Hotel Sinton, Cincinnati
19 November, 1928
My Mystic Spinner:
I have been three weeks in this wonderful new world where every hour has been an event; but this is the first time that I am sending you a real letter.
I am writing tonight from the charming old town of Cincinnati which is called the Gateway of the South, where long ago lived a very noble woman who dedicated her genius to the deliverance of the Negroes from their pitiful bondage. I have just returned from interpreting to a large audience (whose parents and grandparents knew Harriet Beecher Stowe in the days when she was writing the poignant tale of Uncle Tom's Cabin), the "message of the Mystic Spinner..." There were women deeply responsive, there were earnest and thoughtful men engaged in the varied avocations of education, law, business, medicine, literature, church and statecraft... When the meeting ended they came up to me in the accustomed American fashion to which I have grown myself accustomed - and said each in his or her own way and vocabulary, "you spoke as one inspired and brought us a message that must inspire our life always". Mine was, like Harriet Beecher Stowe's, also a message of deliverance from bondage - another version for another land... the gospel of the Mystic Spinner as interpreted by a Wandering Singer was from first to last, from the initial to the ultimate word, the evangel of self-deliverance from every kind of personal, national, economic, social, intellectual, political, and spiritual bondage. Could it be anything else, and yet find in me an interpreter, do you think? These three weeks in the new world have been a period of veritable delight and revelation... the young country and the young nation have made a profound and intimate appeal to my heart, my imagination, my vision, understanding, and faith... and through all the incredible tumult and turmoil of daily existence, I find the spirit of a vibrant and vital and seeking, seeking, seeking for some truth, some realization, finer and higher than the old world has yet conceived or experienced... and though today stone and steel and gold be the only symbols, they express the challenge and dream of Youth in all its unspent and invincible courage, ambition, power, and insolent pride... It is the birthright and the destiny of Youth to send up just such a challenge to the old. It is to me so moving and so inspiring and I watch with a prescient tenderness and trust... Through what anguish and sacrifice and renunciation must the new young world find fulfillment of own Vision of Beauty, Truth and Victory... You will say (no, you will not say anything so foolish but others may and will) that after all I am a poet, rhapsodizing in my usual way... But I have never rejoiced so greatly before that I am a poet and that the lily wand that I carry in my hand opens all doors and all hearts to my knocking... "gates of brass shall not withstand one touch of that magic wand..."
I confess I never expected such a welcome and such warm hearted and immediate response from all sections of the people... public and private appreciation, friendliness and enthusiasm... I am so particularly grateful that all the groups of men and women I specially wish to reach, in a more personal association than is possible in public meetings, do not wait for me to approach them, but do me the delightful honour of seeking me out themselves. So that in this brief time I have been privileged to establish the most cordial relations with those whose minds and personalities mould and influence public opinion in America. Scholars, writers, politicians, preachers, and men of affairs... and splendid women who use their wealth, rank and talent in the service of fine national and international causes for the progress of humanity. Jane Adams is of course the chief among them... her famous Hull House set in the midst of the slums of Chicago is as much a centre of contemporary history as the President's White House at Washington. Do not imagine that my personal "contacts" as they are called are confined to any one section of the American people. I have reached the house - and I hope the hearts - of the as yet disinherited Children of America, the Coloured population... the descendants of those whom Abraham Lincoln died to set free... It breaks my heart to see the helpless, hopeless, silent and patient bitterness and mental suffering of the educated Negroes... They are so cultured, so gifted, some of them so beautiful, all of them so infused with honest and sensitive appreciation of all that is authentic in modern ideas of life... and yet, and yet... There is a bar sinister upon their brow... They are the socially and spiritually outcast children of America... Last night in Chicago I went to see a play called Porgy: it was not so much a play as a transcript from the life: written and acted by Negroes... It is so simple, so true, so heart breaking. There is nothing like it in the whole range of modern literature. It is all the tears and all the child laughter of the race and I think it will educate the American white races to a broader consciousness of equality and humanity more powerful than even Uncle Tom's Cabin did during the days of slavery.
Amidst so many and such diverse types of meetings I hardly know what to choose for you as the most interesting. But there are three out of last week's programme that had an especial significance. One was the wonderful banquet at the International House in New York given by the Indian community and attended by about 500 representative Americans. One was an immense gathering in the Town Hall where I spoke on "Will India be Free" (the title was chosen by the Association for Political Education) and the same evening there was a vast assembly at the World Alliance for Peace banquet at which about seventy nationalities took part and the walls of the banquet hall were decorated with the flags of all the free nations... I was there as a private, last-minute guest of Dr. and Mrs. Hume but I was not permitted very long to remain a private guest. I was taken up to the high table on the dais and set amongst all the delegates of church and state and foreign legations... and of course I was called upon to speak... "A Greeting from the East," the Chairman called it... I spoke... briefly, but what was on my mind to a somewhat startled but enthusiastic audience... Where I asked, among the flags of large and little, old and new, western and eastern nations on the wall was the flag of India?... And what was the significance and where was the reality of all talk of world peace when one-fifth of the human race was still in political subjection?... Enslaved India, I said, would continue to be a danger to world peace and make all talk of disarmament a mockery. The only guarantee of abiding world peace [was a free India] and till they could hang India's banner dyed in the red of hope, the green of her courage, and the white of her faith among other world symbols of liberty, there could and would be no more peace in the world...
I understand that several speakers next day at the final session of the Peace Week Conference took my speech as the text of their own speeches and said that I had raised a most acute and vital issue that they could not afford to ignore.
My programme is very crowded. Tomorrow I go to Detroit, then back to New York where among other engagements I am asked to speak on the great American Thanksgiving service by the Joint Churches and Synagogues at Carnegie Hall. The chief Rabbi and Dr. John Haynes Holmes were both very eager for me to participate in the truly and peculiarly American annual feast which corresponds to our harvest festival...
After that I go "on the road" as they say, including Canada, where I shall be by the time this unconscionably long letter reaches you. You will forgive its length because you have brought it upon yourself by wanting "long love letters" as you call my illegible scrawls. And I know you will rejoice in America's marvellous kindness to me... It is undoubtedly the beauty and magnificence of the message that India sends to the new world; but, I believe, without being guilty of an undue lack of modesty that a little of that kindness is evoked by the messenger who brings so splendid a greeting across the seas!
And through me the New World sends back a greeting of love for the Mystic Spinner and admiration for the Land whose people are set out on the way of self-deliverance from their seven-fold bondage.
Good night... While I have been writing page upon page to you, this little old lovely town has wrapped itself in slumber. I seem to be the only keeper of vigils amidst a world of sleep... It is midnight here but already the dawn is breaking over the Sabarmati and its waters are the mirror of the morning's rose and gold. I wish - I were watching that morning rose and gold, but do not let my whisper of homesickness become a loud rumour. Homesickness is unworthy, is it not, of an ambassador who bears a great message?