Negro Women of America:
Rise to the Challenge!
August 2, 1926 — 15th Biennial Convention of the National Association of Colored Women, Civic Auditorium, Oakland CA
It is an unusual pleasure to be in the Great West, State of California and City of Oakland. All of you share this feeling with me, I know. It is a joy beyond expression to meet you here, exchange greetings with all the good people whose generous hospitality was offered us at Chicago. I feel certain of voicing the sentiment of the entire National body when saying that the National Association of Colored Women has been signally honored by the Invitation to hold our meeting here.
I thank you one and all for the cordial reception being given me as President of the National. It is a matter of honor and pride which I shall never forget. It gives me special pleasure on behalf of the Association to extend greetings and welcome of the most cordial nature to all these present who have never before attended a session of the National Association of Colored Women.
The Governor of California, Mayor of Oakland have honored the Federation by their presence and welcome addresses. Other distinguished and well known citizens have also greeted us and extended their words of welcome. We thank them all, and invite them most cordially to attend any of the sessions held during this Biennial meeting.
We have had an outporing of welcome long to be remembered. It is a sign of the generous hospitality for which California’s citizens are noted one of the glories of the great and Golden West and its people.
The accomplishments of the past two years are the results of the unselfish and energetic co-operation of the members of the body throughout the country. Nothing could haw been done without your co-operation. Co-operation is one of the great laws of progressive human society. It is a fixed theory of organization. The real significance of the word ‘Society’ rests upon co-operation, mutual aid in striving for the same common end. Although we do not live in the same neighborhoods and our homes are widely separated one from the other, we have proven that we have some relations and are something more than a crowd, by our co-operation.
A review of the work of the past two years in detail, might require time I wish to use in saying other things on this occasion. The details have been printed and distributed among you. I shall deal merely with the main points. It is necessary to emphasize and bring them to the front in our thinking and action. This will enable us to fix our souls, hearts and minds upon the unfinished and newer programs of the National at once.
Briefly, the necessary meetings of the Executive Board have been held for the purposes of the work; departmental chairmen appointed; more than 10,000 pieces of mail and 200 or more telegrams released in pushing the work. I have visited 25 states, addressing men, women and children in connection with the high purposes of the National Association. I have also represented this body in gatherings of inter-racial nature before more than 75,000 people of the white race, attended the National Council of Women of the United Spates, accompanied by several other representatives of the National Association. In addition, I have represented the N.A.C.W. at Vassar College and several other outstanding institutions of learning throughout the country.
Everything concerning the vital objects of this body has claimed my attention, employed my best energies since the Chicago meeting adjourned. No opportunity to assist in overturning the obstacles to our advancement has been shunned. Every one has been accepted gladly and with the courage befitting the high-hearted Negro Womanhood I have been proud to represent. I have recollections of experiences in the segregation controversy connected with the recent Quinquennial, and our protest against the meeting place of the National Council on account of “hydra-headed caste”.
I do not believe that American Christian Civilization will ever be able to speak with authority to the rest of the world, if our Nation continues divided upon the main issue of the world’s well-being. Therefore I think it the duty of the chosen leader of the National Association of Colored Women’s to stand firmly, eternally against segregation and discrimination. One God, one People, One Law, and One Destiny for all alike, will make the world kin, and all men brothers. You, my sisters, must consider yourselves lifetime watchguards of human society’s ideal, keep your fires lighted upon the citadels, hilltops and every high eminence and let your watch-cry warn the world of every discord in the human family.
The Douglass Home is an almost completed accomplishment of our Association. Its maintenance must always be considered a highly honorable responsibility. It is a monument to martyrdom for liberty as well as our reverence for the spirit of Frederick Douglass. The home must be preserved as a shrine of liberty for the unborn generations of Negroes. Mary B. Talbert — considerate soul — will ever be cherished in the amber of our memories for her part in leading the National Association of Colored Women to claim and preserve the Douglass Home.
The Scholarship Fund in process of completion spells “Opportunity” to the oncoming generations. It also represents a greater awakening of our people to the need and virtue of self-help in education. Education is the solid rock of progress throughout the Universe. I want you to think of yourselves as salesmen of a most necessary commodity to the race — Education. We have been highly successful always as salesmen of Religion; met some success as salesmen of sick and death benefits in life insurance concerns and fraternal bodies. The time has come when we must prove ourselves good salesmen of Education — the most essential foundation of every youth, ambitious to achieve a successful career in the world. We can never forget Hallie Q. Brown for the constructive genius she displayed in proposing the Scholarship Fund to the National Association of Colored Women.
A homeless organization will be constantly drifting without a domestic anchor. Therefore, thirty years of shifting from place to place with never a sign of a permanent home headquarters for centralizing the activities and work of the National. Progress has been retarded and the machinery of this organization has been hindered in the efforts made to function properly and efficiently. The efficiency of the organisation has been constantly impared. Countless people of influence and others in need of the services of the National body have found it difficult matter to get in immediate touch with our official machinery. Thus arose the demand for a permanent home and headquarters to be used exclusively for the work of the National Association of Colored Women.
The body has always had a head, never a home. Both are essential to progressive and aggressive work. Our Association must have a home.
The National Headquarters, home of our National Association will become the center of all its activities. It ought to he made a torchlight, guiding the race throughout the land, a searchlight for discovering facts relating to our hinderances and progress, a lighthouse for these demoralized in the stormy sea of our National existence. It should be a dynamo of propaganda intended to inspire our people to climb higher heights and educate the whole world regarding the true character, better life, needs and advantages and disadvantages of the Negro in America. It ought to be a veritable storehouse of correct and authoritative information regarding the colored people of America and the wide world. The National Headquarters should be, in fact, the powerhouse of our great federation. Thus the work of this association conceived with so much ambition and inspiration to serve the needs of our people, will be perpetuated.
We want unborn generations of Negro youth to make the national home of this federation a shrine to which they will make pilgrimages for inspiration. There will they find their ground for home in the carefully kept records and history of our people. Pictures of women who have wrought well and honorably during their lifetime will adorn the walls of our National home. Young people may thus go away with pictures engraven upon their minds and hearts, of the great souls who are contributing to the advancement of their people and the world by their work in connection with the National Association of Colored Women. This, in a measure, is the ideal to which we are aspiring in the establishment of a permanent home for this Association. And here, I must congratulate you upon the splendid progress being made in the achievements of our object to have a permanent home for our body. It is my earnest desire to see our ambition realised at the dedication of that home in Washington, D.C. on the occasion of our next Biennial Meeting of the National Association of Colored Women.
I come now to a consideration of the three phases of our people in the world. They are:
1. Conditions within the race,
2. Our National environment
3. The world’s condition influencing the present and future of colored people generally.
Your intelligence, I know, will lead you to agree with me in the conclusion that no dependent people can hope to get upon the road to permanent progress without the most careful and considerate and constant study of developments in their immediate environment, the situation and progress of the world as a whole. I shall not review history because you are familiar with all that relates to our past and present in America. The present will be emphasized as a foundation of future prophecy.
Within the Race
We have conflicting idealisms among our people to be harmonized. Until this is done, we cannot proceed with the full measure of hope which has characterized the history of people who have overcome all obstacles and taken their place among the ranks of the independent, respected races of the earth. The American ideals of citizenship suggests self-support as a primary essential of self-government and service as the ‘acid test’. The conflicting idealism of our race all center around ‘self-support’ and ‘service’ as the mainsprings of our problems and difficulties within the race. Let us acknowledge some truths, face some facts sincerely, honestly, bravely. Stepping out thus we may begin a movement, mark out a path of inspiration. The time has come when we must believe in progress as something more than a creed. We must believe in it in spite of ‘progressives’ among us. When we do, our progress will really begin in America.
We have accomplished little in triumphs of art, science, education and manufacture, as compared with that of the other race; but the very condition should stimulate the thought and energy of our race as never before in the history of a dependent people. It should inspire, lead, drive us to break bonds in achieving our emancipation. The brain and brawn power of our race ought to become a combination for stimulating production. Science, invention, creative achievement will do more than anything else in commanding the respect of other races. Vain boastings of wealth and manifold achievements by a dependent people lead more to humiliation than elevation, production is the road to wealth, power, influence.
We have developed no middle class to sustain our ‘social upper crust’. Yet we have a minority group of cultured members of the race whose education, native endowments and ambitions fit them well for the enjoyment of any station of life. But the masses must be helped and awakened. We must become greater producers. The one great need of the Negro in America is great federation, uniting all forces to form one huge engine of production.
Some definite type of action must be named which will challenge the conflicting forces within our race to co-operative effort, and at the same time teach them the fundamentals of an art in which we have hitherto shown ourselves so woefully inexpert. The trend of Science, Invention, Manufacture and Politics in America have given us a New World constantly changing. We face new and tremendous risks and must turn our attention to the question of pooling our burdens and means to bear them. All the events, circumstances, tendencies of this time should convince us of the great need of one another’s help — the starting point of cooperation. We face difficulties in America and difficulties that will tax the resources of the most statesmanlike, the knowledge of the expert to the uttermost. But the prospect may well be considered a point to the good, for nothing short of the most difficult task, requiring the full concentration of all our talent will provide our race with sufficient experience and power to ultimately dominate its destiny.
The political mind, the legal mind, the historical mind, the religious mind — each has and will have its own contribution to the solution of the problem of inter-racial relations, diverting the colored and white races in America from the path of strife to the path of cooperation. But in addition to them, we need another and perhaps greater contribution to the solution of the problems of our living in America from trained, scientific, industrial, business, creative minds. Ideal principles must be used but their practical application is a necessity and fundamental to the progress which means prosperity and happiness. To the practical mind falls the task of stabilizing the progress of the race by systematizing business, organizing industry and setting in motion the factors of the race, to guarantee permanent progress and prosperity. We must discover, therefore, a practical mind, workable plan for harmonizing the conflicting orders among our people and bringing them all under the dominance of a common ideal for the good of all.
Our National Environment
Twelve million Negroes are expecting the National Government to remove all hinderences affecting their liberty. opportunities and protection as American citizens. Those of us who are native to American soil or have adopted this land as our home, dispute the right of any to challenge our enjoyment of the privileges and opportunities afforded in this country of ours. I hold that blood and color does not define an American citizen. We stand upon the law here -written and unwritten. This country belongs to Negroes as much as it does to those of any other race. Our forebears and those of us living in this time have suffered agonised, bled for this — our land. We have helped to make it what it is today. Denied equal share in the fruits of our sacrificing and suffering, we have protested. We shall protest and protest again. Our patriotism is a conviction, a consuming impulse, devouring flame. We have stood the acid-test. Our patriotism has been proven in time of peace and war.
The country is today arguing over the laws of morality, racial, social, religious, territorial, national and international relationships in a manner puzzling to the world. And in all this argument, America is disregarding its plain duty, moral, social economic, political and spiritual obligations to more than 12,000,000 souls of its population because of their heritage of African blood. But one thing America can never disregard is the longing of these millions for something higher that has been rising from the hearts of each generation since the first shipload of slaves was landed on American soil.
America can be changed. It will be changed, Even now the soul of this nation is undergoing a rebirth regarding citizens of Negro blood. Here and there we see bright signs; stars of hope in the distant heavens. To these we must hitch our wagons and keep driving, driving always. We must uphold the status of the Christian religion, resist the implication that we constitute a separate part of this nation, invade every field of activity in America, contribute in every way we can to fostering and perpetuating the honored national ideals, battle shoulder-to-shoulder with the nations’ best citizenship for an untarnished service of a free people by public officers of unquestioned character and honor in county, city, state and national governments. This is my conception of the pathway to be followed by our 12,000,000 in facilitating the re-birth of America’s soul regarding colored people.
World Condition Influencing Negro Destiny
Intolerance, commercial enmities, territorial greed, racial and national hatreds, the lust for power and blood are never swept away by war, nor disposed of by a stroke of the diplomatic pen, even when used by the statesmanship of the British Empire, Republic of the United States, French Republic, Germany, Italy or Japan. So today the peace of the world is a matter of concern.
Successful revolution in Russia deepened the roots of world unrest. A wily dictator in Italy has become a dramatic world figure making crowned heads and European governments uneasy. Labor has taken a whirl with the order of things in England. Japan keeps America nervous while Germany and France play checkers with war. Africa where the seeds of the last World War were rooted still furnishes friction between greedy nations with bodies and blood to sacrifice, Turkey, India, Morrocco, China and Russia keep the world uneasy because of the yokes they wear discontentedly. Spain has her troubles and embers of turmoil are being stirred again in Mexico. Apparently the nations of the earth are again ‘marking time’ with a spirit of restlessness. let us steady ourselves and aim toward peace and worldwide brotherhood.
I speak to you about the world today because of the various nations, peoples, contentions, for peaceful adjustments and settlement on the recognition of equal rights established and enforced by a common will.
No living thing stands still in this world. It goes forward or backward, grows upward or downward. Standing still brings about stagnation, decomposition, death. The National Association of Colored Women is a live body. I want you to keep it so; make it livelier than it has been in humanitatian interests. Every club has its community significance, state organization, a relation, to the varied interests of the commonwealth. This great federation has both a national and international mission to perform. A full realisation, consciousness of these relations and convictions in the great objects for which this national body stands will keep it living, make it more and more influential and powerful, as we work with determination for success in the local aims of individual clubs, state organizations and the big objectives of the National. Bear in mind, therefore, that the various units of our body are all linked together to form an engine of service far greater than that of any private or individual matter.
This organization must assume an attitude toward all big questions involving the welfare of the nation, public right and especially the present and future of our race. These questions are both national and international. They include the humanitarian, moral, social and economic problems puzzling the world today. Their proper solution will be a test of the Rock of Christianity upon which rests the hope of a stable world order. Efforts to solve them must therefore be dictated by humane regard of all peoples for each other, all nations finest and fairest consideration for others under their dominance. This brings forward the color question belting the world, colonial dominions and their attendant evils; political freedom and territorial problems of governments. The future of our people is wrapped up in their proper adjustment. We are especially called upon therefore to revise our political program in accord with the national and international trend of things.
Colored people’s difficulties are political and economic throughout the world. Through wise politics and statesmanship, they must liberate themselves. Through far-sighted economic leadership, they must master the business of taking care of themselves like other races. Bred, born and living here under the American Flag, we nevertheless bear a relation to others of our blood. Their problems are ours and vice versa. All our wisdom, energy and foresight should be dedicated to the great task of achieving freedom and independence which are the highest goals of human striving.
We must make this national body of colored women not merely a national influence, but also a significant link between the peoples of color throughout the world. I have a firm conviction that the National Association of Colored Women may become a most influential and powerful factor in helping the world to realise the humanitarian ideal for which its better souls are striving in the efforts of nations to achieve a stable order of things. It would surely be a glorious triumph to perform indisputable service helping to win an object so wondrous and sublime in vision. We can, ought and will take up the task!
I have envisioned a world gathering of colored women, a conservative, peace-loving body carrying the torch of freedom, equal rights, human love -holding it high and brightening the world with rays of justice, tolerance and faithful service in God’s name. It is my judgment that this great Association is the lever with which to overturn racial intolerance and artificial prejudices. They hinder human unity in America and throughout the world where a deadline has been drawn between the white races and people of colored blood. This knowledge suggests a great work about which I want you to be think soberly, sincerely and seriously. It constitutes the international mission of the National Association of Colored Women.
Finally, What shall constitute our means for undertaking a mission of such great proportions, and what the Method?
We must first establish, dedicate and operate our National Headquarters in Washington. We must make it a clearing house of cooperative effort among American Colored women in the fine objects at the very foundation of this body. We must make it a conservative dynamo, directed against the evils in our nation, a lighthouse, beckoning all other colored women on the stormy world-sea, to America for co-operation in their struggles for existence, peace, prosperity and independence. It can be done by thinking, planning, working and the kind of fighting which fits all human beings for both life and death.
We must create a literature propaganda for the education of our people and all people in America, about the purposes and any international program of this Association. This should be spread over the world, where over colored people abide. We must create a literature directed against the evils that obstruct our path, expressing our thought and feeling about them in no uncertain terms. We must create a literature to fire the souls of unborn generations of Negroes with love of liberty and the determination to fight for the very highest goal of human life. We must in truth create a literature that will make all races of the world know that we are their human equals and determined to have just consideration in all the affairs of world society. And I insist that we must have this literature because of my firm conviction that the greatest possible instrument to be used against the tyranny of racial intolerance in all its forms is the trained human mind, set free from the idols of ignorance and prejudice.
Negro women of America: Rise to the challenge. This is your opportunity and mine. Be your best! Give your best!
If you can’t be a pine on top of the hill,
Be a scrub in the valley;
But be the best little scrub
That grows by the rill.
Be a bush, if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a tree, be a bit of the grass,
And some highway the happier make
If you can’t be a muskie, just be a bass,
But be the liveliest bass in the lake.
We can’t all be captains, we’ve got to be crew,
There’s plenty of work for us here.
There’s a big work to do, and a lesser;
But our task is the one that is near.
If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail,
If you can’t be a sun, be a star.
It’s not in your size that you win or lose,
Be the best, of whatever you are
Source: Amistad Research Center, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana) (New Orleans, LA) 1926, 14 pages.