« PreviousContinue »
should be equally free, with equal privileges and equal opportunities before the law.
Abraham Lincoln was a man of the people. He stood for Americanism. He was, as has been said, "the first American," because he was a product of all the forces that had gone to make America, and in him were all the elements which make America great and differentiate it from the older civilizations and the old world. He was the friend of all men. In Lincoln the hopes and aspirations of us all find expression, and I pray that he may be followed in these latter days as an example, for political action, for the highest and best citizenship, for the type of manhood that makes for progress in the democracy of the world.
I would like to take occasion here to say that the city of Chicago is proud, I am sure, of this great mass meeting here to-night. The general Committee has found the officers of the Eighth Infantry and of your Committee ever ready to cooperate with it and an admirable desire on their part to forward the purposes of the centenary which has inspired us to give much time to it, and to go forward with an enthusiasm to which the prospect of such a celebration as you have here to-night in no small degree contributed.
On behalf of the Committee of One Hundred, it gives me great pleasure to-night to present to the Eighth Regiment, to place upon the walls of its regimental armory, a bronze tablet containing the Gettysburg Address of Abraham Lincoln, that lofty statement of patriotism which has never been excelled. I trust that it may be an inspiration to the men of that regiment, as it was to the men of the regiments of Lincoln's time, and has been to all American citizens who have taken the trouble to read its lines and observe its lessons.
I deem it a high honor to be here as a representative of my city upon this memorable Centenary, which will long live in the annals of our metropolis, and to speak here on behalf of that city in commemoration of the man who has stood, as no other man has ever stood, for Americanism and everything it represents to all of us who strive to make justice and equity between men the guiding principle of our laws and their enforcement.
THE NEGRO'S PLACE IN NATIONAL LIFE.
HON. WILLIAM J. CALHOUN
DID not know until a few days ago that I was expected to speak at this meeting, and I have not had time to give much thought to what I shall say to you. Indeed, I am very much in the same frame of mind as was the colored minister of whom I once heard. He belonged to a ministerial association, where ministers were wont to come together to discuss questions affecting the church and their professional work. One afternoon they had up for discussion the subject of the preparation of sermons. One of the brethren said he always selected his text on Monday morning for the following Sunday's sermon. He thought of it all through the week; subdivided it into its various heads; and filled in the skeleton or outline thus made, by reflections from day to day throughout the week; so that when Sunday came, he had his sermon complete in his mind. The colored brother said he did not like this plan; that it was not the way in which he prepared his sermons. He did not like the proposed plan for the reason that it is well known that the Devil is always loose in the land, sometimes roaring like a lion, sometimes bleating like a lamb; that he is very smart; that he knows everything going on; and he would know the text selected so far in advance, and would be fully informed as to what the sermon was to be. He would then go to work on the minds of the members of the congregation, and get them in a mental condition which would prompt them to resist the influence of the sermon; so that when it was delivered, it would do no good whatever. So, he said, his way was, when he went into the pulpit, to open the
* An address delivered before the meeting of the Eighth Infantry (Colored), and the Colored Citizens' Committee.
Bible and take for his text the first verse his eye fell upon; and then neither the Devil, himself, nor anyone else would know what he was going to say.
Speaking of preachers, it reminds me of another story I heard of an old Scotch Presbyterian minister, who was very fond of theological or dogmatic discussions. He prided himself on his familiarity with the Scriptures. He never had to open the Bible to quote a verse or cite a passage; but, like everyone else, he sometimes made mistakes, only he was never willing to admit it. He had in his congregation a very critical deacon by the name of Sandy McPherson, who was also fond of dogma; he always listened closely to the minister's sermon, to see if he could find any slip or misstatement of doctrine; if he did he was very quick to express his dissent, and to argue the question with the minister. He sometimes spoke right out in meeting, and expressed his objections. One Sunday the minister went into the pulpit and said, "My brethren, I will take for my text this morning the miracle of our Saviour wherein he fed five men on five thousand loaves and fishes." And Sandy McPherson said out loud, "Huh! I could do that myself." The minister did not notice the mistake or the interruption, but went on with his sermon. Afterwards his attention was called to the mistake he had made, but he said nothing. The next Sunday he went into the pulpit and said, "My brethren, I will preach this morning on the miracle of our Saviour wherein he fed five thousand men on five loaves and fishes"; and then looking down, he said, "Sandy, could you do that?" And Sandy promptly replied, "Aye, I cud." "Well, how cud you?" said the minister, and Sandy said, "I would feed them with what was left over from last Sunday."
Speaking seriously, I wish I could utter the thoughts that are struggling in my mind for expression. I would bring a message to you, one that would help and comfort you. In the celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birth, we naturally think of you. No such celebration would be complete unless you had a part in it. The shadow of the great tragedy in which he died hangs over you.
The Civil War was a contest in which life and blood and treasure were spent without stint. Men-strong men-were fighting and dying, and women were weeping everywhere. It was a terrible struggle. And your race was the cause, the helpless and innocent cause, of it all. For men may talk about the Constitution, the relation of the States to the federal government, and of the right or wrong of secession or coercion-the fact remains, that you, the negro, were the innocent cause of the whole trouble.
I know of no race which has had so much to contend with, so many obstacles to overcome, so many limitations to endure, as your race has had. In the first place, your ancestors were hunted down in the forests of Africa, bound hand and foot, thrown into the foul and sweltering hold of the slave ship, brought to America, and there sold into slavery like beasts of burden. Your people toiled for long years in the development of a country, in the blessings of which they had no share. When the moral sense of the country was aroused, and the agitation against slavery arose, the War was inevitable, it had to be. God's balances of right and wrong forever hang across the skies. In those balances our country was weighed and found wanting. It was written that every groan from the breast of a slave should find an echoing response in the groans of a nation's misery; that every drop of blood that trickled from the back of a slave, under the lash, was to be weighed against the richest and most precious blood of the nation; that every cry of the slave mother, mourning for her lost child, should be answered back by the cry of other mothers, mourning for their children dead upon the field of battle; and that every dollar made in the slave traffic should be lost in the devastation of a great war. Such was the penalty that this nation paid for the wrong done your race.
But now that slavery is gone, that the shackles have been removed from your limbs, and you are free, what have you done with your liberty, for yourselves, for your children, and for your country? It is true, you are circumscribed in your efforts by social limitations, by racial prejudices and by tra
ditions of the past. But the question remains, How have you used the liberty you have? Have you made the best of the opportunities given you, limited as they are? These questions everyone of you should ask of himself; they can only be answered by the voice of your own conscience. These questions are applicable to the white man also, but there are special reasons why they should be addressed to the colored man. The conditions under which he lives are peculiar. He is more dependent on himself; he has to make the greatest struggle to keep a hold on life.
I know that much allowance must be made for the negro. He has more to contend with, more to endure, and the longest and hardest hill to climb. His ancestors were slaves. They never had to care for themselves. Their clothing and shelter were provided by their masters. They were not trained to depend on themselves. They were not educated to assume any responsibility. And suddenly, in the convulsions of a great war, they found themselves free, but forced to care for themselves. They were like children, turned loose in a desert, they did not know what to do or where to go.
They made, I think, one serious mistake. Too many of them drifted into the cities. They gathered there in large numbers. Untrained and inexperienced, they were exposed to the corrupting influence of poverty and all of its attendant vices. I think it would have been better had they remained in the country. The country, with its green fields and forests, its babbling brooks, its warm sunshine and pure air, is the best place for any man, white or black, but especially for the black man. The city is attractive. It allures men of all races from the farm or the village. But the struggle for existence is harder in the city; the temptations are greater, and vice is more seductive and destructive. It is a serious question for your race to consider whether you shall adopt the virtues of the white man, making them a part of your life, or whether you will yield to the white man's vices which poison the blood, vitiate character, and which, in the end, will not only destroy individuals but will impair the moral force of the entire race. It must always be remembered that the future