Albert Winston Henderson, Jr.
West Boone St.
February 11, 1948
Washington 25, D.C.
My dear Mr. President:
I am only nineteen
years old. During those nineteen years I have seen,
heard of, and experienced many injustices. I have had
many reasons to believe that America is not really the
land to which I used to—and still do—pledge allegiance.
There have been many instances when I concluded that the
Constitution is a sorry example of hypocrisy in a
democracy, that Christian America is not much better
than Nazi Germany, that many of Capitol Hill’s 531
servants of the people are really slaves of hatred and
perpetuators of intolerance and injustice. You see, I am
I go to church and
hear that all men are brethren and that we are our
brother’s keepers: then I go home and read or hear about
a Talmadge screaming about Aryan supremacy to a mob of
enraptured America-style storm troopers, or about the
bed-sheet-boys having lynched, blinded, or beaten a man
who fought for his country, for his home, and for his
I look at the
record of men like George Washington Carver, who was as
great a biochemist as Thomas Edison was an inventor. In
spite of the most shameful injustices ever perpetuated.
Negroes are succeeding in many fields of endeavor. How
can supposedly intelligent people, knowing that, believe
in white supremacy?
I read the
Constitution’s Article Fifteen, with its guarantee of
enfranchisement; yet I know that less than one per cent
of Mississippi’s more than one million Negroes voted in
1946. I know, also, that it was not disinterest, but
rather fear and a poll tax that kept so many American
citizens from voting. There was fear caused by the
race-baiting rampages of Bilbo and his kind. There was
fear for one’s life, for one’s home, for one’s job, for
one’s family, for one’s friends, and, in some cases and
with obvious justification, fear for America. What place
has such fear in the hearts and minds of law-abiding
citizens, whatever their race, their color, or their
creed. Does such fear hinder or help America? You know
I see men and women
rejected as applicants for jobs, not because they are
not qualified, but because of their color. I see a
country that is deprived of the abilities of those who
would make it greater. I read of men who protest a Fair
Employment Practices Commission because—they say—it
would establish more unbearable governmental control. I
wonder of those men have ever read the Declaration of
Independence’s statement about the pursuit of happiness.
I wonder if they believe in the rights of man or if they
are hypnotized, like a rabbit is by a rattlesnake, into
an unknowing obedience to things as they are and a false
sense of security. Is it wrong to enforce justice?
Should we discard the whole theory of law enforcement?
Freedom can never be defended unless we surrender some
of it, and justice cannot survive without freedom.
I am not an
economist or a logician, yet I believe that an F.E.P.C.
would be beneficial to our country. If men work
together, the shell of ignorance of each other upon
which intolerance is based can be broken. More people
would have better jobs, and would earn more money with
which to buy more things and create a demand which would
necessitate more jobs. There would be better living
conditions economically, physically, morally, and
Too many people
have no reason to hope for anything more than the most
menial of jobs because some men do not want other men
have a chance at decent jobs. Those men do not realize
that they are hurting themselves and America.
I do not see, in
the improvement of the Negro’s economic condition, the
solution to the “American Dilemma.” It is just one of
the more important factors that must be changed to make
democracy live. Innocent people have suffered long
The Nazis had their
education for death; America has an educational system
which, instead of being used to further the cause of
democracy, has done too little to further knowledge of
one’s fellow men. There are segregated schools which,
along with segregated housing, tend to strengthen the
walls of racial and class isolation. Too many of us have
lost sight of the fact that our country was founded by
men and women working together for the common good.
Isolationism can destroy America, so America must
Very few textbooks
tell of the contributions of Negroes to society.
Sociology books tell how bloated is the ration of Negro
arrests to the proper percentage of population, yet they
do not show most of the inflictions with which the Negro
is encumbered. Education, in so many ways, is
perpetuating ignorance. Ignorance perpetuates
Many Negroes are
forced to attend poorly-constructed,
inadequately-staffed, and incompletely-equipped schools,
and America is robbed of many potentially worthwhile
citizens. Many have no schools to go to, yet we have the
richest land in the world. Many would-be college
students—in spite of the Oklahoma and Texas cases—cannot
attend a decent college.
conditions have been largely responsible for the failure
of the home as a truly democratic institution and as the
chief perpetrator of democracy.
I had lost, until a
few weeks ago, most of my faith in the land of liberty
and justice for all. Then, thank God, you struck out at
Jim Crow and its many offspring. You sounded to tocsin
to awaken us to the dangers of intolerance. You
promised, three years ago, to preserve, protect, and
defend our Constitution. Your civil rights message is a
monumental response to that pledge.
Here is a new version of one of
Langston Hughes’ poems:
I may say it plain
America never was America to me.
There is hope again
America shall be.
encountered, and will encounter, many difficulties in
the fight for the right. By what you have done, you have
earned an even greater measure of respect from
straight-thinking people and you have earned the
animosity of those who are betraying the principles of
this land of ours. I do not pray very often, but I thank
God for what you have done and pray that He will give
you strength and victory in the fight ahead—the battle
against hatred that, in your words, “warps the soul of
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