Violence (1934)

Violence (1934)

A certain group of young, American Negroes, inspired by white Radicals, are distinctly looking toward violence as the only method of settling the Negro problems.

When I was speaking in Chicago, recently, a woman of mature age, phrased the argument somewhat heatedly. She said: “Why can’t we fight? What is the difference between our situation and the situation of the English colonies before the Revolution? What is the difference between our plight and that of the slaves in Haiti? Or of the peasants in France before the Revolution?”

Now the answer to this is almost too obvious to require stating. In 1776, England and her armies were something like six months distant from the Thirteen Colonies. Even if England had had the men to spare for fighting overseas, and she hadn’t, it would have required the transporting of large numbers of men over long periods of time, and at impossible cost, to have beaten the Colonies into submission. They had the forests of the wild West for refuge, and as long as they fought a defensive war, they were invincible.

At the time of the Haitian Revolution, there were forty thousand white people on the island, surrounded four hundred and fifty-two thousand blacks, not to mention the twenty-eight thousand mulattoes. In other words, the whites were outnumbered ten to one. To be sure, there were the armies and navies of. France, England and Spain, but there again loomed the difficulty of transportation, the difficulty of co-operation, and the World Wars which were keeping them all busy.

On the other hand, here in the United States are twelve million Negroes, totally surrounded by over one hundred and ten million whites. Under such circumstances, to talk about force, is little less than idiotic.

But, someone added, could we not induce a large enough number of white people to sympathize with us, so that combining with them, we could gain their rights? The answer to this is simple. We could not. If we could, there would be no need to appeal to force. If the justice of our cause appealed to a majority of white Americans, then our cause would be won by peaceful votes, and pressure of overwhelming public opinion. To such public opinion, we have been appealing for several centuries, and with redoubled and systematic effort, during the last twenty-five years. Our appeal has had some results, but not great results, nor results that give us the slightest reason for thinking that any considerable minority of American white people sympathize with our condition.

But the situation is worse than this. Just as soon as Negroes resort to violence or thoughts of violence, they will solidify white opposition. They will give every enemy of the Negro race a chance for using world-wide propaganda to prove that we are enemies of the United States, and of European civilization. With the same tactics that Hitler is using in Germany, they would seek to annihilate, and spiritually, even physically, reinslave the black folk of America. Of this, there is no reasonable doubt, and it is, therefore, our clear policy not to appeal to force until clearly and evidently, there is no other way.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1934. “Violence.” The Crisis. 41(5):147–148.