To the Congress of the United States:
The Commission on After-War Problems of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, representing a religious organization numbering a million communicants and adherents, now in the one hundred and third year of its denominational existence, prompted by a sense of stern duty, respectfully directs your attention to the solemn and ominous statements which characterize the following poem, printed in the September issue of a magazine published by colored people in New York City:IF WE MUST DIE! If we must die, let it not be like hogs Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, Making their mock at our accursed lot. If we must die, oh, let us nobly die So that our precious blood may not be shed In vain; then even the monsters we defy Shall be constrained to honor us, though dead! Oh, kinsmen! We must meet the common foe; Though far outnumbered, let us still be brave, And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow! What though before us lies the open grave? Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack, Pressed to the wall, dying, but—fighting back!
Though the poem is the production of a West Indian negro, a native of Jamaica, it nevertheless reflects the conviction of a large group of American citizens of African descent—a group who felt that death is preferable to a state halfway between slavery and freedom. This group has sworn by the blood of their kinsmen who fell on the battle fields of France, in a death grip with the foe, to help make the world safe for democracy, that they will no longer tamely submit to a denial of the rights guaranteed them by the National Constitution.
This does not mean that they intend to go around with a chip on the shoulder seeking for trouble; that they mean to be needlessly offensive; that they will provoke a conflict, or that they intend to resort to force to secure a fair measure of righteous justice. Not at all. It means that they will pursue the path of peace, imposing on themselves the virtue of self-restraint to the limit, impelled by the lofty purpose to agitate for a better understanding between the races. They will demand a hearing at the bar of public opinion.
It is quite certain, however, that the fulminating of the archaic and vicious dogma, "This is a white man's country," which of late has been resurrected, will not conduce to a better understanding between the races. Moreover, when Gen. Lee surrendered his sword to the commander of the triumphant armies of freedom at Appomattox, that dogma fell a shattered idol.
This year is the ter-centenary of the coming of our forebears to this country, which antedates by a year the coming of the Pilgrim Fathers. Our claim to an equitable ownership of this country is attested by three centuries of toil for its development and expansion, as well as by heroic deeds and sacrifices in its defense on fields of sanguinary conflict from Bunker Hill to Metz. We are here, and here to stay—not as aliens or pariahs but as a bona fide and integral part of the body politic. Our supreme desire is to be allowed to exercise our inalienable rights without let or hindrance, to prove a strong prop in the support of American institutions, and to continue a helpful factor in the development of American industry.
We most earnestly pray the Congress to make diligent inquiry as to the underlying cause of the race riots at Washington, D.C., Chicago, Ill., and Knoxville, Tenn., with the view of formulating such suggestions for adoption by the people as, in your judgment, may prove a safeguard against similar outbreaks in the future, and also had lead to the establishment of a more friendly relationship between the races.
And you petitioners will ever pray.