Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

By Philip S. Foner; Robert James Branham | Go to book overview

86 JUSTICE SHOULD RECOGNIZE NO COLOR

William H. Grey

The Arkansas Constitutional Convention met in January and February 1868 to frame a new constitution under the provisions of the congressional Reconstruction Acts. During the debate over a new constitution, a white delegate spoke against black suffrage. He was effectively answered by William H. Grey (Gray), a black delegate from Phillips County, in the following speech, which is taken from The American Annual Cyclopedia, vol. 8 ( 1869), 33-35.

Grey challenges the assumption of his white opponents that whites exercise the franchise responsibly, whereas blacks would not. Grey notes that every objection raised against African American suffrage applies in greater measure to white voters and makes clear the importance of the right to vote in the protection of other rights.

Before the war, Grey had served as a free servant of Virginia governor Henry A. Wise and accompanied him to sessions of Congress. Grey was a leader of the First Convention of Colored Citizens held in Little Rock in late 1865, where he proclaimed those gathered to be "Americans in America, One and Indivisible."

IT APPEARS to me the gentleman has read the history of his country to little purpose. When the Constitution was framed, in every state but South Carolina free Negroes were allowed to vote. Under British rule this class was free, and he interpreted that "we the people" in the preamble of the Constitution meant all the people of every color. The mistake of that period was that these free Negroes were not represented in propria persona in that constitutional convention, but by the Anglo-Saxon. Congress is now correcting that mistake. The right of franchise is due the Negroes bought by the blood of forty thousand of their race shed in three wars. The troubles now on the country are the result of the bad exercise of the elective franchise by unintelligent whites, the "poor whites" of the South. I could duplicate every Negro who cannot read and write, whose name is on the list of registered voters, with a white man equally ignorant. The gentleman can claim to be a friend of the Negro, but I do not desire to be looked upon in the light of a client. The government has made a solemn covenant with the Negro to vest him with the right of franchise if he would throw his weight in the balance in favor of the Union and bare his breast to the storm of bullets; and I am convinced that it would not go back on itself. There are thirty-two million whites to four million blacks in the country, and there need be no fear of Negro domination. The state laws do not protect the Negro in his rights,

-473-

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