African Americans Debate Enlistment (1898)

Thousands of African-American troops served in in the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars. Confronted with racial violence and discrimination at home, they did so with a mix of hope, skepticism, satisfaction, and disappointment. Here, the Indianapolis Freeman reports on recruiting efforts in Hartfod, Connecticut.

The U.S. recruiting officer is expected in Hartford this week to receive names of men for the prospective Spanish-American war. Great excitement prevails here among all classes, and some of our colored men seem enthusiastic over the idea of enlisting in defense of the government, while some are more reserved and common-sensed, asserting that no colored man should never again offer his services to protect a government that does not protect him. The government of the United States will allow some of her most loyal and true citizens to be burned and shot to pieces, like dogs, without protection, and go right on ignoring their rights and claims as if all were peace and happiness in the family; and yet, when a foreign war is threatened, these same ill-treated citizens are wont to be rushed to the front in the name of protecting the nation’s honor. Such injustice is not tolerated by any other civilized nation; not even is Spain guilty of such discrimination among her own citizens. As a race what means have we for checking such unjust discrimination? Colored men of Hartford, let us think before acting. If the government wants our support and services, let us demand and get a guarantee for our safety and protection at home. We want to put a stop to lynch law, the butchering of our people like hogs, burning our houses, shooting our wives and children and raping our daughters and mothers. In short, as a race, we want indemnity for the loss of ten thousand Negroes who have been lynched and butchered and slaughtered since the civil war. When we are guaranteed freedom and equality before the law, as other American citizens, then we will have a right, as such, to take up arms in defense of our country.

Source: “They Are Ready to Enlist” Indianapolis Freeman, March 19, 1898, 1. Available online via Google News (