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Letter of N. C. Bruce, North Carolina Battalion to the Editor, the News and Observer, May 28, 1898


Letter of N. C. Bruce, North Carolina Battalion to the Editor, the News and Observer, May 28, 1898


1898 was a year of colliding interests in North Carolina. The Democratic Party campaigned to ‘redeem’ the state from the effects of radical Republicanism by encouraging the resurgence of white supremacy and African-Americans fought to retain rights gained during Reconstruction. The outbreak of the Spanish-American War in April 1898 provided one outlet for African-Americans to engage in citizenship rights and demonstrate patriotism, and many men joined the Third North Carolina Regiment, an all-black volunteer unit of the U.S. Army, in the summer of 1898. While in the service, African-Americans continued to fight for equality in the Army, as they were often subjected to prejudice, racist antagonisms, and violence by white officers and white civilians around their station at Fort Macon, North Carolina.


N. C. Bruce


Letter of N. C. Bruce, North Carolina Battalion to the Editor, the News and Observer, May 28, 1898 in "Smoked Yankees" and the Struggle for Empire: Letters from Negro Soldiers, 1898-1902, ed. Willard B. Gatewood, Jr. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1971).






Raleigh, Wake County

Original Format



To the Editor:

Much is being said about Negro soldiers in the present war that is unmanly, unwise and uncharitable, and yet there is one cheering, refreshing thought among heaps of trashy talk: It is that nobody seriously suggests any want of patriotism, courage, intelligence or boldness on the part of the black soldier boys.

It seems to be a settled truth that these can fight and fight ell and long and hard. It is freely admitted that, for instance, an implicit obedience to orders, for imitativeness and aptness to time and tune, and for holding together in the midst of danger, the Negro is a superior man for making the true soldier. An, further, he has an enviable record already for tent cleanliness, fearlessness under fire and capacity for enduring privation and hardship.

Just a few fools or worse of the race are taking the view, either ignorantly, or, from meanness, that the colored man has nothing to fight for in this country, where he is subject to more humilation, maltreatment, lynching and other contumely than the "unspeakable Turk," the treacherous, barbarous Spaniard or the alien anarchist, nihilist or socialist.

But now the coutry dearer to us than life is in peril, and everybody who thinks knows that negroes have in every past crisis forgotten their little hardships, forgotton their claims even...and have unhesitantingly come to their country's call. They know that this is our country, that Negroes helped to make it what it is in war and in peace. They know further, that all they think, and breathe, and enjoy is theirs through the power of a country whose honor is maintained and whose voice is heard and heeded both on land and on sea. As for lynching and other inhuman treatment we are no apologist, but we regard these as sentiments existing chiefly among the baser classes, and that the larger majority of this nation is against unfairness to anybody.

It is not believed that this war is for spoils of any sport, either as affording an opportunity to some to blot past disgraces by some present great achievement; not is it waged to bring North and South together and leave out ten millions of patient, kind, peacable, hard-working negro citizens; nor is it waged to give rising young white men a chance to become famous. The war was begun for Justice to Humanity--Justice at home as well as abroad, and if this is true, it will not end until any and every color of American man will be gladly welcomed into the trenches alongside of the boys to fight for Christ's peace and justice on earth.

Moreover, some are trying to make excuses for those who are prejudiced and who are unwilling to fight side by side with negro soldiers, by hadtching up an idea of "immunes" to fever, hot weather, foul air, bad stenches, and hard work. They forget to speak of the hundreds of thousands of "poor whites" who also live in the hot and sultry and miasmatic swamps of the Sunny South. Where are these? They can hold captured islands and endure the hot sun and work hard, not better, but equally as well as their black fellow laborers. At least they have stood it as well all these years with even a smaller death rate than the negro who lives in the same swamp and does the same work. This plea is false and undignified--only made to deceive and to get negroes into service respected by the other soldiers to begin with as a person respects mules or oxen--only for heat and heavy hauling. Negroes want to fight, are anxious to fight, but only on the same footing as the rest--they want an equal chance from start to finish to rise even to the highest possible place by merit.

Negroes are willing to wait until such time as the state Governors and the officials at Washington are ready to give them an equal call to furnish men and officers according to their ability and fighting population. They want no men to apologize and invent damaging and base excuses for calling them into service to die. It is wicked to misrepresent the negroes by saying that their heads are too thick for the sun's strokes, their bodies are too filthy to do otherwise than to grow fat upon Spanish filth...Let negroes wait unitl such a time that the South as well as the North will only be too glad to stop a Spanish bullet with a black Yankee's hard pate or healthy, undying body.

The stars and stripes, the eternal emblem of Liberty, equality, fraternity, justice to everybody, must not, shall not, touch the dust, if the black arms of ten million negro Americans are given a full and fair change to help hold it aloft. God save the nation of Washington, Attucks, Douglass, Lincoln and McKinley, by making it do right by all her children, black and white alike.

N.C. Bruce, Accepted for Service in the North Carolina Battalion 


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N. C. Bruce, Letter of N. C. Bruce, North Carolina Battalion to the Editor, the News and Observer, May 28, 1898, Civil War Era NC, accessed July 17, 2024,