The early 20th Century was a time of great upheaval in United States history. While African Americans were no longer slaves, segregation had become entrenched in American society. African Americans were not allowed to vote, and very few of them were offered political appointments. These are among the least of the problems facing African Americans at that time in history, but Theodore Roosevelt’s opinion on these issues was often requested. The following excerpt from a letter to Rollo Ogden written in 1903 describes TR’s feelings about equality.
“Nothing has puzzled or pained me more than the attitude of respectable people in the south on this negro question. The talk of my trying to force negro equality or negro domination is so nonsensical that it is difficult to discuss it with patience. I meant literally what I said – that all I wanted was a square deal for the negro. If he is fit to vote by the test we apply to a white man, let him vote. If he is unfit, don’t. If he is unfit in an office turn him out; not because he is a negro, but because he is unfit. If, on the other hand, he is fit, appoint him; again not because he is a negro, but because he is fit.”
Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Rollo Ogden, June 6, 1903. From the Library of Congress Manuscript collection.