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

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whites ? The proportion of blacks sentenced to
the whole black population was one to every
1488 ; that of the whites to the white population


was but one to every 15,644. In Georgia the
white inhabitants decidedly outnumber the blacks;
yet in the State penitentiary, October 20, 1880,
there were 115 whites and 1071 colored; or if
we reject the summary of its tables and refer to
the tables themselves (for the one does not agree


with the other), there were but 102 whites and
1083 colored. Yet of 52 pardons granted in the
two years then closing, 22 were to whites and
only 30 to blacks. If this be a dark record,
what shall we say of the records of lynch law ?
But for them there is not room here.


A far pleasanter aspect of our subject shows
itself when we turn from courts and prisons
to the school-house. And the explanation is
simple. Were our educational affairs in the
hands of that not high average of the com-
munity commonly seen in jury-boxes, with their
transient sense of accountability and their crude
notions of public interests, there would most
likely be no such pleasant contrast. But with
us of the South, as elsewhere, there is a fairly
honest effort to keep the public-school interests
in the hands of the State's most highly trained
intelligence. Hence our public educational work
is a compromise between the unprogressive pre-
judices of the general mass of the whites and
the progressive intelligence of their best minds.


Practically, through the great majority of our
higher educational officers, we are fairly con-
verted to the imperative necessity of elevating
the colored man intellectually, and are beginning
to see very plainly that the whole community is
sinned against in every act or attitude of oppres-
sion, however gross or however refined.

Yet one thing must be said. I believe it is
wise that all have agreed not to handicap educa-
tion with the race question, but to make a com-
plete surrender of that issue, and let it find ad-
justment elsewhere first and in the schools last.
And yet, in simple truth and justice and in the
kindest spirit, we ought to file one exception for
that inevitable hour when the whole question
must be met. There can be no more real justice
in pursuing the freedman's children with humili-
ating arbitrary distinctions and separations in the
school-houses than in putting them upon him in
other places. If; growing out of their peculiar
mental structure, there are good and just reasons
for their isolation, by all means let them be proved
and known ; but it is simply tyrannous to assume
them without proof. ^ I know that just here looms
up the huge bugbear of Social Equality. Our
eyes are filled with absurd visions of all Shanty-
town pouring its hordes of unwashed imps into the
company and companionship of our own sunny-
headed darlings. What utter nonsense ! As if
our public schools had no gauge of cleanliness,


decorum, or moral character ! Social Equality !
What a godsend it would be if the advocates of
the old Southern regime could only see that the
color line points straight in the direction of social
equality by tending toward the equalization of
all whites on one side of the line and of all blacks
on the other. We may reach the moon some
day, not social equality ; but the only class that
really effects anything toward it are the makers
and holders of arbitrary and artificial social dis-
tinctions interfering with society's natural self-
distribution. Even the little children everywhere
are taught, and begin to learn almost with their
ABC, that they will find, and must be guided
by, the same variations of the social scale in the
public school as out of it ; and it is no small mis-
take to put them or their parents off their guard
by this cheap separation on the line of color.


But some will say this is not a purely artificial
distinction. We hear much about race instinct.
The most of it, I fear, is pure twaddle. It may
be there is such a thing. We do not know. It
is not proved. And even if it were established,
it would not necessarily be a proper moral guide.
We subordinate instinct to society's best interests
as apprehended in the light of reason. If there
is such a thing, it behaves with strange malignity
toward the remnants of African blood in indi-


viduals principally of our own race> and with
singular indulgence to the descendants of for
example Pocahontas. Of mere race feeling we
all know there is no scarcity. Who is stranger to
it? And as another man's motive of private pre-
ference no one has a right to forbid it or require
it. But as to its being an instinct, one thing is
plain : if there is such an instinct, so far from
excusing the malignant indignities practiced in
its name, it furnishes their final condemnation ;
for it stands to reason that just in degree as it is
a real thing it will take care of itself.

It has often been seen to do so, whether it is
real or imaginary. I have seen in New Orleans
a Sunday-school of white children every Sunday
afternoon take possession of its two rooms imme-
diately upon their being vacated by a black school
of equal or somewhat larger numbers. The
teachers of the colored school are both white
and black, and among the white teachers are
young ladies and gentlemen of the highest social
standing. The pupils of the two schools are
alike neatly attired, orderly, and in every respect
inoffensive to each other. I have seen the two
races sitting in the same public high-school
and grammar-school rooms, reciting in the same
classes and taking recess on the same ground at
the same time, without one particle of detriment
that any one ever pretended to discover, although
the fiercest enemies of the system swarmed about


it on every side. And when in the light of these
observations I reflect upon the enormous educa-
tional task our Southern States have before them,
the inadequacy of their own means for perform-
ing it, the hoped-for beneficence of the general
Government, the sparseness with which so much
of our Southern population is distributed over
the land, the thousands of school districts where,
consequently, the multiplication of schools must
involve both increase of expense and reductions
of efficiency, I must enter some demurrer to the
enforcement of the tyrannous sentiments of the
old regime until wise experiments have estab-
lished better reasons than I have yet heard given.


What need to say more? The question is
answered. Is the freedman a free man? No.
We have considered his position in a land whence
nothing can, and no man has a shadow of right
to drive him, and where he is being multiplied as
only oppression can multiply a people. We have
carefully analyzed his relations to the finer and
prouder race, with which he shares the owner-
ship and citizenship of a region large enough for
ten times the number of both. Without accept-
ing one word of his testimony, we have shown
that the laws made for his protection against the
habits of suspicion and oppression in his late
master are being constantly set aside, not for


their defects, but for such merit as they possess.
We have shown that the very natural source of
these oppressions is the surviving sentiments of
an extinct and now universally execrated institu-
tion ; sentiments which no intelligent or moral
people should harbor a moment after the admis-
sion that slavery was a moral mistake. We have
shown the outrageousness of these tyrannies in
some of their workings, and how distinctly they
antagonize every State and national interest in-
volved in the elevation of the colored race. Is
it not well to have done so ? For, I say again,
the question has reached a moment of special
importance. The South stands on her honor
before the clean equities of the issue. It is no
longer whether constitutional amendments, but
whether the eternal principles of justice, are vio-
lated. And the answer must it shall come
from the South. And it shall be practical. It
will not cost much. ' We have had a strange ex-
perience : the withholding of simple rights has
cost much blood ; such concessions of them as
we have made have never yet cost a drop. The
answer is coming. Is politics in the way? Then
let it clear the track or get run over, just as it
prefers. But, as I have said over and over to my
brethren in the South, I take upon me to say again
here, that there is a moral and intellectual intelli-
gence there which is not going to be much longer
beguiled out of its moral right of way by questions


of political punctilio, but will seek that plane of
universal justice and equity which it is every
people's duty before God to seek, not along the
line of politics, God forbid ! but across it and
across it and across it as many times as it may
lie across the path, until the whole people of
every once slave-holding State can stand up as
one man, saying, " Is the freedman a free man ? "
and the whole world shall answer, " Yes."




IN Tivoli Circle, New Orleans, from the cen-
ter and apex of its green, flowery mound an
immense column of pure white marble rises in
the fair unfrowning majesty of Grecian propor-
tions high up above the city's house-tops into
the dazzling sunshine and fragrant gales of the
Delta. On its dizzy top stands the bronze figure
of one of the world's greatest captains.

He is all alone. Not one of his mighty lieu-
tenants stands behind or beside him or below at
the base of his pillar. Even his horse is gone.
Only his good sword remains, hanging motion-
less in its scabbard. His arms are folded on
that breast that never knew fear or guile, and his
calm, dauntless gaze meets the morning sun as it
rises, like the new prosperity of the land he loved
and served so masterly, above the far distant
battle-fields where so many thousands of his
ragged gray veterans lie in the sleep of fallen

Great silent one ! who lived to see his stand-




ards furled and hung in the halls of the con-
queror; to hear the victor's festal jubilations; to
behold a redistribution of rights riding over the
proud traditions of his people, and all the pain-
ful fruits of a discomfited cause shaken to the
ground ; to hear and see the tempestuous and
ofttimes bloody after-strife between the old ideas
and the new ; to see, now on one side, now on
the other, the terms of his own grand surrender
and parole forgotten or ignored; to have his
ear filled with the tirades and recriminations of
journals and parties, and the babble of the
unthinking million ; to note the old creeds
changing, and to come, himself, it may be, God
knows, to respect beliefs that he had once
counted follies ; and yet, withal, never, before the
world that had set him aside but could not forget
him, never to quail, never to wince, never to
redden with anger, never to wail against man or
fate, or seek the salve of human praise or con-
solation ; but silently amid the clamor of the
times to stand and wait, making patience royal,
with a mind too large for murmuring, and a heart
too great to break, until a Messenger as silent as
his bronze effigy beckoned Robert E. Lee to that
other land of light and flowers where man's
common inheritance of error is hidden in the
merit of his honest purpose, and lost in the
Divine charity.

So this monument, lifted far above our daily



strife of narrow interests and often narrower
passions and misunderstandings, becomes a
monument to more than its one great and rightly
loved original. It symbolizes our whole South's
better self; that finer part which the world not
always sees ; unaggressive, but brave, calm,
thoughtful, broad-minded, dispassionate, sincere,
and, in the din of boisterous error round about
it. all too mute. It typifies that intelligence to
which the words of a late writer most truly apply
when he says concerning the long, incoherent
discussion of one of our nation's most perplexing
questions, "Amid it all the South has been

But the times change have changed. What-
ever the merit or fault of earlier reticence, this
mute, firm-rooted figure, with sheathed sword
and folded arms, must yield a step, not back-
ward, but forward. ' " Where it has been silent it
now should speak." * Nay, already it speaks ; and
the blessing of all good men should rest on this
day if it reveals the Silent South laying off" its
unsurrendered sword, leaving brawlers to their
brawls, and moving out upon the plane of
patient, friendly debate, seeking to destroy only
error, and to establish only truth and equity and
a calm faith in their incomparable power to solve
the dark problems of the future.

Within the last few months the voice of
temperate discussion has been heard in well-nigh


every quarter of our Southern States on themes
that have scarcely been handled with patience
and clemency these forty years. True, there has
been some clamor, throwing stones, and casting
dust ; but calmer utterances have come from
Memphis, from Louisville, Chattanooga, Lynch-
burg, Atlanta, Charleston, Dallas, and far San
Angelo ; some on one side, some on the other,
of the debate, professing in common at least
three quiet convictions : that recrimination and
malignment of motive are the tactics of those
who have no case ; that the truth is worth more
than any man's opinion ; and that the domina-
tion of right is the end we are bound to seek.

Under these convictions the following pages
are written ; written in deprecation of all section-
alism ; with an admiration and affection for the
South, that for justice and sincerity yield to none;
in a spirit of faithful sonship to a Southern
State; written not to gratify sympathizers, but to
persuade opponents ; not to overthrow, but to
convince; and begging that all harshness of
fact or vehemence of statement be attributed
entirely to the weight of the interests under




It is pleasant to note how much common
ground is occupied by the two sides in this con-
test of opinions. By both it is recognized that
the fate of the national Civil Rights bill has not
decided and cannot dismiss the entire question
of the freedman's relations ; but" that it puts
upon trial in each Southern State a voluntary
reconstruction which can never be final till it has
established the moral equities of the whole case.
Says one opponent, imputing his words to a per-
sonified South, " Leave this problem to my
working out. I will solve it in calmness and
deliberation, without passion or prejudice, and
with full regard for the unspeakable equities it
holds." ' Says Mr. Watterson's paper, in Louis-
ville, " We believe there is a general desire
among the people of the South, that the negro
shall have all the rights which a citizen of the
United States, whatever be the color of his skin, is
entitled to, but we know of no method to argue
away or force down what may be called the caste
of color. If we did ... or if anybody else did, the
dark problem as to the future of this unfortunate
race would be more quickly and more easily solved.
None more earnestly than the Courier-Journal de-
sires to see this question happily settled."

1 " In Plain Black and White." April CENTURY, 1885.


Is not this progress ? It seems scarce a matter
of months since we were saying the question was
dead and should be buried. Now it rises to
demand a wider grave, which both the writers
quoted admit it must have, though one thinks
nobody knows how to dig it, and another insists
it must be dug without cutting away any more

But the common field of assertion and admis-
sion broadens as we move on. On this side it
has been carefully demonstrated that, not from
Emancipation or Enfranchisement, or anything
else in or of the late war, or of Reconstruction,
but from our earlier relation to the colored man
as his master, results our view of him as natu-
rally and irrevocably servile ; and that hence
arises our proneness to confuse his social with
his civil relations, to argue from inferiority of
race a corresponding inferiority of his rights, and
to infer that they fall, therefore, justly under our
own benevolent domination and, at times, even
our arbitrary abridgment. The point is made
that these views, as remnants of that slavery
which, we all admit, lias of right perished, ought
to perish with it ; and the fact is regretted that
in many parts of the South they nevertheless
still retain such force though withal evidently
weakening that the laws affirming certain human
rights discordant to the dominant race are some-
times openly evaded and sometimes virtually suf-


focated under a simulated acceptance of their
narrowest letter. How plainly we feel the date
of this discussion to be 1884-85 not earlier
when we hear this evasion, once so hotly denied,
admitted freely, nay, with emphasis, to be a
" matter of record, and, from the Southern
standpoint, mainly a matter of reputation."

And there are yet other points of agreement.
As one who saw our great Reconstruction agony
from its first day to its last in one of the South's
most distracted States and in its largest city, with
his sympathies ranged upon the pro-Southern
side of the issue, and his convictions drifting irre-
sistibly to the other, the present writer affirms of
his knowledge, in the initial paper of this debate,
that after we had yielded what seemed to us all
proper deference to our slaves' emancipation and
enfranchisement, there yet remained our invinci-
ble determination seemingly to us the funda-
mental condition of our self-respect never to
yield our ancient prerogative of holding under
our own discretion the colored man's status, not
as a freedman, not as a voter, but in his daily walk
as a civilian. This attitude in us, with our per-
sistent mistaking his civil rights for social claims,
this was the tap-root of the whole trouble. For
neither would his self-respect yield ; and not be-
cause he was so unintelligent and base, but be-
cause he was as intelligent and aspiring as, in his
poor way, he was, did he make this the cause of


political estrangement. This estrangement full
grown at its beginning was the carpet-bagger's
and scallawag's opportunity. They spring and
flourish wherever, under representative govern-
ment, gentility makes a mistake, however sincere,
against the rights of the poor and ignorant. Is
this diagnosis of the Reconstruction malady con-
tested by the other side? Nay, it is confirmed.
The South, it tells us, "accepted the emancipation
and enfranchisement of her slaves as the legitimate
results of war that had been fought to a conclu-
sion. These once accomplished, nothing more
was possible. 'Thus far and no farther,' she said
to her neighbors in no spirit of defiance, but with
quiet determination. In her weakest moments,
when her helpless people were hedged about by
the unthinking bayonets of her conquerors, she
gathered them for resistance at this point. Here
she defended everything that a people should
hold dear. There was little proclamation of her
purpose," etc.

Surely hope is not folly, as to this Southern
question, when such admissions come from this
direction. What salutary clearing of the ground
have we here ! Our common assertion in the
South has long been that the base governments
of the Reconstruction period were overturned by
force because they had become so corrupt that
they were nothing but huge machines for the
robbery of the whole public, a tangle of low po-


litical intrigues that no human intelligence could
unravel; that our virtue and intelligence sought
not the abridgment of any man's rights, but
simply the arrest of bribery and robbery ; that
this could be done only by revolution because
of the .solid black vote, cast, we said, without ra-
tionality at the behest of a few scoundrels who
kept it solid by playing upon partisan catch-
words, or by promise of spoils. And especially
among those whose faith is strongest in our old
Southern traditions, it always was and is, to-day,
sincerely believed that this was the whole issue.
It was this profession that averted the inter-
ference of Federal arms. It was upon this pro-
fession that the manliest youth and intelligence
of New Orleans went forth to stake their lives,
and some to pour out their hearts' blood in inter-
necine war on the levee of their dear city. Sad
sight to those who knew that this was not the
whole matter that the spring of trouble lay yet
deeper down. To such it brings no small or
selfish gladness to hear, at length, if one may
without offence coin a term, to hear Southern
traditionists admitting a truth which the South
has denied with sincere indignation ten thousand
times, that in all that terrible era the real, fun-
damental issue was something else which the
popular Southern mind was hardly aware of.
" Barely" say these "barely did the whispered
word that bespoke her [the South's] resolution


catch the listening ears of her sons; but for all
this, the victorious armies of the North, had they
been rallied again from their homes, could not have
enforced and maintained among this disarmed
people the policy indicated in the Civil Rights bill."
This was the point at which, they say, and they say
truly, the South "gathered for resistance."

Let us be sure these so gallantly spoken words
are not misunderstood. There were two policies
indicated in the Civil Rights bill : the policy of
asserting congressional jurisdiction in the case;
and the policy of legalizing, at all, such rights as
it declared. One raised a question of State
rights; the other, of Human rights. But the
State-rights issue, by itself, the mere question
of whence the legislation should emanate, could
never of itself make fierce strife. Any State
could have settled that point by simply stepping
ahead of Congress with the same legislation.
No ; the irreconcilable difference was not as to
whence but as to ^vhat the law should be. The
essential odium of the bill lay not in its origin, but
in its definition of the black man's rights. In-
deed, the main object of most of those who have
written on the other side in the present contro-
versy has been to assert the resolution never to
recognize the freedman's rights upon that defini-
tion of them. In the meantime a gentle move-
ment of thought, that sounds no trumpet before it,
is gradually pressing toward that very recognition.




But now that we have clearly made out ex-
actly what this immovable hostility is, the ques-
tion follows and half the nation are asking it to-
day with perplexed brows wJiy is it ? Yet the
answer is simple.' Many white people of the
South sincerely believe that the recognition of
rights proposed in the old Civil Rights bills or in
"The Freedman's Case in Equity" would pre-
cipitate a social chaof. They believe Civil Rights
means Social Equality. ' This may seem a trans-
parent error, but certainly any community in the
world that believed it, would hold the two ideas
in equal abomination ; and it is because of the
total unconsciousness and intense activity of this
error at the South, and the subtle sense of un-
safety that naturally accompanies it, it is be-
cause of this, rather than for any lack of clear-
ness in its statement of the subject, that the ar-
ticle on " The Freedman's Case in Equity " is so
grossly misinterpreted even by some who un-
doubtedly wish to be fair. That this is the true
cause of the misinterpretation is clear in the fact
that from the first printing of the article until now
the misconstruction has occurred only among
those whose thinking still runs in the grooves of
the old traditions.

Nothing in that paper touches or seeks to
touch the domain of social privileges. The stand-



ing of the magazine in which it appears is guar-
antee against the possibility of the paper contain-
ing any such insult to the intelligence of enlight-
fened society. Social equality is a fool's dream.

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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 3 of 13)