Negro Complainants Displease President


Negro Complainants Displease President






1914 November 12


Newspaper article about the Trotter incident.


Library of Congress
Wilson Papers, Series 4, 152A Reel 231, Manuscript Division


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum


Trotter, William Monroe, 1872-1934


Althea Cupo
Maria Matlock




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





Executive states to Committee That His Actions Are Without Regard to Political Results

Washington, Nov. 12.—Deeply offended by the tone and manner of their chairman, W. M. Trotter of Boston, President wilson today ended an interview with a delegation of negroes who called at the White House to protest against race segregation in Government departments with a warning that if the negroes wanted to see him again they would have to get another spokesman. The President said he had not been addressed in such fashion since he entered the White House.

A fifteen-minute interview had been arranged for the callers and the President received them in his office with only his stenographer present. The delegation formally complained that Postmaster General Burleson, Secretary McAdoo and Comptroller Williams of the Treasury were enforcing segregation of white and negro employees in their offices.

Mr. Wilson listened to the statement and then replied at length, explaining that he had investigated this matter himself and had been assured that no discrimination had been practiced against the negroes and that segregation had been inaugurated to avoid friction between the races, not to injure tho negro. He added that he was deeply interested in the negro race and admired it for the progress it had made.

Not Seekers of "Charity.”

At this point Trotter and other members of the delegation took issue with the President. They asserted the negro people did not seek charity or assistance, but took the position that they had equal rights with the whites and that these rights should be respected. There had been no friction, they insisted, before the segregation was started.

Mr. Wilson waited for the protest to end. Then he told the delegation that he could not discuss the matter further. He closed with the quiet but emphatic statement that Troter had lost control of his temper and that he (the President) could not be talked to in such a manner.

When the negroes left they said their talk had been "thoroughly disappointing" and that they would hold a mass meeting in Washington next Sunday to protest further against segregation.

Trotter said in his address that his committee did not come "as wards looking for charity, but as full-fledged American citizens, vouchsafing equality of citizenship by the Federal Constitution.

“Two years ago," Trotter said, "you were thought to be a second Abraham Lincoln."

President Silences Him.

The President tried to interrupt, asking that personalities be left out of the discussion. Trotter continued to speak, and the President finally told him that it the organization he represented wished to approach him again it must choose another spokesman, adding that he had enjoyed listening to the other members of the committee, but that Trotter's tone was offensive.

The President told Trotter that he was an American citizen as fully as anybody else, but that he (Trotter) was the only American citizen who had ever come into the White House and addressed the President in such a tone and with such a background of passion.

Here Trotter denied that he had any passion, but the President told him he had spoiled the cause for which he had come and said he expected those who professed to be Christians to come to him in a Christian Spirit.

The negro spokesman continued to argue that he was merely trying to show how his people felt and asserted that he and others were now being branded as traitors to their race because they advised the colored people "to support the ticket."

This mention of votes caused Mr. Wilson to say that politics must be left out, because it was a form of blackmail. He said he would resent it as quickly from one set of men as from another and that his auditors could vote as they pleased, it mattered little to him so long as he was doing the right thing at the right time.

Not Question of Politics.

The President spoke frankly, saying that if the negro people had made a mistake in voting for him they ought to correct it, but that he would insist that politics should not be brought into the question, because it was not a political problem.

With some emotion he said he was not seeking office and that a man who sought the office of the presidency was a fool for his pains. He spoke of the intolerable burden of the office and of things which he had to do which were more than the human spirit could carry.

Emphasizing that he did not care in the least for the political considerations involved, Mr. Wilson urged that he wanted his auditors to understand that it was a human problem and not a political problem. While the American people wanted to support the advancement of the negro, the President was sure that, as practical men, all knew that there was a point at which friction is apt to occur. The question must be stripped of sentiment and viewed in its facts, because the facts got the better of [the] individual, whether one desired it or not.

The President said he thought his colleagues in the Government departments were not trying to put the negro at a disadvantage, but simply to make arrangements which would prevent friction. He added that the question involved was not a question of intrinsic qualities, because all had human souls and were equal in that respect, but at present it was a question of economic policy whether the negro race could do the same things that the white race could do with equal efficiency.

He said he thought the negroes were proving that they could, and that everyone wished to help them so that they would not be so dependent, and that their conditions of labor would be bettered. The entire matter, however, should be treated with a recognition of its difficulties.

Mr. Wilson said he was anxious to do what was just and asked for more memoranda from the committee as to instances of segregation about which they complained.

Original Format

Newspaper Article



Unknown, “Negro Complainants Displease President,” 1914 November 12, CS54, Race and Segregation Collection, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.