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W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois.

Economic co-operation among Negro Americans. Report of a social study made by Atlanta University under the patronage of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. together with the proceedings of the 12th Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, on Tuesday, May t online

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Online LibraryW. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du BoisEconomic co-operation among Negro Americans. Report of a social study made by Atlanta University under the patronage of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. together with the proceedings of the 12th Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, on Tuesday, May t → online text (page 5 of 22)
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to harvest these, send them North for sale, and place the receipts to the credit
of the Government. The army of fugitives, willingly going to work, produced
a lively scene. The children lent a hand in gathering the cotton and corn.
The superintendent, conferring with the general himself, fixed upon fair wages
for this industry. Under similar remuneration woodcutters were set at work
to supply with fuel numerous government steamers on the river. After in
spection of accounts, the money was paid for the labor by the quartermaster,

* Howard: Vol. 2, 176-7.



34 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans

but never directly to the fugitives. The superintendent, controlling this
money, saw to it first that the men, women and children should have sufficient
clothing and food, then Colonel Eaton built for them rough cabins and pro
vided for their sick and aged, managing to extend to them many unexpected
comforts. General Grant in his memoirs suggests this as the first idea of a
u Freedmen s Bureau."

Even before the close of 1862 many thousands of blacks of all ages, clad in
rags, with no possessions except the nondescript bundles of all sizes which
the adults carried on their backs, had come together at Norfolk, Hampton,
Alexandria and Washington. Sickness, want of food and shelter, sometimes
resulting crime, appealed to the sympathies of every feeling heart. Landless,
homeless, helpless families in multitudes, including a proportion of wretched
white people, were flocking northward from Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas
and Missouri. They were, it is true, for a time not only relieved by. army ra
tions, spasmodically issued, but were met most kindly by various volunteer
societies of the North societies which gathered their means from churches
and individuals at home and abroad.

During the spring of 1863 many different groups and crowds of freemen and
refugees, regular and irregular, were located near the long and broken line of
division between the armies of the North and South, ranging from Maryland
to the Kansas border and along the coast from Norfolk, Ya., to New Orleans,
La. They were similar in character and condition to those already described.
Their virtues, their vices, their poverty, their sicknesses, their labors, their
idleness, their excess of joy and their extremes of suffering were told to our
home people by every returning soldier or agent or by the missionaries who
were soliciting the means of relief. Soon in the North an extraordinary zeal
for humanity, quite universal, sprang up, and a Christian spirit which was
never before exceeded began to prevail. The result was the organizing of
numerous new bodies of associated workers whose influence kept our country
free from the ills attending emancipation elsewhere; it saved us from Negro
insurrection, anarchy and bloody massacre, with which the proslavery men
and even the conservative readers of history had threatened the land.

The secretary of the treasury, Salmon P. Chase, always anxious for success
ful emancipation, had had brought to his attention early in 1862 the accumu
lations of the bestcotton on abandoned sea island plantations; there was the
opportunity to raise more, and the many slaves in the vicinity practically set
free and under governmental control could be worked to advantage. The
cotton was to be collected by treasury agents and thefreedmen benefited.

During the summer of 1864 Wm. Pitt Fessenden, who had replaced Mr.
Chase as secretary of the treasury, inaugurated a new plan for the freedmen
and abandoned lands. He appointed and located supervising special agents
of his department in different portions of the South which were now free from
Confederate troops. These agents had charge of the freedmen. Each was to
form here and there settlements on abandoned estates, each dominated a
"Freedman s Home Colony," and situated in his own district, and he must
appoint a supervisor for such colonies as he should establish. A number of
such colonies were formed. The supervisor provided buildings, obtained work
animals and implements of husbandry and other essential supplies; he kept
a book of record which mentioned the former owner of the land, the name, age,
residence and trade or occupation of each colonist; all births, deaths and mar
riages ; the coming and going of each employee and other like data. These
agents and supervisors were sometimes taken under military control by the
local commander and sometimes operated independently.



Emancipation 35

Under this plan the freed people were classified for fixed wages varying
from $10 to $25 per month, according to the class, and whether male or female.
There was a complete and detailed system of employment. Food and cloth
ing were guaranteed at cost, and all parties concerned were put under written
contracts. For a time in some places this system worked fairly well. It was
a stepping-stone to independence. The working people usually had in the
supervisors and treasury agents friendly counselors; and when courts of any
f.ort were established under them for hearing complaints of fraud or oppres
sion, these officials reviewed the cases and their decisions were final. These
were rather short steps in the path of progress ! They were experiments.

From the time of the opening of New Orleans in 1862 till 1865, different sys
tems of caring for the escaped slaves and their families were tried in the
.Southwest. Generals Butler and Banks, each in his turn, sought to provide
for the thousands of destitute freedmen in medicines, rations and clothing.
Colonies were soon formed and sent to abandoned plantations. A sort of gen
eral poor farm was established and called "The Home Colony." Mr. Thomas
W. Con way, when first put in charge of the whole region as "Superintendent
of the Bureau of Free Labor," tried to impress upon all freedman who came
under his charge in these home colonies that they must work as hard as if
they were employed by contract on the plantation of a private citizen. His
avowed object, and indeed that of every local superintendent, was to render
the freedmen self-supporting. One bright freedman said: "I always kept
master and me. Guess I can keep me."

Two methods at first not much in advance of slavery were used : one was to
force the laborers to toil ; and the second, when wages were paid, to fix exact
rates for them by orders. Each colony from the first had a superintendent, a
physician, a clerk and an instructor in farming. The primary and Sunday
schools were not wanting, and churches were encouraged.

Early in 1863, General Lorenzo Thomas, the adjutant general of the army,
was organizing colored troops along the Mississippi river. After consulting
various treasury agents and department commanders, including General
Grant, and having also the approval of Mr. Lincoln, he issued fromMilliken s
Bend, La., April 15th, a lengthy series of instructions covering the territory
bordering the Mississippi and including all the inhabitants.

He appointed three commissioners, Messrs. Field, Shickle and Livermore,
to lease plantations and care for the employees. He adroitly encouraged pri
vate enterprise instead of government colonies ; but he fixed the wages of
able-bodied men over fifteen years of age at $7 per month, for able-
bodied women $5 per month, for children twelve to fifteen years half
price. He laid a tax for revenue of $2 per 400 pounds on cotton, and five cents
per bushel on corn and potatoes.

This plan naturally did not work well, for the lessees of plantations proved
to be for the most part adventurers and speculators. Of course such men took
advantage of the ignorant people. The commissioners themselves seem to
have done more for the lessees than for the laborers; and, in fact, the wages
were from the beginning so fixed as to benefit and enrich the employer. Two
dollars per month was stopped against each of the employed, ostensibly for
medical attendance, but to most plantations thus leased no physician or medi
cine ever came, and there were other attendant cruelties which avarice con
trived.

On fifteen plantations leased by the Negroes themselves in this region there
was a notable success ; and also a few instances among others where humanity
and good sense reigned, the contracts were generally carried out. Here the



36 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans

Negroes were contented and grateful and were able to lay by small gains.
This plantation arrangement along the Mississippi under the commissioners
as well as the management of numerous infirmary camps passed, about the
close of 1863", from the war to the treasury department. A new commission or
agency with Mr.W. P. Mellen of the treasury at the head, established more
careful and complete regulations than those of General Thomas. This time
it was done decidedly in the interest of the laborers.

Then came another change of jurisdiction. On March 11, 1865, General Ste
phen A. Hurlbut at New Orleans assumed the charge of freedmen and labor
for the state of Louisana. He based his orders on the failure of the secretary
of the treasury to recognize the regulations of that secretary s own general
agent, Mr. Mellen. Mr. Thomas W. Conway was announced as " Superintend
ent of Home Colonies," the word having a larger extension than before. A
registry of plantations, hire and compensation of labor, with a fair schedule
of wages, penalties for idleness and crime, time and perquisites of labor, the
poll tax of $2 per year, liens and security for work done, were carefully pro
vided for by General Hurlbut s specific instructions.

General Edward R. S. Canby, a little later, from Mobile, Ala., issued similar
orders, and Mr. Conway was also placed over the freedmen s interests in his
vicinity. Thus the whole freedmen s management for Alabama, Southern
Mississippi and Louisiana was concentrated under Mr. Con way s control. He
reported early in 1865 that there were about twenty colored regiments in
TAHiisiana under pay and that they could purchase every inch of confiscated
and abandoned lands in the hands of the government in that state. All the
soldiers desired to have the land on the expiration of enlistment. One regi
ment had in hand $50,000 for the purpose of buying five of the largest planta
tions on the Mississippi. It was at the time thought by many persons inter
ested in the future of the freedmen that the abandoned and confiscated lands
if used for them would afford a wholesome solution to the Negro problem

A few days after the triumphal en trance, Secretary of War Stanton came in
person from Washington to convey his grateful acknowledgement to General
Sherman and his army for their late achievements. While at Savannah he
examined into the condition of the liberated Negroes found in that city. He
assembled twenty of those who were deemed their leaders. Among them
were barbers, pilots and sailors, some ministers, and others who had been
overseers on cotton and rice plantations. Mr. Stanton and General Sherman
gave them a hearing. It would have been wise if our statesmen could have
received, digested and acted upon the answers these men gave to their ques
tions

As a result of this investigation and after considerable meditation upon the
perplexing problem as to what to do with the growing masses of unemployed
Negroes and their families, and after a full consultation with Mr. Stanton,
General Sherman issued his Sea Island Circular January 16, 1865. In this pa
per the islands from Charleston south, the abandoned rice fields along the
rivers for thirty miles back from the sea and the country bordering the St.
Johns river, Florida, were reserved for the settlement of the Negroes made
free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President,

General Rufus Saxton, already on the ground, w r as appointed Inspector of
Settlements and Plantations; no other change was intended or desired in the
settlements on Beaufort Island which had for three years been established.

The inspector was required to make proper allotments and give possessory
titles and defend them till Congress should confirm his actions. It was a bold
move. Thousands of Negro families were distributed under this circular, and



Emancipation 37

the freed people regarded themselves for more than six months as in perma
nent possession of these abandoned lands.*

Taxes on the freedmen furnished most of the funds to run these first
experiments, and also, later, the Freedmen s Bureau:

On all plantations, whether owned or leased, where freedmen were em
ployed a tax of one cent per pound on cotton and a proportional amount on all
other products was to be collected as a contribution in support of the helpers
among the freed people. A similar tax, varying with the value of the property,
was levied by the government upon all leased plantations in lieu of rentt

Eaton explains many details of the operations under him:

As to the management of property, both government and private, the regu
lation of wages and all general disciplinary measures, the following state
ments should be made: One of my officers, Lieutenant B. K. Johnson, was
assigned to duty as acting assistant quartermaster and acting commissary of
subsistence of freedmen. He accomplished much for the economical manage
ment of property, rendering satisfactory reports to Washington, as usually
required of officers of those departments. All officers handling supplies re
ceived from the government adjusted their methods of business, forms of
reports, vouchers, etc., to army regulations, which required them to keep
careful records of every transaction. Not a cent of money was ever drawn
from the government for the freedmen on any account.

For the support of the sick and those otherwise dependent a tax was temp
orarily required (by Orders No. 63) on the wages of the able-bodied. It was
thought at first that the Negroes would submit with reluctance to the collec
tion of such a tax. But in this we were mistaken. Being a tax on wages, it
compelled the employer and the employed to appear, one or both, before the
officer charged with its collection, and this officer allowed no wages to go un
paid. The Negro soon saw in the measure his first recognition by govern
ment, and although the recognition appeared in the form of a burden, he re
sponded to it with alacrity, finding in it the first assurance of any power pro
tecting his right to make a bargain and hold the white man to its fulfilment.
This comprehension of the affair argued a good sense of economic justice to a
people entirely unused to such responsibilities. It was most interesting to
watch the moral effect of the taxing ex-slaves. They freely acknowledged
that they ought to assist in bearing the burden of the poor. They felt enno
bled when they found that the government was calling upon them as men to
assist in the process by which their natural rights were to be secured. Thous
ands thus saw for the first time any money reward for their labor. The places
where the tax was least rigidly collected were farthest behind in paying the
colored man for his services. This tax, together with funds accruing from
the profits of labor in the department, met all the incidental expenses of our
widespread operations; paid $5,000 for hospitals; the salaries of all hospital
stewards and medical assistants (as per Orders No. 94), and enabled us to supply
implements of industry to the people, in addition to abandoned property. The
same funds secured to the benefit of the Negroes, clothing, household utensils,
and other articles essential to their comfort, to the amount of $103,000. The
Negroes could not themselves have secured these commodities for less than
-$350,000. The management of these funds and supplies was regulated by the
exigencies of the people s condition, and was adapted as far as necessary to
army methods, requiring a rigid system of accounts, monthly reports covered

* Howard : Vol. 2, 178-80, 183-92. + Eaton, p. 147.



38 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans

by certificates and vouchers, followed by careful inspections, not only from
my office, but from the generals commanding.

According to Orders Xo. 9, issued by General L.Thomas, certain officers
known as provost marshals were selected from the men of the Freedmen s
Department to discharge toward the Negroes scattered on plantations the du
ties of superintendent of freedmen. These officers were appointed by the
commanding generals, and themselves appointed assistant provost marshals,
who patrolled the districts assigned to them, correcting abuses on plantations
and acting as the representatives of the law as upheld by the military power.
There was some difficulty in maintaining the incorruptibility of these officers,
and the territory which had to be covered by each individual was too extended,
but the system, nevertheless, worked extremely well.*

In 1864, July 5, Eaton reports:

These freedmen are now disposed of as follows: In military service as sol
diers laundresses, cooks, officers servants and laborers in the various staff
departments, 41,150; in cities, on plantations and in freedmen s villages and
cared for, 72,500. Of these, 62,300 are entirely self-supporting the same as any
individual class anywhere else as planters, mechanics, barbers, hackmen,
draymen, etc., conducting on their own responsibility or working as. hired
laborers. The remaining 10,200 receive subsistence from the government,
Three thousand of them are members N of families whose heads are carrying on
plantations and have under cultivation 4,000 acres of cotton. They are to
pay the government for their subsistence from the first income of the crop.
The other 7,200 include the paupers, that is to say, all Negroes over and under
the self-supporting age, the crippled and sick in hospital, of the 113,650, and
those engaged in their care. Instead of being unproductive this class has now
under cultivation 500 acres of corn, 790 acres of vegetables and 1,500 acres of
cotton, besides working at wood-chopping and other industries. There are
reported in the aggregate over 100,000 acres of cotton under cultivation. Of
these about 7,000 acres are leased and cultivated by blacks. Some Negroes are
managing as high as 300 or 400 acres, t

This same year a report from Chaplain A. S. Fiske says:
This inspection has covered ninety-five places leased by whites and fifty-six
plats of land worked by the blacks for themselves, in the districts of Natchez,
Vicksburg and Helena. In these districts I have left but few places without
examination. %

The experiment at Davis Bend, Miss., was of especial interest:
Late in the season in November and December, 1864, the Freedmen s De
partment w r as restored to full control over the camps and plantations on Presi
dent s Island and Palmyra or Davis Bend. Both these points had been orig
inally occupied at the suggestion of General Grant, and were among the most
successful of our enterprises for the Negroes. With the expansion of the les
see system, private interests were allowed to displace the interests of the Ne
groes whom we had established there under the protection of the government,
but orders issued by General N. J. T. Dana, upon whose sympathetic and in
telligent co-operation my officers could always rely, restored to us the full
control of these lands. The efforts of the freedmen on Davis Bend were par
ticularly encouraging, and this property under Colonel Thomas able direction,
became in reality the "Negro Paradise" that General Grant had urged us to

Eaton, pp. 126-9. f Eaton, p. 134. J Eaton, p. 157.



Emancipation 39

make of it. Early in 1865 a system was adopted for their government in which
the freedmen took a considerable part. The Bend was divided into districts,
each having a sheriff and judge appointed from among the more reliable and
intelligent colored men. A general oversight of the proceedings was main
tained by our officers in charge, who confirmed or modified the findings of the
court. The shrewdness of the colored judges was very remarkable, though it
w r as sometimes necessary to decrease the severity of the punishments they pro
posed. Fines and penal service on the Home Farm were the usual sentences
imposed. Petty theft and idleness were the most frequent causes of trouble,
but my officers were able to report that exposed property was as safe on Davis
Bend as it would be anywhere. The community distinctively demonstrated
the capacity of the Negro to take care of himself and exercise under honest
and competent direction the functions of self-government. *

Finally came the Freedmen s Bureau. Its work was thus summar
ized by General O. O. Howard, its chief, in 1869:

One year ago there w r ere on duty in this bureau one hundred and forty-one
(141) commissioned officers, four hundred and twelve civilian agents, and three
hundred and forty-eight (348) clerks. At present there are fifteen (15) com
missioned officers, seventy-one (71) civilian agents, and seventy-two clerks. . . .

The law establishing a Bureau committed to it the control of all subjects re
lating to refugees and freedmen under such regulations as might be prescribed
by the head of the Bureau and approved by the President. This almost unlim
ited authority gave me great scope and liberty of action, but at the same time
it imposed upon me very perplexing and responsible duties. Legislative, ju
dicial and executive powers were combined in my commission, reaching all
the interests of four millions of people, scattered over avast territory, living
in the midst of another people claiming to be superior, and known to be not
altogether friendly. It was impossible at the outset to do more than lay down
general principles to guide the officers assigned as assistant commissioners in
the several states

The first information received from these officers presented a sad picture of
want and misery. Though large sums of money had been contributed by
generous Northern people ; though many noble-hearted men and women, with
the spirit of true Christian missionaries, had engaged zealously in the work
of relief and instruction; though the heads of the departments in Washing
ton and military commanders in the field had done all in their power, yet the
great mass of the colored people, just freed from slavery, had not been reached.
In every state many thousands were found without employment, without
homes, without means of subsistence, crowding into towns and about military
posts, where they hoped to find protection and supplies. The sudden collapse
of the rebellion, making emancipation an actual, universal fact, was like an
earthquake. It shook and shattered the whole previously existing social sys
tem. It broke up the old industries and threatened a reign of anarchy. Even
well-disposed and humane landowners were at a loss what to do, or how to
begin the work of reorganizing society, and of rebuilding their ruined for
tunes. Very few had any knowledge of free labor, or any hope that their for
mer slaves would serve them faithfully for wages. On the other hand, the
freed people were in a state of great excitement and uncertainty. They could
hardly believe that the liberty proclaimed was real and permanent. Many
w r ere afraid to remain on the same soil that they had tilled as slaves lest by

* Eaton, p. 1(55.



40 Economic Cooperation Among Negro Americans

some trick they might find themselves again in bondage. Others supposed
that the Government would either take the entire supervision of their labor
and support, or divide among them the lands of the conquered owners, and
furnish them with all that might be necessary to begin life as independent
farmers.

In such an unsettled state of affairs it w^as no ordinary task we undertook
to inspire hostile races with mutual confidence, to supply the immediate
wants of the sick and starving, to restore social order, and to set in motion all
the wheels of industry. ... . .

Surely our government exercised a large benevolence. We have under our
care no less than five hundred and eighty-four thousand one hundred and
seventy-eight (584,178) sick and infirm persons, for whom no provision w r as
made by local authorities, and who had no means themselves of procuring the
attendance and comforts necessary to health and life. It has not been possi
ble to provide for the proper treatment of the insane. For some of this un
fortunate class admission has been gained by earnest correspondence to state
asylums, but the majority have been of necessity retained in the bureau hos
pitals, and all that could be done for them was to supply them with food and
clothing and prevent them from doing injury.


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Online LibraryW. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du BoisEconomic co-operation among Negro Americans. Report of a social study made by Atlanta University under the patronage of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. together with the proceedings of the 12th Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, on Tuesday, May t → online text (page 5 of 22)