A Seperate Black Nation
New York, NY, August 1, 1924
Delegates to the Fourth International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World, ladies and gentlemen:
The pleasure of addressing you at this hour is great. You have re-assembled yourselves in New York, coming from all parts of the world to this annual convention, because you believe that by unity you can alleviate the unfortunate condition in which, racially, we find ourselves.
We are glad to meet as Negroes, notwithstanding the stigma that is placed upon us by a soulless and conscienceless world because of our backwardness. As usual, I am not here to flatter you, I am not here to tell you how happy and prosperous we are as a people, because that is all false.
The Negro is not happy, but, to the contrary, is extremely miserable. He is miserable because the world is closing fast around him, and if he does not strike out now for his own preservation, it is only a question of a few more decades when he will be completely out-done in a world of strenuous competition for a place among the fittest of God's creations.
The Negro is dying out, and he is going to die faster and more rapidly in the next fifty years than he has in the past three hundred years. There is only one thing to save the Negro, and that is an immediate realization of his own responsibilities.
Unfortunately, we are the most artless and indifferent people in the world! We are shiftless and irresponsible, and that is why we find ourselves the wards of an inherited materialism that has lost its soul and its conscience. It is strange to hear a Negro leader speak in this strain, as the usual course is flattery, but I would not flatter you to save my own life and that of my own family. There is no value in flattery. Flattery of the Negro for another quarter of a century will mean hell and damnation to the race. How can any Negro leader flatter us about progress and the rest of it, when the world is preparing more than ever to bury the entire race? Must I flatter you when England, France, Italy, Belgium and Spain are all concentrating on robbing every square inch of African territory the land of our fathers? Must I flatter you when the cry is being loudly raised for a white America, Canada, Australia and Europe, and a yellow and brown Asia? Must I flatter you when I find all other peoples preparing themselves for the struggle to survive, and you still smiling eating, dancing, drinking and sleeping away your time, as if yesterday were the beginning of the age of pleasure? I would rather be dead than be a member of your race without thought of the morrow, for it portends evil to him that thinketh not. Because I cannot flatter you, I am here to tell, emphatically, that if we do not seriously reorganize ourselves as a people and face the world with a program of African nationalism, our days in civilization are numbered, and it will be only a question of time when the Negro will be as completely and complacently dead as the North American Indian, or the Australian Bushman.
You talk about the progress we have made in America and elsewhere, among the people of our acquaintance, but what progress is it? A progress than can be snatched away from you in forty-eight hours because it has been built upon sand.
You must thank God for the last two generations of whites in our western civilization; thank God that they were not made of sterner stuff, and character and a disposition to see all races their rivals and competitors in the struggle to hold and possess the world, otherwise, like the Indian, we would have been nearly all dead.
The progress of the Negro in our civilization was tolerated because of indifference, but that indifference exists no longer. Our whole civilization is becoming intolerant, and because of that the whole world of races has started to think.
Can you blame the white man for thinking, when red and yellow men are knocking at his door? Can you blame the tiger for being on the defensive when the lion approaches? And thus we find that generations ago, when the Negro was not given a thought as a world competitor, he is now regarded as an encumbrance in a civilization to which he has materially contributed little.
Men do not build for others, they build for themselves. The age and our religion demand it. What are you going to expect, that white men are going to build up America and elsewhere and hand it over to us? If we are expecting that, we are crazy, we have lost our reason.
If you were white, you would see the rest in hell before you would deprive your children of bread to give it to others. You would give that which you did not want, but not that which is to be the sustenance of your family, and so the world thinks; yet a [W. E. B. ] DuBois and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will tell us by flattery that the day is coming when a white President of the United States of America will get out of the White House and give the position to a Negro, that the day is coming when a Mr. Hughes will desert the secretaryship of State and give it to the Negro James Weldon Johnson; that the time is just around the corner of constitutional rights when the next Ambassador to the Court of Saint James will be a black man from Mississippi or from North Carolina. Do you think that white men who have suffered, bled and died to make America and the world what it is, are going to hand over to a parcel of lazy Negroes the things that they prize most?
Stop flattering yourselves, fellowmen, and let us go to work. Do you hear me? Go to work! Go to work in the morn of a new creation and strike, not because of the noonday sun, but plod on and on, until you have succeeded in climbing the hills of opposition and reached the height of self-progress, and from that pinnacle bestow upon the world a civilization of your own, and hand down to your children and posterity of your own a worthy contribution to the age of human materialism.
We of the Universal Negro Improvement Association are fair and just. We do not expect the white man to rob himself, and to deprive himself, for our racial benefit. How could you reasonably expect that, in an age like this, when men have divided themselves into racial and national groups, when the one group has its own interest to protect as against that of the other?
The laws of self-preservation force every human group to look after itself and protect its own interest; hence so long as the American white man or any other white man, for that matter, realizes his responsibility, he is bound to struggle to protect that which is his and his own, and I feel that the Negro today, who has been led by the unscrupulous of our race, has been grossly misguided, in the direction of expecting too much from the civilization of others. . .
The Negro wants a nation, nothing less, nothing more; and why shouldn't we be nationally free, nationally independent, nationally unfettered? We want a nationality similar to that of the English, the French, the Italian, the German, to that of the white American, to that of the yellow Japanese; we want nationality and government because we realize that the American nation in a short while will not be large enough to accommodate two competitive rivals, one black and the other white.
There is no doubt about it, that the black man of America today aspires to the White House, to the Cabinet, and to the Senate, and the House. He aspires to be head of State and municipal governments. What are you going to do with him? He cannot be satisfied in the midst of a majority group that seeks to protect its interest at all hazards; then the only alternative is to give the Negro a place of his own. That is why we appeal to the sober white minds of America, and not the selfish ones. The selfish ones will see nothing more than the immediate present, but the deep thinking white man will see the result of another fifty or one hundred years, when these two peoples will be brought together in closer contact of rivalry.
As races we practically represent a similar intelligence today. We have graduated from the same schools, colleges and universities. What can you do with men who are equally and competently fitted in mind but give them an equal chance? And, if there is no chance of equality, there must be dissatisfaction on the one hand. That dissatisfaction we have in our midst now. We have it manifested by W.E.B. Du Bois, by James Weldon Johnson; we have it manifested by the organization known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, that seeks to bring about social equality, political equality, and industrial equality, things that are guaranteed us under the Constitution, but which, in the face of a majority race, we cannot demand, because of the terrible odds against us. In the midst of this, then, what can we do but seek an outlet of our own? Reason will dictate that there is no benefit to be derived from fighting always a losing game.
And we will lose until we have completely lost our stand in America.