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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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was accorded to the passengers in the rear car.
Nor was the separation of the classes of the pas-
sengers complete. There is no evidence tending
to show that the white passengers were excluded
from the car assigned to colored passengers, and
it appears that whenever the train was unusually
crowded it was expected that the excess of white
passengers would ride, as they then did ride, in the
forward one of the two first-class cars. So, too,
it appeared that persons of color, of whom the
plaintiff was one, had several times occupied seats


in the rear car." A certain "person of lady-like
appearance and deportment," one day in Sep-
tember, 1883, got aboard this train with a first-
class ticket. She knew the train, and that, as
the court states it, " in the rear car . . . quiet
and good order were to so great an extent the
rule that it was rarely if ever that any passenger
gave annoyance by his conduct to his fellow-
passengers." In the colored car there was at
least one colored man smoking, and one white man
whom she saw to be drunk. She entered the
rear car and sat down, no one objecting. She
was the only colored person there. The con-
ductor, collecting his tickets, came to her. He
was not disconcerted. Not long previously he
had forbidden another colored person to ride in
that car, who must also have been " of lady-like
appearance and deportment," for when he saw
this one he " supposed her to be the same
person . . . intentionally violating the defend-
ant's (Railroad's) rules and seeking to annoy Ids
other passengers." Twice they exchanged polite
request and refusal to leave the car ; and then, in
full presence of all those " other passengers "
whom this person of lady-like appearance and
deportment was erroneously suspected of seeking
to annoy," there occured a thing that ought to
make the nation blush. The conductor laid
hands upon this defenseless woman, whose in-
fraction of a rule was interfering neither with the


8 9

running of the road, the collection of fares, nor
the comfort of passengers, and "by force re-
moved her from her seat and carried her out of
the car. When near the door of the car the
plaintiff promised that she would then, if per-
mitted, leave the car rather than be forcibly
ejected ; but the conductor, as he says, told her
that her consent came too late, and continued to
remove her forcibly. On reaching the platform
of the car, plaintiff left the train." Judgment
was given for the plaintiff. But the point was
carefully made that she would have been without
any grievance if the " colored car " had only
been kept first-class. In other words, for not
providing separate first-class accommodations,
five hundred dollars damages ; for laying violent
hands upon a peaceable, lady-like, and unpro-
tected woman, nothing ; and nothing for requir-
ing such a one publicly to sit apart from pas-
sengers of the same grade under a purely
ignominious distinction. What! not ignominious?
Fancy the passenger a white lady, choosing, for
reasons of her own, to sit in a first-class " colored
car " ; infringing, if you please, some rule ; but
paying her way, and causing no one any incon-
venience, unsafety, or delay. Imagine her, on
insisting upon her wish to stay, drawn from her
seat by force, and lifted and carried out by a
black conductor, telling her as he goes that her
offer to walk out comes too late. If this is not


ignominy, what is it ? To the commission and
palliation of such unmanly deeds are we driven
by our attempts to hold under our own arbitrary
dictation others' rights that we have no moral
right to touch, rights that in ourselves we count
more sacred than property and dearer than life.

But we must not tarry. If we turn to the
matter of roadside refreshment what do we see?
Scarcely a dozen railroad refreshment-rooms
from the Rio Grande to the Potomac, is there
one ? where the weary and hungry colored
passenger, be he ever so perfect in dress and be-
havior, can snatch a hasty meal in the presence
of white guests of any class whatever, though
in any or every one of them he or she can get
the same food, and eat with the same knife, fork,
and plate that are furnished to white strangers,
if only he or she will take a menial's attitude and
accept them in the kitchen. Tennessee has
formally " abrogated the rule of the common
law " in order to make final end of " any right
in favor of any such person so refused admission "
to the enjoyment of an obvious civil right which
no public host need ever permit any guest to
mistake for a social liberty. As to places of
public amusement, the gentlemen who say that
" each [race] gets the same accommodation for
the same money," simply forget. The state-
ment comes from Atlanta. But, in fact, in At-
lanta, in Georgia, in the whole South, there is


scarcely a place of public amusement except
the cheap museums, where there are no seated
audiences in which a colored man or woman,
however unobjectionable personally, can buy, at
any price, any but a second sometimes any but
a third or fourth-class accommodation. During
a day's stay in Atlanta lately, the present writer
saw many things greatly to admire ; many in-
spiring signs of thrift, stability, virtue, and
culture. Indeed, where can he say that he has
not seen them, in ten Southern States lately
visited? And it is in contemplation of these
evidences of greatness, prosperity, safety, and the
desire to be just, that he feels constrained to ask
whether it must be that in the\- principal depot
of such a city the hopeless excommunication
of every person of African tincture from the
civil rewards of gentility must be advertised by
three signs at the entrances of three separate
rooms, one for " Ladies," one for " Gentlemen,"
and the third a " Colored waiting-room " ? T Visit-
ing the principal library of the city, he was
eagerly assured, in response to inquiry, that no
person of color would be allowed to draw out
books ; "&nd when a colored female, not par-
ticularly tidy in dress, came forward to return a
book and draw another, it was quickly explained
that she was merely a servant and messenger for
some white person. Are these things necessary
to are they consistent with an exalted civiliza-

9 2


tion founded on equal rights and the elevation of
the masses ?

f And the freedman's rights in the courts. It is
regarding this part of our subject that our friends
on the other side make a mistake too common
everywhere and very common among us of the
South. That is, they assume the state of affairs
in more distant localities to be the same as that
immediately around them. A statement con-
cerning certain matters in Florida or Maryland
is indignantly denied in Tennessee or Texas be-
cause it is not true of those regions ; and so
throughout. It is in this spirit that one of these
gentlemen explains that in Georgia negroes are
not excluded from the jury lists except for actual
incompetency, and thereupon " assumes that
Georgia does not materially differ from the other
States." ] But really, in Tennessee they may not
sit in the jury-box at all, except that in a few
counties they may sit in judgment on the case of
a colored person* While in Texas, at the very
time of the gentleman's writing, the suggestion
of one of her distinguished citizens to accord the
right of jury duty to the colored people, was
being flouted by the press as an " innovation
upon established usage," and a " sentimental and
utterly impracticable idea." This in the face of
a State constitution and laws that give no war-
rant for the race distinction. So much for as-


The same mistake is repeated by the same
writer in discussing the question of the freed-
men's criminal sentences. No fact or person is
brought forward to prove or disprove anything
except for Georgia. And even the prosecuting at-
torney for the Atlanta circuit, brought in to testify,
says, for the State's cities and towns, that the
negro gets there " equal and exact j ustice before the
courts " ; but he is not willing to deny " a linger-
ing prejudice and occasional injustice" in remote
counties. Why, with nearly 6,000,000 freed
people getting " full and exact justice in the
courts whether the jury is white or black," why
could there not be found among them two or
three trustworthy witnesses to testify to this fact ?
Their testimony would have been important, for
these lines are written within hand's reach of
many letters from colored men denying that such
is the case.

The present writer does not charge, and never
did, that our Southern white people consciously
and maliciously rendered oppressive verdicts
against the freedman. On the contrary, it is
plainly stated by him that they acted " not so
maliciously as unreflectingly," and " ignorant of
the awful condition of the penitentiaries." His
only printed utterance on the subject is on record
in " The Freedman's Case in Equity," and is too
long to quote ; but he cited the official reports of
our Southern State prisons themselves, and asked



how with their facts before us we are to escape
the conviction that the popular mind had been
seduced as every student of American prison
statistics knows it has by the glittering tempta-
tions of our Southern convict-lease system ; and
not one word of reply have we had, except the
assertion, which nobody would think of denying,
that the black man, often in Georgia, and some-
times elsewhere, gets an even-handed and noble
justice from white juries.

Have our opponents observed the workings of
this convict-lease system ? To put such a system
as a rod of punishment into the hands of a
powerful race sitting in judgment upon the mis-
demeanors of a feebler and despised caste would
warp the verdicts of the most righteous people
under the sun. Examine our Southern peniten-
tiary reports. What shall we say to such sen-
tences inflicted for larceny alone, as twelve,
fourteen, fifteen, twenty, and in one case forty
years of a penal service whose brutal tasks and
whippings kill in an , average of five years?
Larceny is the peculiar crime of the poorest
classes everywhere. In all penitentiaries out of
the South the convicts for this offense always
exceed and generally double the number of con-
victs for burglary. Larceny has long been called
the favorite crime of the negro criminal. What,
then, shall we say to the facts, deduced from
official records, that in the Georgia penitentiary



and convict camps there were in 1882 twice as
many colored convicts for burglary as for lar-
ceny, and that they were, moreover, serving
sentences averaging nearly twice the average of
the white convicts in the same places for the
same crime ? This, too, notwithstanding a very
large number of short sentences to colored men,
and a difference between their longest and short-
est terms twice as great as in the case of the
whites. For larceny the difference is five times
as great. 1 Shall we from these facts draw hasty
conclusions ? We draw none. If any one can
explain them away, in the name of humanity let
us rejoice to see him do so. We are far from
charging any one with deliberately prostituting
justice. We are far from overlooking " the
depravity of the negro." But those who rest on
this cheap explanation are bound to tell us which
shows the greater maliciousness ; for one man to
be guilty of hog-stealing or for twelve jurors to
send him to the coal mines for twenty years for
doing it? In Georgia outside her prisons there are
eight whites to every seven blacks. Inside, there
are eight whites to every eighty blacks. The
depravity of the negro may explain away much,
but we cannot know how much while there also
remain in force the seductions of our atrocious
convict-lease system, and our attitude of domi-

1 Without counting the exceptional forty years' sentence men-


nation over the blacks, so subtly dangerous to our
own integrity. Here is a rough, easy test that
may go for what it is worth : These crimes of
larceny and burglary are just the sort since they
are neither the most trivial nor the most horrible
to incur excessive verdicts and sentences, if
the prejudices of one class against another come
into the account. Now, what is the fact in the
prisons we have mentioned ? Of all the inmates
under sentence for these crimes nineteen-twen-
tieths are classed as of that race which we
"dominate" both out of and in the jury-box.
We ask no opinion on these points from the
stupid or vicious of either whites or blacks ; but
is it wise for us not to consider what may be
their effect upon the minds of the property-hold-
ing, intelligent, and virtuous portion of the " dom-
inated " race ? Is it right ?



In the same number of THE CENTURY that
contains " In Plain Black and White," appears an
open letter on " The Solid South." It tells us
that political " solidity," founded on the merits
neither of candidates nor questions, is an em-
phatic national and still greater local evil ; but
that the whites of the South " had to be solid,"
because they feared, and that they still fear, the



supremacy of the blacks. That if this fear were
removed the whites would divide. Hence, we
must first procure the division of the blacks;
this is what it calls "the prerequisite." Is it?
Is that a wise or just arbitration ? Must the side
that is immeasurably the weaker begin the dis-
armament ? Is " noblesse oblige " untranslatable
into " American " ? We are only told that " once
divide the negro vote and the ' solid South ' is
broken." True statement, but sadly antique.
An old catchword pulled out of the rubbish of
the Reconstruction strife. And why was the
negro vote solid ? The carpet-bagger and scala-
wag ? It was so believed, and these the most
of them richly deserving their fate were sup-
pressed. What then? Less political activity
among the blacks. But division ? No. Then
why were the blacks still " solid " ? The open
letter gives two causes : first, gratitude to the
Republican party ; second, fear of the Demo-
cratic. But these sentiments, it says, are fading
out. Will their disappearance reveal the solid
blacks divided ? That depends on the matter
that forms what the open letter does not touch
the solid bottom of this question. But the
more ambitious article in the same number of
the magazine boldly confesses it when it decrees
the subserviency of the freedmaris civil rights to
tJic white man's domination. As long as that
continues to be or to threaten, the blacks will be


solid. We any people would be so would
have to be so, in their place. Such a decree is
equivalent to saying they must and shall be solid.
Only let it be withdrawn and the solidity will
vanish from the white vote and the black at the
same instant.

This is what is coming. There is to-day no
political party in America that is " solid " for
this un-American and tyrannical principle ; and
the reason why the negro vote is a divided vote
in the North to-day, and in the South shows
more signs of dividing than ever before, is that
the Republican party has grown fat and lazy con-
cerning civil rights, while Democratic legislatures
and governors, north, east, west, have been pass-
ing and signing civil rights bills, rooting out of
the laws and of popular sentiment this heresy of
domination by fixed class and race, and throwing
to the winds " legal discriminations on account of
color [which] are not based on character or con-
duct and have no relation to moral worth and
fitness for civic usefulness, but are rather relics
of prejudice which had its origin in slavery. I
recommend," says the present Democratic gov-
ernor of Ohio, from whose message we are
quoting, " I recommend their total repeal." It
is but little over a year since the Democrats
joined the Republicans in the legislature of Con-
necticut in making liable to fine and imprison-
ment "every person who subjects or causes to be



subjected any other person to the deprivation of
any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or
protected by the Constitution of the State or of
the United States, on account of such person
being an alien or by reason of his color or race."
The time is still shorter since a Democratic
majority in the legislature of New Jersey passed
a bill of civil rights, as its own text says, "appli-
cable alike to citizens of every race and color."
Nor are they afraid of the names of things.
"By direction of Governor Abbett," writes the
executive clerk, " I send you copy of the Civil
Rights dill 1 as passed by the Legislature and
approved by him." In Indiana, while these pages
were being written, Democrats were endeavoring
to pass a civil rights bill. In May of last year
the legislature at Albany passed a bill removing
the last remaining civil disabilities from the
colored people in the city of New York, by a
unanimous vote, "three-fifths being present " ; and
the governor who signed the act is now President
of the United States.

" Ah!" some will say, "these Northern Demo-
crats do this in their ignorance; they do not
know the negro." Is this the whole truth ? Do
not we forget that they have only gradually put
aside from their own minds the very worst
opinion of the negro that ever we had ? To get
where they are they have left behind the very
same prejudices and misconceptions of citizens'

1 Italicized only here.


rights that we are called to lay aside, and no
others. Nay, even we assert facts now, that
twenty years ago we used to say no man who
knew the negro could honestly believe.

"But" the answer comes again "if they
had the negro among them numerically power-
ful, they would not venture to concede " etc.
Let us see : From Georgia, where, we are told,
the freedman shall never enjoy " the policy indi-
cated in the Civil Rights bill," pass across its
eastern boundary, and lo, we are in a State under
Southern Democratic rule, where the blacks are
in the majority, yet which is not afraid to leave
on the printed page, from the days of Recon-
struction, a civil rights bill, not nearly so com-
prehensive, it is true, but " fully as stringent,"
says its leading daily journal, " as any that Con-
gress ever placed upon the statute-books," and
attending whose enforcement " there is no friction
or unpleasantness." This, in South Carolina !

May the time be not long delayed when her
strong, proud people, that are sometimes wrong
but ever conscientious and ever brave, not con-
tent with merely not undoing, shall broaden the
applications of that law until it perfectly protects
white man and black man alike in the enjoyment
of every civil right, and their hearts behind the
law open to the freedman equally with the white
man, as far as in him lies to achieve it, every civil
reward of intelligence, wealth, and virtue. Then


shall it still be as true as it is to-day that " No
special harm has come of it." Not only so ; but
the freedman, free indeed, shall along with his
other fetters cast off the preoccupation in this
question of civil rights which now engrosses his
best intelligence, and shall become a factor in
the material and moral progress of the whole
land. Be the fault now where it may, he will not
then outnumber the white man on the prison rolls
eleven to one. And what is true of one Southern
State is true of all. The temptations to which
the negro shut out from aspirations now yields,
will lose their power, and his steps be turned
with a new hope and desire toward the prizes of
industry, frugality, and a higher cultivation.
Multiplying and refining his tastes, the rank
energies of his present nature will not, as now,
run entirely to that animal fecundity character-
istic of all thriftless, reckless, unaspiring popula-
tions; his increase in civic value will be quick-
ened, his increase in numbers retarded to a rate
more like our own. And neither all the crops
our sun-loved South can yield, nor all the metals
and minerals that are under the soil made sacred
by the blood of her patriots, can bring us such
wealth and prosperity as will this change in the
hopes and ambitions of our once unaspiring,
time-serving slaves. The solid black will be
solid no longer; but he will still be black.



Is it not wonderful ? A hundred years we
have been fearing to do entirely right lest some-
thing wrong should come of it ; fearing to give
the black man an equal chance with us in the
race of life lest we might have to grapple with the
vast, vague afrite of Amalgamation ; and in all
this hundred years, with the enemies of slavery
getting from us such names as negrophiles, negro-
worshipers, and miscegenationists ; and while
we were claiming to hold ourselves rigidly
separate from the lower race in obedience to a
natal instinct which excommunicated them both
socially and civilly; just in proportion to the
rigor, the fierceness, and the injustice with which
this excommunication from the common rights
of man has fallen upon the darker race, has
amalgamation taken place. Look we say again
at the West Indies. Then turn and look at
those regions of our common country that we
have been used to call the nests of fanaticism ;
Philadelphia, Boston, Plymouth Church, and the
like. Look at Oberlin, Ohio. For years this place
was the grand central depot, as one might say,
of the "Underground Railway"; receiving and
passing on toward Canada and freedom thousands
of fugitive slaves ; weeping over them, praying
over them, feeding them, housing them, hiding
them in her bosom, defying the law for them,



educating them, calling them sir and madam,
braving no end of public contumely, and show-
ing them every exasperating consideration. Look
at Berea, Kentucky, where every kind thing con-
trivable that, according to our old ideas, could
destroy a white man's self-respect and " spoil a
nigger " has been practiced. What is the final
fact? Amalgamation? Miscegenation? Not
at all. The letters of the presidents of these two
famous institutions lie before the present writer,
stating that from neither of them throughout
their history has there resulted a single union of
a white with a black person either within their
precincts or elsewhere within the nation's wide
boundaries. And of the two towns in which
they are situated, in only one have there been
from first to last three or four such unions. How
have they been kept apart ? By law ? By fierce
conventionality ? By instinct ? No ! It was
because they did not follow instinct, but the bet-
ter dictates of reason and the ordinary natural
preferences of like for like. But, it is sometimes
asked, admitting this much, will not undivided
civil relations tend eventually say after a few
centuries to amalgamation ? Idle question !
Will it help the matter to withhold men's mani-
fest rights ? What can we do better for the re-
motest future than to be just in the present and
leave the rest to the Divine Revvarder of nations
that walk uprightly ?




There is a school of thought in the South
that stands midway between the traditionists and
us. Its disciples have reasoned away the old
traditions and are now hampered only by vague
ideas of inexpediency. They pray everybody
not to hurry. They have a most enormous
capacity for pausing and considering. " It is a
matter," says one of them in a late periodical,
" of centuries rather than decades, of evolution
rather than revolution." The heartlessness of
such speeches they are totally unconscious of.
Their prayer is not so much that our steps may
be logical as geological. They propose to wait
the slow growth of civilization as if it were the
growth of rocks, or as if this were the twelfth or
thirteenth century. They contemplate progress
as if it were a planetary movement to be looked
at through the telescope. Why, we are the mo-
tive power of progress ! Its speed depends on
our courage, integrity, and activity. It is an in-
sult to a forbearing God and the civilized world
for us to sit in full view of moral and civil wrongs
manifestly bad and curable, saying we must ex-
pect this or that, and that, geologically consid-
ered, we are getting along quite rapidly. Such

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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 6 of 13)