Document 1: Letter from Walter White to Mary Church Terrell, 14 March 1919, Mary Church Terrell Papers, Library of Congress (Microfilm, reel 4, #615).
This document illustrates the problem that racism posed for the National Woman's Party in 1919 when the suffrage amendment was being considered by the states. In this letter to activist Mary Church Terrell, Walter White, assistant to the executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), comments upon the racism he and she experienced in dealings with Southern whites. He then connects the broader problem of Southern white racial attitudes with recent statements made by Alice Paul, head of the National Woman's Party, while speaking in South Carolina. Alice Paul had apparently indicated that the National Woman's Party was organizing white women, not black, stating "that all this talk of Negro women voting in South Carolina was nonsense." White goes on to comment on the general fear within the National Woman's Party that concern about enfranchising black women will undermine their efforts to secure woman suffrage. He sees the equivocation on the part of Alice Paul as evidence of her lack of knowledge about African Americans or commitment to their enfranchisement.
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE
ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE
70 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK
TELEPHONE CHELSEA 9386
March 14, 1919
Mrs. Mary Church Terrell,
1323 Tea Street, N. W.
Washington, D. C.
My dear Mrs. Terrell:
I thoroughly enjoyed your letter of the 9th and read with interest the confidential report to Headquarters concerning your undoubtedly pleasant (?) experiences with the specimens of the "superior race" in Florida. The report had an unusual interest for me for I have had similar experiences in talking with that type of Southern white, of granitic prejudice and smug complacency that it is good to have some one else realize just how totally lacking even in intelligence are those who set themselves up as superior beings in the South and elsewhere. Mr. Shillady has also read the reports and he feels very much as I do about them. As for Mrs. Aime and her puerile references to the psychology of Negroes, words fail to express the opinion that one would have of such a type. However, those things used to be discouraging but now it only has the effect of making one realize that this so-called problem of ours depends for solution more on education of the white than of the colored important as the latter may be.
You will probably be interested in a telephone conversation which I had with your good friend, Miss Alice Paul a few days ago. She called me up and was very much surprised (or pretended to be) at anyone taking exception to the statement she made about colored women voting in South Carolina. She declared that she did not remember giving any such statement to a reporter, and further declared that when she had tried to give a denial to reporters, they had told her that it would not be news. She had the further temerity to state that she did not think any person would consider her statement unfair to colored people. At this point I let loose and told her of her lack of knowledge concerning the colored people of America if she thought that. She finally agreed to send us a statement denying the original statement, which she has not done yet. I am calling her attention to the fact today. Just as you say, all of them are mortally afraid of the South and if they could get the Suffrage Amendment through without enfranchising colored women, they would do it in a moment.
I hope that all of your experiences won't be as unpleasant as those you have had already. If there is anything that I can do to help at any time, just call on me and I will be glad to help.