Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

108 THESE EVILS CALL LOUDLY FOR REDRESS

John P. Green

In May 1884, seventy-five delegates from twelve states, nearly all located in the North, convened in Pittsburgh to examine the problems of African Americans and apply pressure on the Republican Party to deal with them. The leading address was delivered by John P. Green, a member of the Ohio state legislature. Green was born in North Carolina in 1845 and moved to Cleveland at the age of twelve. After graduation from high school he studied law, spent a few years in South Carolina during Reconstruction, and upon his return to Cleveland was elected justice of the peace for three successive terms. In 1881, he was elected to the lower house of the state legislature. Green was the first African American to serve in the state senate, where he championed civil rights and introduced the state Labor Day bill, which became law in 1890 and made him known as the "Daddy of Labor Day." He served in the Post Office Department in Washington under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

Green's speech to the Pittsburgh convention combines an indictment of the treatment of black people in American society and a plea to the Republican Party to live up to its platforms. Green's speech offers a grim catalog of racial violence and pervasive discrimination in the post-Reconstruction era. He dismisses hopes that prejudice will be lessened by black social or moral improvement; no "laudable ambition, profound learning, suavity of manner, or correctness of deportment can open for him the doors which caste has closed against him," Green warns. Instead, he argues, African American advancement depends upon political unity and the willingness to abandon political parties unwilling to promote social justice.

The speech appeared in the New York Globe, May 3, 1884.

MR. CHAIRMAN AND GENTLEMEN: The Negro-hating class of the United States, not satisfied that they robbed us of our liberties and for two hundred and fifty years subjected us to bondage worse than death, which prostituted our manhood and denied us all the essentials to the pursuit of happiness, have today, like their Attic prototype, prepared for us a Procrustean bed, to which we must conform or lie in torture on it. If too short, they would stretch us to its dimensions, and if we overreach, curtail our fair proportions. Such an emergency as this, my friends, we are here to ponder over, and how we best may meet it.

-613-

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