Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Brotherhood of Man

In the April 6 edition of "The New York Times magazine, Professor Beverly Gage offers a fascinating glance at former President Warren G. Harding’s possible racial history, or “negro” heritage, detailed by accounts by historian William Estabrook Chancellor who said Harding was the descendant of a great grandmother who was black.

In the article, Gage points out that United States voters may have in fact, already voted for a black President if one considers the “one drop” rule, which at that time, determined how individuals were racially “classified”..

The one drop rule held that in the United States, any individual with any trace of sub-Saharan ancestry can not be considered “white” unless that person has an alternative non-white ancestry that they could claim.

A historically significant political point, regardless of Harding’s racial makeup, one thing is certain, even in the face of rising outspoken and virulent racism that had manifest, even legitimized itself in the national politics of the 1920’s through groups like the Ku Klux Klan, as President, Harding brought the discussion of race to the table, even in what was then, perhaps the nation’s most most segregated city.

As Diane McWhorter’s meticulously reported Pulitzer Prize winning 2001 book “Carry Me Home” notes, (pg. 463) ‘in October 1921, then President Harding went to Birmingham Ala., for the city’s 50th anniversary celebration where he abandoned his boilerplate speech, instead using the moment to discuss “the problem of democracy everywhere” race.

In a speech there, Harding said “whether you like it or not” “unless our democracy everywhere is a lie, you must stand for that equality.”

According to New York Time’s archives from that year, in a telegrammed response to the Birmingham speech, Marcus Garvey, President of the Universal Negro Improvement Association said negroes did not seek “social equality” a conclusion that was later condemned by several other black equal rights groups of the time.

But Garvey also wrote “the negroes of the world this time when the world is gone wild in its injustice to weaker peoples greet you as a wise and great statesman and feel that with principles such as you stand for, humanity will lose its prejudice and the brotherhood of man will be established.”

Perhaps now, the quest for social equality continues but so to does the hope for a “brotherhood of man,” even in politics as the issue of race continues to play a role among millions of voters.

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