The Negro Problem

“The insensate greed of our ancestors took this simple folk from their dark land and placed them in our fields and by our firesides. Here they have multiplied to millions, and have been forced without training into the duties of a citizenship that often puzzles the brains of those who were trained by their ancestry to a sense of its obligations.”

[This article was sent in advance of publication to several gentlemen whose position and experience especially qualify them to comment upon the assertions made and the suggestions offered. Among these correspondents were General S.C. Armstrong, at the head of the Normal and Agricultural Institute, Hampton, Va.; Colonel T. W. Higginson, author of Army Life in a Black Regiment; and Hon. D. H. Chamberlain, formerly governor of South Carolina: their comments appear as foot-notes. The editor regrets that, while Southern statesmen and others of distinction wrote with more or less freedom upon the subject of the article, their communications were confidential, and he is obliged to adopt their opinions as his own, when adding an occasional note. – Editor, Atlantic Monthly, 1884]

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When the civil war determined by its result the political position of the black people in the Southern States, there was a general belief among their friends that the race had thereby received a complete enfranchisement as American citizens; that they were made free to all our national inheritances; that all the problems of their future involved only questions of a detached nature, — such slight matters as their rights in hotels and railways, in fields of labor, or at the polling booths. But those who by their eagerness to bid the negro welcome to his new place in the state did so much credit to the spirit of hope and friendship of our time could not see the gravity of this problem. Never before in the history of peoples had so grave an experiment been tried as was then set about with a joyous confidence of success. Only their great military triumph could have given to our hard-minded, practical people such rash confidence. Here, on the one hand, was a people, whose written history shows that the way to the self-government on which alone a state can be founded is through slowly and toilfully gained lessons, handed from father to son, — lessons learned on hard tilled and often hard fought fields. The least knowledge of the way in which their own position in the world had been won would have made it clear that such a national character as theirs could be formed only by marvelous toil of generations after generations, and an almost equally marvelous good fortune that brought fruit to their labor. There, on the other hand, was a folk, bred first in a savagery that had never been broken by the least effort towards a higher state, and then in a slavery that tended almost as little to fit them for a place in the structure of a self-controlling society. Surely, the effort to blend these two peoples by a proclamation and a constitutional amendment will sound strangely in the time to come, when men see that they are what their fathers have made them, and that resolutions cannot help this rooted nature of man.

But the evident novelty of this undertaking and the natural doubt of its success do not diminish the interest which it has as an experiment in human nature: far from it, for this trial of the African as an American citizen is the most wonderful social endeavor that has ever been made by our own or any other race. If it succeeds, even in the faintest approach to a fair measure; if these men, bred in immemorial savagery and slavery, can blossom out into self-upholding citizens, fit to stand alone in the battle with the world, then indeed we must confess that human nature is a thing apart from the laws of inheritance, — that man is more of a miracle in the world than we deemed him to be.

Although this experiment of making a citizen of the negro grew out of a civil war, and necessarily led to the awakening of much hatred among the people where it was undertaken, there is no reason to doubt that it is being very fairly tried, and that if ever such changes are possible they will be here. There was no deep antagonism between these two diverse peoples, such as would have existed if either had been the conqueror of the other; on the contrary, a century or two of close relations had served to develop a curious bond of mutual likings and dependencies between the two races.1 It was only through slavery that it could have been possible to make the trial at all.

American slavery, though it had the faults inherent in any system of subjugation and mastery among men, was infinitely the mildest and most decent system of slavery that ever existed. When the bonds of the slave were broken, master and servant stayed beside each other, without much sign of fear or any very wide sundering of the old relations of service and support.2 As soon as the old order of relations was at an end, the two races settled into a new accord, not differing in most regards from the old. External force during the period of disturbance prevented this natural social order from asserting itself in all the South; but in the States that were not “reconstructed,” as in Kentucky, it might have been possible for any one who had known the conditions of 1860 to live in 1870 for weeks, in sight of the contact of whites and blacks, without seeing anything to show that a great revolution had been effected.3

The important relations between men are not matters that can be managed by legislative enactments, so the black soon found his way back to the plantations as a freeman, and hoed the rows of corn or cotton in the same fields with as much sweat of brow and far more care than awaited him of old. In place of the old lash, his master had the crueller whip of wages and account books. He could not be sold, but he could be turned off; his family could not be severed at the auction block, but they were more often parted by the death that came from the want of the watchful eye of a foresightful master, or by poverty. He was no longer crushed, but he was left without help to rise.4

To the mass of those born in slavery the change was one of no profit. When the excitement of the change was over they seemed to feel like children lost in a wood, needing the old protection of the stronger mastering hand. It was clear to even the best wishers of the newly freed slaves that the generation that first saw the dawn of freedom must pass away before it would be known just how the race would meet the new life.

The forecast of the unprejudiced observer was exceedingly unfavorable. Every experiment of freeing blacks on this continent has in the end resulted in even worse conditions than slavery brought to them. The trial in Hayti, where freemen of the third generation from slaves possess the land to the exclusion of all whites, has been utterly disastrous to the best interests of the negro. In that island, one of the most fertile lands of the world, where Africans in the relatively mild slavery of resident proprietors had created great industries in sugar and coffee culture, the black race has fallen through its freedom to a state that is but savagery with a little veneer of European customs. There is now in Hayti a government that is but a succession of petty plundering despotisms, a tillage that cannot make headway against the constant encroachments of the tropical forests, a people that is without a single trace of promise except that of extinction through the diseases of sloth and vice.

In Jamaica the history, though briefer, is almost equally ominous. The emancipation of the negro was peaceable, and was not attended, as in Hayti, by the murder or expulsion of the whites. Yet that garden land of the tropics, that land which our ancestors hoped to see the Britain of the South, has been settling down toward barbarism, and there is nothing left but the grip of the British rule to keep it from falling to the state of the sister isle. Nor is the case much better where, as in the Spanish and Portuguese settlements, the negro blood has to a great extent blended with that of the whites. There the white blood has served for a little leaven, but the mingling of the races has brought with it a fatal degradation of the whole population that puts those peoples almost out of the sphere of hope.

Such are the facts of experience in the effort to bring together the races of Africa and of Europe on American ground. They may be summed up in brief words, — uniform hopeless failure, a sinking towards the moral conditions of the Congo and the Guinea coast.5 I am not criticising the policy that enfranchised the blacks when their freedom came. I am not deploring the freeing of these Africans of America: that was the least of evils. These people were here in such numbers that any effort for their deportation was futile. It was their presence here that was the evil, and for this none of the men of our century are responsible. Whatever the dangers they might give rise to, they would be less if the Africans were freemen than if they were slaves. The burden lies on the souls of our dull, greedy ancestors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, who were too stupid to see or too careless to consider anything but immediate gains. There can be no sort of doubt that, judged by the light of all experience, these people are a danger to America greater and more insuperable than any of those that menace the other great civilized states of the world. The armies of the Old World, the inheritances of mediævalism in its governments, the chance evils of Ireland and Sicily, are all light burdens when compared with this load of African negro blood that an evil past has imposed upon us. The European evils are indigenous; this African life is an exotic, and on that account infinitely hard to grapple with.6

The twenty years that have passed since the Emancipation Proclamation gave the name of freedmen to this folk have removed the freedmen, into the past and put their children in their place. More than half the blacks who are living—certainly the larger part of those who are now of vigorous body—have never felt the influence of actual bondage; though perhaps the greater part of them were born during the days of slavery, they were but children when the war came, and never were sensible of the old system.

The economic history of these years since the war, though still too brief for any very sound opinions, seems to point to the conclusion that we may for the present, at least, escape the sloth which fell upon Jamaica and Hayti with the overthrow of slavery. The South has advanced in every branch of material wealth, though without much immigration to swell its activities. All its important staples except rice, especially those which are the result of negro labor, have increased in quantity much beyond the measure of the days of slavery. Even if we allow that the increase in the number of blacks has been as great as appears from the comparison of the census of 1870 with that of 1880, it is clear that the negro laborer is doing as much work as a freeman as he did when a slave, and is probably doing more.7 That he is doing it contentedly is clear from the general absence of disorder, even throughout the regions where the blacks are the most numerous. This is as far as it goes a matter of great encouragement and hope. It should not, however, blind our eyes to the danger which still lies before us. At present the negro population still feels the strong stimulus of the greatest inspiration that can be given to human beings. The very novel experience of a passage from slavery to freedom affected this sensitive people as by an electric shock. The ideas of advance in life, of education, of property, have yet something of the keenness that novelty brings. Let us hope that they will wear until the habits of thrift and labor are firmly bred in them.

The real dangers that this African blood brings to our state lie deeper than the labor problem; they can be appreciated only by those who know the negro folk by long and large experience, — such as comes to none who have not lived among them in youth, and afterwards had a chance to compare them with the laboring classes of our own race in other regions. Those who study this people after their tests of human kind are all made up and fixed by habit easily overlook the peculiarities of nature which belong to the negroes as a race. They are confounded by the essential manhood of the colored man; they are charmed by his admirable arid appealing qualities, and so make haste to assume that he is in all respects like themselves. But if they have the patience and the opportunity to search closely into the nature of this race they will perceive that the inner man is really as singular, as different in motives from themselves, as his outward aspect indicates.

The important characteristics of the negro nature are not those that mark themselves in any of the features which appear in casual intercourse. Human relations are so stereotyped that we never see the deeper and more important qualities of any men through such means. The negro nature, charming in many respects, is most favorably seen in what we may call the phenomena of human contact: quick sensibilities and a mind that takes a firm hold of the present is characteristic of the race. Even if we watch them for a long time we find that the essential structure of their minds is very like our own.8 I believe that one feels closer akin to them than to the Indians of this country or to the peasants of Southern Italy. The fundamental, or at least the most important, differences between them and our own race are in the proportions of the hereditary motives and the balance of native impulses within their minds.

This sense of close kinship felt with the negro may be due to the fact that for many generations his mind has been externally moulded in those of our own race. I fancy there would be none of it with native Africans; indeed, I have found little trace of it in intercourse with the blacks of the Sea Islands,9 who represent a people nearer to Africa by several generations, and deprived of that close contact with the whites which would give their minds an external resemblance to those of our own race.

When we know the negro well, we recognize that he differs from our own race in the following respects: —

The passage from childhood to adult age brings in the negro a more marked and important change in the tone of the mind than it does in the white. In youth the black children are surprisingly quick, — their quickness can be appreciated only by those who have taught them; but in the pure blacks, with the maturing of the body the animal nature generally settles down like a cloud on that promise.10 In our own race inheritance has brought about a correlation between the completion of development and the expansion of the mental powers; so that, unless one of our youth distinctly reverts towards some old savagery, the imagination and the reasoning faculties receive a stimulus from the change that this period brings. But, with rare exceptions, the reverse is the case with the negro: at this stage of life he becomes less intellectual than he was before; the passions cloud and do not irradiate the mind. The inspirational power of the sexual impulses is the greatest gain our race has made out of all its past. We can hardly hope to impose this feature upon a people; such treasures cannot be given, however good the will to give them.

Next we notice that the negro has little power of associated action, — that subordination of individual impulse to conjoint action which is the basis of all modern labor of a high grade. I have never seen among them anything approaching a partnership in their business affairs. They are so little capable of a consensus that they never act together, even in a mob, except for some momentary deed.11 This ability to coöperate with their fellow men is a capacity which is probably only slowly to be acquired by any people; it is indeed one of the richest fruits of a civilization. In this point most negroes in Africa as well as in America are below the American Indian. They show us in their native lands as well as here no trace of large combining ability; they do not build any semblance of empires. Combining power seems to have been particularly low among the West Coast tribes that furnished the most of our American-African blood.

Along with these defects goes another, which is less clearly manifest in casual intercourse, but which is in fact a more radical want. It is the lack of a power of continuous will. Few of us can see how much we owe to this power, the most precious of our inheritances. It is the power of continuous will, of will that goes beyond the impulse of passion or excitement, that most distinctly separates the mind of man from that of the lower animals. The gradations of this power mark the limits between savage and civilized man. In the negro the ability to maintain the will power beyond the stimulus of excitement is on the whole much lower than in the lowest whites. They are as a class incapable of firm resolve.12

At first sight it might be supposed that slavery has weakened this capacity, but it seems to me that the enforced consecutive labor which it gave must have accustomed the race to a continuity of effort that they knew nothing of in their lower state. So that they have gained rather than lost in consecutiveness, through slavery. Lastly, we may notice the relatively feeble nature of all the ties that bind the family together among these African people. The peculiar monogamic instinct which in our own race has been slowly, century by century, developing itself in the old tangle of passions has yet to be fixed in this people. In the negro this motive, more than any other the key to our society, is very weak, if indeed it exists at all as an indigenous impulse.13 It is a well-known fact that we may find among them a high development of the religious impulse with a very low morality. Along with this and closely linked with it goes the love of children. This motive is fairly strong among the negroes; it gives reason to hope that out of it may come a better sense of the marital relation.

Although these defects may not at first sight seem in themselves very serious differences between the two races, yet they are really the most vital points that part the men who make states from those who cannot rise above savagery. The modern state is but a roof built to shelter the lesser associations of men. Chief of these is the family, which rests on a certain order of alliance of the sexual instincts with the higher and more human faculties. Next come the various degrees of human coöperation in various forms of business life; and then this power of will, that gives the continuity to effort which is the key to all profitable labor; and last, but not least, the impulse to sexual morality. If the black is weak in these things, he is in so far unfit for an independent place in a civilized state. Without them the framework of a state, however beautiful, is a mere empty shell that must soon fall to pieces. Like all other mechanisms, the state has only the strength of its weakest part.

It is my belief that the negro as a race is weak in the above mentioned qualities of mind. Conspicuous exceptions may be found, but exceptio probat. Here and there cases of higher-minded black men give us hope, but no security. The occurrence of Miltons and Shakespeares makes us hope that to those elevations of mind all men may in time attain, but it is a hope that is very near despair.

Let no one suppose that these opinions are born of a dislike for the black race; on the contrary, I am conscious of a great liking for this people. They seem to me full of charming traits, but unhappily they are not the hard-minded attributes that sustain a state. The negro has, on the whole, greater social sensibilities than any other uneducated man. He is singularly ready to respond to any confidence that may be placed in him. He acquires the motives and actions of social intercourse with noticeable readiness. He has within a certain range a quick constructive imagination and therefore reads character remarkably well. He has a very quick, instinctive sympathy, and is in a discontinuous way affectionate. When he neglects his wife or his children, the fault generally arises from the lack of consecutive will, and not from want of feeling. His emotions are easily aroused through the stimulus of music or motion, and the tide of life that then fills him is free and unrestrained. The religious sense, that capacity for a sense of awe before the great mystery of religion, is also fairly his, though its expression is often crude and its feelings are readily confounded with the lower passions.

I have now set forth the fear that must come upon any one who will see what a wonderful thing our modern Teutonic society is; how slowly it has won its treasures, and at what a price of vigilance and toil it must keep them; and therefore how dangerous it must be to have a large part of the state separated in motives from the people who have brought it into existence. I cannot expect to find many to share this fear with me, for there are very few who have had any chance to see the problem fairly. But to those who do feel with me that the African question is a very serious matter, I should like to propose the following statement of the prime nature of the dangers, and the means whereby they may be minimized, if not avoided.

First, I hold it to be clear that the inherited qualities of the negroes to a great degree unfit them to carry the burden of our own civilization; that their present Americanized shape is due in large part to the strong control to which they have been subjected since the enslavement of their blood; that there will naturally be a strong tendency, for many generations to come, for them to revert to their ancestral conditions. If their present comparative elevation had been due to self-culture in a state of freedom, we might confide in it; but as it is the result of an external compulsion issuing from the will of a dominant race, we cannot trust it. 14 Next, I hold it to be almost equally clear that they cannot as a race, for many generations, be brought to the level of our own people. There will always be a danger that by falling to the bottom of society they will form a proletariat class, separated by blood as well as by estate from the superior classes; thus bringing about a measure of the evils of the slavery system, — evils that would curse both the races that were brought together in a relation so unfit for modern society.

The great evil of slavery was not to be found in the fact that a certain number of people were compelled to labor for their masters and were sometimes beaten. It lay in the states of mind of the master and of the slave: in the essential evil to the master of this relation of absolute personal control over others untempered by the affection of parent for child; and to the slave in the subjugation of the will that destroyed the very basis of all spiritual growth. The mere smart of the lash was relatively of small account: if every slave had been beaten every day it would have been a small matter compared with this arrest of all advancement in will power that his bonds put upon him. It is clear that the best interests of the negro require that these dangers should be recognized, and as far as may be provided against by the action of the governmental and private forces of the state. It seems to me that the following course of action may serve to minimize the dangers: —

In the first place, the gathering of the negroes into large unmixed settlements should be avoided in every way possible:15 the result of such aggregations is the immediate degradation of this people. Where such aggregations exist, we see at once the risk of the return of this people to their old ancestral conditions, and it is from a study of these negroes, who are limited in their association to their own people, that I have become so fully satisfied that they tend to fall away from the position which their intercourse with the whites has given them. Of course this separation of the negro from his kind cannot be accomplished by any direct legislation. Such action is not in the possibilities of the situation nor in the system of our government. But where there are such aggregations, the force of public and private action should be brought to bear to diminish the evils that they entail, and as far as possible to break up the communities. The founding of public schools in such communities, with teachers of the best quality, affords the simplest and perhaps the only method by which these tendencies can be combated. To educate a people is to scatter them. There are now many devoted teachers in the South who are working to this end. These schools should give more than the elements of a literary education, for such teaching is of even less value to the black youth than it is to the children of our race: the schools should give the foundations of a technical education, in order that the life of the people be lifted above the dull routine of Southern cotton-farming, and that the probability of migration may be increased.

When there is a chance to do it, the regions where the negroes have gathered in dense unmixed communities should be interspersed with settlements of whites. Fortunately, there is only a small part of the South where the negroes show much tendency to gather by themselves. These are mainly in the shore regions of the Atlantic and the Gulf States, where the climate is tolerable to the African, but difficult for those of European blood to endure. Any colonies of whites in these districts should be drawn from Southern Europe, from peoples accustomed to a hot climate and miasmatic conditions.16 Elsewhere in the South the negroes show a commendable preference for association with their white fellow citizens. There is no trace of a tendency to seclusion. In the cities they are gathered into a quarter which becomes given up to them; but this is owing rather to their poverty and to the exclusiveness of the whites than to any desire of the blacks to escape from contact with the superior race; so that this people is still in very favorable conditions for benefiting by social intercourse with the whites.

There is clearly a tendency for the negro to fall into the position of an agricultural laborer, or a household servant.17 Neither of these positions affords the best chance for development. It is very much to be desired that there should be a better chance for him to find his way into the mechanical employments. Negroes make good blacksmiths and joiners; they can be used to advantage in mill work of all kinds, provided they are mingled with white laborers, to which the prejudice of race now offers no material barrier.18 The immediate need of the South is not for academies, high schools, or colleges which shall be open to the negro, — he is yet very far from being in a shape to need this form of education, — but for technical schools which will give a thorough training in craft work of varied kinds. Every well-trained craftsman would be a missionary in his field. As a race they are capable of taking pride in handiwork, that first condition of success in mechanical labor. Such occupations tend to breed forethought, independence, and will power. There is no better work for a benevolent society than to take up this task of improving the technical education of the negro as a means for his temporal and especially his political salvation. Technical schools are not costly to start compared with good literary colleges. Three or four teachers can do valuable work, in an establishment that need not be very costly, and might be partly self-sustaining. At present there are deplorably few opportunities for negroes to learn craft work in an effective way; a few schools have made some essay towards it, but none of them have proposed it as their main object.

The federal government would do well to found a number of technical schools, in the Southern States, under state control, but perhaps with federal supervision. These schools need not cost over twenty thousand dollars per annum, beyond the value of their products. They should train young men for trade work alone, requiring for admission the simplest elements of an education. The expense of teaching and feeding the students might be borne by the government. The pupils should be trained for the commoner departments of manual labor. I would suggest the following occupations as well fitted to give useful employment and as easily taught: smithing, turning, furniture making, carpentering, wheelwright work, management of steam engines, the art of the potter.

The desired results might be attained by a method of apprentice labor, the government paying competent masters for the instruction of youths by placing several of these together in large shops. The price of their indentures need not be more than one hundred dollars per annum. Of course this system would require supervision, but it seems clear that the cost of maintaining ten thousand such apprentices need not exceed about a million dollars per annum. While the effect of such education in lifting the negro would be immense, it would in time give one trained mechanic in about each fifty a good practical education.

One of the best results that would follow from this method of technical instruction would be the wider diffusion of the negro over the country. Under the present system it is not possible to scatter the six millions of negroes in the South throughout the country, though it is from a national point of view very important that it should be done. The risk of degeneration in the communities where they are now gathered together would then be much reduced. If, on the closing of the war, we had begun to educate ten thousand negroes each year in technical work, we should perhaps have spent somewhere near thirty million dollars on the work, and should have brought up near two hundred thousand black men to occupations that would have bettered their physical and moral conditions.19

I confess a dislike to seeing this work done by means of the federal government, for there are many risks of abuse attendant on it. But the difficulty is a vast one; it is indeed a form of war against a national danger, and requires national resources for effective action; and the need justifies the trespass upon the usual principles that should regulate governmental interference with the course of society.20

Even if all possible means be taken to keep the negro in the course of progress that his previous conditions have imposed upon him, success will depend on the rate of increase of the two races in the Southern States. The last census shows aa apparent relative increase of the blacks. It is probable that this census was the first that gave a true account of the numerical relations of the races in the South; that the desire to avoid taxation during the slaveholding days led to a general understating of the numbers of slaves on most plantations. These numbers were not taken by actual count, but by questioning the owners. The census of 1870 was of the most viciously imperfect nature in some of the Southern States, its result being to underestimate the population in regions where the negroes were most abundant. The very high death-rate among the negroes in all the large cities where statistics are obtained, and the evident want of care of young children in negro families in the country districts, make it most probable that the increase of adults is not as rapid among the negroes as among the whites.

From extended observations among these people in almost every year since the war, I am inclined to believe that there are two important changes going on in the negro population. First, we have the very rapid reduction in the number of half-breed mulattoes.21 It is now rare indeed to see a child under fifteen years that the practiced eye will recognize as from a white father. This is an immense gain. Once stop the constant infusion of white blood, and the weakly, mixed race will soon disappear, leaving the pure African blood, which is far better material for the uses of the state than any admixture of black and white. The half-breeds are more inclined to vice and much shorter-lived (I never saw one more than fifty years old), and are of weaker mental power, than the pure race.22

The other change consists in a rapid destruction by death, from want of care and from vice, of the poorer strains of negro blood. Any one who knows the negroes well has remarked that there was a much greater difference among them than we perceive among the whites of the same low position in England or elsewhere. It is clear from the history of the slave trade that this African blood was drawn from widely different tribes. Even the leveling influence of slavery has not served to efface these aboriginal differences. The most immediate result of the struggles which this race is now undergoing is the preservation of those households where there is an element of better blood or breeding, which secures the family from the diseases incident to thriftless and vicious lives. Thus we have some compensation for the evils that lead to this rapid death-rate.

Now and then, in studying a negro population, we find some man or woman, evidently of pure African blood, whose face and form have a nobility denied to the greater part of the race.23 We often find the character of these individuals clear and strong, apparently affording the basis for the truest citizenship. Every such American-African is a blessing to the state, and a source of hope to all who see the dark side of the problem that his race has brought to this continent. It is to be hoped that all such strains of blood will live, and their inheritors come to be leaders among their people.

I believe that the heavy death-rate among the negroes is not altogether due to vice or neglect. This is really a tropical people; the greater part of the South is as foreign to their blood as the equatorial regions to our own. Their decline in the more northerly States of the South could be predicted by experience, for in no part of the world has a black skin been indigenous in such high latitudes. There is little doubt that the tide of immigration which is rapidly filling the open lands of the Northern States must soon turn to flow into the South. This will tend further to break up the negro population of that region, driving its weaker members to the wall.24

Still, though these influences may serve to minimize the danger arising from the presence of this alien blood, there can be no doubt that for centuries to come the task of weaving these African threads of life into our society will be the greatest of all American problems. Not only does it fix our attention by its difficulty and its utter novelty among national questions, but it moves us by the infinite pathos that lies within it. The insensate greed of our ancestors took this simple folk from their dark land and placed them in our fields and by our firesides. Here they have multiplied to millions, and have been forced without training into the duties of a citizenship that often puzzles the brains of those who were trained by their ancestry to a sense of its obligations. Our race has placed these burdens upon them, and we, as its representatives, owe a duty to these black-skinned folk a thousand times heavier than that which binds us to the voluntary immigrants to our land.25 If they fall and perish without a trial of every means that can lift and support them, then our iniquitous share in their unhappy fate will be as great as that of our forefathers who brought them here. If they pass away by natural laws, from inability to maintain themselves in a strange climate or utter unfitness to understand the ever-growing stress of our modern life, it may be accepted as the work of nature; perhaps, by some severe philosophers, as a beneficent end of the most wonderful ethnic experiment that the world has known. But they cannot be allowed to perish without the fullest effort in their behalf. So much we owe to ourselves, to our time, and to our place before the generations that are to be.

If the negro is thoughtfully cared for, if his training in civilization, begun in slavery, is continued in his state of freedom, we may hope to find abundant room for him in our society. He has a strong spring of life within him, though his life flows in channels foreign to our own. Once fix in him the motives that are necessary for citizenship in a republic, and we may gain rather than lose from his presence on our soil. The proper beginning is to give him a chance to receive the benefits of the education that comes from varied and skillful industry.

Concluding Note.

I have read with great interest the notes of the gentlemen who have permitted their criticisms of this paper to be published with it, as well as many others which, to my regret, do not appear. The second note by the editor needs qualification. It is true that there was a wide difference between household slavery and that of the large Southern cotton, rice, and sugar plantations. But by far the larger part of the Southern slaves were held on places essentially like the Northern farms, in a bondage that was strongly affected by their near relation to the master’s family. The sixth note denies the parallel between the experiment in the United States and in the West Indies. Undoubtedly there is a diversity in the conditions, for the results differ; but to lay this diversity on the climate “fetish” is to get out of the path of inquiry. The “surrounding civilization” in Jamaica did not differ essentially from that of South Carolina.

Note seventeen, concerning the Minorcan settlement of Florida, seems to me not to militate against the opinion that Southern Europeans, as a whole, will make the best colonists for the Gulf States. A discussion of the Minorcan settlements would probably show plenty of reasons for the decay of this peodle, if they have decayed.

I cannot agree with Colonel Higginson that the negro preacher has the influence which is so generally attributed to him over the laymen of the black race. The negro as by an instinct and insensibly strives to simulate the white. His religious advisers naturally have a very great hold upon him, and their education is of importance; but the two most important developing agents for this race in their present general state are free contacts with whites in the ordinary work of the world and a wide and long-continued technical training; of course not excluding the elements of what is ordinarily called education. I do not deny that now and then a negro appears who justifies the highest education, — men like Joseph Bannecker, for instance.

I am very glad to find that in most points I am so fortunate as to be of one mind with General Armstrong, who has done more than any one else to help the enfranchised blacks on their way towards a true citizenship. I regret to differ from him in my estimate of the value to the negro of a high purely literary education. The time may come when such a training will bear the same relation to their inheritances that it does to those of the literate class of our own race, but as a rule the little colored girl was right: “You can’t get clean corners and algebra into the same nigger.” That combination is with difficulty effected in our own blood. The world demands the clean corners; it is not so particular about the algebra.

  1. The planters and people of the South never feared their household servants, but they did fear their field hands. Insurrection with them was the standing bugaboo, the mere suspicion of which would throw a whole community into terror, during which the masters often perpetrated cruelties, honestly supposing them preventives. The civil war drew into the Southern army first only such whites as could be spared, yet when the exigency drove almost every available man into the army there was no insurrection. On the contrary, I have yet to learn of a single instance where a family servant or a field hand abused his opportunity. — ED.
  2. There were two kinds of American slavery before the war, domestic and agricultural. The former was probably the most gentle slavery practiced on earth; the latter was the reverse. No punishment was more dreaded by the house-servant than to be sent to the negro quarters.
  3. This is true because freedom was a change in relations rather than in the practical realities of life. The destruction of the buffalo is a more serious fact to the Indian than emancipation was to the negro. In the altered relations of the whites and negroes there was little visible change, because in six generations the two races had become adjusted to each other. — S. C. A.
  4. Does not this rather mean that after two hundred years or more of labor drill he was thrown on himself? And was he not better off plus this labor drill than was his whilom master who had succeeded in evading it? Consider the increase of wealth in the South; count the negro paupers; ask who is caring for the majority of the negro blind and infirm. — S. C. A.
  5. The cases cited are hardly parallel. The conditions of climate and surrounding civilization were very different in Havti, Jamaica, and elsewhere. American slavery was a great educator of its chattels, and their gain by emancipation was the loss of the whites. The experience of our Southern States has no analogue. — ED.
  6. I have always felt, as the result of my contact with and observation of the negro, that he did suffer from the want of support afforded by ancestral virtue and experience in the ways of freedom. This will probably make his progress less sure and rapid than that of the white race; but that the tendency stated by Professor Shaler exists in the case of the negro in any different sense from what is true of other races, even our own, I do not believe. — D. H. C.
  7. This statement appears to me to refute the special conclusion as to the negro’s tendency to revert to his ancestral conditions. The race is industrious, and if it is, it seems to me there can be no tendency to reversion to lower states, but rather an impetus toward higher. — D. H. C.
  8. True. “Intensely human” was General Saxton’s brief answer to a long list of inquiries. — T. W. H.
  9. I lived nearly two years on the Sea Islands, in the most intimate intercourse with the very subdivision of the negroes described, and felt a constant sense of mental kinship with them at the time. — T. W. H.
  10. My attention was first called to this fact by my late master, Louis Agassiz. He had excellent opportunities of observation upon this point during his residence in Charleston and his frequent visits to the South. Personal observations, and many questionings of persons who had a right to an opinion have served only to corroborate it. — N. S. S.

    In the main, I find Mr. Shaler’s statements in regard to negro characteristics and distinctive features admirable, but from the above my own and my associates’ experience leads me to differ. After careful study, each year for fifteen years, of three hundred negro children of from five to thirteen years of age in our primary department, and of four hundred adults of from fourteen to twenty-five in our Normal School, our deductions are not those of Mr. Shaler. We have not found a lack or a “clouding” of brain power to be the chief difficulty of the maturing negro, though we admit, of course, a decided race difference in intellectual development. I consider that where on an average from twelve to fifteen out of every hundred boys of our own race are able to receive a college education, not more than two or three negroes would be similarly capable. As to the differences between mulattoes and pure blacks, we find the former usually quicker, the latter simpler, stronger, with more definite characteristics; and this is also the case among our Indians. — S. C. A
  11. What I should say is that their impulse of organization is very strong, but that through ignorance they cannot keep together, like whites. — T. W. H.
  12. The negro is certainly lacking in the capacity for associated action. From the debating society to the general convention, the assembled negro demonstrates this. But the individual negro has remarkable resource. I am tempted to say that in a tight place, under familiar conditions, I should prefer the instinct of the black to the thought of the white man. After all, the best product of civilization is what we call “common sense;” and as the chief want of the negro I should put “level heads” in place of “continuous will” or “firm resolve,” in which we do not find them lacking. Our labor system at Hampton furnishes a severe ordeal, and while many fail, many also endure it successfully, and the test seems a fair one. — S. C. A.
  13. Is it not too soon after slavery to justify this statement? Slavery necessarily discouraged monogamy; but the multitude of cases in which slaves after escaping from slavery have gone back into danger to bring away their wives indicates an indigenous impulse. — T. W. H.
  14. True, unless that external force shall be in some shape continued. There is serious danger of a proletariat class, especially in the Gulf States, where an Anglo-African population is massed together, but the outlook is not hopeless. Why may not these people continue to improve in the future, as they have improved in the past fifteen years, and from the same causes, namely, their own efforts, aided by the directly educative forces, by commercial activity, and by the general steady tendency towards an orderly social state? It cannot be too strongly urged that the most willing outside aid is the wise training of their best young men and women, who, as teachers and examples, mingle with and leaven the whole lump. So long as ignorant leaders, either religious or political, can keep control there is undoubtedly danger. — S. C. A.
  15. Where these aggregations exist in the South, the establishment of well-taught schools in their midst is immediately remedial. We can cite counties in Virginia, peopled mostly by blacks, where the influence of a single teacher has practically changed the social condition. Our graduates who go out into these neighborhoods show us results which are most encouraging; not only is there an increase of intelligence, but a decrease of vice. It is on the testimony of Southern whites that we rely, and they do not hesitate to tell us that the work of one strong man or woman can and does change the standard of a whole community. — S. C. A.
  16. This has been curiously tested in Florida, and with results which contradict this view. About 1770 a large colony of Greeks, Italians, and Minorcans was brought to St. Augustine. Their descendants, known generally as Minorcans, are far inferior mentally, morally, and physically to the Florida negroes. I have seen many of them. — T. W. H.
  17. I think the destiny and the best hold of the large majority of blacks is to become cultivators of small farms, and their progress in this direction is rapid and hopeful. In the breaking up of the old estates, the negro and his almost equally emancipated brother, the poor white, get their full share. Their landed wealth to-day is surprising, and they are moving with the general movement about them. — S. C. A.
  18. In my judgment, the persons who most influence the Southern blacks are not the whites, but the colored preachers, — a class whose ignorance forms a very great obstacle, and who particularly need “academies, high schools, and colleges.” — T. W. H.
  19. The most manifest solution of this great negro problem is in the education of the race. The technical education on which Professor Shaler lays such stress is a part of it. Some negroes have very fair mechanical talents and take to the work naturally. They vary, like other people. Education must be effected by environment. A redistribution of the negro population must precede any high development. To this end technical training is of great value, since it loosens the negro’s hold on a particular spot. — ED.
  20. I find myself heartily in accord with Professor Shaler in his practical considerations. Our duty and interest must lead us to aid the negro, and this aid will best come in the way of some special agencies such as Professor Shaler suggests, though I cannot favor the plan of putting this work or burden to any extent on the federal government instead of the States. Such a course is contrary to our scheme of division of duties and powers between the State and the nation, and will he attended by results likely to deprive such efforts of much of their usefulness. — D. H. C.
  21. There seems to be no doubt as to the decrease in the mulatto element, although, as a rule, the young blacks prefer the lighter shades; they do not like to marry back into Africa. The color feeling, though quiet, is deep and strong, but the white man as a factor is less potent than formerly. To-day, in the more northerly of the Southern States, the pure-blooded negro is the exception rather than the rule.

    The difference in the original strains of negro blood is marked, but, personally, I have not been able to make any trustworthy observations in regard to the superiority of one over another. I have often noticed the varied types among the eight hundred youth who are taught at Hampton: there are black skins with European features, blonde or even auburn coloring with African noses and lips, but neither color nor features seem to be decisive. Of averages one can speak with some certainty as to probable lines of development; of individuals it is not safe to dogmatize.

    There appears to be no “dead line” of progress for the negro. The possibilities of some among them are not to be limited to the level of the majority of the race, and it is too soon to generalize as to distinctive types. — S. C. A.
  22. The pure black in the former time always had a larger money value than a mulatto of the same age and general appearance. — ED.
  23. Very marked among the Florida blacks, men and women — T. W. H.
  24. While they indubitably are of the tropics, they have a curious natural affiliation for the higher civilization into which they have been thrown, and in spite of ignorance, disease, and intemperance they multiply where the red man melts away. They cling to the skirts of our civilization; there is a black fringe on the edge of most towns in this country; the negroes are here to stay. Before the vigorous pressure of immigration it is possible that they may yield somewhat, fall back here and there, but nothing more. — S. C. A.
  25. All other foreign elements assimilate, and in the third generation are fully Americanized. The negro is the closest imitator of all: but in spite of the oceans of white blood which have been poured into his veins; in spite of the obliteration of the remembrance of his fatherland, its language and its traditions; in spite of the closest of contact with the race which enslaved him, he remains substantially the most foreign of all our foreign elements. The lines of his life are parallel with, and not convergent to, our own, and here lies the danger.

    But what would the cotton mills of Christendom do without him? Who would fit into our industrial and household life as he does? We need him, the nation needs what he can do; but his training must be directed by ideas, and not by demagogues. The work of the old taskmasters is still telling tremendously, and the old “uncles” sometimes shake their wise gray heads over the rising generation. It is a many-sided education that they need, and the result of anything less seems to justify the reply of the colored school-girl, who, on being criticised for careless sweeping, answered, “You can’t git clean corners and algebra into the same nigger.”

    Technical training is important, wisely directed mental work is essential, better ideas must somehow be put into better men, but it is the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount that must permeate it all. Practical Christian education, without dogma and without cant, is the great need of the negro, as well as of most of his brethren, of whatever shade or type. — S. C. A.