Walter F. White - The New Republic

Election by Terror in Florida
'T W A N T to register."
"All right, Jim, you can, but I want to tell
you something. Some God damn black . . . is
g to get killed yet about this voting business."
•ine questioner is a colored man in Orange counyi Florida. The answer is from a registrar, white,
course. The Negro, cognizant of the sinister
thfulness of the reply he had received, would
Probably decide that it was not particularly
^ h for him to press his request. Thus, and in
other ways equally as flagrant, did the elec°n of 1920 proceed in Florida and other south^^'^ states.
•^"e Ku KIux Klan, of infamous post-Civil War
^mory, has been actively revived in the South.
^ avowed purpose is to "keep the nigger in his
' ^ ^ " and to maintain, at all costs, "white suj c y . " In spite of vigorous denials on the part
, '^s leaders, the branches of this organization
, ^^ entered upon a campaign of terror that can
'^n nothing but serious clashes involving the loss
oiany lives and the destruction of much propy- The recent elections brought into full play
of the fear that "white supremacy" would crum^i Negroes were allowed to vote, augmented by
that the recent war experiences of the
soldier had made him less tractable than be^^- In many southern cities and towns, parades
'•'^e Klans were extensively advertised in advance
^ held on the night of October 30th, the Satur^y before election. The effect of these outturnings
robed figures, clad in the white hoods and gowns
orned with flaming red crosses, was probably
^ funding to those who believed in the efficacy of
•methods. The principal danger to America
organizations like the Klan lies in
distorted perspective of conditions. The
emerged from slavery ignorant, uneducated.
It was a simple task to teri'ify him
p _ ^ sight of a band of men, clothed m white
-p ^^^S down a lonely road on a moonlight night.
^Yi the Negro is neither so poor nor so ignornor so easily terrified, a fact known apparently
ji ^^^I'ybody but the revivers of the Ku Klux Klan.
jj '^'^^ of running to cover, frightened, his mood
IS to protect himself and his family by fightfA^.^ the death. It is as though one attempted
'Shten a man of forty by threatening him with
method just doesn't work,
can best be shown by the attitude of the
of facksonville. An old colored woman.
standing on Bay Street as she watched the parade
of the Klansmen on the Saturday night before election, called out derisively to the marchers:
"Buckra (Poor white people), you ain't done
nothing. Those German guns didn't scare us and
we know white robes won't do it now."
Among the educated Negroes there is a seriousness and a determination not to start trouble, but
equally are they resolved not to run from trouble if
it comes. But, whatever were the intentions of the
sponsors of the parade, it acted as an incentive to
bring to the polls on Election Day many colored
men and women voters who had before been indifferent.
The population of Jacksonville at present is estimated at 90,000—Negroes numbering between
45,000 and 50,000. The enfranchisement of
women caused this majority held by Negro voters
to be of grave significance to the Democratic party
of Florida. Coupled with this was the fear which
is general throughout the South that the colored
woman voter is more difficult "to handle" than colored men have been. The Jacksonville Metropolis
of September i6th carried a scare head, "DEMOIN DUVAL COUNTy ENDANGERED BY VERY
article beneath it carried an appeal to race prejudice based upon the fact that more Negro women
than white had shown enough interest in politics to
register. The first line, which read: "Are the
white men and white women of Duval County going to permit 'negro washerwomen and cooks' to
wield the balance of political power?" is indicative
of the nature of the appeal thus made by John E.
Mathews, Secretary of the Citizens' Registration
Committee, Mayor John W. Martin and Frank
M. Ironmonger, Supervisor of Registration. Similar appeals were made throughout the preelection
period. A few days before election, the local press
told of the issuing of 4,000 blank warrants "for the
arrest of Negro men and women who had improperly registered, when they presented themselves for
voting." Yet, all of this failed to stop the colored
people who went quietly and intelligently about
their task of registering.
On Election Day each polling booth was provided by the election officials with four entrances—
one each for white women, white men, colored
women and colored men. Two each were to be
taken simultaneously from the head of each line,
according to the published instructions. This was
not done. No white voter was delayed or hindered
in voting while every possible handicap was put in
the way of colored voters. More than 4,000 colored men and women stood in line from 8 :oo A.
M. to 5 :40 P. M., the closing hour, determined to
vote if possible. Colored women served sandwiches and coffee to the lines at all of the booths.
Later the names, addresses and registration certificate numbers were taken of the more than 4,000
refused voters. Affidavits were being secured from
each of these at the time of my visit to Florida during election week.
The bulk of the colored population in Jacksonville lives in the second, sixth, seventh and eighth
wards. An idea of how they were prevented from
voting may be gained from a comparison of the
number of registered colored and white women and
the total number voting in each ward. It will be remembered that the table below does not give the
number of males, white and colored, who registered in the spring of 1920.
Total Votes Cast—
NegroWomen White Women White and Colored—
Ward Registered
Male and Female
In the above four wards more than 4,000 men and
women were not allowed to \ote though they had
fully qualified in every way. It is these whose
affidavits are being secured.
More serious and more distressing, however,
was the situation found in Orange County where
the election clash at Ocoee occurred. News despatches of November 4th told of the killing of six
colored men, one. by lynching, and of two white
men, when Mose Norman, a colored man attempted to vote although he had not registered nor paid
his poll tax. The facts, secured on the spot, reveal
an entirely different story. Three weeks prior to
election the local Ku Klux Klan sent word to the
colored people of Orange County, that no Negroes
would be allowed to vote and that if any Negro
tried to do so, trouble could be expected. Norman
refused to be intimidated. The registration books
at Orlando show that he had qualified and registered. He was unpopular with the whites because
he was too prosperous—he owned an orange grove
for which he had refused offers of $10,000 several
times. The prevailing sentiment was that Norman
was too prosperous "for a nigger." When Norman went to the polls he was overpowered, severely beaten, his gun taken away from him (he had
gone prepared for he knew there were no limits
to which the Ku Klux Klan would not go) and
ordered to go home. Fie went instead to the home
of July Perry, another colored man, who likewise
January 12,.
was unpopular in that he owned his own home
was foreman of a large orange grove owned
a Northern white man. The community felt
the job he had belonged to a white man. A m""
formed, went out and surrounded the colored settlement, applied kerosene, burned twenty
two churches, a school-house and a lodge hall.
and the other beleaguered Negroes fought
ately. Two members of the mob were killed an
two wounded. Perry, with his arm shot awayi
taken to Orlando and placed in jail. Shortly
wards, a detachment of the mob went to the county
jail at Orlando, to which the sheriff voluntarily
turned over the keys. The mob took Perry j
outside the city and, more dead than alive,
In the meantime, the colored men, women an
children trapped in the burning houses fought desperately against insurmountable odds.
attempting to flee were either shot down or
back into the flames. The number killed will
be known. I asked a white citizen of Ocoee
boasted of his participation in the slaughter ho
many Negroes died. He declared that fifty-^'^
were known to have been killed—that he had kdi^
seventeen "niggers" himself. Almost before tn
embers had died down, eager souvenir hunter
searched like vultures with ghoulish glee among t^
ruins for the charred bones of the hapless
The effect upon the adult white citizens was distressing enough—an air of meritorious work ^'
done—but more appalling was the attitude of t'^
children of the country. When asked about t
rioting, an eleven year old white girl, intelhg^'^
and alert, told exultingly of "the fun we had whe"
some niggers were burned up." The outlook 1°.
a more enlightened generation to come is inde
unpromising when a little girl can exhibit so calio
an attitude towards such a revolting crime.
And thus the story runs. This and many otn
issues of the New Republic could be filled with ta^
after tale of unbelievable horror—how a weal ;
colored physician of Quincy was surrounded at
polls by a mob, members of which spat on his if
and dared him upon pain of death to wipe i*^
cause he had advised colored citizens to q"^^* ^\
register and vote; how in Live Oak two color
business men, undertakers, merchants and i^
owners, were, for the same offense, beaten into
consciousness and ordered to leave homes, pi'op^
and families; how one of them has left and
other lies near the point of death from a pvira')
stroke brought on by the beating; how among |
burned alive at Ocoee were a mother and h
weeks old baby.
y The examples
p ggiven arc enoHtht
The question involved Is not simply that
barring a few Negroes from voting.
Condition which will allow any white man,
highly Intelligent or densely ignorant,
much property or abjectly poor, to vote,
all Negroes are disfranchised, it matters not
now intelligent or worthy of the franchise they may
"^- This situation is not one which Is wholly
Sectional but one which is so fundamental that no
"Citizen of America, North or South, can disregard
What is the remedy? The United States SuCourt has declared unconstitutional, laws
g for the punishment of persons who by
threats of violence have prevented citizens from
^'oting. But there are two definite steps which can
°^ taken. First, a complete and exhaustive ConSi"essional investigation of the elections of 1920
be made. Second, under the provisions of
19 of Chapter 3 of the Federal Criminal
due punishment should be meted out to those
Persons who committed the crimes referred to
^jjj j.j^g many more which a real Congresinvestigation would disclose. The section
to is headed. Offenses Against the Elective
franchise and Civil Rights of Citizens and reads
If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress,
threaten or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or
^'ijoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by
the Constitution or laws of the United States
'^^ey shall be' fined not more than five thousand dollars
and imprisoned not more than ten years, and shall, more<>Ver, be thereafter ineligible to any office, or place of
honor, profit, or trust ci'eaited by the Constitution or
laws of the United States.
this statute Is to be coupled the fifteenth
ment to the Constitution which reads:
The right of the citizens of the United States to vote
ll not be denied or abridged by ithe United States or
^'ly State on account of race, color or previous condition
of servitude.
I he tense feeling now existing indicates that
''•^finite action must be taken at an early date to
the monstrous evils underlying the race
Unless they are taken, it is not at all
that our race riots have just begun.
' Shrill rang the squeak in the empty house
Of i:he sharp-nose mouse, the hungry mouse.
'Sing, sing: here none doth dwell'
Dripped the water in the well.
A robin on the shepherd's grave
Whistled a solitary stave.
'Lone—lone!' the curlew cried
Scolding the sheep-strewn mountainside.
What Profit Hath a Man-
HAMP CLARK is going away from here and
everybody is sorry. He has run out his
string. He has finished his course., He has fought
his fight. At the end of his thirteenth term in
Congress and three days before his seventy-first
birthday he is to be turned out, a "lame duck"
in a world of realities.
Happily, our frame of government is so devised
that there are numbers of places of refuge and
sanctuary for such as he, and the Republicans
will find a place for him if he wants one. Whether
he will care to linger a pensioner about a stage
where he has played so conspicuous a part, I venture to doubt, for he is a tired, disappointed old
man for whpm the taste of life has lost its savor.
He ran into a streak of bad luck in 1912 when
his old friend and hero Bryan, and Woodrow Wilson between them put the gypsy curse on him. Hi;
has never been the same man since.
And now I ask your indulgence while I give this
old actor a hand as he makes his final exit. It is
set down somewhere: "For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool forever:
seeing that which now is in the days to come shall
all be forgotten." The end of old and disappointed politicians is always drear, and so I seek to recapture old, remembered, careless, happy days
when our bold Numidian lion roared with the best
oi them, and was a great figure in the Washington
, Any intelligent sheep will eagerly seek Champ
Clark's company in that happy time when the lion
and the lamb shall dwell together in peace and
amity. Our hero is not nearly so ferocious as the
advertisements and advance notices used to make
him appear. He is a clean-shaven lion with a
hippodrome roar, and he never, never bit anybody. He is a good-humored lion, and loved his
enemies even when he used to roar at them on the
occasions set apart for that pastime in the House
of Representatives.
John Sharp Williams as minority leader in the
House, was a gad-fly. Where he lit he stung and
where he stung he hurt. He buzzed venomously
when in action, and the high strident tones of his
voice raised in angry debate resembled nothing so
much as the cacophony resulting from the application of a rusty file to the dull teeth of a cross-cut
saw. Mr. Williams went into action like a swarm
of angry hornets. It M'as zip! zing! and away.
When Mr. Clark came to be the Democi-atic leader
he would emit a mellow roar at the head of a devoted adversary, tell a yarn, quote Byron, say a
good word for Thomas Jefferson, have a fling at