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The Economic Revolution in the South

By W.E. Burghardt DuBois


Two questions may be asked of any group of human beings: first, How do they earn their living, and secondly, What is their attitude toward life? The first relates to the economic history and condition of that people; the second is a study of their religion. In these two essays I am to treat the first of these questions under the subject: The Economic Revolution in the South, and the second under the subject: Christianity in the South.

The last century was notable because of the great change in method and organization of human work and we call the early part of the nineteenth century the time of economic revolution in Europe and to some extent in America. The southern United States, however, while profoundly influenced by this revolution from the first, has not until to-day actually felt its full effect. The new factory system of the early nineteenth century is just to-day appearing in the South, and yet its appearance in England and New England seventy-five years ago made the South a part of the world industrial organization by making it the seat of cotton culture (see Note [1]).

Two diverse developments resulted: In England and the North came a change from household industry to social industry, a step forward which led to an era of machinery, to a curious concentration of individuals and wealth and the necessities of living in certain great centres. That very concentration led to a wonderful contact of man with man which sharpened mind and sharpened thought and in the long run made the Europe of to-day. On the other hand, the southern United States, though really a part of this great system through its work of furnishing raw cotton, did not come into the whirl of the new industry because she had an industrial system which forbade machinery, discouraged human contact, and shackled thought.

Why did this system of slavery persist so long in the South as to be caught in the vortex of the new industrial movement and rendered almost inextricable?

If the South had been a place of intelligent farmers on small farms, we could imagine a development which would have been the wonder of the world; but because the fathers of the United States were so busy with large questions that they forgot larger ones, so busy settling matters of commerce and representation and politics that they forgot matters of work and justice and human rights—because of this we have in the South one of those curious back eddies of human progress that twist and puzzle advance and thought.

The very forward forces of industry that fastened slavery on the South were weaving a social system which made the enslavement of laborers impossible and unprofitable. Consequently at the very time when the South ought to have been increasing in intelligence, law and order, the use of machinery, industrial concentration, and the intensive culture of land with the rest of the world, she lost a half century in a development backward toward a dispersing of population, extensive rather than intensive land culture, increased and compulsory ignorance of the laboring class, and the rearing of a complete system of caste and aristocracy (see Note 2).

Evils there were to be sure in the new factory system of Europe and the North, evils which southern leaders did not fail to note and gloat over, but they were evils of another and newer industrial era, which did not stop progress, but gave it added incentive.

The industrial back-set of the South meant of course but one thing: the discovery of the paradox of slavery, the turning from the mistake, and the adoption of remedial measures which should usher into the South the same industrial revolution in methods of work which Europe saw begin a century ago. This is exactly what has happened, and to-day the Industrial Revolution is beginning south of Mason and Dixon's line. The forecast of change was apparent by 1850. Slavery still paid then—was still an economic success, but only under conditions which became more and more impossible of realization because of the factory system and the new industrial conditions in the rest of the world (see Note 3).

It was, in other words, an attempt at an industrial system with the lowest wages, the most oppressive labor laws, and the best natural advantages. Such a system at such a time carried its own sentence of death: fertile land was becoming scarce in the forties, the horrors of the slave trade had shocked even the eighteenth century, and southern labor laws which made knowledge a crime and migration of laborers a capital offense, simply could not be enforced. It was in vain that the solidly united capitalistic classes of the South threw themselves bodily into the fray—raped Mexico, filibustered in Cuba and Central America, encouraged slave-smuggling (see Note 4), and bullied the hesitating North; their economic doom was written even if militant Abolitionism had not appeared.

The economic student could have foretold and did foretell easily in the forties and fifties that slavery in the South was doomed (see Note 5): even if all available territory had been thrown wide to the slave system, slavery could not possibly have stayed in Kansas and Utah, in New Mexico or in Arizona; it could have stayed only temporarily in Missouri and in Texas. It had already reached its territorial limit, it was bound to have evolved something different. It will always be an interesting speculation as to how soon this economic necessity would have been recognized; whether the South would have had the acumen eventually to see the end, and what sort of gradual change could have come about, had it not been for the political crisis precipitated in 1861.

Then came the war—that disgraceful episode of civil strife when, leaving the arguments of men, the nation appealed to the last resort of dogs, murdering and ravishing each other for four long shameful years (see Note 6).

When this nightmare had passed there came, after the resulting period of disorder, a new régime, a new problem of labor, a new industrial order. Not only that, but gradually in the decade 1870-1880 there were added to the South four new economic activities: first, the iron industry; second, the manufacture of cotton cloth; third, the transportation of these goods to, from, and through the South; and fourth, the general exchange of goods in this growing Southern industrial population—in other words, the Industrial Revolution was beginning in the South. So that the South of the 80's was a different South from the South of the 60's, not simply by reason of emancipation but by reason of new economic possibilities.

However, this change could not go on unhindered by the mistakes of the past. With all that was new in the South, there was also much that was old, and of these old things the most important were the Ideals which slavery handed down—ideals of government, of labor, of caste.

Consequently when the South tried to use its new freed labor on its new industrial possibilities, it went to the problem full of the ideals of slavery, and it made four separate attempts. In the first place it was perfectly natural for a land which had said for generations that free Negro labor was an impossibility, and free Negro citizens unthinkable, to cherish a very distinct idea that the way to get along with the emancipated Negro was to make him a slave in fact if not in name. The idea that was back of the first apprentice laws and the various labor codes passed directly after Lee's surrender was that the labor of the blacks belonged to the former white owners by right and could be directed only by force under a nominal wage system. These labor codes therefore attempted to reëstablish slavery without a slave trade (see Note 7).

These ill-advised attempts were frustrated by the Fifteenth Amendment which made the freedmen voters. The Thirteenth Amendment did not abolish slavery—it directed its abolition and the answer to it was the labor codes. The Fourteenth Amendment gave the freedmen civil rights and put a premium on granting them political rights, but the premium was not accepted and the civil rights remained unenforced. The Fifteenth Amendment went to the root of the matter by putting local political power into the hands of the freedmen and their friends and this made slavery and the slave system impossible.

What the nation had before it then was not the nice academic question as to whether it would be better to have as voters men of intelligence or men of ignorance, whether it would be better to throw into the electorate of a great modern country a mass of slaves or a mass of college graduates—no such question came before the country; it was, as we are fond of saying, a situation and not a theory that confronted the country and that situation was this: here in the South we had attempted to abolish slavery by act of legislature—it was not abolished. The people who hitherto held power did not believe in its real abolishment; a great and growing economic revolution fronted them, cotton was still king. They were about to solve that problem—to meet the Revolution—according to their former labor ideals.

One could not expect any other outcome. One could not in justice ask them voluntarily to accept free black labor; the only possible way to insure the solving of that economic problem with labor really free was to put in the South a political power which should make slavery in fact or inference forever impossible. This truth the great Thaddeus Stephens saw, and with a statesmanship far greater than Lincoln's he forced Negro suffrage on the South.

Although the new voters thus introduced in the South were crude and ignorant, and in many ways ill-fitted to rule, nevertheless in the fundamental postulates of American freedom and democracy they were sane and sound. Some of them were silly, some were ignorant, and some were venal, but they were not as silly as those who had fostered slavery in the South, nor as ignorant as those who were determined to perpetuate it, and the black voters of South Carolina never stole half as much as the white voters of Pennsylvania are stealing to-day.

The eternal monument to these maligned victims of a nation's wrong is the fact that they began the abolition of slavery in fact and not merely attack it in theory, they established free schools, and they passed laws on all subjects under which the white South is still content to live (see Note 8). If these men had been protected in their legal rights by the strong arm of the government, they would have been able to protect themselves in a generation or so. They would have increased in intelligence, responsibility, and power, and this the South was determined to prevent. The North wavered; having put its hand to the plow it looked back, and gradually allowed the black peasantry of the South to be almost completely disfranchised. What happened?

The time had passed for a reëstablishment of slavery, but serfdom and peonage were still possible and probable. When you have the leading classes of a country with the ideal of slavery in their minds and the laboring classes ignorant and without political power, there is but one system that can ensue and that is serfdom, and through serfdom was the second way in which the South strove to meet its great post-bellum economic problem.

Given these premises the economic answer of the South was, from a business standpoint, perfectly sound. The men who, starting poor after a miserable war, went into the development of the South, went in to make money—to use the great American thesis, they were "not in business for their health." They were going to grant to the laborer just as little as they must; the laborer was unused to a system of free labor, he was not a steady workman, he was not a skilled workman, he had been for two or three hundred years driven to his work, he took no pride in his work—how could he take pride in that which hitherto had been the badge of his shame?

Now it was not considered the business of the new Southern business man to develop and train the working man. It was his business, as I have said, from the American point of view, to make money. And the consequence was that he evolved a peculiarly ingenious system of land serfdom, which bears many likenesses to the serfdom that replaced slavery in Europe. The land belonged to the landlord—it was rented out to the serf; the serf was nominally free, but as a matter of fact he was not free at all; he was held to his labor: he rose with the morning work bell of slavery days, he was driven to his labor by mounted riders, he was whipped for delinquencies, he received no stipulated return, but on the contrary the owner of the land made the contract, kept the accounts, and gave him enough once or twice a year to make him not too dissatisfied.

After a time this changed somewhat; instead of the land owner himself undertaking the advancing of supplies, a third party, the merchant with capital, came in. In order to enforce such a system it needed to be backed by a peculiar law system—therefore the business men went into politics in the South with the same result as when business men go into politics in the North. Things were done quickly and quietly; they were done not for the good of people who had no political voice, but for the good of those who wielded the political power, i.e., the business men and land owners. The laws were made to favor the landlord and the merchant and to make it easy to exploit the tenant and laborer.

This system, which still is the rule of agricultural labor in the black belt of the South, is not a system of free labor; it is simply a form of peonage. The black peon is held down by perpetual debt or petty criminal judgments; his rent rises with the price of cotton, his chances to buy land are either non-existent or confined to infertile regions. Judge and jury are in honor bound to hold him down; if by accident or miracle he escapes and becomes a landholder, his property, civil and political status are still at the mercy of the worst of the white voters, and his very life at the whim of the mob. The power of the individual white patron to protect colored men is still great and is often exercised, but this is but another argument against the system: it is undemocratic and un-American, and stamps on the serf system its most damning criticism.

Moreover, this second attempt to meet the economic revolution of the South is failing, and its failure is shown by the scarcity of farm labor, the migration of Negroes, and the increase of crime and lawlessness. Serfdom like slavery demands ignorance and strict laws. The decade of Negro voting and Northern benevolence had however given the Negro schools and aspiration.

What now has been the reaction of this group on the environment thrown around it since slavery days?

The slaves had their select classes in the house servants and the artisans. After freedom came, the Negro made four distinct efforts to reach economic safety. The first effort was by means of the select house-servant class; the second, by means of competitive industry; the third, by land-owning; and the fourth, by what I shall call the group economy.

First, let us look at the effort of the house servants. The one person under the slave régime who came nearest to escaping from the toils of slavery and the disabilities of caste was the favorite house servant. This was because the house servant was brought into contact with the culture of the master and the family, because he had often the advantages of town and city life, was able to gain some smattering of education, and also because he was usually a blood relative of the master class. These house servants, therefore, became the natural leaders of the emancipated race and the brunt of the burden of reconstruction fell upon their shoulders. When the history of this period is carefully written it will show that few men ever made a more meritorious fight against overwhelming odds.

Under free competition it would have been natural for this class of house servants to enter the economic life of the nation directly. In some cases this happened, especially in the case of the barber and the caterer. For the most part, however, the black applicant was refused admittance to the economic society of the nation. He held his own in the semi-servile work of barber until he met the charge of color discrimination in his own race, and the competition of foreigners. The caterer was displaced by palatial hotels in which he could have no part.

On the whole, then, the mass of house servants soon found the doors in their own lines closed in their faces. They could remain good servants but they could not by this means often escape into higher walks of life. The better tenth of them went gradually into professions and thus found economic independence for themselves and their children. The mass of them either remained house servants or turned toward industry.

The second attempt of the freedmen toward economic safety lay in industry. It was a less ambitious effort than that of the house servants, and included larger numbers of men. It was characterized by a large migration to the towns. Here it was that the class of slave artisans made themselves felt in freedom and they were joined by numbers of unskilled workmen, such as steam railway hands, porters, hostlers, etc. This class attracted considerable attention and bore the brunt of the economic battle in competition with white working men. It is a class that is growing and in the future it is going to have a large development. At present, however, its fight is difficult.

The third effort of economic elevation was by land owning. This was the ideal toward which the great mass of black people looked. They at first thought that the government was going to help them, and the government did in a few instances, as when Sherman distributed land in Georgia and the government sold South Carolina lands for taxes. For the most part, however, the Negroes had to buy their own lands which they did in some cases by means of their bounty money for serving in the army or by means of special monies which they earned as workmen during the war or by the help of the former masters. Some too, by the share tenant system gained enough to buy land. In this way about 200,000 to-day own their farms and thus approximate economic independence.

The fourth and last effort, which I call the Group Economy, is of great importance, but is not very well understood. It consists of a coöperative arrangement of industry and service in a group which tends to make the group a closed economic circle, largely independent of surrounding whites. This development explains many anomalies in the situation of the Negro. Many people think that the colored barber is disappearing, yet there are more colored barbers in the United States to-day than ever before, but a larger number than ever cater to only colored trade. The Negro lawyer serves almost exclusively colored clientage, so that his existence is half forgotten by the white world. The new Negro business men are not successors of the old. There used to be Negro business men in Northern cities and a few even in Southern cities, but they catered to white trade; the Negro business man to-day caters to colored trade. So far has this gone to-day that in every city in the United States which has considerable Negro population, the colored group is serving itself in religion, medical care, legal advice and often educating its children. In growing degree also it is serving itself in insurance, houses, books, amusements.

So extraordinary has been this development that it forms a large and growing part in the economy of perhaps half the Negroes of the United States, and in the case of perhaps 100,000 town Negroes, representing at least 300,000 persons, the group economy approaches a complete system. To these we may add the bulk of 200,000 farmers who own their farms. Thus we have a group of half a million who are reaching economic safety by means of group economy (see Note 9).

Here then are the two developments—a determined effort at an established serfdom on the part of landholding capitalists, and a determined effort on the part of freedmen and their sons to attain economic independence.

While both these movements were progressing the full change of the industrial revolution, so long postponed, began to be felt all over the South; the iron and steel industry developed in Alabama and Tennessee, coal mining in Tennessee and West Virginia, and cotton manufacture in Carolina and Georgia; railways were consolidated into systems and extended, commerce was organized and concentrated. The greatest single visible result of this was the growth of cities. Towns of eight thousand and more had a tenth of the white Southerners in 1860; they held a seventh of a much larger population in 1900, while a fifth were in cities and villages. Still more striking was the movement of Negroes; only four per cent. were in cities before the war, to-day a seventh are there.

The reason for this is clear: the oppression and serfdom of the country, the opportunities of the city. It was in the town and city alone that the emerging classes, outside the landholders, were successful, and even the landholders were helped by the earnings of the city; the house servants with the upper class of barbers and caterers, the artisans, the day laborers, the professional men, including the best of the teachers, were in the cities, and the new group economy was developed here.

On the other hand one of the inevitable expedients for fastening serfdom on the country Negro was enforced ignorance.

The Negro school system established by the Negro reconstruction governments reached its culmination in the decade 1870-1880. Since then determined effort has been made in the country districts to make the Negro schools less efficient. To-day these schools are worse than they were twenty years ago; the nominal term is longer and the enrolment larger, but the salaries are so small that only the poorest local talent can teach. There is little supervision, there are few appliances, few schoolhouses and no inspiration. On the other hand the city schools have usually improved. It was natural that the Negro should rush city-ward toward freedom, education, and decent wages.

This migration resulted in two things: in the increase and intensification of the problems of the city, and in redoubled effort to keep the Negro laborer on the plantations.

To take the latter efforts first, we find that the efforts of the landlords to keep Negro labor varied from force to persuasion: force was used by the landlords to the extent of actual peonage, by which Negroes were held on plantations in large numbers; next to peonage for crime came debt peonage, which used the indebtedness of the Negro tenants to prevent their moving away; then came the system of labor contracts and the laws making the breaking of a labor contract a crime (see Note 10); after that came a crop of vagrancy laws aimed at the idle Negroes in city and town and designed to compel them to work on farms, going so far in several states as to reverse the common law principle and force the person arrested for vagrancy to prove his innocence (see Note 11).

In order that the farm laborers should not be tempted away by higher wages, penalties were laid on "enticing laborers away" and agents were compelled to take out licenses which ran as high as $2,000 for each county in some states (see Note 12). Such laws and their administration required, of course, absolute control of the government and courts. This was secured by manipulation and fraud, while at the same time the landlords of the black belt usually opposed the disfranchisement of Negroes lest such a measure reduce their political influence which was based on the Negro population.

All these measures were measures of force, while nothing was done to attract laborers to the land. The only real attraction of the Negro to the country was landowning. The Negroes had succeeded in buying land: by government gift and bounty money they held about three million acres in 1875, perhaps 8,000,000 in 1890, and 12,000,000 in 1900; but distinct efforts appeared here and there to stop their buying land.

There are still vast tracts of land in the South, that anybody, black or white, can buy for little or nothing, simply because it is worth little or nothing. Some time, of course, these lands will become valuable but they are not valuable to-day. Now the Negro cannot invest in this land as a speculation, for he is too poor to wait. He must have land which he knows how to cultivate, which is near a market, and which is so situated as to provide reasonable protection for his family. There are only certain crops which he knows how to cultivate. He cannot be expected to learn quickly to cultivate crops which he was not taught to cultivate in the past. He must be within reach of a market and he must have some community life with his own people and some protection from other people.

All these conditions are fulfilled chiefly in the black belt. That is the cotton region, the crop which he knows best how to raise; from certain parts of it he can get to the market and he has a great black population for company and protection. But it is precisely here in the black belt that it is most difficult to buy land. Capitalistic culture of cotton, the high price of cotton, and the system of labor peonage have made land high. Moreover in most of these regions it is considered bad policy to sell Negroes land because, as has been said, this "demoralizes" labor. Thus in the densest part of the black belt in the South, the percentage of land holding is usually low among Negroes.

The concentration of land-owning on the other hand in the hands of the single white proprietors has gone on to a much larger extent than the country realizes. This is shown not simply in the increase of the average size of farms in the last decade but it must also be remembered that the farms do not belong to single owners but are owned in groups of five, forty or fifty by single landed proprietors. There are 140,000 owners who own from two to fifty farms in the South and there are 50,000 owners who have over twenty farms apiece.

It is not true then to-day that land-buying for the average colored farmer in the South is an easy thing. The land which has been bought has been bought by the exceptional men or by the men who have had unusual opportunity, who have been helped by their former masters or by some other patrons, who have been aided by members of their own families in the North or in the cities, or who have escaped the wretched crop system by some sudden rise in the price of cotton, which did not enable the landlord to take the whole economic advantage. It is therefore in spite of the land system and not because of it that the Negroes to-day own 12,000,000 acres of land (see Note 13).

The net result of the whole policy of serfdom was so to deplete the ranks of laborers that a new solution of the labor problem must be found.

Here it was that the southern city came forward. The city had new significance, especially new cities like Atlanta, Birmingham, and Chattanooga as contrasted with Charleston and Savannah. They saw a new industrial solution of the problem of Negro labor. It was a simple program: Industry and disfranchisement; the separation of the masses of the Negroes from all participation in government, and such technical training as should fit them to become skilled working men.

There was an arriere pensee here too, born in the minds of northern capitalists. The white southern working men were becoming unionized by northern agitators; here was a chance to keep them down to reasonable demands by black competition and the threat of more competition in the future. Moreover working men without votes would be far more docile and tractable. Politics had already spoiled the Negroes. Let the whites rule and the blacks work.

The plea was specious, it had the sanction of great names, of wealth and social influence, and it convinced not only those who wanted to be convinced but practically all Americans who were eager to be relieved of troublesome questions and difficult public duties.

All the more eagerly was this solution seized upon because of the definite and distinct promises which it made. Disfranchise the Negro, said the South, and the race problem is solved; there is no race problem save the menace of an ignorant and venal vote;—relieve us from this and the lion and the lamb will lie down together;—the Negro will go peacefully and contentedly to work and the whites will wax just and rich. We all remember with what confidence and absolute certainty of conviction this program was announced when Mississippi disfranchised her Negro voters seventeen years ago. It was repeated twelve years ago in South Carolina, ten years ago in Louisiana, and still more recently in North Carolina and Alabama.

What has been the result? Is the race problem solved? Is the Negro out of politics in the South? Has there been a single southern campaign in the last twenty years in which the Negro has not figured as the prime issue? Have the southern representatives in Congress any settled convictions or policy save hatred of black men, and can they discuss any other matter? Is it not the irony of fate that in the state that first discovered the legal fraud of disfranchisement a hot political battle is to-day waging on the old, old question: the right of black men to vote?

The reason for all this is not far to seek. In modern industrial democracy disfranchisement is impossible. The fate, wishes, and destiny of ten million human beings cannot be delivered, sealed and bound into the keeping of Dixon, Tillman, Vardaman, and Nelson Page. They are bound to vote even when disfranchised.

Disfranchised and voiceless though I am in Georgia to-day by the illegal White Primary system, there are still fifty congressmen in Washington fraudulently representing me and my fellows in the councils of the nation (see Note 14).

It was promised that disfranchisement would lead to more careful attention to the Negro's moral and economic advancement. It has on the contrary stripped them naked to their enemies; discriminating laws of all sorts have followed, the administration of other laws has become harsher and more unfair, school funds have been curtailed and education discouraged, and mobs and murder have gone on.

If the new policy has been a farce politically and socially, how much more has it failed as an economic cure-all! No sooner was it proclaimed from the house-tops than the rift in the lute appeared. "We do not want educated farmers," cried the landlords, "we want docile laborers." "We do not want educated Negro artisans," cried the white artisans, and they enforced their demands by their votes and by mob violence. "We do not want to raise the Negro; we want to put him in his place and keep him there," cried the dominant forces of the South. Then those northerners who had lightly embraced the fair sounding program of limited labor training and disfranchisement found themselves grasping the air.

Not only this, but the South itself faced a puzzling paradox. The industrial revolution was demanding labor; it was demanding intelligent labor, while the supposed political and social exigences of the situation called for ignorance and subserviency. It was an impossible contradiction and the South to-day knows it.

What is it that makes a successful laboring force? It is laborers of education and natural intelligence, reasonably satisfied with their conditions, inspired with certain ideals of life, and with a growing sense of self-respect and self-reliance. How is the caste system of the South influencing the Negro laborer? It is systematically restricting his development; it is restricting his education so that the public common schools of the South except in a few cities are worse this moment than they were twenty years ago; it is seeking to kill self-respect by putting upon the accident of color every mark of humiliation that it can invent; it is discouraging self-reliance by treating a class of men as wards and children; it is killing ambition by drawing a color line instead of a line of desert and accomplishment; and finally, through these things, it is encouraging crime, and by the unintelligent and brutal treatment of criminals, it is developing more crime.

This general attitude toward the main laboring class reflects itself less glaringly but as certainly in the treatment even of white laborers. So long as white labor must compete with black labor, it must approximate black labor conditions—long hours, small wages, child labor, labor of women, and even peonage. Moreover it can raise itself above black labor only by a legalized caste system which will cut off competition and this is what the South is straining every nerve to create.

The last fatal campaign in Georgia which culminated in the Atlanta Massacre was an attempt, fathered by conscienceless politicians, to arouse the prejudices of the rank and file of white laborers and farmers against the growing competition of black men, so that black men by law could be forced back to subserviency and serfdom. It succeeded so well that smouldering hate burst into flaming murder before the politicians could curb it.

There is, however, a limit to this sort of thing. The day when mobs can successfully cow the Negro to willing slavery is past. The Atlanta Negroes shot back and shot to kill, and that stopped the riot with a certain suddenness (see Note 15). The South is realizing that lawlessness and economic advance cannot coexist. If the wonderful industrial revolution is to develop unhindered, the South must have law and order and it must have intelligent workmen.

It is only a question of time when white working men and black working men will see their common cause against the aggressions of exploiting capitalists. Already there are signs of this: white and black miners are working as a unit in Alabama; white and black masons are in one union in Atlanta (see Note 16). The economic strength of the Negro cannot be beaten into weakness, and therefore it must be taken into partnership, and this the Southern white working man, befuddled by prejudice as he is, begins dimly to realize.

It is this paradox that brings us to-day in the South to a fourth solution of the problem: Immigration. The voice that calls foreign immigrants southward to-day is not single but double. First, the exploiter of common labor wishes to exploit this new labor just as formerly he exploited Negro labor. On the other hand the far-sighted ones know that the present freedom of labor exploitation must pass—that some time or other the industrial system of the South must be made to conform more and more to the growing sense of industrial justice in the North and in the civilized world. Consequently the second object of the immigration philosopher is to make sure that, when the rights of the laborer come to be recognized in the South, that laborer will be white, and just so far as possible the black laborer will still be forced down below the white laborer until he becomes thoroughly demoralized or extinct.

The query is therefore: If immigration turns toward the South as it undoubtedly will in time, what will become of the Negro? The view of the white world is usually that there are two possibilities. First, that the immigrants will crush the Negro utterly; or secondly, that by competition there will come a sifting which will lead to the survival of the best in both groups of laborers.

Let us consider these possibilities. First it is certain that so far as the Negroes are land holders, and so far as they belong to a self-employing, self-supplying group economy, no possible competition from without can disturb them. I have shown already how rapidly this system is growing. Further than that, there is a large group of Negroes who have already gained an assured place in the national economy as artisans, servants, and laborers. The worst of these may be supplanted, but the best could not be unless there came a sudden unprecedented and improbable influx of skilled foreign labor. A slow infiltration of foreigners cannot displace the better class of Negro workers; simply because the growing labor demand of the South cannot spare them. If then it is to be merely a matter of ability to work, the result of immigration will on the whole be beneficial and will differentiate the good Negro workman from the careless and indifferent.

But one element remains to be considered, and this is political power. If the black workman is to remain disfranchised while the white native and immigrant not only has the economic defense of the ballot, but the power to use it so as to hem in the Negro competitor, cow and humiliate him and force him to a lower plane, then the Negro will suffer from immigration.

It is becoming distinctly obvious to Negroes that to-day, in modern economic organization, the one thing that is giving the workman a chance is intelligence and political power, and that it is utterly impossible for a moment to suppose that the Negro in the South is going to hold his own in the new competition with immigrants if, on the one hand, the immigrant has access to the best schools of the community and has equal political power with other men to defend his rights and to assert his wishes, while, on the other hand, his black competitor is not only weighed down by past degradation, but has few or no schools and is disfranchised.

The question then as to what will happen in the South when immigration comes, is a very simple question. If the Negro is kept disfranchised and ignorant and if the new foreign immigrants are allowed access to the schools and given votes as they undoubtedly will be, then there can ensue only accentuated race hatred, the spread of poverty and disease among Negroes, the increase of crime, and the gradual murder of the eight millions of black men who live in the South except in so far as they escape North and bring their problems there as thousands will.

If on the contrary, with the coming of the immigrants to the South, there is given to the Negro equal educational opportunity and the chance to cast his vote like a man and be counted as a man in the councils of the county, city, state and nation, then there will ensue that competition between men in the industrial world which, if it is not altogether just, is at least better than slavery and serfdom.

There of course could be strong argument that the nation owes the Negro something better than harsh industrial competition just after slavery, but the Negro does not ask the payment of debts that are dead. He is perfectly willing to come into competition with immigrants from any part of the world, to welcome them as human beings and as fellows in the struggle for life, to struggle with them and for them and for a greater South and a better nation. But the black man certainly has a right to ask, when he starts into this race, that he be allowed to start with hands untied and brain unclouded (see Note 17).

Such in bare outline is the economic history of the South. It is the story of an attempt to degrade working men. It failed in 1860, after it had sought for centuries to reduce laborers to the level of purchasable cattle; it failed in 1870, after a fearful catastrophe while endeavoring to revive this system under another name; it has failed since then satisfactorily to maintain the present rural serfdom or to establish a disfranchised caste of artisans; and it will fail in the future to keep the stubbornly up-struggling masses of black laborers down, by shackling their souls and loading immigrants atop of them. It will always fail unless indeed, as sometimes seems possible, both Church and State in America shall refuse longer to listen to the teaching of Jesus when He said: "Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.


"Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest for your souls.

"For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

NOTES:


Note 1

"The history of slavery and the slave trade after 1820 must be read in the light of the industrial revolution through which the civilized world passed in the first half of the nineteenth century. Between the years 1775 and 1825 occurred economic events and changes of the highest importance and widest influence. Though all branches of the industry felt the impulse of this new industrial life, yet, if we consider single industries, cotton manufacture has, during the nineteenth century, made the most magnificent and gigantic advances."

This fact is easily explained by the remarkable series of inventions that revolutionized this industry between 1738 and 1830, including Arkwright's, Watt's, Compton's, and Cartwright's epoch making contrivances. The effect which these inventions had on the manufacture of cotton goods is best illustrated by the fact that in England, the chief cotton market of the world, the consumption of raw cotton rose steadily from 13,000 bales in 1781, to 572,000 in 1820, to 871,000 in 1830, and to 3,366,000 in 1860. Very early, therefore, came the query whence the supply of raw cotton was to come. Tentative experiments on the rich, broad fields of the Southern United States, together with the indispensable invention of Whitney's cotton gin, soon answered this question. A new economic future was opened up to this land, and immediately the whole South began to extend its cotton culture, and more and more to throw its whole energy into this one staple.

Here it was that the fatal mistake of compromising with slavery in the beginning, and of the policy of laissez-faire pursued thereafter, became painfully manifest; for, instead now of a healthy, normal, economic development along proper industrial lines, we have the abnormal and fatal rise of a slave-labor, large-farming system, which, before it was realized, had so intertwined itself with and braced itself upon the economic forces of an industrial age, that a vast and terrible civil war was necessary to displace it. The tendencies to a patriarchal serfdom, recognized in the age of Washington and Jefferson, began slowly but surely to disappear; and in the second quarter of the century Southern slavery was irresistibly changing from a family institution to an industrial system.

DuBois, "Suppression of the Slave Trade," p. 151.

A list of the chief inventions most graphically illustrates the above:—


1738,
John Jay, fly shuttle.
and John Wyatt, spinning by rollers.
1748,
Lewis Paul, carding machine.
1760,
Robert Kay, drop box.
1769,
Richard Arkwright, water-frame and throstle.
James Watt, steam-engine.
1772,
James Lees, improvements on carding-machine.
1775,
Richard Arkwright, series of combinations.
1779,
Samuel Compton, mule.
1785,
Edmund Cartwright, power-loom.
1803-4,
Radcliffe and Johnson, dressing-machine.
1817,
Roberts, fly-frame.
1818,
William Eaton, self-acting frame.
1825-30,
Roberts, improvements on mule.


Cf. Baines, "History of the Cotton Manufactures," pp. 116-23; "Encyclopædia Britannica," 9th ed., article "Cotton."


Note 2

In 1832, Alabama declared that "any person or persons who shall attempt to teach any free person of color or slave to spell, read, or write, shall, upon conviction thereof by indictment, be fined in a sum not less than $250, nor more than $500."

Georgia, in 1770, fined any person who taught a slave to read or write twenty pounds. In 1829 the State enacted:

"If any slave, Negro or free person of color, or any white person, shall teach any other slave, Negro or free person of color to read or write, either written or printed characters, the same free person of color or slave shall be punished by fine and whipping, or fine or whipping, at the discretion of the court; and if a white person so offend, he, she or they shall be punished with a fine not exceeding $500 and imprisonment in the common jail at the discretion of the court."

In 1833 this law was put into the penal code, with additional penalties for using slaves in printing offices to set type. These laws were violated sometimes by individual masters, and clandestine schools were opened for Negroes in some of the cities before the war. In 1850 and thereafter there was some agitation to repeal these laws and a bill to that effect failed in the Senate of Georgia by two or three votes.

Louisiana, in 1830, declared that "All persons who shall teach or permit or cause to be taught any slave to read or write shall be imprisoned not less than one month nor more than twelve months."

Missouri, in 1847, passed an act saying that "No person shall keep or teach any school for the instruction of Negroes or mulattoes in reading or writing in this state."

North Carolina had schools supported by free Negroes up until 1835, when they were abolished by law.

South Carolina, in 1740, declared: "Whereas, the having of slaves taught to write or suffering them to be employed in writing may be attended with inconveniences, be it enacted, that all and every person and persons whatsoever who shall hereafter teach or cause any slave or slaves to be taught, or shall use or employ any slave as a scribe in any manner of writing whatever, hereafter taught to write, every such person or persons shall for every such offense forfeit the sum of £100 current money."

In 1800 and 1833 the teaching of free Negroes was restricted: "And if any free person of color or slave shall keep any school or other places of instruction for teaching any slave or free person of color to read or write, such free person of color or slave shall be liable to the same fine, imprisonment and corporal punishment as by this act are imposed and inflicted on free persons of color and slaves for teaching slaves to write." Other sections prohibited white persons from teaching slaves. Apparently whites might teach free Negroes to some extent.

Virginia, in 1819, forbade "all meetings or assemblages of slaves or free Negroes or mulattoes mixing and associating with such slaves, ... at any school or schools for teaching them reading and writing, either in the day or night." Nevertheless free Negroes kept schools for themselves until the Nat Turner Insurrection, when it was enacted, 1831, that "all meetings of free Negroes or mulattoes at any school-house, church, meeting-house or other place, for teaching them reading and writing, either in the day or night, under whatsoever pretext, shall be deemed and considered an unlawful assembly." This law was carefully enforced.

In the Northern States few actual prohibitory laws were enacted, but in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere, mob violence frequently arose against Negro schools, and in Connecticut the teaching of Negroes was restricted as follows in 1833: "No person shall set up or establish in this state any school, academy or other literary institution for the instruction or education of colored persons who are not inhabitants of this State, or harbor or board, for the purpose of attending or being taught or instructed in any such school, academy or literary institution any colored person who is not an inhabitant of any town in this State, without the consent, in writing, first obtained, of a majority of the civil authority, and also of the select-men of the town in which each school, academy or literary institution is situated." This was especially directed against the famous Prudence Crandall school, and was repeated in 1838.

Ohio decreed, in 1829, that "the attendance of black or mulatto persons be specifically prohibited, but all taxes assessed upon the property of colored persons for school purposes should be appropriated to their instruction and no other purpose." This prohibition was enforced, but the second clause was a dead letter for twenty years. Cf. Atlanta University Publications, No. 6.


Note 3

Cf. Cairnes' "Slave Power."


Note 4

Stephen A. Douglas said "that there was not the shadow of doubt that the slave-trade had been carried on quite extensively for a long time back, and that there had been more slaves imported into the Southern States, during the last year, than had ever been imported before in any one year, even when the slave-trade was legal. It was his confident belief, that over fifteen thousand slaves had been brought into this country during the past year (1859). He had seen, with his own eyes, three hundred of those recently-imported, miserable beings, in a slave-pen in Vicksburg, Miss., and also large numbers at Memphis, Tenn." It was currently reported that depots for these slaves existed in over twenty large cities and towns in the South, and an interested person boasted to a senator, about 1860, that "twelve vessels would discharge their living freight upon our shores within ninety days from the 1st of June last," and that between sixty and seventy cargoes had been successfully introduced in the last eighteen months. (Cf. DuBois: "Slave Trade," ch. xi.)


Note 5

Cf. Olmsted's "Journeys" and Helper's "Impending Crisis."


Note 6

Has not the time come for characterizing war plainly and ceasing to envelope it in a haze of sentimental lies? We have near worshiped the Civil War for a generation, when in truth it was a disgrace to civilization and we know it.


Note 7

Cf. Blaine: "Twenty Years in Congress"; "American Political Science Review," Vol. 1, pp. 44-61; e.g., "South Carolina, besides thus minutely regulating the labor of Negroes under contract, prohibited them from practicing the 'art, trade or business of an artisan, mechanic, or shopkeeper,' or any other trade or business on their own account without paying an annual license fee to the district judge. And no Negro could obtain a license who had not served a term of 'apprenticeship' at the trade. Tennessee also required licenses; and Mississippi required Negroes to have written evidence of their home and employment. Mississippi also prohibited the renting or leasing of any land to Negroes, except in incorporated towns and cities." Louisiana had perhaps the most outrageous provisions.


Note 8

Albion W. Tourgee said: "They instituted a public school system in a region where public schools had been unknown. They opened the ballot-box and the jury-box to thousands of white men who had been debarred from them by a lack of earthly possessions. They introduced home rule in the South. They abolished the whipping-post, the branding-iron, the stocks and other barbarous forms of punishment which had up to that time prevailed. They reduced capital felonies from about twenty to two or three. In an age of extravagance they were extravagant in the sums appropriated for public works. In all that time no man's rights of person were invaded under the forms of law." Thomas E. Miller, a Negro member of the late Constitutional Convention of South Carolina, said: "The gentleman from Edgefield (Mr. Tillman) speaks of the piling of the State debt; of jobbery and peculation during the period between 1869 and 1873 in South Carolina, but he has not found voice eloquent enough nor pen exact enough to mention those imperishable gifts bestowed upon South Carolina between 1873 and 1876 by Negro legislators—the laws relative to finance, the building of penal and charitable institutions, and, greatest of all, the establishment of the public school system. Starting as infants in legislation in 1869, many wise measures were not thought of, many injudicious acts were passed. But in the administration of affairs for the next four years, having learned by experience the result of bad acts, we immediately passed reformatory laws touching every department of state, county, municipal and town governments. These enactments are to-day upon the statute books of South Carolina. They stand as living witnesses of the Negro's fitness to vote and legislate upon the rights of mankind."

Cf. Love's "Disfranchisement of the Negro," p. 10.


Note 9

Cf. "The Economic Future of the Negro," in papers and proceedings of the eighteenth Annual Meeting, American Economic Association, pp. 219-42.


Note 10

See Alabama Laws on Labor Contracts.


Note 11

See Laws of Alabama, 1906-1907.


Note 12

See Laws of South Carolina, 1906-1907.


Note 13

Cf. Bulletin Number 8, 12th United States Census.


Note 14

This statement when made was challenged by a Virginia rector. Let John Sharp Williams, minority leader of the House of Representatives answer him.

"It is the physical presence of the Negro which constitutes the Negro problem and the race issue. It is not the fact that the Negro can vote in the South, because, as a matter of fact, he cannot and does not. The Negro problem would be just as troublesome as it is to-day if the fifteenth amendment were repealed. The fifteenth amendment touches it only on its political or voting side, where the trouble is cured already in the South. It is true that the Negro does vote in Ohio, Illinois and New Jersey and various other places. But the people of those states could to-morrow, if they wanted to, get rid of his vote, just as we have got rid of it in Mississippi. The very fact that they have not done it is proof of the fact that they do not want to do it, and that very fact is the death-blow of the Vardaman agitation."

Negroes are disfranchised by legal and illegal methods and by unfair administration of the law. The "white" primary is a wide-spread subterfuge: to the democratic primary election all white men are admitted without question, and no Negro under any circumstances. The verdict of the primary is then registered in a farce "election." In Atlanta, e.g., at the "election" 700 votes are cast in a city of 100,000! The success of the "white" primary depends of course (a) on the illegal power of the party chiefs to exclude any votes they choose on any pretext and (b) on the absolute and unfair control of election machinery and returns by one party and (c) on public acquiescence in this travesty on popular government.


Note 15

The Atlanta riot had two distinct phases: first, Saturday, the killing of innocent and surprised Negroes by a white mob; then a lull when blacks rapidly armed themselves; finally the attempt to renew the assault by a crowd mingled with county policemen, who were repulsed by a fierce defense by Negroes; these Negroes were afterward acquitted of murder by a southern jury. The number of white and black killed in that encounter will never be known, but it stopped the riot. Cf. "World To-Day," Nov. 1906.


Note 16

The executive officials of the miners in Alabama consist of four whites and four Negroes.


Note 17

Ten good references on the economic history of the Negro and slavery are:

1. Kemble, Fanny, "A Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation," N.Y., 1863. 337 pp. 12mo.

2. Olmsted, F.L., "A Journey in the Sea Board Slave States," N.Y., 1856. 723 pp. 12mo.

3. Cairnes, J.E., "The Slave Power: Its Character, Career, and Probable Designs," London, 1862. 304 pp., 2d ed. N.Y. 410 pp.

4. United States 12th Census, Bulletin No. 8: "Negroes in United States," by W.F. Wilcox and W.E.B. DuBois, Wash., 1904, 333 pp.

5. "The Philadelphia Negro" (Publications of the University of Pennsylvania) 520 pp. Ginn.

6. "The Suppression of the Slave Trade" (Harvard Historical Monographs, No. 1) 335 pp. Longmans, 1896.

7. Atlanta University Publications:

No. 3, "Efforts for Social Betterment," 66 pp. 1898.

No. 4, "The Negro in Business," 77 pp. 1899.

No. 7, "The Negro Artisan," 192 pp. 1902.

8. Bulletins of the United States Department of Labor.

Nos. 10, 14, 22, 32, 35, 37, 38, 48.

9. United States: Report of the Industrial Commission 1901-2, 19 vols.

10. Proceedings of the American Economic Association, 1906.

Booker T. Washington

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