George Washington Cable.

The silent South, together with the freedman's case in equity and the convict lease system online

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the comparison within those states between negroes

* Under the title South we include the fifteen old slave states (with West
Virginia), and the District of Columbia. The term North is used as
including all the remaining states.



and native whites (the best basis of comparison) slightly
raises the percentage of superiority.

In some individual states, both North and South, the
apparent discrimination is very great. It is extremely
great in Georgia, but even worse in Michigan. It is
greater east than west in both sections, but notably so
in the South. This is probably for the reason that the
drift of the criminal classes among the whites is west-
ward, which is not the case among the blacks.

Northern negroes are richer. They are less illiterate.
They are more scattered and more subject to civilizing
white influence and less to that of each other. They
would also, naturally, be less hated, because of being
few, weak, and helpless. These and other considera-
tions would induce the reasoner to expect greater dis-
crimination South than North. It would take a year's
or rather many years' work to determine their mathe-
matical value ; but they may all be offset by two things.
The institution of slavery implanted in the Southern
negro temperance and subordination, a combination of
qualities which the freedom of the Northern negro from
any such school could never give him. Northern ne-
groes are urban. Southern negroes are rural. There
is more crime in cities than in the country. Hence we
would look for the proportion of Northern negro pris-
oners to be greater. We have no statement of the
division of prisoners into urban and rural, but an esti-
mate reduces the thirty-one per cent, of greater Southern
kindness to fifteen per cent. But, could all the elements
of difference be mathematically eliminated, I doubt if
the original percentage would be altered. The residuum
of difference could probably be explained by the kind-
feelings of the Southerners toward their old slaves, and
the fact that their chivalry is rational. They are favor-
ably inclined toward all weak and helpless classes,


whether a weaker sex or race. Thus I think it has
been demonstrated, as near mathematically as such a
thing can be done, that race discrimination in the
administration of justice is not sectional.

In reality, it would be a miracle, under the circum-
stances, if absolutely no discrimination were exhibited.
As much of it as exists should be blotted out by our
vaunted "chivalry" and "philanthropy." Indeed, in
the North the negro is not protected by loving memories,
and justice can be secured to him only by repeated,
persistent efforts of noble philanthropists. In the South,
where the problem chiefly lies, there is certainly room
for improvement in the mutual feelings of the races.
The negroes are the wards of the nation, perhaps, but
each individual owes him the treatment due a fellow-
citizen and fellow-man. He owes this not only to the
negroes of a distant part of the country, but also to
those in his own state, city, or his own street. He owes
it not so much to those being tried before juries in a
distant state as to the men who come up before the one
on which he himself is impaneled. A. E. Orr-



Mr. Orr has, with great pains and accuracy and a
most praiseworthy deference to truth, drawn his con-
clusions from the Census of 1880, vol. i., pp. 3 and 929.
Yet his generalizing is crude. He says my " impeach-
ment of the justice of whites toward blacks" "covers
the Union from Florida to Oregon and from Maine to
California." "The same facts," he says, " that are true
from Richmond to Galveston hold also from Boston to
San Francisco." Appealing to figures, he finds that in
all the Southern states the comparative criminality of
blacks and whites if prison populations are conclusive


evidence is less than four to one, and in the Northern
less than five to one; the proportion being nearly a
third greater in the whole North than in the whole

Now the first trouble here is that Mr. Orr is contesting
a statement that nobody has made. In my reply to
ex-Senator Johnston, my assertion as to an excessive
disproportion of colored convicts is made only of " some
Southern States," and specifically only of Georgia.
Both there and in the earlier pages in which ex-Senator
Johnston found this and kindred statements, they are to
the effect that such things are actually occurring here
and there and are liable to occur wherever the "atti-
tude of domination over the blacks" meets the " seduc-
tions of the atrocious convict-lease system," which
system, I wrote specifically, "does not belong to all our
once slave States nor to all our once seceded States."
Hence Mr. Orr is entirely wrong in resting his argument
on aggregate statistics of the whole South.

But this is only the beginning of his error. He is
wrong again in appealing to aggregate sums of all
prisoners; for I spoke only of penitentiary convicts
leased into private hands. So that the U. S. Census
tables of all prisoners in jails, calabooses, etc., are not
the proper data to argue from. The proper data are the
penitentiaries' official reports. In South Carolina, by
the U. S. Census, the comparative criminality of blacks
and whites in equal numbers of each shows six and
three-fourths to one; while the report of the State
penitentiary for 1881 shows the proportion of blacks and
whites committed to it over ten to one. Is this excess
entirely due to an excessive criminality, or does not
faithfulness to truth compel us to consider the additional
fact that, while other confinements do not, the peniten-
tiary does disfranchise ?



I have not been so careless as to imply that even the
convict-lease system works the same sort and degree
of evil in all places alike. Varying conditions make
varying evil results. This is plainly recognized in the
seventh paragraph of my reply to ex-Senator Johnston
and in other places in the general controversy. In
Louisiana the disproportion of black convicts is not as
large as in Georgia, and yet it has one of the most
brutal lease systems in the whole South.

But do Mr. Orr's mistakes end here ? By no means.
He errs seriously if he would imply that I do not admit
a greater depravity among blacks than among whites.
The fact is palpable ; the fault we will not speak of
that, for who would be innocent ? In my reply to ex-
Senator Johnston I said that gentleman had accounted
for barely half the excess of black convict population
attributed by him to "the depravity of the negro." And
now comes Mr. Orr, and from another set of statistics
accounts for the same five to one that ex-Senator
Johnston had accounted for and leaves the same addi-
tional, remaining five to one without explanation in the
states where it exists.

And still again the gentleman is wide of the mark
when he says, "The same facts that are true from
Richmond to Galveston hold also from Boston to San
Francisco." They do not hold uniformly North or
South, and only Mr. Orr has said they do. They fluc-
tuate. There are regions where there is something like
a general disposition to treat the negro as a man, regard-
less of race ; as in Massachusetts, for instance. There
are other Northern regions where to quote my reply
to ex-Senator Johnston " It is freely admitted that the
proportion of colored penitentiary convicts would be
less were there not still a great deal of unreasoning
prejudice against the black man on account of his



color"; for example, in Illinois or Indiana. Again,
there are Southern states, Tennessee, for example,
where the proportion of colored criminality seems to
compare favorably, not with such states as Massachu-
setts, but with such as Illinois or Indiana; though even
this momentary advantage is more than lost when we
leave census figures of "all prisoners," and turn to the
states' own official lists of their penitentiary convicts.
And, lastly, there are such states as Georgia and South
Carolina, where the figures are simply indefensible
Here is a small table of comparative figures :



By U. S.
Census of all

By State official reports of Peniten-
tiary convicts under lease system


2 j to I

6J to i

Convicts not distinguished by color.


5? t i


S to i

South Carolina,

6J to i
7j to i

loj to i.

Mr. Orr's census figures are well enough, but his con-
clusions have an embryotic immaturity. He is not
more to blame than a thousand others for overlooking
entirely the figures of lynch law ; it is the fashion to
ignore them. And yet there they stand, in all their
naked, shameless, unpardonable savagery. But pass-
ing them by, there is still between certain states this
additional unestimated difference : that while in one
the great majority of all questions of offence against


persons or property, small or great, are brought before
the bar of law and authority, in another the great
majority of such questions are submitted only to the law
and authority of one's good right hand. South Caro-
lina will doubtless maintain its civilization to be not
greatly inferior to that of Massachusetts. On the other
hand, with three-fifths of her population of such sort
that the other two-fifths deny them full citizenship on the
ground of mental and moral unfitness, she will not claim
to be greatly superior. But in Massachusetts the total
of prisoners, even exclusive of reformatories, was in 1880
one in every four hundred and ninety-three of the state's
population; while in South Carolina almost destitute
of reformatories it was but one in every fifteen hun-
dred and fifty. The total white prisoners in South Caro-
lina, a State more than one-fifth of whose white popu-
lation of ten years and upward could not write, were
only one in every six thousand nine hundred and eighty-
four. To assume that such a record indicates conclu-
sively the amount of criminality in a population is too
preposterous for serious notice.

Such facts as these make it quite superfluous for Mr.
Orr or ex-Senator Johnston to find ingenious reasons to
account for excess of Northern over Southern incarcer-
ation of colored men. The North, the East, the West,
shall never find in me a champion of any error in them.
If I do not enlarge upon the presence of race prejudices
there, it is because I see their best people recognizing,
lamenting, and steadily crowding out the wicked error.
Moreover, I find but half a million dark sufferers from
this error in all the North. There are twelve times that
number in the South. Meanwhile I see in the South the
seat of the contagion, and her intelligent but deluded
people alternately denying and boasting its presence,
and openly proposing to perpetuate it, against the


peace of the nation and their own good name, happiness
and prosperity. I have never yet spoken first in this
matter, save under the conviction that silence was
treason to the South. It is treason.

But I must be done replying to such critics as ex-
Senator Johnston and Mr. Orr. Why will not some one
for once attempt a reply to what I have actually said or
implied? There are my statements; The Convict Lease
System, The Freedman's Case in Equity, The Silent
South ; not one assertion actually made in any one of
them has been even seemingly refuted. The false doc-
trines which so many have claimed to be the true sen-
timent of and right system for the South have thus far
found no advocate able to speak to the point. I shall
make no more replies to those who cannot ; but if any
can there lies the gage in the open arena.

Mr. Orr seems to me the fairest-minded of any critic I
have yet had. He seems really ready not only to ac-
knowledge the truth, but to be in search of it. If he
is he will presently find his way to an outlook whence he
must see that this corrupting and execrable penal system
distinguishes the majority of our Southern States from
the rest of the enlightened world, and that the true duty
of every Southerner is to make peaceable but inexorable
war against it, as against all the foul errors bred in the
South, and only in less degree in the North, by slavery.

George W. Cable.

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Online LibraryGeorge Washington CableThe silent South, together with the freedman's case in equity and the convict lease system → online text (page 13 of 13)