President M'ilwaine's Assertions
February 8, 1902
The “unconstitutional” Constitutional Convention of Virginia reconvenes to talk about implementing disenfranchisement, making the black man “deprived of the suffrage” through literacy tests at the polls.
The New York Independent in disenessing the unconstitutional “Constitutional” Convention of Virginia says:
“After a long recess the Virginia Constitutional Convention is again at work, and finds it a harder task than ever to keep the promises made to the people when the convention was called. It was promised that the same should be done that had been done in Louisiana and Mississippi; namely, that as many as possible of the Negroes should be deprived of the suffrage, while not one white man should lose his vote. But somehow or other this promise delays its accomplishment. The wise men find that this is not an easy thing to do. They are partly disturbed by the very reasonable threats that the representation in Congress of those States which limit suffrage will be reduced; and they are, we are most happy to see, still more restrained from actions by a sense of the unfairness and injustice of every proposition by which the Negro shall be treated differently from white citizens.”
“An admirable speech in the convention, and one which must have made influence, is that made by Dr. Richard Mellwaine, president of Hampden-Sidney College. In it, he compares the statistics of two counties in the State, one in a western white county, and the other an eastern Negro county. He finds in both a sad amount of illiteracy, although greater in the Negro county. He then compares the arrests and convictions for crime in the two counties, and he finds that here the relative position is reversed; the white county has a much larger percentage of arrests and convictions for crime than the Negro county. He proves that the prevalence of ignorance and crime is not to be charged against the Negro only, but equally against the white people. His conclusion is of the clearest and is most vigorously expressed. He urges that there be no more lying and cheating at the polls, no more false counting, no effort to shut out a man because he is black, but that absolute and equal justice be granted to both races. He would have every old soldier vote, every man who pays a certain small tax, and then he would shut out every man equally, white or black, who cannot read and write; and then, in order to insure that votes are counted, he would have viva voce voting.”
Dr. Richard McIlwaine is one of the most distinguished instructors this state has ever produced. He deals with facts and figures and lines them up besides great right principles. His kind, however, is sadly in the minority in this state. Men of his calibre do not soil their hands with the politics now in vogue in the Old Dominion.
The colored people of this section will join with him and support the proposition which he submits to the convention.
Whenever any basis of agreement is reached which will carry with it the disfranchisement of any class without regard to race, color or previous condition of servitude, the colored brother will bow in humble submission, confident that he will be able to surmount all difficulties and find his way to the polls.
The Independent concludes.
“All this is not quite to our liking; we have got beyond it hereabouts. But it is honest, it is fair and decent. And it is all presented with such weight and dignity and reinforced by such appeals to a good Virginian sense of right and justice, that we cannot but hope that it will prevail. It may be that it will be the honorable distinction of Virginia to build a dam and dike against the further progress of the wave of constitutional disfranchisement which threatened to overwhelm the whole South. That will give new distinction to the State, and a good part of the honor will be due to President McIlwaine.”
It is good to have hope, and we are gratified to see that the independent indulges in it, while discussing the remarks of the distinguished Virginian. There are many more like him and we join in the hope that the predictions may be realized and that “some good may come out of Nazareth.”
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“President M'ilwaine's Assertions,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed June 7, 2023, https://blackvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/37.