ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
I do not see, in the improvement of the Negros economic condition, the solution
to the American Dilemma. It is just one of the more important factors that must
be changed to make democracy live. Innocent people have suffered long enough.
Letter to Harry S Truman
Albert Winston Henderson Jr.
Albert Winston Henderson, Jr.
1055 West Boone St.
February 11, 1948
The White House
Washington 25, D.C.
My dear Mr. President:
I am only nineteen years old. During those nineteen years I have seen, heard of, and experienced many injustices. I have had many reasons to believe that America is not really the land to which I used toand still dopledge allegiance. There have been many instances when I concluded that the Constitution is a sorry example of hypocrisy in a democracy, that Christian America is not much better than Nazi Germany, that many of Capitol Hills 531 servants of the people are really slaves of hatred and perpetuators of intolerance and injustice. You see, I am a Negro.
I go to church and hear that all men are brethren and that we are our brothers keepers: then I go home and read or hear about a Talmadge screaming about Aryan supremacy to a mob of enraptured America-style storm troopers, or about the bed-sheet-boys having lynched, blinded, or beaten a man who fought for his country, for his home, and for his rights.
I look at the record of men like George Washington Carver, who was as great a biochemist as Thomas Edison was an inventor. In spite of the most shameful injustices ever perpetuated. Negroes are succeeding in many fields of endeavor. How can supposedly intelligent people, knowing that, believe in white supremacy?
I read the Constitutions Article Fifteen, with its guarantee of enfranchisement; yet I know that less than one per cent of Mississippis more than one million Negroes voted in 1946. I know, also, that it was not disinterest, but rather fear and a poll tax that kept so many American citizens from voting. There was fear caused by the race-baiting rampages of Bilbo and his kind. There was fear for ones life, for ones home, for ones job, for ones family, for ones friends, and, in some cases and with obvious justification, fear for America. What place has such fear in the hearts and minds of law-abiding citizens, whatever their race, their color, or their creed. Does such fear hinder or help America? You know the answers.
I see men and women rejected as applicants for jobs, not because they are not qualified, but because of their color. I see a country that is deprived of the abilities of those who would make it greater. I read of men who protest a Fair Employment Practices Commission becausethey sayit would establish more unbearable governmental control. I wonder of those men have ever read the Declaration of Independences statement about the pursuit of happiness. I wonder if they believe in the rights of man or if they are hypnotized, like a rabbit is by a rattlesnake, into an unknowing obedience to things as they are and a false sense of security. Is it wrong to enforce justice? Should we discard the whole theory of law enforcement? Freedom can never be defended unless we surrender some of it, and justice cannot survive without freedom.
I am not an economist or a logician, yet I believe that an F.E.P.C. would be beneficial to our country. If men work together, the shell of ignorance of each other upon which intolerance is based can be broken. More people would have better jobs, and would earn more money with which to buy more things and create a demand which would necessitate more jobs. There would be better living conditions economically, physically, morally, and socially.
Too many people have no reason to hope for anything more than the most menial of jobs because some men do not want other men have a chance at decent jobs. Those men do not realize that they are hurting themselves and America.
I do not see, in the improvement of the Negros economic condition, the solution to the American Dilemma. It is just one of the more important factors that must be changed to make democracy live. Innocent people have suffered long enough.
The Nazis had their education for death; America has an educational system which, instead of being used to further the cause of democracy, has done too little to further knowledge of ones fellow men. There are segregated schools which, along with segregated housing, tend to strengthen the walls of racial and class isolation. Too many of us have lost sight of the fact that our country was founded by men and women working together for the common good. Isolationism can destroy America, so America must destroy isolationism.
Very few textbooks tell of the contributions of Negroes to society. Sociology books tell how bloated is the ration of Negro arrests to the proper percentage of population, yet they do not show most of the inflictions with which the Negro is encumbered. Education, in so many ways, is perpetuating ignorance. Ignorance perpetuates intolerance.
Many Negroes are forced to attend poorly-constructed, inadequately-staffed, and incompletely-equipped schools, and America is robbed of many potentially worthwhile citizens. Many have no schools to go to, yet we have the richest land in the world. Many would-be college studentsin spite of the Oklahoma and Texas casescannot attend a decent college.
The aforementioned conditions have been largely responsible for the failure of the home as a truly democratic institution and as the chief perpetrator of democracy.
I had lost, until a few weeks ago, most of my faith in the land of liberty and justice for all. Then, thank God, you struck out at Jim Crow and its many offspring. You sounded to tocsin to awaken us to the dangers of intolerance. You promised, three years ago, to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution. Your civil rights message is a monumental response to that pledge.
Here is a new version of one of Langston Hughes poems:
I may say it plain
America never was America to me.
There is hope again
America shall be.
You have encountered, and will encounter, many difficulties in the fight for the right. By what you have done, you have earned an even greater measure of respect from straight-thinking people and you have earned the animosity of those who are betraying the principles of this land of ours. I do not pray very often, but I thank God for what you have done and pray that He will give you strength and victory in the fight aheadthe battle against hatred that, in your words, warps the soul of men.
* * * * *
From The World and Africa, 1965
* * * * *
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
online through PayPal
* * * * *
Browse all issues
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
posted 2 October 2012