THE details of the life and deeds of the late Honorable Carl Schurz are so well known as to call for no recital here. The most and least that can be done at this time is to emphasize the lessons to be gleaned from his life and call attention to the service rendered by him to the Indian and Negro races. My first acquaintance with Carl Schurz was gained when I was a student at the Hampton Institute in Virginia. He came to Hampton when Secretary of the Interior under President Hayes, to inspect the work of General Armstrong in the education of the Indians and to note the progress of the Negro students. During that visit his striking personality, which combined deep moral earnestness with strength of intellect, left in my mind an impression which has always remained with me, and which was deepened as I came to know Mr. Schurz better in later years. The impression made upon a poor student of another race — not long out of slavery — by the words and presence of this great soul, is something which I cannot easily describe. As he spoke to the Negro and Indian students on the day of his visit to Hampton, there was a note of deep sincerity and sympathy, which, with his frankness and insight into the real condition and needs of the two races, made us at once feel that a great and extraordinary man was speaking to us. He had a heart overflowing with sympathy for the two most unfavored races in America, because he himself had known what it meant to be oppressed and to struggle towards freedom against great odds. It is easier, however, from many points of view, to sympathize with a people or a race that has had an unfortunate start in life than it is to be frank and at the same time just — to say the word and do the thing which will permanently help, regardless for the moment of whether words or acts please or displease. As Mr. Schurz stood before the Hampton students, it was plain that he was a man who had been able to lift himself out of the poisoned atmosphere of racial as well as sectional prejudice. It was easy to see that here was a man who wanted to see absolute justice done to the Indian, the Negro, and to the Southern white man.
At the time when Mr. Schurz entered President Hayes's cabinet, it was a popular doctrine that “the only good Indian was the dead Indian.” The belief had gained pretty general acceptance that the Indian was incapable of receiving a higher civilization. More than that, the Indian was being plundered of his lands, his rations, and was being used as the tool in a large degree to further the ends of unscrupulous schemers. It was easier to shoot an Indian than to civilize him. It has been easier to fight for freedom than work for the freedman. Easier to kick or down him than to lift him up. It was a period also when the Negro race was being plundered and deceived in reference to its vote. Not only this, when Mr. Schurz entered the Hayes cabinet, the Negro was being in a large degree used as the tool of demagogues, and at the same time many influences were at work to alienate the black and white races at the South, regardless of the permanent effect on either. Against all this Mr. Schurz threw the weight of his great name and forceful personality. Few men in private or public life did more than he to clear the atmosphere and put all sections of our country sanely and unselfishly at work for the highest welfare of the black and red races.
Mr. Schurz was among the first to see that if the Indian was to be permanently helped, he must be taught to become an independent and willing producer, rather than an irresponsible recipient of the bounty of the general government. Hence, he was among the first to encourage agricultural and other forms of industrial education for the Indians. He was among the first, both in his official capacity and as a private citizen, to aid General Armstrong at Hampton in his first attempt to give industrial training to the Indian in systematic way and on a large scale. I have said that he saw clearly into the needs and conditions of my race and its relations to the white race. Time permits only three illustrations. One is found in his report to President Johnson in 1865. A second is an article printed in McClure's Magazine in 1903, under the title, "Can the South Solve the Race Problem?" A third instance of the sanity of his views was given some of us when a conference of the leaders of the Negro race was, a few months before his death, held in this building, to which our good friend, Mr. Andrew Carnegie, kindly brought him. None will forget how, for nearly an hour, he lifted us, as it were, into a new world, while there came from his lips such words of advice, caution, and encouragement as only he could speak.
But he has passed from earth. My race, the Indian race, American life as a whole are the poorer. There never was a time when such men were more needed than at present. My own belief is that one such character encourages and makes possible in time many other characters of like strength and helpfulness. I do not despair. One great life makes possible many great lives. We need at present, when the question of races is occupying the attention of the world as has seldom been done, as never before, it seems to me, men of clear, calm view, and with the courage of their convictions. I am not discouraged as to present conditions, nor as to the future. It is good to be permitted to live in an age when great, serious, and perplexing problems are to be solved. It is good to live in an age when unfortunate and backward races are to be helped, when great and fundamental questions are to be met and solved. For my part, I would find no interest in living in an age where there were no weak member of the human family to be helped, no wrongs to be righted. Men grow strong in proportion as they reach down to help others up. The farther down they reach in the assisting and encouraging of backward and unpopular races, the greater strength do they gather. All this is borne out in the character of the hero of this evening. Without oppression, without struggle, without the effort to grapple with great questions, such a great character could not have been produced. It required the white heat of trouble to forge such a man.
Because Carl Schurz lived, the Germans in America are stronger and greater. Because he lived, my race is the richer, more confident and encouraged. The Indian race and my race are proud that they had the privilege of claiming as their friend so great a man as Carl Schurz. The great are never ashamed to assist the unfortunate or the unfavored. The usefulness of a great man can no more be limited by race or color than by national boundaries. Because of the friendship of such a soul, every Negro can be the more proud of his race. For myself, I was never more proud of being a Negro than I am today. If I had the privilege of re-entering the world, and the Great Spirit should ask me to choose the color and the race with which to clothe my spirit and my purposes, I would answer, “Make me an American Negro.”
Mr. Schurz never sought the popular side of any question, nor did he seek the popular race. One word embodied his whole philosophy of life — that word was Duty.
Because he lived, we shall live better, more nobly. His spirit is still moving among us, and will continue to strengthen, to guide, and to encourage us now and evermore.
This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.