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African American baseball players from Morris Brown College

[Detail] African American baseball players from Morris Brown College

Open letter to President McKinley by colored people of Massachusetts.

This letter was read at a mass meeting in Boston on 3 October 1899, by Archibald H. Grimké (1849-1930), member of an influential and biracial family of abolitionists and civil rights activists. Addressed to President William McKinley, it contains the protest of prominent African-American citizens of Boston over federal government inaction and the toleration of racial prejudice, discrimination, and recent violence against blacks in the South. The petitioners plead for the guarantee of civil rights as set forth in the Constitution for all African-American citizens, especially those living in the South, in order that they may rise out of poverty, ignorance, and social degradation.

"With one accord, with an anxiety that wrenched our hearts with cruel hopes and fears, the colored people of the United States turned to you when Wilmington, N.C., was held for two dreadful days and nights in the clutch of a bloody revolution; when negroes, guilty of no crime except the color of their skin and a desire to exercise the rights of their American citizenship, were butchered like dogs in the streets of that ill-fated town; and when government of the people by the people and for the people perished in your very presence by the hands of violent men during those bitter November days, for want of federal aid, which you would not and did not furnish, on the plea that you could not give what was not asked for by a coward and recreant governor. And we well understood at the time, sir, notwithstanding your plea of constitutional inability to cope with the rebellion in Wilmington, that where there is a will with constitutional lawyers and rulers there is always a way, and where there is no will there is no way. We well knew that you lacked the will, and, therefore, the way to meet that emergency.

It was the same thing with that terrible ebullition of the mob spirit at Phoenix, S. C., when black men were hunted and murdered, and white men shot and driven out of that place by a set of white savages, who cared not for the Constitution and the laws of the United States any more than they do for the constitution and the laws of an empire dead and buried a thousand years. We looked in vain for some word or some act from you. Neither word nor act of sympathy for the victims was forthcoming, or of detestation of an outrage so mad and barbarous as to evoke even from such an extreme Southern organ as is the News and Courier, of Charleston, S.C., hot and stern condemnation. Hoping against hope, we waited for your annual message to Congress in December last, knowing that the Constitution imposed upon you a duty to give, from time to time, to that body information of the state of the Union. That, at least, we said, the President will surely do; he will communicate officially the facts relative to the tragic, the appalling events, which had just occurred in the Carolinas to the Congress of the United States. But not one word did your message contain on this subject, although it discussed all sorts and conditions of subjects, from the so-called war for humanity against Spain to the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the national capital in 1900. Nothing escaped your eye, at home or abroad, nothing except the subversion of the Constitution and laws of the Union in the Southern States, and the Flagrant and monstrous crimes perpetrated upon a weak and submissive race in defiance of your authority, or in virtual connivance therewith. Yes, sir, we repeat, or in virtual connivance therewith."

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