The denial of our civil rights in this and other States is a subject of public notoriety, denied by none but acknowledged by all to be wrong and unjust; yet, in traveling in the South we are compelled to feel its humiliating effects. It is written over the door of the waiting room, “For Colored Persons;” and in that small, and frequently dirty and dingy room, you have to go or stand on the platform and wait for the train. In Georgia they have cars marked “For Colored Passengers.” There is one railroad in Alabama that has a special car for colored persons. They will not allow a white man to ride in that car; and many other roads allow the lower classes to ride in the car set apart for “Colored Persons.”
One would think that at this time of our civilization, that character, and not color, would form the line of distinction in society, but such is not the case. It matters not what may be the standing or intelligence of a colored man or woman, they have to submit to the wicked laws and the more wicked prejudice of the people. It is not confined to either North or South. It is felt in this State to some extent; we feel it in the hotels, we feel it in the opera house. There are towns in this State where respectable ladies and gentlemen have been denied hotel accommodations, but such places are diminishing daily, under the growing influences of equal laws.
In the city of Cincinnati there are places where a colored man can not get accommodations for love nor money; there was a man who started an equal rights house; the colored people patronized him; his business increased; he made money. He has closed his house against his former patrons, and will not accommodate them. Members will be astonished when I tell them that I have traveled in this free country for twenty hours without anything to eat; not because I had no money to pay for it, but because I was colored. Other passengers of a lighter hue had breakfast, dinner and supper. In traveling we are thrown in “jim crow” cars, denied the privilege of buying a berth in the sleeping coach. This monster caste stands at the doors of the theatres and skating rinks, locks the doors of the pews in our fashionable churches closes the mouths of some of the ministers in their pulpits which prevents the man of color from breaking the bread of life to his fellowmen.
This foe of my race stands at the school house door and separates the children, by reason of color , and denies to those who have a visible admixture of African blood in them the blessings of a graded school and equal privileges. We propose by this bill to knock this monster in the head and deprive him of his occupation, for he follows us all through life; and even some of our graveyards are under his control. The colored dead are denied burial. We call upon all friends of Equal Rights to to assist in this struggle to secure the blessings of untrammeled liberty for ourselves and prosperity. I am proud to stand in this presence and announce that we have lived to see the day when the leaders and platforms of all the parties of this State are in favor of the civil rights of my poor race that has suffered for so many centuries.
Governor Hoadly, in his last message to this General Assembly, used the following words relative to civil rights:
“Equal civil rights are enjoyed by all our citizens, except those possessing a visible admixture of African blood. I recommend the repeal of all laws discriminating between citizens on account of color. These are both wrong and oppressive. The most oppressive are those which permit the condemnation of colored children, without accusation or trial, to the punishment of compulsory non-association in the common schools with white children, to education often inferior, and in places inconveniently remote from the residences of their parents. This is a badge of servitude having the effect to degrade, and keenly felt by many most worthy colored people, as in effect stamping them as unworthy of equal privileges. I am aware that in many parts of the State much prejudice exists against mixed schools, but curiously enough, this feeling is manifested, not where the colored children sit upon the same benches with the white children, but where they do not; not where the experiment to mixed schools has been, but where it has not been tried. Wherever in the State separate schools have been done away with, the people are satisfied, and the mixed schools are successful, as may be seen in Columbus, and many other towns and cities as well as rural neighborhoods.
“Although encouraged by law, this race prejudice is slowly yielding either to the growing belief that it is wrong, or to the pressure of the taxation necessary to maintain separate schools. The number of children enrolled in the colored schools was in the year 1881, 10,296; 1882, 9,701; 1883, 9,240 and 1884, 8,490.”
This is one of the most encouraging signs of peace and good will between the races when a man, the acknowledged leader of the Democratic party announces that he is in favor of the repeal of every law that makes a distinction between equal citizens. I trust that his spirit will fall on the memory of his party in this house, and that they will join with us heart, hand and vote, in the repeal of these wicked statues.
Let the victory be one of freemen, and not of party, only the party of those who love their country and fellowmen, who believe in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.
The present Governor, J. B. Foraker, in his inaugural address, as the leader of the great Republican party of this State, used the following language when speaking to his fellow-citizens, which was received with great applause by the leaders of the Republican, Democratic and Prohibitionist parties:
“In the same line with this comes another thought. The theory of our government recognizes the absolute civil and political equality of all our citizens, without regard to race or color. This theory has not, however, had absolute practical application. There are still a few laws on our statute books that create unjust discrimination based on color. They should be swept away, to the end that our colored fellow citizens may have the same rights and the same opportunities for education and self-elevation, and the enjoyments of the rights of citizenship that other citizens have. This is due them–they have earned it. They are a loyal people, and always have been. They have fought for the flag, and have attested their heroism, and shed their blood on the battlefields of the Republic. No braver soldiers ever followed the stars and stripes than the heroes of Fort Wagner and a dozen other contests of the late war, where colored men patriotically laid down their lives that this Nation might live. We can not afford to be less than just to all. And not only should such rights be fully accorded, but their enforcement should be adequately provided for by appropriate legislation.”
Thus for the first time in the history of the State and parties, they agree to this righteous proposition, and I hope and trust that the men who are the leaders on this floor will unite with me in wiping from the statute books the last lingering relic of the barbarism of the past. Let us crystalize the sentiments of the leaders into law, and send a shout of joy to the home of every lover of justice in this land.
I must pay a tribute of respect to the gallant leader of the Republican party, J.B. Foraker, who led the host on to victory the last campaign, and who is destined to occupy a place in the history of his State and native land second to none of his distinguished predecessors. And the silver-haired pioneer of the race in this State, Rev. James Poindexter, has been very faithful in his work for the repeal of the Black Statues, and my prayer is that before his sun sets in the west, he may see his race equal before the laws.