Report of a 1911 anti-lynching speech by Rev. John Haynes Holmes. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
In one of the most powerful phillipics against the curse of lynching recently delivered in this country, Rev. John Haynes Holmes, pastor of the Messiah Unitarian church, at the enthusiastic protest meeting against lynching Wednesday evening at Ethical Culture Hall, declared a nation-wide war against the national evil. His speech, frequently interrupted by wild applause, was a plea for the re-endowment of the colored man with equal political and civil rights, and only this is the remedy against the most heinous form of America’s lawlessness, of which the colored man is an especial victim.
It was a mass meeting under the auspices of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Dr. Holmes’ speech was a prophecy of the coming of another movement such as that for abolition which swept the north before the Civil War.
Dr. Holmes declared that lynchings were growing in number and in cruelty, and that the country was becoming more callous to them.
“A few years ago,” he said, “the mobs needed the excuse of an attack upon a woman. Now they do not wait for that excuse. It used to be considered enough to hang the colored man. They want to burn him now. It was bad enough when they invaded his cell and dragged him out to hang him; it is not long since that they took one man, wounded, from his cot in the hospital. These crimes were once confined to the southern states, but times have changed. I will tell you it is growing and that this terrible thing has risen from the ashes of slavery.”
He granted that lynching was one expression of the lawlessness of one of the most lawless of all modern people; he granted that lynching was an expression of the country’s rebuke for the court’s failure to see that undeviating justice was swiftly done. He recognized in both these arguments contributory causes to mob violence, but he thought the trouble deeper than either of these.
“It is because, after all, there are thousands upon thousands of people in this country who do not look upon the colored man as a man, but as an animal, and when our people refuse to believe that the black man is a man, lynching is as inevitable as the shooting of a dog running terrified through the streets when the cry of ‘mad dog’ is raised in the air.
“I confess that for my part I find it rather late in the day to say that it is unfair, immoral and cruel to murder. The time has come to renew that that battle that was fought out fifty or sixty years ago. The time has come when once again the north must do its duty—when once again men must go up and down the country preaching to all who will listen and to those who will not listen the truth that the colored man is a child of God, dowered with equal rights with his white brother; when once again the truth must go forth as it was sent forth sixty years ago by that lonely man who spread the Liberator over the country; when once again a man like Wendell Phillips shall pour upon injustice the vials of his perfect and divine wrath; when once again the American pulpit shall be consecrated by the presence of such a one as Theodore Parker.”