A Voice from the Archives
Essay By Delia Bolden, Columbia High School Class of 1912
Introduction by Carol Petrallia
Delia Bolden’s essay was selected by her fellow classmates for yearbook publication and was presented by Delia at the Class of 1912’s Commencement Program. It represents the concerns of the student body of over 100 years ago and continues to speak to this important issue today.
This essay was presented to CHS students at last year’s Black History Assembly.
"The negro question is one which is continually before the public to-day. It is being seriously considered by the leaders of both races. The negro is striving hard to settle this question for himself and to gain a place of honor in this his adopted land. But there are many unnecessary obstacles in his path. The negro of the United States deserves the highest consideration. He is not responsible for his being here. He was brought here by no desire of his own and forced to live in abject slavery for a period of over two hundred years. During this time no opportunity was afforded him for bettering his condition or enlightening his mind.
But then came the Civil War, you say, which gained for the negro his freedom. Freedom to be what? True he is no longer compelled to work for his master to give to another that which his own hands have earned. But is he free to be a man – an American? Emphatically no.
You say that if the negro was given his right position he would immediately strive for social equality that would lead to intermarriage. The negro does not wish for this any more than the white race. He does want the rights of an American citizen. To be let alone, to be allowed to work out his own plans in his way, to be given what he earns is all he desires. Political equality is the only equality that he wants. He wishes the protection of his life and property and to gain this he must have the right of franchise everywhere. Surely no one will protect him if he cannot protect himself. The very fact that his life and property are not now properly protected verifies this statement.
The right to vote has been taken away from most or a great part of the negroes in the South. The pretext for this – the educational test – is not in itself objectionable but it is objectionable that this should not apply equally to both races. In those states where the black man is so singled out the law expressed in the fourteenth amendment, strengthened by the fifteenth, is shamelessly broken, for this states clearly that the citizens of the United States must not be deprived of their right to vote either by the United States or by any of the states on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The United States too, fails in its duty for Congress has the power to compel on the part of every state obedience to the federal statutes. Yet, the President of the United States looks calmly on at this violation of the law and says that he cannot interfere unless the rights of the citizens are tampered with.
Is not the negro a citizen? Does he not bear his share of the burden of the government? Does he not pay his tax? Has he not fought side by side with his white brothers under the floating banner of the Stars and Stripes? Both North and South the whites are prejudiced against the negro, but the feeling runs highest in the South. Is it because his skin is black, because he was once a slave; or is it because the white is afraid to give his black brother too much chance to rise for fear that he may equal or even outstrip him so that he shall one day be obliged to look up to his former bootblack or farmhand as governor or as President of the United States?
For in spite of all opposition and hindrances the negro has developed wonderfully in his forty-seven years of freedom. We admit, and not by any means grudgingly, that he has been greatly helped in this upward rise from an ignorant, almost savage slave, to an intelligent, wide-awake, prosperous gentleman by well wishing white friends of both North and South. Forty-seven years ago there was not in all the United States a school for negroes, now there are thousands. Then few if any knew A from B, now many are versed in all the modern sciences. Then few could boast of the smallest amount of property, now, it may surprise you to learn, many are millionaires.
Is it too much to hope that the day of brutal injustices is also passing, that soon there shall be no such thing as disenfranchisement of a race which in forty-seven years has produced such men and such citizens as Du Bois, Dunbar, and Booker T. Washington: and that the lynching of negroes, that savage relic of a barbarous past, shall have altogether disappeared from a land whose people pride themselves on their magnanimity and their championship of the weak. "