Oswald Garrison Villard

Oswald Garrison Villard

Oswald Garrison Villard was born in Germany on 13th March, 1872. His father was Henry Villard, the journalist and successful businessman and his mother, Helen Frances Garrison, was the daughter of the anti-slavery campaigner, William Lloyd Garrison.

After being educated at private schools and Harvard University, Villard joined the staff of his father's newspaper, the New York Evening Post. He became the owner of the newspaper and The Nation when Henry Villard died in 1900.

Villard held radical political opinions and gave his support to women's suffrage, trade union law reform and equal rights for African Americans. In 1909 Villard and his mother joined with several other radicals to form the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).Other members included Mary White Ovington, William English Walling, Josephine Ruffin, Mary Talbert, Mary Church Terrell, Inez Milholland, Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, Sophonisba Breckinridge, John Haynes Holmes, Mary McLeod Bethune, George Henry White, William Du Bois, John Dewey, William Dean Howells, Lillian Wald, Charles Darrow, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker and Ida Wells-Barnett.

In 1910 Villard got into a heated debate with Booker T. Washington. In a letter to Washington he argued: "From my point of view your philosophy is wrong. You are keeping silent about evils in regard to which you should speak out, and you are not helping the race by portraying all the conditions as favorable. If my grandfather had gone to Europe, say in 1850, and dwelt in his speeches on slavery upon certain encouraging features of it, such as the growing anger and unrest of the poor whites, and stated the number of voluntary liberations and number of escapes to Canada, as evidence that the institution was improving, he never would have accomplished what he did, and he would have hurt, not helped, the cause of freedom. It seems to me that the parallel precisely affects your case. It certainly cannot be unknown to you that a greater and greater percentage of the intellectual colored people are turning from you, and becoming your opponents, and with them a number of white people as well."

A pacifist, he opposed America's participation in the First World War. In 1916 he stated: "Against every preparation for war men henceforth will rise to say no, even with their backs to the wall and rifles in front of them. For there is no slavery in the world like this to arms, none that today so checks the growth of liberty, of democracy, of the coming of the kingdom of heaven on earth. They will bear readily and willingly imputations of fanciful, unpractical idealism, of lack of patriotism; only it must never be said of them that they were unfaithful to their faith or that they were ever at peace with militarism, or that they were afraid to die for their ideals, or that they were traitors to the Prince of Peace in thought or deed." This upset his patriotic readers and advertisers and Villard was forced to sell the New York Evening Post. However, he retained The Nation and continued to use this as the personal organ of his views.

After the war The Nation faithfully supported radical causes. Although it only had a circulation of around 25,000 but it had a tremendous influence in political and intellectual circles. In 1932 Villard supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal.

Villard retained his pacifist views and refused to support rearmament in the 1930s and aid to Allies during the Second World War. His unwillingness to change his mind after Pearl Harbor led to his isolation from mainstream politics.

Oswald Garrison Villard died on 1st October, 1949.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Oswald Garrison Villard wrote a letter of protest to Booker T. Washington about speeches he had been making in Europe about African American civil rights in the United States (January, 1910)

From my point of view your philosophy is wrong. You are keeping silent about evils in regard to which you should speak out, and you are not helping the race by portraying all the conditions as favorable. If my grandfather had gone to Europe, say in 1850, and dwelt in his speeches on slavery upon certain encouraging features of it, such as the growing anger and unrest of the poor whites, and stated the number of voluntary liberations and number of escapes to Canada, as evidence that the institution was improving, he never would have accomplished what he did, and he would have hurt, not helped, the cause of freedom. It seems to me that the parallel precisely affects your case. It certainly cannot be unknown to you that a greater and greater percentage of the intellectual colored people are turning from you, and becoming your opponents, and with them a number of white people as well.

(2) Booker T. Washington reply to Oswald Garrison Villard about his lecture tour of Europe (January, 1910)

There is little parallel between conditions in your grandfather had to confront and those facing us now. Your grandfather faced a great evil which was to be destroyed. Ours is a work of construction rather than a work of destruction. My effort in Europe was to show to the people that the work of your grandfather was not wasted and that the progress the Negro has made in America justified the words and work of your grandfather. You of course, labour under the disadvantage of not knowing as much about the life of the Negro race as if you were a member of the race yourself.

(3) Oswald Garrison Villard, Preparedness is Militarism (July, 1916)

American sanity and intelligence and wisdom ought to see to it, when the war excitement is over and news of preparedness is no longer featured in the press as once were the free-silver fallacy and the battles against the trusts and the railroads, that their government face the other way. Indeed, for right-thinking people this is the time to let the time-serving and compromising administration in Washington know that they expect of it the highest "preparedness" in the form of a readiness to take the lead at the peace conference in proposing international disarmament or in calling a conference for this purpose simultaneously with the peace conference. As Mr. Lansing and Mr. Wilson rise to this opportunity, so will their final standing be at the bar of history.

It is idle to say that there are international problems beyond solution; that there is no way out of the present low estate of the world; that its animal passions cannot be checked. Behold in Paris there are now sitting the representatives of eight nation who are legislating, not merely as to measures for carrying on the war against the Central Powers but as to such questions as a joint-tariff system, low telephone and telegraph tolls, an international statute as to the licensing of corporations, as to bankruptcies, yes, even as to the losses resulting from the theft of bonds, and as to the false designation of merchandise.

Now, if these great nations can take time and thought in the middle of a war they believe to be one of life and death to legislate together as to these things, who shall say that after this frightful bloodshed they cannot be led by the great American republic to legislate on other far more vital themes? He who doubts belongs in the class with those who despair of humanity; who see nothing to be gained by tackling world-old evils because they are old; who bow down before brute passion and would touch neither the social evil, nor any social evil, nor smallpox, nor cancer, nor crime, or ignorance, nor poverty, because of their age.

Against the god of might; against the god of force; against the policy of murder of millions by millions, there will be American citizens to protest as long as there are stars in their courses. Against every preparation for war men henceforth will rise to say no, even with their backs to the wall and rifles in front of them. For there is no slavery in the world like this to arms, none that today so checks the growth of liberty, of democracy, of the coming of the kingdom of heaven on earth. They will bear readily and willingly imputations of fanciful, unpractical idealism, of lack of patriotism; only it must never be said of them that they were unfaithful to their faith or that they were ever at peace with militarism, or that they were afraid to die for their ideals, or that they were traitors to the Prince of Peace in thought or deed.