…From E.J. Scott’s The American Negro in the World War
Insidious Efforts to Create Dissatisfaction Among Colored Americans—Germany’s Treacherous Promises—How the Hun Tried to Undermine the Loyalty of Our Negro Citizens—Steps Taken to Combat Enemy Propaganda—Work of the Committee on Public Information.
Many were the methods resorted to by Germany and her allies in their desperate efforts to win the war. Some of them were among the most despicable, dishonorable, and unscrupulous ever recorded in the annals of military history. By no means did the Imperial German Government confine its war activities to soldiers, to battleships, or to battlefields—those open, legitimate methods which honorable nations use, as a last resort, to settle international differences. On the contrary, Germany sought in many nefarious, secret ways (as was discovered and revealed by the Military Intelligence Bureau and the Department of Justice) to aid her war program right here on American soil, through propaganda work among enemy civilians, and through acts of open outlawry committed either directly by her subjects or by pro-German sympathizers.
Even prior to the breaking out of hostilities, Germany diligently endeavored to promote anti-war sentiment in America, designed to produce an increased number of pacifists who were opposed to the declaration of war as well as to our country’s war program. She tried in a number of ingenious ways to appeal to and to cause dissatisfaction among various racial groups which go to make up America’s composite population, and to make them lukewarm in the support of their Government. For instance, in her effort to disaffect the Irish-American group, she paraded before them in certain newspapers, in the form of subsidized articles, by lectures, public speakers, and otherwise, the Irish Home Rule Question so dear to the Irish heart, the alleged mistreatment of Ireland by England, the execution of Sinn Feiners and of Sir Roger Casement; by which sort of propaganda work she hoped to set Americans of Irish descent against the idea of supporting this country as an ally of England.
In order to influence German-Americans, she energetically fostered in this country various kinds of propaganda designed to make this racial group support the “Fatherland” more and America less; she urged German-American workers in munition plants and in other establishments supplying war materials “to be true to the Fatherland” and to withdraw their labor from all such industries, and not only that, but her agents aided and abetted German sympathizers to commit acts of sabotage and violence in order to impair or destroy the power of this country to produce war materials and the implements of war. Her secret service agents and paid hirelings strove to promote strikes and friction among various groups of American workingmen, and even encouraged and engaged in the blowing up of bridges, railroads, munition plants, and other indispensable adjuncts connected with the successful prosecution of war.
In addition to her insidious plans to disaffect those of alien birth or parentage, she also attempted propaganda work among native-born Americans both white and black, and it required all the courage, and intelligence of the white press and the Negro press, ably assisted by the Committee on Public Information and its countless number of loyal public speakers, white and black, to counteract the pacifist propaganda, “Made in Germany,” which threatened for a time to keep our country from participating in the world’s great struggle for freedom and democracy.
Foremost among those who successfully combated this pro-German propaganda was Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, whose forceful opposition to hyphenated Americans and pacifists will ever stand as a monument to his 100-per-cent Americanism. Even before our country’s entrance into the arena of war as an ally of Great Britain and France, German propaganda made itself manifest in a determined effort to influence American voters in favor of placing an embargo upon all shipments of arms, ammunition, etc., to belligerent nations; the defeat of Germany’s plan in this regard led up, indirectly if not directly, to the Lusitania disaster, which may be said to have brought the United States into the war.
Propaganda Among Negroes
Active German propaganda of various kinds was attempted, and was officially recognized to exist among the colored people of this country, and it is one the most remarkable facts of the war that in spite of so many insidious plans to bring about disaffection among them by emphasizing racial discriminations, injustices, and the like, in spite of so many temptations to be disloyal, the entire racial group of colored Americans remained absolutely loyal and actively patriotic. Authentic information that the Germans tried to incite the colored people of the South against the United States was brought out by Mr. A. Bruce Bielaski, Chief of the Bureau of Investigations, Department of Justice, in a Congressional inquiry conducted by the Senate Committee which investigated German propaganda in America. Mr. Bielaski said that “The colored people did not take to these stories, they were too loyal. Money spent among them for propaganda was thrown away.” During the course of the same official hearing, Captain George B. Lester, Military Intelligence Officer, told the Senate Propaganda Investigating Committee that German propaganda among Negroes of the South was particularly active in the Spring and Summer of 1918.
Stirred Race Hatred
In the course of his testimony, Captain Lester said: “When the thirty-one propagandists who reached this country (from Germany) shortly after the outbreak of the war organized the Fuehr publicity bureau in New York, they set aside one ‘section’ for dealing with American race problems. They kept records of every lynching, every attack by a Negro upon a white person, and every item of alleged oppression of the Negro race by the whites. The directing head of the propaganda was the German ambassador at Mexico City. In this country Reiswitz, former Consul at Chicago, acted as his assistant. The Negroes were told by the propagandists that in Europe there was no color line; that there the blacks were equal to the whites; that if Germany won the war the rights of Negroes throughout the world would equal those of whites. On the military side the propaganda took the form of stories that Negro soldiers were left on the ground to die and that they always were put in the first line trenches in France and used almost exclusively as ‘shock troops.’ The German agents passed the word among Negro recruits that if Germany won the war, a certain section of the United States would be set aside where the Negroes could rule themselves.”
As later developments proved, this was an unsuccessful attempt to weaken the morale of Negro soldiers. In his story of the work of Germans among colored Americans generally, Captain Lester said that “the propaganda became so annoying that a conference of leading Negroes (referring to the Negro Editors’ Conference which was also attended by a number of other leaders of Negro thought and opinion) was called in June, 1918, in Washington, D. C., and a movement immediately started through the War Department and the Committee on Public Information to offset it.” “As a result,” he added, “the activity of the German agents soon ceased.” It was the splendid team work of Negro editors throughout the country that, in large measure, helped to guard colored Americans against such propaganda and to maintain a ‘healthy morale among them.
Lynchings During the War
While German propaganda failed to affect the colored people to the extent of diverting them from their loyalty to the United States, yet the truth of the matter is that the morale of the colored people was kept more or less disturbed and at a frazzled edge during most of the war by what came to be known as “anti-Negro propaganda.” Much of this could not be traced to German sources, but plainly had its origin in age-old prejudices which have existed in America against colored people along certain well defined lines. The number of lynchings of Negroes seemed to be on the increase during the course of the war, and THESE LYNCHINGS, BE IT REMEMBERED, WERE NOT “Made in Germany.” According to the records compiled by Monroe N. Work, in charge of records and research of Tuskegee Institute, there were 58 Negroes lynched in 1918 and 38 lynched in 1917, a total of nearly 100 Negroes lynched on American soil while our country was at war and while hundreds of thousands of loyal Negro soldiers and millions of law-abiding colored Americans were supporting the Government with unfaltering patriotism.
This unfortunate condition gave German newspapers abroad much ground for effective criticism, and the following press reports indicate the kind of articles which frequently appeared in the German press, some of which were reprinted in American newspapers Many of these articles carried the impression to the German people that Germans were being lynched in America.
The Munich Neueste Nachtrichten said that at the Berne prisoner-of-war conference the German representatives would have the opportunity of bringing up the question of Praeger, who was lynched, remarking that questions were asked of the foreign office representative at the last session of the Reichstag on this case. It called attention to the cases of Consuls Bopp and Schack of San Francisco, which, it said, should be made the subject of an interpellation in the Reichstag. The paper said that the German delegates should bring up the whole question at the conference and be able to assure better treatment for Germans in America.
The Kolnische Volkszeitung published a long article headed “JUDGE LYNCH, MISTER MOB.” The article asserted that formerly American writers alleged that the crime of lynching existed only in the black belt, but now, the paper declared, lynch law belongs to the approved rites of “culture” in the United States.
“The most horrible scenes of human bestiality which can be recorded,” it goes on, “are quite natural for the Yankee. * * * He no longer gets excited over a lynching, and is only ashamed when foreigners call attention to this ‘people culture.'”
It is always asserted, the paper proceeded, that mobs and the scum of the people are responsible for lynchings.
“Every American who uses the word MOB in this sense,” it adds, “lies, because he knows that all classes of society, without exception, including men and women, partake.”
At Brookhaven, Miss., the paper sets forth, a colored man was lynched by 20,000 persons, and many landowners from Lincoln drove in during the night in order to “enjoy the crime.”
That paper also referred to Praeger, and declared that after energetic action by the German government, Washington gave the press the tip to discourage lynching. It scoffed at President Wilson’s message regarding crimes committed by the German army, saying “he lives in a glass house and should not throw stones.”
Articles of this kind generally appeared prior to and to excuse what the Germans call “reprisals,” otherwise Hun brutality.
A National Danger
No question was fraught with more danger to our national security in time of war, and none will be more deserving of radical treatment in time of peace than the unlawful practice of lynching, regardless of the state or section in which it occurs and regardless of the nationality of the victim.
Some of the lynchings that occurred during the war were cases of colored women (5) accompanied by barbarities that cannot properly be described in print and wholly unworthy of civilized groups of people. There were burnings of human beings at the stake, modeled after medieval horrors, and, in several instances well-known colored citizens of wealth, intelligence, and upright character were tarred and feathered and nameless outrages committed upon their persons and property. Reports of these outrages found their way to the colored people through the Negro press, which stoutly maintained that if America had gone forward to fight battles for freedom and democracy abroad, it should at least give full protection to all of its citizens at home. Foremost among the white friends of the Negro, who vigorously opposed lynching and whose trenchant pen and eloquent voice have always been enlisted on the side of Right and Justice, was Mr. Moorfield Storey, the well known lawyer of Boston, who delivered a most remarkable address on “The Negro Question” before the Wisconsin Bar Association, on June 27, 191S, in the course of which he said:
“Negroes are denied the protection which the law affords the lives and property of other citizens. If only charged with crime or even misdemeanor, they are at the mercy of the mob and may be killed and tortured with absolute impunity. In many States they cannot obtain justice in the courts. At hotels, restaurants and theaters they are not admitted or are given poor accommodation. In the public parks and public conveyances, even in the public offices of the nation, they are set apart from their fellow-citizens. The districts which they occupy in cities are neglected by the authorities, and of the money which the community devotes to education, a very small fraction is allotted to them, so that their schoolhouses and their teachers are grossly inadequate.
“It is notorious that in many cities they are wretchedly housed and charged unreasonable rents for their abodes. Labor unions will not receive them as members, and as non-union men they find it hard to get employment. If in spite of every obstacle they gain an education, they find door after door closed to them which would have opened to receive them gladly had their skins been white.
“The deliberate effort is made to stamp them as inferior, to keep them “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” to deny them that opportunity which America offers to every other citizen or emigrant no matter how ignorant or how degraded. These are the unquestionable facts, and they are not controverted.”
Mr. Storey then proceeded to quote some testimony from the Southern Press, as follows:
“Let me give you some testimony from the South. Says The Atlanta Constitution: ‘We must be fair to the Negro. There is no use in beating about the bush. We have not shown this fairness in the past, nor are we showing it today, either in justice before the laws, in facilities afforded for education, or in other directions.’
“Some years ago,” said Mr. Storey, “a Mississippi lawyer, addressing the Bar Association of that State, said: ‘A Negro accused of crime during the days of slavery was dealt with more justly than he is today. * * * It is next to an impossibility to convict, even upon the strongest evidence, any white man of a crime of violence upon the person of a Negro, , * * * and the converse is equally true that it is next to an impossibility to acquit a Negro of any crime or violence where a white man is concerned,’ and well did he (the Mississippi lawyer) add: ‘We cannot, either as individuals, as a country, as a State, or as a nation continue to mete out one kind of criminal justice to a poor man, a friendless man, or a man of a different race, and another kind of justice to a rich man, an influential man, or a man of our own race without reaping the consequences.’
“From the Vicksburg Herald come these words (continued Mr. Storey) : ‘The Herald looks with no favor upon drafting Southern Negroes at all, believing they should be exempt in toto because they do not equally ‘share in the benefits of government.’ To say that they do is to take issue with the palpable truth. ‘Taxation without representation,’ the war-cry of the Revolutionary wrong against Great Britain,was not half so plain a wrong as requiring military service from a class that is denied suffrage and which lives under such discriminatious of inferiority as the ‘Jim Crow’ law and inferior school equipment and service.'”
It was the attitude and just such sentiments as that voiced by the Vicksburg Herald as well as by a number of other Southern white newspapers, and by certain Senators and Congressmen, including Senator Vardaman, of Mississippi, that led the colored people of the United States to feel for a time that it was not desired that, they should have any participation in the world-wide struggle for “Freedom and Democracy.”
The prevalence of lynching Negroes in America had become so noticeable that not only the German press, but the newspapers and diplomatic representatives of other nations as well, have from time to time commented upon the practice as a sad reflection upon our boasted civilization, our high ideals, and our ability to preserve and enforce law and order. Pregnant with grave danger in time of peace, the lynching evil constituted an even greater menace in time of war, and when the epidemic began to spread and to include white victims as well as black victims, citizens of this country as well as citizens of foreign countries, the President of the United States saw fit to issue from the White House a strong public statement denouncing lynching and mob violence, and later, in Now York City, on May 5th and 6th, 1919, a National Conference was held for the purpose of (1) promoting propaganda against lynching in every State of the Union; (2) urging the passage of Federal laws against lynching, and (3) bringing about the formation of white and Negro committees throughout the South to agitate against mob murders and the like.
Propaganda Among Negroes in New York City
How the Harlem colony of Negroes in New York City was stirred up or, in a measure, influenced by German propaganda, may be gathered from a letter written to Mr. George Creel, Chairman of the Committee on Public Information, by a well-known New York citizen, Mr. Trumbull White, whose wide-awake patriotism and deep interest in the welfare of the Negro people are numbered among his many commendable virtues. His letter to Mr. Creel follows:
INVESTORS’ PUBLIC SERVICE
149 Broadway, New York.
March 15, 1918.
Mr. George Creel,
Chairman of the Committee on Public Information,
Washington, D. C.
This is a matter which seems to me very important and immediate.
The big Negro colony in Harlem is badly infected with a series of rumors arousing great distress and disquiet. I happen to know about it because of very intelligent colored servants at our house who have relatives in the Expeditionary Forces in France.
The rumors are of various kinds. One is that the Negro regiments are being terribly abused by their white officers. Another is that the Negro regiments are being discriminated against in the distribution of troops where the danger and suffering will be the greatest. Another is that the Germans have vowed that they will torture all Negroes who may be captured, in order to prove that this is a white man’s war and that no Africans are wanted in Europe. Another is that already more than 200 Negro soldiers with eyes gouged out and arms cut off, after being captured by Germans and then turned loose by them to wander back to the American lines, have been sent home to this, country and are now in the Columbia Base, Hospital, No. 1, up in The Bronx.
These rumors are spreading like wildfire in the Negro colony through churches, Negro papers, clubs and in general conversation. The colony is seething. I do not know whether German propaganda started the rumors or whether some even less responsible source is the cause. It is clear, however, that serious harm can result and indeed is now resulting.
I have two recommendations. One is that a permit be arranged for one Negro preacher, one Negro doctor, and one Negro woman of intelligence from that colony to be admitted to a complete inspection of the Base Hospital, in order that they may report back to their own people the falsity of the stories.
The other is that some lecturer, preferably Irvin Cobb, if he is in this country, be sent up to that colony to lecture at one of their big churches, specifically on the subject of what he has seen of the Negro troops in France, the work they are doing, and the conditions surrounding them. Cobb has the southern affection for the Negro and could do the thing right. Failing him, can you get a returned Negro minister, Y. M. C. A. worker, or wounded or invalided Negro private of intelligence to tackle that job?
I will help arrange it through the Negro preachers and editors of the colony.
I know that the matter should be expedited. Please do not think this matter a light one.
As ever yours,
(Signed) TRUMBULL WHITE.
The following press dispatch further indicates the kind of German propaganda which sought to influence the colored people in New Yorkand elsewhere:
New York, April 11, 1918.—After an alleged threat to kill an aged colored woman in Harlem; Max Freudenheim was arrested yesterday by Agent Davidson of the Department of Justice. He was sent to Newark jail to await internment proceedings.
Charles F. DeWoody, Federal Investigating Chief here, left for Washington last night. He will lay before Attorney General Gregory today an amazing story of German propaganda among Negroes, revealed by Freudenheim’s arrest.
Mr. DeWoody believes that behind Freudenheim’s activities for several months in Harlem lies a Berlin plan like the “Committee for the East ” which had for its object thealienation of all the Jews in the world from the allies.
It is known that the trail has led to several, States. It was less than a year ago that the same sort of propaganda which had been made rife around One Hundred and Thirty-fifth street and Lenox avenue caused almost a panic among the Negroes of the South. Thousands of them left their homes and fled to Northern States at word of an uprising in favor of Germany which it was said would start in South America and Mexico and sweep through this country.
Freudenheim, who is married and has three children, has been in this country for eighteen years. He says he is an Austrian, but the Federal officials say he was born in Germany.
Posing as an insurance solicitor, the man has been working in Harlem exclusively among Negroes. The Federal authorities say he would meet men and women and when the talk touched on the war, would declare:
“Germany is sure to win this war and it is a good thing for you colored people that she will. Germany is the greatest friend the colored man ever had. All her colonies in East Africa were started to better the conditions of the black man. When she wins the war her intention is to start a colony exclusively for Negroes in one of the Southern States. This will be virtually a Black Republic. The colored men will choose their own rulers.
“In this city the Negroes will get the recognition the United States has denied them so far. They will be made the social equals of white men.” An elderly woman whose mother was a slave freed by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation reported Freudenheim’s activities to Superintendent DeWoody. Men were sent to shadow the man.
He was followed and his conversations were listened to. He discovered this, and within hearing of a Department of Justice agent he shouted to this woman whom he suspected of betraying him: “I’ll see that you are killed long before this war is over. Germany has many friends in New York and they will strike.”
As a part of the activities of German propagandists who were seeking to incite the Negro people of the United States to be disloyal to their country and to their flag, they constantly hinted that the Kaiser’s love for the Negro was so great that if ever Germany should be triumphant and should win the war, he would dominate affairs in America and would parcel out one or more States of the Union where the Negro would be given real freedom and the full right of self-government. The utter fallacy of such false promises was clearly brought out by Harrison Rhodes (of the Vigilantes), the celebrated newspaper and magazine writer of New York City, who wrote an informing article which was printed in many of the leading newspapers throughout this country.
In order to weaken the morale among colored American soldiers in France, German airships dropped among them all sorts of literature, of which a typical example was given in Chapter XI.
Thus it was, “with fightings within and foes without,” the Negro soldiers and civilians of America stood firm against every temptation to divert them from their primary duty of helping to win the war. What more remarkable and commendable record could be made, or has ever been made by any class of citizens than was made by Negro Americans who remained steadfastly loyal to the Stars and Stripes notwithstanding the fact that they had been, and were being subjected to unjust and embarrassing conditions and discriminations which even the enemy government noticed, ridiculed and condemned! It is a record which should, and doubtless will vouchsafe to this racial group not only the eternal respect and gratitude of America but radical reforms and practical rewards befitting their unfaltering patriotism.