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Scripto | Transcribe Page
Address of Hon. Fred. Douglass, delivered before the National Convention of Colored Men, at Louisville, Ky., September 24, 1883
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have been and still are ignorant of their rights and the methods of enforcing them.
But while we urge these duties on Congress and the country, we must never forget that any race worth living will live, and whether Congress heeds our request in these and other particulars or not, we must demonstrate our capacity to live by living. We must acquire property and educate the hands and hearts and heads of our children, whether we are helped or not. Races that fail to do these things die politically and socially, and are only fit to die.
One great source of independence that has been sought by our white fellow-citizens is still open to us; we refer to the public lands in the great West. The amazing rapidity with which the public lands are being taken up warns us that we must lay hold of this opportunity soon, or it will be gone forever. The Government gives to every actual settler, under certain conditions, 160 acres of land. By addressing a letter to the United States Land Office, Washington, D. C., any person will receive full information in regard to this subject. Thousands of white men have settled on these lands with scarcely any money beyond their immediate wants, and in a few years have found themselves the lords of a 160 acre farm. Let us do likewise.
The right of every American citizen to select his own society and invite whom he will to his own parlor and table, should be sacredly respected. A man's house is his castle, and he has a right to admit or refuse admission to it as he may please, and defend his house from all intruders even with force if need be. This right belongs to the humblest not less than the highest, and the exercise of it by any of our citizens to ward anybody or class who may presume to intrude, should cause no complaint, for each and all may exercise the same right toward whom he will.
When he quits his home and goes upon the public street, enters a public cur? or a public house, he has no exclusive right of occupancy. He is only a part of the great public, and while he has the right to walk, ride and be accommodated with food and shelter in a public conveyance or hotel, he has no exclusive right to say that another citizen, tall or short, black or white, shall not have the same civil treatment with himself. The argument against equal rights at hotels is very improperly put upon the ground that the exercise of such rights, it is insisted, is social equality. But this ground is unreasonable. It is hard to say what social equality is, but it is certain that going into the same street-car, hotel or steamboat cabin, does not make any man society for another any more than flying in the same air makes all birds of one feather.
Two men may be seated at the same table at a hotel, one may be a Webster in intellect, and the other a Guiteau in feebleness of mind and morals, and, of course, socially and intellectually they are as wide apart as are the poles of the moral universe, but their civil rights are the same. The distinction between the two sorts of equality is broad and plain to the understanding of the most limited, and yet, blinded by prejudice, men never cease to confound one with the other, and allow themselves to infringe the civil rights of their fellow-citizes, as if those rights were in some way in violation of their social rights.
That this denial of rights to us is because of our color, only as color is a badge of condition, is manifest in the fact that no matter how decently dressed or well-behaved a colored man may be, he is denied civil treatment in the ways thus pointed out, unless he comes as a servant. His color, not his character, determines the place he shall hold and the kind of treatment he shall receive. That this is due to a prejudice and has no rational principle under it, is seen in the fact that
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