The President And The Negro
SOUTHERN SENATORS DEMAND SEPARATION OF RACES IN FEDERAL EMPLOY
From The Nation August 7th 1913
NEW YORK — Mr. Wilson finds himself thus early in his Administration at the parting of the ways in the matter of the negro citizen.
His nomination of Mr. A. E. Patterson, of Oklahoma, as Register of the Treasury, has been withdrawn at the nominee’s request, and for the first time in a quarter of a century the office is to go to some one other than to a negro.
Mr. Patterson asked to be allowed to withdraw because of the violent opposition of the negrophobe Southern Senators — Vardaman, Tillman, Hoke Smith, and the rest. That he lacked the courage to stick it out and to insist on having his name passed upon is greatly to be regretted.
In a sense, he was recreant to his race; that he has not helped either Mr. Wilson or the colored people appears clearly from Vardaman’s glorying. No negro, says the confident Senator, shall be appointed to any executive office in which there may be subordinate white employees; and his platform contains these further demands: “Segregation in all forms of Government employment; the entire separation of the races in Federal employ; negroes and white people must not be compelled to work side by side.”
The integrity of the Anglo-Saxon race, Mr. Vardaman adds, depends upon, the “faithful consummation” of this programme. What a delicate integrity it must be!
For the first time since we have heard of him, it occurs to us that this Senator from Mississippi is serving a useful purpose. He has flung down a challenge to this Democratic Administration which Mr. Wilson cannot avoid.
Shall the President give up the historic right of the Executive to appoint to office, to the extent at least of permitting a fraction of the Senate to bar out ten millions of American citizens from serving the Government, save in the lowest positions, and then as lepers set apart?
Does he sympathize wholly or in, any degree with the attitude of Hoke, Smith and Vardaman? Is he going to ignore the colored man in his appointments hereafter, or is he going to select some one who will stick, and then fight it out on that line, whether it takes all summer or the rest of his Administration?
Shall he fling the negro overboard after more of that race voted for Wilson than for any other Democratic candidate; shall he be a just President of all the American people, or only of those of the white race? Is the “New Freedom’ to be accepted as preaching political doctrines whose truths are no longer truths when they meet the color line?
We understand, of course, how uncomfortable it must be for the President to encounter the enmity of the Southern Senators at this time. His tariff bill and his currency measure are before them, and his whole legislative programme not yet formulated will go before them next winter.
But he has excellent Democratic precedent for stubbornly taking his position against them and sticking to it.
Mr. Cleveland nominated a colored man to this same office of Register of the Treasury, and when, after a long struggle, he could not obtain his confirmation, he sent in the name of another one and had his way.
Mr. Roosevelt’s long fight on behalf of the confirmation of Dr. W.D. Crum, of Charleston, S.C, was altogether one of the finest things in his Administration. Can Mr. Wilson do less?
We do not see how it is possible for him to steer a course of compromise and expediency in this matter, and we can not believe that he wishes to do so. The assurances that he gave to the negro delegations which called upon him during the campaign would forbid it, did he not naturally subscribe to the doctrine of all men up and none down.
So far as the colored people are concerned, they are already deeply stirred by the action of several of Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet officers in segregating the negro employees within their Departments — in some cases they are screened off in corners as if even their aspect were contaminating.
As usual in such cases, the excuse is that it is all for the negroes’ welfare. That they are thereby rendered more safe in the possession of their offices, and are less likely to be discriminated against, is the sincere belief or some who have had part in this innovation.
They do not see that this for the first time officially establishes a caste among the citizens and employees of the Federal Government; that within a short time the negro sections will be pointed to as the “nigger departments” and made the objects of the derision and hate of such men as Vardaman and Hoke Smith and their less conspicuous imitators; that the “nigger sections” will become as despised and as neglected as the “Jim Crow” car.
So far from helping the negro to retain office, it will soon make it impossible for self-resperting negroes to enter a service which begins by classifying them as people who must be set off lest mere contact with them should result in some kind of moral contamination. In the Far South every fresh act of discrimination, every additional effort to degrade and to humiliate, will allege its justification by this action of the Federal Government.
That all of this will go without challenge is not to be expected. The Progressive Senators are already alive to their opportunity. The colored people themselves are beginning to be heard from, and their political influence is not to be despised. But we do not believe that this phase of it will concern Mr. Wilson. We think that when the matter is put before him in its true light, he will withhold his sanction from it, just as we believe that he will not permit any Southern reactionaries, however influential, to deter him from giving, in the matter of offices, fair play to a heavily disadvantaged race.