Oswald Garrison Villard to Woodrow Wilson




Oswald Garrison Villard writes to Woodrow Wilson regarding protests about segregation in government offices.


Wilson Papers, Library of Congress, Library of Congress, Washington, District of Columbia




His Excellency President Woodrow Wilson,
The White House,
Washington, DC

Dear President Wilson:

A number of protests, of which the enclosed are samples, are pouring upon me in my capacity of Chariman of the Executive Committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The colored people everywhere are greatly stirred up over what they consider tehe hostile attitude of the Administration in regard to colored employees in the government departments. In the Bureau of Engraving and Printing colored people have been segregated at their work where colored and white were together before. General Burt touches upon the segregation in the Treasutry Department. In the Bureau of the Census and the Post Office Department segregation is going on steadily. Some of this segregation works great hardship upon the colored sclerks. The ruling of the Treasury Department upon which General Burt touches is particularly humiliating to them because it seems to imply that there is something degrading and demoralizing in associating with these American citizens, — as if they were lepers to be set apart.
Before taking action, or permitting the Association to take action officially, in regard to these matters I think it but fair and just to ask you to ask for some authoritative expression from you as to whether this policy is a deliberate one on the part of the aAdministration, or whether it is due, as I believe, to the individual initiative of department heads without your knowledge and consent.
I cannot exaggerate the effect this has had upon the colored people at large. The colored press, which is mostly Republican harps upon it in every issue; I enclose a sample from the most influential New York newspaper. The Crisis, the organ of our Association, has the largest circulation every attained among colored people. I enclose herewith its editorial in support of you last fall; its readers are now asking whether it means to keep silent in the face of these discriminations at Washington at the hands of men it helped to put in office. The colored men who voted and worked for you in the belief that their status as American citizens was safe in your hands are deeply cast down, and know not how to answer the criticisms they receive on every hand. Should this policy be continued we should lose all that we gained in the last campaign in splitting the negro vote, and in teaching a part of the race to vote nationally and not with regard to their own immediate interest, or appeals to the issues of the war.
You have, as first Southern–born President of the United States since the war, a wonderful opportunity to win the confidence and interest of these people who ask nothing by fair play, — nothing but what they are entitled to under the Constitution. They followed your speeches in the campaign with thrilled interest; they got from your “New Freedom” the belief that your democracy was not limited by race or color; that the fundamental scientific political truths which you have therein expressed, being truths, applied to every human being whatever his situation, whatever his color. If they are wrong in this theirs will be the severest disappointment which has come to them during the fifty years of freedom in which tehey have been loyal patriotic citizens; during which they have added enormously to the wealth of the country, although starting with nothing but the clothes they wore when the shackles fell from their scarred limbs.
As one who has supported you in season and out, at Princeton, at Trenton and in Washington, you will appreciate my own great embarrasement in this situation; it is, I feel sure, not too much to ask that you will let me know just how the Administration stands in relation to the colored man that I may be instrumental in putting the facts in the case before the colored people.

Oswald Garrison Villard

Original Format




Villard, Oswald Garrison, 1872-1949, “Oswald Garrison Villard to Woodrow Wilson,” 1913 July 21, WWP17883, First Year Wilson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.