Tag Archives: protest

Breaking Barriers~75 Years of Wild Women

This April marks the 75th anniversary of the women’s magazine Glamour. The magazine published a list in its April issue of 75 women they picked as “a highly selective list of bad-ass U.S. barrier-breakers who changed the world for all of us.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

From their list I would select, in no particular order: 1) Hattie McDaniel, 2) Dorothea Lange, 3) Georgia O’Keffee, 4) Margaret Sanger, 5) Billie Holiday, 6) Eleanor Roosevelt, 7) Dolores Huerta, 8) Hedy Lamarr, 9) Flannery O’Connor, 10) Audrey Hepburn, 11) Serena Williams, 12) Rosa Parks, 13) Harper Lee, 14) Wilma Rudolph, 15) Rita Moreno, 16) Rachel Carson, 17) Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, 18) Julia Child, 19) Aretha Franklin, 20) Betty Friedan, 21) Katherine Graham, 22) Carol Burnett, 23) Maya Angelou, 24) Carole King, 25) Shirley Chisholm, 26) Diana Ross, 27) Toni Morrison, 28) Gloria Steinem, 29) Billie Jean King, 30) Sandra Day O’Connor, 31) Maya Lin, 32) Sally Ride, 33) Geraldine Ferraro, 34) Dolly Parton, 35) Oprah Winfrey, 36) Wilma Mankiller, 37) Meryl Streep, 38) Florence Griffith Joyner, 39) Katherine Hepburn, 40) Mary Lou Retton, 41) Anita Hill, 42) Madeleine Albright, 43) Barbara Streisand, 44) Nancy Pelosi, 45) Hillary Clinton, 46) Barbara Walters, and 47) Michelle Obama.

Helen Prejean

Helen Prejean

To round out my own 75 women list of American agitators, trouble-makers and pioneers in the last 75 years, I would add: 48) Dorothy Day, 49) Bernice Johnson Reagon, 50) Barbara Mikulski, 51) Fannie Lou Hamer, 52) Jeanette Rankin, 53) Bella Abzug, 54) Marian Wright Edelman, 55) Frances Perkins, 56) Janis Joplin, 57) Mary Ritter Beard, 58) Zora Neale Hurston, 59) Josephine Baker, 60) Emily Greene Balch, 61) Joan Chittister, 62) Constance Baker Motley, 63) bell hooks, 64) Joan Baez, 65) Helen Prejean, 66) Peace Pilgrim, 67) Gerda Lerner, 68) Margarethe Cammermeyer, 69) Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 70) Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, 71) Jo Carol LaFleur 72) Joan Didion 73) Blanche Wiesen Cook, 74) Lillian Faderman, 75) Mary Beth Tinker.

Anna Julia Cooper

Anna Julia Cooper

And if I took my list to 100 women who shook things up in the last 75 years, I would add 76) Florence Allen, 77) Jessie Daniel Ames, 78) Hannah Arendt, 79) Charlotta Spears Bass, 80) Ella Reeve Bloor, 81) Susan Epperson, 82) Anna Julia Cooper, 83) Lavinia Lloyd Dock, 84) Jessie Redmon Fauset, 85) Alice Hamilton, 86) Dorothy Kenyon, 87) Daisy Lampkin, 88) Gypsy Rose Lee, 89) Lucy Randolph Mason, 90) Dorothy Parker, 91) Jane Hodgson, 92) Ethel Rosenberg, 93) Rose Schneiderman, 94) Vida Scudder, 95) Mary Church Terrell, 96) Barbara Elfbrandt, 97) Alberta Hunter, 98) Odetta, 99) Daisy Bates, 100) Whoopi Goldberg.

Obviously this list is my personal one and could grow much longer. And if I were to include more American history and then add world history, the list might well become unmanageable. I encourage you to try making your own list. What American women within the last 75 years have been game-changers for you?


Birthday of Mahatma Gandhi~October 2, 1869

“Born of Hindu parents in 1869, Gandhi traveled to London as a young adultto study law. He corresponded with Tolstoy, sending him a copy of IndianHome Rule and seeking Tolstoy’s comments. Tolstoy replied that India andhumanity as a whole needed the practice of passive resistance.”

Gandhi in 1907 in South Africa

Gandhi in 1907 in South Africa

“Gandhi gained employment with a Muslim law firm in South Africa. There,with his dark complexion, he encountered extreme racial prejudice. Reading the Bible, the Koran, and Tolstoy’s Kingdom of God Is Within You, he became increasingly convinced that only nonviolence could heal the wounds of the world, both personal and national. He worked tirelessly on behalf of Indian immigrants’ civil rights, refusing to depart from nonviolence to achieve political purposes. Instead he relied on satyagraha, a term he coined, meaning “holding on to Truth” or “Soul force”. He achieved remarkable changes on behalf of South African Indians during this period.”

Gandhi at age 21

Gandhi at age 21

“Returning to India, Gandhi took up the cause of freedom from British rule. He endured imprisonments without trial, and fasted for weeks on end to purify both his own motives and those of others in the freedom movement whose frustration with setbacks and slow progress often led to violence. He founded the weekly paper Harijan to address the need of “untouchables,” and created two ashrams.

Ultimately the goal of independence for India became a source of great sadness to Gandhi. He refused to attend the independence celebration on August 15, 1947, unwilling to be a party to what he termed “India’s vivisection”: the partitioning off of Pakistan from India. During the civil unrest following independence, Gandhi fasted for communal peace. He personally visited areas beset with riots, to no avail. In January 1948, Gandhi was assassinated as he was on his way to a prayer meeting.

Gandhi’s timeless influence inspired Dr. Martin Luther King and countless other peace activists, and brings light to our world in these dark days.

Recommended readings: Gandhi on Non-Violence, A Selection from the Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, edited and with an introduction by Thomas Merton; and, The Words of Gandhi, selected by Richard Attnborough, Director of the award-winning film “Gandhi” (1982), for which Attenborough prepared through 20 years of study about Gandhi and his life.” — from Gratefulness.org, A Network for Grateful Living.

Kasturba, Gandhi's wife, in 1915

Kasturba, Gandhi’s wife, in 1915


“To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?”~ Gandhi

Fifty Years Ago ~ August 28, 1963

I was a high school student and active in the debate club. I listened intently to the coverage of the March on Washington. Many great people in addition to Dr King ought to be remembered, honored and thanked. Here is a story about one of them from National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” program of August 15, 2013.

Bayard Rustin with Dr King

Bayard Rustin with Dr King

The trailblazing strategist behind the 1963 March on Washington will this year be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That’s a long way from the days when civil rights activists counted on Bayard Rustin’s hard work, but tried to push him aside because he was gay. For 60 years, Rustin fought for peace and equal rights–demonstrating, organizing and protesting in the United States and around the world.’Strategic Nonviolence’ In the summer of 1963, he was the main organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On Aug. 28, speaker after speaker roused a crowd of 250,000, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., with his seminal “I Have A Dream” speech. Rustin had less than two months to organize what was the largest demonstration the country had ever seen.”As we follow this form of mass action and strategic nonviolence,” he said, “we will not only put pressure on the government, but we will put pressure on other groups which ought by their nature to be allied with us.” Washington, D.C.’s Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton was a law student in 1963 and a volunteer for the march. Rustin was her boss. “Bayard was one of a kind, and his talent was so enormous,” she says.”The great achievement of the March on Washington is that Rustin had to work from the ground up,” Norton says. “There had been many marches from the South … but calling people from all over the country to come to Washington, the capital of the United States, was unheard of.

Rustin grew up in West Chester, Pa. In college in the 1930s, he joined the Communist Youth League for a few years, attracted by the group’s anti-racist efforts. He later embraced socialism. He was a gay black man, tall, with high cheekbones, and a gifted singer. He played a bit part in a Broadway musical alongside Paul Robeson, and Rustin often sang for his audiences as he toured the country, conducting race-relations workshops. Rustin was considered a master organizer, a political intellectual and a pacifist; he served time in prison for refusing to register for the draft. He created the first Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation on interstate buses. Along with King, Rustin was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He had two strong mentors. A.J. Muste, the head of the pacifist organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation, hired Rustin as a youth secretary to conduct workshops and demonstrations against war and segregation.

Rustin’s other mentor was A. Philip Randolph, the head of the first predominantly black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. “What Rustin took away from Randolph, especially, is the recognition that economic issues and racial justice issues are completely intertwined,” says his biographer, John D’Emilio.

Despite his extensive involvement in the civil rights movement, Rustin was content to remain behind the scenes, D’Emilio says.”I think of it as part of the Quaker heritage that he internalized. You don’t push yourself forward,” D’Emilio says. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t get the credit for it. What is important is this notion of speaking truth topower.”

In 1953, Rustin’s homosexuality became a public problem after he was found having sex in a parked car with two men. He was arrested on a morals charge. Later, when he was chosen to organize the 1963 march, some civil rights activists objected. In an effort to discredit the march, segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond took to the Senate floor, where he derided Rustin for being a communist, a draft dodger and a homosexual.

Ironically, author D’Emilo says, it became a rallying point for the civil rights leaders.” Because no one could appear to be on the side of Strom Thurmond,he created, unwittingly, an opportunity for Rustin’s sexuality to stop being an issue,” he says.The march was a success, and at its end, a triumphant Rustin stepped up to the microphone to read the demands that the leaders of the civilrights movement would take to President John F. Kennedy.First on the list: “effective Civil Rights legislation – no compromise, no filibuster – and that it include public accommodations, decent housing, integrated education, [fairemployment], and the right to vote.” Rustin wanted to move the civil rightsagenda from protesting to politics and to work within the system– blacks and whites together– to create jobs and other opportunities. His effort fell flat,stymied by a more militant generation and the dominant issue of the times, the Vietnam War. Rustin said, “It has split the civil rights movement down themiddle. It has caused many white people who were in it to say, ‘That must wait now until we stop Vietnam.’”

Bayard Rustin in 1963

Bayard Rustin in 1963

In his later years, Rustin continued to speak out on a variety of fronts, and his personal life also changed: He met Walter Naegle. Naegle, Rustin’s surviving partner, says that in the final years of his life, Rustin became more involved in gay rights. “He saw this as another challenge, another barrier that had to be broken down a larger struggle for human rights and for individual freedoms,” Neagle says. Or, as Rustin put it:”The barometer for judging the character of people in regards to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, lesbian. The judgment as to whether you can trust the future, the social advancement, depending on people, will be judged on where they come out on that question.”Activist Mandy Carter says Rustin was a visionary, understanding the parallels in the civil rights struggle and the gay rights movement. Carter is on the leadership council the National Black Justice Coalition, an LGBT civil rights group.”For me and for a lot of us who are black, and gay and lesbian, bi, trans, who see ourselves as social justice advocates as well, to have this person– such an amazing role model,” she says. Carter says there was just no one like him, and she is delighted such a key individual in the civil rights movement is now being recognized with the nation’s highest honor.Rustin died in 1987 in New York. He was 75.

Organized Insurrection in the Interest of Rebellion~July 1863~the 13th and 14th

Organized Insurrection in the Interest of the Rebellion~George Templeton Strong.

Riot and mayhem grip new York City. What begins as an anti-draft protest quickly becomes a racist campaign of violence against African Americans and contains elements of class struggle as vandalism and looting increase. Sir Arthur Fremantle, on his way home to England after witnessing the battle at Gettysburg, becomes an eye witness to the riots. [In his account of his time in the country which he will publish next year in England, he will steadfastly predict victory for the Confederacy.] Some observers predict another battle between Lee and Meade. President Lincoln congratulates General Grant.

July 13– Monday– South Norwalk, Connecticut– Birth of Mary Emma Woolley, educator who will become president of Mount Holyoke College, 1901 to 1937. She will also become a peace advocate, suffragist, a vice-chairperson of the American Civil Liberties Union and a president of the American Association of University Women.

Dr Mary Emma Woolley

Dr Mary Emma Woolley

July 13– Monday– New York City–Rioting erupts as workers, many Irish immigrants, turn violent in response to the draft. At mid-morning a mob of around 500 people, aroused by anti-draft speeches from several agitators. attack the office where the draft is taking place. As the mob increases in numbers the violence gets out of hand. They cut telegraph wires, collect weapons, stop traffic in a number of streets, attack John Kennedy, the Superintendent of Police and stone the homes of police officers. Taking advantage of increasing chaos some rioters plunder jewelry, hardware, and liquor stores, eight draft offices, and vandalize the offices of Horace Greeley’s Tribune. Others burn the armory, although doing it so carelessly that some of their own people perish in the blase. About 4:00 PM, protesters loot and set fire to the Colored Orphan Asylum. The children are safely evacuated. The focus shifts from an anti-draft protest to one of racial violence against black people. A gang led by an Irish immigrant named John Nicholson attack and lynch William Jones, a black man, then burn his body. Peter Heuston, a member of Mohawk people, is taken for an African-American and badly beaten. [Two weeks later Heuston will die in the hospital.] Uncontrolled rioters burn the homes and shops of black people. A number of black persons are killed or injured. Because the New York State Militia had been sent to assist Union troops in Pennsylvania, the local police are left to suppress the riots.

rioting in New York City

rioting in New York City

July 13– Monday– New York City– George Templeton Strong renders an opinion about the day’s rioting. “The fury of the low Irish women in that region [the area around Lexington & 45th] was noteworthy. Stalwart young vixens and withered old hags were swarming everywhere, all cursing the ‘bloddy draft’ and egging on their men to mischief. . . . If a quarter one hears be true, this is an organized insurrection in the interest of the rebellion and Jefferson Davis rules New York today. . . . . We telegraphed, two or three of us, from General Wood’s rooms, to the President, begging that troops be sent on and stringent measures taken. The great misfortune is that nearly all our militia regiments have been dispatched to Pennsylvania.”

July 13– Monday– New York City– Martha Perry, nursing her injured husband, an officer from the 20th Massachusetts, describes what she saw and hear. “In the early morning, I heard loud and continued cheers at the head of the street, and supposed it must be news of some great victory. In considerable excitement I hurried downstairs to hear particulars, but soon found that the shouts came from the rioters who were on their way to work. About noon that same day we became aware of a confused roar; as it increased, I flew to my window, and saw rushing up Lexington Avenue, within a few paces of our house, a great mob of men, women and children . . . . At all points fires burst forth, and that night the city was illuminated by them. I counted from the roof of our house five fires just about us.”

fighting in the streets of New York

fighting in the streets of New York

 July 13– Monday– New York City– Having reached the city by train from Philadelphia last night, Sir Arthur James Fremantle witnesses another key series of events. “The luxury and comfort of New York and Philadelphia strike one as extraordinary after having lately come from Charleston and Richmond. The greenbacks seem to be nearly as good as gold. The streets are as full as possible of well-dressed people, and are crowded with able-bodied civilians capable of bearing arms, who have evidently no intention of doing so.– They apparently don’t feel the war at all here; and until there is a grand smash with their money, or some other catastrophe to make them feel it, I can easily imagine that they will not be anxious to make peace. I walked the whole distance of Broadway to the Consul’s house, and nothing could exceed the apparent prosperity; . . . . On returning to the Fifth Avenue [Hotel], I found all the shopkeepers beginning to close their stores, and I perceived by degrees that there was great alarm about the resistance to the draft which was going on this morning. On reaching the hotel I perceived a whole block of buildings on fire close by: engines were present, but were not allowed to play by the crowd. In the hotel itself, universal consternation prevailed, and an attack by the mob had been threatened. I walked about in the neighborhood, and saw a company of soldiers on the march, who were being jeered at and hooted by small boys, and I saw a Negro pursued by the crowd take refuge with the military; he was followed by loud cries of ‘Down with the b—-y n*****! Kill all n******!’ &c. Never having been in New York before, and being totally ignorant of the state of feeling with regard to Negroes, I inquired of a bystander what the Negroes had done that they should want to kill them? He replied civilly enough–“Oh sir, they hate them here; they are the innocent cause of all these troubles.’”

July 13– Monday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln sends a personal letter to General Ulysses Grant. “I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment of the almost inestimable service you have done the Country. I write to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do what you finally did–march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below . . . . When you dropped below, and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join General Banks; and when you turned northward, east of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right and I was wrong.”

General Ulysses S Grant

General Ulysses S Grant

July 13– Monday– Hagerstown, Maryland– Union Officer Elisha Hunt Rhodes: “I have not changed my clothes for five weeks but still I am happy, and we are doing good work.”

July 13– Monday– Richmond, Virginia– Clerk John Jones laments. “Lee and Meade have been facing each other two or three days, drawn up in battle array, and a decisive battle may have occurred ere this. The wires have been cut between Martinsburg and Hagerstown. Not another word have we from either Charleston or Jackson; but we learn that monitors, gun-boats, and transports are coming up the James River. Altogether, this is another dark day in our history. It has been officially ascertained that Pemberton surrendered, with Vicksburg, 22,000 men! He has lost, during the year, not less than 40,000!”

July 13– Monday– Calcutta, India– Birth of Margaret Murray, an English woman who will become an archaeologist. Her 1921 and 1931 scholarly studies of witches and their practices will gain great popularity among modern practitioners.

Dr Margaret Murray

Dr Margaret Murray

July 14– Tuesday– New York City–Commerce in the city grinds to a halt with some workers joining the mob. Rioters attack the homes of notable Republicans. Governor Horatio Seymour, a Democrat, arrives in town and speaking at City Hall, he attempts to calm the crowd by declaring that the Conscription Act is unconstitutional. Republicans see the speech as encouraging the rioters. City police are reinforced by approximately 800 troops from forts in the New York Harbor and from West Point. In several neighborhoods the rioters build barricades from debris to keep police out. The nature of the disturbance is clearly racial and political, directed against African Americans and prominent Republicans who are seen as responsible for the war and the draft. William Williams, an African-American sailor, is beaten, stabbed and left to die. Henry O’Brien, the commander of the 11th New York volunteers, is murdered by the mob. Rioters fight off police and loot the Brooks Brothers clothing store, causing more than $50,000 in damages. Democratic and Republican leaders busily argue about the riots. Mayor George Opdyke, age 58, a Republican, sends for federal troops, but will not call for martial law which would give control of the city to the federal government. Militia units receive orders to return to New York. Authorities temporarily suspend the draft.

July 14– Tuesday– New York City– Martha Perry describes some of the day’s events. “Men, both colored and white, were murdered within two blocks of us, some being hung to the nearest lamppost, and others shot. An army officer was walking in the street near our house, when a rioter was seen to kneel on the sidewalk, take aim, fire and kill him, then coolly start on his way unmolested. I saw the Third Avenue street car rails torn up by the mob. . . . . I passed the hours of that dreadful night listening to the bedlam about us; to the drunken yells and coarse laughter of the rioters wandering aimlessly through the streets, and to the shouts of a mob plundering houses a block away.”

Sir Arthur Fremantle, British observer of the Gettysburg campaign

Sir Arthur Fremantle, British observer of the Gettysburg campaign

July 14– Tuesday– New York City– Sir Arthur James Fremantle observes the chaos. “At breakfast this morning two Irish waiters, seeing I was a Britisher, came up to me one after another, and whispered at intervals in hoarse Hibernian accents–‘It’s disgraceful, sir. I’ve been drafted, sir. I’m a Briton. I love my country. I love the Union Jack, sir.’ I suggested an interview with Mr. Archibald, but neither of them seemed to care about going to the Counsel just yet. These rascals have probably been hard at work for years, voting as free and enlightened American citizens, and abusing England to their hearts’ content. . . . . The consternation in the streets seemed to be on the increase; fires were going on in all directions, and the streets were being patrolled by large bodies of police followed by special constables, the latter bearing truncheons, but not looking very happy. I heard a British captain making a deposition before the Consul, to the effect that the mob had got on board his vessel, and cruelly beaten his colored crew. As no British man-of-war was present, the French Admiral was appealed to, who at once requested that all British ships with colored crews might be anchored under the guns of his frigate. The reports of outrages, hangings, and murder, were now most alarming, the terror and anxiety were universal. All shops were shut: all carriages and omnibuses had ceased running. No colored man or woman was visible or safe in the streets, or even in his own dwelling. Telegraphs were cut, and railroad tracks torn up. The draft was suspended, and the mob evidently had the upper hand.”

July 14– Tuesday– New York City– George Templeton Strong watches “a strong squad of police marching eastward down this street, followed by a company of infantry with gleaming bayonets.”

An Instrument of Peace

On November 8, 1897, just a bit over a century ago, Dorothy Day was born in New York City. She became an activist for peace and social justice, a maverick whose left-wing views bothered Roman Catholic church authorities and whose religious faith puzzled many old-time Communists. Like other American activists such as Mother Jones, Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, she went to jail for civil disobedience.

I owe a personal debt to Dorothy Day. When I was an undergraduate in the late 1960s and trying to figure out my own faith and my stand on the Vietnam War, I found comfort, faith and direction in Ms Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness, and her monthly columns in The Catholic Worker. As a Lutheran I don’t need church bishops to tell me she is a saint, a title which always made her uncomfortable. Most likely she has now found reassurance of her own sainthood among those she admired from Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus and Benedict of Nursia whom historians credit as the father of peace movements in Western Christianity to Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest non-violent activist of the 20th century.

an icon of Dorothy Day

She gave a wonderful, concise statement of her faith and politics in a speech at Union Square on November 6, 1965, two days before her 68th birthday. Here is what she said:

Dorothy Day

“When Jesus walked this earth; True God and True man, and was talking to the multitudes, a woman in the crowd cried out, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breast that bore you and the breast that nourished you. And he answered her, Yes, but rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’ And the word of God is the new commandment he gave us to love our enemies,to overcome evil with good, to love others as he loved us that is, to lay down our lives for our brothers throughout the world, not to take the lives of men, women, and children, young and old, by bombs and napalm and all the other instruments of war.

Instead he spoke of the instruments of peace, to be practiced by all nations to feed the hungry of the world, not to destroy their crops, not to spend billions on defense, which means instruments of destruction. He commanded us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, to save lives, not to destroy them, these precious lives for whom he willingly sacrificed his own. I speak today as one who is old, and who must uphold and endorse the courage of the young who themselves are willing to give up their freedom. I speak as one who is old, and whose whole lifetime has seen the cruelty and hysteria of war in this last half century. But who has also seen, praise God, the emerging nations of Africa and Asia, and Latin America, achieving in many instances their own freedom through non-violent struggles, side by side with violence. Our own country has through tens of thousand of the Negro people, shown an example to the world of what a non-violent struggle can achieve. This very struggle, begun by students, by the young, by the seemingly helpless, have led the way in vision, in courage, even in a martyrdom, which has been shared by the little children, in the struggle for full freedom and for human dignity which means the right to health, education, and work which is a full development of man’s god-given talents. We have seen the works of man’s genius and vision in the world today, in the conquering of space, in his struggle with plague and famine, and in each andevery demonstration such as this one there is evidence of his struggle against war.

I wish to place myself beside A. J. Muste speaking, if I am permitted, to show my solidarity of purpose with these young men, and to point out that we too are breaking the law, committing civil disobedience, in advocating and trying to encourage all those who are conscripted, to inform their conscience, to heed the still small voice, and to refuse to participate in the immorality of war. It isthe most potent way to end war. We too, by law, myself and all who signed the statement of conscience, should be arrested and we would esteem it an honor to share prison penalties with these others. I would like to conclude these few words with a prayer in the words of St. Francis, saint of poverty and peace, ‘O Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love.’”

A J Muste with Dorothy Day right before their arrest for supporting young men who burned draft cards

Historical note: A. J. Muste was a Dutch-born labor organizer and pacifist, also present at this demonstration. At the time was 80 years of age.

Here I Stand

On this day, All Hallows Eve, in 1517, a German monk by the name of Martin Luther posted on the door of the cathedral church in Wittenberg his “95 Theses.” Actually he entitled them “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” or in the Latin in which he wrote them, “Disputatio pro Declaratione Virtutis Indulgentiarum.” This event is considered by most historians as the beginning of what came to be called the Protestant Reformation. As I used to tell my students, look at the words carefully. Protestant-ant literally means one who makes a protest and reformation means a reshaping, a re-forming of something already in existence.


the church doors where Luther posted his theses for debate


In a brilliant 1960 article in the American Historical Review (vol 66, #1, October, 1960, pp 74-84) the Quaker historian Roland Bainton wrote this about Luther. “Luther happened to emerge amid a set of circumstances peculiarly auspicious. Without such a stage and without concomitants both economic and political the Reformation would never have taken hold. As for the claim that Luther was in no sense original, there is no better reply than that to be found in the recent work of Erich Hassinger, who finds Luther’s contribution to have been his rediscovery of the historical core of Christianity. The claim of the Christian religion is that God did something unique in history. . . .

“Luther asserted unequivocally the historical uniqueness of the work of God in Christ. Its continuance in the present is mediated through Scripture, which is the record of the event. And though it must be interpreted by the Spirit, yet the Spirit can never be dissociated from the outward Word. This position divided Luther from Catholics on the one side and from Protestant sectaries on the other. But if it be granted that Luther was original as to religion, the question still remains whether men were stirred by his religion or merely by his revolt. Some historians, here as elsewhere, offer an economic explanation. This of itself is by no means novel. The charge arose almost at once that the princes supported Luther in order to expropriate the goods of the Church, that the peasants at first rallied to him in the hope that the freedom of the Gospel would mean freedom from serfdom, that the masses espoused the Gospel in order to throw off tithes, fees, and indulgences. . . .

Luther takes a stand, refusing to change his position

“At the Diet of the Empire in I530, the German princes presented the Augsburg Confession, fully aware that the Emperor might in consequence deprive them of their titles, lands, and lives. In the I540’s the Emperor came with Spanish troops to crush Protestantism, but neither princes nor people would yield. Had their concern been only economic, one cannot understand such intrepidity. One may note also that some simple laymen like Hans Sachs did grasp what Luther meant in the very core of his theology. Perhaps one reason why they did and could understand his message was that the way had been in some measure prepared by the German mystics who had stressed not outward good works but inward attitudes of humility and love. . . .

“The economic explanation for the movement’s success in Germany is more plausible if it is compared with the failure in Italy. . . . The preaching in Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was highly moralistic, directed against specific sins: usury, prostitution, luxury, extortion, tyranny, feuding, and the wearing of vanities. Lyrical raptures over the wounds of Christ ended in appeals to imitate his sufferings. The inference was that penitence and amendment of life would win God’s pardon. But this was just the point that Luther denied. He could denounce sins with all the vehemence of a Savonarola, but his point was that divine forgiveness is a sheer act of God’s grace and in no way contingent upon anything that man can do. Amendment of life flows from the assurance of pardon. The German mystics had come closer to this than ever did the Italian friars, and the difference in the religious preparation may have had more to do with the outcome than had economics.

Luther’s translation of the Bible into German

“Other interpreters stress political factors, contending that the Reformation could have begun in no other country than Germany because of the political decentralization. The point is that in a great monarchical state an obscure professor would have had little chance to persuade a monarch like Francis, Henry, or Charles to embrace his religious ideas. And if the monarch were not at least neutral, the advocate of new religious ideas would be promptly snuffed out. Saxony was small enough and the relations sufficiently personal that a teacher at the University of Wittenberg, supported by his colleagues, could gain the support of a little prince like Frederick the Wise, who was sufficiently independent to pursue a strategy of obstructionism over against the Emperor.”

Martin Luther

As a student of and a teacher of history, I find Bainton’s analysis insightful, helpful and enlightening. As a Christian I owe a personal debt to Luther. I was born in a family active in the church and grew up with a sense of call. However, like many others in the 1960’s [and in other decades as well], I struggled with my religious faith in my college years. I grew angry at the hypocrisy and sinful failings I saw in the Christian church. It was reading a number of Luther’s essays for a history course which I was taking that showed that a person could be angry with the church and remain a person of faith. Like all of us Luther had his sins, faults, prejudices and short-comings. And like so many important people in history, he was a complex person. History can not readily or easily evaluate him or any other such person. History is not written in black and white but rather in every available color of the artist’s palette, some dark and brooding, some light and celebratory. That why, as I have said before, history is not a science but as the ancient Greeks rightly knew, an art form and requires a muse for its proper telling and re-telling.

The historian Martin E Marty, himself a Lutheran, said of Luther in a 2004 interview, “Somebody once asked me to summarize the Lutheran reformation, and I said it`s the revolt of the junior faculty at Wittenberg. Of all those [reform movements], that was the one that caught. And I think it was a set of circumstances — his own spiritual power, his own rhetorical gift, his own energy and the drama a life in which for a quarter century . . . [he] could be killed — we pay special attention to that kind of figure. And whether Europe would have broken up as much as it did — Western Europe was all Catholic, except Jews in ghettos. And at the end of his time . . . you never again had European unity. I think he did advance, whether he wanted to or not, the cause of human freedom by placing so much on individual conscience– yes, the Bible, but reason and conscience.”

Katharina von Bora who became Luther’s wife and made him an advocate for the education of girls

It was over thirty years after I graduated from college before I actually joined the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [the ELCA] but from the first Sunday I attended a worship service there I knew I had found a satisfying spiritual home and have spiritually flourished there for more than a decade.

I believe that Christianity, particularly Protestant Christianity, calls for people to make protest about racism, homophobia, sexism, militarism, poverty and injustice of every sort. In so doing believers can come to a place where they willingly and happily join people of good will from any creed or from no creed. Idealistic? Yes, I am. Liberal? Very much so. Dreamer? Yes, I am one of those as well. “Without vision the people perish,” a wise prophet wrote long ago.

a book of Luther’s essays

“I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”– Martin Luther

Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela

Happy Birthday to Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela


1918 was quite a year!

It was the last bloody year of the Great War. The British poet Wilfred Owen, the American poet Joyce Kilmer and over 250,000 other soldiers died in battle between January 1st and November 11th. Tsar Nicholas II and his family were assassinated.

 The dancer Vernon Castle, the boxer John L. Sullivan, the composer Claude Debussy, and historian Henry Adams, died during the year.

 In my mind one of the key events in terms of long-range consequences for the continent of Africa and for world history in the last decades of the twentieth century was the birth of Nelson Mandela in Transkei, South Africa on July 18, 1918. His father was Chief Henry Mandela of the Tembu Tribe. Nelson Mandela was educated at University College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand and qualified in law in 1942. He joined the African National Congress in 1944 and was engaged in resistance against the ruling National Party’s apartheid policies after 1948. He went on trial for treason in 1956-1961 and was acquitted in 1961.

 After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Nelson Mandela argued for the setting up of a military wing within the ANC. In June 1961, the ANC executive considered his proposal on the use of violent tactics and agreed that those members who wished to involve themselves in Mandela’s campaign would not be stopped from doing so by the ANC. This led to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment with hard labor. In 1963, when many fellow leaders of the ANC and the Umkhonto we Sizwe were arrested, Mandela was brought to stand trial with them for plotting to overthrow the government by violence. His statement from the dock received considerable international publicity. On June 12, 1964, eight of the accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment. From 1964 to 1982, he was incarcerated at the notorious Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town and from 1982 until his release in 1990, he was at Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.


Mr Mandela in traditional outfit

Here is that famous speech from the dock, a wonderful statement of South Africa’s history and a revolutionary inspiration. Happy birthday, Mr Mandela–we are all in your debt!


I am the First Accused.

I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts and practiced as an attorney in Johannesburg for a number of years in partnership with Oliver Tambo. I am a convicted prisoner serving five years for leaving the country without a permit and for inciting people to go on strike at the end of May 1961.

Mr Mandela, c1937

At the outset, I want to say that the suggestion made by the State in its opening that the struggle in South Africa is under the influence of foreigners or communists is wholly incorrect. I have done whatever I did, both as an individual and as a leader of my people, because of my experience in South Africa and my own proudly felt African background, and not because of what any outsider might have said. In my youth in the Transkei I listened to the elders of my tribe telling stories of the old days. Amongst the tales they related to me were those of wars fought by our ancestors in defense of the fatherland. The names of Dingane and Bambata, Hintsa and Makana, Squngthi and Dalasile, Moshoeshoe and Sekhukhuni, were praised as the glory of the entire African nation. I hoped then that life might offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their freedom struggle. This is what has motivated me in all that I have done in relation to the charges made against me in this case.

Having said this, I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of violence. Some of the things so far told to the Court are true and some are untrue. I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the Whites.

I admit immediately that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto we Sizwe, and that I played a prominent role in its affairs until I was arrested in August 1962.

In the statement which I am about to make I shall correct certain false impressions which have been created by State witnesses. Amongst other things, I will demonstrate that certain of the acts referred to in the evidence were not and could not have been committed by Umkhonto. I will also deal with the relationship between the African National Congress and Umkhonto, and with the part which I personally have played in the affairs of both organizations. I shall deal also with the part played by the Communist Party. In order to explain these matters properly, I will have to explain what Umkhonto set out to achieve; what methods it prescribed for the achievement of these objects, and why these methods were chosen. I will also have to explain how I became involved in the activities of these organizations.

I deny that Umkhonto was responsible for a number of acts which clearly fell outside the policy of the organization, and which have been charged in the indictment against us. I do not know what justification there was for these acts, but to demonstrate that they could not have been authorized by Umkhonto, I want to refer briefly to the roots and policy of the organization.

I have already mentioned that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto. I, and the others who started the organization, did so for two reasons. Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalize and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war.

Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the law. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.

But the violence which we chose to adopt was not terrorism. We who formed Umkhonto were all members of the African National Congress, and had behind us the ANC tradition of non-violence and negotiation as a means of solving political disputes. We believe that South Africa belongs to all the people who live in it, and not to one group, be it black or white. We did not want an interracial war, and tried to avoid it to the last minute. If the Court is in doubt about this, it will be seen that the whole history of our organization bears out what I have said, and what I will subsequently say, when I describe the tactics which Umkhonto decided to adopt. I want, therefore, to say something about the African National Congress.

The African National Congress was formed in 1912 to defend the rights of the African people which had been seriously curtailed by the South Africa Act, and which were then being threatened by the Native Land Act. For thirty-seven years – that is until 1949 – it adhered strictly to a constitutional struggle. It put forward demands and resolutions; it sent delegations to the Government in the belief that African grievances could be settled through peaceful discussion and that Africans could advance gradually to full political rights. But White Governments remained unmoved, and the rights of Africans became less instead of becoming greater. In the words of my leader, Chief Lutuli, who became President of the ANC in 1952, and who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize:

“Who will deny that thirty years of my life have been spent knocking in vain, patiently, moderately, and modestly at a closed and barred door? What have been the fruits of moderation? The past thirty years have seen the greatest number of laws restricting our rights and progress, until today we have reached a stage where we have almost no rights at all.”

Mr Mandela with President Clinton, 1993

Even after 1949, the ANC remained determined to avoid violence. At this time, however, there was a change from the strictly constitutional means of protest which had been employed in the past. The change was embodied in a decision which was taken to protest against apartheid legislation by peaceful, but unlawful, demonstrations against certain laws. Pursuant to this policy the ANC launched the Defiance Campaign, in which I was placed in charge of volunteers. This campaign was based on the principles of passive resistance. More than 8,500 people defied apartheid laws and went to jail. Yet there was not a single instance of violence in the course of this campaign on the part of any defier. I and nineteen colleagues were convicted for the role which we played in organizing the campaign, but our sentences were suspended mainly because the Judge found that discipline and non-violence had been stressed throughout.

This was the time when the volunteer section of the ANC was established, and when the word ‘Amadelakufa’ was first used: this was the time when the volunteers were asked to take a pledge to uphold certain principles. Evidence dealing with volunteers and their pledges has been introduced into this case, but completely out of context. The volunteers were not, and are not, the soldiers of a black army pledged to fight a civil war against the whites. They were, and are, dedicated workers who are prepared to lead campaigns initiated by the ANC to distribute leaflets, to organize strikes, or do whatever the particular campaign required. They are called volunteers because they volunteer to face the penalties of imprisonment and whipping which are now prescribed by the legislature for such acts.

During the Defiance Campaign, the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act were passed. These Statutes provided harsher penalties for offences committed by way of protests against laws. Despite this, the protests continued and the ANC adhered to its policy of non-violence. In 1956, 156 leading members of the Congress Alliance, including myself, were arrested on a charge of high treason and charges under the Suppression of Communism Act. The non-violent policy of the ANC was put in issue by the State, but when the Court gave judgement some five years later, it found that the ANC did not have a policy of violence. We were acquitted on all counts, which included a count that the ANC sought to set up a communist state in place of the existing regime. The Government has always sought to label all its opponents as communists. This allegation has been repeated in the present case, but as I will show, the ANC is not, and never has been, a communist organization.

In 1960 there was the shooting at Sharpeville, which resulted in the proclamation of a state of emergency and the declaration of the ANC as an unlawful organization. My colleagues and I, after careful consideration, decided that we would not obey this decree. The African people were not part of the Government and did not make the laws by which they were governed. We believed in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that ‘the will of the people shall be the basis of authority of the Government,’ and for us to accept the banning was equivalent to accepting the silencing of the Africans for all time. The ANC refused to dissolve, but instead went underground We believed it was our duty to preserve this organization which had been built up with almost fifty years of unremitting toil. I have no doubt that no self-respecting White political organization woulddisband itself if declared illegal by a government in which it had no say.

In 1960 the Government held a referendum which led to the establishment of the Republic. Africans, who constituted approximately 70 per cent of the population of South Africa, were not entitled to vote, and were not even consulted about the proposed constitutional change. All of us were apprehensive of our future under the proposed White Republic, and a resolution was taken to hold an All-In African Conference to call for a National Convention, and to organize mass demonstrations on the eve of the unwanted Republic, if the Government failed to call the Convention. The conference was attended by Africans of various political persuasions. I was the Secretary of the conference and undertook to be responsible for organizing the national stay-at-home which was subsequently called to coincide with the declaration of the Republic. As all strikes by Africans are illegal, the person organizing such a strike must avoid arrest. I was chosen to be this person, and consequently I had to leave my home and family and my practice and go into hiding to avoid arrest.

Mr Mandela with Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The stay-at-home, in accordance with ANC policy, was to be a peaceful demonstration. Careful instructions were given to organizers and members to avoid any recourse to violence. The Government’s answer was to introduce new and harsher laws, to mobilize its armed forces, and to send Saracens, armed vehicles, and soldiers into the townships in a massive show of force designed to intimidate the people. This was an indication that the Government had decided to rule by force alone, and this decision was a milestone on the road to Umkhonto.

Some of this may appear irrelevant to this trial. In fact, I believe none of it is irrelevant because it will, I hope, enable the Court to appreciate the attitude eventually adopted by the various persons and bodies concerned in the National Liberation Movement. When I went to jail in 1962, the dominant idea was that loss of life should be avoided. I now know that this was still so in 1963.

I must return to June 1961. What were we, the leaders of our people, to do? Were we to give in to the show of force and the implied threat against future action, or were we to fight it and, if so, how?

We had no doubt that we had to continue the fight. Anything else would have been abject surrender. Our problem was not whether to fight, but was how to continue the fight. We of the ANC had always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart than they already were. But the hard facts were that fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights. It may not be easy for this Court to understand, but it is a fact that for a long time the people had been talking of violence – of the day when they would fight the White man and win back their country – and we, the leaders of the ANC, had nevertheless always prevailed upon them to avoid violence and to pursue peaceful methods. When some of us discussed this in May and June of 1961, it could not be denied that our policy to achieve a non-racial State by non-violence had achieved nothing, and that our followers were beginning to lose confidence in this policy and were developing disturbing ideas of terrorism.

It must not be forgotten that by this time violence had, in fact, become a feature of the South African political scene. There had been violence in 1957 when the women of Zeerust were ordered to carry passes; there was violence in 1958 with the enforcement of cattle culling in Sekhukhuniland; there was violence in 1959 when the people of Cato Manor protested against pass raids; there was violence in 1960 when the Government attempted to impose Bantu Authorities in Pondoland. Thirty-nine Africans died in these disturbances. In 1961there had been riots in Warmbaths, and all this time the Transkei had been a seething mass of unrest. Each disturbance pointed clearly to the inevitable growth among Africans of the belief that violence was the only way out – it showed that a Government which uses force to maintain its rule teaches the oppressed to use force to oppose it.

Already small groups had arisen in the urban areas and were spontaneously making plans for violent forms of political struggle. There now arose a danger that these groups would adopt terrorism against Africans, as well as Whites, if not properly directed.

Particularly disturbing was the type of violence engendered in places such as Zeerust, Sekhukhuniland, and Pondoland amongst Africans. It was increasingly taking the form, not of struggle against the Government – though this is what prompted it – but of civil strife amongst themselves, conducted in such a way that it could not hope to achieve anything other than a loss of life and bitterness.

At the beginning of June 1961, after a long and anxious assessment of the South African situation, I, and some colleagues, came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the Government met our peaceful demands with force.

This conclusion was not easily arrived at. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle, and to form Umkhonto we Sizwe. We did so not because we desired such a course, but solely because the Government had left us with no other choice. In the Manifesto of Umkhonto published on 16 December 1961, which is Exhibit AD, we said:

“The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only

two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South

Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back

by all means in our power in defense of our people, our future,

and our freedom.”

This was our feeling in June of 1961 when we decided to press for a change in the policy of the National Liberation Movement. I can only say that I felt morally obliged to do what I did.

We who had taken this decision started to consult leaders of various organizations, including the ANC. I will not say whom we spoke to, or what they said, but I wish to deal with the role of the African National Congress in this phase of the struggle, and with the policy and objectives of Umkhonto we Sizwe. As far as the ANC was concerned, it formed a clear view which can be summarized as follows: It was a mass political organization with a political function to fulfil. Its members had joined on the express policy of non-violence.

Because of all this, it could not and would not undertake violence. This must be stressed. One cannot turn such a body into the small, closely knit organization required for sabotage. Nor would this be politically correct, because it would result in members ceasing to carry out this essential activity: political propaganda and organization. Nor was it permissible to change the whole nature of the organization.

On the other hand, in view of this situation I have described, the ANC was prepared to depart from its fifty-year-old policy of non-violence to this extent that it would no longer disapprove of properly controlled violence. Hence members who undertook such activity would not be subject to disciplinary action by the ANC. I say ‘properly controlled violence’ because I made it clear that if I formed the organization I would at all times subject it to the political guidance of the ANC and would not undertake any different form of activity from that contemplated without the consent of the ANC. And I shall now tell the Court how that form of violence came to be determined.

As a result of this decision, Umkhonto was formed in November 1961. When we took this decision, and subsequently formulated our plans, the ANC heritage of non-violence and racial harmony was very much with us. We felt that the country was drifting towards a civil war in which Blacks and Whites would fight each other. We viewed the situation with alarm. Civil war could mean the destruction of what the ANC stood for; with civil war, racial peace would be more difficult than ever to achieve. We already have examples in South African history of the results of war. It has taken more than fifty years for the scars of the South African War to disappear. How much longer would it take to eradicate the scars of inter-racial civil war, which could not be fought without a great loss of life on both sides?

The avoidance of civil war had dominated our thinking for many years, but when we decided to adopt violence as part of our policy, we realized that we might one day have to face the prospect of such a war. This had to be taken into account in formulating our plans. We required a plan which was flexible and which permitted us to act in accordance with the needs of the times; above all, the plan had to be one which recognized civil war as the last resort, and left the decision on this question to the future. We did not want to be committed to civil war, but we wanted to be ready if it became inevitable.

Four forms of violence were possible. There is sabotage, there is guerrilla warfare, there is terrorism, and there is open revolution. We chose to adopt the first method and to exhaust it before taking any other decision. In the light of our political background the choice was a logical one. Sabotage did not involve loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations. Bitterness would be kept to a minimum and, if the policy bore fruit, democratic government could become a reality. This is what we felt at the time, and this is what we said in our Manifesto (Exhibit AD):

“We of Umkhonto we Sizwe have always sought to achieve liberation

without bloodshed and civil clash. We hope, even at this late

hour, that our first actions will awaken everyone to a realization

of the disastrous situation to which the Nationalist policy is

leading. We hope that we will bring the Government and its

supporters to their senses before it is too late, so that both the

Government and its policies can be changed before matters reach

the desperate state of civil war.”

The initial plan was based on a careful analysis of the political and economic situation of our country. We believed that South Africa depended to a large extent on foreign capital and foreign trade. We felt that planned destruction of power plants, and interference with rail and telephone communications, would tend to scare away capital from the country, make it more difficult for goods from the industrial areas to reach the seaports on schedule, and would in the long run be a heavy drain on the economic life of the country, thus compelling the voters of the country to reconsider their position.

Attacks on the economic life-lines of the country were to be linked with sabotage on Government buildings and other symbols of apartheid. These attacks would serve as a source of inspiration to our people. In addition, they would provide an outlet for those people who were urging the adoption of violent methods and would enable us to give concrete proof to our followers that we had adopted a stronger line and were fighting back against Government violence.

In addition, if mass action were successfully organized, and mass reprisals taken, we felt that sympathy for our cause would be roused in other countries, and that greater pressure would be brought to bear on the South African Government.

This then was the plan. Umkhonto was to perform sabotage, and strict instructions were given to its members right from the start, that on no account were they to injure or kill people in planning or carrying out operations. These instructions have been referred to in the evidence of ‘Mr. X’ and ‘Mr. Z.’

The affairs of the Umkhonto were controlled and directed by a National High Command, which had powers of co-option and which could, and did, appoint Regional Commands. The High Command was the body which determined tactics and targets and was in charge of training and finance. Under the High Command there were Regional Commands which were responsible for the direction of the local sabotage groups. Within the framework of the policy laid down by the National High Command, the Regional Commands had authority to select the targets to be attacked. They had no authority to go beyond the prescribed framework and thus had no authority to embark upon acts which endangered life, or which did not fit into the overall plan of sabotage. For instance, Umkhonto members were forbidden ever to go armed into operation. Incidentally, the terms High Command and Regional Command were an importation from the Jewish national underground organization Irgun Zvai Leumi, which operated in Israel between 1944 and 1948.

Umkhonto had its first operation on 16 December 1961, when Government buildings in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban were attacked. The selection of targets is proof of the policy to which I have referred. Had we intended to attack life we would have selected targets where people congregated and not empty buildings and power stations. The sabotage which was committed before 16 December 1961 was the work of isolated groups and had no connection whatever with Umkhonto. In fact, some of these and a number of later acts were claimed by other organizations.

The Manifesto of Umkhonto was issued on the day that operations commenced. The response to our actions and Manifesto among the white population was characteristically violent. The Government threatened to take strong action, and called upon its supporters to stand firm and to ignore the demands of the Africans. The Whites failed to respond by suggesting change; they responded to our call by suggesting the laager.

In contrast, the response of the Africans was one of encouragement. Suddenly there was hope again. Things were happening. People in the townships became eager for political news. A great deal of enthusiasm was generated by the initial successes, and people began to speculate on how soon freedom would be obtained.

Mr Mandela in public speech after his release

But we in Umkhonto weighed up the white response with anxiety. The lines were being drawn. The whites and blacks were moving into separate camps, and the prospects of avoiding a civil war were made less. The white newspapers carried reports that sabotage would be punished by death. If this was so, how could we continue to keep Africans away from terrorism?

Already scores of Africans had died as a result of racial friction. In 1920 when the famous leader, Masabala, was held in Port Elizabeth jail, twenty-four of a group of Africans who had gathered to demand his release were killed by the police and white civilians. In 1921 more than one hundred Africans died in the Bulhoek affair. In 1924 over two hundred Africans were killed when the Administrator of South-West Africa led a force against a group which had rebelled against the imposition of dog tax. On 1 May 1950, eighteen Africans died as a result of police shootings during the strike. On 21 March 1960, sixty-nine unarmed Africans died at Sharpeville.

How many more Sharpevilles would there be in the history of our country? And how many more Sharpevilles could the country stand without violence and terror becoming the order of the day? And what would happen to our people when that stage was reached? In the long run we felt certain we must succeed, but at what cost to ourselves and the rest of the country? And if this happened, how could black and white ever live together again in peace and harmony? These were the problems that faced us, and these were our decisions.

Experience convinced us that rebellion would offer the Government limitless opportunities for the indiscriminate slaughter of our people. But it was precisely because the soil of South Africa is already drenched with the blood of innocent Africans that we felt it our duty to make preparations as a long-term undertaking to use force in order to defend ourselves against force. If war were inevitable, we wanted the fight to be conducted on terms most favorable to our people. The fight which held out prospects best for us and the least risk of life to both sides was guerrilla warfare. We decided, therefore, in our preparations for the future, to make provision for the possibility of guerrilla warfare.

All whites undergo compulsory military training, but no such training was given to Africans. It was in our view essential to build up a nucleus of trained men who would be able to provide the leadership which would be required if guerrilla warfare started. We had to prepare for such a situation before it became too late to make proper preparations. It was also necessary to build up a nucleus of men trained in civil administration and other professions, so that Africans would be equipped to participate in the government of this country as soon as they were allowed to do so.

At this stage it was decided that I should attend the Conference of the Pan-African Freedom Movement for Central, East, and Southern Africa, which was to be held early in 1962 in Addis Ababa, and, because of our need for preparation, it was also decided that, after the conference, I would undertake a tour of the African States with a view to obtaining facilities for the training of soldiers, and that I would also solicit scholarships for the higher education of matriculated Africans. Training in both fields would be necessary, even if changes came about by peaceful means. Administrators would be necessary who would be willing and able to administer a non-racial State and so would men be necessary to control the army and police force of such a State.

Mr Mandela on the day of his release from prison–A Long Walk to Freedom

It was on this note that I left South Africa to proceed to Addis Ababa as a delegate of the ANC. My tour was a success. Wherever I went I met sympathy for our cause and promises of help. All Africa was united against the stand of White South Africa, and even in London I was received with great sympathy by political leaders, such as Mr. Gaitskell and Mr. Grimond. In Africa I was promised support by such men as Julius Nyerere, now President of Tanganyika; Mr. Kawawa, then Prime Minister of Tanganyika; Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia; General Abboud, President of the Sudan; Habib Bourguiba, President of Tunisia; Ben Bella, now President of Algeria; Modibo Keita, President of Mali; Leopold Senghor, President of Senegal; Sekou Toure, President of Guinea; President Tubman of Liberia; and Milton Obote, Prime Minister of Uganda. It was Ben Bella who invited me to visit Oujda, the Headquarters of the Algerian Army of National Liberation, the visit which is described in my diary, one of the Exhibits.

I started to make a study of the art of war and revolution and, whilst abroad, underwent a course in military training. If there was to be guerrilla warfare, I wanted to be able to stand and fight with my people and to share the hazards of war with them. Notes of lectures which I received in Algeria are contained in Exhibit 16, produced in evidence. Summaries of books on guerrilla warfare and military strategy have also been produced. I have already admitted that these documents are in my writing, and I acknowledge that I made these studies to equip myself for the role which I might have to play if the struggle drifted into guerrilla warfare. I approached this question as every African Nationalist should do. I was completely objective. The Court will see that I attempted to examine all types of authority on the subject – from the East and from the West, going back to the classic work of Clausewitz, and covering such a variety as Mao Tse Tung and Che Guevara on the one hand, and the writings on the Anglo-Boer War on the other. Of course, these notes are merely summaries of the books I read and do not contain my personal views. I also made arrangements for our recruits to undergo military training. But here it was impossible to organize any scheme without the co-operation of the ANC offices in Africa. I consequently obtained the permission of the ANC in South Africa to do this. To this extent then there was a departure from the original decision of the ANC, but it applied outside South Africa only. The first batch of recruits actually arrived in Tanganyika when I was passing through that country on my way back to South Africa.

I returned to South Africa and reported to my colleagues on the results of my trip. On my return I found that there had been little alteration in the political scene save that the threat of a death penalty for sabotage had now become a fact. The attitude of my colleagues in Umkhonto was much the same as it had been before I left. They were feeling their way cautiously and felt that it would be a long time before the possibilities of sabotage were exhausted. In fact, the view was expressed by some that the training of recruits was premature. This is recorded by me in the document which is Exhibit R.14. After a full discussion, however, it was decided to go ahead with the plans for military training because of the fact that it would take many years to build up a sufficient nucleus of trained soldiers to start a guerrilla campaign, and whatever happened, the training would be of value.

I wish to turn now to certain general allegations made in this case by the State. But before doing so, I wish to revert to certain occurrences said by witnesses to have happened in Port Elizabeth and East London. I am referring to the bombing of private houses of pro-Government persons during September, October and November 1962. I do not know what justification there was for these acts, nor what provocation had been given. But if what I have said already is accepted, then it is clear that these acts had nothing to do with the carrying out of the policy of Umkhonto.

Mr Mandela in his boxing days

One of the chief allegations in the indictment is that the ANC was a party to a general conspiracy to commit sabotage. I have already explained why this is incorrect but how, externally, there was a departure from the original principle laid down by the ANC. There has, of course, been overlapping of functions internally as well, because there is a difference between a resolution adopted in the atmosphere of a committee room and the concrete difficulties that arise in the field of practical activity. At a later stage the position was further affected by bannings and house arrests, and by persons leaving the country to take up political work abroad. This led to individuals having to do work in different capacities. But though this may have blurred the distinction between Umkhonto and the ANC, it by no means abolished that distinction. Great care was taken to keep the activities of the two organizations in South Africa distinct. The ANC remained a mass political body of Africans only carrying on the type of political work they had conducted prior to 1961. Umkhonto remained a small organization recruiting its members from different races and organizations and trying to achieve its own particular object. The fact that members of Umkhonto were recruited from the ANC, and the fact that persons served both organizations, like Solomon Mbanjwa, did not, in our view, change the nature of the ANC or give it a policy of violence. This overlapping of officers, however, was more the exception than the rule. This is why persons such as ‘Mr. X’ and ‘Mr. Z,’ who were on the Regional Command of their respective areas, did not participate in any of the ANC committees or activities, and why people such as Mr. Bennett Mashiyana and Mr. Reginald Ndubi did not hear of sabotage at their ANC meetings.

Another of the allegations in the indictment is that Rivonia was the headquarters of Umkhonto. This is not true of the time when I was there. I was told, of course, and knew that certain of the activities of the Communist Party were carried on there. But this is no reason (as I shall presently explain) why I should not use the place. I came there in the following manner:

As already indicated, early in April 1961 I went underground to organize the May general strike. My work entailed traveling throughout the country, living now in African townships, then in country villages and again in cities.

During the second half of the year I started visiting the Parktown home of Arthur Goldreich, where I used to meet my family privately. Although I had no direct political association with him, I had known Arthur Goldreich socially since 1958.

In October, Arthur Goldreich informed me that he was moving out of town and offered me a hiding place there. A few days thereafter, he arranged for Michael Harmel to take me to Rivonia. I naturally found Rivonia an ideal place for the man who lived the life of an outlaw. Up to that time I had been compelled to live indoors during the daytime and could only venture out under cover of darkness. But at Liliesleaf [farm, Rivonia,] I could live differently and work far more efficiently.

For obvious reasons, I had to disguise myself and I assumed the fictitious name of David. In December, Arthur Goldreich and his family moved in. I stayed there until I went abroad on 11 January 1962. As already indicated, I returned in July 1962 and was arrested in Natal on 5 August.

Up to the time of my arrest, Liliesleaf farm was the headquarters of neither the African National Congress nor Umkhonto. With the exception of myself, none of the officials or members of these bodies lived there, no meetings of the governing bodies were ever held there, and no activities connected with them were either organized or directed from there. On numerous occasions during my stay at Liliesleaf farm I met both the Executive Committee of the ANC, as well as the NHC, but such meetings were held elsewhere and not on the farm.

Whilst staying at Liliesleaf farm, I frequently visited Arthur Goldreich in the main house and he also paid me visits in my room. We had numerous political discussions covering a variety of subjects. We discussed ideological and practical questions, the Congress Alliance, Umkhonto and its activities generally, and his experiences as a soldier in the Palmach, the military wing of the Haganah. Haganah was the political authority of the Jewish National Movement in Palestine. Because of what I had got to know of Goldreich, I recommended on my return to South Africa that he should be recruited to Umkhonto. I do not know of my personal knowledge whether this was done.

Another of the allegations made by the State is that the aims and objects of the ANC and the Communist Party are the same. I wish to deal with this and with my own political position, because I must assume that the State may try to argue from certain Exhibits that I tried to introduce Marxism into the ANC. The allegation as to the ANC is false. This is an old allegation which was disproved at the Treason Trial and which has again reared its head. But since the allegation has been made again, I shall deal with it as well as with the relationship between the ANC and the Communist Party and Umkhonto and that party.

The ideological creed of the ANC is, and always has been, the creed of African Nationalism. It is not the concept of African Nationalism expressed in the cry, ‘Drive the White man into the sea.’ The African Nationalism for which the ANC stands is the concept of freedom and fulfilment for the African people in their own land. The most important political document ever adopted by the ANC is the ‘Freedom Charter.’ It is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state. It calls for redistribution, but not nationalization, of land; it provides for nationalization of mines, banks, and monopoly industry, because big monopolies are owned by one race only, and without such nationalization racial domination would be perpetuated despite the spread of political power. It would be a hollow gesture to repeal the Gold Law prohibitions against Africans when all gold mines are owned by European companies. In this respect the ANC’s policy corresponds with the old policy of the present Nationalist Party which, for many years, had as part of its program the nationalization of the gold mines which, at that time, were controlled by foreign capital. Under the Freedom Charter, nationalization would take place in an economy based on private enterprise. The realization of the Freedom Charter would open up fresh fields for a prosperous African population of all classes, including the middle class. The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society.

As far as the Communist Party is concerned, and if I understand its policy correctly, it stands for the establishment of a State based on the principles of Marxism. Although it is prepared to work for the Freedom Charter, as a short term solution to the problems created by white supremacy, it regards the Freedom Charter as the beginning, and not the end, of its program.

The ANC, unlike the Communist Party, admitted Africans only as members. Its chief goal was, and is, for the African people to win unity and full political rights. The Communist Party’s main aim, on the other hand, was to remove the capitalists and to replace them with a working-class government. The Communist Party sought to emphasize class distinctions whilst the ANC seeks to harmonize them. This is a vital distinction.

It is true that there has often been close co-operation between the ANC and the Communist Party. But co-operation is merely proof of a common goal – in this case the removal of white supremacy – and is not proof of a complete community of interests.

The history of the world is full of similar examples. Perhaps the most striking illustration is to be found in the co-operation between Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Soviet Union in the fight against Hitler. Nobody but Hitler would have dared to suggest that such co-operation turned Churchill or Roosevelt into communists or communist tools, or that Britain and America were working to bring about a communist world.

Another instance of such co-operation is to be found precisely in Umkhonto. Shortly after Umkhonto was constituted, I was informed by some of its members that the Communist Party would support Umkhonto, and this then occurred. At a later stage the support was made openly. I believe that communists have always played an active role in the fight by colonial countries for their freedom, because the short-term objects of communism would always correspond with the long-term

objects of freedom movements. Thus communists have played an important role in the freedom struggles fought in countries such as Malaya, Algeria, and Indonesia, yet none of these States today are communist countries. Similarly in the underground resistance movements which sprung up in Europe during the last World War, communists played an important role. Even General Chiang Kai-Shek, today one of the bitterest enemies of communism, fought together with the communists against the ruling class in the struggle which led to his assumption of power in China in the 1930s.

This pattern of co-operation between communists and non-communists has been repeated in the National Liberation Movement of South Africa. Prior to the banning of the Communist Party, joint campaigns involving the Communist Party and the Congress movements were accepted practice. African communists could, and did, become members of the ANC, and some served on the National, Provincial, and local committees. Amongst those who served on the National Executive are Albert Nzula, a former Secretary of the Communist Party, Moses Kotane, another former Secretary, and J. B. Marks, a former member of the Central Committee.

I joined the ANC in 1944, and in my younger days I held the view that the policy of admitting communists to the ANC, and the close co-operation which existed at times on specific issues between the ANC and the Communist Party, would lead to a watering down of the concept of African Nationalism. At that stage I was a member of the African National Congress Youth League, and was one of a group which moved for the expulsion of communists from the ANC. This proposal was heavily defeated. Amongst those who voted against the proposal were some of the most conservative sections of African political opinion. They defended the policy on the ground that from its inception the ANC was formed and built up, not as a political party with one school of political thought, but as a Parliament of the African people, accommodating people of various political convictions, all united by the common goal of national liberation. I was eventually won over to this point of view and I have upheld it ever since.

It is perhaps difficult for white South Africans, with an ingrained prejudice against communism, to understand why experienced African politicians so readily accept communists as their friends. But to us the reason is obvious. Theoretical differences amongst those fighting against oppression is a luxury we cannot afford at this stage. What is more, for many decades communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as human beings and their equals; who were prepared to eat with us; talk with us, live with us, and work with us. They were the only political group which was prepared to work with the Africans for the attainment of political rights and a stake in society. Because of this, there are many Africans who, today, tend to equate freedom with communism. They are supported in this belief by a legislature which brands all exponents of democratic government and African freedom as communists and bans many of them (who are not communists) under the Suppression of Communism Act. Although I have never been a member of the Communist Party, I myself have been named under that pernicious Act because of the role I played in the Defiance Campaign. I have also been banned and imprisoned under that Act.

It is not only in internal politics that we count communists as amongst those who support our cause. In the international field, communist countries have always come to our aid. In the United Nations and other Councils of the world the communist bloc has supported the Afro-Asian struggle against colonialism and often seems to be more sympathetic to our plight than some of the Western powers. Although there is a universal condemnation of apartheid, the communist bloc speaks out against it with a louder voice than most of the white world. In these circumstances, it would take a brash young politician, such as I was in 1949, to proclaim that the Communists are our enemies.

I turn now to my own position. I have denied that I am a communist, and I think that in the circumstances I am obliged to state exactly what my political beliefs are.

I have always regarded myself, in the first place, as an African patriot. After all, I was born in Umtata, forty-six years ago. My guardian was my cousin, who was the acting paramount chief of Tembuland, and I am related both to the present paramount chief of Tembuland, Sabata Dalindyebo, and to Kaizer Matanzima, the Chief Minister of the Transkei.

Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part from Marxist reading and, in part, from my admiration of the structure and organization of early African societies in this country. The land, then the main means of production, belonged to the tribe. There were no rich or poor and there was no exploitation.

It is true, as I have already stated, that I have been influenced by Marxist thought. But this is also true of many of the leaders of the new independent States. Such widely different persons as Gandhi, Nehru, Nkrumah, and Nasser all acknowledge this fact. We all accept the need for some form of socialism to enable our people to catch up with the advanced countries of this world and to overcome their legacy of extreme poverty. But this does not mean we are Marxists.

Indeed, for my own part, I believe that it is open to debate whether the Communist Party has any specific role to play at this particular stage of our political struggle. The basic task at the present moment is the removal of race discrimination and the attainment of democratic rights on the basis of the Freedom Charter. In so far as that Party furthers this task, I welcome its assistance. I realize that it is one of the means by which people of all races can be drawn into our struggle.

From my reading of Marxist literature and from conversations with Marxists, I have gained the impression that communists regard the parliamentary system of the West as undemocratic and reactionary. But, on the contrary, I am an admirer of such a system.

The Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, and the Bill of Rights are documents which are held in veneration by democrats throughout the world. I have great respect for British political institutions, and for the country’s system of justice. I regard the British Parliament as the most democratic institution in the world, and the independence and impartiality of its judiciary never fails to arouse my admiration. The American Congress, that country’s doctrine of separation of powers, as well as the independence of its judiciary, arouses in me similar sentiments.

I have been influenced in my thinking by both West and East. All this has led me to feel that in my search for a political formula, I should be absolutely impartial and objective. I should tie myself to no particular system of society other than of socialism. I must leave myself free to borrow the best from the West and from the East.

There are certain Exhibits which suggest that we received financial support from abroad, and I wish to deal with this question. Our political struggle has always been financed from internal sources – from funds raised by our own people and by our own supporters. Whenever we had a special campaign or an important political case–for example, the Treason Trial–we received financial assistance from sympathetic individuals and organizations in the Western countries. We had never felt it necessary to go beyond these sources.

But when in 1961 the Umkhonto was formed, and a new phase of struggle introduced, we realized that these events would make a heavy call on our slender resources, and that the scale of our activities would be hampered by the lack of funds. One of my instructions, as I went abroad in January 1962, was to raise funds from the African states. I must add that, whilst abroad, I had discussions with leaders of political movements in Africa and discovered that almost every single one of them, in areas which had still not attained independence, had received all forms of assistance from the socialist countries, as well as from the West, including that of financial support. I also discovered that some well-known African states, all of them non-communists, and even anti-communists, had received similar assistance.

On my return to the Republic, I made a strong recommendation to the ANC that we should not confine ourselves to Africa and the Western countries, but that we should also send a mission to the socialist countries to raise the funds which we so urgently needed. I have been told that after I was convicted such a mission was sent, but I am not prepared to name any countries to which it went, nor am I at liberty to disclose the names of the organizations and countries which gave us support or promised to do so.

As I understand the State case, and in particular the evidence of ‘Mr. X,’ the suggestion is that Umkhonto was the inspiration of the Communist Party which sought by playing upon imaginary grievances to enroll the African people into an army which ostensibly was to fight for African freedom, but in reality was fighting for a communist state. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact the suggestion is preposterous. Umkhonto was formed by Africans to further their struggle for freedom in their own land. Communists and others supported the movement, and we only wish that more sections of the community would join us.

Our fight is against real, and not imaginary, hardships or, to use the language of the State Prosecutor, ‘so-called hardships.’ Basically, we fight against two features which are the hallmarks of African life in South Africa and which are entrenched by legislation which we seek to have repealed. These features are poverty and lack of human dignity,and we do not need communists or so-called ‘agitators’ to teach us about these things.

South Africa is the richest country in Africa, and could be one of the richest countries in the world. But it is a land of extremes and remarkable contrasts. The whites enjoy what may well be the highest standard of living in the world, whilst Africans live in poverty and misery. Forty per cent of the Africans live in hopelessly overcrowded and, in some cases, drought-stricken Reserves, where soil erosion and the overworking of the soil makes it impossible for them to live properly off the land. Thirty per cent are laborers, labor tenants, and squatters on white farms and work and live under conditions similar to those of the serfs of the Middle Ages. The other 30 per cent live in towns where they have developed economic and social habits which bring them closer in many respects to white standards. Yet most Africans, even in this group, are impoverished by low incomes and high cost of living.

The highest-paid and the most prosperous section of urban African life is in Johannesburg. Yet their actual position is desperate. The latest figures were given on 25 March 1964 by Mr. Carr, Manager of the Johannesburg Non-European Affairs Department. The poverty datum line for the average African family in Johannesburg (according to Mr. Carr’s department) is R42.84 per month. He showed that the average monthly wage is R32.24 and that 46 per cent of all African families in Johannesburg do not earn enough to keep them going.

Poverty goes hand in hand with malnutrition and disease. The incidence of malnutrition and deficiency diseases is very high amongst Africans. Tuberculosis, pellagra, kwashiorkor, gastro-enteritis, and scurvy bring death and destruction of health. The incidence of infant mortality is one of the highest in the world. According to the Medical Officer of Health for Pretoria, tuberculosis kills forty people a day (almost all Africans), and in 1961 there were 58,491 new cases reported. These diseases not only destroy the vital organs of the body, but they result in retarded mental conditions and lack of initiative, and reduce powers of concentration. The secondary results of such conditions affect the whole community and the standard of work performed by African laborers.

The complaint of Africans, however, is not only that they are poor and the whites are rich, but that the laws which are made by the whites are designed to preserve this situation. There are two ways to break out of poverty. The first is by formal education, and the second is by the worker acquiring a greater skill at his work and thus higher wages. As far as Africans are concerned, both these avenues of advancement are deliberately curtailed by legislation.

The present Government has always sought to hamper Africans in their search for education. One of their early acts, after coming into power, was to stop subsidies for African school feeding. Many African children who attended schools depended on this supplement to their diet. This was a cruel act.

There is compulsory education for all white children at virtually no cost to their parents, be they rich or poor. Similar facilities are not provided for the African children, though there are some who receive such assistance. African children, however, generally have to pay more for their schooling than whites. According to figures quoted by the South African Institute of Race Relations in its 1963 journal, approximately 40 per cent of African children in the age group between seven to fourteen do not attend school. For those who do attend school, the standards are vastly different from those afforded to white children. In 1960-61 the per capita Government spending on African students at State-aided schools was estimated at R12.46. In the same years, the per capita spending on white children in the Cape Province (which are the only figures available to me) was R144.57. Although there are no figures available to me, it can be stated, without doubt, that the white children on whom R144.57 per head was being spent all came from wealthier homes than African children on whom R12.46 per head was being spent.

The quality of education is also different. According to the Bantu Educational Journal, only 5,660 African children in the whole of South Africa passed their Junior Certificate in 1962, and in that year only362 passed matric. This is presumably consistent with the policy of Bantu education about which the present Prime Minister said, during the debate on the Bantu Education Bill in 1953:

“When I have control of Native education I will reform it so that Natives will be taught from childhood to realize that equality with Europeans is not for them . . . People who believe in equality are not desirable teachers for Natives. When my Department controls Native education it will know for what class of higher education a Native is fitted, and whether he will have a chance in life to use his knowledge.”

The other main obstacle to the economic advancement of the African is the industrial color-bar under which all the better jobs of industry are reserved for Whites only. Moreover, Africans who do obtain employment in the unskilled and semi-skilled occupations which are open to them are not allowed to form trade unions which have recognition under the Industrial Conciliation Act. This means that strikes of African workers are illegal, and that they are denied the right of collective bargaining which is permitted to the better-paid White workers. The discrimination in the policy of successive South African Governments towards African workers is demonstrated by the so-called ‘civilized labor policy’ under which sheltered, unskilled Government jobs are found for those white workers who cannot make the grade in industry, at wages which far exceed the earnings of the average African employee in industry.

The Government often answers its critics by saying that Africans in South Africa are economically better off than the inhabitants of the other countries in Africa. I do not know whether this statement is true and doubt whether any comparison can be made without having regard to the cost-of-living index in such countries. But even if it is true, as far as the African people are concerned it is irrelevant. Our complaint is not that we are poor by comparison with people in other countries, but that we are poor by comparison with the white people in our own country, and that we are prevented by legislation

from altering this imbalance.

The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority. Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion. Menial tasks in South Africa are invariably performed by Africans. When anything has to be carried or cleaned the white man will look around for an African to do it for him, whether the African is employed by him or not. Because of this sort of attitude, whites tend to regard Africans as a separate breed. They do not look upon them as people with families of their own; they do not realize that they have emotions – that they fall in love like white people do; that they want to be with their wives and children like white people want to be with theirs; that they want to earn enough money to support their families properly, to feed and clothe them and send them to school. And what ‘house-boy’ or ‘garden-boy’ or laborer can ever hope to do this?

Pass laws, which to the Africans are among the most hated bits of legislation in South Africa, render any African liable to police surveillance at any time. I doubt whether there is a single African male in South Africa who has not at some stage had a brush with the police over his pass. Hundreds and thousands of Africans are thrown into jail each year under pass laws. Even worse than this is the fact that pass laws keep husband and wife apart and lead to the breakdown of family life.

Poverty and the breakdown of family life have secondary effects. Children wander about the streets of the townships because they have no schools to go to, or no money to enable them to go to school, or no parents at home to see that they go to school, because both parents (if there be two) have to work to keep the family alive. This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy, and to growing violence which erupts not only politically, but everywhere. Life in the townships is dangerous. There is not a day that goes by without somebody being stabbed or assaulted. And violence is carried out of the townships in the white living areas. People are afraid to walk alone in the streets after dark. House breakings and robberies are increasing, despite the fact that the death sentence can now be imposed for such offences. Death sentences cannot cure the festering sore.

Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing, and not work which the Government declares them to be capable of. Africans want to be allowed to live where they obtain work, and not be endorsed out of an area because they were not born there. Africans want to be allowed to own land in places where they work, and not to be obliged to live in rented houses which they can never call their own. Africans want to be part of the general population, and not confined to living in their own ghettoes. African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men’s hostels. African women want to be with their menfolk and not be left permanently widowed in the Reserves. Africans want to be allowed out after eleven o’clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children. Africans want to be allowed to travel in their own country and to seek work where they want to and not where the Labor Bureau tells them to. Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.

Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.

But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on color, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one color group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.

This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Mr Mandela with his family


Real Republicans? The Election of 1856

Joshua Giddings

By this point everyone is aware that this year is an election year in the United States. The presidency and most seats in Congress are at stake. Throughout the next three and a half months, in addition to my on-going look at the events of the Amer8ican Civil War, I shall be taking a critical look at American politics through the lens [yes, I deliberately use the plural form] of history. There are many amazing stories to share.

This essay begins with a warning. When I started this blog a bit over a year ago, I wrote in my first essay: “My interests are varied, my age senior, my politics and theology unapologetically liberal. If you enjoy my rambling, I am pleased. If you don’t, well the web is a wide, wide world. To each her own.” Allow me to elaborate, to demonstrate further what I mean.

I am a pro-choice feminist. Women are entitled to the integrity of their own bodies. Women do not exist merely to satisfy the sexual fantasies and desires of men. When a woman says “no!” she means “no!” Marital rape is as much a crime as any other involuntary sexual act. Women are entitled to equal pay for equal work. Glass ceilings are a crime. A woman’s place is in the House as well as the Senate and the Supreme Court. Women are just as good in science, math and engineering as men. Any doubts, look at the work of Marie Curie, remembering she was not necessarily unique, except for winning two Nobel prizes in two different sciences, a feat matched many years later by only one man. I am a fierce supporter of lesbian, gay,.bisexual and transgender persons. I believe that marriage is a civil right for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. I do not believe that corporations are legally “persons” for purposes of American constitutional law, nor should they be, and I do believe that corporations and wealthy persons should be taxed at higher rates than poor and middle class persons. Corporations should not be entitled to tax breaks for the purposes of exploiting our natural resources. Workers are entitled to decent wages, safe working conditions and health insurance. Labor unions are one way, not the only but certainly one way, that workers’ rights are protected. Minority groups have been exploited and discriminated against in the American past, in some ways many still are and these persons are entitled to recompense and equal protection of the law. To my understanding, the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States does not allow citizens to own arsenals of weapons in their homes, to carry concealed weapons or to shoot people because they don’t like the color of their skin or their choice of religion. Separation of church and state and free exercise of religion are essential to democracy. The death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. Freedom of the press makes possible free government. The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United is a step backward, an attempt by the Court’s right wing along with monied interests to take government away from the common people and return to the power of the rich robber barons, just as in the nineteenth century. As a Christian, I believe that the heart of the Gospel is to reach out to the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized as Jesus himself did.

In this election year I have a thing or six to say about American politics. Most of that is harsh and unflattering to the Republican Party nationally and to the current Republican administration in my state, Pennsylvania. And if you, gentle reader, are conservative in your views, you will most likely be offended by what I say. So read on at your own risk or switch right now to another blog. I think that blogging is a kind of modern independent journalism and a journalist I greatly admire is the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. In the opening editorial of The Liberator in 1831, he declared:”I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. . . . I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch.”

This is the first of a series on the roots and origins of the Republican Party. My question is “Are there any real Republicans these days?” And my short answer is “No, there are not.” To show how I reached my answer, I am going to look at the elections of 1856 and 1860, the Radical Republicans [yes, that is not a contradiction in terms–once upon a time there were senators and representatives who identified themselves as such] and the Reconstruction amendments [13th, 14th & 15th] to the United States Constitution, and finally the elections of 1900 and 1904 when Teddy Roosevelt embodied, for the last time, I believe, the Republican values and virtues of John Fremont, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Sumner.

FDR in Pittsburgh, 1940

I must emphasize that I speak only for myself, not for any organization or group. What follows are my opinions. In the interests of full disclosure, I must say that my maternal grandparents were Republicans. My mother, who grew up during the Great Depression, always proudly considered herself not merely a Democrat but a “Roosevelt Democrat.” [She successfully convinced her mother to change party affiliation in 1960 and vote for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket.] Her younger brother, my favorite uncle, is also a card-carrying Democrat who glories in the term “liberal.” In the first election in which I could vote I was one of those college students who went “Clean for Gene.” My political views come from FDR’s New Deal, Jack Kennedy’s New Frontier, Eugene V Debs’ “Bending Cross” speech, chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew [when the Italian social activist Father John Bosco was asked about politics, he replied, “My political views are those of the Lord’s Prayer”], Quaker peace principles and the IWW’s concept of “one big union.” I have voted for Democrats, independents and various third party candidates but, never, to my knowledge, for a Republican. And since my dominant hand has not withered, I believe that I never have pulled the lever for a Republican. In my mind, the criticism of President Obama as a “socialist” simply reveals the ignorance of his critics who apparently do not know enough history or current events to recognize a real socialist if one stood in front of them. All that said, if you are still reading, let me move on apiece to my first historical study–the election of !856.

George Washington Julian

In the January, 1899 issue of the American Historical Review, the retied Quaker politician from Indiana George Washington Julian published an article entitled “The First Republican National Convention.” Julian was present in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in February of 1856. It is fortunate for us that he published when he did for he died six months later at the age of 82. In his opening Julian wrote, “No roll of the members was preserved, while the several histories of political parties and conventions which have since appeared contain little more than a mere reference to the subject. Since the writer is one of the very few survivors of the convention, and was officially and somewhat actively connected with its proceedings, and since there is always a natural curiosity to know something of the beginnings of a great historic movement, perhaps a brief paper on the subject may prove timely and not entirely without value as a contribution to the literature of politics. The creation of the proposed new party was a vexed problem.”


Horace Greeley


Julian points out that the old Whig Party, begun in 1833, floundered in the election of 1852 and by 1854 groups calling themselves Republicans began appearing in Michigan, Wisconsin, Vermont, Ohio and Indiana. Responding to a call from state organizations for a national organizing convention, self-selected volunteers representing sixteen northern states and eight southern states gathered February 22nd and 23rd at Lafayette Hall in downtown Pittsburgh. An historical marker still adorns the spot. Those present included Julian and his father-in-law, Joshua Giddings from Ohio who had made a name for himself in Congress by siding with the elderly John Quincy Adams against the southern gag rule forbidding discussion of the slavery question. When southerners had him disciplined and dismissed from Congress, his constituents in northeast Ohio promptly reelected to the House of Representatives.

Owen Lovejoy

Others present included Horace Greeley, age 45, founding editor of the New York Tribune, out-spoken opponent of slavery and the use of liquor, advocate of working people, vegetarianism and some ideas of European socialism. His paper would quickly become the national organ of the new party. John A King, age 68, who would become the first Republican governor of New York. Owen Lovejoy, age 45, from Illinois, a minister and abolitionist and whose brother Elijan P Lovejoy had been murdered by a pro-slavery mob for his attempt to start an abolitionist newspaper. Francis P Blair, a Maryland man approaching age 65, a former slave-owner who now opposed the expansion of slavery. Lawrence Brainerd from Vermont, age 61, abolitionist and businessman. Abijah Mann, age 62, a lawyer and politician from New York state, active in a number of reforms. Zachariah Chandler, age 43 from Michigan, a teacher and politician who organized state-wide resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Oliver P Morton, age 33, from Indiana, a lawyer and anti-slavery activist. And David Wilmot, age 42, a Pennsylvania who was also anathema to slave-holders for his opposition while a Congressman to allowing slavery to expand to territory seized from Mexico in the war of 1846.

Zachariah Chandler

From this point onward, one can speak of a national Republican Party. As Julian wrote, it was formed primarily by “men who favored the formation of a great national anti-slavery party.” It drew some dissatisfied Democrats, particularly from the mid-Atlantic states and the mid-West as well as former Whigs, former Free Soil Party members, some temperance advocates and some former Know-Nothings, a party that was violently anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant.

The new party held its first nominating convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from June 17th to June 19th in 1856. The convention adopted a platform which, among other things, called for prohibiting the expansion of slavery into the territories not yet organized into states, condemned polygamy and slavery as “twin relics of barbarism,” and federal appropriations to build a transcontinental railroad and to improve rivers and harbors. The convention nominated John C Fremont for President.

John C Fremont

Fremont, 43 years old at the time, was a former soldier, hero of the war with Mexico, credited with the seizure of California, an explorer and adventurer, former senator from California, and married to the beautiful Jessie Benton Fremont, daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton, Democrat of Missouri. His campaign slogan was “Free Soil, Free Men and Fremont.” He opposed the expansion of slavery, particularly Senator Stephan A Douglas’ Kansas-Nebraska Act which effectively destroyed the Compromise of 1820 and gave delighted southerners the prospect of expanding slavery throughout the west, all the way to the Pacific coast. Fremont blamed Democrats for the on-going bloodshed in Kansas between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces. He wanted Kansas admitted to the Union as a free state. Fremont also opposed the Ostend Manifesto which called for taking Cuba from Spain by purchase or force and which northerners saw as a southern attempt to expand slavery as Havana had one of the largest operating slave markets in the Western Hemisphere.

Democrats said that electing Fremont would result in civil war. Even his father-in-law, Senator Benton, spoke against him. In the election, the Democrat James Buchanan won 1,836,072 popular votes [45.3%] and carrying the south as well as California and his home state of Pennsylvania. Fremont won 1,342,345 popular votes [33.1%], carrying all of New England, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. The remaining 21.6% of the popular vote went to third party candidates.

David Wilmot

Are there today people like Fremont, George Washington Julian, Joshua Giddings, Zachariah Chandler, Horace Greeley, David Wilmot and Owen Lovejoy in the Republican Party now? Unfortunately not. Would these people be welcome today in the party which they helped to found? The answer is clearly not. They were too liberal, too reform-minded. Will the Republican platform this summer call for federal money for railroads, rivers and harbors? I have grave doubts. Are there any real Republicans today? No! Not when compared to these greats of 1856.

No Cross of Gold~Thoughts from 1896

Chicago Coliseum~site of 1896 Democratic Convention

In Chicago on July 10, 1896, the Democratic National Convention nominated a thirty-six-year-old former Congressman from Nebraska named William Jennings Bryan as their candidate for President of the United States. In part, it was the result of skilled political maneuvering by Bryan. In part it was in enthusiastic response to the convention speech which he had given the day before, a speech known to history as “the Cross of Gold” speech. In this election year the man and the speech are worth a serious reconsideration.

There has become commonly accepted a view of Bryan as a narrow-minded religious conservative because of his stand in favor of a literal seven day creation as told in the Book of Genesis. However, like so many other famous Americans, William Jennings Bryan was a much more complex figure. Consider these parts of his personality: In the election campaign of 1896 the Republicans accused Bryan of consorting with anarchists. While a biblical literalist and a temperance advocate he believed in the Social Gospel, a view that Christians need to bear witness by reaching out to the poor and needy, and he was an early advocate of what would later be called ecumenism, desirous of Christians affirming what unites them rather than divides them. He carried genuine concern for industrial workers, the urban poor and struggling farmers. He supported woman suffrage when it was vasdtly unpopular with many politicians. He believed in building international peace through arms reduction and treaties of arbitration. When war erupted in Europe in 1914, Bryan was serving as Secretary of State to President Woodrow Wilson. Of the European war, Bryan wrote, “It is not likely that either side will win so complete a victory as to be able to dictate terms, and if either side does win such a victory it will probably mean preparation for another war. It would seem better to look for a more rational basis for peace.” He left Wilson’s Cabinet early in 1915, feeling that Wilson was not working hard enough for peace. In a 1962 interview former President Harry Truman declared, “if it wasn’t for old Bill Bryan there wouldn’t be any liberalism at all in the country now. Bryan kept liberalism alive, he kept it going.”

Bryan being carried around the convention floor after his speech~July 9th

As for that famous speech, consider some of the key parts~

Bryan’s criticism of the Supreme Court:

“They criticize us for our criticism of the Supreme Court of the United States. My friends, we have made no criticism. We have simply called attention to what you know. If you want criticisms, read the dissenting opinions of the Court. That will give you criticisms.”

On Republican accusations that Bryan encouraged class warfare:

“It is for these that we speak. We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest. We are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came.We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!The gentleman from Wisconsin has said he fears a Robespierre. My friend, in this land of the free you need fear no tyrant who will spring up from among the people. What we need is an Andrew Jackson to stand as Jackson stood, against the encroachments of aggregated wealth.”

1896 Democratic campaign poster

On the Republican candidate, William McKinley:

“How is it today? Why, that man who used to boast that he looked like Napoleon, that man shudders today when he thinks that he was nominated on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Not only that, but as he listens he can hear with ever increasing distinctness the sound of the waves as they beat upon the lonely shores of St. Helena. Why this change? Ah, my friends. is not the change evident to anyone who will look at the matter? It is because no private character, however pure, no personal popularity, however great, can protect from the avenging wrath of an indignant people the man who will either declare that he is in favor of fastening the gold standard upon this people, or who is willing to surrender the right of self-government and place legislative control in the hands of foreign potentates and powers.”

On the power of the banks:

“Mr. Jefferson, who was once regarded as good Democratic authority, seems to have a different opinion from the gentleman who has addressed us on the part of the minority. Those who are opposed to this proposition tell us that the issue of paper money is a function of the bank and that the government ought to go out of the banking business. I stand with Jefferson rather than with them, and tell them, as he did, that the issue of money is a function of the government and that the banks should go out of the governing business.”

And on advocacy of the free coinage of silver at a ratio of silver to gold of 16 to 1, a measure which would have increased the amount of money in circulation and aided cash-poor and debt-burdened farmers, that famous concluding paragraph:

“If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon thebrow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”


Bryan on the campaign trail

Thought-provoking in this election year, 116 years later.



The Meaning of the Fourth of July~a Perspective from 1852


Frederick Douglass on the speaker’s platform

Less than a decade before the start of the Civil War, the abolitionist and journalist, Frederick Douglass, himself an escaped slave, delivered a Fourth of July oration in Rochester, New York. The speech stands as a classic of American oratory. To my mind it is one of the best and most insightful speeches ever given by any American about the meaning of Independence Day. Over 10,000 words in length Douglass spoke for several hours, quite normal for an age before radio, television and motion pictures. Citizens expected preachers, lawyers, politicians, actors, circus performers, traveling salesmen and any and all other public figures to entertain, amuse, enthrall, challenge and stimulate them with quality rhetoric, especially on days like the Fourth of July.

Douglass was a skillful self-trained orator. Born sometime in 1818 to a slave mother and white father in Talbot County, Maryland, Douglass learned to read at about age 9. He later wrote that when his owner at that time, Hugh Auld, rebuked his wife for teaching a slave child to read, Douglass knew that literacy was the key to freedom. He managed to acquire a copy of a book entitled The Columbian Orator, a 1797 anthology of political speeches, essays and poems, widely used in American schools at the time to teach reading and public speaking.Douglass memorized much of the book by heart. After a failed escape attempt, Douglass successfully escaped in 1838 and went to New York City. Eventually he married Anna Murray and began a family.

During 1841, Douglass became a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society and traveled widely in the East and Midwest lecturing against slavery. In response to Southern criticism that someone so eloquent could not really be an ex-slave, Douglass published in 1845 an autobiography, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. It remains one of the great American books. To escape recapture following the book’s publication, Douglass fled to England where he spoke throughout the British Isles. on the American anti-slavery movement. The next year he became legally free when British supporters purchased his freedom from Hugh Auld, his former master, for £150 sterling, an amount equal to $722 American dollars at that time and about $21,600 today. By doing so, they enabled Douglass to return to the United States without being arrested as a fugitive slave.

In 1847, Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass, attracted by an active women’s movement, moved their family to Rochester New York. Here Douglass began to publish his newspaper, The North Star. This eventually led to an intellectual, political, philosophical and deeply emotional split with his old friend, the Boston editor William Lloyd Garrison. Douglass attended the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and in a key speech swayed most there to vote in favor of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s radical Declaration of Sentiments. His subsequent editorial is probably one of the first, if not the first, editorial in support of an organized women’s rights movement. He and Susan B Anthony remained friends throughout the rest of his life.


This then is the man who stands at the podium in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York, on July 5th of 1852 to deliver an oration. [Because July 4th fell on a Sunday that year, most places moved the official celebration to the next day so has “to keep holy the Lord’s day.”] In the following I provide some summary and commentary leading to the sections which I consider extremely powerful and important. For those readers who wish to read the entire lengthy text I publish it separately without comment or editing.

Douglass opens his address by a “confession” of his inadequacy and unworthiness to speak to such a distinguished audience, a common tactic in late 18th and much of 19th century oratory. However, with this preliminary aside he quickly moves to separating himself from his predominately white audience by a long series of references to “your deliverance” by “your fathers” in “which you now glory.” He summarizes the history of the American Revolution, noting that the founding fathers “were accounted in their day plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men. To side with the right against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day.”

For another dozen or more paragraphs Douglass summarizes the history of those men and their struggle. Lest the audience doubt his patriotism, he reassures them.

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too-great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

In an additional ten paragraphs this orator who has never had a single day in a classroom unfolds revolutionary history for his audience. He concludes this section with a quotation from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act3, SeceneII:

The evil, that men do, lives after them,

The good is oft interred with their bones.

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Shortly, Douglass moves to a statement of his personal agony, invoking the psalmist’s image of Babylonian captivity.

I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this gloriousanniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common.-The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fa thers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.

[Psalm 137:1-6]

Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse”;[well-known line from Garrison’s first editorial in The Liberator in 1831] I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

Doglass anticipates some critical response from some of his listeners so proceeds to explain his criticism of the United States, leadsing to one of the most brilliant, most impassioned sections of his speech, anticipating by more than a century both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Take the American slave-trade, which we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. . . . . It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several states this trade is a chief source of wealth.



Notice for a slave auction

Douglass describes for his audience the horrors of the domestic slave trade.

 Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and American religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh jobbers, armed with pistol, whip, and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field and the deadly sugar-mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily along, and the inhuman wretch who drives them. Hear his savage yells and his blood-curdling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted captives! There, see the old man with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the centre of your soul The crack you heard was the sound of the slave-whip; the scream you heard was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow this drove to New Orleans. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me, citizens, where, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States.


Douglass moves on, passionately and eloquently to criticize the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act. Like other abolitionists, he was appalled and angry that Senator Daniel Webster, a Massachusetts man, betrayed the cause of liberty by supporting Henry Clay’s Compromise.

But a still more inhuman, disgraceful, and scandalous state of things remains to be presented. By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason and Dixon’s line has been obliterated; New York has become as Virginia; and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women and children, as slaves, remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States. The power is co-extensive with the star-spangled banner, and American Christianity. Where these go, may lso go the merciless slave-hunter. Where these are, man is not sacred. He is a bird for the sportsman’s gun. By that most foul and fiendish of all human decrees, the liberty and person of every man are put in peril. Your broad republican domain is hunting ground for men. Not for thieves and robbers, enemies of society, merely, but for men guilty of no crime. Your law-makers have commanded all good citizens to engage in this hellish sport. Your President, your Secretary of State, your lords, nobles, and ecclesiastics enforce, as a duty you owe to your free and glorious country, and to your God, that you do this accursed thing. Not fewer than forty Americans have, within the past two years, been hunted down and, without a moment’s warning, hurried away in chains, and consigned to slavery and excruciating torture. Some of these have had wives and children, dependent on them for bread; but of this, no account was made. The right of the hunter to his prey stands superior to the right of marriage, and to all rights in this republic, the rights of God included! For black men there is neither law nor justice, humanity nor religion. The Fugitive Slave Law makes mercy to them a crime; and bribes the judge who tries them. An American judge gets ten dollars for every victim he consigns to slavery, and five, when he fails to do so. The oath of any two villains is sufficient, under this hell-black enactment, to send the most pious and exemplary black man into  remorseless jaws of slavery! His own testimony is nothing. He can bring no witnesses for himself. The minister of American justice is bound by the law to hear but one side; and that side is the side of the oppressor. Let this damning fact be perpetually told. Let it be thundered around the world that in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America the seats of justice are filled with judges who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribe, and are bound, in deciding the case of a man’s liberty, to hear only his accusers!


Reward poster for fugitive slaves

******************************************************Finally Douglass turns his oratorical wrath upon American Christianity. Like Garrison, S. S. Foster, Theodore Weld and other radical abolitionists, Douglass sees the churches as a bulwark of support for slavery. With wrath of Luther and Knox, Douglass chastises a church in need of reform.

 I take this law to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were nor stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they, too, would so regard it.

 At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance and makes it utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness. Did this law concern the “mint, anise, and cummin”-abridge the right to sing psalms, to partake of the sacrament, or to engage in any of the ceremonies of religion, it would be smitten by the thunder of a thousand pulpits. A general shout would go up from the church demanding repeal, repeal, instant repeal!-And it would go hard with that politician who presumed to so licit the votes of the people without inscribing this motto on his banner. Further, if this demand were not complied with, another Scotland would be added to the history of religious liberty, and the stern old covenanters would be thrown into the shade. A John Knox would be seen at every church door and heard from every pulpit, and Fillmore would have no more quarter than was shown by Knox to the beautiful, but treacherous, Queen Mary of Scotland. The fact that the church of our country (with fractional exceptions) does not esteem “the Fugitive Slave Law” as a declaration of war against religious liberty, implies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship, an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love, and good will towards man. It esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing; solemn meetings above practical righteousness. A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy is a curse, not a blessing to mankind. The Bible addresses all such persons as “scribes, pharisees, hypocrites, who pay tithe ofÝ mint, anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.”

 But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines, who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.

 For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke put together have done! These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty and leave the throne of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that “pure and undefiled religion” which is from above, and which is “first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and with out hypocrisy.” But a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind; it makes God a respecter of persons, denies his fatherhood of the race, and tramples in the dust the great truth of the brotherhood of man. All this we affirm to be true of the popular church, and the popular worship of our land and nation-a religion, a church, and a worship which, on the authority of inspired wisdom, we pronounce to be an abomination in the sight of God. In the language of Isaiah, the American church might be well addressed, “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me: the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons, and your appointed feasts my soul hateth. They are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them; and when ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you. Yea’ when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge for the fatherless; plead for the widow.”

 The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in its connection with its ability to abolish slavery.

 The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission. Albert Barnes but uttered what the common sense of every man at all observant of the actual state of the case will receive as truth, when he declared that “There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.”

 Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday School, the conference, meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery, and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds, and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive.


Douglass takes a moment to praise the prophets and saints who have spoken against the slave power.


William Wilberforce, British abolitionist and devout Christian

My spirit wearies of such blasphemy; and how such men can be supported, as the “standing types and representatives of Jesus Christ,” is a mystery which I leave others to penetrate. In speaking of the American church, however, let it be distinctly understood that I mean the great mass of the religious organizations of our land. There are exceptions, and I thank God that there are. Noble men may be found, scattered all over these Northern States, of whom Henry Ward Beecher, of Brooklyn; Samuel J. May, of Syracuse; and my esteemed friend (Rev. R. R. Raymond) on the platform, are shining examples; and let me say further, that, upon these men lies the duty to inspire our ranks with high religious faith and zeal, and to cheer us on in the great mission of the slave’s redemption from his chains.

 One is struck with the difference between the attitude of the American church towards the anti-slavery movement, and that occupied by the churches in Eng land towards a similar movement in that country. There, the church, true to its mission of ameliorating, elevating and improving the condition of mankind, came forward promptly, bound up the wounds of the West Indian slave, and re stored him to his liberty. There, the question of emancipation was a high religious question. It was demanded in the name of humanity, and according to the law of the living God. The Sharps, the Clarksons, the Wilberforces, the Buxtons, the Burchells, and the Knibbs were alike famous for their piety and for their philanthropy. The anti-slavery movement there was not an anti-church movement, for the reason that the church took its full share in prosecuting that movement: and the anti-slavery movement in this country will cease to be an anti-church movement, when the church of this country shall assume a favorable instead of a hostile position towards that movement.

 Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from oppression in your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot, and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education; yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation-a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty.


Fellow-citizens, I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad: it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. it fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement; the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet you cling to it as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your crush anation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions and destroy it forever!


I have detained my audience entirely too long already. At some future period I will gladly avail myself of an opportunity to give this subject a full and fair discussion.

 Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery.

 “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from “the Declaration of Independence,” the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe.


 God speed the year of jubilee

The wide world o’er!

When from their galling chains set free,

Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,

With these lines Douglass ended and was, according to period accounts, applauded. It is a speech worthy of our consideration. In what ways would Douglass hurl those challenges today?