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African American baseball players from Morris Brown College

[Detail] African American baseball players from Morris Brown College

A constitutional defense of the Negro : by Algernon Sidney Crapsey ; delivered at a mass meeting of citizens in the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, Washington, D.C., December 15, 1901

One of the most famous and influential clerics in the Episcopal Church, Algernon Sidney Crapsey (1847-1927) sharply criticizes southern whites' attitudes towards African-Americans. He sees them perpetuating slavery by depriving African-Americans of the franchise after the Civil War and makes a plea for recognition of African-American civil rights, especially the right to vote. Crapsey calls upon African-Americans to organize and to agitate for their rights as citizens under the US Constitution.


The white race has a cause of quarrel with the black race. While we have spent blood and treasure to secure your political and civil rights, we find that you surrender those rights without a struggle. Your old white masters or the sons of your white masters say you shall not vote, and you stay away from the polls. They make laws placing upon you a degrading badge of inferiority, and you give your brows to the branding iron. They shoot you down in the streets and drive you into the swamps, and you do nothing to guard your homes and protect the lives of your wives and children.

Your excuse for this submission to outrage and wrong is that if you resist you will be killed. Killed! What if you are killed? Were not white men killed by the hundred thousand to secure to you, under the Constitution, the political and civil rights which you so easily surrender? Did we not go forth, even as boys, and lie in the open field, in rain and snow for you? Were not our dead stacked like reaped grain along the heights of Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg, that government of the people, for the people and by the people, might not perish from the earth? Did we not give Lincoln a sacrifice on the altar of your liberties, and now will you make that sacrifice of nothing worth? Do your duty by your country, and whether you live or die, your country will bless you.

You have the right to vote. Vote, and if you die in the very act of voting you offer your life upon the altar of your country. It would be a small matter if one hundred thousand lives were laid down to establish the great principle of the absolute equality of all men before the law. If armed men invade your homes die defending your homes. Your death will not be useless; it will rouse a spirit of wrath in the whole country that will come to your rescue and will avenge your wrongs.

God forbid that you should lift up your hands save in defense of the rights of man and the lives of women and children. Do not kill, but be killed; be killed until your blood becomes as a river defiling all the land, until like the blood of Abel it cries from the ground for vengeance. Be killed until you have lost from your veins the last drop of the blood of the slave and can stand up as free men in a free land.

Full text (Library of Congress/Daniel A.P. Murray Pamphlet Collection)