...Official Recognition of the Negro's Interest
Appointment of Emmett J. Scott as Special Assistant to the Secretary of War---Difficulties Encountered in Establishing Negro's Status---Opportunities Afforded for Effective Work on Behalf of Colored Soldiers---Better Opportunities for Negro Officers, Soldiers, Nurses, Surgeons and Others Obtained Through This Official Connection.
On October 5, 1917, the OFFICIAL BULLETIN (published under the direction of the Committee on Public Information), and the Associated Press, carried the following announcement:
"ADVISOR TO WAR DEPARTMENT"
"Secretary Newton D. Baker of the War Department announces that Emmett J. Scott, for eighteen years confidential secretary to the late Booker T. Washington, and at present secretary of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute for Negroes has been assigned to duty in the War Department as confidential advisor in matters affecting the interests of the 10,000,000 Negroes of the United States, and the part they are to play in connection with the present war."
This was the first intimation that the Secretary of War had been giving attention to the matter of calling to his side a colored man to advise with him matters concerning colored soldiers and colored Americans generally. There has been very great curiosity on the part of a great many people as to how this appointment came about.
Unfortunately, at the outbreak of the war with Germany there seemed to be in America an epidemic of racial disturbances, such as friction due to the rapid emigration of Negro labor from the South to the North, lynchings of Negro men and women in a number of the states, etc., all of which disturbances were seized upon and magnified through the lens of a well-directed German propaganda, with the manifest purpose of stirring up a feeling of bitterness and unrest among both white and colored Americans. There is ample evidence to support the statement that pro-German influence was for a time diligently at work in the vain effort to dampen the ardor and cool the patriotism of Negro Americans and to thus make them careless or indifferent in support of their country's war program. With a view to stabilizing conditions, as an earnest of the Government's desire to secure the unqualified support of all classes of American citizens, and evidently for the special purpose of reassuring Negroes throughout the country that the Government in general, and the War Department in particular entertained a friendly and just attitude toward them, a representative member of that racial group was appointed by Secretary Baker to serve with him as Special Assistant during the period of the war.
My designation was due primarily to a call during the month of August, 1917, by Dr. Robert R. Moton, Principal of Tuskegee Institute, upon the Secretary of War, in which he pointed out the need and necessity of having in the War Department a colored man in touch with Northern and Southern white people and colored people, who could advise whenever delicate questions arose affecting the interests of the colored people of the United States. Dr. Moton sought to convey the heartening impulse, which would come to the colored people of the country if the Government during its period of war should in this direct way recognize the racial group of which he is himself an honored member.
Correspondence with Julius Rosenwald
Prior to Dr. Moton's call at the 'War Department to confer with the Secretary of War, the author had been in direct correspondence with Mr. Julius Rosenwald, a member of the Advisory Board of the Council of National Defense, to whom he addressed a letter under date of March 24, 1917, reading as follows:
Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, March 24, 1917.
Mr. Julius Rosenwald,
Member National Defense Board,
Washington, D. C.
Dear Mr. Rosenwald:
I have not been in the slightest degree confused as to what attitude the, Negro people should assume in connection with the present threatened war situation, but I have been somewhat concerned at what the attitude of the Administration will be with respect to the Negro people. There are ten millions of us in this country---the only country to which we owe allegiance, etc.
You will note by the attached interview which was sent out by the Associated Press last summer following the Carrizal incident, what I had to say respecting the threatened trouble with Mexico. The Negro people feel just the same way with respect to the German situation.
The point of this letter, then, is to ask you as a member of the National Defense Board as to whether or not you will carefully bear in mind what I have written, and command me and all of us here at Tuskegee most freely in connection with any and all situations in which we can be of service during this crucial hour.
In all former wars in which they have participated, the Negro people have proved by their courage and valor their willingness to fight for American liberty, and I believe they will respond in like measure in the present emergency; and I also believe that the American people will find themselves more and more disposed to accord full appreciation to a people who are willing to lay down their lives in defense of democracy and the well-being of their great country.
My responsibilities here at Tuskegee Institute you know about as fully as any one else, but I wish you to know at the same time my entire willingness to serve the present situation in any way that in your opinion may seem wise and desirable.
Yours very truly,
(Signed) EMMETT J. SCOTT.
Mr. Rosenwald suggested that the author prepare a resolution expressive of the feelings of the colored people that might be presented to the Council of National Defense. The answer was as follows:
Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, April 7, 1917.
Dear Mr. Rosenwald:
I have your letter of April 4th, and am returning the papers here with, together with revised resolution which I trust may have your approval.
I am very much gratified to learn that the Council of National Defense is entirely sympathetic and disposed to pass a resolution of this character. .It will accomplish very great good. It should be done, however, as you say, in just the right way.
Throughout the South there is considerable apprehension at this time as to whether or not the Negro people are going to remain loyal to the country in this crisis. There need be no fears on this score. As I sought to express in my letter of March 24, the American people, I believe, will be disposed more and more to remove such handicaps and to right such injustices as we now struggle against after the settlement of the great emergency which now faces our common country. I have referred to the patriotism of the Negro rising above wrongs and injustices so as to disarm that element of our people who are urging that the Negro emphasize his wrongs and injustices so as to force from the Government his recognition of his guaranteed rights under the Constitution, etc. My thought and idea is that a sentence of this character will take note of the fact that the Negro does labor under certain handicaps and injustices and yet rises above it in the face of national emergency and need. I hope that the resolution as drafted may have your approval.
With best wishes, I am,
Yours very truly,
(Signed) EMMETT J. SCOTT.
The Resolution as finally drafted and submitted to Mr. Rosenwald follows:
"1. There are in the United States ten million Negro people. These People have shown allegiance to no country other than the United States. They are in a peculiar and noble sense the children of a united republic. They possess a patriotism which has always risen above wrongs and injustices. There are no hyphenates among them. These people take pride in the fact that it was the charge of Negro troops at San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War that turned the tide there, and that Negroes have fought bravely in every war in which this country has engaged. The Negro was with Jackson at New Orleans, with Perry on Lake Erie, and 180,000 Negro soldiers served in the Civil War.
"2. The Government and the people of the United States are deeply sensible of the loyal support rendered by the Negroes of America to their country in past days of national emergency and need.
"3. Therefore, Be It Resolved, That the Council of National Defense and the Advisory Commission thereto, in joint conference assembled, urge that this Government shall, without regard to racial, political or geographical divisions, give due heed to, and exercise appreciation of the past loyalty of its Negro citizens and of their eager desire to bear anew a generous and helpful part in the common cause of the national defense."
There were still some doubts and misgivings, however, as to whether the Council of National Defense should pass the resolution, which led to further correspondence:
Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, April 17, 1917.
My Dear Mr. Rosenwald:
I do most earnestly urge that the resolutions, preamble and all, be published. My reasons rest on the concrete fact that the opinion prevails in many quarters that colored men are not desired by the Administration to have any part in the prosecution of this war. For instance, as I write, I have before me now a letter just received from a man who is probably the most prominent colored physician of Philadelphia, with this paragraph:
The war. There is not much to be said. about it. Mr. Wilson has plainly shown that he would like to get along as much as possible without the Negro. I see in tonight's "Bulletin" that it has been decided for the first time in two years to enlist colored men for the regular infantry and cavalry. Active enlistment campaigns are going on here for crews for various warships, but Negroes are not wanted save as waiters and lackeys. It is hard to be loyal and patriotic under these circumstances, though it will not do any good to be otherwise.
This same thing is being said over and over again by other colored men, and by many of the colored newspapers of the country. I enclose two statements I have just clipped from one of our most prominent colored newspapers. I have kept watch on this phase from the beginning and fundamentally this was back of my original communication to you.
I appreciate the point of view suggested by members of the Council, and am of the opinion that what I have here suggested and mentioned, bears out the fact that there is an existing feeling that there is "some evidence (or feeling) of discrimination sentiment," if not in action. The compelling reasons, in my opinion, overbear the suggested objections. I have taken occasion to mention the matter to Dr. Moton and he concurs with me in my conclusion.
With thanks always for your interest and generous support of all that concerns us as a race, I am
Yours very sincerely,
(Signed) EMMETT J. SCOTT.
After the Race Was Recognized
Shortly after the author's appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of War, hundreds of letters poured into the War Department from colored citizens residing in all parts of the country, commending Secretary Newton D. Baker for his action in selecting a colored man to represent the interests of that racial group during the period of the War, and expressing their satisfaction with the particular choice which had been made. The sentiment of the white South with reference to this appointment is best conveyed by the following typical editorial expression which appeared in the Mobile News Item, a white newspaper published in the heart of the South:
"The appointment is a wise move and a wise selection. While the Government is coordinating all the interests of the country in the movement to win the war with Germany, it should not overlook the colored people. Thousands of them have been drafted and are being trained for duty in the trenches. They are to wear their country's uniform and represent their country in the greatest conflict of all times. Millions will stay at home tilling the fields and working in the country's industries. They have their problems no less than others, and it is well that one who knows them so intimately is to advise the, Government how to meet these problems."
The colored newspapers were equally responsive in their endorsement of the new policy adopted by Secretary Baker as indicated by his appointment of a representative of the Negro race to advise him on all matters affecting the interests of that particular group during the period of the war, and in numerous editorial comments and special articles warmly commended the selection.
Endorsed by Leading Citizens
Important white Americans, including such representative citizens as Mr. George Foster Peabody, the New York philanthropist, and Mr. Julius Rosenwald, a member of the Advisory Commission of the Council of National Defense, approved the appointment at various times and have given the author the warmest encouragement and support; without such encouragement and support from colored Americans and white Americans alike, it would have been most difficult to handle even a small proportion of the many problems which came to the office.
Mr. Rosenwald, in an address at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, of which he is a trustee, speaking to the officers and teachers and students of the school, March 12, 1918, said:
"In noticing this flag, this Service Flag, hung here in the Chapel, I could not help but feel that there ought to be one very large star there, because the Secretary of War said to me---although I was not directly responsible, and I wanted to deny the responsibility, while I would have been proud to claim it, for Mr. Scott's coming into the War Department---but, notwithstanding that, the Secretary of War has thanked me over and over again, as a Trustee of Tuskegee Institute, for the service he is rendering the War Department and the Nation. When the question came up, I said that nothing would please me better than to see Mr. Scott in Washington, in the War Department, and, of course, none of us would question but what we would all be proud of him in that work as we always have been in everything he has undertaken. There was no question about his making good. That was a foregone conclusion, and as a Trustee I know you, teachers and students of Tuskegee, share that pride with me and the other Trustees in having Mr. Scott in that conspicuous position. Certainly no prouder honor could come to anyone!"
Professor Kelly Miller, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Howard University, a colored college professor of high standing, at a mass meeting of the colored citizens of the District of Columbia at the Dunbar High School, October 22, 1917, also in referring to the appointment said:
"The thanks of the race, amounting almost to gratitude, are due the Secretary of War for his statesmanlike grasp of the situation in designating one of our number to help in bringing the race into sympathetic understanding and cheerful coöperation with the plans and purpose of the Government as they relate to the great struggle in which the world is now involved. Secretary Baker in meeting the impending military emergency has laid the basis of a broad and far-reaching statesmanship. I have always contended, and shall always contend, that the fundamental grievance of the Negro against the American people consists in the fact that he is shut out from participation in the making and administering of the laws by which he is governed and controlled. The nation cannot expect that the Negro will always remain an ardent, enthusiastic citizen, eager to play his part, if he is to be forever shut out from equal participation in and protection under the law. It is imposing too great a tax upon the docility even of the Negro, to make him the victim of harshly enforced discriminatory laws and expect that he will forever exhibit this patriotism and loyalty with ecstatic enthusiasm and paeans of joy. The race may rest assured that its interest will be looked after and safeguarded so far as the military situation is concerned as long as Emmett J. Scott sits at the council table.
"I regard the appointment of Mr. Scott, as Special Assistant to the Secretary of War, as the most significant appointment that has yet come to the colored race. Other colored men have been appointed to high office under different administrations, but the appointments have been mainly a reward for political service, or representation of a contributing element to party success. Such appointments are altogether worthy and desirable, but they are not supposed to carry with them any particular function affecting the welfare of the colored race. The appointment of Mr. Scott, on the other hand, for the express purpose of securing the cheerful coöperation of the Negro race in the accomplishment of the greatest task to which our Government has committed itself. This is not merely representation For the sake of political reward, but representation carrying with it the vital governmental function."
Shortly after the appointment of the Special Assistant, letters written by a number of representative colored Americans in all sections of the country, and representing many of the leading Negro organizations, denominations, etc., were received by the Secretary of War, to which he made reply similar in tenor to that indicated in the correspondence printed below:
Financial Department of the A. M. E. Church,
Washington, D. C.
October 8, 1917.
Hon. Newton A Baker,
Secretary of War,
Washington, D. C.
Please allow me to express to you my very great delight and appreciation of your appointment of Mr. Emmett J. Scott as a special assistant or aid of the War Department to represent the Colored race during this war period.
The selection and appointment of capable colored men to such positions of trust and responsibility will prove of very great value in the work of a proper adjustment of matters so vital to the best interest of our common cause.
This act of yours is a fitting recognition of the Negro's high sense of patriotism and faithfulness to duty as well as his fitness and willingness to contribute his best in mind and spirit to the cause of right.
Very sincerely yours,
(Signed) JOHN R. HAWKINS,
Secretary, Financial Department, A. M. E. Church.
Office of the Secretary of War
October 9, 1917.
My Dear Mr. Hawkins:
I have received your letter of October 8th and am delighted to know that the appointment of Mr. Scott is meeting with such general approval among his people.
I have long known of his splendid character and of his attainments, and it is source of comfort to me to know that I can have the benefit of his advice more constantly, now that he has accepted a permanent relation to my office.
(Signed) NEWTON A BAKER,
Secretary of War.
Mr. John R. Hawkins,
1541 Fourteenth Street N. W.
Washington, A C.
Illustrations in Chapter III
Letter of Credentials
To make my work effective as I went from camp to camp, Secretary Baker addressed a letter to Division and Brigade Commanders which was inclusive enough to give me authority to make any inquiries I deemed necessary to be made in camps or cantonments regarding conditions affecting Colored Troops.
The Secretary of War's letter read as follows:
Office of the Secretary of War
November 1, 1917.
TO DIVISION AND BRIGADE COMMANDERS:
I have appointed Mr. Emmett J. Scott, of Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of War, to advise with respect to the colored people of the United States, colored drafted men, and the colored men who constitute units of National Guard Divisions.
He will be visiting National Army cantonments and National Guard camps, and it is my desire that he be given every opportunity to follow up the work I have entrusted to his care.
He will personally present this letter.
(Signed) NEWTON D. BAKER,
Secretary of War.
How the Office Has Functioned
There was considerable misunderstanding and false impression at the beginning as to the real function of the office of "Special Assistant to the Secretary of War," as to the real scope and limitations of the appointment, and as to the real purpose that called the author to Washington. Judging from thousands of letters he received, covering every subject imaginable, and from various public comments and utterances during a period of twenty-one months, it would seem that he had been appointed a "Special Committee of One" to adjust and settle at once any and all matters and difficulties of whatsoever kind and nature which had any bearing upon the race problem in America.
Some of the correspondents, and a few critics, seemed to forget that this appointment was never intended to be an immediate cure for all of our racial ills in America. My call to the Nation's Capital was to advise in matters affecting primarily the interests of colored draftees and colored soldiers, as well as to render counsel and assistance in those matters, including the interests of soldiers' families and dependents, and, in a sense, the morale of Colored Americans generally during the war. Some seemingly failed to remember that the race problem in America has been pending ever since the Civil War; that certain phases of that problem have remained troublesome and unsolved even in the ordinary times of peace in spite of the vigorous and consecrated efforts of prominent race leaders who have ably pleaded our race's cause before the bar of public opinion for the past fifty years. It was therefore manifestly unfair to expect that the mere appointment of a "Special Assistant to the Secretary of War" would effectually abolish overnight all racial discriminations and injustices, some of which were sanctioned by law; or that the Special Assistant would be able to solve, during twenty-one months of the critical and abnormal period of war, all those intricate problems affecting the Negro race in America that others were unable to solve in fifty years of peace. While the author has never minimized any wrong, nor acted in the role of an apologist, nor condoned any injustice visited upon a single member of the Negro race, either before or during the recent world war, yet he has diligently directed his efforts towards securing the best possible results obtainable out of every situation that has arisen.
Chapter IV. The Work of the Special Assistant
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