Scene 12 Scene 13 Scene 14 Scene 19
For background, see: (from War, Literature and the Arts)
Scene Fifteen: Chicago Auditorium, October 16th 1898
In October, Booker T. Washington was asked by President William R. Harper of the University of Chicago to deliver one of the addresses at the Peace Jubilee in Chicago celebrating the victory over Spain. Along with an overflow crowd of 16,000, in the audience was President William McKinley, the members of his cabinet, foreign ministers and a large number of army and navy officers.
Discussing the black troopers who had fought in Cuba, Washington would say:
When you have gotten the full story of the heroic conduct of the Negro in the Spanish-American War—heard it from the lips of Northern soldier and Southern soldier, from ex-abolitionists and ex-masters—then decide for yourself whether a race that is thus willing to die for its country should not be given the highest opportunity to live in its country.
For the full text of the speech and for Washington’s account of its reception, see this excerpt from his Story of My Life and Work
Below is an excerpt from “Imperium in Imperio: Sutton Griggs’s Imagined War of 1898” describing the aftermath of the war and the consequences for the black soldiers and African-Americans in general.
Just once the convention lost complete control of itself. A tall slender youth had spoken some moments in a vein so modest that the chairman interrupted: “Gentlemen,” said he, “the speaker hasn’t much to say for himself, so I’m going to put in a word of my own. I can’t help it. That man, gentlemen—that man there was in the front of the charge at San Juan!” At that the air seemed suddenly to be composed of equally active parts of handkerchiefs, hats and hilarious cheers. The slender youth bowed acknowledgements and said his speech ought to take a military turn, but that he hesitated to say the thing he had in mind. “It was not a pleasant thing.”
“Say it out!” Yelled twenty voices.
So he said it out. He was disappointed in Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, said he, had slandered the Negro soldier; and there was really no braver soldier in the world. The Negro never flinched, never retreated. “Why, gentleman, way back in the old there was a Negro in the fight. And as for what Col. Roosevelt says about Negro soldiers being dependent upon white officers, I’ll tell you the truth. There wasn’t any officer in control on San Juan Hill—or rather every Negro private was a Negro captain!”
— Henry J. Barrymore’s account in the Boston Transcript of Sergant-Major Frank Pullen’s speech at the August 1900 Meeting of the Negro Business League from Booker T. Washington’s The Story of My Life and Work 1.
In October 1898, Booker T. Washington was invited to speak at the Peace Jubilee in Chicago. Several weeks earlier, the black troopers of the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry and the Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Fifth Infantry had returned to the United States following victory in the Cuban Campaign. Washington had strongly supported the American intervention in Cuba, claiming that, if asked, he could enlist 100,000 enthusiastic African-American soldiers.
Before an overflow crowd of 16,000 including President McKinley, Washington celebrated the triumphs of the African-American soldiers:
When you have gotten the full story of the heroic conduct of the Negro in the Spanish-American War—heard it from the lips of Northern soldier and Southern soldier, from ex-abolitionists and ex-masters—then decide for yourself whether a race that is thus willing to die for its country should not be given the highest opportunity to live in its country. 2.
Washington’s rhetoric highlights the hopes shared by many African-Americans that black participation in the Spanish-American War would win respect from whites and improve black status at home. Before the war, Edward Cooper, the conservative editor of the Washington Colored American urged African-Americans to respond to McKinley’s call for volunteers so that “the Negro’s manhood [can be] placed directly in evidence.” Furthermore, in his address, Washington depicts the war as a vehicle for defusing and ameliorating racial antagonism: “recognition [of black heroism in Cuba] had done more to blot out sectional and racial lines than any event since the dawn of our freedom.” Cooper echoed Washington’s sentiments when he proclaimed to his readership: “Our soldierly qualities have been proven . . . The asperities of sectional and race hatred have been wonderfully softened.”3. Washington’s Peace Jubilee address was warmly received and widely reprinted in the national press.
Within the African-American community, the black troopers became immediate folk heroes:
In Negro homes pictures and plaques depicting the charge at San Juan occupied places of honor. Books, which celebrated the deeds of black soldiers in Cuba, found a ready market. Hundreds of poems ranging from the polished verse of Paul Laurence Dunbar to the crude rhymes of unknown poets extolled the exploits of Negro troops.4
In Cooper’s terms, the soldiers were direct evidence of black manhood tested and proved. Furthermore, for a brief short-lived moment, even the white press championed the black soldiers. In October 1898, after the 10th cavalry marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the cheers of the citizens and a review by McKinley and his Cabinet, the Army and Navy Journal commented, “Never in history has the Negro advanced so rapidly in public estimation as in this war.”5.
Ultimately, the hopes of the African-American community would be disappointed. Almost immediately, attention given to African-American heroism dwindled. As Amy Kaplan has shown:
While African-American newspapers repeatedly lambasted the white press for never mentioning the names of individual black soldiers and for ignoring their contributions, Roosevelt’s account [the subject of Pullen’s tirade] raised special outrage for its blatant distortions of those accomplishments which has entered the public light.6.
In James Roberts Payne study of poetry written by black soldiers—as well as Dunbar’s “The Conquerors: The Black Troops in Cuba” and James Weldon Johnson’s short lyric “The Color Sergeant: On an Incident at the Battle of San Juan Hill”—Payne points to a progressive sense of disappointment, as the poems oscillate between “themes of extreme idealism and embittered disillusionment.”7. In late October 1898, only two weeks after the Peace Jubilee, Charles Knox of the Indianapolis Freeman lamented, “The millennium that is to be has not dawned. Caney and Santiago may as well not have been.”8. Sergeant-Major Pullens’s outburst in the form of his speech to the Negro Business League shows that this anger remained two years after the event.
Instead of the war leading to Washington’s vision of racial lines blotted out or Cooper’s image of racial hatred softened, the war precipitated a wave of mob violence against African-Americans. To many Southern whites, the victory over Spain—rekindling the martial spirit of the old Confederacy—was proof of Anglo- Saxon superiority. Returning black soldiers, often encamped in the south, were targets of white attack. Nowhere was the connection between the triumph in Cuba and assertions of white supremacy clearer than in the infamous November 1898 Wilmington, North Carolina white race riot. There, self-appointed vigilance committees created top quell black assertion, referred to themselves as “Rough Riders.” By late 1898, Dunbar, dismayed by post-war events, feared that he detected, “a new attitude produced by the war which was anything but favorable for black citizens.” By 1900, W.E.B Du Bois confirmed indeed that Knox’s millennium had not come. In his customary tone of distanced irony, Du Bois remarked that “the Spanish War and its various sequels have greatly increased some of our difficulties in dealing with the Negro problems.”
1. Booker T Washington, Booker T. Washington’s Own Story of His Life and Work (Atlanta: J.L
Nichols & Co, 1901) Chapter XV. Washington would later turn Life and Work into the shorter and better-known Up from Slavery, which did not include Barrymore’s account of Pullen’s remarks.
2.Washington, Life, Chapter XV.
3.William B. Gatewood, Jr., Black Americans and the White Man’s Burden 1898-1903 (Urbana: Illinois University Press, 1975) 109.
4. Gatewood, 107.
5. Jack Foner, Blacks and the Military in American History (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1974) 79.
6. Amy Kaplan, “Black and Blue on San Juan Hill.” Cultures of United States Imperialism. Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease, eds. (Durham: Duke Univesity Press, 1993) 227
7. James Robert Payne, “Afro-American Literature of the Spanish-American War.” MELUS, Vol. 10,No.3 (Autumn 1983), 19-32.