On September 5th, 1902, Anna Julia Cooper delivered an address entitled “The Ethics of the Negro Question” to the General Conference of the Society of Friends at Asbury Park in New Jersey. Cooper began her speech with the following introduction:
“A nation’s greatness is not dependent upon the things it makes and uses. Things without thoughts are mere vulgarities. American can boast her expanse of territory, her gilded domes, her paving stones of silver dollars; but the question of deepest moment in this nation today is its span of the circle of brotherhood, the moral stature of its men and its women, the elevation at which it receives its “vision” into the firmament of eternal truth…”
In her speech she address the conscience and ethics of the nation, describing racism as not the problem of an individual race but “humanity’s problem.” Throughout her speech, she asserts the indisputable citizenship of African Americans and corresponding allegiance to the country, discussing the “hearty earnestness” with which African American children repeated the pledge of allegiance in public schools and stating, “They are Americans, true and bona fide citizens- not by adoption or naturalization but by birth and blood incontestable.” Cooper, who described her life’s vocation as “the education of neglected people,” reiterates in this speech the value and importance of education.
Within her discussion of citizenship, Cooper states, “While these are times that try men’s souls, while a weak and despised people are called upon to vindicate their right to exist in the face of a race of hard, jealous, all-subduing instincts, while the iron of [the white race's] wrath and bitter prejudice cuts into the very bones and marrow of my people, I have faith to believe that God has not made us for naught and He has not ordained to wipe us out from the face of the earth. I believe, moreover, that America is the land of destiny for the descendants of the enslaved race, that here in the house of their bondage are the seeds of promise for their ultimate enfranchisement and development.” Acknowledging the nation’s legacy of slavery and racism, Cooper closes her speech expressing a profound patriotism and faith in the country and it’s ability to ethically progress.
The entire speech is published in the collection “The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper,” edited by Charles Lemert and Esme Bhan, who reprint it by permission of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University.