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How Research on Flight Led to Discoveries about Race Relations
By Stanley Bowling, Supervisor, Content Operations at ProQuest
“Ohioans Launch Aerial Ship Near Kitty Hawk, N.C.” said the headlines from The Chicago Daily Tribune on Saturday, December 19, 1903. This was two days after the Wright brothers took their “aeroplane, or flying machine” into history from the dunes of the outer banks of North Carolina. Being a native from the state, and always ready to debate the “First in Flight” record with anyone from Ohio, I was researching ProQuest Historical Newspaper™ articles on the flight when the headlines of another article on the same page of the Tribune caught my attention.
The headline boldly “Declares Negro Problem Solved.” The governor of North Carolina, Charles E. Aycock, was visiting Baltimore, Maryland to make a speech before the North Carolina Society of Baltimore. Governor Aycock boldly stated that “I am proud of my state because there we have solved the negro problem, which recently seems to have given you some trouble.”
He went on to list the eight “Rules for Controlling Negroes” and highlighted that these rules had to be administered, as much as possible, within the Fifteenth Amendment (guaranteeing the right to vote), but for the purpose of circumventing the amendment. In other words, if you can remove anyone from being represented in government, you can control them.
But, Governor Aycock was really not there to disparage the race he was talking against because he said, “these things are not said in enmity to the negro, but in regard for him.” It was simply that “there flows in my veins the blood of the dominant race.” In Aycock’s view, apparently, simple genetics then allow the suppression, for their own good, of an entire race of human beings.
We can ascribe a variety of terms to the ideas he espoused, but what really struck me was the serendipitous discovery of an article on race relations when I was looking for Wright brothers material. The attitudes of high-ranking government officials, overtly shared in the newspaper next to news of a great scientific accomplishment, also astonished me.
Continuing on this same newspaper page in The Chicago Daily Tribune, there is the announcement that “Eleven of the fourteen men indicted for riot by the grand jury in connection with the lynching of the negro school teacher David S. Wyatt in the public square of Belleville [Illinois], June 6 last, were fined $50 and costs, a total of $65 each.” A public lynching in a northern city! But the good citizens on the grand jury and the courts dispensed justice; fining the guilty $65. Apparently this was the value of a human life in 1903. At least, Governor Aycock was not proposing murder in his eight rules, although to deprive a person of their rights is little short of that.
The discoveries do not stop with this heinous event but demonstrate the attitudes that reinforce the eight rules in another way, namely denying or reducing the ability to be educated. The Alton Illinois Schools had “built a magnificent school building for the negro children, and made a ruling that all of them should attend it” and the courts agreed that white children and black children should not attend school together, just as Aycock’s rule number seven states “let the negro learn once for all that there is unending separation of the races.” Apparently it was more important to build physical buildings than to try to build relationships between the races.
And speaking of building relations, on the same page, yes this is setting a pattern, is the story of a Miss Evans, a teacher in St. Louis county public schools resigning her position rather than attend a teachers’ meeting in which a “colored” teacher was to participate! The State Superintendent of schools ordered the St. Louis county school board to pay Miss Evan’s salary and “uphold the color line.”
Some simple research about man’s first powered flight led me to discover multiple articles about the state of race relations in 1903. If I were to take my research one step further, I might see how other Americans reacted to these events in 1903.
Six years later, in response to a riot in Springfield, Illinois, a group of determined people met to form the organization that would become the NAACP. Over the next 60 years (and continuing through to the present), the NAACP, along with other civil rights organizations, mounted numerous campaigns to fight lynching as well as discrimination in education, the military, housing, transportation, voting, employment, and the criminal justice system.
The NAACP experienced many successes, notably in several landmark Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education and the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s. Taking the 1903 newspaper articles that I found in ProQuest Historical Newspapers™ as a starting point, a student might decide to continue their research using both ProQuest Historical Newspapers™ as well as the NAACP and civil rights collections in History Vault to get a more complete picture of racial discrimination and efforts to combat racial discrimination in the 20th century. Such research can allow us to learn from our past and possibly affect change for the better in the future.
Learn more about Black History, request a Curriculum Analysis and free librarian trials of ProQuest Historical Newspapers™ and History Vault, especially the Black Freedom Struggle and the NAACP Papers collections.
DECLARES NEGRO PROBLEM SOLVED. (1903, Dec 19). Chicago Daily Tribune. (1903, Dec 19). Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922)
FLYING MACHINE SOARS. (1903, Dec 19). Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922)
COURT UPHOLDS COLOR LINE. (1903, Dec 19). Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922)