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Obliterating the Color Line

The recent Roosevelt-Washington episode has contributed considerably to the gayety of nations and might be allowed to pass without further comment were it not in some of its bearings a vitally significant incident.

The American people are prone to generalization. When the great majority of the negroes in the south were slaves all Negroes were practically so counted. We class the whole colored race as negroes, when only the glance of an eye is required to show that many of them are partly of white blood. We lump them all together, after our usual large, careless manner, and since the great majority of them are of low estimate, it is inevitable that the minority must suffer from such a state of things.

Whether Mr. Washington should eat a meal at the white house was no great thing; but that the president of the United States should, consciously or unconsciously, give the nation an object lesson in fairness, in courtesy, and in fundamentally wise statesmanship, is an important matter.

There is something radically wrong about a free republic where any class of citizens is entirely foreclosed from any avenue of advancement, and there is something inspiring in the thought that for every strong man there is a clear way open to the top.

We sometimes underestimate the influence of little things; there is no more powerful factor than sentiment in the conduct of human affairs.

The attitude of the president's southern critics is not a pleasing one. It savors of narrowness and illiberality, and would seem to indicate an antipathy to the negro solely because of his color, and not because of his condition

The south has been very tenderly dealt with of recent years. It has been allowed, without serious protest on the part of government or public opinion, to override the federal constitution and disfranchise most of the republican voters in the south, and to build up a body of laws which mark the colored people in their midst as a distinct and inferior caste.

They ought to be reasonably satisfied with this control of their own affairs and not try to dictate who shall be the dinner guests of northern people.

This is a united country, and is going to remain so, but that united country will not necessarily consist entirely of the southern states.

It is gratifying to note, however, that some southerners disapprove this hostile criticism of the president, and it is to be hoped that, sometime or other, there will be such a division of public opinion in the south on political and race questions as will relieve the north of any wearing responsibility.

It will be noted, too, that the president has appointed another southern democrat to office since this incident occurred. Possibly the matter may yet be amicably arranged. The negroes are good trenchermen, the southern whites are fond of power. They may be induced to consent that the colored folks may have all the dinners, on condition that they themselves have all the offices.

Chesnutt, Charles W. "Obliterating the Color Line." The World. [Cleveland] 23 October 1901 [An unsigned editorial claimed by Chesnutt.]