(1896) John Hope, “We Are Struggling For Equality”

Dr. John Hope, 1920
Courtesy Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center

Five months after Booker T. Washington had announced his policy of accommodation at the Atlanta Exposition, John Hope, then a member of the faculty at Atlanta Baptist College, delivered his rebuttal in a speech before a black debating society in Nashville on George Washington’s birthday, 1896.  Part of that speech appears below.

If we are not striving for equality, in heaven’s name for what are we living? I regard it as cowardly and dishonest for any of our colored men to tell white people that we are not struggling for equality. If money, education, and honesty will not bring to me as much privilege, as much equality as they bring to any American citizen, then they are to me a curse, and not a blessing.  God forbid that we should get the implements with which to fashion our freedom, and then be too lazy or pusillanimous to fashion it.  Let us not fool ourselves not be fooled by others.  If we cannot do what other free men do, then we are not free.  Yes, my friends, I want equality.  Nothing less.  I want all that my God-given powers will enable me to get, then why not equality? Now, catch your breath, for I am going to use an adjective: I am going to say we demand social equality.  In this republic we shall be less than free men, if we have a whit less than that which thrift, education and honor afford other free men.  If equality, political, economic and social, the boon of other men in this great county of ours, of ours, then equality, political, economic and social, is what we demand.  Why build a wall to keep me out? I am no wild beast, nor am I an unclean thing.

Rise, Brothers! Come, let us possess this land.  Never say, “Let well enough alone.” Cease to console yourselves with adages that numb the moral sense.  Be discontented.  Be dissatisfied.  “Sweat and grunt” under present conditions.  Be as restless as the tempestuous billows on the boundless sea.  Let your discontent break mountain-high against the wall of prejudice, and swamp it to the very foundation.  Then we shall not have to plead for justice nor on bended knee crave mercy; for we shall be men.  Then and not until then will liberty in its highest sense be the boast of our Republic…