The spirit of democracy

In “The Democratic Idea Is Humanity,” Alexander Crummel openly turns to God as the source of relief for racial oppression. Trained as an Episcopal minister, Crummel drew on that training to articulate the idea that the racially based oppression which he saw in America was wrong. He believed that a comprehensive democratic ideal, which precluded racial discrimination could be trace to the Bible. “When I speak of the spirit of democracy, . . .

This principle has its room in the Scripture of God, and it has come forth in political society to stay! . . . [T]he democratic principle in its essence is of God, and in its normal state it is the consummate flower of Christianity, and is irresistible because it is the mighty breath of God. ” (Crummel at 164) Crummel argued that the overthrow of racism was inevitable, that it was decreed by God and could not be overcome by mere human resistance. Speaking of those who resisted the movement, he said,

Above all things, they forget that “the King invisible, immortal, eternal” is upon the throne of the universe, that thither, caste, and bigotry, and race-hate can never reach: that He is everlastingly committed to the interests of the oppressed; that He is constantly sending forth succors and assistance for the rescue of the wrong and injured,; that He brings all the forces of the universe to grind to powder all the enormities of earth, and to rectify all the ills of humanity; and so hasten on the day of universal brotherhood. ” Crummel 166.

Notably, in making this argument, Crummel contended that racism would be destroyed not by the actions of mere mortals, but by the hand of God. He closes this selection with “By the presence and power of that Divine Being all the alienations and disseverances of men shall be healed; all the race-problem of this land easily be solved; and love and peace prevail among men. ” (Crummel 166) Anna Julia Cooper presents a less overtly religious view, but nevertheless employs religious themes in describing the emergence of women, and particularly black women, into roles of increasing prominence.

Describing the woman’s role, she says, “Her kingdom is not over physical forces. ” (Cooper 168) Later she makes other allusions to Christianity: “One needs occasionally to stand aside from the hum and rush of human interests and passions to hear the voices of God. ” (Cooper 170) “You do not find the colored woman selling her birthright for a mess of potage. ” (Cooper 170) “Francis Watkins Harper could sing with prophetic exaltation . . . .” (Cooper 170) Among preachers of righteousness, an unanswerable silencer of cavilier and objectors, was Sojourner Truth, .

. . and in pleasing contrast, Amanda Smith, sweetest of natural singers and pleaders in dulcet tones for the things of God and his Christ. Cooper 171 While hers is not a message explicitly based on religion, it is clear that she found the idiom of Christianity very powerful in she her arguments home. Poet Paul Dunbar is less overt in his use of ‘Christianity and its symbols, but certainly shows a religious element in his “We Wear the Mask”: We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise. We sing, but oh the clay is vile Beneath our feet, and long the mile; Dunbar 180 Ira Wells-Barnett spoke out against lynching, and in doing so, she refers to the United States as a “Christian nation,” but the tone of the references shows little of the spirituality of writers previously mentioned. “Why is mob murder permitted by a Christian nation? ” (Wells-Barnett, 210) “[A] blight upon our nation, mocking our law and disgracing our Christianity.

” (Wells-Barnett 212) The tone of these references suggests that she is stands between deference and mockery. An attitude of mockery could hardly be faulted. By the time Wells-Barnett delivered this speech in 1909, the Civil War was firmly entrenched in the American past, and in the Civil Rights Cases and Plessy v. Ferguson, the U. S. Supreme Court had relegated the notion of equal rights to the crushing infamy of “separate but equal. ”  Jim Crow reigned supreme throughout much of the nation.

By 1912, America had passed through a great watershed. Statistically, it was no longer a rural nation: more Americans lived in the cities and towns than lived in the country. Religion was losing its importance in American life, to the point where its advocates were legislating its place rather than being willing to assume that it had a place. The Scopes Monkey Trial loomed on the horizon. In this new world , Hubert Henry Harrison spoke of socialism, wage slavery, capitalism, class consciousness. What is not present is any invocation of religion.

The religious themes are gone, to the point where one is tempted to wonder: If someone asked Harrison about religion, would he respond with Marx, saying that religion is the opiate of the masses? It seems to be a deliberate point that the editors of the collection Let Nobody Turn Us Around refer to Harrison as a “street speaker,” not a “street speaker. ”  (230) There is a harshness, a stark modernity to Harrison’s phrases that the previous selections lacked,  There is a decidedly modern tone to this speech that marks a clear shift away from a religious orientation to a decidedly material assertion.

These selections show an evolution of the rhetoric of struggle, following the development of society in general in giving up much of the overtly religious idiom in favor of a modern political idiom, while calling for the writing of the wrongs of racism.


Cooper, Anna Julia. “A Voice From the South. ”  Let Nobody Turn Us Around. Manning Marable and Leith Mullings, eds. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000. Pp. 167-73.