William Archer.

Through Afro-America, an English reading of the race problem online

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IViLFRED Harold Mvxro



















I. On the Threshold .

n. The Black Man's Paradise

III. The Nightmare of the South

IV. Rhetoric in Louisville .
V. "Discrimination" in Memphis

VI. Two Leaders ....

VII. A White Type and a Black .

VIII. In the Black Belt .

IX. Education and the Demonstration

X. New Orleans ....

XI. Crime-Slavery and Debt-Serfdom

XII. An Industrial University

XIII. Hampton : an Aftermath

XIV. Birmingham, Alabama
XV. The City of a Hundred Hills

XVI. Prohibition ....

XVII. The Negro Home and the Negro

XVIII. Charleston ....

XIX. The Fringe of Florida .

























I. The American in Cuba 247

II. A Game for Gods 257

III. A Fragment of Fairyland .... 263

IV. The Panama Canal 276

Index 293


" The problem of the twentieth century," says
Mr. W. B. Du Bois, "is the problem of the colour
line." That, no doubt, is the view of a man born
"within the veil"; but, whatever our point of
view, we cannot but admit that racial adjustment
is one of the two or three most urgent problems
of the near future.

Ought the colour-lines drawn by Nature to be
enforced by human ordinance, and even by geo-
graphical segregation? Or ought they to be
gradually obliterated by free intermingling and
intermarriage? Or, while intermarriage is for-
bidden (whether by law or public sentiment), is it
possible for people of different colours to dwell
together in approximately equal numbers and on
terms of democratic equality? Or is it for the
benefit of both races that one race should always
maintain, by social and poUtical discriminations,
its superiority over the other ? Or is this opinion
a mere hypocritical disguise of the instinct which
begot, and maintained throughout the ages, the
" institution " of slavery ?

These are questions which the coming century
will have to answer, not only in America, but in


Africa. It is in the Southern United States, how-
ever, that the problem presents itself in its acutest
and most fully developed form. In South Africa
it is looming ahead, in America it is present and
hourly insistent. Though the conditions in the
two countries can never be precisely similar, yet
the experience of the one ought certainly to be of
the utmost value in shaping the counsels of the
other. My interest, then, in the colour-question
in the South was not a mere abstract interest in
an alien problem; nor was it due solely to the
special sympathy for America and all things
American which (I am happy to say) has been
strong in me from my youth upward. It was a
personal interest which ought, I think, to be
shared by every Englishman who is so far an
Imperialist as to feel that he cannot simply wash
his hands of the problems of Empire.

It was heightened, moreover, by the feeling
that a great deal of what passes in England as
advanced thought on the subject of race-relations
is very superficial and remote from the realities of
the case. This suspicion had for some time beset
me, and was perhaps the main factor in inducing
me to utilize a rare interval of leisure in getting
into touch with the facts of the problem as it
presents itself in Afro-America.

Some thinkers display an almost furious anti-
pathy to the very idea of race. They hold it a
mere superstition or illusion, and look forward, not


only with equanimity, but with eagerness, to an
obliteration of all race-boundaries in a universal
*' pan-mixture." I cannot believe that this is a
true ideal of progress ; nor does it seem to me
that the world at large is verging in that direction.
No considerable fusion is taking place between
the European and the Asiatic races. No one
dreams of seeking on that line the solution of our
difficulties in India. No practical politician
dreams of encouraging yellow immigration into
America or Australia on the same terms of per-
manent citizenship and free intermixture that
obtain in the case of white settlers. If the
myriads of China and Japan are to "expand" in
the same sense in which the European races have
expanded, it must be by conquest and something
like extermination. That is, in fact, the " yellow
peril " which haunts so many dreams.

The truth is, it seems to me, that no race
problem, properly so called, arises until two races
are found occupying the same territory in such
an approach to equal numbers as to make it a
serious question which colour shall ultimately
predominate. A handful of white administrators,
as in India, or of white traders, as in China and
Japan, may give rise, no doubt, to important and
difficult questions, but they are not specifically
questions of race. No one doubts that India
belongs to the Indians ; that is the theory of the
British '* raj " no less than of the most fervid
Nationalist ; the dispute is as to whether the


Indian people do or do not benefit by the British
administration. So, too, in China and Japan :
it may be doubtful whether the privileges accorded
to foreigners are judicious, but neither the racial
integrity nor the political autonomy of the yellow
races is for a moment in question. The race
problem means (in its only convenient definition)
the problem of adjustment between two very
dissimilar populations, locally intermingled in
such proportions that the one feels its racial
identity potentially threatened, while the other
knows itself in constant danger of economic
exploitation. Now these conditions, as a matter
of experience, arise only where a race of very
high development is brought into contact with a
race of very low development, and only where the
race of low development is at the same time
tenacious of life and capable of resisting the
poisons of civilization. In other words, the race
problem, as here defined, is a purely Afro-European
or Afro-American problem.

Where civiHzation has met civilization, as in
India, China, Japan, there has never been any
question of local intermixture in such proportions
as to give rise to the conditions indicated. Where
civilization has met savagery, elsewhere than in
Africa, the savage race has generally dwindled to
a degraded and negligible remnant. The African
races alone have shown considerable tenacity of
life and considerable power of putting on at any
rate a veneer of civilization. This is as much as


to say that only between Europeans and Africans
has the active competition arisen which is the
essence of the race problem. In some parts of
Spanish America it has resulted in the practical
fusion of the races ; a solution which, as above
noted, commends itself to some thinkers. But
where fusion is resisted, the problem must one
day become acute ; and that day has arrived in
the Southern states. There the two races are
more nearly than anywhere else on a footing of
numerical equality; there, more than anywhere
else, is the ambition of the African race stimulated
by political theory and seconded by education,
organization, and considerable material resources.
The Southern States, then, are, so to speak, the
great crucible in which this experiment in inter-
racial chemistry is working itself out. There you
can watch the elements simmering. To some
hopeful eyes they may even seem to be clarifying
and settling down. The following pages will show
that I, personally, am not confident of any
desirable solution, unless a new element of
far-sighted statesmanship can be thrown into the

Mr. Eay Stannard Baker, author of that
admirable series of studies, " Following the Colour-
Line," was good enough to map out for me a zig-
zag tour through the States east of the Mississippi,
which enabled me to employ my time to the best
advantage. I was also much indebted to Mr.


Baker, as well as to Mr. Walter H. Page and
Dr. Booker Washington, for many valuable intro-
ductions. Wherever I went, my first preoccupa-
tion was with the colour question ; but I also
welcomed the opportunity to see something of
the great agricultural, industrial, and educational
revival which is rapidly transmuting the South
from a ghost-haunted region of depression and
impoverishment into one of the most eagerly
progressive, and probably one of the wealthiest,
of modern communities. This book, then, is
mainly to be regarded as a series of rapid
impressions of travel, intermingled with conver-
sations, in which I try to present the colour-
problem from various points of view, and to
suggest the temper in which it is approached by
men of both races. In the middle of my travel-
sketches, however, at the point where I leave the
American Continent, I have inserted an essay of
some length which embodies my reflections on the
preceding *' choses vues" with such tentative con-
clusions as I felt justified in drawing. This essay,
which appeared in McCluresMnjazme for July, 1909,
has elicited a good deal of criticism in the South,
which has led me to modify one or two passages. I
am happy to say, however, that none of the criticism
which has reached me, either privately or through
the Press, has been in any sense hostile. Many
critics have declared impossible the only solution
of the problem which at all commends itself to
me ; but only one out of a hundred or thereabouts


has accused me of seriously misrepresenting the

From Florida, I proceeded by way of Cuba and
Jamaica to a detached but very important section
of the United States, the Canal Zone at Panama.
I make no apology for including in this book
a few notes of that journey. For one thing, I
was still in Afro-America, still studying certain
aspects of the colour-problem. But another
motive prompts the inclusion of these sketches
— the hope that some readers may be moved to
follow in my footsteps, and enjoy a very delightful
and interesting tour. Anything is worth doing,
in my judgment, that tends to encourage Eng-
lishmen to cross the Atlantic. If any considerable
proportion of the English travelling public could
be induced to set their faces westward, we should
soon get rid of many of the little prejudices
and ignorances which still interpose themselves
between the two branches of the Anglo-Saxon
stem. The route which I followed — roughly.
New York, Washington, Memphis, New Orleans,
Charleston, Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Panama,
Cartagena, Trinidad, Southampton — is as easy
and comfortable as it is interesting and in-
structive. No doubt the completion of the
Canal will carry a rush of travel in this
direction. But even before the gates of the
Pacific are opened, I see no reason why the
fascinating ferment of the Southern States,
in conjunction with the glorious beauty of the


West Indies, should not attract the travelling

The chapters in the First Part of this book
appeared, with two exceptions, in the Westminster
Gazette; those in the Third Part, with one
exception, appeared either in the Morning Leader
or the Pall Mall Magazine. The chapters on
Hampton and on Jamaica are here printed for the
first time.






The scene is Chicago ; the occasion, a luncheon-
party at the Cliff-Dwellers' Club. All the intellect
and talent of the Middle West (I am credibly
assured) are gathered round one long table. I
mention to an eminent man of letters that I am
going into the South.

*' Well," he says, " you are going into a
country that is more foreign to me than most
parts of Europe. I do not understand the
Southern people, or their way of looking at things.
I never feel at home among them. The one
thing I have in common with them is a strong
antipathy to the black man."

This, of course, is only an individual point of
view; but many other men are listening, and,
while some nod assent, no one protests.

But here is another point of view. A few days
later I met an old friend, a Philadelphian, who
said, " I like the South and the Southerners.
They are men of our own stock and our own
tongue — even the ' poor whites ' whom slavery and
the hookworm have driven to the wall. In the

3 B 2


North we are being jostled and elbowed aside by
the foreigner, who murders our speech, and
knows nothing and cares nothing about our
history or traditions. Yes ; give me the South.
It is true that, intellectually, it scarcely exists.
The Southerner may be living in the twentieth
century, but he has skipped the nineteenth. His
knowledge of literature, for instance, if he have
any at all, stops at the Waverley Novels and
' The Corsair.' But I'm not sure that that isn't
part of the charm."

Thus early did I learn that no two men can
talk to you about the South without flatly con-
tradicting each other.

It was evident that my plan must be simply to
gather views and impressions as I went along,
and trust to sifting and co-ordinating them

An invitation, equivalent to a command, called

me to Washington. For a whole day my slow train

dragged wearily through Northern

Ncaringthe q^^q . ^^^ j^ ^]^q course of that

Colour-line. ,

day two young couples m succession
got into my car, who interested me not a little.
In each case it seemed to me that the girl had a
streak of black blood in her, while the young man
was in each case unimpeachably white. As to one
of the girls, I was practically certain ; as to the
other I may have been mistaken. Her features
were aquiline and she was uncommonly handsome ;
but the tint of her skin, and more especially of


her eyeballs, strongly suggested an African strain.
Both girls were lively, inteUigent, well-spoken,
well-dressed, well-mannered — distinctly superior,
one would have said, to the commonplace youths
by whom they were accompanied. Yet I felt
pretty certain that a few hours' travel would have
taken them into regions where they would be
forbidden by law to sit in the same railroad-car,
and where marriage between them would be

At any rate, even supposing that in these
particular cases my conjecture was mistaken, it
was not on the face of it improbable. On the
other side of the Ohio Eiver, these girls would
have had, so to speak, to clear themselves of the
suspicion of African blood, else any association
on equal terms between them and their male
companions would have been regarded as an
outrage. This seemed a senseless and barbarous
state of affairs. But I was there to observe, not
(as yet) to form conclusions ; and I kept my mind
open, wondering whether, in the coming weeks,
I should discover any reason or excuse for the
apparent barbarism.

In Indiana, rain ; in Ohio, torrents ; at Pitts-
burg, a deluge. But when I awaken next morning,

* " Intermarriage between the races is forbidden by law in all the
Southern States, and also iu the following Northern and Western
States : Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana,
Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah. In all other
Northern and Western States marriage between the races is lawful."
— Ray Stauuard Baker : "Following the Colour-Line."


just on Mason and Dixon's line, the sun is

shining on the woods of Maryland, and I feel at

once that the South and the spring

" Summer is i mi •

. „ are here. These sprint? coppices are

i-cumen m. ^ _ r o x r

far richer in colour than any of our
English woods. They run the whole gamut of
green, from the blue-green of the pine to the silver-
green of the poplar and the gold-green of the
birch ; and the greens are freely interspersed with
red and yellow foliage, and with white and pink
blossoms. The red is that of the maple, whose
blush at birth is almost as vivid as its flush in

The new Union Station at Washington is a
vast and grandiose palace of shining white. Its
*' concourse" (a new American word for the
central hall of a station) seems a really impressive
piece of architecture. But it is a Sabbath Day's
journey from the platforms to the cabs ; and the
porters seem to be making a Sabbath Day of it,
for I cannot find a single one. Let me not
embark, however, on the endless story of a
traveller's tribulations. Every country has its own
inconveniences, and recriminations are not only
idle but mischievous.

The city of Washington is one great sea of
exquisite green, out of which the buildiilgs rise
like marble rocks and islands. Yes, I am in the
South; the leafless elms of New England and
the shrewd, bracing blasts of New York are left


And this day of sunshine was the first of many
days. Save for a few thunder-showers, the South
was to be all sunshine for me.

And with the sunshine — the Negro. Here he
is in his thousands, and in his deepest dye. In the
North one sees him now and then,
but he is swamped and submerc^ed ttik ^

^ ° Elbow-room.

in the crowds of the great cities.
To be very clearly conscious of his presence you
must go to special quarters of New York or Chicago.
"Coloured persons" (seldom pure blacks) are
waiters at hotels and clubs, but no longer at the
best hotels and clubs. The Pullman porter is always
coloured ; so are most, if not all, of the ordinary
railway porters — when there are any. But " at
the North" (as they say here) you have to go out
of your way to find any problem in the negro.
The black strand in the web of life is not yet par-
ticularly prominent — whatever it may be destined
to become.

But here in Washington the web of life is a
chequer of black-and-white — a shepherd's tartan,
I think they call it. In 1900 there were over
85,000 negroes in the city — now there must be at
least 100,000, in a total population of considerably
under a quarter of a million, or something like the
population of Nottingham.

Imagine nearly half the population of Notting-
ham suddenly converted into black and brown
people — people different not only in colour but in
many other physical characteristics from you and


me. Imagine that all the most striking of these
differences are in the direction of what our deepest
instincts, inherited through a thousand generations,
compel us to regard as ugliness — an ugliness often
grotesque and simian.* Imagine that this horrible
metamorphosis — or, if you shy at the word
" horrible," let us say fantastic — imagine this
fantastic metamorphosis to have taken place as
a punishment for certain ancestral crimes and
stupidities, of which the living men and women
of to-day are personally innocent. Can you
conceive that, after the first shock of surprise
was over, Nottingham would take up life again
as a mere matter of course, feeling that there
was no misfortune in this mingling of incon-
gruities, no problem in the adjustment of their
relations ?

Do not object that in Washington there has

* There is no doubt^ I think, that the white man — and here I mean
not the Southerner, nor the American, but the white man as such — resents
in extremes of the negro type just that air of caricaturing Immanity
which renders the monkey tribe so painful and humiliating to contem-
plate. This seems an inhuman saying, but instinctive emotions are
fundamental facts which it is useless to blink. And the suggestion of
caricature is the stronger, the more closely the negro mimics tlie white
man in dress and bearing. In Washington, on a Sunday, one meets
scores of fat, middle-aged negro women, decked out in an exaggerated
extreme of iluropean fashion, from whom one can only look away as
from something grotesque and degrading — a page of Swift at his
bitterest. Yet the same women in cotton gowns and bandana headgear
might look far from unpleasing. No doubt tlic like uneasy sense of
humiliation besets one on seeing white women decked in finery uiisuited
to their age or tlieir contours. Jiut tliat does not alter the fact that
the urban negro of either sex, when lie or she indulges in extremes of
Ii)uropean adornment, is a spectacle highly disturbing to Caucasian
self-complacency. Caricature is none the more agreeable for being, in
a certain sense, just.


been no sudden metamorphosis, but that the
condition of things has gradually come to pass
through the slow operation of historic forces.
That makes no real difference, save that the
Washingtonian has no "first shock of surprise"
to get over. The essence of the matter is that
half of the elbow-room of life is taken up by an alien
race. Even disregarding, as (perhaps) temporary
and corrigible, the condition of hostility between
the races, we cannot but see in the bare fact of
their juxtaposition in almost equal numbers, and,
theoretically, on a standing of equal citizenship,
an anomalous condition of affairs, as to the
probable outcome of which history affords us no

Walk the streets of Washington for a single
day, and you will realize that the colour-problem
is not, as some English and Northern American
writers assume, a chimera sprung from nothing
but the inhuman prejudice of the Southern white.
It is not a simple matter which a little patience
and good-temper will presently arrange. It is a
real, a terrible difficulty, not to be overcome by
happy-go-lucky humanitarianism.

It may be a great pity that Nature implanted
race -instincts deep in our breasts — Nature has
done so many thoughtless things in her day.
But there they are, not to be ignored or senti-
mentalized away. They are part of the stuff of
human character, out of which the future must
be shaped. The wise statesman will no more


disregard them than the wise carpenter will
disregard the grain of a piece of timber — or the
knots in it.

One principle I arrived at very early in this
investigation — namely, that black is not always
white, nor white invariably black.



It was my good fortune to have for my hosts in
Washington two active sympathizers with the
negro. The husband hails from a North-Western
State ; the wife is a New Englander. They knew
personally some of the Abolitionist leaders, and
are still full of their spirit.

They related to me cruel and deplorable
incidents in the everyday life of the streets.

" One afternoon," said my host, " I was sitting
peaceably in a street-car, when I was suddenly
conscious of an altercation between the conductor
and a coloured man. The absolute rights of the
matter I don't know, but it had somehow arisen
out of a recent modification of the * transfer '
system, which the coloured man probably did
not understand. I had scarcely realized what
was happening, before men were standing on

the seats of the car, shouting, 'Kill the d d

nigger ! We'll all stand by you ! All Virginia is
behind you ! ' The motor-man detached the
heavy brass handle by which he works the car,
ran up to the negro, and had actually raised it


to strike. I interposed, and told the man that,
if anything happened, he would get into trouble
for leaving his post. He replied : ' The nigger's
abusive,' but sullenly went back to his platform."

" Was the nigger abusive ? " I asked.

*' I don't know. I didn't hear him say any-
thing ; but it is quite possible that he had been

* sassy.' All I know is that he stood his ground
like a man, with that yelling crowd around him."

*' And what happened ? "

" Oh, the thing blew over. The negro walked
away, and the crowd dispersed. As I took my
seat again in the car, the man next me said,

* If that had happened in South Carolina, he
would have been a dead nigger.' "

"Not long ago," my hostess said, '' I was in a

crowded street-car. A black woman with a baby

got in, and had to stand. You

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Online LibraryWilliam ArcherThrough Afro-America, an English reading of the race problem → online text (page 1 of 18)