Responsibility of the Citizen
for the Life of the Community
1919 — Indian Citizenship Day, Hampton Institute, Hampton VA
Two years ago I had the honor of speaking to you on this day. Since then much has happened. We meet in this new building whose walls are a fit and splendid memorial of an honored name, and outward and visible expression of the spirit of Hampton, permanent, inclusive, beautiful, and strong for service. For this, which is the spirit of Hampton, has not changed. The spirit of Hampton — how perfectly expressed it was in the beautiful life an wonderful achievement of Dr. Frissell, the inspiration and support and benediction of whose personality ever remains with me as with you! His works do follow him. In that same Hampton spirit, Dr. Gregg is carrying on. I who have known him longer and held him in closer friendship that you have yet been able to do, rejoice with you in his presence here, and in his expression of this same strength and beauty of service.
Nor is it the same world we live in outside the “happy valley.” A four years’ long tragedy has devastated the world — and for nearly two years it has blackened our own skies. Darkness and death have been the universal portion. But now we know that the awful struggle of this world war was a splendid struggle for righteousness. It was no disaster, bu the birth-throes of a new world. By the cost of the sacrifice we know its worth. How awful the fight, how dire its need, how hard its problems, we learn more clearly every day. And we give our thanks to the Almighty Ruler of the Universe, that in His long plans He counted our generation worthy to share His great redemption. You to whom I speak specially — representatives of the Indians of the United States — have fully vindicated your traditions; and you who listen to me, representatives of the Negroes of the United States, have borne a giant’s share of this great emprise. Both of you together — for we count no differences now — have risen to your opportunity for expressing your race. You had a greater work to do than your white brothers, and you have held it a sacred charged and splendidly fulfilled it.
When I spoke to you two years ago, I spoke on the meaning of citizenship to the Indian. I told you then that my father, Henry L. Dawes, believed in the need and great value of American citizenship to the Indian, and purposed that every Indian taking land in severalty should at once become a citizen of the United States, but that this high privilege had been delayed. No wit looks as if the door might open any day, and any day you might step through it into the new democracy. Thus the new question arises, what will you do with this citizenship? In this solemn era when the issues of thought and deed are beyond our imagination, it is not fit that I speak to one race alone, but to all of us, we of the common bond of the new world into which we have been born over night — this New Jerusalem suddenly let down to us out of heaven, but alas! not ye adorned as a bride for her husband!
It seems to me the only message that sounds in the ear of us all alike — the common message — is the responsibility of the individual citizen for the community life. The new world is a community; that we have learned in a strange school, and learned that it is true of peoples and of lands. But we do not always remember that we have learned also the high responsibility of the individual. The community fades away and d perishes if the individual is deaf to the message. In a recent review I read these words from a keen observer. “For the more abundant life” said he, “all our young men have been marching to the front and dying, or coming back with the new vision of consecrated self-sacrifice.” The air of the new world is the air of a more abundant life. We who are to join these heroes in creating our new world, we also seek this abundant life, we also have a vision of consecrated self-sacrifice.
If the cup of citizenship shall be a sacramental cup, Indian, Negro, white must alike see the vision and fill the cup with the wine of sacrifice in common service. When we talk of consecrated self-sacrifice, there arise visions of the great conflict, of bayonet and gas, of bombs and death. But beyond all this lay the camp and the long nights of the trench — was there no consecration and not self-sacrifice in these places of monotonous duty? And when there came a call to the fierce test of No Man’s Land, each man went out into the anger and darkness to work, each man by himself, scattered over unknown places, disagreeable as well as terribly dangerous.
In his last utterance, that great American whose going leaves no successor, bade us remember there must be “no sagging in our American civilization.” We shall find much temptation to this letting down, much camp life, man trenches, constant calls to No Man’s Land, though it be a new world. The distinguished general who has led America to victory in France, wrote not long since in a letter recently published, the following paragraph which expresses all I am trying to say: —
“Strange things do happen in this world. Is it not fortunate that none of us knows what is going to happen to him?” wrote General Pershing. “The only thing that I think matters is that each person should do each day the thing that comes to him or her to the very best of his or her ability. If this prepares one for the great tings, then so much the better. We are all, however, mere atoms in the great scheme, each doing his or her part whether it appears to us humans great or small, it matters not.”
Whether it appears to us great or small” — We must not forget the lesson of the Transfiguration, the disciples helpless because they did forget that the vision not only came before the task, but that the vision itself must be the motive and inspiration for the task. The responsibility of each of us for constant service in the small ways and narrow paths; the seeing eye and the hearing ear for opportunity to help; the common service to common ends; the inspiration of large motives — this is the way of life for the new world.
Fidelity, comradeship, and consecration, energized by the great motives of race, of country, and of God, — thee are the watchwords the army has bequeathed to us, and these shall be our way of life in our new future. Thus each humble domestic duty, each furrow, each school, each shop, becomes glorified. All for each and each for all, working as we have fought, for the nation, the race, the world, we shall find ourselves new citizens of a new world.
Source: Dawes, Anna L.,“Responsibility of the Citizen for the Life of the Community,” The Southern Woman, published by The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, March 1919, pp. 141-143.