The People's Experience: African-Americans
In the campaign of 1912, Wilson promised African-Americans “not more grudging justice but justice executed with liberality and cordial good feeling” ("The Presidential Campaign", The Crisis 12 [Oct 1916]: 268). African-Americans organized politically into several groups during this time period; one leading group, growing out of the Niagara Movement (pictured at top right, 1909), was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
In 1916, leading civil rights activist and Director of Publications and Research for the NAACP, W.E.B. Dubois wrote to Wilson that after four years of his administration, African Americans were left “but with indifferent choice” for a presidential candidate due to Wilson's racial policies.
Wilson permitted segregation in federal offices soon after becoming president, treating it, he said, not as an instrument of humiliation, but as a means to ease racial tensions. Dubois and likeminded thinkers disagreed heartily with Wilson's choice, petitioning repeatedly for the suspension of the practice. Wilson refused.
Civil rights groups regularly lobbied the federal government for action against the injustices faced daily by African-Americans in the South (at bottom is a poster appearing in The Crisis, magazine of the NAACP). Curtailment of voting rights, the entrenchment of Jim Crow segregation, and the threats of extralegal violent reprisal and lynching for breaking racial norms were common and tolerated threats posed against African-Americans at this time. Wilson took no action against such practices. African-American leadership admitted that Wilson's liberal legislation record in regards to labor and some other concerns was admirable, but insisted that Wilson was representative of the racist South.
The Republican candidate Hughes offered no better alternative to African-Americans, except that, as a Republican, he represented the party of emancipation. He had no special civil rights record and did not offer one during the course of the campaign. In the end, most African-American leadership (including the Crisis, magazine of the NAACP) recommended Allan Louis Benson, a Socialist candidate, or not voting at all. It is likely that many blacks who were able to vote did so for Hughes, as a result of longstanding loyalty to the party of Lincoln.
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