(1903) Captain Charles Young Speaks At Stanford University

Colonel Charles Young, February 22, 1919
Courtesy Library of Congress

Through much of U.S. military history, officers serving in the armed forces have rarely commented publicly on social issues of the day. One exception to this tradition appears below, a speech by Captain Charles Young, Ninth Cavalry, at Stanford University. In December, 1903 Young was the main speaker at the periodic campus student assembly which discussed, among other issues the recent diphtheria outbreak on campus and the “deadheads,” the college men who watched Stanford’s athletic contests but who refused to provide financial support for these programs. Following his introduction by Stanford University President David Starr Jordan, Young described the attitudes and aspirations of younger African Americans at the time which he called the “standards and ideals of new negrodom.” Young expressly drew distinction between the views of that generation and those of Booker T. Washington who was then the leading African American spokesman. The brief speech appears below.

I desire, first of all, to thank you for the opportunity which has been given me to stand before you. I shall try to acquaint you with a few of the standards and ideals of new negrodom. At present I cannot but feel that the higher interest of my people are going netherward, and that the white people of the coming era are not an inch behind. When one part of the body is diseased, it reacts on the whole. We are part and parcel of the body politic of the United States, and to cure the disease you have offered amalgamation, deportation, bodily extermination, and industrialism.

With all that is claimed for industrialism and with due honor to Mr. Booker T. Washington, I fee that what is proposed for the negro in that direction will not do the work. When the black man has learned the industrial trades and seeks work, he runs into the unions, where he his told that no negroes need apply. The white employer would employ him but is afraid; he knows the negro is entitled to work but he cannot give it to him.

We are urged to give up our claims to higher education. Tuskegee could not exist without higher education. Contact with men of brain, of high ideals, is essential. Even though our race has produced great painters and sculptors, such as Dunbar, we are urged to give up all these things in order that we may survive. What does survival mean? We know what it is to eat our own hearts; we know what it is to stifle our ideas. We also know what it is to do things right; to have the finger of scorn pointed our way because we do not come up to the white man’s ideals.

History tells us of no race that has given up its best and highest ideals that has amounted to anything. When we are told to give up our highest ideals, our hearts tell us not to do it. The example of the white man tells us the same thing. We are not going to do it. And this is not the ‘sassy nigger’ that says this. It is the revolt of black American manhood.

All we ask is that the educated men and women of our universities be kind and magnanimous toward the negro. My people have already been greatly helped by your people. The people of the South have greatly aided my people.

All a negro asks is a white man’s chance. Will you give it? Will you give the negroes a chance to build homes for themselves and a chance to make themselves good citizens?