agitations are inevitable. They are as necessary to social organism as blood is to animal organism. Revolutions follow as a matter of course. Each link in the long chain of human progress is indelibly marked as the result of a revolution. The thunder storm clarifies the atmosphere and infuses into the veins of all animal life new vigor and new hopes. Revolutions clarify the social and civil atmosphere. They sober the nation; they sharpen the wits of the people; they make rights and privileges which have been the bone of contention all the more precious, because of the severe labor which consecrated them anew to ourselves and to our posterity. The benefits that come to us as the rewards of our genius, untiring industry, and frugality are more highly and justly prized than benefits that come to us by indirection and without our seeking. The spendthrifts of our society are those who reap where others have sown, who spend what others have toiled to amass. The aspirations of the human soul, like the climbing vine, are forever in the line of greater freedom, fuller knowledge, ampler possessions. These aspirations find always opposing aspirations. It is true of nations seeking after greater reforms. To accomplish these agitation is necessary. The imperial eagle, the emblem of our National prowess and unconquerable aspiration, builds his nest in the loftiest peaks of the highest mountains. He knows his supreme power and he exercises it. His eaglets, when they burst from the chrysalis which had nurtured their infancy, gaze first into the face of the lordly sun. The first law of the eagle’s nature is aggressiveness. Resistance remains the most pronounced characteristic of his existence. Wherein does the eagle differ from the strong nations of the world? The revolutionary intuitions of mankind are fundamental and sleepless. It is because of this fact that agitators like the Roman Gracchi, the German Luther, the British Cromwell, the American John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison, for examples, cut such a considerable figure in the history of every nation and every epoch. It is the discontent, the restlessness, the sleepless aspiration of humanity, voiced by some braver, some more far seeing member of society, some man ready to be a martyr to his faith or wear the crown of victory, which keep the world in a ferment of excitation and expectancy, and which force the adoption of those reforms which keep society from retrograding to the conditions of savage life, from which it has slowly and painfully moved forward. There can be no middle ground in social life. There must be positive advancement or positive decline. Social growth is the slowest of all growths. Fellow members of the League, it is matter of history that the abolition of slavery was the fruit of the fiercest and most protracted agitation in the history of social reforms. Begun practically in 1816 by Benjamin Lundy, having been the chief bone of contention at the very birth of the republic, the agitation for the emancipation of the slave did not cease until Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. When emancipation was an established fact, when the slave had been made a freeman and the freeman had been made a citizen, the Nation reached the conclusion that its duty was fully discharged. A reaction set in after the second election of Gen. Grant to the presidency in 1872, and terminated after the election of Mr. Hayes in 1876, when the Afro American citizen was turned over to the tender mercies of his late masters deserted by the Nation, deserted by the party he had served in peace and in war, left poor and defenseless to fight a foe who had baffled the entire Nation through four years of bloody and destructive war. Patient as a slave, heroic as a soldier, faithful to every trust as a citizen, and faithful above all to the country his valor aided to consecrate anew to the great destiny treason had attempted to destroy, and to the great party God had used to consummate His gracious purposes, even when that party had deserted him, had offered him as a sacrifice upon the altar of expediency and selfish advantage, the Afro American in every situation has proved himself true to the duty imposed upon him true to his country, true to his friends, rising always and at all times to the sublime principles which are at the bed rock of the Federal union. In sunshine and in storm, in the prosperity of peace, and in the convulsion and devastation of war, he has shown that he is a man and a brother. His sublime faith in the Government, his implicit obedience to the law, his undeviating devotion to the party which led him as Moses led the children of Israel out of the house of bondage all this, the noblest conduct of which men are capable, has been used against him as a crime instead of a virtue, as a badge of servility rather than as an ensign of the greatest nobility, hitching upon him the sobriquets of cowardice and ignorance. Is it cowardice in a society governed by law to wait upon the eternal justice of the law to vindicate its outraged majesty? In the Afro American it has been so charged. Is it a crime, a badge of ignorance, to be loyal to friends and consistent in hatred of tireless foes? In the Afro American it has been so charged. Ladies and gentlemen, we have been robbed of the honest wages of our toil; we have been robbed of the substance of our citizenship by murder and intimidation; we have been outraged by enemies and deserted by friends; and because in a society governed by law, we have been true to the law, true to treacherous friends, and as true in distrust of our enemies, it has been charged upon us that we are not made of the stern stuff which makes the Anglo Saxon race the most consummate masters of hypocrisy, of roguery, of insolence, of arrogance, and of cowardice, in the history of races. Was ever race more unjustly maligned than ours? Was ever race more shamelessly robbed than ours? Was ever race used to advance the political and pecuniary fortunes of others as ours? Was ever race so patient, so law abiding, so uncomplaining as ours? Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to call a halt. It is time to begin to fight fire with fire. It is time to stand shoulder to shoulder as men. It is time to rebuke the treachery of friends in the only way that treachery should be rebuked. It is time to face the enemy and fight him inch by inch for every right he denies us. We have been patient so long that many believe that we are incapable of resenting insult, outrage and wrong; we have so long accepted uncomplainingly all that injustice and cowardice and insolence heaped upon us, that many imagine that we are compelled to submit and have not the manhood necessary to resent such conduct. When matters assume this complexion, when oppressors presume too far upon the forbearance and the helplessness of the oppressed, the condition of the people affected is critical indeed. Such is our condition today. Because it is true; because we feel that something must be done to change the condition; because we are tired of being kicked and cuffed by individuals, made the scapegoats of the law, used by one party as an issue and by another as a stepping stone to place and power, and elbowed at pleasure by insolent corporations and their minions, corporations which derive their valuable franchises in part by consent of these very people they insult and outrage it is because of the existence of these things that we are assembled here to day determined to perfect an organization whose one mission shall be to labor by every reasonable and legal means to right the wrongs complained of, until not one right justly ours under the Constitution is denied us. Ladies and gentlemen, I stand here today and assert in all soberness that we shall no longer accept in silence a condition which degrades our manhood and makes a mockery of our citizenship. I believe I voice the sentiments of each member of the League here assembled when I assert that from now and hence we shall labor as one man, inspired with one holy purpose, to wage relentless opposition to all men who would degrade our manhood and who would defraud us of the benefits of citizenship, guaranteed alike to all born upon this soil or naturalizated by the Constitution which has been cemented and made indestructible by our blood in every war, foreign or domestic, waged by this grand Republic. And it is our proud boast that never in the history of this government has an Afro American raised the hand of treason against the star spangled banner. Loyal in every condition to the flag of the Union as slave, as contraband of war, as soldier and as citizen we feel that we have a right to demand of the government we have served so faithfully the measure of protection guaranteed to us and freely granted to the vilest traitor who followed Robert E. Lee. There are Afro American veterans in every State in the Union, of whom it may be said:
If you ask from whence they came, Our answer it shall be, They came from Appomattox And its famous apple tree.
In the name of these veterans, who like their white comrades went back to their homes after the toils of war and mingled in the pursuits of peace, aiding by their industry to pay the enormous debt contracted to vindicate the right of every man born on this soil to be free indeed in the name of these veterans who wore the blue, we appeal here to day to the loyal people of the Nation, to frown upon the manifold wrongs practiced upon us, and to give their sympathy and their support to the movement we have met to inaugurate to combat these wrongs. It is a reproach to this Nation that one man entitled to the protection of the laws should be outraged in his person or in his property, and be unable to get redress. It is a shame and disgrace to the entire people that the arm of the government, which is long enough to reach the naturalized Irishman in British dungeons, toward off the conscriptions of the German government when it would lay unholy hands upon a naturalized German-I say it is a shame and a disgrace that the government has the power to protect the humbles of its citizens in foreign lands and has not the power to protect its citizens at home-if we have a black face. Venerable prelates of the church have been insulted and outraged by corporations; refined and delicate women have been submitted to the grossest indignity on the public highway; men and women are lynched and flogged every day; and a million voters are practically disfranchised, have no representation in Federal or State legislature; and we are told by the supreme court of the land that the government which made the citizen and conferred co-equal rights upon him has no power to protect him in the vital matters here recited. If this be true, if it be true that the power which can create has no power to protect the creature, then it is high time that it secure to itself the necessary power. We appeal to the Nation, which fears a righteous God and loves justice, to judge if our contention here is unreasonable, and we demand of the party now in power, which has promised so much and which enjoyed our best confidence and our support in the past, that it make good the promises made, that it pay us for our confidence and support in the or abide the consequences. We are weary of the empty promises of politicians and the platitudes of national conventions, and we demand a fulfillment of the stipulations in the bond as a condition of our further confidence and support. We do not mince our words here. For the constitutional opponents our rights we have no faith, no confidence, and no support, and of possessed friends we here demand that they perform their part of the contract, which alone can justify the sacrifices we have been called upon to. If it cannot do this, then it has ceased to be the party of Lincoln, of Sumner, of Wilson, and of Logan, and deserves to die, and will die, that another party may rise to finish the uncompleted work, even as the Whig party died that the Republican party might triumph in the Nation. I am no hero worshipper. Parties are not things [unintelligible] [But are brought] into existence by men to serve certain ends. They are the creatures not the creators of men. When they have fulfilled the objects for which were created or when they prove false to the great purpose of their creation, what further use are they? None certainly to us if they do not give us in return for our support the measure of justice and consideration in party management and benefits commensurate with the service we render. I do not speak here as a partisan; I speak as an Afro American, first, last, and all time, ready to stab to death any party which robs me of my confidence and vote and straightway asks me ‘what are you going to do about it?’ I have served the Republican party, the Prohibition party, and the Democratic party, I speak with the wisdom of experience when I declare that none of them cares a fig for the Afro American further than it can use him. In seeking to rebuke false friends we often make false alliances. If we shall serve the party and the men, as Afro Americans, who serve us best, in the present posture of our citizenship, we shall follow the dictates of the highest wisdom and the most approved philosophy. It will be sound policy on the part of the Leagues here assembled to leave the local Leagues free to pursue such political course in its immediate community as the best interests of the race will seem to dictate. In National affairs it does not seem wise to me for the League to commit itself officially to any party. Let parties commit themselves to the best interests of Afro American citizens, and it will then be time enough for us to commit ourselves to them. We have served parties long enough without benefit to the race. It is now time for parties to serve us some, if they desire our support. I am now and I have always been a race man and not a party man. Let this League be a race league. To make it anything else is to sow the seed of discord, disunion, and disaster at the very beginning of our important work. We stand for the race, and not for this party or that party, and we should know a friend from a foe when we see him. And now, ladies and gentlemen, it is time that I confine myself to the special matters which have moved us to congregate in this proud city of the West. There come periods in the history of every people when the necessity of their affairs makes it imperative that they take such steps as will show to the world that they are worthy to be free, and therefore entitled to the sympathy of all mankind and to the cooperation of all lovers of justice and fair play. To do this they must unequivocally show that while they may solicit the sympathy and cooperation of mankind, they have the intelligence and courage to know what are their rights and manfully to contend for them, even though that sympathy and cooperation be ungenerously denied them. I am in no sense unmindful of the vastness of the undertaking; but this instead of being a drawback, is rather an incentive to prosecute the matter with more earnestness and persistence. I now give in consecutive order the reasons which in my opinion justify the organization of the National Afro American League, to wit: 1. The almost universal suppression of our ballot in the South, and consequent ‘taxation without representation,’ since in the cities, counties and States where we have undisputed preponderating majorities of the voting population we have, in the main, no representation, and therefore no voice in the making and enforcing the laws under which we live. 2. The universal and lamentable reign of lynch and mob law, of which we are made the victims, especially in the South, all the more aggravating because all the machinery of the law making and enforcing power is in the hands of those who resort to such outrageous, heinous and murderous violations of the law. 3. The unequal distribution of school funds, collected from all taxpayers alike, and to the equal and undivided benefits of which all are alike entitled. 4. The odious and demoralizing penitentiary system of the South, with its chain gangs, convict leases and indiscriminate mixing of males and females. 5. The almost universal tyranny of common carrier corporations in the South railroad, steamboat and other in which the common rights of men and women are outraged and denied by the minions of these corporations, acting under implicit order in most cases, as well as by common passengers, who take the matter in their own hands as often as they please, and are in no instances pursued and punished by the lawful authorities. 6. The discrimination practiced by those who conduct places of public accommodation, and are granted a license for this purpose, such as keepers of inns, hotels and conductors of theatres and kindred places of amusement, where one man’s money, all things being equal, should usually be as good as another’s. 7. The serious question of wages, caused in the main by the vicious industrial system in the South, by the general contempt employers feel for employees, and by the overcrowded nature of the labor market. These matters reach down into the very life of our people; they are fundamentally the things which in all times have moved men to associate themselves together in civil society for mutual benefit and protection, to restrain the rapacious and unscrupulous and to protect the weak, the timid and the virtuous; and whenever and wherever a condition of affairs obtains when these principles are disregarded and outraged, it becomes the imperative duty of the aggrieved to take such steps for their correction as the condition of affairs seems to warrant. I know, ladies and gentlemen of the league, that those who are looking to this organization, people in every section of the country, for some sensible action which shall assist in solving the great problems which confront us, as well as the croaking, skeptical few, who do not expect that we shall be able to advance or to accomplish anything which shall survive the hour of our adjournment, have their eyes upon us. I have confidence in the great race of which I am proud to be a member. I have confidence in its wisdom and its patriotism [unintelligible] self sacrifice for the common good. I have faith in the God who rules in the affairs of men, and who will not leave us alone to our own devices if we shall make an honest effort to assist ourselves. Thus fortified in my faith, what have I to propose as remedies for some if not all of the evils against which we have to contend? It shall not be said that I have called you here to a barren feast; it shall not be said by friend or foe that I am an impracticable visionary, a man chasing shadows a man who denounces the fearful structure in which we abide and would tear it down without offering at least a substitute to replace it. I have pondered long and seriously on the evils which beset us, and I have sought, as light was given me, for an antidote to them if such there be. I lay them before you, and you are here to adopt or reject them. I propose, then, 1. The adoption by this league of an Afro American Bank, with central offices in some one of the great commercial centres of the republic and branches all over the country. We need to concentrate our earnings, and a bank is the proper place to concentrate them. And I shall submit a bank scheme which I have devised in the hope to meet the requirements of the situation. I propose (2) the establishment of a bureau of emigration. We need to scatter ourselves more generally throughout the republic. I propose (3) the establishment of a committee on legislation. We need to have a sharp eye upon the measures annually proposed in the Federal and State legislatures affecting us and our interests, and there are laws everywhere in the republic the repeal of which must engage our best thought and effort. I propose (4) the establishment of a bureau of technical industrial education. We need trained artisans, educated farmers and laborers more than we need educated lawyers, doctors, and loafers on the street corners. The learned professions are overcrowded. There is not near so much room at the top as there was in the days of Daniel Webster. And I propose (5) lastly the establishment of a bureau of cooperative industry. We need to buy the necessaries of life cheaper than we can command them in many States. We need to stimulate the business instinct, the commercial predisposition of the race. We not only want a market for the products of our industry, but we want and must have a fair, and a living return for them. To my mind the solution of the problems which make this league a necessity is to be found in the five propositions here stated. Their successful execution will require the very highest order of executive ability and the collection and disbursement of a vast sum of money. Have we brains and the necessary capital to put these vast enterprises into successful motion? I think we have. There are 8,000,000 of us in this country. Some of us are rich and some of us are poor. Some of us are wise and some are foolish. Let us all the rich and the poor, the wise and the foolish resolve to unite and pull together, and the results will speak for themselves. Let us destroy the dead weight of poverty and ignorance which pulls us down and smothers us with the charity, the pity and the contempt of mankind, and all other things will be added unto us. I think this League should have its stronghold in the Southern States. It is in those States that the grievances we complain of have most glaring and oppressive existence; it is in those States that the bulk of our people reside. The League in the North and West will serve to create public opinion in those sections and to coerce politicians into taking a broader view of our grievances and to compel them to pay more respect to our representations and requests than they have ever done before. This will follow fast upon organization and capable management; because we have learned by experience that intelligent sympathy can only be created by intelligent agitation, and that the respect of politicians can only be secured by compulsion, such alone as thorough organization can bring to bear. In the North and West we are not restrained in the free exercise of the ballot, but aside from this, what Benefit accrues to us? Elections come and pass, parties are successful or defeated, but the influence of the race remains simply worthless, the victor and the vanquished alike treating us with indifference or contempt after the election. Every year the indifference and contempt are shown in more pronounced and different ways. It is only by proper organization and discipline that anything to our advantage can be accomplished. In the South like results will follow, save in larger measures, and perhaps at greater cost to individual members of the League, since free speech and action are things which must be fought for there. It cannot be denied that in the South free speech and free action are not tolerated. The white men of that section, in defiance of all constitution and law, have taken affairs into their own hands, and crush out, or attempt to do it, all opinions not in accord with theirs. And this is not only true in matters of a political nature, but of an economical nature. It is stated by those who ought to know that the colored laboring masses of the South are fast falling into a condition not unlike in its terrible features the chattel slavery abolished by constitutional enactment. We have it in the newspapers and we have it from the lips of our own men fresh from all sections of the South that the condition of the Afro-American laborers of their section is simply atrocious and appalling, that the employers of such labor, backed up by ample legislation are by all the machinery of the law, and tyrannical in the conduct of their affairs, in so far that colored laborers have no ‘appeal from Caesar drunk to Caesar sober.’ The people suffer in silence. This should not be. They should have a voice. The grievances they are forced to suffer should be known of all the world and they must be. An organization national in its ramifications, such as we propose, would be such a voice, so loud that it would compel men to hear it; for if it were silenced in the South, it would be all the louder in the North and the West. Whenever colored men talk of forming anything in which they are to be the prime movers and their grievances are to be the subjects to be agitated, a vast array of men, mostly politicians, and newspaper editors, more or less partisan, and therefore interested in keeping colored voters in a helpless state as far as disorganization and absence of responsible leadership can effect this, cry aloud that `colored men should be the last persons to draw the color line.’ So they should be; so they have been; and they would never have drawn any such line, or proposed that any such line be drawn, if white men had not first drawn it, and continue to draw it now in religion, in politics, in educational matters, in all moral movements, like that of temperance for instance. We have not drawn the color line. The A.M.E. Church, did its founders establish it because they did not care to worship with their co religionists? Not a bit of it. They established that magnificent religious organization as a rebuke and a protest against the peanut gallery accommodations offered by white Christians, so called, to colored Christians. The same spirit actuated the founders of the Zion A.M.E. Church and the Colored M.E. Church. It was not the colored Christians, but the white Christians, who, to their eternal shame and damnation, drew the color line, and continue to draw it, even unto this hour. Turn to the Masonic, the Odd Fellows and the Knights of Pythias orders did colored men draw the line in these? Did they set up colored lodges all over the country because they did not wish to fraternize with the white orders? The answer can be inferred when it is stated that white Masons, white Odd Fellows and white Knights of Pythias even at this hour refuse to fraternize with or to recognize the legality or regularity of the orders their actions caused Afro Americans to establish. Do Afro Americans desire separate Grand Lodges in the Temperance Order? Did they ask for such? No! But the British and American Good Templars have re united, and the only condition on which the American order would consent to reunion was that the British order would acknowledge that its action of thirteen years ago in seceding from the order on the color question was not odious and unsound in principle. Ladies and gentlemen, let us stand up like men in our own organizations where color will not be a brand of odium. The eternal compromises of our manhood and self respect, true of the past, must cease. Right is right, and we should at no time, or under any circumstances compromise upon anything but absolute right. If the white man cannot rescue our drunkards and evangelize our sinners except by insulting us, let him keep away from us. His contamination under such conditions does us more harm than good. It is not we who have drawn the color line. That is pure nonsense. Take our public schools take the schools and colleges throughout the land; who draw the color line in these? Is there an Afro American school of any sort in the South where a white applicant would be refused admission on account of his color? Not one! Is there a white school in the South where a colored applicant would not be refused admission on account of his color? Not one! The thing is plain. The white man draws the color line in everything he has anything to do with. He is saturated with the black mud of prejudice and intolerance. Leadership must have a following, otherwise it will run to seed and wither up, be of no benefit to the race or to the persons possessing the superior capacity. An army without a general is a mob, at the mercy of any disciplined force that is hurled against it; and a disorganized leaderless race is nothing more than a helpless, restless mob. All those men who have profited by our disorganization and fattened on our labor by class and corporate legislation, will oppose this Afro American League movement. In the intensity of their opposition they may resort to the coward argument of violence; but are we to remain forever inactive, the victims of extortion and duplicity on this account? No, sir. We propose to accomplish our purposes by the peaceful methods of agitation, through the ballot and the courts, but if others use the weapons of violence to combat our peaceful arguments, it is not for us to run away from violence. A man’s a man, and what is worth having is worth fighting for. It is proudly claimed that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.’ Certainly the blood of antislavery champions was the seed of Garrison’s doctrine of ‘the genius of universal emancipation.’ Certainly the blood of Irish patriots has been the seed of Irish persistence and success; certainly the blood of Negro patriots was the seed of the independence of Hayti and San Domingo; and in the great revolution of our own country the cornerstones of American freedom were cemented with the blood of black patriots who were not afraid to die; and the refrain which celebrates the heroism and martyrdom of the first men who died that the American colonies might be free will reverberate down the ages.
Long as in freedom’s cause the wise contend Dear to your country shall your fame extend; While to the world the lettered stone shall tell Where Caldwell, Attucks, Grey and Maverick fell.’
Attucks, the black patriot he was no coward! Toussaint L’Overture-he was no coward! Nat Turner-he was no coward! And the two hundred thousand black soldiers of the last war they were no cowards! If we have a work to do, let us do it. And if there come violence, let those who oppose our just cause ‘throw the first stone.’ We have wealth, we have intelligence, we have courage; and we have a great work to do. We should therefore take hold of it like men, not counting our time and means and lives of any consequence further than they contribute to the grand purposes which call us to the work. And now, ladies and gentlemen, in concluding the pleasant task set before me here by your kindness, I would reduce the whole matter, so far as this league is concerned to the following proposition: A large portion of our fellow citizens have determined that the material, civil and political rights conferred upon Afro Americans by the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Federal Constitution shall not be enjoyed by the beneficiaries of them. To all practical intents and purposes these rights have been denied and are withheld, and especially so in the Southern States. That the majority shall not rule; that the laborer shall be robbed of his wages without redress at law; that the citizen shall enjoy no common and civil rights a brute would not scorn; that the principle[s] of taxation and representation are inseparably correlated is without force is fact, as regards Afro Americans here is the work before us. As the agitation which culminated in the abolition of African slavery in this country covered a period of fifty years, so may we expect that before the rights conferred upon us by the war amendments are fully conceded, a full century will have passed away. We have undertaken no child’s play. We have undertaken a serious work which will tax and exhaust the best intelligence and energy of the race for the next century. Are we equal to the task imposed upon us? If we are true to ourselves, if we are true to our posterity, if we are true to our country, which has never been true to us, if we are true to the sublime truths of Christianity, we shall succeed we cannot fail. We shall fight under the banner of truth. We shall fight under the banner of justice. We shall fight under the banner of the Federal Constitution. And we shall fight under the banner of honest manhood. Planting ourselves firmly upon these truths, immutable and as fixed in the frame work of social and political progress as the stars in the heavens, we shall eventually fight down opposition, drive caste intolerance to the wall, crush out mob and lynch law, throttle individual insolence and arrogance, vindicate the right of our women to the decent respect of lawless rowdies, and achieve at last the victory which crowns the labors of the patient, resourceful, and the uncompromising warrior. And may the God of Nations bestow upon us and our labors His approving smile and lead us out of the house of bondage into the freedom of absolute justice under the Constitution.