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(1875) Congressman James T. Rapier, “Half Free, Half Slave”

On February 4, 1875, Congressman James T. Rapier of Alabama, rose on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to support the Civil Right bill then before Congress which when enacted later that year became the Civil Rights Act of 1875.   His speech appears below.

MR. SPEAKER, I had hoped there would be no protracted discussion on the civil rights bill. It has been debated all over the country for the last seven years; twice it has done duty in our national political campaigns; and in every minor election during that time it has been pressed into service for the purpose of intimidating the weak white men who are inclined to support the republican ticket. I was certain until now that most persons were acquainted with its provisions, that they understood its meaning; therefore it was no loner to them the monster it had been depicted, that was to break down all Social barriers, and compel one man to recognize another socially, whether agreeable to him

or not.

I must confess it is somewhat embarrassing for a colored man to urge the passage of this bill, because if he exhibits an earnestness in the matter and expresses a desire for its immediate passage, straightway he is charged with a desire for social equality, as explained by the demagogue and understood by the ignorant white man. But then it is just as embarrassing for him not to do so, for, if he remains silent while the struggle is being carried on around, and for him, he is liable to be charged with a want of interest in a matter that concerns him more than anyone else, which is enough to make his friends desert his cause. So in steering away from Scylla I may run upon Charybdis. But the anomalous and, I may add, the supremely ridiculous position of the Negro at this time, in this country, compels me to say something. Here his condition is without comparison, parallel alone to itself Just that the law recognizes my right upon this floor as a lawmaker, but that there is no law to secure to me any accommodations whatever while traveling here to discharge