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John Hope, “We are Struggling for Equality,” 1896

Guiding Question: To what extent did Founding principles of liberty, equality, and justice become a reality for African Americans in the first half of the twentieth century?

  • I can interpret primary sources related to Founding principles of liberty, equality, and justice in the first half of the twentieth century.
  • I can explain how laws and policy, courts, and individuals and groups contributed to or pushed back against the quest for liberty, equality, and justice for African Americans.
  • I can create an argument using evidence from primary sources.
  • I can analyze issues in history to help find solutions to present-day challenges.

Building Context

In 1896, John Hope was a professor of classics and sciences at Roger Williams University in Nashville, Tennessee. He made the speech below to a Black debating society. He later became one of the founders of the Niagara Movement and the National Association for Advancement of Colored People. In 1906, Hope became the first Black president of Atlanta Baptist College (later Morehouse College).

John Hope, “We are Struggling for Equality,” 1896

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If we are not striving for equality, in heaven’s name for what are we living? I regard it as cowardly and dishonest for any of our colored men to tell white people that we are not struggling for equality . . . If we cannot do what other free men do, then we are not free. Yes, my friends, I want equality. Nothing less .  . . Now, catch your breath, for I am going to use an adjective: I am going to say we demand social equality. In this republic we shall be less than free men, if we have a whit less than that which thrift, education and honor afford other free men. If equality, political, economic and social, the boon of other men in this great country of ours, of ours, then equality, political, economic and social, is what we demand. Why build a wall to keep me out? I am no wild beast, nor am I an unclean thing. Rise, Brothers! Come, let us possess this land. Never say, “Let well enough alone.” Cease to console yourselves with adages [a proverb] that numb the moral sense. Be discontented. Be dissatisfied. “Sweat and grunt” under present conditions. Be as restless as the tempestuous billows on the boundless sea. Let your discontent break mountain-high against the wall of prejudice, and swamp it to the very foundation. Then we shall not have to plead for justice nor on bended knee crave mercy; for we shall be men. Then and not until then will liberty in its highest sense be the boast of our republic . . .

Comprehension and Analysis Questions

  1. What does Hope demand in this excerpt? How does he suggest this be attained?
  2. How does this speech reveal different approaches to working for civil equality within Black American leadership by the beginning of the twentieth century? Consider Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Exposition Address.