Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/329

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289
HIS LIFE, POEMS AND SPEECHES

about all it can give you. You may change the law by politics; but it is not the law that is going to insult and outrage and excommunicate every colored American for generations to come. You can't cure the conceit of the white people that they are better than you by politics, nor their ignorance, nor their prejudice, nor their bigotry, nor any of the insolences which they cherish against their colored fellow-citizens.

Politics is the snare and delusion of white men as well as black. Politics tickles the skin of the social order; but the disease lies deep in the internal organs. Social equity is based on justice; politics change on the opinion of the time. The black man's skin will be a mark of social inferiority so long as white men are conceited, ignorant, unjust, and prejudiced. You cannot legislate these qualities out of the white—you must steal them out by teaching, illustration, and example.

No man ever came into the world with so grand an opportunity as the American negro. He is like new metal dug out of the mine. He stands on the threshold of history, with everything to learn and less to unlearn than any civilized man in the world. In his heart still ring the free sounds of the desert. In his mind he carries the traditions of Africa. The songs with which he charms American ears are refrains from the tropical deserts, from the inland seas and rivers of the dark continent.

At worst, the colored American has only a century of degrading civilized tradition, habit, and inferiority to forget and unlearn. His nature has only been injured on the outside by these late circumstances. Inside he is a new man, fresh from nature,—a color-lover, an enthusiast, a believer by the heart, a philosopher, a cheerful, natural, good-natured man. He has all the qualities that fit him to be a good Christian citizen of any country; he does not worry his soul to-day with the fear of next week or next year. He has feelings and convictions, and he loves to show them. He sees no reason why he should hide them.

The negro is the only graceful, musical, color-loving American. He is the only American who has written new songs and composed new music. He is the most spiritual of Americans, for he worships with his soul and not with his narrow mind. For him, religion is to be believed, accepted, like the very voice of God, and not invented, contrived, reasoned about, shaded, altered, and made fashionably lucrative and marketable, as it is made by too many white Americans. As Mr. Downing, who preceded me, has referred to the Catholic religion, I may be pardoned for saying that there is one religion that knows neither race, nor class, nor color; that offers God unstintedly the riches and glories of this world in architecture, in painting, in marble, and in music and in grand ceremony. There is no other way to worship God with the whole soul; though there are many other ways of worshiping him with the intellect at so many dollars an hour, in an economical