THE AMERICAN NEGRO. HIS ASPIRATIONS AND GRIEVANCES.

As reported in The Evening News. EDINBURGH. JANUARY 14. 1896. 

Summary

In another column will found account of a conversation an Evening News representative had with an educated lady of negro extraction, who advocating in this country the claims her fellow-countrymen in America. The account she gives of the state of affairs makes a suggestive comment upon the Christian feeling of our Transatlantic cousins. What to be thought of a country where in every sphere of life the colour of man’s skin affects his whole social, political, and even religious standing? What is to be thought of the congregations who would consider themselves polluted by the intrusion of a single coloured man as a fellow-worshipper? There is, of course, a broad line of distinction to be drawn between the North and the South. What in the old slavery districts takes the form of lynching outrages is expressed in too many parts even of the North by a Pharisaic aloofness. It does not require a particularly imaginative person to realise the humiliation of the American negro who strives to rise from the lowest rungs of the social ladder. That many negroes have, in the teeth of social obloquy pushed to positions of honourable usefulness, says some thing for the inherent capacities a race which only a generation back was bestialised by slavery. But what of the white people of America? Current history attributes the great civil struggle to the slavery question. Was it not a political contest under the mask of a social revolution? As Miss Hallie Q. Brown puts it, the negroes were turned adrift with less advantages than these of the emancipated Russian serfs. What did the North give them, beyond the mere fact emancipation! Only the very doubtful blessing of the franchise, which has helped to intensify the racial hatreds the South, adding a political to the social antagonism. It is not suggestive to find, after all the high falutin of the Abolition movement, American people still leaving the negro race in the social gutters! Climatic conditions give the negro distinct advantages in the Southern labour market. The race, too, multiplying at a rate which disquiets its old masters. It has shown fair measure of capacity to enter on the higher walks of life. And yet, in the face of these facts, the white races of America still maintain their Pharisaic attitude towards the negro. Would it not be wiser, on mere grounds of worldly wisdom, to raise him to the level intelligent citizenship? America is morally responsible for the negro problem. She cannot wash her hands of it. The deportation of the negro back to Africa may be discussed glibly at conferences. Uncle Sam, however, is not likely saddle himself with the financial burden of a new Exodus. The negro is a fixture in America for good or evil. Which it is to rests with the American people themselves. Astute politicians may juggle the negro vote, and mob violence or social hauteur may be applied in alternate doses. Such remedies will only aggravate the disease. It is poor policy for a nation to aggravate its Old Man of the Sea. Wisely treated, the negro element, even at the lowest estimate, might be drilled into useful part of America’s industrial army. The policy of repression can only end in producing a people of rebels.

THE AMERICAN NEGRO. HIS ASPIRATIONS AND GRIEVANCES. 

A representative the Evening News yesterday afternoon had conversation with Misa Hailie Q. Brown, Lecturer on Elocution in the Wilberforce College, Ohio, U.S.A., the leading American institution for the education of young people of colour. Miss Brown, of whom we give a portrait, is the daughter of emancipated slave. She is making a tour of this country to secure sympathy and assistance for the education her compatriots in the United States, and to-morrow evening gives recital in the Literary Institute. Our representative found Miss Brown eager to lay before the public the case of the American negro, whose troubles are far from having been ended by the mere process emancipation. 

“You see,” she said, “our race history only really began 39 years ago.” At the time of emancipation the negroes in the United States numbered some four millions. Now they number fully seven millions. What has been done towards educating this great population? Thanks to the Christian agencies of the North, schools were setup in the cities and great towns, and in these you find a great degree of intelligence among the negroes. Thirty years ago practically none of the negroes could read or write. was crime to teach them. After helping to make the material wealth of America, they turned adrift, without even the advantages of Russian serfs had when liberated. They got no land, most them had not even homes, or, if they had, it was poor cabins, with the rudest furniture. When General O. O. Howard went down the South, and carried through a measure legalising the teaching of blacks, it was no uncommon sight to grandmother, mother, and daughter seated on the same bench, trying to pick up the rudiments of education. Now the negro illiterates number some 60 per cent, out, remember, the 40 per cent gain has been made in the one generation. There are three-quarters of a million negro children in the schools to-day. Wilberforce College sends out teachers and lecturers all over the country, but the need there is may be guessed from the fact that a knowledge of carpentry is included in the necessary training, for the teacher in many an out-of-the-way locality has to be school architect and builder well. 

THE COLOUR LINE. 

Passing to discuss to discuss racial question in American society, Miss Brown had some striking facts to narrate of the enmity of the white population towards their black brethren. The feeling, of course, is most bitter in the Southern States – the old slave centres. Even in the North, however, it manifests itself. “I have travelled and conversed with educated people of the well-to-do class, who the moment they discovered that I had a drop or two of negro blood in me, got out of the way, looking as though they could have kicked themselves for having even unwittingly fallen into such company.” In many districts, a negro who went into a white man’s church and took a seat there would promptly be invited out, and, if did not go, would hustled out by the police. “I am bound to say,” she added, “there is one church in America which recognises no distinction of colour — that is the Roman Catholic.” in some quarters, even of a city like New York, a negro purchasing property would find his neighbours using all their influence to thwart him from settling beside them. Again, on their railways, the negro must travel in one miserable car only, the “Jim Crow car,” in which all people of colour, refined or not, are expected to travel. They may pay first-class fare –  it is all the same. And in the rougher districts of the South, a negro who did so far forget himself as to travel in any other compartment would speedily hauled out and subjected to mob violence. A negro daren’t so much as look at a white woman. On the other hand, there is no prescription against the meanest of the white travellers entering the “Jim Crow” compartment, and molesting or insulting negro girls and women travelling unprotected there. Miss Brown mentioned that on several occasions, while travelling the Southern States, she had been warned to change the seat she occupied in the train, or to leave it altogether. The retort that she was a British subject, however, was an effectual stopper to demonstrations of this kind. the credit of Mr Pullman be it said, that on his cars the provision is honourably maintained that a seat paid for, whatever the race of the traveller, is his beyond question. Again, in the hotels, a like system of petty persecution is in vogue. A negro finds there is no room for him, or prices go up to a preposterous figure. There is no objection to the negro as a waiter. But to sit beside white folks at table, oh, dear no! You will find advertisements in Southern papers inviting people to settle or sink their money in investments in certain desirable localities, in which the negro “knows his proper place.” There are towns where a negro dare not enter the public parks or places of amusement; where, if he travels on a street steam car, the front portion, beside the engine, is the only place for him. 

THE NEGRO IN THE LABOUR MARKET. 

Of course, negro labour predominant in the Southern States. There are numerous ways in which the white takes advantage of the poor black. One of these is the “check system,” very much like your “truck system” this country. On many plantations the black labourers may work for years without touching a penny. Instead, the owner of the estate gives them checks, in return for which they obtain, at a little store belonging to himself, such supplies of maize, meal, bacon, molasses, tobacco, and whisky, as they need—usually the worse quality, and reckoned at two or three times their normal value. And such proprietors thus living on the sweat of their black labourers do absolutely nothing for their men’s higher interests. Another wicked practice is the exploiting of negro prison labour. You have young negro boys and girls, convicted of trifling offences, which in Britain  would be dealt with in a reformatory, sent to the workhouse of this. That is a very different institution to the workhouse of this country. It is really a jail. These young offenders are taken out to work by day at building, or road making, or so forth, and locked up again at night. “I have seen myself,” Miss Brown said, “girls of 12 chained to hardened criminals, going out to break stones on the roads.” This system, she went on to explain, cuts in two ways. In the first place, it affords a ready means of disfranchising the negro. In the second place, it gives the ruling class a supply of cheap convict labour. You must remember that the negro is physically a fine specimen of humanity. Then there is what is called the “convict lease system'”— the hiring out of prison labour. The desperate rioting by the miners in Tennessee lately was a protest against the competition of convict labour. Miss Brown detailed one very interesting experience in this respect. She visited a new Agricultural College in course of erection —a college for white lads, of course—-being built by the labour of some hundreds of young black prisoners. The armed warders in charge would have taken effective steps to prevent communication with their convicts had they realised the visitor’s descent. Miss Brown, however, was equal to the occasion. Assuming a broken French articulation, she was allowed to converse with the prisoners. She found them under sentences in no case less than nine months duration, while the cases were chiefly trifling thefts. One man, indeed, had committed assault upon white – a marvellous piece of forbearance it must have been that the offender was not lynched there and then. Another infamous plan of exploiting negro labour is what is known as the “mortgage system.” A white proprietor advances ground and seed to a negro. But he demands security. It may be a horse or waggon is offered, but that is not enough. The negro mortgages his own labour, that of his wife, and of his children. And so whole families lapse into a condition really worse than that of slavery – worse because they have not even the element of protection which pure selfish care for his property called out on part of the old slaveowner. 

LYNCH LAW ATROCITIES. 

Miss Brown, who has herself been a witness of the atrocities of a lynching mob, drew a  scathing picture of the attitude the United States Government in this matter. When negroes were cruelly murdered, not in isolated cases, but by threes and fours at a time, the Executive would not meddle with the liberties of particular States. But when property was in danger, as in the case of the Chicago riots, the Executive was ready enough to send in soldiers and militiamen. As an element of anarchy striking at all civilised life, it was to be rejoiced at that at least one Slate Governor had now intimated his intention of putting down lynching with a strong hand. The one stock excuse for lynchings in the Southern press was the alleged prevalence of assaults by negroes upon white women. It is very strange, said Miss Brown, that the emancipation period the qualities chiefly heard of in the negro were his patient labour, his docility, and an almost doglike devotion when well treated. The fact that during the four long years of the Civil War the Southern whites left their women and children under sole protection their negroes, and that not one single case of breach of that trust can be cited, gives the lie to the malicious blackening of the negro character. Miss Brown had travelled through long tracts of Southern country, attended a single negro, and never been molested. Was it to be supposed that the low-class white was above such a simple ruse as blackening  his face? All that the negro asked for was the opportunity of a fair trial, but that the white mobs refused to them. 

JUGGLING THE NEGRO VOTE.

A question by our representative as to the influence of politicals hatred in accentuating the race war led Miss Brown into an interesting account of the methods by which the negro vote is juggled by unscrupulous politicians. An educated negro, entering the polling booth first, would find the boxes of the various candidates arranged in a particular order. After depositing his own vote, he would go out and instruct his illiterate brethren as to the position of the box, which was to receive their “plumpers.” Meanwhile, however, the astute electioneerers would alter the position of the boxes, with unexpected results upon the declaration of the poll. these latter days the effort was being made to exclude the negroes wholesale by an educational test, which, however, was not presumed to apply to the most ignorant white. The most illiterate Irishman on arrival was a valuable element in politics, but the “naygurs,” as he soon learned to call them, were political outcasts as well as social lepers. In connection with the general adaptability of the negro under proper training. Miss Brown cited the case of a swampy miasmatic island off the coast of Carolina, where a negro population of 5000 souls lived absolutely without one agency for their improvement, and whore, after 27 years’ work by two ladies, Miss Murray, of Frogmore, near Windsor, and Miss Town, the community had risen to possess two churches, two temperance halls, a co-operative store, and not one single serious crime or offence to be reported. 

It is for the people, Miss Brown said in conclusion, to help the negro race up to citizenship in the land to which they had been forcibly taken. What Britain can do in the matter is to express such an opinion upon treatment of the coloured people America cannot mistake. America is wonderfully sensitive to British opinion, war scare or no war scarce. And you may be sure of this, that it is not the negroes in America who are inclined for a war with Britain, a country they regard as the friend and liberator of their race.

Source: The British Newspaper Archive, The Evening News, Edinburgh, January 14, 1896, p 2 and 4 britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000452/18960114/070/0004?browse=true

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