George Washington Cable.

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

. (page 4 of 13)
Online LibraryGeorge Washington CableThe silent South, together with the freedman's case in equity and the convict lease system → online text (page 4 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

The present writer wants quite as little of it as the
most fervent traditionist of the most fervent South.
The North, the West, the East, and the rest of the
intelligent world, want quite as little of it as the
South wants. Social equality can never exist
where a community, numerous enough to assert
itself, is actuated, as every civilized community
is, by an intellectual and moral ambition. No
form of laws, no definition of rights, from Anarchy
to Utopia, can bring it about. The fear that this
or that change will produce it ought never to be
any but a fool's fear. And yet there is this to be
added; that no other people in America are doing
so much for social equality as those who, while
they warmly charge it upon others, are them-
selves thrusting arbitrary and cheap artificial dis-
tinctions into the delicate machinery of society's
self-distribution as it revolves by the power of our
natural impulses, and of morality, personal in-
terest, and personal preferences. This, of course,
is not the intention, and even these, persons re-
tard only incidentally, unawares and within nar-
row limits, nature's social distributions, while
taking diligent and absolutely needless pains to
hold apart two races which really have no social
affinity at all.



Do we charge any bad intention or conscious
false pretense ? Not at all ! They are merely
making the double mistake of first classing as
personal social privileges certain common imper-
sonal rights of man, and then turning ab'out and
treating them as rights definable by law which
social amenities are not and cannot be.

For the sake of any who might still misunder-
stand, let us enlarge here a moment. The family
relation has rights. Hence marital laws and laws
of succession. But beyond the family circle
there are no such things as social lights ; and
when our traditionists talk about a too hasty
sympathy having " fixed by enactment " the
negro's social and civil rights they talk unwise-
ly. All the relations of life that go by imper-
sonal right are Civil relations. All that go by
personal choice are Social relations. The one is
all of right, it makes no difference who we are ;
the other is all of choice, and it makes all the
difference who we are ; and it is no little fault
against ourselves as well as others, to make con-
fusion between the two relations. For the one
we make laws ; for the other every one consults
his own pleasure ; and the law that refuses to
protect a civil right, construing it a social privi-
lege, deserves no more regard than if it should
declare some social privilege to be a civil right.
Social choice, civil rights; but a civil privilege, in
America, is simply heresy against both our great


national political parties at once. Now, " The
Freedman's Case in Equity " pleads for not one
thing belonging to the domain of social rela-
tions. Much less the family relation ; it does
not hint the faintest approval of any sort of
admixture of the two bloods. Surely nothing
that a man can buy a ticket for anonymously at
a ticket-seller's hand-hole confers the faintest
right to even a bow of recognition that any one
may choose to withhold. But what says the
other side ? " The South will never adopt the
suggestion of the social intermingling^ of the two
races."* So they beg the question of equity, and
suppress a question of civil right by simply mis-
calling it "social intermingling"; thus claiming
for it that sacredness from even the law's control
which only social relations have, and the next
instant asserting the determination of one race
to "control the social relations," so-called, of two.
Did ever champions of a cause with blanker sim-
plicity walk into a sack and sew up its mouth ?
Not only thus, but from within it they announce
a doctrine that neither political party in our
country would venture to maintain ; for no party
dare say that in these United States there is
any room for any one class of citizens to fasten
arbitrarily upon any other class of citizens a civil
status from which no merit of intelligence, virtue,
or possessions can earn an extrication. We have

1 Italicized only here.



a country large enough for all the unsociality any-
body may want, but not for incivility either by or
without the warrant of law.

"What history shows." says a sound little
book lately printed, " is that rights are safe only
when guaranteed against all arbitrary power and
all class and personal interest." Class rule of
any sort is bad enough, even with the consent of
the ruled class ; un-American enough. But the
domination of one fixed class by another without
its consent, is Asiatic. And yet it is behind this
error, of Asian antiquity and tyranny, this arbi-
trary suppression of impartial, impersonal civil
rights, that we discover our intelligent adver-
saries in this debate fortified, imagining they have
found a strong position ! " Neither race wants
it," says one; alluding to that common, undi-
vided participation in the enjoyment of civil
rights, for which the darker race has been lifting
one long prayer these twenty years, and which
he absurdly miscalls " social intermingling."
" The interest, as the inclination, of both races is
against it," he adds. " Here the issue is made

But he mistakes. The issue is not made up
here at all. It is not a question of what the race
wants, but of ivJiat the individual wants and has
a right to. Is that question met ? No. Not a
line has been written to disprove the individual
freedman's title to these rights ; but pages, to


declare that his race does not want them and
shall not have them if it does. Mark the contra-
diction. It does not want them it shall not
have them ! Argument unworthy of the nursery ;
yet the final essence of all the other side's utter-
ances. They say the colored race wants a par-
ticipation in public rights separate from the
whites ; and that anyhow it has got to take that
or nothing ; " The white and black races in the
South must 1 walk apart." One writer justifies
this on the belief of a natal race instinct ; but
says that if there were no such thing the South
" would, by every means in its power, so strengthen
the race prejudice l that it would do the work and
hold the stubbornness and strength of instinct."
Could any one more distinctly or unconsciously
waive the whole question of right and wrong?
Yet this is the standpoint on which it is proposed
to meet the freedmen's case in equity. Under the
heat of such utterances how the substance melts
out of their writer's later proposition for the
South to solve the question " without passion or
prejudice and with full regard for the unspeak-
able equities it holds."

It is not the Louisville gentlemen who are
found at this untenable standpoint. They admit
the desirability of extirpating the state of affairs
condemned by " The Freedman's Case in Equity,"
and merely ask with a smile, " in what manner

1 Italicized only here.



the writer expects that evil to disappear before
high-sounding imperatives," etc. As to that we
leave others on that side to give the answer;
hear it, from Atlanta : " Clear views, clear state-
ment, and clear understanding are the demands
of the hour. Given these, the common sense
and courage of the American people will make
the rest easy."


. Let us then make our conception of the right
and wrong of this matter unmistakable. Social
relations, one will say, are sacred. True, but
civil rights are sacred, also. Hence social rela-
tions must not impose upon civil rights nor civil
rights impose upon social relations. We must
have peace. But for peace to be stable we must
have justice. Therefore, for peace, we must find
that boundary line between social relations and
civil rights, from which the one has no warrant
ever to push the other; and, for justice, this
boundary must remain ever faithfully the same,
no matter whose the social relations are on one
side or whose the civil rights are on the other.

Suppose a case. Mr. A. takes a lady, not of
his own family, to a concert. Neither one is
moved by compulsion or any assertion of right
on the part of the other. They have chosen
each other's company. Their relation is social.
It could not exist without mutual agreement.


They are strangers in that city, however, and as
they sit in the thronged auditorium and look
around them, not one other soul in that house,
so far as they can discern, has any social relation
with them. But see, now, how impregnable the
social relation is. That pair, outnumbered a
thousand to one, need not yield a pennyweight
of social interchange with any third person unless
they so choose. Nothing else in human life is so
amply sufficient to protect itself as are social
relations. Provided one thing, that the law will
protect every one impartially in his civil rights,
one of the foremost of which is that both men
and laws shall let us alone to our personal social
preferences. If any person, no matter who or
what he is, insists on obtruding himself upon
this pair in the concert-hall he can only succeed
in getting himself put out. Why ? Because he
is trying to turn his civil right-to-be-there into a
social passport. And even if he make no per-
sonal advances, but his behavior or personal con-
dition is so bad as to obtrude itself offensively
upon others, the case is the same ; the mistake
and its consequences are his. But, on the other
hand, should Mr. A. and his companion demand
the expulsion of this third person when he had
made no advances and had encroached no more
on their liberty than they had on his, demanding
it simply on the ground that he was their social
or intellectual inferior or probably had relatives


who were, then the error, no matter who or what
he is, would be not his, but theirs, and it would
be the equally ungenteel error of trying to turn
their social choice into a civil right; and it would
be simply increasing the error and its offensive-
ness, for them to suggest that he be given an
equally comfortable place elsewhere in the house
providing it must indicate his inferiority. There
is nothing comfortable in ignominy, nor is it any
evidence of high mind for one stranger to put it
upon another.

Now, the principles of this case are not dis-
turbed by any multiplication of the number of
persons concerned, or by reading for concert-
hall either theatre or steamboat or railway station
or coach or lecture-hall or street car or public
library, or by supposing the social pair to be
English, Turk, Jap, Cherokee, Ethiopian, Mexi-
can, or " American." But note the fact that,
even so, Mr. A. and his companion's social rela-
tions are, under these rulings, as safe from inva-
sion as they were before ; nay, even safer, inas-
much as the true distinction is made publicly
clearer, between the social and the civil relations.
Mr. A. is just as free to decline every sort of
unwelcome social advance, much or little, as ever
he was ; and as to his own house, or estate may
eject any one from it, not of his own family or a
legal tenant, and give no other reason than that
it suits him to do so. Do you not see it now,


gentlemen of the other side ? Is there anything
new in it? Is it not as old as truth itself? Hon-
estly, have you not known it all along ? Is it
not actually the part of good breeding to know
it? You cannot say no. Then why have you
charged us with proposing " to break down every
distinction between the races," and " to insist on
their intermingling in all places and in all rela-
tions," when in fact we have not proposed to
disturb any distinction between the races which
nature has made, or molest any private or per-
sonal relation in life, whatever ? Why have you
charged us with " moving to forbid all further
assortment of the races," when the utmost we
have done is to condemn an arbitrary assortment
of the races, crude and unreasonable, by the
stronger race without the consent of the weaker,
and in places and relations where no one, exalted
or lowly, has any right to dictate to another
because of the class he belongs to ? We but
turn your own words to our use when we say
this battery of charges " is as false as it is infam-
ous." But let that go.

Having made it plain that the question has
nothing to do with social relations, we see that it
is, and is only, a question of indiscriminathe civil
rig/its. This is what " The Freedman's Case in
Equity " advocates from beginning to end, not as
a choice which a race may either claim or dis-
claim, but as every citizen's individual yet im-


personal right until he personally waives or for-
feits it. The issue, we repeat, is not met at all
by the assertion that "Neither race wants it."
There is one thing that neither race wants, but
even this is not because either of them is one
race or another, but simply because they are
members of a civilized human community. It is
that thing of which our Southern white people
have so long had such an absurd fear ; neither
race, or in other words nobody, wants to see the
civil rewards of decency in dress and behavior
usurped by the common herd of clowns and
ragamuffins. But there is another thing that the
colored race certainly does want : the freedom
for those of the race who can to earn the indis-
criminative and unchallenged civil not social
rights of gentility by the simple act of being
genteel. This is what we insist the best in-
telligence of the South is willing in the interest
of right, and therefore of both races to accord.
But the best intelligence is not the majority, and
the majority, leaning not upon the equities, but
the traditional sentiments of the situation, charge
us with " theory " and "sentiment " and give us
their word for it that " Neither race wants it."

Why, that is the very same thing we used to
say about slavery ! Where have these traditionists
been the last twenty years ? Who, that lived in
the South through those days, but knows that
the darker race's demand from the first day of

6 4


the Reconstruction era to its last, was, " If you
will not give us undivided participation in civil
rights, then and in tliat case you must give us
equal separate enjoyment of them"; and from
the close of Reconstruction to this day the only
change in its expression has been to turn its im-
perative demand into a supplication. This was
the demand, this is the supplication of American
citizens seeking not even their civil rights entire,
but their civil rights mutilated to accommodate
not our public rights but our private tastes.
And how have we responded ? Has the separate
accommodation furnished them been anywhere
nearly equal to ours ? Not one time in a thou-
sand. Has this been for malice ? Certainly not.
But we have unconsciously and what people in
our position would not have made the same over-
sight? allowed ourselves to be carried off the
lines of even justice by our old notion of every
white man holding every negro to a menial

Would our friends on the other side of the dis-
cussion say they mean only, concerning these
indiscriminative civil rights, " Neither race wants
them noiv " ? This would but make bad worse.
For two new things have happened to the col-
ored race in these twenty years ; first, a natural
and spontaneous assortment has taken place
within the race itself along scales of virtue and
intelligence, knowledge and manners; so that by


no smalj fraction of their number the wrong of
treating the whole race alike is more acutely felt
than ever it was before ; and, second, a long, bit-
ter experience has taught them that "equal
accommodations, but separate " means, generally,
accommodations of a conspicuously ignominious
inferiority. Are these people opposed to an
arrangement that would give them instant re-
lease from organized and legalized incivility?
For that is what a race distinction in civil rela-
tions is when it ignores intelligence and decorum.


There is another way to settle this question
of fact. One side in this debate advocates indis-
criminative civil rights ; the other, separate
racial civil rights. It is not to be doubted that
our opponents have received many letters from
white men and women full of commendation and
thanks for what they have written. Such, too,
has been the present writer's experience. Such
testimonials poured in upon him daily for four
months, from east, west, north, and south. But
how about the colored race? Have they written
him, begging him to desist because " Neither
race wants " the equities he pleads for ? The
pages of this essay are limited, but we beg
room for a few extracts from colored correspond-
ents' letters, each being from a separate letter and
no letter from any colored person whom the pres-


cnt writer has ever seen or known. One letter ends,
" May all the spirits that aid justice, truth, and
right constantly attend you in your effort." An-
other, " I hope that you will continue the work
you have begun, and may God bless you." An-
other, "Accept this, dear sir, as the thanks of the
colored people of this city." Another begins,
" I am a negro. In behalf of the negroes and in
behalf of equitable fair dealing on the prin-
ciple of giving a dollar's worth for a dollar, with-
out any possible reference to social matters, per-
mit me to tender you my sincere thanks," etc.
Says another, " The judicious fairness with which
you have treated our case renders your thesis
worthy of our adoption as a Bill of Rights." A
letter of thanks from a colored literary club
says, "... We thank you for your recognition
of our capacity to suffer keenly under the indig-
nities we are made to endure." A similar society
in another town sent a verbal expression of
thanks by its president in person. (Followed
since by its committee's formal resolution orna-
mentally written and mounted.) In Louisville
a numerous impromptu delegation of colored
citizens called upon the writer and tendered a
verbal address of thanks. Another letter says,
" If the people of the South will only regard
your article in the same spirit as I believe it
was intended, then I know, sir, great and endur-
ing good will be accomplished." In Arkansas,


a meeting of colored people, called to express
approval of the article on " The Freedman's Case
in Equity," passed a resolution pronouncing its
ideas " consonant with true religion and en-
lightened civilization," etc. Not one word of
adverse criticism, written or printed, has come
to him from a person of color. Has the same
race given " In Plain Black and White," or
" The Freedman's Case in Reality," or any of
the less dignified mass of matter on that side
of the question, a like cordial ratification ? Or
has only Mr. Jack Brown sent in his congratu-
lation ? l

1 The Selma " Times," quoted in " The Freedman's Case in
Equity " as rejoicing in the flogging of a colored preacher on a
railway train for not leaving the passenger coach when ordered
out by irresponsible ruffians, has since published a letter purport-
ing to come from one "Jack Brown, colored," of Columbia,
South Carolina. The letter denounces the present writer as one
of the sort " that has brought on all the trouble between the
white and colored people of the South. I do not know his
initials or address," it continues, "or I would address him in
person, as I am anxious to test his sincerity" f " Now," says the
Selma " Times,' ' "the above article bears every imprint of honesty
and truthfulness. We don't believe any one but a sharp negro
could have written or did write it. The handwriting, the loose
grammar, the postmark on the envelope, all mark it as a genuine
document coming from the man it purports to have come from.
Not only is this true of such external marks as we have named,
but so is it likewise of its internal, essential substance. It sounds
as if it could have been thought out and written by a negro only.

f So italicized originally.


But it may be asked, may not a great many
individuals, and even some clubs, impromptu
delegations and public meetings called for the
purpose, approve certain declarations and yet the
great mass of a people not sanction them ? Then
let us go one step farther. There are, it is said,
eighty some say a hundred journals published
in this country by colored men. They look to

We cannot conceive of a white man's putting himself so thor-
oughly into the place of a negro, mentally, as to have executed
such a thing as a forgery. We shall find out if there is such a
negro in Columbia, S. C., as Brown, and secure other proofs
that he wrote it, because we know Mr. Cable and others are sure
to challenge its authenticity. We confidently expect to be fully
prepared to convince the most skeptical.

" The negro is right. Those of his race who have any sense
cannot expect what Mr. Cable would give them, do not expect
it, and would be unhappy and uncomfortable if, in any way, it
could be forced upon them."

So if Jack Brown, colored, were a real person, nothing could
be easier than to find him. Writing from a small inland city,
getting through one hundred and seventy-five words of his letter
before making a grammatical slip, a colored man in sympathy
with the tritest sentiment of the dominant race, and with a taste
for public questions, such a man could not be hid, much less
overlooked, in Columbia. But on the present writer's desk lies
his own letter to Mr. Jack Brown, colored, stamped " Return to
the writer," after having lain in the Columbia post-office for
nearly a month, unclaimed. An exhaustive search and inquiry
amongst the people of both races by a white gentleman resident
on the spot, fails to find any " Jack Brown " except to quote
the gentleman's letter, " a poor, illiterate fellow, who cannot
read or write his name," and who, instead of being "twenty-
seven years of age," is to quote another letter " an aged


the colored race for the great bulk of their
readers and subscribers. Hence they are bound
to be in large degree the organs of popular
thought among the reading part, at least, of that
people. But these papers are a unit for the ideas
set forth in " The Freedmaris Case in Equity"
Now, to believe the other side we should have to
make two impossible assumptions ; that among a
people treated rigorously as one race, compacted
by a common status, the intelligent and com-
paratively refined part numerous enough to send
in spite of its poverty twenty thousand students
to normal schools and colleges and to support
eighty newspapers, this portion, moreover, asso-
ciated with the less intelligent portion more
cordially in every interest than two such classes
are amongst any other people in the world unless
it be the Jews that such a lump of leaven as
this has no power to shape the views of the
rest on matters of common public right ! Such
a thing may be credible on some other planet,
not on this. And the second impossible assump-
tion : That the intelligent and sensitive portions
of a people shall submit to an ignominious muti-
lation of their public rights because the unin-
telligencc of their race chooses (?) to submit to it.
This assumption is a crime against common
justice; the other is a crime against common
sense. It is simply a mistake that " the assort-
ment of the races which has been described


as shameful and unjust . . . commands the
hearty assent of both."

True, our traditionist friends, who think they
believe it, are glad to take the witness-stand and
testify; but surely some of them should be law-
yer enough to know that when they say the col-
ored race shall not have the other thing in any
event, their testimony as to which the colored
race prefers is of no further account. At Atlanta,
they are equally unfortunate in another witness.
If the Georgia State Commissioner of Public
Education will allow the personal mention from
one who has met and admires him, we may say
that throughout the United States he has won the
high regard and praise of the friends of public
education for the exceptional progress he a man
of the old South has made in unlearning our
traditional Southern prejudices. He stands a
noble, personal refutation of the superficial notion

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryGeorge Washington CableThe silent South, together with the freedman's case in equity and the convict lease system → online text (page 4 of 13)