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Equality Before the Law: Oration Delivered by Prof. J.M. Langston at the Fifteenth Amendment Celebration

so readeth the statute, is only to drive  ment, in the interest  of a common
us back of the letter to the reasonable-  country.
ness, the soul of the law, in the name      The object of the common  school is
of which we would, as we do, demand       two-fold.  In the first place, it should
the repeal of that enactment which is     bring to every child, especially thepoor
not only not law, but contrary to its     child, a reasonable degree of elemen-
simplest requirements.  It may be true    tary education.  In the second place,
that that which ought to be law is not    it should furnish a common education,
always so written; but, in this matter,   one similar and equal to all pupils at-
that only ought to remain upon the        tending it. Thus furnished, our sons
statute book, to be enforced as to citi-  enter  upon  business  or professional
zens and voters, which is law in the      walks  with  an  equal  start in  life.
truest and best sense.                    Such education, the government owes
  Without dwelling upon the advan-        to all classes of the people.
tage of a thorough common school ed-                COMMON CARRIERS.
ucation, I will content myself by offer-
ing several considerations against the      The obligations and liabilities of the
proscriptive, and in favor of the com-    common  carrier of passengers  can,
mon school.  A common school should       in no sense, be made dependent upon
be one to which all citizens may send     the nationality, or color of those with
their children, not by favor, but by      whom he deals.  He may not, accord-
right.  It is established and supported   ing to law, answer his engagements to
by the government; its criterion is a     one class and justify non-performance
public foundation; and one citizen has    or neglect as to another, by consider-
as rightful claim upon its privileges     ations drawn from race.  His contract
and  advantages  as any other.  The  is   originally and fundamentally  with
money set apart to its organization and   the entire community; and with all its
support, whatever the sources whence      members, he is held to equal and im-
it is drawn, whether from taxation or     partial obligation.  On this subject the
appropriation, having been dedicated      rules of law are definite, clear and
to the public use, belongs as much to     satisfactory.  These rules may be stated
one as to another citizen; and no prin-   concisely as follows:  It is the duty of
ciple of law can be adduced to justify    the common carrier of passengers to re-
any arbitrary classification which ex-    ceive all persons applying, and who do
cludes the child of any citizen or class  not refuse to obey any reasonable regu-
of citizens from equal enjoyment  of      lations imposed; who are not guilty of
the advantages  purchased  by  such       gross and vulgar habits of conduct,
fund, it being the common property of     whose characters are not doubtful, dis-
every citizen equally by reason of its    solute or suspicious, or unequivocally
public dedication.                        bad, and whose object in seeking con-
  Schools which tend to separate the      veyance is not to interfere with the in-
children of the Country  in their feel-   terests on patronage of the carrier, so
ings, aspirations and purposes; which     as to make his business less lucrative.
foster and perpetuate  sentiments of        And, in the second place, common
caste, hatred and ill will; which breed   carriers may not impose upon passen-
a sense of degradation on the one part,   gers oppressive and grossly unreason-
and of superiority on the other; which    able orders and regulations.   Were
beget clannish  notions, rather than      there doubt in regard to the obligation
teach and impress an omnipresent and      of common carriers as indicated, the
living principle and faith, that          authorities are abundant, and might be
                                          quoted at large. Here, however, I need
       WE ALL ALL AMERICANS,              not make quotations.  The only ques-
in no wise realize our ideal of common    tion which can arise as between myself
schools, while they are contrary to the   and any  intelligent lawer, is as to
spirit of our laws and institutions.      whether the regulation, made by com-
  Two separate school systems, tolera-    mon carriers of passengers generally, in
ting discriminations in favor of one      this country, by which white passen-
class, against another; inflating on the  gers and colored ones are separated on
one part, degrading on the other; two     steamboats, railroad cars, and stage-
separate school systems. I say, tolera-   coaches,  greatly to the disadvantage,
ting such state of feeling and senti-     inconvenience, and dissatisfaction of the
ment, on the part of the classes in-      latter class, is reasonable.  As to this
structed  respectively in  accordance     question, I leave such lawyer to the
therewith, cannot educate these classes   books and his own  conscience.  We
to live harmoniously together, meeting    have advanced so far on this subject,
the responsibilities and discharging the  in thought, feeling, and purpose, that
duties imposed by a common govern-        the day cannot be distant, when there


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Equality Before the Law: Oration Delivered by Prof. J.M. Langston at the Fifteenth Amendment Celebration



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