A Social History of the American Negro eBook

Benjamin Griffith Brawley
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 546 pages of information about A Social History of the American Negro.



1. Character of the Period

The decade 1910-1920, momentous in the history of the world, in the history of the Negro race in America must finally be regarded as the period of a great spiritual uprising against the proscription, the defamation, and the violence of the preceding twenty years.  As never before the Negro began to realize that the ultimate burden of his salvation rested upon himself, and he learned to respect and to depend upon himself accordingly.

The decade naturally divides into two parts, that before and that after the beginning of the Great War in Europe.  Even in the earlier years, however, the tendencies that later were dominant were beginning to be manifest.  The greater part of the ten years was consumed by the two administrations of President Woodrow Wilson; and not only did the National Government in the course of these administrations discriminate openly against persons of Negro descent in the Federal service and fail to protect those who happened to live in the capital, but its policy also gave encouragement to outrage in places technically said to be beyond its jurisdiction.  A great war was to give new occasion and new opportunity for discrimination, defamatory propaganda was to be circulated on a scale undreamed of before, and the close of the war was to witness attempts for a new reign of terror in the South.  Even beyond the bounds of continental America the race was now to suffer by reason of the national policy, and the little republic of Hayti to lift its bleeding hands to the calm judgment of the world.

Both a cause and a result of the struggle through which the race was now to pass was its astonishing progress.  The fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation—­January 1, 1913—­called to mind as did nothing else the proscription and the mistakes, but also the successes and the hopes of the Negro people in America.  Throughout the South disfranchisement seemed almost complete; and yet, after many attempts, the movement finally failed in Maryland in 1911 and in Arkansas in 1912.  In 1915, moreover, the disfranchising act of Oklahoma was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, and henceforth the Negro could feel that the highest legal authority was no longer on the side of those who sought to deprive him of all political voice.  Eleven years before, the Court had taken refuge in technicalities.  The year 1911 was also marked by the appointment of the first Negro policeman in New York, by the election of the first Negro legislator in Pennsylvania, and by the appointment of a man of the race, William H. Lewis, as Assistant Attorney General of the United States; and several civil rights suits were won in Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey.  Banks, insurance companies, and commercial and industrial enterprises were constantly being capitalized; churches

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