Part 4 out of 5
in which lay all that was mortal of her dear teacher. The top of the
casket was covered with flowers; and lying stretched out underneath it
she saw Miss Myrover's little white dog, Prince. He had followed the
body to the church, and, slipping in unnoticed among the mourners, had
taken his place, from which no one had the heart to remove him.
The white-robed rector read the solemn service for the dead, and then
delivered a brief address, in which he dwelt upon the uncertainty of
life, and, to the believer, the certain blessedness of eternity. He
spoke of Miss Myrover's kindly spirit, and, as an illustration of her
love and self-sacrifice for others, referred to her labors as a teacher
of the poor ignorant negroes who had been placed in their midst by an
all-wise Providence, and whom it was their duty to guide and direct in
the station in which God had put them. Then the organ pealed, a prayer
was said, and the long cortege moved from the church to the cemetery,
about half a mile away, where the body was to be interred.
When the services were over, Sophy sprang down from her perch, and,
taking her flowers, followed the procession. She did not walk with the
rest, but at a proper and respectful distance from the last mourner. No
one noticed the little black girl with the bunch of yellow flowers, or
thought of her as interested in the funeral.
The cortege reached the cemetery and filed slowly through the gate; but
Sophy stood outside, looking at a small sign in white letters on a black
"_Notice_. This cemetery is for white people only. Others please keep
Sophy, thanks to Miss Myrover's painstaking instruction, could read this
sign very distinctly. In fact, she had often read it before. For Sophy
was a child who loved beauty, in a blind, groping sort of way, and had
sometimes stood by the fence of the cemetery and looked through at the
green mounds and shaded walks and blooming flowers within, and wished
that she might walk among them. She knew, too, that the little sign on
the gate, though so courteously worded, was no mere formality; for she
had heard how a colored man, who had wandered into the cemetery on a hot
night and fallen asleep on the flat top of a tomb, had been arrested as
a vagrant and fined five dollars, which he had worked out on the
streets, with a ball-and-chain attachment, at twenty-five cents a day.
Since that time the cemetery gate had been locked at night.
So Sophy stayed outside, and looked through the fence. Her poor bouquet
had begun to droop by this time, and the yellow ribbon had lost some of
its freshness. Sophy could see the rector standing by the grave, the
mourners gathered round; she could faintly distinguish the solemn words
with which ashes were committed to ashes, and dust to dust. She heard
the hollow thud of the earth falling on the coffin; and she leaned
against the iron fence, sobbing softly, until the grave was filled and
rounded off, and the wreaths and other floral pieces were disposed upon
it. When the mourners began to move toward the gate, Sophy walked slowly
down the street, in a direction opposite to that taken by most of the
people who came out.
When they had all gone away, and the sexton had come out and locked the
gate behind him, Sophy crept back. Her roses were faded now, and from
some of them the petals had fallen. She stood there irresolute, loath to
leave with her heart's desire unsatisfied, when, as her eyes sought
again the teacher's last resting-place, she saw lying beside the
new-made grave what looked like a small bundle of white wool. Sophy's
eyes lighted up with a sudden glow.
"Prince! Here, Prince!" she called.
The little dog rose, and trotted down to the gate. Sophy pushed the poor
bouquet between the iron bars. "Take that ter Miss Ma'y, Prince," she
said, "that 's a good doggie."
The dog wagged his tail intelligently, took the bouquet carefully in his
mouth, carried it to his mistress's grave, and laid it among the other
flowers. The bunch of roses was so small that from where she stood Sophy
could see only a dash of yellow against the white background of the mass
When Prince had performed his mission he turned his eyes toward Sophy
inquiringly, and when she gave him a nod of approval lay down and
resumed his watch by the graveside. Sophy looked at him a moment with a
feeling very much like envy, and then turned and moved slowly away.
The Web of Circumstance
Within a low clapboarded hut, with an open front, a forge was glowing.
In front a blacksmith was shoeing a horse, a sleek, well-kept animal
with the signs of good blood and breeding. A young mulatto stood by and
handed the blacksmith such tools as he needed from time to time. A group
of negroes were sitting around, some in the shadow of the shop, one in
the full glare of the sunlight. A gentleman was seated in a buggy a few
yards away, in the shade of a spreading elm. The horse had loosened a
shoe, and Colonel Thornton, who was a lover of fine horseflesh, and
careful of it, had stopped at Ben Davis's blacksmith shop, as soon as he
discovered the loose shoe, to have it fastened on.
"All right, Kunnel," the blacksmith called out. "Tom," he said,
addressing the young man, "he'p me hitch up."
Colonel Thornton alighted from the buggy, looked at the shoe, signified
his approval of the job, and stood looking on while the blacksmith and
his assistant harnessed the horse to the buggy.
"Dat 's a mighty fine whip yer got dere, Kunnel," said Ben, while the
young man was tightening the straps of the harness on the opposite side
of the horse. "I wush I had one like it. Where kin yer git dem whips?"
"My brother brought me this from New York," said the Colonel. "You can't
buy them down here."
The whip in question was a handsome one. The handle was wrapped with
interlacing threads of variegated colors, forming an elaborate pattern,
the lash being dark green. An octagonal ornament of glass was set in the
end of the handle.
"It cert'n'y is fine," said Ben; "I wish I had one like it." He looked
at the whip longingly as Colonel Thornton drove away.
"'Pears ter me Ben gittin' mighty blooded," said one of the bystanders,
"drivin' a hoss an' buggy, an' wantin' a whip like Colonel Thornton's."
"What 's de reason I can't hab a hoss an' buggy an' a whip like Kunnel
Tho'nton's, ef I pay fer 'em?" asked Ben. "We colored folks never had no
chance ter git nothin' befo' de wah, but ef eve'y nigger in dis town had
a tuck keer er his money sence de wah, like I has, an' bought as much
lan' as I has, de niggers might 'a' got half de lan' by dis time," he
went on, giving a finishing blow to a horseshoe, and throwing it on the
ground to cool.
Carried away by his own eloquence, he did not notice the approach of two
white men who came up the street from behind him.
"An' ef you niggers," he continued, raking the coals together over a
fresh bar of iron, "would stop wastin' yo' money on 'scursions to put
money in w'ite folks' pockets, an' stop buildin' fine chu'ches, an'
buil' houses fer yo'se'ves, you 'd git along much faster."
"You 're talkin' sense, Ben," said one of the white men. "Yo'r people
will never be respected till they 've got property."
The conversation took another turn. The white men transacted their
business and went away. The whistle of a neighboring steam sawmill blew
a raucous blast for the hour of noon, and the loafers shuffled away in
"You kin go ter dinner, Tom," said the blacksmith. "An' stop at de gate
w'en yer go by my house, and tell Nancy I 'll be dere in 'bout twenty
minutes. I got ter finish dis yer plough p'int fus'."
The young man walked away. One would have supposed, from the rapidity
with which he walked, that he was very hungry. A quarter of an hour
later the blacksmith dropped his hammer, pulled off his leather apron,
shut the front door of the shop, and went home to dinner. He came into
the house out of the fervent heat, and, throwing off his straw hat,
wiped his brow vigorously with a red cotton handkerchief.
"Dem collards smells good," he said, sniffing the odor that came in
through the kitchen door, as his good-looking yellow wife opened it to
enter the room where he was. "I 've got a monst'us good appetite
ter-day. I feels good, too. I paid Majah Ransom de intrus' on de
mortgage dis mawnin' an' a hund'ed dollahs besides, an' I spec's ter hab
de balance ready by de fust of nex' Jiniwary; an' den we won't owe
nobody a cent. I tell yer dere ain' nothin' like propputy ter make a
pusson feel like a man. But w'at 's de matter wid yer, Nancy? Is sump'n'
The woman did seem excited and ill at ease. There was a heaving of the
full bust, a quickened breathing, that betokened suppressed excitement.
"I-I-jes' seen a rattlesnake out in de gyahden," she stammered.
The blacksmith ran to the door. "Which way? Whar wuz he?" he cried.
He heard a rustling in the bushes at one side of the garden, and the
sound of a breaking twig, and, seizing a hoe which stood by the door, he
sprang toward the point from which the sound came.
"No, no," said the woman hurriedly, "it wuz over here," and she directed
her husband's attention to the other side of the garden.
The blacksmith, with the uplifted hoe, its sharp blade gleaming in the
sunlight, peered cautiously among the collards and tomato plants,
listening all the while for the ominous rattle, but found nothing.
"I reckon he 's got away," he said, as he set the hoe up again by the
door. "Whar 's de chillen?" he asked with some anxiety. "Is dey playin'
in de woods?"
"No," answered his wife, "dey 've gone ter de spring."
The spring was on the opposite side of the garden from that on which the
snake was said to have been seen, so the blacksmith sat down and fanned
himself with a palm-leaf fan until the dinner was served.
"Yer ain't quite on time ter-day, Nancy," he said, glancing up at the
clock on the mantel, after the edge of his appetite had been taken off.
"Got ter make time ef yer wanter make money. Did n't Tom tell yer I 'd
be heah in twenty minutes?"
"No," she said; "I seen him goin' pas'; he did n' say nothin'."
"I dunno w'at 's de matter wid dat boy," mused the blacksmith over his
apple dumpling. "He 's gittin' mighty keerless heah lately; mus' hab
sump'n' on 'is min',--some gal, I reckon."
The children had come in while he was speaking,--a slender, shapely
boy, yellow like his mother, a girl several years younger, dark like her
father: both bright-looking children and neatly dressed.
"I seen cousin Tom down by de spring," said the little girl, as she
lifted off the pail of water that had been balanced on her head. "He
come out er de woods jest ez we wuz fillin' our buckets."
"Yas," insisted the blacksmith, "he 's got some gal on his min'."
The case of the State of North Carolina _vs_. Ben Davis was called. The
accused was led into court, and took his seat in the prisoner's dock.
"Prisoner at the bar, stand up."
The prisoner, pale and anxious, stood up. The clerk read the indictment,
in which it was charged that the defendant by force and arms had entered
the barn of one G.W. Thornton, and feloniously taken therefrom one whip,
of the value of fifteen dollars.
"Are you guilty or not guilty?" asked the judge.
"Not guilty, yo' Honah; not guilty, Jedge. I never tuck de whip."
The State's attorney opened the case. He was young and zealous. Recently
elected to the office, this was his first batch of cases, and he was
anxious to make as good a record as possible. He had no doubt of the
prisoner's guilt. There had been a great deal of petty thieving in the
county, and several gentlemen had suggested to him the necessity for
greater severity in punishing it. The jury were all white men. The
prosecuting attorney stated the case.
"We expect to show, gentlemen of the jury, the facts set out in the
indictment,--not altogether by direct proof, but by a chain of
circumstantial evidence which is stronger even than the testimony of
eyewitnesses. Men might lie, but circumstances cannot. We expect to show
that the defendant is a man of dangerous character, a surly, impudent
fellow; a man whose views of property are prejudicial to the welfare of
society, and who has been heard to assert that half the property which
is owned in this county has been stolen, and that, if justice were done,
the white people ought to divide up the land with the negroes; in other
words, a negro nihilist, a communist, a secret devotee of Tom Paine and
Voltaire, a pupil of the anarchist propaganda, which, if not checked by
the stern hand of the law, will fasten its insidious fangs on our social
system, and drag it down to ruin."
"We object, may it please your Honor," said the defendant's attorney.
"The prosecutor should defer his argument until the testimony is in."
"Confine yourself to the facts, Major," said the court mildly.
The prisoner sat with half-open mouth, overwhelmed by this flood of
eloquence. He had never heard of Tom Paine or Voltaire. He had no
conception of what a nihilist or an anarchist might be, and could not
have told the difference between a propaganda and a potato.
"We expect to show, may it please the court, that the prisoner had been
employed by Colonel Thornton to shoe a horse; that the horse was taken
to the prisoner's blacksmith shop by a servant of Colonel Thornton's;
that, this servant expressing a desire to go somewhere on an errand
before the horse had been shod, the prisoner volunteered to return the
horse to Colonel Thornton's stable; that he did so, and the following
morning the whip in question was missing; that, from circumstances,
suspicion naturally fell upon the prisoner, and a search was made of his
shop, where the whip was found secreted; that the prisoner denied that
the whip was there, but when confronted with the evidence of his crime,
showed by his confusion that he was guilty beyond a peradventure."
The prisoner looked more anxious; so much eloquence could not but be
effective with the jury.
The attorney for the defendant answered briefly, denying the defendant's
guilt, dwelling upon his previous good character for honesty, and
begging the jury not to pre-judge the case, but to remember that the law
is merciful, and that the benefit of the doubt should be given to the
The prisoner glanced nervously at the jury. There was nothing in their
faces to indicate the effect upon them of the opening statements. It
seemed to the disinterested listeners as if the defendant's attorney
had little confidence in his client's cause.
Colonel Thornton took the stand and testified to his ownership of the
whip, the place where it was kept, its value, and the fact that it had
disappeared. The whip was produced in court and identified by the
witness. He also testified to the conversation at the blacksmith shop in
the course of which the prisoner had expressed a desire to possess a
similar whip. The cross-examination was brief, and no attempt was made
to shake the Colonel's testimony.
The next witness was the constable who had gone with a warrant to search
Ben's shop. He testified to the circumstances under which the whip was
"He wuz brazen as a mule at fust, an' wanted ter git mad about it. But
when we begun ter turn over that pile er truck in the cawner, he kinder
begun ter trimble; when the whip-handle stuck out, his eyes commenced
ter grow big, an' when we hauled the whip out he turned pale ez ashes,
an' begun to swear he did n' take the whip an' did n' know how it got
"You may cross-examine," said the prosecuting attorney triumphantly.
The prisoner felt the weight of the testimony, and glanced furtively at
the jury, and then appealingly at his lawyer.
"You say that Ben denied that he had stolen the whip," said the
prisoner's attorney, on cross-examination. "Did it not occur to you that
what you took for brazen impudence might have been but the evidence of
The witness grinned incredulously, revealing thereby a few blackened
fragments of teeth.
"I 've tuck up more 'n a hundred niggers fer stealin', Kurnel, an' I
never seed one yit that did n' 'ny it ter the las'."
"Answer my question. Might not the witness's indignation have been a
manifestation of conscious innocence? Yes or no?"
"Yes, it mought, an' the moon mought fall--but it don't."
Further cross-examination did not weaken the witness's testimony, which
was very damaging, and every one in the court room felt instinctively
that a strong defense would be required to break down the State's case.
"The State rests," said the prosecuting attorney, with a ring in his
voice which spoke of certain victory.
There was a temporary lull in the proceedings, during which a bailiff
passed a pitcher of water and a glass along the line of jury-men. The
defense was then begun.
The law in its wisdom did not permit the defendant to testify in his own
behalf. There were no witnesses to the facts, but several were called to
testify to Ben's good character. The colored witnesses made him out
possessed of all the virtues. One or two white men testified that they
had never known anything against his reputation for honesty.
The defendant rested his case, and the State called its witnesses in
rebuttal. They were entirely on the point of character. One testified
that he had heard the prisoner say that, if the negroes had their
rights, they would own at least half the property. Another testified
that he had heard the defendant say that the negroes spent too much
money on churches, and that they cared a good deal more for God than God
had ever seemed to care for them.
Ben Davis listened to this testimony with half-open mouth and staring
eyes. Now and then he would lean forward and speak perhaps a word, when
his attorney would shake a warning finger at him, and he would fall back
helplessly, as if abandoning himself to fate; but for a moment only,
when he would resume his puzzled look.
The arguments followed. The prosecuting attorney briefly summed up the
evidence, and characterized it as almost a mathematical proof of the
prisoner's guilt. He reserved his eloquence for the closing argument.
The defendant's attorney had a headache, and secretly believed his
client guilty. His address sounded more like an appeal for mercy than a
demand for justice. Then the State's attorney delivered the maiden
argument of his office, the speech that made his reputation as an
orator, and opened up to him a successful political career.
The judge's charge to the jury was a plain, simple statement of the law
as applied to circumstantial evidence, and the mere statement of the law
foreshadowed the verdict.
The eyes of the prisoner were glued to the jury-box, and he looked more
and more like a hunted animal. In the rear of the crowd of blacks who
filled the back part of the room, partly concealed by the projecting
angle of the fireplace, stood Tom, the blacksmith's assistant. If the
face is the mirror of the soul, then this man's soul, taken off its
guard in this moment of excitement, was full of lust and envy and all
The jury filed out of their box, and into the jury room behind the
judge's stand. There was a moment of relaxation in the court room. The
lawyers fell into conversation across the table. The judge beckoned to
Colonel Thornton, who stepped forward, and they conversed together a few
moments. The prisoner was all eyes and ears in this moment of waiting,
and from an involuntary gesture on the part of the judge he divined that
they were speaking of him. It is a pity he could not hear what was said.
"How do you feel about the case, Colonel?" asked the judge.
"Let him off easy," replied Colonel Thornton. "He 's the best blacksmith
in the county."
The business of the court seemed to have halted by tacit consent, in
anticipation of a quick verdict. The suspense did not last long.
Scarcely ten minutes had elapsed when there was a rap on the door, the
officer opened it, and the jury came out.
The prisoner, his soul in his eyes, sought their faces, but met no
reassuring glance; they were all looking away from him.
"Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon a verdict?"
"We have," responded the foreman. The clerk of the court stepped forward
and took the fateful slip from the foreman's hand.
The clerk read the verdict: "We, the jury impaneled and sworn to try the
issues in this cause, do find the prisoner guilty as charged in the
There was a moment of breathless silence. Then a wild burst of grief
from the prisoner's wife, to which his two children, not understanding
it all, but vaguely conscious of some calamity, added their voices in
two long, discordant wails, which would have been ludicrous had they not
The face of the young man in the back of the room expressed relief and
badly concealed satisfaction. The prisoner fell back upon the seat from
which he had half risen in his anxiety, and his dark face assumed an
ashen hue. What he thought could only be surmised. Perhaps, knowing his
innocence, he had not believed conviction possible; perhaps, conscious
of guilt, he dreaded the punishment, the extent of which was optional
with the judge, within very wide limits. Only one other person present
knew whether or not he was guilty, and that other had slunk furtively
from the court room.
Some of the spectators wondered why there should be so much ado about
convicting a negro of stealing a buggy-whip. They had forgotten their
own interest of the moment before. They did not realize out of what
trifles grow the tragedies of life.
It was four o'clock in the afternoon, the hour for adjournment, when the
verdict was returned. The judge nodded to the bailiff.
"Oyez, oyez! this court is now adjourned until ten o'clock to-morrow
morning," cried the bailiff in a singsong voice. The judge left the
bench, the jury filed out of the box, and a buzz of conversation filled
the court room.
"Brace up, Ben, brace up, my boy," said the defendant's lawyer, half
apologetically. "I did what I could for you, but you can never tell what
a jury will do. You won't be sentenced till to-morrow morning. In the
meantime I 'll speak to the judge and try to get him to be easy with
you. He may let you off with a light fine."
The negro pulled himself together, and by an effort listened.
"Thanky, Majah," was all he said. He seemed to be thinking of something
He barely spoke to his wife when she frantically threw herself on him,
and clung to his neck, as he passed through the side room on his way to
jail. He kissed his children mechanically, and did not reply to the
soothing remarks made by the jailer.
There was a good deal of excitement in town the next morning. Two white
men stood by the post office talking.
"Did yer hear the news?"
"No, what wuz it?"
"Ben Davis tried ter break jail las' night."
"You don't say so! What a fool! He ain't be'n sentenced yit."
"Well, now," said the other, "I 've knowed Ben a long time, an' he wuz a
right good nigger. I kinder found it hard ter b'lieve he did steal that
whip. But what 's a man's feelin's ag'in' the proof?"
They spoke on awhile, using the past tense as if they were speaking of a
"Ef I know Jedge Hart, Ben 'll wish he had slep' las' night, 'stidder
tryin' ter break out'n jail."
At ten o'clock the prisoner was brought into court. He walked with
shambling gait, bent at the shoulders, hopelessly, with downcast eyes,
and took his seat with several other prisoners who had been brought in
for sentence. His wife, accompanied by the children, waited behind him,
and a number of his friends were gathered in the court room.
The first prisoner sentenced was a young white man, convicted several
days before of manslaughter. The deed was done in the heat of passion,
under circumstances of great provocation, during a quarrel about a
woman. The prisoner was admonished of the sanctity of human life, and
sentenced to one year in the penitentiary.
The next case was that of a young clerk, eighteen or nineteen years of
age, who had committed a forgery in order to procure the means to buy
lottery tickets. He was well connected, and the case would not have been
prosecuted if the judge had not refused to allow it to be nolled, and,
once brought to trial, a conviction could not have been avoided.
"You are a young man," said the judge gravely, yet not unkindly, "and
your life is yet before you. I regret that you should have been led into
evil courses by the lust for speculation, so dangerous in its
tendencies, so fruitful of crime and misery. I am led to believe that
you are sincerely penitent, and that, after such punishment as the law
cannot remit without bringing itself into contempt, you will see the
error of your ways and follow the strict path of rectitude. Your fault
has entailed distress not only upon yourself, but upon your relatives,
people of good name and good family, who suffer as keenly from your
disgrace as you yourself. Partly out of consideration for their
feelings, and partly because I feel that, under the circumstances, the
law will be satisfied by the penalty I shall inflict, I sentence you to
imprisonment in the county jail for six months, and a fine of one
hundred dollars and the costs of this action."
"The jedge talks well, don't he?" whispered one spectator to another.
"Yes, and kinder likes ter hear hisse'f talk," answered the other.
"Ben Davis, stand up," ordered the judge.
He might have said "Ben Davis, wake up," for the jailer had to touch the
prisoner on the shoulder to rouse him from his stupor. He stood up, and
something of the hunted look came again into his eyes, which shifted
under the stern glance of the judge.
"Ben Davis, you have been convicted of larceny, after a fair trial
before twelve good men of this county. Under the testimony, there can be
no doubt of your guilt. The case is an aggravated one. You are not an
ignorant, shiftless fellow, but a man of more than ordinary intelligence
among your people, and one who ought to know better. You have not even
the poor excuse of having stolen to satisfy hunger or a physical
appetite. Your conduct is wholly without excuse, and I can only regard
your crime as the result of a tendency to offenses of this nature, a
tendency which is only too common among your people; a tendency which is
a menace to civilization, a menace to society itself, for society rests
upon the sacred right of property. Your opinions, too, have been given a
wrong turn; you have been heard to utter sentiments which, if
disseminated among an ignorant people, would breed discontent, and give
rise to strained relations between them and their best friends, their
old masters, who understand their real nature and their real needs, and
to whose justice and enlightened guidance they can safely trust. Have
you anything to say why sentence should not be passed upon you?"
"Nothin', suh, cep'n dat I did n' take de whip."
"The law, largely, I think, in view of the peculiar circumstances of
your unfortunate race, has vested a large discretion in courts as to
the extent of the punishment for offenses of this kind. Taking your case
as a whole, I am convinced that it is one which, for the sake of the
example, deserves a severe punishment. Nevertheless, I do not feel
disposed to give you the full extent of the law, which would be twenty
years in the penitentiary, but, considering the fact that you have a
family, and have heretofore borne a good reputation in the community, I
will impose upon you the light sentence of imprisonment for five years
in the penitentiary at hard labor. And I hope that this will be a
warning to you and others who may be similarly disposed, and that after
your sentence has expired you may lead the life of a law-abiding
[Footnote 1: There are no degrees of larceny in North Carolina, and the
penalty for any offense lies in the discretion of the judge, to the
limit of twenty years.]
"O Ben! O my husband! O God!" moaned the poor wife, and tried to press
forward to her husband's side.
"Keep back, Nancy, keep back," said the jailer. "You can see him in
Several people were looking at Ben's face. There was one flash of
despair, and then nothing but a stony blank, behind which he masked his
real feelings, whatever they were.
Human character is a compound of tendencies inherited and habits
acquired. In the anxiety, the fear of disgrace, spoke the nineteenth
century civilization with which Ben Davis had been more or less closely
in touch during twenty years of slavery and fifteen years of freedom. In
the stolidity with which he received this sentence for a crime which he
had not committed, spoke who knows what trait of inherited savagery? For
stoicism is a savage virtue.
One morning in June, five years later, a black man limped slowly along
the old Lumberton plank road; a tall man, whose bowed shoulders made him
seem shorter than he was, and a face from which it was difficult to
guess his years, for in it the wrinkles and flabbiness of age were found
side by side with firm white teeth, and eyes not sunken,--eyes
bloodshot, and burning with something, either fever or passion. Though
he limped painfully with one foot, the other hit the ground
impatiently, like the good horse in a poorly matched team. As he walked
along, he was talking to himself:----
"I wonder what dey 'll do w'en I git back? I wonder how Nancy 's
s'ported the fambly all dese years? Tuck in washin', I s'ppose,--she was
a monst'us good washer an' ironer. I wonder ef de chillun 'll be too
proud ter reco'nize deir daddy come back f'um de penetenchy? I 'spec'
Billy must be a big boy by dis time. He won' b'lieve his daddy ever
stole anything. I 'm gwine ter slip roun' an' s'prise 'em."
Five minutes later a face peered cautiously into the window of what had
once been Ben Davis's cabin,--at first an eager face, its coarseness lit
up with the fire of hope; a moment later a puzzled face; then an
anxious, fearful face as the man stepped away from the window and rapped
at the door.
"Is Mis' Davis home?" he asked of the woman who opened the door.
"Mis' Davis don' live here. You er mistook in de house."
"Whose house is dis?"
"It b'longs ter my husban', Mr. Smith,--Primus Smith."
"'Scuse me, but I knowed de house some years ago w'en I wuz here oncet
on a visit, an' it b'longed ter a man name' Ben Davis."
"Ben Davis--Ben Davis?--oh yes, I 'member now. Dat wuz de gen'man w'at
wuz sent ter de penitenchy fer sump'n er nuther,--sheep-stealin', I
b'lieve. Primus," she called, "w'at wuz Ben Davis, w'at useter own dis
yer house, sent ter de penitenchy fer?"
"Hoss-stealin'," came back the reply in sleepy accents, from the man
seated by the fireplace.
The traveler went on to the next house. A neat-looking yellow woman came
to the door when he rattled the gate, and stood looking suspiciously at
"W'at you want?" she asked.
"Please, ma'am, will you tell me whether a man name' Ben Davis useter
live in dis neighborhood?"
"Useter live in de nex' house; wuz sent ter de penitenchy fer killin' a
"Kin yer tell me w'at went wid Mis' Davis?"
"Umph! I 's a 'spectable 'oman, I is, en don' mix wid dem kind er
people. She wuz 'n' no better 'n her husban'. She tuk up wid a man dat
useter wuk fer Ben, an' dey 're livin' down by de ole wagon-ya'd, where
no 'spectable 'oman ever puts her foot."
"An' de chillen?"
"De gal 's dead. Wuz 'n' no better 'n she oughter be'n. She fell in de
crick an' got drown'; some folks say she wuz 'n' sober w'en it happen'.
De boy tuck atter his pappy. He wuz 'rested las' week fer shootin' a
w'ite man, an' wuz lynch' de same night. Dey wa'n't none of 'em no
'count after deir pappy went ter de penitenchy."
"What went wid de proputty?"
"Hit wuz sol' fer de mortgage, er de taxes, er de lawyer, er sump'n,--I
don' know w'at. A w'ite man got it."
The man with the bundle went on until he came to a creek that crossed
the road. He descended the sloping bank, and, sitting on a stone in the
shade of a water-oak, took off his coarse brogans, unwound the rags that
served him in lieu of stockings, and laved in the cool water the feet
that were chafed with many a weary mile of travel.
After five years of unrequited toil, and unspeakable hardship in convict
camps,--five years of slaving by the side of human brutes, and of
nightly herding with them in vermin-haunted huts,--Ben Davis had become
like them. For a while he had received occasional letters from home, but
in the shifting life of the convict camp they had long since ceased to
reach him, if indeed they had been written. For a year or two, the
consciousness of his innocence had helped to make him resist the
debasing influences that surrounded him. The hope of shortening his
sentence by good behavior, too, had worked a similar end. But the
transfer from one contractor to another, each interested in keeping as
long as possible a good worker, had speedily dissipated any such hope.
When hope took flight, its place was not long vacant. Despair followed,
and black hatred of all mankind, hatred especially of the man to whom he
attributed all his misfortunes. One who is suffering unjustly is not apt
to indulge in fine abstractions, nor to balance probabilities. By long
brooding over his wrongs, his mind became, if not unsettled, at least
warped, and he imagined that Colonel Thornton had deliberately set a
trap into which he had fallen. The Colonel, he convinced himself, had
disapproved of his prosperity, and had schemed to destroy it. He
reasoned himself into the belief that he represented in his person the
accumulated wrongs of a whole race, and Colonel Thornton the race who
had oppressed them. A burning desire for revenge sprang up in him, and
he nursed it until his sentence expired and he was set at liberty. What
he had learned since reaching home had changed his desire into a deadly
When he had again bandaged his feet and slipped them into his shoes, he
looked around him, and selected a stout sapling from among the
undergrowth that covered the bank of the stream. Taking from his pocket
a huge clasp-knife, he cut off the length of an ordinary walking stick
and trimmed it. The result was an ugly-looking bludgeon, a dangerous
weapon when in the grasp of a strong man.
With the stick in his hand, he went on down the road until he approached
a large white house standing some distance back from the street. The
grounds were filled with a profusion of shrubbery. The negro entered the
gate and secreted himself in the bushes, at a point where he could hear
any one that might approach.
It was near midday, and he had not eaten. He had walked all night, and
had not slept. The hope of meeting his loved ones had been meat and
drink and rest for him. But as he sat waiting, outraged nature asserted
itself, and he fell asleep, with his head on the rising root of a tree,
and his face upturned.
And as he slept, he dreamed of his childhood; of an old black mammy
taking care of him in the daytime, and of a younger face, with soft
eyes, which bent over him sometimes at night, and a pair of arms which
clasped him closely. He dreamed of his past,--of his young wife, of his
bright children. Somehow his dreams all ran to pleasant themes for a
Then they changed again. He dreamed that he was in the convict camp,
and, by an easy transition, that he was in hell, consumed with hunger,
burning with thirst. Suddenly the grinning devil who stood over him with
a barbed whip faded away, and a little white angel came and handed him a
drink of water. As he raised it to his lips the glass slipped, and he
struggled back to consciousness.
"Poo' man! Poo' man sick, an' sleepy. Dolly b'ing Powers to cover poo'
man up. Poo' man mus' be hungry. Wen Dolly get him covered up, she go
b'ing poo' man some cake."
A sweet little child, as beautiful as a cherub escaped from Paradise,
was standing over him. At first he scarcely comprehended the words the
baby babbled out. But as they became clear to him, a novel feeling crept
slowly over his heart. It had been so long since he had heard anything
but curses and stern words of command, or the ribald songs of obscene
merriment, that the clear tones of this voice from heaven cooled his
calloused heart as the water of the brook had soothed his blistered
feet. It was so strange, so unwonted a thing, that he lay there with
half-closed eyes while the child brought leaves and flowers and laid
them on his face and on his breast, and arranged them with little
She moved away, and plucked a flower. And then she spied another farther
on, and then another, and, as she gathered them, kept increasing the
distance between herself and the man lying there, until she was several
Ben Davis watched her through eyes over which had come an unfamiliar
softness. Under the lingering spell of his dream, her golden hair, which
fell in rippling curls, seemed like a halo of purity and innocence and
peace, irradiating the atmosphere around her. It is true the thought
occurred to Ben, vaguely, that through harm to her he might inflict the
greatest punishment upon her father; but the idea came like a dark shape
that faded away and vanished into nothingness as soon as it came within
the nimbus that surrounded the child's person.
The child was moving on to pluck still another flower, when there came a
sound of hoof-beats, and Ben was aware that a horseman, visible through
the shrubbery, was coming along the curved path that led from the gate
to the house. It must be the man he was waiting for, and now was the
time to wreak his vengeance. He sprang to his feet, grasped his club,
and stood for a moment irresolute. But either the instinct of the
convict, beaten, driven, and debased, or the influence of the child,
which was still strong upon him, impelled him, after the first momentary
pause, to flee as though seeking safety.
His flight led him toward the little girl, whom he must pass in order
to make his escape, and as Colonel Thornton turned the corner of the
path he saw a desperate-looking negro, clad in filthy rags, and carrying
in his hand a murderous bludgeon, running toward the child, who,
startled by the sound of footsteps, had turned and was looking toward
the approaching man with wondering eyes. A sickening fear came over the
father's heart, and drawing the ever-ready revolver, which according to
the Southern custom he carried always upon his person, he fired with
unerring aim. Ben Davis ran a few yards farther, faltered, threw out his
hands, and fell dead at the child's feet.
* * * * *
Some time, we are told, when the cycle of years has rolled around, there
is to be another golden age, when all men will dwell together in love
and harmony, and when peace and righteousness shall prevail for a
thousand years. God speed the day, and let not the shining thread of
hope become so enmeshed in the web of circumstance that we lose sight of
it; but give us here and there, and now and then, some little foretaste
of this golden age, that we may the more patiently and hopefully await
Three essays on the Color Line:
What is a White Man? (1889)
The Future American (1900)
The Disfranchisement of the Negro (1903)
What is a White Man?
The fiat having gone forth from the wise men of the South that the
"all-pervading, all-conquering Anglo-Saxon race" must continue forever
to exercise exclusive control and direction of the government of this
so-called Republic, it becomes important to every citizen who values his
birthright to know who are included in this grandiloquent term. It is of
course perfectly obvious that the writer or speaker who used this
expression--perhaps Mr. Grady of Georgia--did not say what he meant. It
is not probable that he meant to exclude from full citizenship the Celts
and Teutons and Gauls and Slavs who make up so large a proportion of our
population; he hardly meant to exclude the Jews, for even the most
ardent fire-eater would hardly venture to advocate the disfranchisement
of the thrifty race whose mortgages cover so large a portion of Southern
soil. What the eloquent gentleman really meant by this high-sounding
phrase was simply the white race; and the substance of the argument of
that school of Southern writers to which he belongs, is simply that for
the good of the country the Negro should have no voice in directing the
government or public policy of the Southern States or of the nation.
But it is evident that where the intermingling of the races has made
such progress as it has in this country, the line which separates the
races must in many instances have been practically obliterated. And
there has arisen in the United States a very large class of the
population who are certainly not Negroes in an ethnological sense, and
whose children will be no nearer Negroes than themselves. In view,
therefore, of the very positive ground taken by the white leaders of the
South, where most of these people reside, it becomes in the highest
degree important to them to know what race they belong to. It ought to
be also a matter of serious concern to the Southern white people; for if
their zeal for good government is so great that they contemplate the
practical overthrow of the Constitution and laws of the United States to
secure it, they ought at least to be sure that no man entitled to it by
their own argument, is robbed of a right so precious as that of free
citizenship; the "all-pervading, all conquering Anglo-Saxon" ought to
set as high a value on American citizenship as the all-conquering Roman
placed upon the franchise of his State two thousand years ago. This
discussion would of course be of little interest to the genuine Negro,
who is entirely outside of the charmed circle, and must content himself
with the acquisition of wealth, the pursuit of learning and such other
privileges as his "best friends" may find it consistent with the welfare
of the nation to allow him; but to every other good citizen the inquiry
ought to be a momentous one. What is a white man?
In spite of the virulence and universality of race prejudice in the
United States, the human intellect long ago revolted at the manifest
absurdity of classifying men fifteen-sixteenths white as black men; and
hence there grew up a number of laws in different states of the Union
defining the limit which separated the white and colored races, which
was, when these laws took their rise and is now to a large extent, the
line which separated freedom and opportunity from slavery or hopeless
degradation. Some of these laws are of legislative origin; others are
judge-made laws, brought out by the exigencies of special cases which
came before the courts for determination. Some day they will, perhaps,
become mere curiosities of jurisprudence; the "black laws" will be
bracketed with the "blue laws," and will be at best but landmarks by
which to measure the progress of the nation. But to-day these laws are
in active operation, and they are, therefore, worthy of attention; for
every good citizen ought to know the law, and, if possible, to respect
it; and if not worthy of respect, it should be changed by the authority
which enacted it. Whether any of the laws referred to here have been in
any manner changed by very recent legislation the writer cannot say, but
they are certainly embodied in the latest editions of the revised
statutes of the states referred to.
The colored people were divided, in most of the Southern States, into
two classes, designated by law as Negroes and mulattoes respectively.
The term Negro was used in its ethnological sense, and needed no
definition; but the term "mulatto" was held by legislative enactment to
embrace all persons of color not Negroes. The words "quadroon" and
"mestizo" are employed in some of the law books, tho not defined; but
the term "octoroon," as indicating a person having one-eighth of Negro
blood, is not used at all, so far as the writer has been able to
The states vary slightly in regard to what constitutes a mulatto or
person of color, and as to what proportion of white blood should be
sufficient to remove the disability of color. As a general rule, less
than one-fourth of Negro blood left the individual white--in theory;
race questions being, however, regulated very differently in practice.
In Missouri, by the code of 1855, still in operation, so far as not
inconsistent with the Federal Constitution and laws, "any person other
than a Negro, any one of whose grandmothers or grandfathers is or shall
have been a Negro, tho all of his or her progenitors except those
descended from the Negro may have been white persons, shall be deemed a
mulatto." Thus the color-line is drawn at one-fourth of Negro blood, and
persons with only one-eighth are white.
By the Mississippi code of 1880, the color-line is drawn at one-fourth
of Negro blood, all persons having less being theoretically white.
Under the _code noir_ of Louisiana, the descendant of a white and a
quadroon is white, thus drawing the line at one-eighth of Negro blood.
The code of 1876 abolished all distinctions of color; as to whether they
have been re-enacted since the Republican Party went out of power in
that state the writer is not informed.
Jumping to the extreme North, persons are white within the meaning of
the Constitution of Michigan who have less than one-fourth of Negro
In Ohio the rule, as established by numerous decisions of the Supreme
Court, was that a preponderance of white blood constituted a person a
white man in the eye of the law, and entitled him to the exercise of all
the civil rights of a white man. By a retrogressive step the color-line
was extended in 1861 in the case of marriage, which by statute was
forbidden between a person of pure white blood and one having a visible
admixture of African blood. But by act of legislature, passed in the
spring of 1887, all laws establishing or permitting distinctions of
color were repealed. In many parts of the state these laws were always
ignored, and they would doubtless have been repealed long ago but for
the sentiment of the southern counties, separated only by the width of
the Ohio River from a former slave-holding state. There was a bill
introduced in the legislature during the last session to re-enact the
"black laws," but it was hopelessly defeated; the member who introduced
it evidently mistook his latitude; he ought to be a member of the
But the state which, for several reasons, one might expect to have the
strictest laws in regard to the relations of the races, has really the
loosest. Two extracts from decisions of the Supreme Court of South
Carolina will make clear the law of that state in regard to the color
The definition of the term mulatto, as understood in this state,
seems to be vague, signifying generally a person of mixed white
or European and Negro parentage, in whatever proportions the blood
of the two races may be mingled in the individual. But it is not
invariably applicable to every admixture of African blood with the
European, nor is one having all the features of a white to be ranked
with the degraded class designated by the laws of this state as
persons of color, because of some remote taint of the Negro race.
The line of distinction, however, is not ascertained by any rule of
law.... Juries would probably be justified in holding a person to
be white in whom the admixture of African blood did not exceed the
proportion of one-eighth. But it is in all cases a question for the
jury, to be determined by them upon the evidence of features and
complexion afforded by inspection, the evidence of reputation as
to parentage, and the evidence of the rank and station in society
occupied by the party. The only rule which can be laid down by the
courts is that where there is a distinct and visible admixture of
Negro blood, the individual is to be denominated a mulatto or person
In a later case the court held: "The question whether persons are
colored or white, where color or feature are doubtful, is for the jury
to decide by reputation, by reception into society, and by their
exercise of the privileges of the white man, as well as by admixture of
It is an interesting question why such should have been, and should
still be, for that matter, the law of South Carolina, and why there
should exist in that state a condition of public opinion which would
accept such a law. Perhaps it may be attributed to the fact that the
colored population of South Carolina always outnumbered the white
population, and the eagerness of the latter to recruit their ranks was
sufficient to overcome in some measure their prejudice against the Negro
blood. It is certainly true that the color-line is, in practice as in
law, more loosely drawn in South Carolina than in any other Southern
State, and that no inconsiderable element of the population of that
state consists of these legal white persons, who were either born in the
state, or, attracted thither by this feature of the laws, have come in
from surrounding states, and, forsaking home and kindred, have taken
their social position as white people. A reasonable degree of reticence
in regard to one's antecedents is, however, usual in such cases.
Before the War the color-line, as fixed by law, regulated in theory the
civil and political status of persons of color. What that status was,
was expressed in the Dred Scott decision. But since the War, or rather
since the enfranchisement of the colored people, these laws have been
mainly confined--in theory, be it always remembered--to the regulation
of the intercourse of the races in schools and in the marriage relation.
The extension of the color-line to places of public entertainment and
resort, to inns and public highways, is in most states entirely a matter
of custom. A colored man can sue in the courts of any Southern State for
the violation of his common-law rights, and recover damages of say fifty
cents without costs. A colored minister who sued a Baltimore steamboat
company a few weeks ago for refusing him first-class accommodation, he
having paid first-class fare, did not even meet with that measure of
success; the learned judge, a Federal judge by the way, held that the
plaintiff's rights had been invaded, and that he had suffered
humiliation at the hands of the defendant company, but that "the
humiliation was not sufficient to entitle him to damages." And the
learned judge dismissed the action without costs to either party.
Having thus ascertained what constitutes a white man, the good citizen
may be curious to know what steps have been taken to preserve the purity
of the white race. Nature, by some unaccountable oversight having to
some extent neglected a matter so important to the future prosperity and
progress of mankind. The marriage laws referred to here are in active
operation, and cases under them are by no means infrequent. Indeed,
instead of being behind the age, the marriage laws in the Southern
States are in advance of public opinion; for very rarely will a Southern
community stop to figure on the pedigree of the contracting parties to a
marriage where one is white and the other is known to have any strain of
In Virginia, under the title "Offenses against Morality," the law
provides that "any white person who shall intermarry with a Negro shall
be confined in jail not more than one year and fined not exceeding one
hundred dollars." In a marginal note on the statute-book, attention is
called to the fact that "a similar penalty is not imposed on the
Negro"--a stretch of magnanimity to which the laws of other states are
strangers. A person who performs the ceremony of marriage in such a case
is fined two hundred dollars, one-half of which goes to the informer.
In Maryland, a minister who performs the ceremony of marriage between a
Negro and a white person is liable to a fine of one hundred dollars.
In Mississippi, code of 1880, it is provided that "the marriage of a
white person to a Negro or mulatto or person who shall have one-fourth
or more of Negro blood, shall be unlawful"; and as this prohibition does
not seem sufficiently emphatic, it is further declared to be "incestuous
and void," and is punished by the same penalty prescribed for marriage
within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity.
But it is Georgia, the _alma genetrix_ of the chain-gang, which merits
the questionable distinction of having the harshest set of color laws.
By the law of Georgia the term "person of color" is defined to mean "all
such as have an admixture of Negro blood, and the term 'Negro,' includes
This definition is perhaps restricted somewhat by another provision, by
which "all Negroes, mestizoes, and their descendants, having one-eighth
of Negro or mulatto blood in their veins, shall be known in this State
as persons of color." A colored minister is permitted to perform the
ceremony of marriage between colored persons only, tho white ministers
are not forbidden to join persons of color in wedlock. It is further
provided that "the marriage relation between white persons and persons
of African descent is forever prohibited, and such marriages shall be
null and void." This is a very sweeping provision; it will be noticed
that the term "persons of color," previously defined, is not employed,
the expression "persons of African descent" being used instead. A court
which was so inclined would find no difficulty in extending this
provision of the law to the remotest strain of African blood. The
marriage relation is forever prohibited. Forever is a long time. There
is a colored woman in Georgia said to be worth $300,000--an immense
fortune in the poverty stricken South. With a few hundred such women in
that state, possessing a fair degree of good looks, the color-line would
shrivel up like a scroll in the heat of competition for their hands in
marriage. The penalty for the violation of the law against intermarriage
is the same sought to be imposed by the defunct Glenn Bill for violation
of its provisions; i.e., a fine not to exceed one thousand dollars, and
imprisonment not to exceed six months, or twelve months in the
Whatever the wisdom or justice of these laws, there is one objection to
them which is not given sufficient prominence in the consideration of
the subject, even where it is discussed at all; they make mixed blood a
_prima-facie_ proof of illegitimacy. It is a fact that at present, in
the United States, a colored man or woman whose complexion is white or
nearly white is presumed, in the absence of any knowledge of his or her
antecedents, to be the offspring of a union not sanctified by law. And
by a curious but not uncommon process, such persons are not held in the
same low estimation as white people in the same position. The sins of
their fathers are not visited upon the children, in that regard at
least; and their mothers' lapses from virtue are regarded either as
misfortunes or as faults excusable under the circumstances. But in spite
of all this, illegitimacy is not a desirable distinction, and is likely
to become less so as these people of mixed blood advance in wealth and
social standing. This presumption of illegitimacy was once, perhaps,
true of the majority of such persons; but the times have changed. More
than half of the colored people of the United States are of mixed blood;
they marry and are given in marriage, and they beget children of
complexions similar to their own. Whether or not, therefore, laws which
stamp these children as illegitimate, and which by indirection establish
a lower standard of morality for a large part of the population than the
remaining part is judged by, are wise laws; and whether or not the
purity of the white race could not be as well preserved by the exercise
of virtue, and the operation of those natural laws which are so often
quoted by Southern writers as the justification of all sorts of Southern
"policies"--are questions which the good citizen may at least turn over
in his mind occasionally, pending the settlement of other complications
which have grown out of the presence of the Negro on this continent.
_Independent_, May 30, 1889
The Future American
WHAT THE RACE IS LIKELY TO BECOME IN THE PROCESS OF TIME
The future American race is a popular theme for essayists, and has been
much discussed. Most expressions upon the subject, however, have been
characterized by a conscious or unconscious evasion of some of the main
elements of the problem involved in the formation of a future American
race, or, to put it perhaps more correctly, a future ethnic type that
shall inhabit the northern part of the western continent. Some of these
obvious omissions will be touched upon in these articles; and if the
writer has any preconceived opinions that would affect his judgment,
they are at least not the hackneyed prejudices of the past--if they lead
to false conclusions, they at least furnish a new point of view, from
which, taken with other widely differing views, the judicious reader may
establish a parallax that will enable him to approximate the truth.
The popular theory is that the future American race will consist of a
harmonious fusion of the various European elements which now make up our
heterogeneous population. The result is to be something infinitely
superior to the best of the component elements. This perfection of
type--no good American could for a moment doubt that it will be as
perfect as everything else American--is to be brought about by a
combination of all the best characteristics of the different European
races, and the elimination, by some strange alchemy, of all their
undesirable traits--for even a good American will admit that European
races, now and then, have some undesirable traits when they first come
over. It is a beautiful, a hopeful, and to the eye of faith, a thrilling
prospect. The defect of the argument, however, lies in the
incompleteness of the premises, and its obliviousness of certain facts
of human nature and human history.
Before putting forward any theory upon the subject, it may be well
enough to remark that recent scientific research has swept away many
hoary anthropological fallacies. It has been demonstrated that the shape
or size of the head has little or nothing to do with the civilization or
average intelligence of a race; that language, so recently lauded as an
infallible test of racial origin is of absolutely no value in this
connection, its distribution being dependent upon other conditions than
race. Even color, upon which the social structure of the United States
is so largely based, has been proved no test of race. The conception of
a pure Aryan, Indo-European race has been abandoned in scientific
circles, and the secret of the progress of Europe has been found in
racial heterogeneity, rather than in racial purity. The theory that the
Jews are a pure race has been exploded, and their peculiar type
explained upon a different and much more satisfactory hypothesis. To
illustrate the change of opinion and the growth of liberality in
scientific circles, imagine the reception which would have been accorded
to this proposition, if laid down by an American writer fifty or sixty
years ago: "The European races, as a whole, show signs of a secondary or
derived origin; certain characteristics, especially the texture of the
hair, lead us to class them as intermediate between the extreme primary
types of the Asiatic and Negro races respectively." This is put forward
by the author, not as a mere hypothesis, but as a proposition fairly
susceptible of proof, and is supported by an elaborate argument based
upon microscopical comparisons, to which numerous authorities are cited.
If this fact be borne in mind it will simplify in some degree our
conception of a future American ethnic type.
By modern research the unity of the human race has been proved (if it
needed any proof to the careful or fair-minded observer), and the
differentiation of races by selection and environment has been so stated
as to prove itself. Greater emphasis has been placed upon environment as
a factor in ethnic development, and what has been called "the vulgar
theory of race," as accounting for progress and culture, has been
relegated to the limbo of exploded dogmas. One of the most perspicuous
and forceful presentations of these modern conclusions of anthropology
is found in the volume above quoted, a book which owes its origin to a
Proceeding then upon the firm basis laid down by science and the
historic parallel, it ought to be quite clear that the future American
race--the future American ethnic type--will be formed of a mingling, in
a yet to be ascertained proportion, of the various racial varieties
which make up the present population of the United States; or, to extend
the area a little farther, of the various peoples of the northern
hemisphere of the western continent; for, if certain recent tendencies
are an index of the future it is not safe to fix the boundaries of the
future United States anywhere short of the Arctic Ocean on the north and
the Isthmus of Panama on the south. But, even with the continuance of
the present political divisions, conditions of trade and ease of travel
are likely to gradually assimilate to one type all the countries of the
hemisphere. Assuming that the country is so well settled that no great
disturbance of ratios is likely to result from immigration, or any
serious conflict of races, we may safely build our theory of a future
American race upon the present population of the country. I use the word
"race" here in its popular sense--that of a people who look
substantially alike, and are moulded by the same culture and dominated
by the same ideals.
By the eleventh census, the ratios of which will probably not be changed
materially by the census now under way, the total population of the
United States was about 65,000,000, of which about seven million were
black and colored, and something over 200,000 were of Indian blood. It
is then in the three broad types--white, black and Indian--that the
future American race will find the material for its formation. Any dream
of a pure white race, of the Anglo-Saxon type, for the United States,
may as well be abandoned as impossible, even if desirable. That such
future race will be predominantly white may well be granted--unless
climate in the course of time should modify existing types; that it will
call itself white is reasonably sure; that it will conform closely to
the white type is likely; but that it will have absorbed and assimilated
the blood of the other two races mentioned is as certain as the
operation of any law well can be that deals with so uncertain a quantity
as the human race.
There are no natural obstacles to such an amalgamation. The unity of the
race is not only conceded but demonstrated by actual crossing. Any
theory of sterility due to race crossing may as well be abandoned; it is
founded mainly on prejudice and cannot be proved by the facts. If it
come from Northern or European sources, it is likely to be weakened by
lack of knowledge; if from Southern sources, it is sure to be colored
by prejudices. My own observation is that in a majority of cases people
of mixed blood are very prolific and very long-lived. The admixture of
races in the United States has never taken place under conditions likely
to produce the best results but there have nevertheless been enough
conspicuous instances to the contrary in this country, to say nothing of
a long and honorable list in other lands, to disprove the theory that
people of mixed blood, other things being equal, are less virile,
prolific or able than those of purer strains. But whether this be true
or not is apart from this argument. Admitting that races may mix, and
that they are thrown together under conditions which permit their
admixture, the controlling motive will be not abstract considerations
with regard to a remote posterity, but present interest and inclination.
The Indian element in the United States proper is so small
proportionally--about one in three hundred--and the conditions for its
amalgamation so favorable, that it would of itself require scarcely any
consideration in this argument. There is no prejudice against the Indian
blood, in solution. A half or quarter-breed, removed from the tribal
environment, is freely received among white people. After the second or
third remove he may even boast of his Indian descent; it gives him a
sort of distinction, and involves no social disability. The distribution
of the Indian race, however, tends to make the question largely a local
one, and the survival of tribal relation may postpone the results for
some little time. It will be, however, the fault of the United States
Indian himself if he be not speedily amalgamated with the white
The Indian element, however, looms up larger when we include Mexico and
Central America in our fields of discussion. By the census of Mexico
just completed, over eighty per cent of the population is composed of
mixed and Indian races. The remainder is presumably of pure Spanish, or
European blood, with a dash of Negro along the coast. The population is
something over twelve millions, thus adding nine millions of Indians and
Mestizos to be taken into account. Add several millions of similar
descent in Central America, a million in Porto Rico, who are said to
have an aboriginal strain, and it may safely be figured that the Indian
element will be quite considerable in the future American race. Its
amalgamation will involve no great difficulty, however; it has been
going on peacefully in the countries south of us for several centuries,
and is likely to continue along similar lines. The peculiar disposition
of the American to overlook mixed blood in a foreigner will simplify the
gradual absorption of these Southern races.
The real problem, then, the only hard problem in connection with the
future American race, lies in the Negro element of our population. As I
have said before, I believe it is destined to play its part in the
formation of this new type. The process by which this will take place
will be no sudden and wholesale amalgamation--a thing certainly not to
be expected, and hardly to be desired. If it were held desirable, and
one could imagine a government sufficiently autocratic to enforce its
behests, it would be no great task to mix the races mechanically,
leaving to time merely the fixing of the resultant type.
Let us for curiosity outline the process. To start with, the Negroes are
already considerably mixed--many of them in large proportion, and most
of them in some degree--and the white people, as I shall endeavor to
show later on, are many of them slightly mixed with the Negro. But we
will assume, for the sake of the argument, that the two races are
absolutely pure. We will assume, too, that the laws of the whole country
were as favorable to this amalgamation as the laws of most Southern
States are at present against it; i.e., that it were made a misdemeanor
for two white or two colored persons to marry, so long as it was
possible to obtain a mate of the other race--this would be even more
favorable than the Southern rule, which makes no such exception. Taking
the population as one-eighth Negro, this eighth, married to an equal
number of whites, would give in the next generation a population of
which one-fourth would be mulattoes. Mating these in turn with white
persons, the next generation would be composed one-half of quadroons, or
persons one-fourth Negro. In the third generation, applying the same
rule, the entire population would be composed of octoroons, or persons
only one-eighth Negro, who would probably call themselves white, if by
this time there remained any particular advantage in being so
considered. Thus in three generations the pure whites would be entirely
eliminated, and there would be no perceptible trace of the blacks left.
The mechanical mixture would be complete; as it would probably be put,
the white race would have absorbed the black. There would be no inferior
race to domineer over; there would be no superior race to oppress those
who differed from them in racial externals. The inevitable social
struggle, which in one form or another, seems to be one of the
conditions of progress, would proceed along other lines than those of
race. If now and then, for a few generations, an occasional trace of the
black ancestor should crop out, no one would care, for all would be
tarred with the same stick. This is already the case in South America,
parts of Mexico and to a large extent in the West Indies. From a Negroid
nation, which ours is already, we would have become a composite and
homogeneous people, and the elements of racial discord which have
troubled our civil life so gravely and still threaten our free
institutions, would have been entirely eliminated.
But this will never happen. The same result will be brought about slowly
and obscurely, and, if the processes of nature are not too violently
interrupted by the hand of man, in such a manner as to produce the best
results with the least disturbance of natural laws. In another article I
shall endeavor to show that this process has been taking place with
greater rapidity than is generally supposed, and that the results have
been such as to encourage the belief that the formation of a uniform
type out of our present racial elements will take place within a
measurably near period.
_Boston Evening Transcript_, August 18, 1900
A STREAM OF DARK BLOOD IN THE VEINS OF THE SOUTHERN WHITES
I have said that the formation of the new American race type will take
place slowly and obscurely for some time to come, after the manner of
all healthy changes in nature. I may go further and say that this
process has already been going on ever since the various races in the
Western world have been brought into juxtaposition. Slavery was a rich
soil for the production of a mixed race, and one need only read the
literature and laws of the past two generations to see how steadily,
albeit slowly and insidiously, the stream of dark blood has insinuated
itself into the veins of the dominant, or, as a Southern critic recently
described it in a paragraph that came under my eye, the "domineering"
race. The Creole stories of Mr. Cable and other writers were not mere
figments of the imagination; the beautiful octoroon was a corporeal
fact; it is more than likely that she had brothers of the same
complexion, though curiously enough the male octoroon has cut no figure
in fiction, except in the case of the melancholy Honore Grandissime,
f.m.c; and that she and her brothers often crossed the invisible but
rigid color line was an historical fact that only an ostrich-like
prejudice could deny.
Grace King's "Story of New Orleans" makes the significant statement that
the quadroon women of that city preferred white fathers for their
children, in order that these latter might become white and thereby be
qualified to enter the world of opportunity. More than one of the best
families of Louisiana has a dark ancestral strain. A conspicuous
American family of Southwestern extraction, which recently contributed a
party to a brilliant international marriage, is known, by the
well-informed, to be just exactly five generations removed from a Negro
ancestor. One member of this family, a distinguished society leader, has
been known, upon occasion, when some question of the rights or
privileges of the colored race came up, to show a very noble sympathy
for her distant kinsmen. If American prejudice permitted her and others
to speak freely of her pedigree, what a tower of strength her name and
influence would be to a despised and struggling race!
A distinguished American man of letters, now resident in Europe, who
spent many years in North Carolina, has said to the writer that he had
noted, in the course of a long life, at least a thousand instances of
white persons known or suspected to possess a strain of Negro blood. An
amusing instance of this sort occurred a year or two ago. It was
announced through the newspapers, whose omniscience of course no one
would question, that a certain great merchant of Chicago was a mulatto.
This gentleman had a large dry goods trade in the South, notably in
Texas. Shortly after the publication of the item reflecting on the
immaculateness of the merchant's descent, there appeared in the Texas
newspapers, among the advertising matter, a statement from the Chicago
merchant characterizing the rumor as a malicious falsehood, concocted by
his rivals in business, and incidentally calling attention to the
excellent bargains offered to retailers and jobbers at his great
emporium. A counter-illustration is found in the case of a certain
bishop, recently elected, of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who
is accused of being a white man. A colored editor who possesses the
saving grace of humor, along with other talents of a high order, gravely
observed, in discussing this rumor, that "the poor man could not help
it, even if he were white, and that a fact for which he was in no wise
responsible should not be allowed to stand in the way of his
During a residence in North Carolina in my youth and early manhood I
noted many curious phases of the race problem. I have in mind a family
of three sisters so aggressively white that the old popular Southern
legend that they were the unacknowledged children of white parents was
current concerning them. There was absolutely not the slightest earmark
of the Negro about them. It may be stated here, as another race fallacy,
that the "telltale dark mark at the root of the nails," supposed to be
an infallible test of Negro blood, is a delusion and a snare, and of no
value whatever as a test of race. It belongs with the grewsome
superstition that a woman apparently white may give birth to a
coal-black child by a white father. Another instance that came under my
eye was that of a very beautiful girl with soft, wavy brown hair, who is
now living in a Far Western State as the wife of a white husband. A
typical case was that of a family in which the tradition of Negro origin
had persisted long after all trace of it had disappeared. The family
took its origin from a white ancestress, and had consequently been free
for several generations. The father of the first colored child, counting
the family in the female line--the only way it could be counted--was a
mulatto. A second infusion of white blood, this time on the paternal
side, resulted in offspring not distinguishable from pure white. One
child of this generation emigrated to what was then the Far West,
married a white woman and reared a large family, whose descendants, now
in the fourth or fifth remove from the Negro, are in all probability
wholly unaware of their origin. A sister of this pioneer emigrant
remained in the place of her birth and formed an irregular union with a
white man of means, with whom she lived for many years and for whom she
bore a large number of children, who became about evenly divided between
white and colored, fixing their status by the marriages they made. One
of the daughters, for instance, married a white man and reared in a
neighboring county a family of white children, who, in all probability,
were as active as any one else in the recent ferocious red-shirt
campaign to disfranchise the Negroes.
In this same town there was stationed once, before the war, at the
Federal arsenal there located, an officer who fell in love with a "white
Negro" girl, as our Southern friends impartially dub them. This officer
subsequently left the army, and carried away with him to the North the
whole family of his inamorata. He married the woman, and their
descendants, who live in a large Western city, are not known at all as
persons of color, and show no trace of their dark origin.
Two notable bishops of the Roman Catholic communion in the United States
are known to be the sons of a slave mother and a white father, who,
departing from the usual American rule, gave his sons freedom, education
and a chance in life, instead of sending them to the auction block.
Colonel T.W. Higginson, in his _Cheerful Yesterdays_, relates the story
of a white colored woman whom he assisted in her escape from slavery or
its consequences, who married a white man in the vicinity of Boston and
lost her identity with the colored race. How many others there must be
who know of similar instances! Grace King, in her "Story of New
Orleans," to which I have referred, in speaking of a Louisiana law which
required the public records, when dealing with persons of color, always
to specify the fact of color, in order, so far had the admixture of
races gone, to distinguish them from whites, says: "But the officers of
the law could be bribed, and the qualification once dropped acted,
inversely, as a patent of pure blood."
A certain well-known Shakspearean actress has a strain of Negro blood,
and a popular leading man under a well-known manager is similarly
gifted. It would be interesting to give their names, but would probably
only injure them. If they could themselves speak of their origin,
without any unpleasant consequences, it would be a handsome thing for
the colored race. That they do not is no reproach to them; they are
white to all intents and purposes, even by the curious laws of the
curious States from which they derived their origin, and are in all
conscience entitled to any advantage accompanying this status.
Anyone at all familiar with the hopes and aspirations of the colored
race, as expressed, for instance, in their prolific newspaper
literature, must have perceived the wonderful inspiration which they
have drawn from the career of a few distinguished Europeans of partial
Negro ancestry, who have felt no call, by way of social prejudice, to
deny or conceal their origin, or to refuse their sympathy to those who
need it so much. Pushkin, the Russian Shakspeare, had a black ancestor.
One of the chief editors of the London _Times_, who died a few years
ago, was a West Indian colored man, who had no interest in concealing
the fact. One of the generals of the British army is similarly favored,
although the fact is not often referred to. General Alfred Dodds, the
ranking general of the French army, now in command in China, is a
quadroon. The poet, Robert Browning, was of West Indian origin, and some
of his intimate personal friends maintained and proved to their own
satisfaction that he was partly of Negro descent. Mr. Browning always
said that he did not know; that there was no family tradition to that
effect; but if it could be demonstrated he would admit it freely enough,
if it would reflect any credit upon a race who needed it so badly.
The most conspicuous of the Eurafricans (to coin a word) were the Dumas
family, who were distinguished for three generations. The mulatto,
General Dumas, won distinction in the wars under the Revolution. His
son, the famous Alexandre Dumas _pere_, has delighted several
generations with his novels, and founded a school of fiction. His son,
Alexandre _fils_, novelist and dramatist, was as supreme in his own line
as his father had been in his. Old Alexandre gives his pedigree in
detail in his memoirs; and the Negro origin of the family is set out in
every encyclopaedia. Nevertheless, in a literary magazine of recent
date, published in New York, it was gravely stated by a writer that
"there was a rumor, probably not well founded, that the author of
Monte-Cristo had a very distant strain of Negro blood." If this had been
written with reference to some living American of obscure origin, its
point might be appreciated; but such extreme delicacy in stating so
widely known a fact appeals to one's sense of humor.
These European gentlemen could be outspoken about their origin, because
it carried with it no social stigma or disability whatever. When such a
state of public opinion exists in the United States, there may be a
surprising revision of pedigrees!
A little incident that occurred not long ago near Boston will illustrate
the complexity of these race relations. Three light-colored men,
brothers, by the name, we will say, of Green, living in a Boston suburb,
married respectively a white, a brown and a black woman. The children
with the white mother became known as white, and associated with white
people. The others were frankly colored. By a not unlikely coincidence,
in the course of time the children of the three families found
themselves in the same public school. Curiously enough, one afternoon
the three sets of Green children--the white Greens, the brown Greens and
the black Greens--were detained after school, and were all directed to
report to a certain schoolroom, where they were assigned certain tasks
at the blackboards about the large room. Still more curiously, most of
the teachers of the school happened to have business in this particular
room on that particular afternoon, and all of them seemed greatly
interested in the Green children.
"Well, well, did you ever! Just think of it! And they are all first
cousins!" was remarked audibly.
The children were small, but they lived in Boston, and were, of course,
as became Boston children, preternaturally intelligent for their years.
They reported to their parents the incident and a number of remarks of a
similar tenor to the one above quoted. The result was a complaint to the
school authorities, and a reprimand to several teachers. A curious
feature of the affair lay in the source from which the complaint
emanated. One might suppose it to have come from the white Greens; but
no, they were willing that the incident should pass unnoticed and be
promptly forgotten; publicity would only advertise a fact which would
work to their social injury. The dark Greens rather enjoyed the affair;
they had nothing to lose; they had no objections to being known as the
cousins of the others, and experienced a certain not unnatural pleasure
in their discomfiture. The complaint came from the brown Greens. The
reader can figure out the psychology of it for himself.
A more certain proof of the fact that Negro blood is widely distributed
among the white people may be found in the laws and judicial decisions
of the various States. Laws, as a rule, are not made until demanded by a
sufficient number of specific cases to call for a general rule; and
judicial decisions of course are never announced except as the result of
litigation over contested facts. There is no better index of the
character and genius of a people than their laws.
In North Carolina, marriage between white persons and free persons of
color was lawful until 1830. By the Missouri code of 1855, the color
line was drawn at one-fourth of Negro blood, and persons of only
one-eighth were legally white. The same rule was laid down by the
Mississippi code of 1880. Under the old code noir of Louisiana, the
descendant of a white and a quadroon was white. Under these laws many
persons currently known as "colored," or, more recently as "Negro,"
would be legally white if they chose to claim and exercise the
privilege. In Ohio, before the Civil War, a person more than half-white
was legally entitled to all the rights of a white man. In South
Carolina, the line of cleavage was left somewhat indefinite; the color
line was drawn tentatively at one-fourth of Negro blood, but this was
not held conclusive.
"The term 'mulatto'," said the Supreme Court of that State in a reported
case, "is not invariably applicable to every admixture of African blood
with the European, nor is one having all the features of a white to be
ranked with the degraded class designated by the laws of the State as
persons of color, because of some remote taint of the Negro race.... The
question whether persons are colored or white, where color or feature is
doubtful, is for the jury to determine by reputation, by reception into
society, and by their exercises of the privileges of a white man, as
well as by admixture of blood."
It is well known that this liberality of view grew out of widespread
conditions in the State, which these decisions in their turn tended to
emphasize. They were probably due to the large preponderance of colored
people in the State, which rendered the whites the more willing to
augment their own number. There are many interesting color-line
decisions in the reports of the Southern courts, which space will not
permit the mention of.
In another article I shall consider certain conditions which retard the
development of the future American race type which I have suggested, as
well as certain other tendencies which are likely to promote it.
_Boston Evening Transcript_, August 25, 1900
A COMPLETE RACE-AMALGAMATION LIKELY TO OCCUR
I have endeavored in two former letters to set out the reasons why it
seems likely that the future American ethnic type will be formed by a
fusion of all the various races now peopling this continent, and to show
that this process has been under way, slowly but surely, like all
evolutionary movements, for several hundred years. I wish now to consider
some of the conditions which will retard this fusion, as well as certain
other facts which tend to promote it.
The Indian phase of the problem, so far at least as the United States is
concerned, has been practically disposed of in what has already been
said. The absorption of the Indians will be delayed so long as the
tribal relations continue, and so long as the Indians are treated as
wards of the Government, instead of being given their rights once for
all, and placed upon the footing of other citizens. It is presumed that
this will come about as the wilder Indians are educated and by the
development of the country brought into closer contact with
civilization, which must happen before a very great while. As has been
stated, there is no very strong prejudice against the Indian blood; a
well-stocked farm or a comfortable fortune will secure a white husband
for a comely Indian girl any day, with some latitude, and there is no
evidence of any such strong race instinct or organization as will make
the Indians of the future wish to perpetuate themselves as a small and
insignificant class in a great population, thus emphasizing distinctions
which would be overlooked in the case of the individual.
The Indian will fade into the white population as soon as he chooses,
and in the United States proper the slender Indian strain will ere long
leave no trace discoverable by anyone but the anthropological expert. In
New Mexico and Central America, on the contrary, the chances seem to be
that the Indian will first absorb the non-indigenous elements, unless,
which is not unlikely, European immigration shall increase the white
The Negro element remains, then, the only one which seems likely to
present any difficulty of assimilation. The main obstacle that retards
the absorption of the Negro into the general population is the
apparently intense prejudice against color which prevails in the United
States. This prejudice loses much of its importance, however, when it is
borne in mind that it is almost purely local and does not exist in quite
the same form anywhere else in the world, except among the Boers of
South Africa, where it prevails in an even more aggravated form; and, as
I shall endeavor to show, this prejudice in the United States is more
apparent than real, and is a caste prejudice which is merely accentuated
by differences of race. At present, however, I wish to consider it
merely as a deterrent to amalgamation.
This prejudice finds forcible expression in the laws which prevail in
all the Southern States, without exception, forbidding the intermarriage
of white persons and persons of color--these last being generally
defined within certain degrees. While it is evident that such laws alone
will not prevent the intermingling of races, which goes merrily on in
spite of them, it is equally apparent that this placing of mixed
marriages beyond the pale of the law is a powerful deterrent to any
honest or dignified amalgamation. Add to this legal restriction, which
is enforced by severe penalties, the social odium accruing to the white
party to such a union, and it may safely be predicted that so long as
present conditions prevail in the South, there will be little marrying
or giving in marriage between persons of different race. So ferocious
is this sentiment against intermarriage, that in a recent Missouri case,
where a colored man ran away with and married a young white woman, the
man was pursued by a "posse"--a word which is rapidly being debased from
its proper meaning by its use in the attempt to dignify the character of
lawless Southern mobs--and shot to death; the woman was tried and
convicted of the "crime" of "miscegenation"--another honest word which
the South degrades along with the Negro.
Another obstacle to race fusion lies in the drastic and increasing
proscriptive legislation by which the South attempts to keep the white
and colored races apart in every place where their joint presence might
be taken to imply equality; or, to put it more directly, the persistent
effort to degrade the Negro to a distinctly and permanently inferior
caste. This is undertaken by means of separate schools, separate
railroad and street cars, political disfranchisement, debasing and
abhorrent prison systems, and an unflagging campaign of calumny, by
which the vices and shortcomings of the Negroes are grossly magnified
and their virtues practically lost sight of. The popular argument that
the Negro ought to develop his own civilization, and has no right to
share in that of the white race, unless by favor, comes with poor grace
from those who are forcing their civilization upon others at the
cannon's mouth; it is, moreover, uncandid and unfair. The white people
of the present generation did not make their civilization; they
inherited it ready-made, and much of the wealth which is so strong a
factor in their power was created by the unpaid labor of the colored
people. The present generation has, however, brought to a high state of
development one distinctively American institution, for which it is
entitled to such credit as it may wish to claim; I refer to the custom
of lynching, with its attendant horrors.
The principal deterrent to race admixture, however, is the low
industrial and social efficiency of the colored race. If it be conceded
that these are the result of environment, then their cause is not far to
seek, and the cure is also in sight. Their poverty, their ignorance and
their servile estate render them as yet largely ineligible for social
fusion with a race whose pride is fed not only by the record of its
achievements but by a constant comparison with a less developed and
less fortunate race, which it has held so long in subjection.
The forces that tend to the future absorption of the black race are,
however, vastly stronger than those arrayed against it. As experience
has demonstrated, slavery was favorable to the mixing of races. The
growth, under healthy civil conditions, of a large and self-respecting
colored citizenship would doubtless tend to lessen the clandestine
association of the two races; but the effort to degrade the Negro may
result, if successful, in a partial restoration of the old status. But,
assuming that the present anti-Negro legislation is but a temporary
reaction, then the steady progress of the colored race in wealth and
culture and social efficiency will, in the course of time, materially
soften the asperities of racial prejudice and permit them to approach
the whites more closely, until, in time, the prejudice against
intermarriage shall have been overcome by other considerations.
It is safe to say that the possession of a million dollars, with the
ability to use it to the best advantage, would throw such a golden glow
over a dark complexion as to override anything but a very obdurate
prejudice. Mr. Spahr, in his well-studied and impartial book on
_America's Working People_, states as his conclusion, after a careful
study of conditions in the South, that the most advanced third of the
Negroes of that section has already, in one generation of limited
opportunity, passed in the race of life the least advanced third of the
whites. To pass the next third will prove a more difficult task, no
doubt, but the Negroes will have the impetus of their forward movement
to push them ahead.
The outbreaks of race prejudice in recent years are the surest evidence
of the Negro's progress. No effort is required to keep down a race which
manifests no desire nor ability to rise; but with each new forward
movement of the colored race it is brought into contact with the whites
at some fresh point, which evokes a new manifestation of prejudice until
custom has adjusted things to the new condition. When all Negroes were
poor and ignorant they could be denied their rights with impunity. As
they grow in knowledge and in wealth they become more self-assertive,
and make it correspondingly troublesome for those who would ignore their
claims. It is much easier, by a supreme effort, as recently attempted
with temporary success in North Carolina, to knock the race down and rob
it of its rights once for all, than to repeat the process from day to
day and with each individual; it saves wear and tear on the conscience,
and makes it easy to maintain a superiority which it might in the course
of a short time require some little effort to keep up.
This very proscription, however, political and civil at the South,
social all over the country, varying somewhat in degree, will, unless
very soon relaxed, prove a powerful factor in the mixture of the races.
If it is only by becoming white that colored people and their children
are to enjoy the rights and dignities of citizenship, they will have
every incentive to "lighten the breed," to use a current phrase, that
they may claim the white man's privileges as soon as possible. That this
motive is already at work may be seen in the enormous extent to which
certain "face bleachers" and "hair straighteners" are advertised in the
newspapers printed for circulation among the colored people. The most
powerful factor in achieving any result is the wish to bring it about.
The only thing that ever succeeded in keeping two races separated when
living on the same soil--the only true ground of caste--is religion, and
as has been alluded to in the case of the Jews, this is only
superficially successful. The colored people are the same as the whites
in religion; they have the same standards and mediums of culture, the
same ideals, and the presence of the successful white race as a constant
incentive to their ambition. The ultimate result is not difficult to
foresee. The races will be quite as effectively amalgamated by
lightening the Negroes as they would be by darkening the whites. It is
only a social fiction, indeed, which makes of a person seven-eighths
white a Negro; he is really much more a white man.
The hope of the Negro, so far as the field of moral sympathy and support
in his aspirations is concerned, lies, as always, chiefly in the North.
There the forces which tend to his elevation are, in the main, allowed
their natural operation. The exaggerated zeal with which the South is
rushing to degrade the Negro is likely to result, as in the case of
slavery, in making more friends for him at the North; and if the North
shall not see fit to interfere forcibly with Southern legislation, it
may at least feel disposed to emphasize, by its own liberality, its
disapproval of Southern injustice and barbarity.
An interesting instance of the difference between the North and the
South in regard to colored people, may be found in two cases which
only last year came up for trial in two adjoining border States. A
colored man living in Maryland went over to Washington and married a
white woman. The marriage was legal in Washington. When they returned
to their Maryland home they were arrested for the crime of
"miscegenation"--perhaps it is only a misdemeanor in Maryland--and
sentenced to fine and imprisonment, the penalty of extra-judicial death
not extending so far North. The same month a couple, one white and one
colored, were arrested in New Jersey for living in adultery. They were
found guilty by the court, but punishment was withheld upon a promise
that they would marry immediately; or, as some cynic would undoubtedly
say, the punishment was commuted from imprisonment to matrimony.
The adding to our territories of large areas populated by dark races,
some of them already liberally dowered with Negro blood, will enhance
the relative importance of the non-Caucasian elements of the population,
and largely increase the flow of dark blood toward the white race, until
the time shall come when distinctions of color shall lose their
importance, which will be but the prelude to a complete racial fusion.
The formation of this future American race is not a pressing problem.
Because of the conditions under which it must take place, it is likely
to be extremely slow--much slower, indeed, in our temperate climate and
highly organized society, than in the American tropics and sub-tropics,
where it is already well under way, if not a _fait accompli_. That
it must come in the United States, sooner or later, seems to be a foregone
conclusion, as the result of natural law--_lex dura, sed tamen lex_--a
hard pill, but one which must be swallowed. There can manifestly be no
such thing as a peaceful and progressive civilization in a nation
divided by two warring races, and homogeneity of type, at least in
externals, is a necessary condition of harmonious social progress.
If this, then, must come, the development and progress of all the
constituent elements of the future American race is of the utmost
importance as bearing upon the quality of the resultant type. The white
race is still susceptible of some improvement; and if, in time, the more
objectionable Negro traits are eliminated, and his better qualities
correspondingly developed, his part in the future American race may well
be an important and valuable one.
_Boston Evening Transcript_, September 1, 1900
The Disfranchisement of the Negro
The right of American citizens of African descent, commonly called
Negroes, to vote upon the same terms as other citizens of the United
States, is plainly declared and firmly fixed by the Constitution. No
such person is called upon to present reasons why he should possess this
right: that question is foreclosed by the Constitution. The object of
the elective franchise is to give representation. So long as the
Constitution retains its present form, any State Constitution, or
statute, which seeks, by juggling the ballot, to deny the colored race
fair representation, is a clear violation of the fundamental law of the
land, and a corresponding injustice to those thus deprived of this
For thirty-five years this has been the law. As long as it was
measurably respected, the colored people made rapid strides in
education, wealth, character and self-respect. This the census proves,
all statements to the contrary notwithstanding. A generation has grown
to manhood and womanhood under the great, inspiring freedom conferred by
the Constitution and protected by the right of suffrage--protected in
large degree by the mere naked right, even when its exercise was
hindered or denied by unlawful means. They have developed, in every
Southern community, good citizens, who, if sustained and encouraged by
just laws and liberal institutions, would greatly augment their number
with the passing years, and soon wipe out the reproach of ignorance,
unthrift, low morals and social inefficiency, thrown at them
indiscriminately and therefore unjustly, and made the excuse for the
equally undiscriminating contempt of their persons and their rights.
They have reduced their illiteracy nearly 50 per cent. Excluded from the
institutions of higher learning in their own States, their young men
hold their own, and occasionally carry away honors, in the universities
of the North. They have accumulated three hundred million dollars worth
of real and personal property. Individuals among them have acquired
substantial wealth, and several have attained to something like national
distinction in art, letters and educational leadership. They are
numerously represented in the learned professions. Heavily handicapped,
they have made such rapid progress that the suspicion is justified that
their advancement, rather than any stagnation or retrogression, is the
true secret of the virulent Southern hostility to their rights, which
has so influenced Northern opinion that it stands mute, and leaves the
colored people, upon whom the North conferred liberty, to the tender
mercies of those who have always denied their fitness for it.
It may be said, in passing, that the word "Negro," where used in this
paper, is used solely for convenience. By the census of 1890 there were
1,000,000 colored people in the country who were half, or more than
half, white, and logically there must be, as in fact there are, so many
who share the white blood in some degree, as to justify the assertion
that the race problem in the United States concerns the welfare and the
status of a mixed race. Their rights are not one whit the more sacred
because of this fact; but in an argument where injustice is sought to be
excused because of fundamental differences of race, it is well enough to
bear in mind that the race whose rights and liberties are endangered all
over this country by disfranchisement at the South, are the colored
people who live in the United States to-day, and not the lowbrowed,
man-eating savage whom the Southern white likes to set upon a block and
contrast with Shakespeare and Newton and Washington and Lincoln.
Despite and in defiance of the Federal Constitution, to-day in the six
Southern States of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina,
South Carolina and Virginia, containing an aggregate colored population
of about 6,000,000, these have been, to all intents and purposes,
denied, so far as the States can effect it, the right to vote. This
disfranchisement is accomplished by various methods, devised with much
transparent ingenuity, the effort being in each instance to violate the
spirit of the Federal Constitution by disfranchising the Negro, while
seeming to respect its letter by avoiding the mention of race or color.
These restrictions fall into three groups. The first comprises a
property qualification--the ownership of $300 worth or more of real or
personal property (Alabama, Louisiana, Virginia and South Carolina); the
payment of a poll tax (Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia); an
educational qualification--the ability to read and write (Alabama,
Louisiana, North Carolina). Thus far, those who believe in a restricted
suffrage everywhere, could perhaps find no reasonable fault with any one
of these qualifications, applied either separately or together.
But the Negro has made such progress that these restrictions alone would
perhaps not deprive him of effective representation. Hence the second
group. This comprises an "understanding" clause--the applicant must be
able "to read, or understand when read to him, any clause in the
Constitution" (Mississippi), or to read and explain, or to understand
and explain when read to him, any section of the Constitution
(Virginia); an employment qualification--the voter must be regularly
employed in some lawful occupation (Alabama); a character
qualification--the voter must be a person of good character and who
"understands the duties and obligations of citizens under a republican
[!] form of government" (Alabama). The qualifications under the first
group it will be seen, are capable of exact demonstration; those under
the second group are left to the discretion and judgment of the
registering officer--for in most instances these are all requirements
for registration, which must precede voting.
But the first group, by its own force, and the second group, under
imaginable conditions, might exclude not only the Negro vote, but a
large part of the white vote. Hence, the third group, which comprises: a
military service qualification--any man who went to war, willingly or
unwillingly, in a good cause or a bad, is entitled to register (Ala.,
Va.); a prescriptive qualification, under which are included all male
persons who were entitled to vote on January 1, 1867, at which date the
Negro had not yet been given the right to vote; a hereditary
qualification (the so-called "grandfather" clause), whereby any son
(Va.), or descendant (Ala.), of a soldier, and (N.C.) the descendant of
any person who had the right to vote on January 1, 1867, inherits that
right. If the voter wish to take advantage of these last provisions,
which are in the nature of exceptions to a general rule, he must
register within a stated time, whereupon he becomes a member of a
privileged class of permanently enrolled voters not subject to any of
the other restrictions.
It will be seen that these restrictions are variously combined in the
different States, and it is apparent that if combined to their declared
end, practically every Negro may, under color of law, be denied the
right to vote, and practically every white man accorded that right. The
effectiveness of these provisions to exclude the Negro vote is proved by
the Alabama registration under the new State Constitution. Out of a
total, by the census of 1900, of 181,471 Negro "males of voting age,"
less than 3,000 are registered; in Montgomery county alone, the seat of
the State capital, where there are 7,000 Negro males of voting age, only
47 have been allowed to register, while in several counties not one
single Negro is permitted to exercise the franchise.
These methods of disfranchisement have stood such tests as the United
States Courts, including the Supreme Court, have thus far seen fit to
apply, in such cases as have been before them for adjudication. These
include a case based upon the "understanding" clause of the Mississippi
Constitution, in which the Supreme Court held, in effect, that since
there was no ambiguity in the language employed and the Negro was not
directly named, the Court would not go behind the wording of the
Constitution to find a meaning which discriminated against the colored
voter; and the recent case of Jackson vs. Giles, brought by a colored
citizen of Montgomery, Alabama, in which the Supreme Court confesses
itself impotent to provide a remedy for what, by inference, it
acknowledges may be a "great political wrong," carefully avoiding,
however, to state that it is a wrong, although the vital prayer of the
petition was for a decision upon this very point.
Now, what is the effect of this wholesale disfranchisement of colored
men, upon their citizenship? The value of food to the human organism is
not measured by the pains of an occasional surfeit, but by the effect of
its entire deprivation. Whether a class of citizens should vote, even if
not always wisely--what class does?--may best be determined by
considering their condition when they are without the right to vote.
The colored people are left, in the States where they have been
disfranchised, absolutely without representation, direct or indirect,
in any law-making body, in any court of justice, in any branch of
government--for the feeble remnant of voters left by law is so
inconsiderable as to be without a shadow of power. Constituting
one-eighth of the population of the whole country, two-fifths of the
whole Southern people, and a majority in several States, they are not
able, because disfranchised where most numerous, to send one
representative to the Congress, which, by the decision in the Alabama
case, is held by the Supreme Court to be the only body, outside of the
State itself, competent to give relief from a great political wrong. By
former decisions of the same tribunal, even Congress is impotent to
protect their civil rights, the Fourteenth Amendment having long since,
by the consent of the same Court, been in many respects as completely
nullified as the Fifteenth Amendment is now sought to be. They have no
direct representation in any Southern legislature, and no voice in
determining the choice of white men who might be friendly to their
rights. Nor are they able to influence the election of judges or other
public officials, to whom are entrusted the protection of their lives,
their liberties and their property. No judge is rendered careful, no
sheriff diligent, for fear that he may offend a black constituency; the
contrary is most lamentably true; day after day the catalogue of
lynchings and anti-Negro riots upon every imaginable pretext, grows
longer and more appalling. The country stands face to face with the
revival of slavery; at the moment of this writing a federal grand jury
in Alabama is uncovering a system of peonage established under cover of
Under the Southern program it is sought to exclude colored men from
every grade of the public service; not only from the higher
administrative functions, to which few of them would in any event, for a
long time aspire, but from the lowest as well. A Negro may not be a
constable or a policeman. He is subjected by law to many degrading
discriminations. He is required to be separated from white people on
railroads and street cars, and, by custom, debarred from inns and places
of public entertainment. His equal right to a free public education is
constantly threatened and is nowhere equitably recognized. In Georgia,
as has been shown by Dr. Du Bois, where the law provides for a pro rata
distribution of the public school fund between the races, and where the
colored school population is 48 per cent, of the total, the amount of
the fund devoted to their schools is only 20 per cent. In New Orleans,
with an immense colored population, many of whom are persons of means
and culture, all colored public schools above the fifth grade have been
The Negro is subjected to taxation without representation, which the
forefathers of this Republic made the basis of a bloody revolution.
Flushed with their local success, and encouraged by the timidity of the
Courts and the indifference of public opinion, the Southern whites have
carried their campaign into the national government, with an ominous
degree of success. If they shall have their way, no Negro can fill any
federal office, or occupy, in the public service, any position that is
not menial. This is not an inference, but the openly, passionately
avowed sentiment of the white South. The right to employment in the
public service is an exceedingly valuable one, for which white men have
struggled and fought. A vast army of men are employed in the
administration of public affairs. Many avenues of employment are closed
to colored men by popular prejudice. If their right to public employment
is recognized, and the way to it open through the civil service, or the
appointing power, or the suffrages of the people, it will prove, as it
has already, a strong incentive to effort and a powerful lever for
advancement. Its value to the Negro, like that of the right to vote, may
be judged by the eagerness of the whites to deprive him of it.
Not only is the Negro taxed without representation in the States
referred to, but he pays, through the tariff and internal revenue, a tax
to a National government whose supreme judicial tribunal declares that
it cannot, through the executive arm, enforce its own decrees, and,
therefore, refuses to pass upon a question, squarely before it,
involving a basic right of citizenship. For the decision of the Supreme
Court in the Giles case, if it foreshadows the attitude which the Court
will take upon other cases to the same general end which will soon come
before it, is scarcely less than a reaffirmation of the Dred Scott
decision; it certainly amounts to this--that in spite of the Fifteenth
Amendment, colored men in the United States have no political rights
which the States are bound to respect. To say this much is to say that
all privileges and immunities which Negroes henceforth enjoy, must be by