Colored Delegate Rebuked by Wilson

Identifier

SC111214

Description

Newspaper account of President Wilson's harsh words for the delegation of African-American leaders from the National Independence Equal Rights League who met with him to discuss segregation of federal employees.

Source

US National Archives and Records Administration
570/1/16/7 box #332 file #71315

Publisher

Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum

Language

English

Requires

Requires proofreading.

Provenance

Digital copy acquired from federal archives by previous WWPL Archivist, Heidi Hackford.

Text

Colored Delegate Rebuked by Wilson

Warm words passed today between President Wilson and a delegation of colored men who called at the White House to protest against the continuation of segregation at the Treasury and other departments of the Federal Government.

Declaring that never since has has been in office has he been addressed in such an insulting fashion, the President told William Monroe Trotter, of Boston, a colored man, secretary of the National Independence Equal Rights League, that if ever again he consented to receive representatives of the league, that body would have to select another spokesman.

The delegation will hold a mass meeting at the Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church here next Sunday to protest against what the members declared on leaving the White House was an "entirely disappointing" expression from the President as to his position on the matter.

The delegation is the same which sought unsuccessfully before the recent elections to see the President, and then threatened to advise all colored voters of the country to vote against the Democratic ticket.

TALKED NEARLY AN HOUR.

The delegation was supposed to be with the President only fifteen minutes. As it was it was closeted with him for nearly an hour, while the Secretary of Commerce and other callers on the list were compelled to wait.

In the meantime the members of the delegation, after delivering their set speeches and hearing the President's reply, attempted to cross-examine him. He answered several of the questions put to him by the secretary of the league, but as these grew more objectionable in character, the President showed his indignation.

Previously, however, he had told the delegation that, while he believed that segregation in the departments was for the best interest of both races in order to overcome racial friction, and wished in every way to assist the colored race toward its independent development, he would investigate any individual cases of discrimination which they might from time to time present to him.

Shows Indifference.

The President refused to regard the matter from a political standpoint, and indicated his indifference toward the previously conveyed threats of the league that it would oppose all Democratic candidates in the future. The problem, he declared, was a human one and one which the best thought of the Administration had decided to be best solved by segregation, but segregation under such circumstances that the colored civil service employes would have equal advantages in the way of working conditions.

"What the President told us," said Secretary Trotter, as he left the White House, "was entirely disappointing. His statement that segregation was intended to prevent racial friction is not supported by facts. For fifty years colored and white employes had worked together. It was not until the present Administration came in that segregation was drastically introduced, and only because of the racial prejudices of John Skelton Williams, Secretary McAdoo, and Secretary Burleson.

A Warm Session.

"It was a warm session, boys," declared Trotter, winking his eye at the newspapermen as he left the White House.

Others in the delegation included the Rev. Byron Gunner, of Hillburn, N. Y., president of the league; Thomas Walker, chairman of the Washington branch of the league; M. W. Spencer, of Wilmington; the Rev. E. E. Ricks, pastor of the First Baptist Church of West Washington, and F. Morris Murray, of Virginia, all colored.

Addresses were made by Trotter, Gunner, Walker and Spencer, although the principal, and, from the President's standpoint the only objectionable remarks were uttered by Trotter.

They presented copies of resolutions adopted by the Massachusetts legislature, and letters from Congressmen Thatcher, Mitchell and Gallivan of Massachusetts, all Democrats, protesting against the separation of the races in the Government service.

Physical Indecency.

Trotter told the President that segregation "means a charge by the Government of physical indecency."

He declared that the public was so against the Administration because of its attitude on segregation, that the voters protested at the last election. President Wilson expressed great regret that the colored men should consider such a question a political one, and he practically told them that if the colored race was dissatisfied with what his Administration was doing, they could register their disapproval at the next election.

The President pointed out to the delegation that the race is making progress in the United States, and that it should not consider segregation here in other than a friendly light.

The delegates protested, specifically against segregation in the Treasury and Post Office Departments.

Mr. Trotter's speech to the President follows:

Protest of a Year Ago.

One year ago we presented a national petition signed by colored Americans in thirty-eight States, protesting against the segregation of employes of the National Government whose ancestry could be traced in whole or in part to Africa, as instituted under your Administration in the Treasury and Post Office Departments. We then appealed to you to undo this race segregation in accord with your duty as President and with your pre-election pledges. We stated that there could be no freedom, no respect from others, and no equality of citizenship under segregation for race, especially when applied to but one of the many racial elements in Government employ. For such placement of employes means a charge by the Government of physical indecency or infection, or of being a lower order of beings, or a subjection to the prejudices of other citizens which constitutes inferiority of status. We protested such segregation as to working positions, eating tables, dressing rooms, rest rooms, pickers, and especially public toilets in Government buildings. We stated that such segregation was a public humiliation and degradation, entirely unmerited and far-reaching in its injurious effects, a gratuitous blow against ever-loyal citizens and against those many of whom aided and supported your elevation to the Presidency of our common country.

...to renew the protest and to ask you to abolish segregation of Afro-American employes in the Executive Department.

Humiliation Alleged.

Because we cannot believe you capable of any disregard of your pledges, we have been sent by the alarmed American citizens of color. They realize that, if they can be segregated and thus humiliated by the National Government at the National Capital, the beginning is made for the spread of that persecution and prosecution which makes property and life itself insecure in the South, the foundation of the whole fabric of their citizenship is unsettled.

They have made plain enough to you their opposition to segregation last year by a national anti-segregation petition, this year by a protest registered at the polls, voting against every Democratic candidate save those outspoken against segregation. The only Democrat elected governor in the Eastern States was Governor Walsh of Massachusetts, who appealed to you by letter to stop segregation. Thus have colored Americans shown how they detest segregation.

In fact, so intense is their resentment that the movement to divine this solid race vote and make peace with the national Democracy, so suspiciously revied when you ran for Presidency and which some of our families for two generations has been risking all to promote, bids fair to be undone.

Only two years ago you were heralded as perhaps the second Lincoln, and now the colored leaders who supported you are hounded as false leaders and traitors to their race. What a change segregation has wrought!

Ask Executive Order.

You said that your "Colored fellow citizens could depend upon you for everything which would assist in advancing the interest of their race in the United States." Consider that pledge in the face of the continued color segregation! Fellow-citizenship means congregation, segregation destroys fellowship and citizenship. Consider that any passerby on the streets of the National Capital, whether he be black, can enter and use the public lavatories in Government buildings while citizens of color, who do the work of the Government are excluded.

As equal citizens and by virtue of your public promises we are entitled at your hands to freedom from discrimination, restriction, imputation, and insult for race in Government employ. Have you a "new freedom" for white Americans and a new slavery for your "colored fellow-citizens?" God forbid!

We have been delegated to ask you to issue an executive order against any and all segregation of Government employes because of race and color, and to ask whether you will do so. We await your reply that we may give it to the waiting citizens of the United States of African extraction.

[Note: handwritten above newspaper clipping: "Washington Times Nov. 12- 1914"

Original Format

Newspaper article

Files

SC111214.pdf

Citation

Washington Times, “Colored Delegate Rebuked by Wilson,” 1914 November 12, SC111214, Race and Segregation Collection, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.