Awake America (1917)

Awake America (1917)

Let us enter this war for Liberty with clean hands. May no blood-smeared garments bind our feet when we rise to make the world safe for Democracy. The New Freedom cannot survive if it means Waco, Memphis and East St. Louis. We cannot lynch 2,867 untried black men and women in thirty-one years and pose successfully as leaders of civilization. Rather let us bow our shamed heads and in sack cloth and ashes declare that when in awful war we raise our weapons against the enemies of mankind, so, too, and in that same hour here at home we raise our hands to Heaven and pledge our sacred honor to make our own America a real land of the free:

  • To stop lynching and mob violence.
  • To stop disfranchisement for race and sex.
  • To abolish Jim Crow cars.
  • To resist the attempt to establish an American ghetto.
  • To stop race discrimination in Trade Unions, in Civil Service, in places of public accommodation, and in the Public School.
  • To secure Justice for all men in the courts.
  • To insist that individual desert and ability shall be the test of real American manhood and not adventitious differences of race or color or descent.

Awake! Put on they strength, America—put on thy beautiful robes. Become not a bye word and jest among the nations by the hypocrisy of your word and contradiction of your deeds. Russia has abolished the ghetto—shall we restore it? India is overthrowing caste—shall we upbuild it? China is establishing democracy—shall we strengthen our Southern oligarchy?

In five wars and now the sixth we black men have fought for your freedom and honor. Wherever the American flag floats today, black hands have helped to plant it. American Religion, American Industry, American Literature, American Music and American Art are as much the gift of the American Negro as of the American white man. This is as much our country as yours, and as much the world’s as ours. We Americans, black and white, are the servants of all mankind and ministering to a greater, fairer heaven. Let us be true to our mission. No land that loves to lynch “niggers” can lead the hosts of Almighty God.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1917. “Awake America.” The Crisis. 14(5):216–217.