On Race

When it comes to Coolidge’s views on race, it is both deliberately misleading and outright prejudicial to claim he timidly condoned animus. On the contrary, he asserted a decisive moral courage to address the progress as well as the struggles of these Americans. They were not “African-Americans” or “colored” people to him. They were Americans. He once corrected Colonel Starling for referring to a “colored gentleman.” “No,” Coolidge said, “he is a gentleman.”  President Coolidge made these matters a central component in all six of his State of the Union Addresses, his Inaugural and numerous speeches and letters. Decades before Martin Luther King, it was character and every American’s determination for self-improvement that mattered. Not one’s skin tone. He despised the condescension of treating people as groups instead of as individuals. That is why he was so relentless when it came to reducing government expenditures and the tax burden, because it helped everyone have the maximum opportunity to succeed as individuals. He also knew that without working hard to better one’s self, character would erode and by shirking the responsibilities of freedom would forfeit the rewards they produce. It is best to let him speak in his own words. Here are two excerpts from letters he wrote, the first one is to Charles F. Gardner on August 9, 1924 (in response to Mr. Gardner’s statement from a newspaper clipping about a “coloured man” running for Congress, saying: “It is of some concern whether a Negro is allowed to run for Congress, anywhere, at any time, in any party, in this, a white man’s country. Repeated ignoring of the growing race problem does not excuse us for allowing encroachments. Temporizing with the Negro whether he will or will not vote either a Democratic or a Republican ticket, as evidenced by the recent turnover in Oklahoma, is contemptible.” To which Coolidge wrote:

          Our Constitution guarantees equal rights to all our citizens, without discrimination on account of race or colour. I have taken my oath to support that Constitution. It is the source of your rights and my rights. I propose to regard it, and administer it, as the source of the rights of all the people, whatever their belief or race. A coloured man is precisely as much entitled to submit his candidacy in a party primary as is any other citizen. The decision must be made by the constituents to whom he offers himself, and by nobody else. You have suggested that in some fashion I should bring influence to bear to prevent the possibility of a coloured man being nominated for Congress. In reply, I quote my great predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt:

     ‘…I cannot consent to take the position that the door of hope–the door of opportunity–is to be shut upon any man, no matter how worthy, purely upon the grounds of race or colour.’

                                                                                                      Yours very truly,

                                                                                                       Calvin Coolidge

It is noteworthy that President Coolidge keys in on the “door of opportunity” — for that is the goal of what America is — the creation of opportunity not the guarantee of material results.

The second excerpt is from a letter written August 14 that same year to Dr. Robert R. Moton, President of The National Negro Business League, Chicago, Illinois. Keep in mind these letters were written during an election year. Offering his steady optimism for the future’s potential, Coolidge wrote:

          I wish particularly to pay tribute to the League’s founder and your distinguished predecessor, the late Booker T. Washington. His vision of the problems of the coloured people was indeed that of a seer, and your League is one of the monuments of his life work…I wish to tell you of the deep impression that was made upon me by my studies of the Negro race’s achievements. In the accumulation of wealth, establishment of material independence, and the assumption of a full and honourable part in the economic life of the nation, it may fairly be said that the coloured people themselves have already substantially solved these phases of their problem. If they will but go forward along the lines of their progress in recent decades, and under such leadership as your own and many others among their excellent organizations are affording, their future will be well cared for…They will continue their efforts for educational progress and spiritual betterment; and just as they demonstrate their eagerness for such improvement, they will find themselves enjoying a constantly greater and greater support and sympathy at the hands of the whole community…

                                                                                        Very truly yours,

                                                                                         Calvin Coolidge

ImageImage                                      Image

Top: Dr. Robert R. Moton; CC; Bottom: Booker T. Washington. Excerpts taken from “The Mind of the President” pp.247-251.

4 thoughts on “On Race

  1. Thank you for posting! Given that there is so much misinformation about Coolidge’s alleged racism or white supremacism on the net, it’s vitally necessary to get out the message that his was in fact a pretty good record on race relations, and that he himself was a humane and surely ahead of many of his contemporaries in terms of arguing against racism.

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