In 1899, Mr. Samuel Scottron, an African-American scholar from Brooklyn, New York, published an article in the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper in which he reminded readers that African Americans had gained full and legal citizenship status in the United States. Scottron's article was a response to a proposal made by Senator M.C. Butler recommending that all African Americans be colonized in South America. In the article, Mr. Scottron refers to comparisons made between Chinese immigrants and African-American citizens by the editor of the Boston Herald newspaper. The editor had suggested that the Chinese immigrants on the West Coast were better suited to American citizenship than were African Americans. What is Scottron's position on extending citizenship to Chinese immigrants? What evidence doe he provide to make the case that African Americans had become good citizens? Do you think that the comparison between Chinese immigrants and African-American citizens was fair? Why or why not?
"Under the above caption, in 1891, for some reason which I at this moment do not recall the Boston Herald was giving in its editorial columns considerable attention to the discussion, 'Chinese vs. Negroes.' Several articles appeared in it, justifying its opinions, when occasionally they were disputed by other journals, foremost among which I noted the Boston Journal.
"I recall the matter now because the Negro is the recipient of much attention, as before referred to, and because circumstances confronting our government at this time render the subject of extreme importance. Since then the United States has acquired territory very largely inhabited by Chinese and other Asiatic races, and the question becomes important immediately to the American people as to what policy shall be pursued in the future with reference to these races.
"Were the fears which moved the American people in the past to exclude Asiatic races justified, or have we seen new light? Is Christian civilization endangered by the presence of these people? All are potent questions at this time, requiring sound judgment and unerring decision; for a day a temporary house, but one which it is hoped shall endure forever.
"What may have been the questions which occupied the attention of the American people in the past in regard to the Negro as a fit subject for assimilation within the body politic, there can be but little or no good reason for continuing those discussions now. Since the Negro is already admitted to citizenship, guarded by constitutional enactment, and, whatever may be the difference of opinions to this mental capacity, as compared with the Caucasian or Asiatic, there nevertheless remains the gratifying fact that no one has attempted to prove that his presence is in the least threatening to our Christian institutions. Indeed, it may be said, upon the other hand, that many thoughtful persons regard the Negro's presence as a comforting assurance, a bulwark for the preservation of the faith of the founders of our government.
Writing now from memory, not having a copy of any of the articles referred to as having appeared in the Boston Herald, I will briefly outline as best I can their import. The position taken by the editor was not new, but one assumed by many able persons in similar discussion. "The Chinese," he says, "are an ancient race, with a civilization antedating our own; largely progressed in the arts and sciences; having made many important discoveries before our own age. While on the other hand, the Negroes comes from the wilds of an unknown continent, a barbarian, a slave, mean of intellect and of forbidding mien, with thick lips, black face, flat nose and woolly hair; who has not in the interval of time shown the high capacity of the Caucasian for improvement.
"The fathers of the republic," he further says, "while providing an asylum for the oppressed of other lands, nevertheless were desirous of attracting hither only the most intelligent peoples, depending upon these rather for the perpetuity of republican institutions." But, as we have said, the Negro has been already admitted to citizenship, and the question closed in one of its aspects: so that the only question remaining for us to consider is, what I may regard as a corollary to the first proposition, viz.; Negroes having been admitted to citizenship, shall we not now admit the Chinese? If the semi-barbarous Negro can be ingrafted upon our body politic, can we not safely extend to these Asiatic races, having centuries of civilization behind them, the same privileges?
Had we not an actual experience with the two races, covering a period sufficient to form a safe judgment, we would very likely jump at a conclusion in answer to the last question and decide it in the affirmative. Experience, however, is a safe teacher.
The difference between the Chinese and Negroes is as that between old men, with fixed ideas, and children. If we have ideas and institutions to perpetuate and preserve, we shall entrust and communicate them to children rather than to those grown old in an opposite philosophy and experience. The new born mind is a blank ready to receive impressions and to develop largely according to its surroundings. Early impressions may never be lost.
The minds of the American Negro and the American Indian, considered as adult, were the only maiden minds among all those present in the early days of the colonies and the formative period of the republic. By maiden minds I mean blank minds; minds never before impressed with any praise of civil government; minds ready to receive new impressions; ineradicable impressions. The American Negro has never known anything save those things distinctly American. We may have various opinions as to the desires of the fore-fathers of our republic, and we may differ on many other points, but it may be very safely asserted that we will all agree that notwithstanding their desire for the preservation of religious freedom, it was, nevertheless, their aim and hope, and it is the aim and hope of their children and grandchildren to found and perpetuate a government immovably fixed upon Christian principles and philosophy. Has it ever occurred to our friend's mind that the presence of the Negro is threatening to that central thought? On the other hand, what of the Chinese?
As we have said, the Negro came with his mind a blank, with no preconceived opinions as to form of government, no attachment to a foreign flag or institutions. No flag, only the American flag; no home save America. The faith of the fathers is faith. Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Grant, his highest conceptions of human greatness. Concord, Lexington and Bunker Hill the shrines of his patriotic pilgrimages. Christ his only refuge in religion. The Sunday of the fore-fathers his holy day, the Fourth of July his highest patriotic reverence. Christmas and Eastertide his hours of holy reflection. The machinations, editions and conspiracies of the socialist, communist and anarchist his greatest aversion.
Religious freedom is the law of the land, and yet the most superficial observer is aware that our whole fabric, our whole structure is builded upon Christian philosophy. It is stronger than the written law; upon it is founded the whole law and order of society. It was the faith of the forefathers and upon its philosophy and reasoning was and is based every act, every constitutional engagement, every personal property and public right. These institutions could not have been evolved from minds immersed in centuries of Buddhism, nor can they ever be more than dimly perceptible to its children. Has any one ventured to indict the Negro for lack of sympathy for the Christian faith? Of all the people possibly the Negro lives nearest the faith of the founders of this government. Of the 50,000 Chinese settled in the City of San Francisco for many years, upon how many has Christianity made the least perceptible impression? There Buddha and Confucius still live.
Maltreat the Negro as you may, he is nevertheless American to the core and he will follow the flag wheresoever it leads, Santiago and San Juan hill he will rush upon to the inspiring strains of "Yankee Doodle" and "The Star Spangled Banner," insensible to every danger."