Monday, 9 January 2012

"The Anglo Saxon race, sir, is a most surprising one."

So said Rev. Henry McNeal Turner on 3 September 1868, when the Georgia state legislature - of which, as a Representative, he was a member - expelled all of its black members. Turner was born in 1834 to free parents, but the law prevented the education even of free blacks. As a young teenager he got janitorial work at a law firm and, with the help of the lawyers who recognised his intelligence, managed to educate himself.

He became an African Methodist Church preacher in 1853 and travelled. After the US Civil War (1861-1865) broke out, he helped organise the First Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops (1863) and became an army chaplain.

In 1867 he helped organise the Republican Party in Georgia, served in the state's constitutional convention and was consequently elected to its House of Representatives, where he served until he and twenty-six other black legislators were expelled.

I have selected several quotes, has a complete transcript.

Mr. Speaker: Before proceeding to argue this question upon its intrinsic merits, I wish the members of this House to understand the position that I take. I hold that I am a member of this body. Therefore, sir, I shall neither fawn nor cringe before any party, nor stoop to beg them for my rights.

I am here to demand my rights and to hurl thunderbolts at the men who would dare to cross the threshold of my manhood. There is an old aphorism which says, "fight the devil with fire," and if I should observe the rule in this instance, I wish gentlemen to understand that it is but fighting them with their own weapon.

The Anglo Saxon race, sir, is a most surprising one. No man has ever been more deceived in that race than I have been for the last three weeks. I was not aware that there was in the character of that race so much cowardice or so much pusillanimity. The treachery which has been exhibited in it by gentlemen belonging to that race has shaken my confidence in it more than anything that has come under my observation from the day of my birth.

If you deny my right the right of my constituents to have representation here because it is a "privilege," then, sir, I will show you that I have as many privileges as the whitest man on this floor. If I am not permitted to occupy a seat here, for the purpose of representing my constituents, I want to know how white men can be permitted to do so. How can a white man represent a colored constituency, if a colored man cannot do it?

We have pioneered civilization here; we have built up your country; we have worked in your fields and garnered your harvests for two hundred and fifty years! And what do we ask of you in return? Do we ask you for compensation for the sweat our fathers bore for you for the tears you have caused, and the hearts you have broken, and the lives you have curtailed, and the blood you have spilled? Do we ask retaliation? We ask it not. We are willing to let the dead past bury its dead; but we ask you, now for our rights.

New Georgia Encyclopedia article on Henry McNeal Turner
Titles by Henry McNeal Turner at Documenting the American South
Henry McNeal Turner on Wikipedia


more cowbell said...

Hey, there's no "Like" button here. Obviously I've been out of the blogosphere too long, largely due to that Other online community. Nothing to add, but I liked this post.

SubtleKnife said...

Thank you! I've been rather negligent myself, I must admit.

My computer wanted to fill in negligé, there. Which I haven't been.