1921 October 26

President Harding Gives Civil Rights Message in Segregated Birmingham, Alabama


President Warren G. Harding spoke at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the founding of Birmingham, Alabama, on this day. Before a crowd of about 100,000 whites and African-Americans, he gave a strong civil rights message: “Let the black man vote when he is fit to vote; prohibit the white man voting when he is unfit to vote.” Reportedly his statement was greeted with complete silence. Harding had sent a civil rights message to Congress on April 12, 1921, but when he found no support for it, he dropped civil rights as a issue.

Hardin’s speech deserves special mention. It was the last civil rights message by a president until Harry Truman. See Truman’s speech to the NAACP (the first-ever speech to the organization by a sitting president) on June 29, 1947.

Read Harding’s speech: http://archive.org/stream/addressofpreside00hard#page/n3/mode/2up

Read: John W. Dean, Warren G. Harding: The American Presidents Series: The 29th President, 1921–1923 (2004). [Yes, the author is the John Dean of Watergate fame.]

Learn more about African American history: Henry Louis Gates, Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008 (2011)

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