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Title: The Soul of John Brown

Author: Stephen Graham

Release date: February 10, 2015 [eBook #48230]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Giovanni Fini and the Online Distributed
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Copyright, 1920,
Set up and electrotyped. Published October, 1920.



Chapter   Page
I Thoughts on Slavery 3
II In Virginia 22
III Orators and Actors, Preachers and Singers 70
IV In Tennessee 97
V Marching Through Georgia 119
VI Tramping to the Sea 152
VII After the War: the Vote 182
VIII In Alabama: Color and Color Prejudice 195
IX The Southern Point of View 211
X Exodus 232
XI In North Florida and New Orleans 240
XII The New Negro Mind 263
XIII Negro Leadership 282
XIV The World Aspect 291
XV Up the Mississippi 309
XVI At Vicksburg 328



The Negro slaves were released in 1863. They and their children number twelve millions out of a total of a hundred millions of all races blending in America. Where do the children of the slaves stand to-day?





Although Charles Lynch of Virginia used to suspend British farmers by their thumbs until they cried out Liberty for ever! and lynching has continued ever since, America is nevertheless at bottom free, or at least was intended to be so by the idealists and politicians who brought her forth. America is a living reproof of Europe, and it has been generally conceived of as a land where men should suffer no encroachment upon their personal liberty, where they should reap duly the fruits of their labors, where no man should sap their rugged independence or infringe upon the sovereign equality of their social rights, where government should be entirely by consent of the governed, not handed down from above as from superior beings or masters, but controlled from below, from the broad base of toiling humanity.

The first discoverers were plunderers and seekers after barbaric gold and gems, but her real pioneers were God-fearing men who laid the foundations of modern American civilization by honest work and a boundless belief in the development of free democracy. The institution[4] of slavery was therefore the thing which in theory was most abhorrent to the American mind. It is a curious anomaly that a very short while after the Declaration of Independence the land from which America separated became free of slavery, and the British flag pre-eminently the flag of freedom. But America, freed though she had become from political interference on the part of Britain, nevertheless inherited Negro slavery; and the economic prosperity of at least one-half of the country was founded on the most hideous bondage in world history. Those who had fled Europe to escape tyrants had themselves, under force of circumstances, become tyrants.

Not that anyone willed slavery in America or designed to have it. It was an economic accident. It was in America before most of the Americans. The first Negro slaves were brought up the James River in Virginia before the Mayflower arrived, and as Negro orators say to-day, “If being a long while in this country makes a good American, we are the best Americans that there are.” Slavery had grown to vast proportions by the time of the war against Britain. New America in 1783, standing on the threshold of the modern era, inherited a most terrible burden in her millions of slaves. It was a burden that was growing into the live flesh of America, and no one dared face at that time the problem of getting free of it.


The actual American people as a whole were little responsible for the institution of slavery. The pioneers hated and feared it. The planters always condemned it in theory, and after the Emancipation of 1863 no one of any sense in the South has ever wished it back. Even in those States where slavery took deepest root and showed its worst characteristics, there was throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a persistent resistance on the part of the colonists against having black servile labor introduced.

To cite one colony as in a way characteristic of the whole attitude of the colonists toward slavery, Georgia might be taken. Georgia was originally an asylum for the bad boys of too respectable British families and for discharged convicts and hopeless drunkards. Royal charter guaranteed freedom of religion (except to Papists); an embargo was placed on West Indian trade, so as to stop the inflow of rum; and Negro slavery was forbidden. All for the good of reprobates making a fresh start!

Invalids and merchants settled on the coast and made the society of Savannah. The bad boys proved to be too poor stuff with which to found a colony, and a special body of a hundred and thirty frugal and industrious Scots and a hundred and seventy carefully chosen Germans were brought in. Real work in Georgia commenced at Ebenezer, on the Savannah River,[6] and at New Inverness. The merchants strove to get slavery introduced; the Scots and the Germans strove to keep it out. At Savannah every night polite society toasted “The One Thing Needful”—Slavery. The common talk of the townsfolk was of the extra prosperity that would come to Georgia if slaves were brought in, the extra quantities of cotton, of rice, of timber, and all that middlemen could re-sell. The ministers of religion actually preached in churches in favor of an institution sanctioned by the Bible, and it was thought that a service was done for Christ by bringing the black men out of Africa, where they were somewhat inaccessible, and throwing them into the bosom of the Christian family in America. But the Scots and the Germans remonstrated against the permission of an evil shocking to human nature and likely to prove in time not a blessing but a scourge.

Over in South Carolina slavery was in full possession, and the wealth of the Carolinian merchants was a soreness to the lean traders of Georgia. Cupidity prompted underhand means to achieve the desired end. Slaves were imported on life lease from owners in South Carolina. One could not purchase the freehold of a Negro’s liberty and energy, only a ninety-nine years’ lease of it, as it were, but that sufficed. Freedom fell, the charter was abrogated, and under the sway of a royal governor the floodgates[7] of slavery were opened wide. In due time Georgia became one of the worst slave States of the South. It remains to this day one of those where in any case the contemporary record of burning and lynching is most lurid. It would not be unsafe to draw the conclusion that the introduction of slavery did as much harm to the souls of the original Germans, Scots, and English and their descendants as to the Negroes themselves.

The settlers were, however, loath to employ slaves, and for some years there was little change. It was the rich immigrants from South Carolina and elsewhere who embarked on large enterprises of planting with a labor basis of black slaves. The poor white laboring class was gradually ruined by competition with slave labor. And then it became generally understood that everyone had to employ slaves, and it was unbecoming for a white man to toil with his hands. The poor Whites were if anything more despised than the black slaves, and often indeed actually despised, paradoxically enough, by the latter. In some parts there sprang up bands of white gypsies and robbers called “pinelanders,” who stole from Black and White alike, and lived by their wits.

In Africa the Negro tribes strove with one another in savagery, and sold their prisoners to the Negro traders or White agents, who dragged them to the coast. There they were[8] herded in the holds of noisome slaving vessels, indiscriminately, nakedly, fortuitously, the violent ones tied up or chained, the gentler ones unloosed. None knew whither they were going, and even those victorious tribes who sold them to the white man knew nothing of the destination of the victims they thus despatched. Hundreds of thousands, nay, millions of tribesmen of all kinds and shades of black and brown were thus exported to the Indies and the Colonies and sold into bondage to the civilized world. Arrived in America, the slaves were sold to merchants or auctioned as common cattle and sent up country to work. A healthy male slave of good dimensions and in his prime would fetch a thousand dollars and young women eight hundred dollars, and fair-sized girls five hundred. Olmsted gives a price list which was handed him by a dealer; that was in 1853.[1] In earlier years the price was considerably less, and always varied according to the demand. The raw, first-come Negro slaves were not sold as retinue for the rich, but as colonial utilities to be worked like cattle on the farms and plantations.[9] Cotton was the staple, and in thinking of the time the eye must range over a vast expanse of cotton plantations and see all the main work done by Negro gangs of men and women in charge of slave drivers. As Olmsted describes a gang of women in a characteristic passage—“The overseer rode about them on a horse, carrying in his hand a rawhide whip ... but as often as he visited one end of the line the hands at the other end would discontinue their labor until he turned to them again. Clumsy, awkward, gross, elephantine in all their movements; pouting, grinning, and leering at us; sly, sensual, and shameless in all their expression and demeanor; I never before had witnessed, I thought, anything more revolting....” In 1837 the whole of Georgia, and indeed of the South, was worked by black slaves—the poor white labor (chiefly Irish) had diminished almost to disappearance. Slave labor was founded on slave discipline, and the discipline on punishment. There was no particular readiness on the part of the savages to do the work given them or understand what they had to do. Whether they could have been coaxed or persuaded is problematical. Farmers have not the time or the spirit for coaxing. The quickest way was by inspiring terror or inflicting pain. It might have been different if the Negro could have been given any positive incentive to work, but there was none. He had therefore to be[10] flogged to it. The smallest gang had its driver with his whip. The type who to-day has become politely a “speeder up” was then the man with the whip. He could have had more power by using his whip infrequently and on the most stubborn slaves, but that was not the common man’s way. He flogged hard and he flogged often. On a typical Georgian plantation the field driver had power to inflict twelve lashes there and then when trouble occurred. The head driver could give thirty-six and the overseer fifty. Every morning there would be a dozen or so special floggings by the overseer or his assistant at the office. Women if anything fared worse than men. On the slightest provocation their scanty clothes were thrown over their heads and they were subjected to a beating. Naked boys and girls were tied by their wrists to boughs of trees so that their toes barely touched the ground, and lashed. The overseer did it, the owner’s son did it, upon occasion the owner himself did it.

There were pleasant exceptional homes in Virginia and the Carolinas and elsewhere where there was no flogging and no cruelty whatsoever, but instead a great mutual affection. Slavery may have been wrong there also, or it may have been justifiable. But it was not on account of the happy slaves that John Brown sallied forth at Harper’s Ferry, but because of the many unhappy ones. As the whole intensity[11] of the Negro trouble is centered in the evils of the institution of slavery, it is necessarily on these that one must insist, though the exceptions be not lost sight of.

It is often said that the slaves were seldom hurt because, since they were property, it behooved a master to take care of them and preserve them. But that is fallacious. Men got pleasure out of beating their slaves as they get pleasure out of chewing tobacco, drinking spirits, and using bad language. It grew on them; they liked it more and more. In many cases no proficiency or industry could save the slaves from a flogging. And, besides that, there was current in Georgia and all the more commercial parts a theory that it was most profitable to use up your slaves every seven years and then re-stock.

Slaves of course were bred, and it is conceivable that it might have been generally more profitable to have a breeding farm of Negroes and sell the children than work them off in seven years. But there was little method in the minds of the planters. They tried to combine the seven-years system and breeding at the same time. Every girl of sixteen had children, every woman of thirty had grandchildren. But the women were worked up to the last moment of pregnancy on the cotton fields and sent back three weeks after delivery, and even flogged then. The poor women lay on straw on earthen[12] floors in their torments, moaning in their agonies. When sent back to the fields too soon they suffered horrible physical torment. They often appealed to their masters: “Me make plenty nigger for massa, me useful nigger.” But more than half of their offspring were allowed to die. The mother would have been worth her keep as a mother, but, no, she must fill her place in the hoeing line instead of looking after her children.

There were few genuine Negro families. All were herded or separated and sold off in batches and re-herded with little or no regard to family relationships, though these poor, dark-minded slaves did form the most intimate and precious attachments. The slaves’ fervent hope was that massa would marry and have children, so that when he died they would not be sold up, but remain in the family.

Illegitimacy in sexual relationships raged. Almost every planter had besides his own family a dusky brood of colored women. No likely girl escaped the overseers. Poor whites and pinelanders broke into black quarters and ravished where they would. There seemed little squeamishness, and there was little enough effective resistance on the part of black girls. The institution of slavery with its cruelties had brutalized men’s minds. As for the Negro women, one can well understand how little feminine[13] shame would remain when the bare hips were so commonly exposed and flogged.

“Oh, but don’t you know—did nobody ever tell or teach any of you that it is a sin to live with men who are not your husbands?” asked Fanny Kemble of a slave. The latter seized her vehemently by the wrist and exclaimed:

“Oh, yes, missie, we know—we know all about dat well enough; but we do anything to get our poor flesh some rest from the whip; when he make me follow him into de bush, what use me tell him no? He have strength to make me.”[2]

Probably the slave drivers and other white men obtained some sensual gratification from flogging women. Brutality of this kind is often associated with sexual perversity. The taking of Negro women showed a will toward the animal and was an act of greater depravity than ordinary deflections from the straight and moral way. Not that there was not pride in pale babies and even a readiness on the part of some Negresses to give themselves to white men. As a plantation song said: “Twenty-four black girls can’t make one mulatto baby by themselves.”

By flogging and rape and inhuman callousness did the white South express its reaction to black slavery. There were also burnings,[14] demoniacal tortures, flogging to death, and every imaginable human horror. It may well be asked: How came it about that those who protested so high-mindedly about the introduction of slavery did not use the slaves kindly and humanly when they were forced to have them?

The answer I think lies in the fact that no man is good enough to have complete control over any other man. No man can be trusted. Give your best friend or neighbor power over you, and you’ll be surprised at the use he will make of it. Even wives and children in this respect are not safe in the hands of their husbands and parents if they are understood as possessions. “She belongs to me and I’ll kill her,” Gorky makes a drunken cobbler say. “Ah, no, she does not belong to you; she is a woman, and a woman belongs to God,” says the Russian friend.

There is indeed little more terrifying in human experience than the situation which occurs when one human being is entirely in the power of another, when the prisoner in the dungeon confronts his torturer, when the unprotected girl falls completely into the power of a man, when Shylock has Antonio delivered to him, and so forth.

Cruelty can be awakened in almost any man and woman—it can be developed. A taste for cruelty is like a taste for drink or sexual desire or drugs. It is a lust. It is indeed one of the[15] worst of the lusts. One can forgive or excuse a man the other lusts, but cruelty one cannot—and indeed does not wish to forgive or excuse. Yet how readily does it develop.

The incredible story is told of a young girl lashed by the overseer, threatened with burning. She runs away. It is a gala day on the plantation. The white men hunt her to the swamps with bloodhounds and she is torn to bits before their eyes. They love the spectacle of terror even more than the spectacle of pain. The Negro, of nervous, excitable nature, is marked out by destiny to be a butt for cruelty. It is so to-day, long after emancipation; the Negro, in whom hysterical fear can be awakened, is the most likely to be lynched or chased by the mob or slowly burned for its delight. More terrible than the act of cruelty is the state of mind of those who can look on at it and gloat over it. After all, a lynching is often roughly excusable. A man commits a heinous crime against a woman, scandalizing the community, and the community takes the law into its own hands. The rightness of the action can be argued. But what of the state of heart of a mob of a thousand, watching a Negro burning to death, listening happily to his yells and crying out to “make him die slow”? It is an appalling revelation of the devil in man.

And despite the fact that such cruelty agonizes the mind of the tender-hearted and sympathetic,[16] we must remain tolerant in judgment. We must not tolerate intolerance; in all other respects we must be tolerant.

Cruelty is in man. The planters did the natural thing with the slaves who came into their power. The white South would slip into the same way of life again to-day if slavery could be introduced. What is more, you and I, and every man, unless he were of an exceptional nature, would succumb to the system and disgrace ourselves with similar cruelty. A demon not altogether banished still lurks in most of us and can easily be brought back. Lust lives on lust and grows stronger; and cruelty, like other cravings, is a desire of the flesh, and can easily become devouring habit. We are greater brutes after we have committed an act of cruelty or lust than we were before we committed it, and we are made ready to commit more or worse.

Concomitant with cruelty is callousness. An indifference which is less than usual human carelessness sets in with regard to creatures on whom we have satisfied our lusts. Flogging makes a heavy flogged type of human being who looks as if he had always needed flogging. It ceases to be piquant to flog him. The old Negress with brutish human lusts written all over her body is not even horrible or repulsive, elle n’existe plus. The old, worn-out drudge lies down to die in the dirty straw, the flies gathering about his mouth, and expires without one[17] Christian solace or one Christian sympathy. Though ministers waxed eloquent on the Christian advantages to the Blacks of being brought from pagan Africa to Christian America, there quickly sets in the belief that after all Negroes are like animals and have no souls to save.

This callousness showed worst in the selling of slaves, the separating of black husband and wife, parents and children, family and family, with the indifference with which a herdsman separates and detaches sheep from his flock. This, despite the manifest passionate tenderness and attachment of slave to slave, and even upon occasion slave to master and home.

The state of the slaves grew most forlorn, forsaken of man, unknown to God. A prison twilight eclipsed the light of the sun-flooded Southland. A consciousness of a sad, sad fate was begotten among the slaves. All the tribes of the Negroes became one in a community of suffering. And gradually they ceased to be mere savages. They grew to something higher—through suffering. It was a penal offense for many a long year even to preach Christ to them. Slaves were beaten when it was found out that they had been baptized. But before the Blacks were brought to Christ they must have got a great deal nearer Him than had their masters. It was illegal to teach a slave to read and write. But the Negroes in a mysterious way learned the white man’s code and secretly obtained his[18] Bible and plunged into the Old Testament and the New. The white man rightly feared that the spread of education among the slaves would endanger the institution. They spoke of slavery as the institution as if it were the only one in the world. They also feared the spread of Christian teaching.

As it happened, the Negro soul was very thirsty for religion and drank very deeply of the wells of God. The Negroes learned to sing together, thus first of all expressing corporate life. They drew from the story of Israel’s sufferings a token of their own life, and they formed their scarcely articulate hymns—which survive to-day as the only folklore music of America.

Go down, Moses,

Way down in Egyp’ lan’.

Tell ole Pharaoh
Le’ ma people go!

Israel was in Egyp’ lan’,

Oppres’ so hard dey could not stan’.

Le’ ma people go!

or the infinitely pathetic and beautiful

In the valley
On my knees
With my burden
An’ my Saviour

I couldn’t hear nobody pray, O Lord,
Couldn’t hear nobody pray.
O—way down yonder
By myself
I couldn’t hear nobody pray.


Chilly waters
In the Jordan,
Crossing over
Into Canaan,

I couldn’t hear nobody pray, O Lord,
Couldn’t hear nobody pray.
O—way down yonder by myself
I couldn’t hear nobody pray.

Troubles over
In the Kingdom
With my Jesus.

I couldn’t hear nobody pray, O Lord,
Couldn’t hear nobody pray.
O—way down yonder
By myself
I couldn’t hear nobody pray.

The poor slave was very much—way down yonder by himself, and he couldn’t hear nobody pray. Jesus seemed to have been specially born for him—to love his soul when none other was ready to love it, to comfort him in all his sufferings, and to promise him that happy heaven where unabashed the old woolly-head can sit by Mary and “play with the darling Son,” as another “spiritual” expresses it.

The first Negro preachers and evangelists had the inevitable persecution, and as inevitably the persecution failed. The North grew very sympathetic, and Bibles grew as plentiful in the South as dandelion blossoms. It became the unique lesson book of the Negro. It alone fed his spiritual consciousness. He obtained at once an appreciation of its worth to him that made[20] it his greatest treasure, his only offset against his bondage. He learned it by heart, and there came to be a greater textual knowledge of the Bible among the Black masses than among any other people in the world. It is so to-day, though it is fading. The spiritual life of the Negro became as it were an answering beacon to the fervor of the Abolitionists of the North, most of whom were passionate Christians of Puritan type.

The South grew sulky, grew infinitely suspicious and restive, and irritated and fearful. It began to fear a general slaves’ rising. The numerical superiority of the Negroes presented itself to the mind as an ever-growing menace. The idea of emancipation was fraught with the economic ruin it implied. It is difficult now to resurrect the mind of society preceding the time of the great Civil War. It is the fashion to emphasize the technical aspect of the quarrel of North and South, and to say that the war was fought in order that the Union might be preserved. But it is truer to say that it was fought because the South wanted to secede. And the South wished to secede because it saw more clearly every day that the institution of slavery was in danger. Every month, every year, saw its special occasions of irritation, premonitory splashing out of flame, petty explosions and threats. More slaves escaped every year. The Underground Railway, so called, by which the[21] Friends succored the poor runaways and brought them out of danger and distress into the sanctuary of the North grew to be better and better organized. On the other hand, the punishments of discovered runaways grew more barbarous and more public, and the rage of the North was inflamed.

Heroic John Brown made his abortive bid to light up a slaves’ insurrection by his wild exploit of Harper’s Ferry. And then John Brown, old man as he was, of apostolic aspect and fervor, was tried and condemned. He did not fear to die. But he wrote to his children that they should “abhor with undying hatred that sum of all villainies, slavery,” and while he was being led to the gallows he handed to a bystander his last words and testament—

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had as I now think vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done....

And in his ill-fitting suit and trousers and loose carpet slippers John Brown was hanged silently and solemnly, and all the troops watching him, even stern Stonewall Jackson himself, were stricken with a sort of premonitory terror. Soon came the great war.

And the slaves were made free. That is their story. Where do they stand to-day?




By the abolition of slavery mankind threw off a great evil. The slave owner escaped as well as the slave. For, although our human sympathy goes more readily to the slaves themselves, it is nevertheless true that it was as bad for the spirit and character of the owners as for those of their chattels. To-day in America, and especially in the South, there is a hereditary taint in the mind derived from slavery and it is to be observed in the descendants of the masters as much as in the descendants of the slaves. It would be a mistake to think of this American problem as exclusively a Negro problem. It is as necessary to study the white people as the black. The children of the owners and the overseers and the slave drivers are not the same as the children of families where no slaves were ever owned. Mastery of men and power over men have been bred in their blood. That in part explains the character of that section of the United States where slaves were most owned, and the brutality, cruelty, and sensuality which upon occasion disfigure the face of society in 1920. The old dead self leers out with[23] strange visage from the new self, which wishes to be different.

If you see a white man in New Orleans rolling his quid and spitting out foul brutality against “niggers,” you will often find that his father was a driver on a plantation. Or if in that abnormal way so characteristic of the South you hear foul sexual talk about the Negroes rolling forth from a lowbrow in Vicksburg, it is fairly likely that he is full of strange black lust himself, and that his father and grandfather perchance assaulted promiscuously Negro women and contributed to the writing of racial shame in the vast bastardy of the South. If you hear a man urging that the Negro is not a human being, but an animal, you will often find that he himself is nearer to the animal. His fathers before him held that the Negroes were animals and not humans. And, believing them animals, they yet sinned with the animals, and so brought themselves down to animal level. You see a crowd of white men near Savannah. They are mostly proud of their English origin. Yet they are going to burn a Negro alive for killing a sheriff. How is it possible in this century? It is possible because it is in the blood of the children. They crave to see Uncle Tom’s flesh crackling in the flames and hear his hysterical howls. Their fathers did. Their children’s children will do the same unless it is stamped out by the will of society as a whole.


Of course the inheritance of evil is not the same in all classes of society. Everyone inherits something from the baleful institution, but not everyone the same. The mind of the coarse White is crude and terrible, and the mind of the refined is certainly different. One should perhaps be more lenient to the poor, and more urgent in criticism of the rich. For all stand together, and the disease is one not merely of individuals, but of the whole. The rich and cultured condone the brutality of the masses because they have a point of view which is incompatible with theirs.

Those whose ancestors treated the slaves well, claim to be immune from all criticism. There were in the old days many kind and considerate masters to whom the Negroes were wonderfully attached. But even these masters suffered from the institution of slavery, as any rich man suffers from dependence on retainers and flunkeys and servants whom he practically owns, as all suffer who are divorced from the reality of earning their living as equals with their neighbors. And their children, brought up amidst the submissive servility of the Negroes, grew to be little monarchs or chiefs, and always to expect other people to do things for them. Where ordinary white children learn to ask and say “please,” they learned to order and command and to threaten with punishment. The firm lip of the educated Southerner has an expression which[25] is entirely military. In the army, one asks for nothing of inferiors except courage on the day of battle. All is ordered. And the power to order and to be obeyed rapidly changes the expression of the features. It has changed the physiognomy of the aristocracy in the Southern section of the United States. You can classify all faces into those who say “please” and those who do not, and the children of the slave owners are mostly in the second category. Unqualified mastership; indifference to dirt and misery in the servant class; callous disregard of others’ pain, or pleasure taken in their pain; slaves said to be animals and not human beings, and the superadded sin of bestiality, using a lower caste to satiate coarse lusts which the upper caste could not satisfy; the buying and selling of creatures who could otherwise only belong to God—all these terrible sins or sinful conditions are visited on the third and fourth generation of those who hate, though as must always be said, God’s mercy is shown to thousands of them that love Him and keep His eternal commandments.

The children of the slaves also inherit evil from their slavery. The worst of these are resentment and a desire for revenge. Doubtless, slavery sensualized the Negro. He was the passive receptacle for the white man’s lusts. Most of the Negroes arrived in America more morally pure than they are to-day. As savages, they[26] were nearer to nature. Mentally and spiritually they are much higher now, but they have learned more about sin, and sin is written in most of their bodies. It is sharpest in the mulattoes and “near whites”—those whose ancestors were longest in slavery have the worst marks of it in them. The state of the last slaves to be imported into America is much simpler and happier than the rest. The moral character of the black Negroes is also simpler than that of the pallid ones. But this is anticipating my story. I set off to study the ex-slave because the civilized world is threatened by what may be called a vast slaves’ war. In Russia the grandchildren of the serfs have overthrown those who were once their masters, and have taken possession of the land and the state; in Germany Spartacus has arisen to overthrow the military slavery of Prussianism; and the wage slaves are rising in every land. There is a vast resentment of lower orders against upper orders, of the proletarians, who have nothing and are nothing, against those who through inheritance or achievement have reached the ruling class. The Negroes are in no way to be compared to the Russians in intellectual or spiritual capacity: they are racially so much more undeveloped. Much less divided Russian serf from Russian master than slave from planter. But it is just because the contrast between the American white man and American black man is so[27] sharp and the quarrel so elemental in character that it has seemed worth while to explore the American situation. And if the struggle is more elemental, it can hardly be said that there is not more at stake. American industrialism is ravaged by waves of violent revolutionary ferment. If ill-treatment of the Blacks should at last force the twelve millions of them to make common cause with a revolutionary mob, polite America might be overwhelmed and the larger portion of the world be lost—if not of the world, at least of that world we call civilization.

What, then, of the Negro? What is he doing, what does he look like, what does he feel to-day? It is impossible to learn much from current books, so, following the dictum: “What is remarkable, learn to look at it with your own eyes,” I went to America to see.

I chose Olmsted as my model. In 1853 Olmsted made a famous journey through the seaboard States, holding up his mirror to the life of the South in slavery days. The book which records his impressions and reflections is one of the most valuable in American literature. This great student of nature went methodically through Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana. A pilgrimage not unlike his has to be repeated to-day to ascertain how the ex-slave is, what he is doing, how the experiment of his liberation has prospered, and what is his future in the American Commonwealth.[28] But as America is so much more developed in 1920, and more problematical in the varied fields of her national life, it has been necessary to make a broader, if more rapid, survey of the whole South. I made the following journey in America: I went slowly south from New York to Trenton, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, staying some days at each and seeing America grow darker as it visibly does when you watch faces from trolley car windows going from town to town southward. I was on South Street, in Philadelphia; watched the well-paid artisans and laborers at the docks of Baltimore, visited there the polite homes of the colored working class, cleaner, richer, cozier than that of the average British workman on Tyneside or London Docks. I climbed the Lincoln Heights to talk to Nanny Burroughs and see her good training college for colored women there; was at Howard University and talked with black and gentle Professor Miller and with the pale and intellectual Emmett Scott. I sailed down the Potomac to Norfolk, Virginia, Uncle Sam’s great naval base, going to be the greatest of its kind in the world; crossed to Newport News and talked with black rivetters and chippers and others in the shipbuilding yards; then, following the way of the first English colonists and also the first Negro slaves, went up the James River to Jamestown, and on to Richmond, the fine capital of the Old Dominion. I[29] traveled to Lynchburg and its tobacco industries, went from thence to “sober” Knoxville, investigating the race riot there and the attitude of Tennessee. From Knoxville I went to Chattanooga and Birmingham, in each of which great steel centers I met the leading Negroes and investigated conditions. I was at Atlanta, and walked across Georgia to the sea, following Sherman. A three-hundred-mile walk through the cotton fields and forests of Georgia was necessary in order to get a broad section of the mass of the people. The impression left behind by Sherman’s army which laid waste the country and freed all the Negroes there gave also something of the historical atmosphere of the South. From Savannah, which was the point on the sea to which General Sherman attained, I went to Brunswick and Jacksonville, thence to Pensacola, and on from Florida to New Orleans and the Gulf plantations. I journeyed up the Mississippi on a river steamer, stayed at the Negro city of Mound Bayou, was at Vicksburg and Greenville and Memphis, and then repaired once more to the contrasting North.

Crossing the Mason-Dixon line was rather a magical and wonderful event for me. After all, the North, with its mighty cities and industrialized populations, is merely prose to one who comes from England. Pennsylvania is a projection of Lancashire and Yorkshire, New York is a projection of London, and massive Washington[30] has something of the oppressiveness of English park drives and Wellingtonias. But southward one divines another and a better country. It has a glamour; it lures. There the orange grows and there are palms; there is a hotter sun and brighter flowers. Human beings there, one surmises, have a more romantic disposition and warmer imagination. Reposing on the vast feudalism of Negro labor there is a more stately way of living, life is more spacious. And at the resorts on the coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico a great number of people live for pleasure and happiness, and not for business and ambition.

I journeyed on a white-painted steamer in the evening down the Potomac to Old Point Comfort, leaving behind me the noise and glare of Washington and the hustle of Northern American civilization. It was the crossing of a frontier—without show of passports or examination of trunks, the passing to a new country, with a different language and different ways. The utter silence of the river was a great contrast to the clangor of the streets of Philadelphia and Baltimore and the string of towns I had been passing through on my way South. Sunset was reflected deep in the stream, and mists crept over the surface of the water. Then the moon silvered down on our course, my cabin window was full open and the moon looked in. I lay in a capacious sort of cottage bed and was[31] enchanted by the idea of going to “Dixie,” of which we had all sung so much; and the soft Southern airs and night and the throbbing of the river steamer gliding over the placid water gave an assurance of some new refreshment of spirit. With a quaint irrelevance the whole British army, and indeed the nation, had been singing “Dixie” songs throughout the war—“Just try to picture me, way down in Tennessee” we were always asking of one another. Now, behold, the war was over, and it might be possible to go there and forget a little about all that sordid and tumultuous European quarrel.

All night the river whispered its name and lulled the boat to sleep. Dawn on the broad serenity of the waters at Old Point Comfort was utterly unlike the North, from which I had come, and the last ten days of jangling trolley cars hustling along shoppy streets. A morning star shone in the pale-blue sky, lighting as it were a vestal lamp over the coast, and we looked upon Virginia. As the sun rose, vapor closed in the scene. We made the port of Norfolk in a mist which seemed each moment getting warmer. The chill winds of October were due in the North, but Virginia was immune. During the week I spent in the city of Norfolk and on Hampton Roads it did not get less than 85 in the shade, even at night. The weather, however, was hotter than is usual even in Eastern Virginia at that time of the year.


I obtained the impression of a great city rather cramped for want of space, and in this I suppose I was right. By all accounts Norfolk has trebled its population during the war, and needs to have its center rebuilt spaciously and worthily. When Olmsted came through in 1853 he records that Norfolk was a dirty, low, ill-arranged town, having no lyceum or public library, no gardens, no art galleries, and though possessing two “Bethels” having no “Seamen’s Home” and no place of healthy amusement. He rather makes fun of a Lieutenant Maury, who in those days was having a vision of the Norfolk of the future, and saw it one of the greatest ports in the world, being midmost point of the Atlantic coast and having an inner and an outer harbor with perfect facilities of ingress and egress in all weathers.

To-day Lieutenant Maury’s vision has proved prophetic. In the maps of the new America which is coming, Norfolk is destined to be printed in ever larger letters. The war showed the way. The determination of America to be worthily armed at sea made it certain, and the future of Norfolk, with Hampton Roads and Newport News, is to be the primary naval base of the Atlantic coast. The military and naval activities of Norfolk during the war were very important. Eastern Virginia was a great training ground, and Norfolk the main port of embarkation of troops for Europe. Shipbuilding[33] and naval construction also were in full swing. Great numbers of laborers, especially Negroes, seem to have been attracted. The number no doubt is exaggerated, but the colored people there number themselves now at one hundred thousand. They have been attracted by the high wages and the record of Norfolk for immunity from mob violence. A lynching is not in anyone’s remembrance. Trouble might have broken out during the war, but Norfolk possessed an excellent “City Manager” who was always prepared.

On one occasion some five hundred sailors set out to “clean up colored town,” but they were met by an adequate force of armed police and marines and changed their minds. On the other hand, a mob of colored crews and troops started an attack on the town jail, but a few armed men quickly dispersed them.

I noticed at once that the Blacks of Norfolk were very much more black than those of Washington or New York. Their hair was more matted. Their eyes were more goggly. They were more odorous. When the black chambermaid had been in my room for two minutes it was filled with a pungent and sickening odor. The elevator reeked with this odor. It was the characteristic smell of my first Southern hotel. I noticed it on the trolley cars. It was wafted among the vegetables and fruit of the city[34] market. Indeed, the whole town had it. I grew used to it after a while and was told by those who were liberal of mind that every race had its smell. For instance, to certain tribes of Indians there was said to be nothing so disgusting as the smell of a perfectly clean white man. Even when a man who has a bath every day and a change into perfectly fresh linen came into his presence, the Indian felt sick. Negroes were supposed to notice the smell of white men, but were too subservient or polite to remark upon it. There is, however, a good deal of doubt about this point in human natural history. The smell that we have is the smell of the animal in us, and not of the more human or spiritual part of us. One knows the smell of the bear and the fox, and that the wolf has a stronger smell than the dog, and the wild cat than the domestic cat. Bloodhounds are said to follow the trail of the Negro more readily than that of the white man, and it might reasonably be argued that the terrible odor of the Blacks is due to their greater proximity to an animal stage in development. Be that as it may, I quite see that this odor is something which the Negro will have difficulty in living down. I learned that he was very sensitive about it, as about his kinky hair, and that the more educated and refined he became the more he strove to get rid of these marks. That explained to me why in all those happy streets of prosperous Baltimore at every corner there[35] was a “Beauty Parlor,” where specialists plied Mme. Walker’s “Anti-Kink,” and why the prosperous Negro workingman demanded a bathroom and hot water in his home. The reason why the Blacks seem blacker in the South seems to be because they are segregated in “Jim Crow” sections of the cars, and none of the black comes off on white people, but is on the contrary intensified by the shadow of black looks.

The colored folk here, moreover, seemed to talk more in the way they are supposed to talk, and are not mincing the American tongue, as in the North. Outside my room one maid says: “You’s a fool, sister Ann.” “Yas, sister Sue, dat’s ‘zackly what I am,” says the other, and laughs and repeats it as if it were the greatest joke—“Dat’s ‘zackly what I am.”

I went into the streets to seek the Rev. B——, a leading colored preacher of Norfolk. I stood in wonderment before a whitewashed chapel with large china-blue stained-glass windows luridly depicting our Lord’s baptism and the opening of the heavens over the Jordan. A grizzled old Negro in a cotton shirt stopped in front of me and exclaimed insinuatingly, “You’s looking at cullud folks’ church; ain’t it bewtiful?” I took the opportunity to ask for the Rev. B——. He led me along and pointed up a flight of wooden steps to a sufficiently handsome dwelling place.


Rev. B—— on seeing me had a gleam of doubt on his face for perhaps one second, but only for a second. One instinctively felt that here in Virginia, where the color line is sharply drawn, no white man is likely to present himself on terms of equality to a black man without the desire to patronize or some guile of some kind. It is rare for any white man to call upon any educated black man, and very rarely indeed that he comes to him in a straightforward, honest, and sincere manner. So the Rev. B—— showed doubt for a moment, and then suddenly, after a few words, his doubt vanished. In my subsequent journeying and adventures it was always thus—doubt at first glance, and then, rapidly, the awakening of implicit trust and confidence. I personally found the Negroes nearly always friendly. Mr. B—— was a sparely-colored, lean, intellectual young man, a capable white man in a veil of dark skin. He was all but white. I looked at his webby hands—what a pity, it seemed, that, being so near, he could not be altogether. And yet I realized that in such men and women, no matter how fair they be, the psyche is different. There is something intensely and insolubly Negro in even the nearest of near whites.

Rev. B—— took me all over the city. He was evidently extremely well known to the colored people, for our conversation was intertwined with a ceaseless——


“How do, Revrun?”

“How do?”

He showed me his charmingly built church (not that with the china-blue windows), contrived in graceful horseshoe style, with graduated, sloping gallery, richly-stained windows, and a vast array of red-cushioned seats. A black organist was discoursing upon the organ, and a voluminous, dusky charwoman with large arms was cleaning and dusting among the pews below.

There sat under Rev. B—— every Sunday a fair share of the quality colored folk of Norfolk. “I am glad that you have come to me, because I can show you an up-to-date and proper church,” said the pastor. “There are nine or ten like this in Norfolk, but when a stranger asks to see a Negro church he’s usually taken to some out-of-the-way tabernacle of the Holy Folks or some queer sect where everyone is shouting Hallelujah, and it all seems very funny. But if you’ll come to me on Sunday morning you’ll hear a service which for dignity and spiritual comeliness will compare with any white man’s service in any part of the world. You mustn’t think of us as still cotton pickers and minstrels and nothing more. There is a great deal of Negro wealth and refinement in this city of Norfolk.”

“How do you get on with white ministers?” I asked. “Do you work together?”


“Oh, white ministers do not recognize black ones on the street,” said he. “My neighbor, for instance, knows me well enough at the Baptist Conference, and by his talk I see he knows all about my church. But here in the city he cannot afford to know me. Yet he has not half so many worshippers at his church, nor do they pay him half the salary which my people pay me. He dare not spend on his clothes what I spend; he has not such a well-appointed home. Yet if we meet on the street—he doesn’t know me.”

This was evidently a sore point.

We went to Brown’s Bank. Brown has gone to Philadelphia to start a second Negro bank. The first one has been in existence ten years. Brown is a financier, and something more than that. For he encourages the Negro theatres and is greatly helping his people along their way. We also visited the polite edifice of the Tidewater Bank and Trust Company, which has been built since the Armistice. “It was contracted for by Negroes and built by Negroes alone,” said the treasurer proudly—a blunt, bullet-headed, whimsical fellow, with an intense desire to push business and to hustle. All the clerks and stenographers were colored. Each teller sat in his steel cage for which he alone held the key. All the latest banking machinery was in operation, including the coin separator and counter and wrapper, and the adding machine.[39] I worked an imaginary account under colored direction, using the adding machine, and gave assent to its infallibility. They showed me their strong room, and I peeped at their cash reserves. The treasurer and “Revrun” then took me up into a high mountain, namely, the Board Room, which was in a gallery overlooking the whole of the working part of the bank.

“My motto,” said the treasurer, “is, ‘Folks who only work for us as long as they are paid will find they are only paid for what they have done.’ We work here till we are through, be it eleven or twelve o’clock at night. The man who isn’t hard is not for us.”

We talked about the Negro.

“He must win freedom,” said the banker. “It is never a bequest, but a conquest. You can’t have redemption without the shedding of the Precious Blood, can you, Reverend? I am fighting for the Negro by succeeding in business. There’s only one thing that can bring him respect, and that is achievement.”

These were his most impressive words. We walked out of the new bank.

“He has his knock-about car and his limousine and a finely appointed house and a governess for his children,” said Rev. B——, as we footed it once more in the sun-bathed street. “But of course you can be a millionaire to-day and it won’t help you to marry even the poorest white girl. Or you can be a Negro heiress,[40] but no amount of wealth will induce a white man to marry a colored girl. For the matter of that, though, there are Negroes so white you couldn’t tell the difference, and we’ve got plenty to choose from if our tastes lie that way. If a Negro wants to marry a white, he can find plenty within his own race.”

Rev. B—— was himself married to a woman who could pass as white, in Southern Europe, and his children were little white darlings with curly hair. We hailed a heavy “F and D” car. I will not mention the actual name of the build. A young colored dandy was sitting in it. “You see this car?” said Reverend. “It belongs to Dr. R——. It’s an ‘F and D.’ In many places the agents will not sell this build of car to a Negro, even for cash down.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, it’s a fine type of car, and rich white men in a city don’t care to see a colored man going about in one exactly the same. An agent would lose business if he sold them to Negroes. What’s more, whether he lost business or not, he wouldn’t do it. Here in Virginia, however, there is not so much prejudice, but when you go further South you’ll find it.”

We got into the car. The young dandy proved to be a doctor’s assistant, a sort of apprentice to the great physician we were about to meet. He had graduated at Fisk, which he called the Negro Athens. He was dressed in a well-cut[41] suit of gray, a rich necktie, and a felt hat which was in excellent taste. His complexion was of the cocoa-brown, highly-polished type, and his large eyes were quiet and reflective, as if unawakened to the joy of life. Politely chatting to us, he guided the beautiful car along some of the most terribly rutty and broken streets.

“We pay equal taxes,” said he, “but because colored people live in these streets the city won’t repair the roads. They are all rich people living in these houses, all Negroes. Several of them own cars.... Now look on the other hand at this street. It’s a white street, all smoothly repaired. What a beautiful surface; see the difference!” Rev. B—— urged this point also. It was a striking example of inequality, and one that makes a strong appeal.

Dr. R—— proved to be a rich practitioner living in a delightful villa with polished floors and a French neatness and charm in the furniture and decorations. The sun blinds were all down, and a pleasant creamy light was diffused upon his books and pictures and silk-upholstered divan. He was very busy, but said he could always spare a few moments from his profession if it were a question of helping his race, and he thought nothing could help the Negroes more than a dispassionate review of their situation by a white man who could bring it not merely before America, but before the world. He had more patients than he could[42] deal with, all Negroes, with the exception of a few Jews. The Jews have no prejudice, and are ready to be attended by a good doctor, whatever the color of his skin, which is a point in any case in favor of the Jews. For a long while the Negroes distrusted their own doctors, and thought that only a white man could possibly have the skill to treat them. But a later generation has discovered that their own folk have an excellent grasp of medicine. My further acquaintance with a considerable number of colored doctors in the South has led me to the conclusion that their temperament suits them admirably. They make good doctors. What is more, they naturally understand the Negro’s body and constitution and nervous system better than the white man, and the pathology of the Negro is very different from that of the white man. The white doctor as yet has not given much separate study to the Negro’s body—though it is certainly very different from ours in many ways. He is inclined perhaps to be a little brutal and offhand with Negro patients—and they certainly are tiresome, with their superstitious fear of ill health and evil eyes, and what not. This impatience has helped the colored practitioner. Negroes, like other people, go where they are best treated, and the medical attendance upon a hundred thousand people could make many doctors rich.

In the old slavery days the Negroes were just[43] a broad base where all were equal. To-day the “race” has lifted up an intelligent and professional class. The working Negro population of Norfolk could lift up its intellectual apex of minister, doctor, and banker, and make them comparatively rich men, and give them all the show of luxury and culture which would have been the lot of white men in similar positions. So the broad base of slavery grows to be a pyramid of freedom.

Dr. R—— was a shrewd, capable, little human mountain. He said, “I think the time has come for the Negro to amass wealth; it’s the only thing that counts in America.” He thought the League of Nations might help the Negro if its representatives ever met at Washington. There would be Frenchmen and Englishmen and Italians, and, being so near to the South, it would be a shame to America if lynchings took place while they were sitting. As it was, the Negro South was a sort of skeleton cupboard which must not be exposed.

From him I learned first that the Negro had not access to the Carnegie libraries in the South. I was surprised. Up at Baltimore, in the North, I was talking to a librarian, and he averred that the Negroes used the public library much more than white people, and that there were so many darkies that Whites did not care to go. But I travel such a very short distance South, and I find no Negro admitted at all.


“Surely that is contrary to the spirit of the Carnegie grants,” said I.

“Yes, for Carnegie was a good friend to the Negro. But so it is,” said Dr. R——. “And I do not think Negroes should agitate about it. It would be better for Negroes to build their own libraries. We shall have to do so. But we don’t want to intrude where we’re not wanted.”

He told me what he considered the most thrilling moment of his life. He was out with a friend at midnight watching the posting of election results, when suddenly a “lewd woman” came out of a house door, screaming and waving her arms. She made right for them, and they were in terror lest she should fall down at their feet or start reviling them. Fortunately, they had the presence of mind not to run away from her, or they might have been lynched by the crowd.

The worthy doctor took us out and drove us all over the city, heartily apologizing that he could not ask me to have any meal with his wife and himself. “For, although you may have no prejudice, it would not be safe for either of us if it were known.” Which was indeed so. Throughout the whole of the South it is impossible to eat or drink with a colored man or woman.

My chief way of finding people to whom I had introductions was by reference to the city directory. Here I found that all colored people were marked with a star—as much as to say,[45] “Watch out; this party’s colored.” White women were indicated as “Mrs.” or “Miss,” but colored women always as plain “Sarah Jones” or “Betty Thompson,” or whatever the name might be, without any prefix. This I discovered to be one of many small grievances of the Negro population, akin to that of not having their roads mended though they pay taxes, and being obliged to take back seats behind a straw screen in the trolley cars.

It was a novel impression in the Negro church on Sunday morning. I came rather early, and found an adult Bible class discussing theology in groups. One man near me exclaimed, “It says ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,’ doesn’t it, brother? Well, then, I believe, so why argufy? I an’t a-goin’ to take no chances. No, sir, I an’t a-goin’ to do it”—a serene black child of forty years or so.

In the full congregation were all types of Negroes. The men were undistinguished, but the women were very striking. One lady wore a gilded skirt and a broad-brimmed, black straw hat. Two Cleopatras sat in front of me—tall, elegant, graceful, expensively dressed as in Mayfair, one in chiffon, the other in soft gray satin, tiny gold chains about their necks, pearl earrings in their ears. They had smooth, fruit-like cheeks, curving outward to perfect bell mouths. When they sang they lifted their full, dusky throats like grand birds. They were[46] evidently of the élite of Norfolk. On the other hand, there were numbers of baggy and voluminous ladies with enormous bosoms, almost visibly perspiring. They thronged and they thronged, and all the red-cushioned seats filled up. There were men of all types, from the perfect West African Negro to the polished American Arab, yellow men, brown men, lots with large tortoise-shell spectacles, all with close-cropped hair which showed the Runic lines of their hard heads. Fans were provided for every worshipper, and noisy religious and family talk filled the whole chapel.

We began with some fine singing—not deep and harmonious and complex as that of the Russians, but hard, resonant, and breezy, followed by conventional prayers and the reading of the Scriptures. The pastor then sent someone to ask me if I would come forward and give them Christian greeting in a few words. I was much astonished, as I did not know one ever broke into the midst of Divine Service in that way. However, I came forward and confronted the strange sea of dusky, eager faces and the thousand waving paper fans, and I said: “Dear brothers and sisters, I am an Englishman and a white man, but before these I am a Christian. In Christ, as you know, there is neither white nor black, neither inferiority nor superiority of race, unless it is that sometimes the first shall be last and the last first. We know little about[47] the American Negro in England, but I have come to find out. I have not been sent by anybody, but was just prompted by the Spirit to come out here and make your acquaintance, and so bring tidings home to England. I hope you will take that as an assurance of loving interest in you, and a promise for the future. I am glad to see you have made such progress since slavery days and have in Norfolk fine houses and churches and banks and a theatre and restaurants and businesses, and that you have such a large measure of happiness and freedom. I believe you have great gifts to offer on the altar of American civilization, and so far from remaining a problem you will prove a treasure.” And I told some touching words of my friend Hugh Chapman, of the chapel of the Savoy, in London: “Mankind is saved, not by a white man, or by a black, but by one who combines both—the little brown Man of Nazareth.”

It was a strange sensation, that of facing the Negro congregation. I could find no touch, no point of contact, could indeed take nothing from them. The spiritual atmosphere was an entirely different one from that of a gathering of Whites. I should have been inclined to say that there was no spiritual atmosphere whatever. For me it was like speaking to an empty room and a vast collection of empty seats. But I know there was something there, though I could not realize it.


After the service there came up to me a purely delightful creature, full of an almost dangerous ardor for what I had said. She was the leading spirit at the Liberty Club for colored soldiers and jack tars. In the afternoon I listened to some wonderful singing at another church. The little black organist woman sang at the top of her voice while she bent over the keys, and waved the spirit into her choir by eager movements with the back of her hand.

“Take me, shake me, don’t let me sleep,” they sang, and it was infinitely worth while. I felt that in the great ultimate harmony we could not do without this voice, the voice of the praise of the dark children.

Next week I went over to Newport News. On a wall in Norfolk I read: “T. Adkins, Newport News,” and underneath someone had written, “You could not pay me to live there: Robert Johnson, Norfolk.”

That might possibly explain the relativity of the two places. Newport News is a ramshackle settlement on the sands across the water from Norfolk. It has a nondescript, ill-dressed, well-paid, wild, working-class population, with all manner of cheap shops and low lodging houses. On every fifth window seems to be scrawled in whitewash, “HOT DOG 5 cents.” It was explained to me that this is sausage of a rather poor quality. I had never seen the article so frankly named elsewhere. For the rest, a good[49] deal of manifest immorality strolls the streets at night or is voiced on dark verandas. The police station is a place of considerable mystery and glamour, and I should say Newport News at this season would have proved an interesting research for the vice raker. I paid three dollars for a room whose lock had been burst off, and one of whose windows was broken, a mosquito-infested hovel, but the only room obtainable.

A very interesting young colored trainer took me over the shipbuilding yards the next day. He was an enthusiastic boxer, and I asked him the cause of Negro excellence in this sport. For there are at least three Negro boxers whom no white boxers have been able to beat, and this excellence has caused the championship rules to be altered so as to disqualify colored champions.

He said it was due to quicker eye and greater aggressiveness, above all to greater aggressiveness. The Negro is a born fighter. It is true he has greater endurance and a much harder skull, but he has also remarkable aptitude.

“Has the Negro boxer more science?” I asked.

“No, perhaps not so much. He has fighting blood, that’s what it is. His ancestors fought for thousands of years.”

I remarked that the red Indians fought also, but they were poor boxers. He put that down to slight physique.


“I got tired of watching boxing matches in the army,” said I. “The bulkier and more brutal types always seemed to get the better of those who were merely skillful. I expect that is why we don’t like watching a Negro and a white man boxing, it is too much a triumph of body over mind.”

“There’s no finer sight than to watch two Negroes well matched,” said the trainer, with a smile.

I thought good boxing showed more the animal side of a man, and I recalled a reported saying of Jack Johnson—“I’se ready to fight mos’ any man that they is, an’ if ye cahn find any man, why, just send me down a great big black Russian bear....”

“It jarred the white folk terrible bad that Jack Johnson was the real champion of the world,” said the trainer. “When the news came through of Jack Johnson beating Jeffries so far away as Denver, Colorado, the white folk began pulling the Negroes off the street cars in Norfolk, Virginia, and beating them, just to vent their rage, they were so sore.”

I thought that rather amusing, but the trainer took a gloomy view. However, in we went to the shipbuilding yard and looked at many great vessels in dry dock. Out came a motley crowd of men, blacker than their nature through the dirt of their work. The ship painters were splashed from head to foot with the characteristic red[51] paint of ships, and looked like some new tribe; the blue-shirted rivetters and chippers were all frayed and ragged from contact with sharp edges and iron. These Negro workers were very happy and jolly. They seemed nearly all to be on piecework and earned in most cases ten dollars a day, and in some exceptional cases and upon occasion twenty or twenty-five dollars. The rivetters, according to the scale of pay, seemed to be capable of earning huge wages, and many of them were comparatively well off, possessing their homes, and giving their children a good education. The trainer pointed out to me his athletic pets. He was employed by the company to organize competitions and races and baseball teams and the like. The strongest Negroes seemed among the gentlest. The heavyweight champion was a large and beautiful child. He never lost his temper in the ring, because, as I was told, he never needed to. His ears were not turned to “cauliflower” and his nose was not flattened out—as yet.

The lunch hour was remarkable for the swarms of men belched forth by the works. A twenty-cent lunch was ready for all. Wives and mothers also were allowed to come and bring food to supplement what was served at the stands. Lunch over, the men formed into groups, and in some places there were Bible discussions, in others sporting competitions. Despite high wages, I noticed some Negroes[52] going about picking up crusts and putting them into paper bags, presumably to feed the chickens with when they got home. My guide said this was due to the “Save” propaganda which had been carried on. Y. M. C. A. work was very much to the fore, an industrial “Y” having been financed by the owners of the yard. I was told that a little while ago the company found it difficult to keep the young Negro boys—the heaters and passers, on whose work the rivetter depends, for one boy heats the rivet and another passes it, and the rivetter strikes it home. They found so little in the place to interest them that they drifted away from the works. It was this that had determined the firm to embark on a program of physical culture and games. There was also a Y. M. C. A. hut and its usual appurtenances. A long list of evening classes was being arranged. A large building had been promised to the “Y” if it made good.

I could not find any man who belonged to a genuine trade-union affiliated to the American Federation of Labor, though most belonged to “Colored People’s Brotherhoods.” The Whites with whom they worked, and with whom they have upon occasion great rivetting competitions, were presumably non-union also, but that is common; labor in America is poorly organized, compared with labor in Great Britain. Almost the whole of Negro labor is at present outside the recognized unions, and for that reason can[53] almost always be used to break strikes. This is, of course, unfortunate for the Negro, who is thus branded as a “blackleg” in addition to being black by nature, which was reproach enough.

I met a strange character in the evening, one of the colored organizers, a friend of the white men, and in with the bosses of the yards. He was possibly a descendant of the type of Negro who in slavery days acted as agent for the slave merchants, and was to be found on the West African shore lording it over the batches of poor savages who with hands tied up were being hustled on to the slave ships. It used to be a recognizable type. When they themselves were brought over to America they became overseers or field drivers, and brutal enough they were to their fellow men of color. To-day they are foremen or speeders up of Negro gangs, or you find them under the auspices of “Welfare.”

This was a lazy Negro, fat and heavy, with a confused non-thinking mind, great sooty lips, and bloodshot eyes. He told me he put on a wig at night and prowled about the town, spying on vice. The great numbers of black soldiers embarking or disembarking had attracted sharps and bad women of all kinds. The streets were infested with sin, and he knew which boarding houses were disreputable and which were properly kept. He knew where there was[54] drink, and who was organizing the “bootlegging” business, and what graft the police took. Though sluggish by nature, this gloomy soul evidently got full of life at night—spying on the people.

He told me the richest colored man in Newport News was a dentist who charged as much as six dollars an hour for stopping teeth. The example of this dentist’s success had caused several fathers to educate their children for dentistry rather than the Church or the Law. “But we Negroes don’t want to rise,” said he. “We want to show off. We are great imitators of swagger. They’ll come wearing a forty-dollar suit and a clean collar, and brandish a cigar in your face when that is all they have in the world. We’re a crude people, sir.”

There was on the one hand in Newport News a nucleus of prosperous Negro families, and on the other hand the many gambling places and dancing dens where health and ambition and money, and everything else which can help a man to rise could be squandered. In time to come, when society takes root, Newport News should become a Negro stronghold. Already there are so many Negroes no white man dare start a riot.

Not far from Newport News is Hampton Institute, the “Negro Eton,” which produces the Curzons and the Cecils of the colored race, as someone amusingly expressed it. It is the crown[55] of Northern effort to educate the Negro. Endowment and instruction are mostly by Whites. Everyone is engaged in vital self-support, and the students plough the fields, make boots, build wagons, print books, and learn all manner of practical lessons in life. Above all, they are made ready to teach and help others of their race. It is the show place of the Negro world, and rightly so, as most of those who lead Negrodom hail as yet from Hampton.

I did not myself visit Hampton, because it has been adequately described in books, and generally speaking I would rather study the Negro in his unperfumed haunts, where he is less disguised with Northern culture. Perhaps one learns more of the needs and requirements of the Negroes by visiting a poor school where the ordinary routine of teaching is going on. I visited a high school named after Booker T. Washington, and talked to the students in the classes. The young lady who took me to the head master wore a low-cut, white blouse from which her dainty neck and her head of kinky hair grew like a palm tree. She had dog’s teeth for eardrops hanging from her ears, and large, kind, questioning eyes. The head master was a quiet young man from some Negro university, full of pent-up enthusiasm for his race and for learning. He had boundless enthusiasm for the Negro people and their possibilities. Was not the greatest French writer a colored man, and[56] the greatest Russian poet of Negro blood? We went into the composition class. They were doing “Argumentation,” which is perhaps a trifle dull, but we discussed brevity and the principle of suspense. In the English class each child had read “Silas Marner” and was taking it in turn to re-tell the story when called upon by the teacher. This was pretty well done, though Americanisms were frequent, and the two brothers were said to be “disagreeable” when it was meant that they disagreed. In French the whole class was standing around the walls of the room, writing French sentences on the blackboards fitted into the panelling. French was very popular. Every child wanted to go to France by and by. In the Latin class we discussed the merits of Cæsar, in the cookery class whether they ate what they cooked, in the needlework, invisible mending—when suddenly the fire bell sounded. Each class at once got up and filed out in orderly manner. In one minute the whole school of seven hundred black children was cleared. Then they marched back in twos, shoulder to shoulder, in fine style, to the rub-a-dub-dub of a kettledrum. It was a surprise alarm, called by a visiting fire inspector. None, even of the teachers, had known whether the alarm was real.

The teachers here were all black, and possessed of the greatest enthusiasm; the children presented some hopeless types, but they were[57] mostly very eager and intelligent. The methods of teaching seemed to be advanced, but there were many deficiencies, notably that of the chemistry class, where all the apparatus was in a tiny cupboard, and consisted of some bits of tubing, a few old test tubes, and some empty bottles.

It was a grievance, and I thought a legitimate one, that whereas the white schools were given good buildings with every latest convenience, less was thought good enough for the Negro children. Though white sympathizers with the ex-slave had been very generous in endowing Negro education, their good work was more than neutralized by the Southern local authorities, who held the point of view that education spoiled the “nigger.” If it were not for the enthusiasm of the Negro teachers, who carry on in any circumstances, it might easily have happened that the colored people had a whole series of well-endowed universities and colleges like Fisk and Hampton, but no elementary or secondary school education worth the name.

Lack of good will toward the Negro thus expresses itself in many ways; the failure to repair his roads, the failure to give him equal facilities for education and self-improvement, and his exclusion from the public libraries. The white man will not say “No” to grants of money which give him handsome Carnegie library buildings for nothing or will raise universities,[58] even Negro universities, but he will not fulfill his part of the unwritten contract—and honor all philanthropy by indiscriminate good will.

After visiting the school I saw glimpses of Negro women at work in characteristic places of earning a living. The management was always very sensitive about strangers being present, so it was possible to find out little about the conditions. One shop was full of girls sewing ready-cut trousers on machines run by electricity. The trousers were cut in Baltimore and sent down here to be sewn cheaply by local colored labor. A Jew was in charge. A Negro woman was looking after the “welfare” of the girls. Another was a tobacco factory, where girls earned eleven dollars a week, working from 7:30 a. m. to 5:30 p. m., stripping tobacco leaf in airy and fragrant rooms. At piecework they earned from six cents a pound.

I visited the publishing office of the Journal and Guide, where the Negroes not only edit a paper but manufacture their own type and do everything themselves—one of a hundred Negro newspapers published in the United States. The average number of spelling errors in many of these sheets seemed to be about three a paragraph, but that in no wise renders them ridiculous or deters the pen of the ready writers. Negroes have a passion for journalism which is out of proportion to their present development and capacity.


As I came out of the publishing office with the editor we saw a hearse. It was drawn by a motor, and it was a new idea to me, that of being motored to one’s grave. The editor made a sign and the hearse stopped. “Just a moment,” said he, and a lugubriously cloaked Ethiopian with large, shining teeth stepped down.

“This is Undertaker Brown,” said the editor.

“Always at yo’ seyvice, sar,” said the undertaker. “Is yo’ thinking of taking a ride with me?”

I said I was not meditating on that sad course yet.

“It’s a fine hearse,” said Brown—“and look, they is steel clamps to keep the coffin steady (he swung open the rear doors) and speshal receppacles fo’ the flowers.”

I thanked him, and we shook hands effusively.

All the Negroes took charge of me. It was no difficult task to see their ways of life. It was impossible not to feel happy in the midst of their childish vivacity and enthusiasm and make-believe. Their grievances were almost lost sight of in the sunshine of prosperity in Eastern Virginia. Miss M—— told me how in the Red Cross drives during the war she “led the cullud folk over the top” and the vividness of her story of Negro vying with Negro as to who should subscribe most money, and how she defied the white “crackers” to continue lynching[60] and persecuting them in the face of such patriotism as they had shown was not only instructive but extraordinarily amusing, and also touching; how a large audience of white people was listening to a combined “platform” of black and white orators, and Negro choirs were singing “spirituals” while the collection plates rolled round, and Miss M—— when she arrived at the hall was so dead-beat with rushing round the town all day that she fell in a faint and she prayed, “Lord, if I gain strength I’ll take it for a sign that I am to speak.” And she came to herself and went on to the platform and told the white folk straight—what she felt—how nine-tenths of her people could not spell the word Democracy and had indeed only just heard of it, and yet they sent their children to wounds and death, and they themselves subscribed their last dimes for patriotic causes. But what did America give in return? And at the end she overheard one of the worst “crackers” remark that he could not help admiring her, she was “so durned sincere.”

The last evening I spent in this corner of Virginia was at a resort of colored soldiers and sailors, and I had a talk with a boy who had held a commission in the Ninety-second Division, a black unit which had covered itself with glory in France. He was a lieutenant, and was at the taking of St. Mihiel. The Negro marines were also very interesting—eager, serious, and[61] sober fellows. They were proud of being in Uncle Sam’s navy, but wanted a chance of advancement there, did not wish to remain twenty years in the same grade, but hoped desperately for a gold stripe in time, and the chance to become petty officer. Soldiers and sailors surged in and out of the hall, smoked cigarettes, drank soda, and chatted. I heard no foul talk, and I took much pleasure in their appearance. I felt what a fine body of guardians of their country could be made of them if once prejudice were finally overcome. In this part of Eastern Virginia, the apex of the South, the new black world seemed very promising and had gone far in its fifty-seven years of freedom.

The way from Norfolk to Richmond is up the James River, and I continued my journey on a boat that had evidently come from New York—redolent as it was of long-distance passengers. There was a seat, however, just under the captain’s lookout, and there was nothing before me but the progressing prow and the silver expanse of the river. A classical voyage this—for it was up the James River, named after James the First, that the first pioneers of Raleigh’s virgin land made their way. It is felt to be romantic, because they were not Roundheads nor Quakers nor Plymouth Brethren nor other sober-liveried folk, but gentlemen of sword and ruff, courtier-sailors who upon occasion would be ready to throw their cloaks in the mud for a[62] Queen to tread upon. The tradition of courtier survives, and a rich man of Virginia is to-day a Virginian gentleman, though there is scarcely another State in America where the landed proprietors claim to be gentry. The James River is significant for another reason. At little Jamestown, which never came to anything as a city, the first Negro slaves were landed in America in 1618, and from the small beginning of one shipload three hundred years ago nation-wide Negrodom, with all its black millions, has arisen.

Virginia grew prosperous in the cultivation of tobacco, which remains to-day the staple production of a comparatively poor State. It is too far north for the cultivation of cotton, and though doubtless possessing great mineral wealth, industrial research has not gone so far as in Pennsylvania. It is essentially a conservative State. Slavery is said to have depressed its economic life so that neighboring Northern States, whose development began much later, easily overtook it. A somewhat patriarchal settled state of life took possession of Virginia, a new feudalism which was out of keeping with hustling and radical America. It is remarkable, however, how many lawmakers, administrators, soldiers, and Presidents Virginia has given to the United States. Starting with gentry, it has bred gentry.

And with regard to the Negro, the State has[63] a good record. Despite the various inequalities of treatment and Jim-Crowism noticeable by anyone who is observant, there is little or no brutality or nigger-baiting. Lynching is rare, and it must be supposed the alleged Negro attacks upon white women must be rare also. Such relatively good conditions prevail in Virginia that the whole South takes shelter behind her. And as the proud Virginian reckons himself par excellence the Southerner, he is often annoyed when he reads of the worse treatment of the Negroes further south. Virginia should remember she is not the whole South, and she does not exert even a moral influence upon Georgia and Mississippi. In that respect she seems to be as helpless as New England and the Puritans, to whom politically she has generally been in opposition.

The old Virginian families bound the Negroes to them with undying devotion. They became part of the family, with all the license of pet children. They fought for them and assisted them in the Civil War with the creature-like devotion of clansmen for their chief. The “veterans” who still survive, Negroes like Robert E. Lee’s cook, who was one of many picturesque personalities at the Atlanta reunion, are of a different type from the Negroes of to-day. They identified themselves with their master and mistress’s estate and person in a way[64] that is truly touching. Surely of all beings the Negro is capable of the strongest and most pathetic human attachments.

Freedom, however, and the new ideas blew autumnly over the Virginian summer. All changed. The family retinues broke up. The affections were alienated. The new race of Negro individualists arose. The old “mammies” and “uncles” were a people apart, and are dying out fast now. The new Negroes are with and for themselves. They make shift to be happy and to amuse themselves without the white man. And they have now their schools, their churches which are like religious clubs, their political societies, theatres, and other segregated interests.

These segregated interests have produced and tend to produce an ever-increasing Negro culture, and though that culture may be somewhat despised because of its humble beginnings, there seems no reason why it should not have a future which will compare with that of white America. But south of Richmond and south of Virginia there is progressively less of this Negro culture to be found. There are the oases of Tuskegee Institute and Atlanta and Fisk Universities, but white opinion is adverse to Negro education, and the black masses have been unable to over-crow their neighbors. In Richmond and north of it, however, the black[65] man has leave to breathe awhile, and there are interesting developments.

Richmond, which in 1853 reminded Olmsted of Edinburgh in its picturesqueness, has now quintupled its population, and spread greatly. It is still a handsome city, and its center of Grecian Capitol and public gardens is very pleasant. It is the third blackest city in the United States, between thirty-five and forty per cent of its population being colored. A certain General Gabriel led an insurrection of Negro slaves against Richmond in 1801, and the city has always adopted itself as self-constituted warden of the white man’s safety. The city has, however, been free enough from disturbance since the Civil War. It has its well-endowed Negro colleges, and on the other hand its less satisfactorily placed elementary and secondary schools. As in Norfolk, Negro business is thriving, though it has deeper roots.

It is less promising west of Richmond. A duller economic life prevails, and conditions are more normal, less affected by the prosperity of war industrialism. I traveled by train to Lynchburg. As this was my first experience of trains south of the Mason-Dixon line, I was interested to observe the Jim Crow arrangements. The Negroes are kept to separate waiting rooms, and book their tickets at other booking windows, and they are put into separate carriages in the[66] trains, and not allowed promiscuously with white people, as in the North. They have not quite so good accommodation, though they pay the same fare; sometimes there is less space, sometimes there is no separate smoking compartment. Drawing-room cars and “sleepers” are generally unavailable. Colored people consider it a great grievance, but it is probably the insult implied in their segregation that affects them most. There is not an enormous disparity in the comfort. Inability to obtain food on long-distance trains was often mentioned to me as the chief injustice, but the personal aspect of the matter was always to the fore: “We don’t want to mix in with white people, or with those who don’t want us. We can get on very well by ourselves ...” they were always protesting.

In the North, promiscuously seated black and white passengers all seem quite happy and at ease. Mixing them works well. There is never any hitch. In the South, however, segregation seems to be for the Negro’s good. The less personal contact he has with the white man the safer he is from sudden outbursts of racial feeling. Of course, the railway companies ought to give the Negro equal accommodation for equal fare, but that is another matter.

Lynchburg is a beautifully situated little city beside the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is a great market for dark tobacco. It manufactures iron[67] pipes, ploughs, boots and shoes, and a number of other articles, and boasts of “ideal labor conditions and no strikes.” It is named after the original planter, Charles Lynch, an Irish boy, who ran from home and married a Quaker. It lapsed from Quakerism to a very sinful state, and then is said to have been reformed by the Methodists. Now there is nothing to trouble the mind unpleasantly at Lynchburg.

The public library seemed to have paused sick in 1905. It is called the Jones Memorial Library, an impressive white building with an array of white steps leading up to it. Jones himself, who was a business man and served a very short while in the war of North and South, is shown in full martial attire drawing his sword, halfway up the stone steps—as it were in act of driving readers away. A cold cloister-like air pervaded the building. Negroes were not permitted in, and white people did not enter much. The librarian, however, was unusually kind and obliging, and lent me a book without taking a deposit. This lady said she would rather sit next to a decent black woman in a train than to the average White.

“We all had our black mammies—they treated us as if we were their own babies. Can you blame us if sometimes we love them as our own flesh and blood? All the trouble we have is due to Northerners coming South. And if a Negro gets lynched, what a fuss is made of it!”


I met the manager of a tobacco warehouse. He was not willing that I should see his Negroes at work and talk to them, but he assured me in a bland way, cigar in hand, that his pickers were a jolly crowd who knew they were well paid and would never go on strike. He paid thirty to thirty-five cents the hour for Negro labor.

“The war has played the devil with the niggers,” said he. “It has spread about the idea of high wages. The North has been especially to blame, luring the niggers up there with the bait of big money. It has caused a rise in wages all over the South.”

His employees were unskilled. In his opinion no Negroes were ever used for skilled work. What I had to tell him of Newport News and its shipyards was beyond his comprehension. As for Hampton Institute, he averred that he had never heard that it produced capable artisans. In his opinion there had been some good Negro carpenters and wheelwrights in slavery, but none since. Freedom had been very bad for the Negro. Yes, he utterly approved of lynching. It was always justified, and mistakes were never made. He had a water-tight mind.

A mile or so away was Virginia College, a red-brick structure in the woods, where in happy seclusion a few hundred colored men and women were being enfranchised of civilization[69] and culture. A student took me to his study-bedroom, hung with portraits of John Brown and Booker T. Washington. The Bible was still the most important book, and it occupied the pride of place, though it was interleaved with pages of the Negro radical monthly, The Crisis. The student was an intense and earnest boy with all the extra seriousness of persecuted race consciousness. He said, in a low voice, that he would do anything at any cost for his people. He said the present leaders of the Negro world would fail, because of narrow outlook, but the next leaders would win great victories for color. And he would be ready to follow the new leaders. What a contrast they were!—the boss of the tobacco factory, cigar in hand, “talking wise” on the nigger, and the quiet Negro intellectual in his college, whetting daily the sword of learning and ambition.




The aspirations and convictions of the Negroes of to-day were well voiced in a speech I heard at Harlem. I had been warned that I ought to hear the “red-hot orator of the Afro-American race,” and so I went to hear him. The orator was Dean Pickens, of Morgan College, Baltimore. When he came to the platform the colored audience not only cheered him by clapping, but stood up and cried aloud three times:

Yea, Pickens!

The chairman had said he would have to leave about half after five, but the speaker must not allow himself to be disturbed by that, but go right on. Pickens, who was one of the very black and very cheerful types of his race, turned to the chairman and said:

“You won’t disturb me, brother! But if you’re going at half after five, let’s shake hands right now, and then I can go straight ahead.”

And they shook hands with great gusto, and everyone laughed and felt at ease. Pickens was going to speak; nothing could disturb Pickens;[71] they relaxed themselves to a joyful, anticipatory calm.

Just before the turn of Pickens to speak a white lady journalist had rushed on to the platform and rushed off between two pressing engagements, and had given the audience a “heart-to-heart” talk on Bolsheviks and agitators, and had told them how thankful they ought to be that they were in America and not in the Congo still. She gained a good deal of applause because she was a woman, and a White, and was glib, but the thinking Negroes did not care for her doctrine, and were sorry she could not wait to hear it debated.

“Brothers, they’re always telling us what we ought to be,” said the orator, with an engaging smile. “But there are many different opinions about what ought to be; it’s what we are that matters. As a colored pastor said to his flock one day—’Brothers and sisters, it’s not the oughtness of this problem that we have to consider, but the isness!’ I am going to speak about the isness. Sister S——, who has just spoken, has had to go to make a hurry call elsewhere, but I am sorry she could not stay. I think she might perhaps have heard something worth while this afternoon. Sister S—— warned us against agitators and radicals. Now, I am not against or for agitators. The question is: ’What are they agitating about?’ ‘Show me the agitator,’ I say. President Wilson is a great[72] agitator; he is agitating a League of Nations. Jesus Christ was a great agitator; He agitated Christianity. The Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t like His agitating, and they fixed Him. But He was a good agitator, and we’re not against Him. Then, again, the Irish are great agitators; the Jews are great agitators; there are good and bad agitators. (Applause.) But, brothers, I’ll tell you who is the greatest agitator in this country ... the greatest agitator is injustice. (Sensation.) When injustice disappears, I’ll be against agitators, or I’ll be ready to see them put in a lunatic asylum. (Applause.)

“Sister S—— was very hard on the radicals. There, again, show me the radical, I say. A man may be radically wrong, yes, but he may also be radically right. (Laughter.)

“As for the Bolsheviks, it’s injustice is making Bolshevism. It’s injustice that changes quiet, inoffensive school teachers and workingmen into Bolsheviks, just as it is injustice is stirring up the colored people. Not that we are Bolsheviks. I am not going to say anything against Bolsheviks, either. Show me the Bolshevik first, I say, and then I’ll know whether I’m against him. People are alarmed because the number of Bolsheviks is increasing. But what is making them increase? If America is such a blessed country, why is she making all these Bolsheviks? You know a tree by its fruits,[73] and so you may know a country by what it produces. These Bolsheviks that we read of being deported in the Soviet Ark weren’t Bolshevik when they came to this country. It comes to this: that we’ve raised a crop of Bolshevism in this country and are exporting it to Europe, and now we’re busy sowing another crop. Stop sowing injustice, and Bolshevism will cease growing. (Applause again.)

“But there is less Bolshevism among the colored people than among the white, because the colored are more humble, more subservient, more used to inequalities. We are always being told that we are backward, and we believe it; bad, and we believe it; untrustworthy, and we believe it; immoral, and we believe it. We are always being told what we ought to be. But I’ll come back to what we are.

“We may be immoral; we may be a danger to the white women. But has anyone ever honestly compared the morality of Whites and Blacks? They will tell you there is not sufficient evidence to make a comparison, or they will bring you pamphlets and paragraphs out of newspapers, records of disgusting crimes; and we know very well that in twelve million Negroes there are bound to be some half-wits and criminals capable of terrible breaches of morality. But at best it is a paper evidence against the Negro, while there is flesh-and-blood evidence against the White. The moral standard of the Whites is[74] written visibly in the flesh and blood of three million of our race. (Another sensation.) Brothers, there’s one standard for the white man, and another for the colored man. (Sensation redoubled.) A colored man’s actions are not judged in the same light as those of a white man.

“Well, I’m not against that. It is giving us a higher ideal. A colored man has got to be much more careful in this country than a white man. He’ll be more heavily punished for the same crime. If he gets into a dispute with a white man he’s bound to lose his case. So he won’t get into the dispute. (Laughter.) Where a white man gets five years’ imprisonment, the Negro gets put in the electric chair. Where the white man gets six days, he gets two years. If a white man seduces a colored girl, she never gets redress. If the other thing occurs, the Negro is legally executed, or lynched. What is the result of all that inequality? Why, it is making us a more moral, less criminal, less violent people than the Whites. Once at a mixed school they were teaching the black and white boys to jump. The white boys jumped and the black boys jumped. But when it was the black boy’s turn the teacher always lifted the jumping stick a few inches. What was the consequence? Why, after a while every colored boy in that school could jump at least a foot higher than any white boy. (Renewed sensation, in[75] which Pickens attempted several times to resume.)

“That is what is happening to the Negro race in America. We are being taught to jump a foot higher than the Whites. We will jump it, or we will break our necks. (Laughter.)

“Of course a great difference separates the Black from the White still. And I don’t say that the white man hasn’t given us a chance. If our positions had been transposed, and we had been masters and the white folks had been the slaves, I’m not sure that we wouldn’t have treated them worse than they have treated us. But the white folk make a mistake when they think we’re not taking the chances they give us. We are taking them. We are covering the ground that separates Black from White. The white man is not outstripping us in the race. We are nearer to him than we were—not farther away. We haven’t caught up, but we’re touching. We are always doing things we never did before. (Applause.)

“We shall not have cause to regret the time of persecution and injustice and the higher standard of morality that has been set us. Brothers, it’s all worth while. Our boys here have been to France and bled and suffered for white civilization and white justice. We didn’t want to go. We didn’t know anything about it. But it’s been good for us. We’ve made the cause of universal justice our cause. We have[76] taken a share in world sufferings and world politics. It’s going to help raise us out of our obscurity. We have discovered the French, and shall always be grateful to them. We didn’t know France before, but every colored soldier is glad now that he fought for France. If there is to be a League of Nations, we know France will stand by us. And we shall have a share in the councils of Humanity—with our colored brethren in all parts of the world.” (Sensation again.)

The orator spoke for two hours, and the above is only a personal remembrance put down afterwards. His actual speech is therefore much shortened. But that was the sense and the flavor of it. It was given in a voice of humor and challenge, resonant, and yet everlastingly whimsical. Laughter rippled the whole time. I shook hands with him afterwards; for he was warm and eloquent and moving as few speakers I have heard. He was utterly exhausted, for he had drawn his words from his audience, and two thousand people had been pulling at his spirit for two hours.

It was delightful to listen to a race propagandist so devoid of hatred, malice, and uncharitableness. Some regard humor as the greatest concomitant of wisdom, and this representative Negro certainly had both. He never touched on the tragedy of race hatred and racial injustice, but he saw the humor of them also. And the[77] colored audience saw the humor also. With the English there would have been anger, with the French spontaneous insurrection, with the Jews gnashing of teeth, but with the Negroes it was humor. There was no collective hate or spite, but, manifest always, a desire to be happy, even in the worst circumstances.

It is curious, however, that the Negro has a livelier sense of the humor of tragedy than the white man. For two months I visited a Negro theatre every week, and I was much struck by the fact that where there was most cause to weep or feel melancholy, the colored audience was most provoked to mirth. Negro companies, such as the Lafayette Players, play “Broadway successes,” melodramas, classical dramas, musical comedies, and indeed anything that would be staged in a white man’s theatre. But the result is nearly always comedy. As upon occasion white men burn cork and make up as Negroes, so the Negroes paint themselves white and make up as white men and women. Watching them is an entrancing study, because there is not only the original drama and its interest, but superadded the interpretation by Africans of what they think the white man is and does and says. Some of it is like the servants’ hall dressed up as master and mistress and their friends, but has remarkable felicity in acting. A large party, all in full evening dress, is very striking—only the Negro women are on the average[78] so huge that when painted white and exposing vast fronts of bosoms, they are somewhat incredible. A typical evening party on the stage, with villain and hero, looks very handsome, but not in any way Anglo-Saxon, if conceivably foreign American. The hero may have a perfectly villainous expression. One’s mind is taken away from America to the Mediterranean. Even when painted, it is impossible to look other than children of the sun. The drama is played with a great deal of noise. When the moments of passion arrive, everyone lets himself go, and the stage is swallowed up in a hurly-burly of violent word and action. There is never any difficulty in hearing what is being said. But even the minor characters, such as butler and waiter, who should be practically mute, insist on whistling and singing as they go about, and serve the guests in a pas de danse. In one serious melodrama the butler never appeared but he hummed resonantly the popular air: “Yakky, Yekky, Yikky, Yokky Doola.” The villain or villainess is likely to act the part with great verve, and generally I remarked a true aptitude for acting, an ability which noise and violence could not hide. A white drama is literally transformed on the Negro stage. The Negroes catch hold of any childishness or piece of make-believe and give it a sort of poetry. Thus, for instance, Miss Elenor Porter’s “Polyanna,” with its gospel of “Be glad,” is[79] a cloying sentimentalism in the hands of the ordinary white company. But the Negroes make it into a sort of “Alice in Wonderland,” very amusing, very sweet, and very touching—something entirely delightful. The consciousness of the white person sitting in the colored theater is, however, continually disturbed by ripples of tittering whenever on the stage there is a suggestion of calamity. When it is melodrama that is being played, the audience laughs all the time like a collection of intellectuals who have visited a popular theatre to watch “The Silver King” or “The Girl’s Crossroads.” The very suggestion of disaster is funny.

This is an indication of difference in soul. There are many who would see in these white-painted Negroes another instance of a passion for the imitation of white people. But one could hardly point to anything that shows more readily the sheer difference of black and white people than the Negro stage such as it is to-day.

There is not as yet a Negro drama, but it certainly will arise. Ridgely Torrence’s “Plays for a Negro Theatre” is perhaps the nearest approach so far to a genuine Negro drama, but the author is white. The great success of these plays when acted by Negroes only shows the glory that awaits the awakening of a true Negro dramatist. Every large city in America has its Negro theatre or music hall or cinema shows. The drama could become an organ of racial self-expression,[80] and could give voice to the hopes and aspirations and sorrows of the colored people in a very moving way. I think such a drama would prove highly original. Comedy would be conceived in a different spirit. So far from the Negro imitating the white man, we should all be found imitating him—as we already imitate him in our dances and music. The new Negro humor would infect the whole Western world.

It is generally called “the blues.” We say we have a fit of the blues when we are feeling depressed. It is not at all a laughing matter, but the Negro finds that state of mind to be always humorous. A hundred new comic songs tell the humor of sorrows. All the gloomy formulas of everyday life have been set to music. Telling one’s hard fortune and howling over it and drawing it out and infinitely bewailing it, and adding circumstantial minor sorrows as one goes along and infinitely bewailing them—this is distinctively Negro humor.

I visited one evening a Negro theatre where a musical comedy was going on—words and music both by Negroes. It opened with the usual singing and dancing chorus of Negro girls. They were clad in yellow and crimson and mauve combinations with white tapes on one side from the lace edge of the knicker to their dusky arms. They danced from the thigh rather than from[81] the knee, moving waist and bosom in unrestrained undulation, girls with large, startled seeming eyes and uncontrollable masses of dark hair. A dance of physical joy and abandon, with no restraint in the toes or the knees, no veiling of the eyes, no half shutting of the lips, no holding in of the hair. Accustomed to the very æsthetic presentment of the Bacchanalia in the Russian Ballet, it might be difficult to call one of those Negro dancers a Bacchante, and yet there was one whom I remarked again and again, a Queen of Sheba in her looks, a face like starry night, and she was clad slightly in mauve, and went into such ecstasies during the many encores that her hair fell down about her bare shoulders, and her cheeks and knees, glistening with perspiration, outshone her eyes. Following this chorus a love story begins to be developed—a humorous mother-in-law of tremendous proportions and deep bass voice, her black face blackened further to the color of boots, reprimands and pets her scapegrace son, who is the comic loafer. He confers with his “buddy” as to how to win “Baby,” the belle of Dark City. The “buddy” is the lugubriously stupid and faithful and above all comic Negro friend who in trying to help you always does you an ill turn. “Baby” is the beautiful doll of the piece—“Honey baby, sugar baby!” She is courted also by the villain, who is plausible and well dressed and polite, but still provocative of[82] mirth. The hero and the villain do a competitive cake walk for the girl, posturizing, showing off, approaching and retiring, almost squatting and dancing, leaping and dancing, swimming through the air, throwing everything away from them and falling forward, and yet never falling, blowing out their cheeks and dilating their eyes, and, as it were, hoo-dooing and out-hoo-dooing one another, pseudo-enragement, monkey-mocking of one another, feigned stage-fright and pretended escapes. Seeing this done on a first night, the whole theatre was jammed and packed with Negro people, and they recalled the couple nine times, and still they gave encores. One of them, the villain, gave up, but the other, the hero, went on as if still matched, his mouth open and panting, and perspiration streaming through the black grease on his face—for he also had blackened himself further for fun. The wedding service was danced and sung in a “scena” which would have enravished even a Russian audience. I had seen nothing so pretty or so amusing, so bewilderingly full of life and color, since Sanine’s production of the “Fair of Sorochinsky,” in Moscow.

The most characteristic parts of the comedy, however, were to come. It was very lengthy, for Negroes do not observe white conventions regarding time. It would be tedious to describe in words what was wholly delightful to see. But there were two crises when the audience roared[83] with joy excessively. First, when the young husband suspects his wife of flirting with the villain, and second, when he wants to make it up and every imaginable calamity descends upon his head. He arrives at his home about midnight, wearing a terribly tight pair of boots and a suit of old, dusty clothes. There is a party at the house; everyone is in evening dress. He won’t go in to the dance room. He has to sit down and take his boots off, and henceforth walks about holding them in his hands. He sees his wife dancing with the villain, makes a scene, and then dramatically leaves his wife for ever. Left behind, she stares a moment in silence, and then throws herself full length on a low table, kicks up her heels, and vents her unhappiness in a series of prolonged howls and paroxysms which put the audience into a heaven of delight. The tight boots and the limp they cause are blues; the wife’s grief is a blue; and for the rest of the drama the melancholy husband is seen tramping about in his socks, carrying his wretched boots in his hands. His unhappiness is long-drawn-out, but when at last he decides to forgive and comes back home, he is met by the lugubrious “buddy” outside his house, who tells him all his wife has suffered in his absence. The repentant husband looks very miserable.

“And then a little baby boy was born,” says Buddy.

The repentant husband cheers up.


“So like you, such a beauty.”

The husband waxes excited and happy, and asks a flood of questions.

“But the baby died,” says his lugubrious companion.

The poor hero yells with sorrow.

“How Baby wished you were there to see little baby,” says Buddy. “How she talked of you!”

“The little darling—and she has quite forgiven me?”

“She forgave you, all right. Ah, she was a fine woman. You never deserved such a woman as she was, so beautiful, so loving, so tender, so devoted—always saying your name, counting the days you had been away from her and moping and sighing. Ah, it ate into her heart!”

“Yes, Buddy, I am a worthless, miserable nigger, that’s what I am. I didn’t deserve to have her.”

“She said: ‘Oh, for one kiss; oh, for one hug—— ‘”

“I’ll go in to her at once.”

“Stop!” says Buddy impressively.

“Wha’s the matter?”

“She died day after baby was born.”


“Yassir. Stone dead. Sure’s I live.”

The poor hero breaks down and sobs and wails and howls and blubbers, distraction in his aspect, his knees knock together, he throws his[85] hat in the dust—and all the while the audience is convulsed with laughter. The Negro women in the stalls find their chairs too small for them and all but fall on to the floor; the smartly dressed Negro youths in the boxes are guffawing from wide-opened mouths and laughing as much with their bodies as with their faces.

“Mother and I went to town to buy the coffin,” says Buddy. “Poor old Mother!”

“Did Mother forgive me?”

“Oh, yes, she forgave you all right. Such a mother as she was. She knew you were bad and wrong and a disgrace, but she loved you. Ah, how she loved you!”

“I am glad there’s poor old Mother.”

“Mother and I arranged for the funerals, but we had to sell up the home. Yes, every stick.”

More and more grief on the part of husband.

“I’ll go in and see her anyway,” says he, moving toward the door.

“Stop!” says Buddy.

“Wha’s the matter?”

“She’s dead ... run over by a trolley car as we were going to the funeral ...” and so on, the dénouement of course being that when he is about to go and hang himself he catches a glimpse of Mother, larger, if possible, than life, and he realizes it is all a hoax, and then Baby appears with her little baby—and all is joy.

Of course the play par excellence for a Negro[86] theatre is “Othello,” or rather, for a Negro actor in a mixed cast. Unfortunately, no white company in the United States will allow a Negro actor to take even a subordinate role. Even “nigger” parts, humorous Negro parts, have to be taken by white men. An anomaly to be remedied! The profession of acting is too noble a one for color prejudice to lurk there. I fear, however, that it will be long before mixed companies of white and colored actors perform on the dramatic stage in the United States. “Othello” apparently is seldom played, though the old tragedy of Shakespeare is strangely of the time and apropos. The tragedy of Othello exhibits the same race prejudice existent in the sixteenth century as now, and expresses itself in similar terms. The white woman is not for Moors or Negroes on any terms. It is almost incredible that Desdemona should shun

The wealthy curled darlings of our nation, to incur a general mock,
Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
Of such a thing as thou.

He must have used an enchantment on her. Othello is the devil. He is a black man. He is a Barbary horse—

You’ll have your nephews neigh to you.
You’ll have coursers for cousins and gennets for Germans.

There is little doubt that by Othello Shakespeare intended a Negro, or, in any case, someone[87] whom the white denizens of New Orleans would call a nigger. “Moor” or “Blackamoor” was the common name for Negro, and the local detail of the play confirms the impression of a thick-lipped, black-bosomed, rather repulsive physical type. The psychology of Othello is, moreover, that of the modern Negro. His florid and sentimental talk, with its romantic yearning and its exaggerations, is very characteristic.

I spake of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field,
Of hair-breadth ‘scapes i’ the imminent deadly breach,
Of being taken by the insolent foe
And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence
And portance in my travels’ history:
Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,
Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven,
It was my hint to speak,—such was the process;
And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders.

And are not his last noble words, with his dramatic and romantic gesture, and his suicide, the noble African set upon a pedestal!

Fanny Kemble in her diary tells how John Quincy Adams thought “it served Desdemona right for marrying a ‘nigger,’” and she imagines the fine effect which some American actor in the rôle of Iago might obtain by substituting for “I hate the Moor” “I hate the nigger,” pronounced in proper Charleston or Savannah fashion. “Only think,” says Fanny Kemble, “what a very new order of interest the whole tragedy might receive acted from this standpoint[88] and called ‘Amalgamation, or the Black Bridal.’”

The sympathy of a Southern audience would be almost exclusively with Iago and Roderigo and the father. But could they tolerate it without a lynching? No Negro company dare produce it south of the Mason-Dixon line.

How the Negroes would perform tragedy in the vein of tragedy I do not know. There is so much tragedy in their history, in their past, that they have sought only comic relief. I believe the characteristic Americanism of “Keep Smiling” or, as expressed in the song, “Smile, Smile, Smile,” comes from the Negro. The colored people as a whole seem to be serious only in church or at musical gatherings. Even the eloquent pastor has no easy task to gain the attention of his congregation. He must walk about and rage and flash, and with crashing reverberations explode the wrath of God like the voice of the Almighty in the storm. He must forget ordinary diction in forgetting himself, and chant in ecstasy and rapture, lifting up his whole soul to the Lord. If you talk to the Negro, he merely laughs; you must chant to him to be taken seriously. In this possibly lies the vein for Negro dramatic tragedy and prophetic poetry. Perhaps, however, the emotional appeal of such will be too strong for Whites.

It is a great ordeal for a sensitive white person to take part in a Negro revival or camp[89] meeting. The emotional strain is tremendous. Though it is difficult to move the Negro, once he is moved he can be rapidly brought to a frenzy which surely has little enough to do with the Christian religion. But even when he is not greatly moved it is somewhat heart-searching for a white person present.

One day I went in at a chapel door. The building was full of Negroes; every seat seemed taken. Perched high above the platform was a black woman, all in black, with a large jet cross on her broad bosom. She was reading from the First Book of Samuel in a great oracular voice which never rose nor fell, but was like a pronouncement of eternal law. I was taken right up to the front and given a seat under her throne. I knew at once that there was likely to be an emotional storm in the audience. It was throbbing on the heartstrings even as I listened to the reading, and I wondered how I should combat it. After the Scripture the Lord’s Prayer was said by a portentous Negro who had the frame of an African warrior. When he went down on his knees he shook the beams of wood and the seats. He prayed angrily, and clapped as he prayed, and interjected remarks.

Thy will be done! Yes, Lord, that’s it, that’s what we want, certainly.

Give us this day our daily bread! Yes, give us it (clap, clap, clap). Give us our daily bread, Lord. Feed us! Feed us, Lord!


The congregation also on all hands interjected its remarks and clapped and praised as the Lord’s Prayer went along.

The woman all in black was a famous mover of souls, and her sermon was evidently the most looked-for religious excitement of the morning. She was a plain woman with a powerful will, a great voice, and a rare knowledge of the Bible. She preached from the text, “Saul hid himself among the stuff.” First she told the story in a quiet voice and then began to make the application. It was no use hiding from God, for He would find you out.

So rousing were her simple words, and such was the atmosphere she was begetting in the midst of her congregation, that I had to do everything in my power to avoid breaking down under the influence and sobbing like a child.

I went over in my mind the drama of “Macbeth,” and reconstructed “Richard the Third,” and called to memory the speeches I had listened to at the Bar dinner the night before, and what I had been doing during the past week and month. But all the while I registered also in my brain the whole of what the black priestess was saying.

Next to me a feminine voice kept crying out: “Help her, Lord, help her!” and I back-pedalled for all I was worth. Presently the preacher was lifted out of the ordinary, everyday voice into a barbaric chant, which rose and fell and[91] acclaimed and declaimed in rhythmical grandeur and music. I dared not look at the woman at my side. But she now lisped out, “She’s all right now, Lord; she’s all right now,” and I thought of the relief of the Welsh when their preachers get into the strain they call the hwyl.

I then very cautiously peered round at the woman. What was my astonishment to see a girl of eighteen with a face like a huge, dusky melon. Her jaws were perfectly relaxed, her eyes half shut, and her upper lip, which was raised, exposed her smiling teeth and a layer of sweet chewing gum.

Meanwhile the Reverend Norah up above was urging us all to come out from behind the stuff. We were always hiding behind our business, behind our families, behind our bodies.

“They are hiding behind their bodies, O Lord!

“Yes, O Lord, they say that they are sick, that they are ill,

“That they cannot do this and they cannot do that because they are feeble in health.

“O come out from behind the stuff!

“You saw Saul hide behind the baggage, O Lord.

“Our Negro brothers and sisters are hiding there to-day.

“Hiding behind their wealth——

“Hiding behind their charity——


“Hiding behind their houses and their clothes and their cars,

“Yes, and their wives and their husbands,

“And other peoples’ opinions.

“But You see them, O Lord,

“You see them, and You’ll bring them out——”

“I’m hiding there right enough,” broke out from the congregation, and “Lord, save us!” “Lord, help us!”

The whole mass of black humanity swayed under the power of the emotion which the woman had kindled. They were about to stand in frenzy and give the great gospel shout of repentance, when something happened; the woman’s strength gave way, and she slipped out of the chant back into her ordinary voice. At once the spell was broken.

The tiniest tots in the congregation then came out carrying little jam jars which they bore to each individual for his collection, and we sang a rolling and clamorous hymn, and all went home.

One note further in the sermon, and there would have been a great scene of conversion at the close of the service, and everyone would have decided to come out from behind his stuff, as the preacher recommended. But it’s better for one’s religion not to be converted every Sunday.


Many white people would no doubt be so greatly amused by a sermon of this kind that they would find difficulty in containing their laughter. One laugh from a white stranger might have proved calamitous, and would certainly have evoked hostility. On the other hand, there are Whites who love psycho-physical religious emotionalism. Such a type is the poet who wrote—

We mourned all our terrible sins away,
And we all found Jesus at the break of the day.
Blessed Jesus!

I never met a Negro who thought it humorous unless it were a member of one sect telling of the “goings-on” in another. Each different race or people seems to have its different characteristic religious expression. When one has seen the exaltation of Copt and Arab in religion, when one has heard the great choric voice of Russia at church, and the splendid, purposeful faith of Teutonic hymns, one knows that a calm singing of “Praise to the Holiest in the Height!” is not the only mode of praise. There are fifty thousand ways of praising God, and every single one of them is right.

So there is no call to chide the Negro for his excess. His ways are part of the natural and Divine history of Man, and it is infinitely worth while to consider them with an open and charitable mind. The hysteria, the frenzy, of some meetings I have observed is not in the white[94] man. There is no use being appalled by it. It is the third part which finishes the man downward, as St. John says in the desert.

“And after these emotional excitements they commit so many murders,” said a Southern woman to me.

“If so, one must be upon one’s guard in the presence of a converted man,” said I.

The foundation of the Negro’s great religious seriousness is to be found in the Negro hymn or “spiritual.” These spirituals were before there were Negro churches, before Christianity was actually allowed to the slaves. That is why they are more often called plantation melodies. They were sung in the twilight of the old plantations, and gave voice to a great human sorrow and a great human need. They show that the Negro has obtained access to the spiritual deeps, that he has a soul as we have—a fact so often denied—and that he is capable of penetrating the sublime. I listened very often to these songs. In several places they were sung to honor a white visitor. I heard them rendered by the Hampton Singers and lectured upon by Harry T. Burleigh, to whose efforts in research the preservation of several are due. There is no question of the excellence of them. They make a great appeal to all people who have music in their souls.

It is, however, a musical effect, not an intellectual[95] one. The words have often little relevance to anything profound, and at best are childish. There is generally a keynote which murmurs through the whole of the song, the function of the basso-profundo who provides a river of harmony like life itself, and the tenors and baritones and the shriller voices move on this flowing base like ships. On the rivers the slaves loved to sing as they rowed their masters, using most aptly the beat of the oars and the swish of the water, while the man who stood at the helm and steered was usually the deep bass. One of the most unforgettable melodies is “O, Listen to the Lambs!” The tenors seem to imitate flocks of innumerable sheep and lambs all crying to one another, while the basso-profundo is the irrelevance of “I want to go to Heaven when I die,” continually repeated in subterranean mumbling and whispers——

O listen to the la-ambs
All a-cry ... in’. All a-cry ... in’.
An’ I wan’ to go to Hebn w’en I die!

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Go Down, Moses,” “Didn’t Hear Nobody Pray,” “The Walls of Jericho,” and many others are assuredly famous.

These and many other phenomena give indications of a distinctive Negro point of view, and of an incipient broad-based popular culture. A[96] sympathetic study will always give evidence that can be set against the point of view that the Negro is nothing, or an animal, or a scamp at best, or a shame to the species. I was sitting in the gardens at Baltimore in the shade of a giant plane tree one day when out came a mixed class of Negro boys and girls and a young eager colored master of about twenty-five. The girls were luxuriant “flappers” of every hue of polished ebony; the boys were spindle-legged and spry and bullet-headed. They all examined plants and trees and caterpillars and flowers under the informing tutelage of the master. They were as noisy and vivacious as a flock of birds that has suddenly lighted on a plain. They minded no outsider. But a tall white man passed them, and I saw on his face a look of unutterable contempt.

“Learning botany” said he to me in a stage whisper. “They’ll know as much about it to-morrow morning as pigs.”




The South, they tell me, never alters. It is said to be the least characteristic and most uninteresting part of the United States. “You will not care for it,” I was told. “It has not changed in fifty years.” It is certainly little visited. It does not exemplify the hustle and efficiency of the North. And then you cannot lecture down there. It is not a literary domain. The consequence is that in Great Britain many people confound the “Southern States” with the Republics of South America. I was asked in letters why I had gone South. It was thought there must be less interest there. But that is a mistake. The South is as vital as the West and the East. On the whole it is more picturesque. It is not so diversified, but the vast areas of cotton on the one hand and of sugar and corn and rice on the other, and the forests, present well-marked features and give the South a handsome natural aspect. It is true that the Southern point of view as regards the Negro does not change very much, and that all vote one way, but it does not follow that the Southern point of view as regards the whole future of the[98] United States has not been modified and will not change. The South has been very poor and is becoming rich, will perhaps become very rich and prosperous. It was almost deprived of political power, and now it has, in an extraordinary way, regained political power. It is well known that the opinion of a poor and ruined man changes when Fortune makes up to him for the past. So also with the South.

Then, in considering a people as a whole, one is bound to reckon character. Thus, in Great Britain, what important factors are the ruggedness of Yorkshire and Lancashire, the caution of the Scots, the authority-loving of the southern counties, the enthusiasm and imaginativeness of the Celts. And in America one has to reckon, not only with the Puritan fervor of New England, but with the determination and turbulence and group instinct of the more cavalier spirit of the South. Though heat makes the Southern women languid and the Southern men fiery and quick of temper, it does not seem to make them weaker. On the whole, the Southerner seems to have a stronger will than the Northerner, and despite the exuberance of North and West, and a flood of contrary ideas and sentiments, the Southerner remains, as it were, eternally incapable of being suppressed. As long as America speaks, the South will always speak. Therefore, the South is very significant in American life.


After Virginia I went by rail to the neighboring State of Tennessee. I came into Knoxville one Friday night. The sight of it in the moonlight was impressive—the broad railway bridge, the clock tower with luminous face, the main street flocking with a Tennessee crowd, all shops fully ablaze with light; bunting and wreaths hung from house to house—for it was the week of the Fair. A Salvation Army meeting bellowed forth musical offerings and hallelujahs “thro’ the flag-filled air.” Everywhere electric signs were twinkling. Laughter and talk walked arm in arm along the broad main way. “It’s a fine city, this Knoxville of yours,” I ventured to remark to a stranger. “No, not a fine city,” said he, “a fine people, but not a fine city, a wretched city; it needs pulling down and rebuilding, but fine people, the finest people in the world.” This rare self-consciousness and belief in self, this group feeling, I believe, one would look in vain for in the North.

“Sober Knoxville” is one of the most responsible of Southern cities. Tennessee as a whole is quiet and steady. Lynching is infrequent. It was therefore considered very extraordinary that a race riot should break out in the city. The race riots in Chicago and Washington in 1919 were no doubt worse, but none caused more perplexity than that which broke out at Knoxville on August 30th of that year.

Deplorable and terrible as were those Negro[100] pogroms of the year after the war, I think they were due to special conditions. They were the expression of the frustrated ferocity that would otherwise have gone into the war. Demobilization excitements had much to do with them—the parades of Negro regiments, the idleness of white troops and of the demobilized unemployed. When the complete transition to peace conditions had been achieved, the danger of these outbreaks was averted. The year 1920 remains freer from race riots. That is not to say that they may not break out again, and on a larger scale. In any time of social upheaval and revolution they become possible. Those that have occurred show an ugly animus against the Negro still latent in the common people of the cities.

As explained to me, the outbreak at Knoxville seemed comparatively simple in origin. Mr. Maures Mayes, a Negro, murdered Mrs. Lindsay, a white woman. He was arrested and sent to a jail in another city. A mob formed to enter Knoxville prison and lynch the Negro. But a committee opened parley with the governor, and was allowed to satisfy itself that the prisoner was not there. Apparently, however, there was a considerable amount of whisky stored in the prison. The whisky attracted the mob also. A general assault was commenced, the place was stormed, and all prisoners were released. Troops sent to disperse the mob joined it, and a[101] second purpose then appeared—to take revenge on the colored population. Someone started a rumor and it spread like wildfire, that thousands of Negroes were marching on the business part of the city and that two soldiers had been killed. The colored folk were taken by surprise—there was a great deal of looting and destruction and personal robbery, and a number of Negroes were killed, while many were injured. It was the first race riot that had ever taken place in Knoxville, and all reputable people were sorry for it. I was told it all sprang from the crime of one Negro. But one might just as well say it all sprang from a desire to have the whisky in the prison—O Knoxville, O sobriety!

Because in general the Negroes are well treated in Knoxville, this lapse has been discounted, and they are surprisingly free from bitterness. I called at the Carnegie Library for colored people, a quiet little building—not much by comparison with the really grand public library of the city, but still a provision, and as such to be noted, in comparison with so many other cities where the Negroes not only have not access to the general public libraries, but have no separate provision made for them. The Knoxville library for colored people was, I believe, opened by the mayor some years ago, and the city felt proud of what it had done. It is unfortunately very inadequate, but it is in the[102] charge of a capable colored lady who will perhaps help to “agitate” a bigger and better one. The Negroes are very grateful in any case for what they have.

I called on several representative Negroes. They were much more friendly to the whites than those I found in Virginia. “We get on very well here,” was a common remark. I visited the colored lawyer H——, established in Knoxville some eight years. He was in deshabille and was sweeping out his office with a hard brush and shovel. He turned out to be very lawyer-like in conversation. I asked him a whole series of questions, to which he answered “Yes” or “No,” without volunteering any information or enlarging in any way. He called the race riot a “circumstance.” He said he had won cases even in the Supreme Court, and was respected by the Bench for his grim determination. After saying that, he went to the window and spat violently into the street below and then returned.

I praised his probable skill in handling juries, and he was mollified.

“I am practiced to read men’s faces,” said he. “I pick out the man who is likely to cause trouble and address myself exclusively to him. Judges here are absolutely devoid of color prejudice.”

A seeming half-wit had just been sentenced to death at the city of Danville for accosting[103] a white girl. The trial was of the briefest, and the Negro’s transit to the electric chair was made the most rapid possible—so as to avoid a lynching. The lawyer thought that the sentence was harsh—but as long as lynching was so prevalent, legal punishment had to be severe.

“Did you ever hear of a white man being convicted for assaulting a Negro?” I asked.

“No,” said he, constrainedly, “not unless it were an offense against a child.”

He did not think Negroes showed much enterprise in Knoxville—there were no banks, no large businesses, no drug stores, though there were four colored lawyers and sixteen doctors.

After Lawyer H—— I visited Mr. D——, a successful colored dentist, with well-groomed head and manicured hands. He was clad in a white hospital coat which was spotless, and by the appurtenances of his cabinet he seemed to be abreast of scientific progress as far as dentistry was concerned. He had a good practice, not only among the Blacks, but with the white country population. He said the old settlers had no prejudice against a colored dentist, though the younger, newer men and women were different. While I was talking a colored girl came in to have Mr. D—— fill a hollow tooth. He said the colored folk had suffered greatly with their teeth in the past, but were taking more care of them now. He loved putting gold crowns on teeth, and most smart Negro young men felt[104] a little gold in the mouth was very chic—just the thing. It is certainly a characteristic of the modern Negro. Mr. D—— watched the race riot from his office window, and was much alarmed at the time. But, like Lawyer H——, he felt that there was good feeling in the city. He thought it an accident. The soldiers had been inflamed against the Negroes.

In lack of Negro enterprise what a contrast Knoxville was to places like Norfolk, Virginia! I was soon to realize that the further South I went the more stagnant would Negro life show itself—until I reached the point when there would be little scope for investigation. The traveler going South from Washington is let gradually downward into a sort of pit of degradation. Chattanooga is lower than Knoxville, Birmingham lower than Chattanooga, rural Georgia and Alabama lower than all of these. This I think ought to be realized lest the glamour of Negro progress in Virginia and the North give a false impression of the whole.

At Knoxville it was Fair time. The time when I was in the South was one of fairs and carnivals. As the Russian goes on pilgrimage when the harvest has been gathered in, so the American goes to the Fair in the fall. There is in the South a vast network of the moving caravans of showmen, and a huge show business quite novel to an Englishman. I arrived in many towns at the time of their Fair, and had[105] the greatest difficulty in obtaining shelter for the night, so crowded were they. The people from the country round rolled in to the Fair in their cars and choked every thoroughfare.

One blemish on the large State Fair is that, except as servants, no Negroes are to be seen. There is a great gathering of white people, but no Blacks. It is therefore more polite, more well dressed, more conventional, and there is less of color and life than would fairly have obtained had all been welcome. What is a Fair if it be not an outing for the poor! It is reduced to this in the South, that the Whites have their Fairs and the Negroes have theirs separately.

I accompanied an Appalachian sportsman. He told me he shot a big, black bear the day the Armistice was signed. Sure as the first of November came round he was out with gun and haversack and Negro boys hunting the bear. He hunted for the love of hunting, though bear’s flesh could be sold at a dollar a pound and was worth it, every cent. He thought Tennessee did “mighty well” in the war, and they gave the boys a fine reception when they came back. They’d had a drop of whisky in them in the riot, but a few niggers less wasn’t much matter. He pointed out to me signs of Knoxville prosperity—houses that cost ten to twenty thousand dollars to build—picturesque and wooden, but very costly from a European point of view.[106] No cotton was grown in this district, and next to no tobacco. Many people did not even know what a stalk of cotton was like.

The Knoxville Fair was a wondrous exposition of Southern hogs (each hog docketed with personal weight and what it gains per day), bulls and chickens and pigeons and rabbits and owls and what not, and there was a hall of automobiles festooned in flags. Caged lions and tigers flanked the auditorium of the free vaudeville entertainment. Negro boys flogged bony, grunting camels round the grounds. The pop-corn stands vied with the ice-cream counters stacked with cones. There was an astonishing uproar from the various revolving “golden dreams” and of the jibbing metal horses; and outside all manner of peep shows, men who had sold their voices talked till they foamed at the lips or went hoarse—of the freaks and wonders within. Thus the two-headed child, the girl who does not die though her half-naked body is transfixed with darts; the “whole dam family” (apes dressed up as human beings); the cigarette fiend, a thin, yellow strip of humanity who is slowly but surely smoking himself to death; Bluey, the missing link between monkey and man; the fire swallower from the South Sea Islands; Zarelda, the girl with a million eyes (dotted all over her body), who has baffled all scientists; the garden of Allah and the garden of lovely girls; Leach, the human picture[107] gallery, with the world’s masterpieces tattooed all over his body; Dagmar, the living head without a body....

And the owner of the show, and of the bought voice which must not stop advertising it to the passer by, stands at one side in shirt sleeves, and rolls his quid and spits, and seems to meditate on dollars and cents, ever and anon signaling to the man with the voice not to let the crowd get away without coming in. It was pathetic to come upon the freaks, later, on the road; see Zarelda, demurely clad in black, gripping a suitcase, and realize that she had “dates” all over the South, and showed her million eyes to-day in Knoxville, then in Macon, then in Savannah, then Jacksonville and Mobile and New Orleans and a score of other places, sometimes for a day, sometimes for three days or a week—not in any sense a music-hall artiste, but a sort of gypsy by life and by profession. How tired the freaks must get, knocking about from State to State and listening to the loud laugh that speaks the vacant mind.

One would expect as the accompaniment of this show life a great number of strolling musicians and a poor folk wandering from town to town. But there are practically none. Strolling musicians now obtain polite employment at the many cinema houses where sensational pictures alternate with low vaudeville. Southern talent meets with a boisterous reception from the[108] twenty-cent houses of Atlanta and New Orleans. One hears very broad humor upon occasion, frantic burlesques of the nervous hysteria and half-witted ignorance of the “nigger”—when the white man makes up as a Negro he always shows something lower than the Negro. At one show in New Orleans the whole audience roared with mirth at a competition in what was called “fizzing,” the spitting of chewed tobacco in one another’s faces and the bandying of purely Southern epithets and slang. Music is little developed among the Whites, though the singing of “Dixie” choruses is hailed as almost national. Musical instruments are now rare, even among the Negroes, and seem to have been displaced by the gramophone. There is no “gridling,” no beggars singing hymns on the city streets. In the country there are few tramps. The ne’er-do-wells are to be found more in the market places and the cheap streets. Prohibition has subterraneanized that part of the drink traffic which it has not killed, and the hitherto unemployed find a congenial occupation leading the thirsty to the “blind tigers.” It is rare to come across a man on the road, and Vachel Lindsay, tramping Georgia and reading his poems to the farmers, must have been unique, not only as a poet, but as a tramp. I saw nothing resembling the grand procession of “hoboes” that I met when tramping to Chicago seven years ago. Perhaps it was because immigration[109] had ceased, and throughout the whole of America there was a need for labor which absorbed all men. Yet there could have been few on the road even before the war: the vast number of Blacks makes it unfitting for a white man to be tramping, and there is, moreover, less chance for a white man to get work in any case.

Much is said against the “poor Whites” or “poor white trash,” as the white proletariat is called by the black proletariat. They are said to be the worst enemies of the Negro, and the Negro is afraid of Bolshevism or Socialism because he knows the common white people, “those who have nothing and are nothing,” are the last people likely to give him justice. As one of the most popular of Negro leaders said recently: “As long as Socialism is followed by the lower classes of Whites, we can see there is more danger coming from Socialism to the Negro than from anything else, because below the Mason and Dixon line the people who lynch Negroes are the low-down Whites.” Of course those crowds who joyfully allow themselves to be photographed around the charred remains of the Negro they have burnt, thus affording the most terrible means of propaganda to Negro societies, are more of the dull, uneducated masses than of the refined and rich. They hate the Negro more because they are thrown more in contact with him, and their women are more accessible to him. They are in competition with[110] the Negro for work and wages, and would gladly welcome a complete exodus to the North or to Liberia, for then their wages would go up. Physically, and man for man, they are afraid of the Negro, and therefore they attack him in mobs. Fortunately, there are not in the South great numbers of poor Whites except in the large cities and at the ports.

By contrast with the people of the North, the people of the South are noisy, very polite indoors, but brusque and rough without. They will do a great deal for you as a friend, but not much for you as a stranger. They have sharp-cut features, thin lips, blank brows. The women do not take on a fair fullness of flesh, but are inclined to dry up and fade. There are an enormous number of faded women everywhere—a sign, perhaps, that the climate does not suit the race. The accent seems to vary with the State, and Tennessee speaks with far more distinction than Georgia, where the “nigger brogue” prevails, and it is difficult to tell White from Black by voice. Nearly all r’s are dropped. Moral character is said to be weak, but there is nevertheless a very high standard, at least in matters of sex. The Southern woman is by no means as conscious of her charms as the Northern woman, and an unusually susceptible male could spend a quiet time in these parts. Men are not thinking of love and composing poems, even though it is the South, but they are[111] if anything keener on business and money. Most people seemed suspicious of strangers, not communicative, but once they have taken the stranger to their hearts they easily become warm-heartedly effusive.

As a stranger I encountered a surprising lack of civility at a “non-union” plough company at Chattanooga. The employees were mostly Negroes, and I called on the white superintendent to obtain permission to go over the works. A heavy-jowled fellow kept me waiting half an hour in an anteroom, and then not only refused point-blank to let me see conditions in his factory, but was so brusque in his manner that I was forced to give him my mind roundly on his lack of courtesy, not to me personally, but to a literary man. As a rich business man he seemed to consider the profession of letters as dirt under his feet. I must say I felt shame to be so angry, and I was much amused some weeks later to read in a Chattanooga newspaper picked up by accident that Billy Sunday had visited this city and had preached in the said works, and at the close of his address, the superintendent being present, all the employees were en bloc converted to Christ.

Chattanooga is a larger city than Knoxville, better built and more spacious. One has entered the rayon of Southern steel and coal. Its many factory chimneys and its sooty sky testify to[112] considerable industrialism. As in its sister city of Birmingham, Alabama, there are many non-union shops. A great steel strike was in progress in the United States, but while the workers in the North stood their ground in a long and bitter struggle, there was scarcely the semblance of a walkout in places like Chattanooga and Birmingham. Northern labor trouble seemed to mean Southern capitalistic prosperity.

One reason why Southern labor remains to a great extent unorganized is the Negro difficulty. Unions are not ready to accept Negro membership. Therefore the Negro can always be brought in to do the white man’s work if the latter goes on strike. Whether union or non-union, the wages seem fairly high. I talked with a Negro moulder who earned on an average six dollars a day. That is over eighteen hundred dollars American, and about five hundred pounds British money a year. A non-union unskilled man would, however, earn little more than two dollars a day—which, with the cost of food so high, is very little.

I noticed a difference in the attitude of the colored population in Chattanooga. It was much more depressed than that of Knoxville or the Virginian cities. Nothing terrible had occurred in Chattanooga, but there was said to be a bad mob, and what had happened at Knoxville had frightened them. The newspapers[113] contained intimidating news paragraphs. On September 26th, at Omaha, Nebraska, the mob had burned down the courthouse, lynched a Negro, and tried to lynch also the mayor, E. P. Smith, who was twice hoisted to a lamp-post because he refused to hand over a prisoner to the mob. “As I stood under that lamp-post with the mob’s rope necktie circling my neck and listened to the yells ‘Lynch him,’ I took the same course any true American would have taken,” said the mayor. In the face of death he refused to yield his authority to Judge Lynch. That was at Omaha, in the West. On September 29th two Negroes were lynched by twenty-five masked men at Montgomery, Alabama, for alleged assault of a white woman. On October 1st the terrifying color riot broke out at Elaine, Arkansas, on a dispute over cotton prices. On October 6th two Negroes were burned at the stake and three were shot to death at Washington, Georgia, for supposed complicity in the murder of a deputy sheriff. Next day, at Macon, Eugene Hamilton was lynched for attempted murder, and so on. Since the Civil War one could scarcely find a more bloody and terrible period. And the poor Whites of Chattanooga kept hinting that Chattanooga’s turn would soon come. I was told Negroes did not care to stray far from their homes in the suburbs after dark. They were tormented and mauled on their way home from[114] church. The Jim Crow portion of the trolley car was invaded by roughs trying to start trouble. In some cities in the South the Negroes have all-black motor omnibuses and jitneys running. These would obviate much of the danger of the trolley car which has only a straw screen between the races. But Negro enterprise has not risen to motor omnibuses in depressed Chattanooga. From a white point of view, the city might be improved by more light. It is a dark and extensive place. The great companies do not want to lose their Negroes and might do more to keep them. I found the Negroes scared, and many were ready to seize the first opportunity to go northward. Mr. T—— said, “They might kill us all.” Mrs. W—— said: “All who have children want to go away. There’ll be no chance for our children here. Before the war it was much better, but they seem to dislike us more now. Perhaps it would have been better if none of our men had gone to the war.” I endeavored to reassure most of those with whom I talked, for they had an exaggerated idea of their danger.

At Chattanooga there was no library for the colored people. There seemed to be little Negro business. I was at once introduced to the druggist and the undertaker. Undertaking and drug-selling, which includes ice-cream-soda dispensing, seem the most popular business enterprises among the Negroes. Wherever three or[115] four polite Negroes were gathered together and I was talking to them someone would say, “Permit me to introduce Undertaker So-and-So,” and the latter would smile blandly and offer his brown hand. At Chattanooga I visited a swell establishment and looked over a show-room of elegant coffins, and I was shown into the parlor and the embalming room, where on a stone slab the bodies were prepared. This undertaker had started originally with one coffin, and had now become, as I saw, one of the rich men of the city. Funerals cost between a hundred and a hundred and fifty dollars, and were usually defrayed by the insurance companies.

I found the large East Side drug store, kept by a young man who had been in charge of the pneumonia ward of the 92nd Divisional Hospital in France. He had as many white customers as colored. He did not sell much patent medicine, as he said the attitude of the United States Government to patent medicines had become most severe. He was a fully qualified chemist. Doctors prescribed and he dispensed in the ordinary way. Yes, many were surprised to find a Negro chemist in a position of authority in a hospital, but that was due to white people’s ignorance of the progress made by colored students of medicine.

I greatly enjoyed “Joseph’s Bondage,” a dramatic cantata sung by a colored choir.[116] Evidently the Negroes had composed the cantata themselves, for the verbiage was very quaint and simple. In a packed hall to be the only Whites was for myself and the lady who was with me a curious position. It caused a whole row of seats to remain empty in the midst of a crowded house. No Negro male dared sit down next to the white woman for fear of what I might do. However, when I left my place to talk to a Negro I knew in another part of the hall the empty line filled up mechanically.

The production of the cantata was quite amusing. Potiphar’s guards were the smartest possible, being ex-soldiers from Pershing’s army, upright Negro boys in khaki. But Potiphar was in blue, and looked like a man in charge of an elevator, and wore the slackest of pants. Leva, his wife, pawed Joseph over and yowled: “I love you, I love you.” Pharaoh, with glistening steel crown and steel slippers, was impressive. Joseph as a slave was the Negro workingman in his shirt; as Vizier, however, with the purple on him, he looked very grand, and the jubilee chorus which he sang when at length Pharaoh stepped down and he sat in Pharaoh’s seat, was very jolly, swaying to one side of the crowd around him and singing to them, swaying to the other side and singing to them, and then to all and God——

I did not leave the city without attending church, and I heard a little black Boanerges[117] give a brilliant address. He walked up and down his rostrum with arms folded, and cooed and wheedled, but ever and anon crouching and exploding, lifting his hand to strike, bawling, even yelling to humanity and the Almighty. In dumb show he pulled the rope of a poor fellow being lynched—and sent straight to hell. He spoke of the race riots, and then suddenly becoming breathless, as if he were a messenger just arrived with bad tidings, he flung both arms wide apart, dilated his eyeballs, and cried in a terrorizing shriek—“there is riot and anarchy in the land.”

He had chosen a fine combination of texts for his sermon: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.”

Though a complete stranger, I was singled out and brought to the front to give the congregation a Christian greeting. I told them I had read in a Negro paper that “the Negro church had failed. Prayer had been tried for fifty years and had been proved to be no use.” And I said what I firmly believe to be true, that only Christianity can save color.

The orator was much pleased and said to his congregation: “See what God has sent us this Sunday morning,” and he invited me to give the address in the evening. We had an amusing altercation on the platform. “I do not know[118] what to call him, or who he is; he may be anybody, a doctor, a professor, a——” he looked at me inquiringly.

“Oh, plain Mr.,” said I.

He hung on, however, to “Professor” till I interrupted him again.

At the close of my address the deacons came out to assess the congregation in the matter of collection. They looked it up and down and decided that twenty-two dollars was the amount that could be raised. So with their solemn faces they stared patiently at the congregation while the plates went round. The collection was counted, and was found to be considerably less. So the deacons addressed themselves once more to the congregation, averring that some of the young men were holding back. Then for five minutes individuals were moved to come up singly and make additional offerings. Progress was reported, and then more individuals came up till the assessment had been realized.

Then the most touching thing occurred. The pastor turned to me and offered to share the collection with me.

“Oh, no!” I whispered hurriedly, feeling, perhaps, rather shocked at the idea.

“He says ‘Oh, no,’” said the pastor to the congregation.




Traveling from Chattanooga to Atlanta the mind inevitably reverts to the American Civil War, for in 1863 the victory of the North marched from Chattanooga and the famous battle of Lookout Mountain to the taking of Atlanta and the discomfiture of Georgia. The glorious Stars and Stripes came victoriously out of the Northern horizon, climbed each hill, dipped and climbed again, with a clamorous, exultant Northern soldiery behind it. General Sherman began to gather his great fame, while General Lee, the adventuresome Southern leader, allowed himself to be cut off in Virginia. The efforts of the South had been very picturesque, like the play of a gambler with small resources and enormous hopes, but the shades of ruin gathered about her and began to negative the charm of her beginnings. Lincoln had proclaimed the freedom of the slaves. The South pretended that in any case slavery could not survive the war, and in token of this she enlisted Negro soldiers, making them free men from the moment of enlistment. In military extremity policy promises much which afterwards[120] ingrate security will not ratify. The Southern planter might have obtained some measure of indemnification for the loss of his slaves had he come to terms in time. But he hoped somehow he might win the right to manage his Negroes as he wished without interference. There was the same violent state of mind on the subject of the Negroes as slaves as there is now on the subject of the Negroes as free men. All that was missing was the white-woman talk. Though originally the colonists had been generally opposed to the introduction of slavery, yet slavery had taken captive and then poisoned most men’s minds. The South chose to fight to the end rather than sacrifice the institution prematurely. There was a pride, as of Lucifer, in the Southerner, too, a belief in himself that foredoomed him to be hurled into outer darkness and to fall through space for nine days. Sherman’s army, when it burned Atlanta and marched through Georgia laying the country waste, was inspired with something like the wrath of God.

In order to see the ex-slave and ex-master to-day, it is necessary to dwell not only in cities but in the country, and I chose to walk across the State of Georgia as the best way to ascertain what life in the country was like. And I followed in the way Sherman had gone. There, if anywhere, it seemed to me, the reactions of the war and of slavery must be apparent to-day.


Sherman was something of a Prussian. He was a capable and scientific soldier. From an enemy’s standpoint, he was not a humanitarian. War to him was a trade of terror and blood, and he was logical. “You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will,” said he. “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” And when he had captured Atlanta he ordered the whole population to flee.

If they cared to go North, they would find their enemies not unkind. If they thought there was safety in the South—then let them go further south to whatever protection the beaten Southern Army could afford.

So North and South they fled, the people of Atlanta, but mostly South, for they were bitter; and the roads filled with the pitiful array of thousands of men and women and children with their old-fashioned coaches, with their barrows, with their servants, with those faithful Blacks who still heeded not the fact that “the day of liberation had arrived.” All under safe-conduct to Hood’s army.

What complaints, what laments, as the proud Southern population took the road. A lamentation that is heard till now! And when the people had gone, the city of Atlanta was set on fire. Sherman had decided to march to the sea, and he could not afford to leave an enemy population in his rear, nor could he allow the chance that secret arsenals might exist there after he[122] had gone. It was a never to be forgotten spectacle, “the heaven one expanse of lurid fire, the air filled with flying, burning cinders.” “We were startled and awed,” says a soldier who marched with the rest, “seeing vast waves and sheets of flames thrusting themselves heavenward, rolling and tossing in mighty billows—a gigantic sea of fire.” Small explosions arranged by the engineers were punctuated by huge explosions when hidden stores of ammunition were located, and while these added ruin to ruin in the city they sounded as lugubrious and awful detonations to the soldiery on the road. Depots, churches, shops, warehouses, homes flared from every story and every window. Those who remained in the town were few, but it was impossible not to be stirred if not appalled. A brigade of New England soldiers was the last to leave, and marched out by Decatur Street, led by the band of the 33rd Massachusetts regiment, playing

John Brown’s body lies a-mould’ring in his grave
His soul is marching on—

the lurid glare of the fire gleaming upon their bayonets and equipment, inflaming their visages and their eyes which were already burning with the war faith of the North.

That was in the fall of 1864. Years have passed and healed many wounds. Now it is Atlanta in the fall of 1919 and the crush of the[123] Fair time. All Georgia is at her capital city. The automobiles are forced to a walking pace, there are so many of them, and they vent their displeasure in a multiform chorus of barking, howling, and hooting. So great is the prosperity of the land that the little farmer and the workingman have their cars, not mere “Ford runabouts,” but resplendently enameled, capacious, smooth-running, swift-starting coaches where wife and family disport themselves more at home than at home. Atlanta’s new life has grown from the old ruins and hidden them, as a young forest springs through the charred stumps of a forest fire. On each side Atlanta’s skyscrapers climb heavenward in severe lines, and where heaven should be the sky signs twinkle. Every volt that can be turned into light is being used. The shops and the stores and the cinemas are dazzling to show what they are worth. The sidewalks are thronged with Southern youth whose hilarious faces and gregarious movements show a camaraderie one would hardly observe in the colder North. Jaunty Negro boys mingle with the crowd and are mirthful among themselves—as well dressed as the Whites, sharing in the “record trade” and the boom of the price of cotton. They are not slaves to-day, but are lifted high with racial pride and the consciousness of universities and seminaries on Atlanta’s hills, and successes in medicine, law, and business in[124] the city. They roll along in the joyous freedom of their bodies, and make the South more Southern than it is. How pale and ghostlike the South would seem without its flocks of colored children, without those many men and women with the sun shadows in their faces!

“We love our niggers and understand them,” say the Whites, repeating their formula, and you’d think there was no racial problem whatever in the South, to see the great “Gate City” given over to merriment unrestrained and many a Negro colliding with many a White youth and yet never a fight—nothing on the crowded streets to exemplify the accepted hostility of one to the other. One has the thought that perhaps Atlanta did not burn in vain, and that the South as well as the North believes in the immortality of the soul of John Brown.

The tobacco-chewing, smiling, guffawing crowds of the street, and Peachtree Street jammed with people and cars! What a hubbub the four jammed-up processions of automobiles are making—like choruses of hoarse katydids crying only for repetition’s sake and the lust of noise! But there is more noise and more joy still a-coming! Skirling and shrieking, in strange contrast to the Negroes and to the clothed Whites and to the color of night itself, comes the parade of college youths all in their pajamas and nightshirts. Long queues of some hundreds of lads in white shouting at the[125] top of their voices—they climb in and out of the electric cars, rush into shops and theatres in a wild game of “Follow my leader.” Rah, rah, rah, they cry, rah, rah, rah, and rush into hotels, circle the foyer, and plunge among the amazed diners in the dining rooms, thread their way around tables and up the hotel balustrade, invade bedrooms, go out at windows and down fire escapes, and then once more file along the packed streets amidst autos and cars, raving all the while with pleasure and excitement. It is good humor and boisterousness and the jollity of the Fair time. Up above all the flags and the bunting wave listlessly in the night air. It seems impossible but that the firing of Atlanta is forgotten, and the pitiful exodus of its humiliated people—forgotten also the exultancy of the soldiers of the North singing while the city burned.

Sherman with 60,000 men and 2500 wagons but only 60 guns marched out, and none knew what his destination was. A retreat from Atlanta comparable only to Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow was about to commence. The hostile farming population of Georgia and the Carolinas should harass the Yankee army as the Russian peasants had done the French in 1812. That was the Southern belief and the substance of Southern propaganda at the time. Not so the Northern Army, which had the consciousness of victory and a radiant belief in its cause and in[126] its general. “A feeling of exhilaration seemed to pervade all minds, a feeling of something to come, vague and undefined, still full of venture and intense interest. Even the common soldiers caught the inspiration, and many a group called out: ‘Uncle Billy, I guess Grant is waiting for us at Richmond.’ The general sentiment was that we were marching for Richmond and that there we should end the war, but how and when they seemed to care not, nor did they measure the distance, or count the cost in life, or bother their brains about the great rivers to be crossed and the food required for man and beast that had to be gathered by the way.”[3]

Sherman himself had not decided on what point exactly he would march. But he never intended to march against Lee at Richmond, though the South and his own soldiers believed it. He always designed to reach the sea and reopen maritime communication with the North, and kept in mind Savannah, Port Royal, and even Pensacola in North Florida. So universal was the belief that he was marching on Richmond by way of Augusta that in all the country districts of Georgia where the left wing marched they will tell you still that the enemy was marching on Augusta.

You shall maintain discipline, patience, and courage, said Sherman to his army. And I will lead you to achievements equal to any of the[127] past. We are commencing a long and difficult march to a new base, but all the chances of war have been provided for. The habitual order of march will be by four roads as nearly parallel as possible. The columns will start habitually at 7 a. m. and make about 15 miles a day. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. Horses, mules, and wagons belonging to the inhabitants may be appropriated by the cavalry and artillery freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor and industrious, usually neutral or friendly. All foragers will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and they will endeavor to leave each family reasonable means of sustenance. Negroes who are able-bodied and serviceable may be taken along if supplies permit. All non-combatants and refugees should go to the rear and be discouraged from encumbering us. Some ether time we may be able to provide for the poor Whites and Blacks seeking to escape the bondage under which they are now suffering. To corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton gins, etc., but the measure of the inhabitants’ hostility should be the measure of the ruin which commanders should enforce.[4]

There was much more said in those very finely written and emphatic orders, but the sentence[128] that captured the imagination of the common soldier was certainly “the army will forage liberally on the country” which at once became a common gag among the men. For it spelt loot and fun and treasure trove and souvenirs and everything else that stirs a soldier’s mind. There is a human note throughout the whole of General Sherman’s orders, but no softness, rather an inexorable sternness. He had no patience with the cause of the Rebels nor with their ways of fighting. He and his staff were not averse from the idea of reading the population of Georgia and South Carolina a terrible lesson. While the march was military it inevitably became punitive. The cotton was destroyed, the farms pillaged, the slaves set free, the land laid waste. It was over a comparatively narrow strip of country, but Sherman was like the wrath of the Lord descending upon it.

So out marched the four divisions (14th, 15th, 17th, and 20th) joyously singing as they went the soldiers’ songs of the war—

One and Free


He who first the Flag would lower

and all manner of variants of John Brown to the Glory Hallelujah chorus.

The way out from Atlanta is now a road of cheap shops and Jewish pawnbrokers, Negro[129] beauty parlors, bag shops, gaudy cinema and vaudeville sheds, fruit stalls and booths of quack doctors and magic healers, vendors of the Devil’s corn cure, fortune tellers, and what not. A Negro skyscraper climbs upward. It is decidedly a “colored neighborhood,” and rough crowds of Negro laborers and poor Whites frolic through the litter of the street. Painfully the electric cars sound their alarms and budge and stop, and budge again, threading their way through the masses, glad to get clear after half a mile of it and then plunge into the comparative spaciousness of villadom outside the city.

It is not as it was of yore. Where the bloody July battle of Atlanta raged a complete peace has now settled down amid the dignified habitations of the rich. Trees hide the view, and children play upon the lawns of pleasant houses while the older folk rock to and fro upon the chairs of shady verandas.

Dignified Decatur dwells on its hill by the wayside, and has reared its pale monument to the Confederate dead. On this white obelisk the cause of the South is justified. Within sight of it rises an impressive courthouse, which by its size and grandeur protests the strength of the law in a county of Georgia.

There was a gloomy sky with lowering clouds, and a warm, clammy atmosphere as if the air had been steamed over night and was now cooling a little. The road leaving behind[130] Decatur and the suburbs of Atlanta became deep red, almost scarlet in hue, and ran between broad fields of cotton where every pod was bursting and puffing out in cotton wool. Men with high spindle-wheeled vehicles came with cotton bales done up in rough hempen netting. Hooded buggies rolled sedately past with spectacled Negroes and their wives. Drummers in Ford cars tooted and raced through the mud. Thus to Ingleside, where a turn in the road reveals the huge hump of Stone Mountain, shadowy and mystical like uncleft Eildons. All the soldiers as they bivouacked there or marched past on that bright November day of ‘64 remarked the mountain, and their gaze was turned to it in the spirit of curiosity and adventure.

I fell in with a Mr. McCaulay who was a child when Sherman marched through. He thought the Germans in Belgium hardly equaled Sherman. Not only did his troops burn Atlanta but almost every house in the country. He pointed out new houses that had sprung up on the ruins of former habitations.

... “A fence used to run right along here, and there were crops growing. No, not cotton; there was not the demand for cotton in those days, and not nearly so much grown in the State. Over on that side of the road there was a huge encampment of soldiers, and I remember stealing out to it to listen to the band.


“The foragers came to the houses and took every bit of food—left us bone dry of food. They also took our horses and our mules and our cows and our chickens. Sometimes a family would have a yoke of oxen hidden in the wood, but that would be all that they had. Everyone had to flee, and all were destitute. It was a terrible time. But we all stood by one another and shared one another’s sorrows and helped one another as we could.

“All colored folk also stood by us. I expect you’ve read, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ and ‘The Leopard’s Spots,’ but the picture is terribly overdrawn there.”

“I did not know these told the story of the march,” said I.

“They do not. But they give an account of the Negroes that is entirely misleading. The North has queered the Negro situation by sending all manner of people down here to stir the Negro up against us. Till we said, ‘You and your niggers can go to the devil’—and we left them alone.

“But that was a mistake, and we are realizing it now, and intend to take charge of the education of the Negro ourselves, and be responsible for him spiritually as well as physically. There never was a better relationship between us than there is now.

“And I—I was brought up among them as a child, as an equal, played with them, wallowed[132] with them in the dirt, slept with them. They’re as near to me as flesh and blood can be.”

It was curious to receive this outpouring when I had not mentioned the Negro to him at all and seemed merely curious concerning Sherman’s march. It is, however, characteristic of the South: the subject of the treatment of the Negro recurs like idée fixe.

At Lithonia, after a meal of large yellow yams and corn and chicken and biscuits and cane syrup, I called on old Mrs. Johnson, who lived over the way from Mrs. Jones. Lithonia was much visited by the cavalry. Decatur was stripped of everything, and Lithonia fared as badly in the end. Men came into the farmyard and there and then killed the hogs and threw them on to waiting wagons. These were foragers from the camps outside Atlanta. But one day someone came with the news—“Sherman has set fire to the great city and he’ll be here to-morrow.” And sure enough on the morrow his army began to appear on the road—the vanguard, and after that there seemed no end to the procession. The army was all day marching past with its commissariat wagons and its water wagons, its horses, its mules, and regiment after regiment. The despoiled farm wives and old folk could not help being thrilled, though they were enemies. General Slocum, who commanded the left wing of the army, wrote his name in pencil on granny’s doorpost[133] when he stopped at her house with one or two of his staff.

The Confederate soldiers were “Johnny Rebs” and the Union soldiers were “Billy Yanks.” Neither side was known to have committed any crimes against women or children, and the latter were crazy to watch the Yanks go by, though often their fathers were away in the hard-pressed Rebel armies.

As I walked along the red road betwixt the fluffy cotton fields from village to village and from mansion to mansion, those stately farmhouses of the South, I was always on the lookout for the oldest folk along the way. The young ones knew only of the war that was just past, the middle-aged thought of the old Civil War as somewhat of a joke, but the only thing the old folks will never laugh over is the great strife which with its before and after made the very passion of their lives. So whenever I saw an old man or woman sitting on a veranda by the wayside I made bold to approach and ask what they knew of the great march, and how it had affected them, and the Negroes.

They told of the methodical destruction of the railways, and of the innumerable bonfires whose flames and smokes changed the look of the sky. Every rail tie or sleeper was riven from its bed of earth and burned, and the long steel rails were heated over the fires. To make the fires bigger timber was brought from the woods, and[134] every rail was first made red-hot and then twisted out of shape—the favorite plan being for three or four soldiers to take the hot rail from the fire, place it between two trunks of standing pines, and then push till it was bent nigh double.

They told of the stillness after the army had gone, and of the sense of ruin which was upon them with their cotton destroyed, and all their stores for the winter pillaged, and their live stock driven off. An old dame told me how the only live animal in her neighborhood was a broken-down army horse left behind to die by the enemy. The folk were starving, but a woman resuscitated the horse and went off with him to try and bring food to the village. She walked by his side for fear he would drop down dead—and first of all she sought a little corn for the horse, for “Old Yank” as she called him. Many a weary mile they walked together, only to find that “Sherman’s bummers” had been there before her. She slept the night in a Negro hut (a thing no white woman would dream of doing now) and the Negroes fed her and gave corn to the horse and sent her on her way. Out of several old buggies and derelict wheels a “contrapshun” had been rigged out and tied to the old horse, but it was not until beyond Covington and Conyers that a place was found which the foragers had missed, and the strange buggy was loaded for home.


I spent a night in Conyers in beautiful country, and was away early next morning on the Covington road. The road was shadowy and sanguine. The heavy gossamer mist which closed out the view of the hills clothed me also with white rime. Warm, listless airs stole through the mist. On my right, away over to the heaviness of the mist curtain, was a sea of dark green spotted and flecked with white; on my left was the wretched single track of the railway to Covington rebuilt on the old levels where it was destroyed in ‘64. Wooden carts full to the rim with picked cotton rolled clumsily along the red ruts of the road, and jolly-looking Negroes sprawled on the top as on broad, old-fashioned cottage feather beds. And ever and anon there overtook me the inevitable “speed merchants,” hooting and growling and racketing from one side to the other of the broken way. I sat down on a stone in an old wayside cemetery, sun-bleached and yet hoary also with mist. Such places have a strange fascination, and I knew some of those who lay beneath the turf had lain unwitting also when the army went by. What old-fashioned names—Sophronias and Simeons and Claramonds and Nancies! On most of the graves was the gate of heaven and a crown, and on some were inscribed virtues, while on one was written “He belonged to the Baptist Church.” The oldest stones had all fallen and been washed over with red mud. Among the[136] old were graves of slaves, I was told, but since the war no Black has been buried with the White.

An old Negro in cotton rags, grizzled white hair on his black, weather-beaten face, told me where the colored folk lay buried half a mile away, where he, too, would lay down his old back and rest from cotton picking at last. “But on de day ob Judgment dere be no two camps,” said he. “No, sir ... only black and white souls.” He remembered the joy night and the jubilation after the army passed through, and how all the colored boys danced and sang to be free, and then the disillusion and the famine and the misery that followed. The old fellow was a cotton picker, and had a large cotton bag like a pillow case slung from his shoulders—an antediluvian piece of Adamite material with only God and cotton and massa and the Bible for his world.

While sitting on this wayside stone I have the feeling that Sherman’s army has marched past me. It has gone over the hill and out of view. It has marched away to Milledgeville and Millen and Ebenezer and Savannah, and not stopped there. It has gone on and on till it begins marching into the earth itself. For all that are left of Sherman’s warriors are stepping inward into the quietness of earth to-day.

The mist lifts a little, and the hot sun streams through. The crickets, content that it is no[137] longer twilight, have ceased chirping, and exquisite butterflies, like living flames, are on the wing. It is a beautiful part of the way, and where there is a sunken, disused road by the side of the new one I take it for preference. For probably it was along that the soldiers went. Now young pines are springing from their footsteps in the sand.

Here no cars have ever sped, and for a long while no foot has trod. The surface is smooth and unfooted like the seashore when the tide has ebbed away, and bright flowers greet the wanderer from unfarmed banks and gullies. So to Almon, where an old gaffer told me how he and some farm lads with shotguns had determined they would “get” Sherman when he came riding past with his staff, and how they hid behind a bush, where the Methodist church is now standing, and let fly. Sherman they missed, but hit someone else and they fled to the woods. He lost both his hat and his gun in the chase which followed, but nevertheless got away. Not that I believed in its entirety the old man’s story. It was his pet story, told for fifty years, and had become true for him. I came into Covington, a regular provincial town, whose chief feature is its large sandy square about which range its shops with their scanty wares. There I met another old man, a captain who served under Lee, and indeed surrendered with him. He had been beside Stonewall Jackson[138] when the latter died. He was now eighty-four years, haunting the Flowers Hotel.

“This world’s a mighty empty place, believe me,” said he. “Eighty-four years ...!”

He seemed appalled at his own age.

“Threescore and ten is the allotted span.... At seventeen I went gold digging ... seeking gold ... it was the first rush of the digging mania in California, but I only got six hundred dollars worth.”

“At seventeen years many their fortunes seek

But at fourscore it is too late a week”

said I sotto voce.

“A mighty empty place,” repeated the old captain, rocking his chair in the dusk. “Yes, Sherman marched through here. He burned all the cotton in the barns. I was born here, and lived here mos’ all my life, but I was with Lee then. That war ought never to have been. No, sir. It was all a mistake. We thought Abraham Lincoln the devil incarnate, but knew afterwards he was a good friend to the South. It’s all forgotten now. We bear the North no grudge except about the niggers——”

He interrupted himself to greet a pretty girl passing by, and he seemed offended if any woman passed without smiling up at him. But when he resumed conversation with me he reverted to “The world’s getting to be a mighty empty place ... eighty-four years ... threescore and ten is the allotted span, but....”


I turn therefore to the witness of the time, and the genius who conceived the march and watched his soldiers go. Thus Sherman wrote of Covington: “We passed through the handsome town of Covington, the soldiers closing up their ranks, the color bearers unfurling their flags, and the bands striking up patriotic airs. The white people came out of their houses to behold the sight, spite of their deep hatred of the invaders, and the Negroes were simply frantic with joy. Whenever they heard my name they clustered about my horse, shouted and prayed in their peculiar style which had a natural eloquence that would have moved a stone. I have witnessed hundreds, if not thousands of such scenes, and can see now a poor girl in the very ecstasy of the Methodist ‘shout,’ hugging the banner of one of the regiments and jumping to the ‘feet of Jesus’.... I walked up to a plantation house close by, where were assembled many Negroes, among them an old gray-haired man of as fine a head as I ever saw. I asked him if he understood about the war and its progress. He said he did; that he had been looking for the ‘Angel of the Lord’ ever since he was knee-high, and though we professed to be fighting for the Union he supposed that slavery was the cause, and that our success was to be his freedom....”

That was the characteristic Negro point of view—the expectation of the “Coming of the[140] Lord,” the coming of the angel of deliverance. Their only lore was the Bible, and their especial guide was the Old Testament. Despite all talk of their masters, talk which would have been dismissed as “eyewash” in the war of 1918, they believed that God had sent to rescue them. They waited the miraculous. Sherman was God’s messenger.

So the glorious sixty thousand broke into quiet Georgia—carrying salvation to the sea—in an ever memorable way. The foe, stupefied by defeat, was massing on the one hand at Augusta and on the other at Macon, bluffed on the left and on the right, while in the center the unprobed purpose of the general reigned in secret but supreme.

The Twentieth Corps on the extreme left went by Madison, giving color to a proposed attack on Augusta. The Fifteenth feinted at Macon, the cavalry galloping right up to that city and inviting a sortie. The Seventeenth Corps was in close support of the Fifteenth, and the Fourteenth kept in the center. It was the route of the Fourteenth that I decided to follow, and it was also the way along which went Sherman himself. It was generally understood by the Fourteenth Corps that Milledgeville was its object at the end of a week’s marching. The order of march for the morrow was issued overnight by army commanders to corps commanders and then[141] passed on to all ranks. The men slept in the open, and beside watch fires which burned all night. Outposts and sentries kept guard, though there were few alarms. The warm Southern night with never a touch of frost, even in November, passed over the sleeping army. Reveille was early, commonly at four o’clock, when the last watch of the night was relieved. The unwanted clarion shrilled through men’s slumbers, blown by urgent drummer boys. The bugles of the morning sounded, and then slowly but unmistakably the whole camp began to rouse from its stertorousness, and one man here, another there, would start up to stir the smouldering embers of the fires and make them all begin to blaze; and then began the hubbub of cleaning and the hubbub of cooking, the neighing of horses, the clatter of wagon-packing and harnessing. Reveille was made easier by the prospects of wonderful breakfasts—not mere army rations, the bully and hard-tack of a later war, but all that a rich countryside could be made to provide—“potatoes frying nicely in a well-larded pan, the chicken roasting delicately on the red-hot coals, the grateful fumes of coffee,” says one chronicler of the time—fried slices of turkey, roast pig, sweet yams, sorghum syrup, and corn fortified the soldier for the day’s march. Horses and mules also fared astonishingly well, and amid braying and neighing and pawing huge quantities of fodder[142] were provided. Then once more insistent bugles called; knapsacks and equipment were strapped on, the horses and mules were put in the traces, the huge droves of cattle were marshaled into the road, and the army with its officers and sergeants and wagons and guns and pontoons and impedimenta of every kind (did not Sherman always carry two of everything?) moved on.

There was something about the aspect of the army on the march that was like a great moving show. The musical composition of “Marching Thro’ Georgia” has caught it:

Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the Jubilee!
All hail the flag, the flag which sets you free!
So we brought salvation from Atlanta to the Sea,

When we were marching thro’ Georgia.

The clangor of brass, the braying of mules, the shouts of the soldiers, the ecstasy of the Negroes, and then the proud starry flag of the Union!

The procession has all long since gone by, and men speak of the famous deeds “as half-forgotten things.” It is a quiet road over the hill and down into the vale with never a soldier or a bugle horn. Cotton, cotton, cotton, and cotton pickers and tiny cabins, and then maize stalks, corn from which long since the fruit has been cut, now withered, warped, shrunken, half fallen in every attitude of old age and despair. It is a[143] diversified country of hill and dale, with occasionally a huge gray wooden mansion with broad veranda running round, and massive columns supporting overhanging roof. The columns, which are veritable pine trunks just trimmed and planed or sawn, give quite a classical air to the Southern home. Sometimes there will be seven or eight of these sun-bleached columns on the frontage of a house, and the first impression is one of stone or marble.

The Southern white man builds large, has great joy in his home, and would love to live on a grand scale with an army of retainers. The Negro landowner does not imitate him, and builds a less impressive type of home, neither so large nor so inviting. Rich colored farmers are, however, infrequent. The mass of the Negro population is of the laboring class, and even those who rent land and farm it for themselves are very poor and sunk in economic bondage. Their houses are mostly one-roomed wooden arks, mere windowless sheds resting on four stones, a stone at each corner. Furniture, if any, was of a rudimentary kind. “See how they live,” said a youth to me. “Just like animals, and that’s all they are.”

“Why don’t you have any windows?” I asked of a girl sitting on the floor of her cabin.

“They jus’ doan’ make ‘em with windows,” she replied. “But we’ve got a window in this side.”


“Yes, but without glass.”

“Ah, no, no glass.”

“Is it cold in winter?”

“Yes, mighty cold.”

Some cabins were poverty-stricken in the extreme. But in others there were victrolas, and in cases where the merest amenities of life were lacking you would find a ramshackle Ford car. On the road Negroes with cars were almost as common as white men, and some Negroes drove very furiously and sometimes very skillfully. There were no foot passengers on the road. I went all the way to Milledgeville before I fell in with a man on foot going a mile to a farm. The current Americanism, Don’t walk if you can ride seemed to have been changed into, Don’t stir forth till you can get a lift, and white men picked up Negroes and Negroes white men without prejudice, but with an accepted understanding of use and wont. I was looked upon with some doubt, and scanned from hurrying cars with puzzlement. Lonely Jasper County had not seen my like before. But saying “Good day!” and “How d’ye do?” convinced most that the strange foot traveler was an honest Christian. Lifts were readily proffered by men going the same way. Those who whirled past the other way may have reflected that since I was on foot I must have lost my car somewhere.

A common question put to me was, “What are you selling?” and people were a little dumbfounded[145] when I said I was following in Sherman’s footsteps. That had not occurred to them as a likely occupation on a hot afternoon. I felt rather like a modern Rip Van Winkle who had overslept reveille by half a century and was trying in vain to catch up with the army which had long since turned the dusty corner of the road. Still, the Southerners were surprisingly friendly. They said they knew nothing about it themselves, and then took me to the old folk who remembered. The old folk quavered forth—“It’s a long, long time ago now.” It interested them always that I had been in the German war and had marched to the Rhine, and they were full of questions about that. “Oh, but this war was not a patch on that one,” they said. “I tell them they don’t know what war is yet—what we suffered then, what ruin there was, how we had to work and toil and roughen our white hands, and eat the bread of bitterness like Cain——”

After the Civil War the initial struggle of the settlers and pioneers in the founding of the colony had to be repeated. Everyone had to set to and work. The help of the Negroes was at first diminished or entirely cut off. Even the necessary tools were lacking. Nevertheless there was now a surprising absence of bitterness. “The war had to be. Slavery was bad for the South, and it took the war to end it” was an opinion on all men’s mouths. “When President McKinley[146] said that the character of Robert E. Lee was the common inheritance of both North and South he healed the division the war had made,” I heard someone say. Even of Sherman, though there were bitter memories of him, there were not a few ready to testify to his humaneness—for instance, this from a poor store keeper:

“I suppose you’re not old enough to remember the Civil War?”

“’Deed, sir, I do.”

“Do you remember Sherman’s march?”

“Yes, I was only a child, but it made a powerful impression on me. My father was killed in the war. And we were scared to death when we heard Sherman was coming. But he never did me any harm. An officer came up, asked where my father was, learned he was dead. And he made all the soldiers march past the house, waited till the last one had gone, then saluted and left us. Captain Kelly was his name, and I shall never forget his face, it was all slashed about with old scars. He was a brave man, I’m sure.... No, they didn’t do much harm hereabout, except to those who had a lot of slaves or to those who had treated their niggers badly. If they found out that a man had been ill-treating his niggers they stripped his house and left him with not a thing——”

On the other hand the rich, the owners of large plantations, remained in many cases still virulent.


“I know Sherman is in hell,” said a Mr. R—— of historic family. “When my mother lay sick in bed the soldiers came and set fire to our cotton gin and all our barns. They came upon us like a tribe of Indians and burst into every room, ransacking the place for jewelry and valuable property. I was a small boy at the time, but I shall never forget it. They took the bungs from all our barrels and let the syrup run to waste in the yard because they themselves wanted no more of it. They killed our hogs and our cows before our eyes and threw the meat to the niggers. Yes, sir. A year or so back Sherman’s son said he was going to make a tour along the way his daddy had gone—to see what a wonderful thing his daddy had done. Lucky for him he changed his mind. We’d a strung him to a pole, sure——”

Such sharp feeling was, however, certainly exceptional. Near Eatonton was a Mr. Lynch of Lynchburg, storekeeper, postmaster, wheelwright, and blacksmith all in one. He averred that they were “hugging and kissing the Yankees now, just as they would be hugging and kissing the Germans in a few years.”

“There’s mean fellows on every side,” said he. “You don’t tell me that there’s no mean fellows among the English, the French, and the Italians. I don’t believe all the stories about the Germans. I remember what they used to say about the Yankees. They get mighty mad[148] with me when I tell ‘em, but there’s plenty of mean fellows on both sides.”

The village was named after the old man’s grandfather—an Irish settler. It is just beside the old Eatonton factory which Sherman burned down. At the next turn in the road there is a roaring as of many waters. A screen of pine and rank grass undergrowth hides an impressive sight. A step inward takes you to the romantic stone foundation of the old factory; you can climb up on one of the pillars and look out. The interior of the factory is all young trees and moss and tangles of evergreen, but beyond it rushes a mighty stream over a partially dammed broad course, red as blood, but wallowing forward in creamy billows and white foam.

The factory was used to weave coarse cotton cloth, and had evidently been worked by water power. Quite forgotten now, unvisited, it was yet a picturesque memorial of the march, and I was surprised to see no names of visitors scrawled on the walls of its massive old foundations.

I walked into Eatonton by a long and picturesque wooden bridge over the crimson river, a strange and wonderful structure completely roofed, and shady as a tunnel. The evening sun blazed on the old wood and on the red tide and on the greenery beyond, making the scene look like a colored illustration of a child’s tale.


Eatonton, where Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox were actually born, is now a hustling “city” with bales of cotton fluff higglety-pigglety down its streets, and again beautiful bales of extra quality in the windows of its cotton brokers. There are also modern mills where cotton is being spun. The business men on the streets talk of “spots” and “futures”—spot cotton being apparently that which you have on the spot and can sell now, and futures being crops yet to be picked, which, presuming on kind Providence, may be sold and re-sold many times before being grown. What is said of Eatonton may be said of Milledgeville, twenty miles further on. It is a cotton town. It is a gracious seat as well, with a scent of history about its old buildings, but it impresses one as a great cotton center. The streets of Milledgeville were almost blocked with cotton bales. It would have been easy to fight a battle of barricades there. The principal church looked as if it were fortified with cotton bales, and it would have been possible to walk fifty or a hundred yards stepping on the tops of the bales. Bales were on the tidy lawns of shady villas or stacked on the verandas, and everywhere the hard-working gins were roaring and grinding as they tore out the cottonseed from the white fluff and left cotton that could be spun. Wisps of cotton lint blew about all over the streets, and cotton was entangled in dogs’ fur and children’s hair. In the[150] porches of Negro cabins it was heaped high till the entrance to the doorway itself was blocked.

Cotton was booming at Savannah and New Orleans, and despite talk of the weevil destroying the pod, and of bad weather and bad crops, it was clear that Georgia was very prosperous. Men and women discussed the price of cotton as they might horse races or State-lottery results or raffles. Everyone wanted room to store his cotton and hold it till the maximum price was reached. My impression of Georgia now was that it was not nearly so rich in live stock and in food as it had been in the time of Sherman. In his day it grew its own food and was the supply source of two armies. To-day it imports the greater part of its food. It sells its cotton and buys food from the more agricultural States of the South. It might have been thought to be a land overflowing with fruit and honey and milk, but fruit and honey are cheaper in New York than there, and there is no margin of milk to give away. Meat is scarce and dear. There is no plenty on the table unless it be of sweet potatoes. I imagine that after Sherman’s raid the farmers felt discouraged, and decided never to be in a position to feed an enemy army again. There are many always urging the Georgian to grow corn and raise stock, and so make Georgia economically independent, but the farmer always meets the suggestion with the statement that cotton gives the largest return on any given[151] outlay and takes least trouble. That is true, but it is largely because the Negro cotton picker is such a cheap laboring hand. A farm laborer would automatically obtain more than a cotton picker. The hypnotic effect of the slave past is strong and binding upon the Negroes. Perhaps it is still the curse of Georgia. There are still planters who drive their laborers with the whip and the gun—though the shortage of labor during the war caused these to be put up. It is not in money in the bank that one must reckon true prosperity. However, in this material way, Georgia has quite recovered from the Civil War. But she has lost a good many of the compensations of true agriculture; cotton is so commercial a product that there is no glamour about it, not even about the old plantations, unless it be that of the patient melancholy of the cotton pickers.




I passed through two ancient capitals of Georgia, first Milledgeville, and then Louisville. The relationship which Milledgeville bore to Atlanta reminded me of the relationship of the old Cossack capital of the Don country to the modern industrial wilderness of South Russia called Rostof-na-Donu. But business is business, and there is only business in this land. Even along the way to the old capital it is always so many miles to Goldstein’s on the mile-posts instead of so many miles to Milledgeville.

The old legislature sat at Milledgeville, but it fled at the approach of Sherman. It was a day of great astonishment when General Slocum paused in his supposed march upon Augusta and General Howard in his attack on Macon, and one came south from Madison while the other marched north from McDonough. There was an extraordinary sauve qui peut. Panic seized the politicians and the rich gentry of the place, for the rumor of the terrible ways of the foragers was flying ahead of the Union Army. Everyone strove to carry off or hide his treasures. They must have had terrible privations[153] and some adventures on the road trying to race the army, and they would have done better to remain to face the music, for no private effects were destroyed in this city. Similar scenes were enacted as at Covington. The darkies made a great day of jubilee, and hugged and kissed the soldiers who had set them free. The cotton was burned and made a great flare—seventeen hundred bales of it even in those days. The depots, magazines, arsenals, and factories were blown up. Governor Brown had fled with all his furniture, and Sherman in the governor’s house slept on a roll of army blankets on the bare floor.

There are many signs of ease and refinement in the spacious streets of Milledgeville, though it has increased little in size since the war. It has large schools for the training of cadets and the training of girls. These are model institutions and are very valuable in Georgia. The place, however, seemed to lack the cultural significance it ought to have. But it is true that churches and Sunday schools were full. No shops of any kind were open on Sundays; the people had forgotten the taste of alcoholic drink and were ready to crusade against tobacco. They are not given to lynching, though they allowed some wild men from Atlanta to break open their jail some years ago and take away a Jew and hang him. But they are too content. At church on Sunday morning the pastor complained[154] that while all were willing to give money to God none were willing to offer themselves. He invited any who were ready to give themselves unreservedly to God to step forth, and none did. And it was an eloquent appeal by a capable orator. I met an old recluse who was at the back of the church. He had tried to give himself to God but was now living at the asylum where he had found shelter, being otherwise without means. He had been a Baptist minister at a church near Stone Mountain, but rheumatism had intervened after twenty years’ work, and he could no longer stoop to immerse the candidates for baptism. He was an Englishman who had listened to Carlyle’s and Ruskin’s lectures, and he talked of Dean Farrar’s sermons and the good deeds of the Earl of Shaftesbury. He spoke as no one speaks to-day, good old measured Victorian English. He was a touching type of the despised and rejected. He loved talking to the Negro children in the “colored” school till the townsfolk warned him against it. His books form the nucleus of the town library, but the rats have gnawn all the bindings of his “Encyclopedia Britannica,” and I formed the opinion that poor R—— living on sufferance in the lunatic asylum was probably the best read man in Milledgeville.

It is a delightful walk to Sandersville, over Buffalo Creek and over many streams crossed[155] by the most fragile of bridges apparently never properly rebuilt since Wheeler’s cavalry destroyed them in the face of the oncoming army. Georgia used to have many excellent bridges, but it never really hindered the Yankee army by destroying them. It seems rather characteristic of the psychology of the people that they would not replace what they had had to destroy. Now at the foot of each long hill down which the automobiles tear is a trap of mere planks and gaps which chatters and indeed roars when passed over. Many motorists get into the mud.

Sandersville is a busy town hung in gloomy bunting which no one has had time to take down since the last county fair. It has a large, dusty, sandy square with a clock tower in the middle. There are great numbers of cars and lorries parked around. Cotton bales, old and new, fresh and decayed, lie on every street. Huge gins are working, and Negroes are busy shoveling oily-looking cottonseed into barns; cotton fluff is all over the roadways in little clots; every man is in his shirt; the soda bars do a great trade even in November. A stranger said to me “Come and have a drink” and we went in and had a “cherry dope.” There is an impressive-looking public library, much larger than at Milledgeville, with high frontal columns of unadorned old bricks mortared and laid in diamond fashion, a barred door, and an entrance so deep in cotton fluff, brickdust, and refuse that one might be pardoned[156] for assuming that learning was not now in repute. On the other hand there is a fine, well-kept cemetery with large mausoleums for the rich and tiny stones for the poor.

Sandersville was the scene of one or two combats during the war. But when it is borne in mind that only a hundred of Sherman’s army died from all causes on its march to the sea, it will be understood that the strife was not serious. Sherman has been called a Prussian, and he certainly possessed military genius and understood soldiering as a mental science, but he always tried to save his men. He wished to win victories with the smallest possible loss of men, and he thought out his unorthodox plans of campaign with that in view. He could have lost half his army on this adventurous march to the sea. It was a most daring exploit, and if it had failed the whole responsibility would have been laid at Sherman’s door. But Sherman had thought the matter out, and he completely deceived his enemy. Once more after Milledgeville Slocum is seen to be threatening Augusta in the north and Howard is striking south. The cavalry is driving the enemy ahead and plunges northward to Louisville and Waynesboro, well on the way to Augusta. The enemy evacuates the central regions of Georgia, and Sherman’s infantry moves through unscathed. Foraging has become organized and systematic. The wagons amount to many thousands, and it is curious that the population[157] did not destroy all vehicles and so prevent the army from carrying away so much. The doubt which General Sherman expressed at the beginning of the march that supplies might prove inadequate has entirely vanished, and the army has a crowd of Negro camp followers almost as big as itself. These eventually became a great hindrance, but they were evidently encouraged to join themselves to the soldiers in the Milledgeville and Sandersville district. They proved invaluable helps in the seeking out of hidden treasure and the pillaging of farmhouses. They knew the likely spots where valuables would be buried, and the soldiers knew how to worm out secrets even from the most faithful black servants on the big estates. One reason why Georgia burns and hangs more Negroes than any other State is probably because of the bitterness caused by the unstinted foraging and the “setting of the niggers against us” as they say.

Be that as it may, the seeds of future hate are always sown in present wars, and “Sherman’s bummers” in their quest of spoil took little heed of any future reckoning. The Negroes led the soldiers even to the deepest recesses of swamps or forests, and showed the hollow tree or cave or hole where lay deposited the precious family plate and jewelry and money and even clothing. It was common to take from the planter not only hams, flour, meal, yams, sorghum molasses, but[158] above all things turkeys, so rare to-day along the line of Sherman’s march—

How the turkeys gobbled which our commissaries found,
How the sweet potatoes even started from the ground,

When we were marching thro’ Georgia!

But the bummer did not stick at these. He would borrow grandfather’s dress coat and hat surviving from the old colonial days, and his mate would array himself in grandmother’s finery, and so attired would drive their wagon back to camp, hailed by the jests of the whole army; and if they met an officer on the way they would cry out mirthfully the text of the army order—The army will forage liberally on the country.

It is said that no forager would ever sell any of his loot, that indeed it was a point of honor not to sell. The veterans of the North must therefore preserve many interesting mementoes of the South. Both officers and men took many tokens. There used to be an amusing euphemism current in Sherman’s army: it was—“A Southern lady gave me that for saving her house from being burned”—and if anyone said, “That’s a nice gold watch; where did you get it?” the soldier replied, “Oh, a Southern lady gave it to me,” etc.

The army made camp by three o’clock every day, and it was after three that most of the unauthorized foraging expeditions took place. They were gay afternoons spent in singing and[159] gambling, athletics and cock fighting. The South was found to be possessed of a wonderful race of fighting cocks. The enthusiasts of the sport rushed from farm yard to farm yard for astonished chanticleer, and having captured him fed him well and brought him up to a more martial type of life than that which in domesticated bliss he had enjoyed with his hens. Every company had its cock fighting tournament. Each regiment, each brigade, each division, and indeed each corps, had its champion. The winners of many bloody frays were soon nicknamed “Bill Sherman” or “Johnny Logan,” but the losing bird which began to fear to face its adversary would be hailed as Beauregard or Jeff Davis. The cock fight finals were of as great interest as the combat of the Reds and White Sox to-day, and perhaps more real.

Besides game cocks each regiment had a great number of pets. These were mostly poor, homeless creatures on which the soldier had taken pity; dogs, singing birds, kids, who followed with the army and had the army’s tenderness lavished on them.

So they went, marching and camping by old Louisville and the broad waters of the Ogeechee down to Millen. The old farmers say what an impressive sight it was to watch them go by on the Millen road with seemingly more wagons than men, with all the wagons bulging with spoil and drawn by well-fed horses and mules, with[160] long droves of cattle, and thousands of frenzied Negroes so frantic with joy that they seemed to have lost their heads and to be expecting the end of the world.

Davisboro is a dust-swept settlement two sides of a road at the foot of a hill. Doors stand open, and the general stores in all their disorder spread their wares. At one end of the little town a large gin is hard at work steaming and blowing, ravishing cotton seed from cotton fluff, and many bales are waiting. Louisville, the old capital, is a dozen miles further on beyond the woods and swamps of a sparsely settled country. It is now “the slowest town in Georgia.” It is, however, none the less pleasant for that.

There are many old houses, and in the midst of the way stands the original wooden “Slave Market” built in 1758, according to a notice affixed, but now used as a fire station. In the old colonial days when Louisville was the capital, slaves used to be brought there in large batches on market days. There was a little platform on which the all-but-naked victims had to stand and be exhibited and auctioned. As I sat on a bench and considered the building a young townsman joined himself to me and gave me a gleeful description of the slaves—“Their front teeth were filed, they spoke no English; when they saw our big green grasshoppers they ran after them and caught them and ate them. The men wore loin[161] cloths and the women cotton chemises halfway to the knee. Lots of cows, hogs, mules, and niggers were put up and sold as cattle in a lump. Animals, that’s all they were and all they are now——” And he laughed in a curious, self-conscious way.

“It is strange to think of the history of them,” said I, “from the African wastes to the slave ship, from the slave ship to the harbors of the New World, then to these market places and to the plantations, taught baby English and hymn-singing, obtaining the Bible as an only and all-comprehending book, petted and fondled like wonderful strays from the forest in many families, tortured in others, becoming eventually a bone of fierce political contention though innocent themselves, the cause of a great war, and then released in that war and given the full rights of white American citizens.”

The young townsman’s imagination was not touched by the romance of the Negro. He was full of the wrong done to the white South by putting it under the dominance of a free Negro majority.

“You know we lynch them down here,” said he, with a smile. “They want social equality, but they are not going to get it. The nigger can’t progress any further.”

“Well, there’s a vast difference between the Negro of 1860 and the Negro of to-day,” said I. “Hundreds of universities and colleges have[162] arisen, thousands of schools and Negro organizations for self-education. The Negro has gone a long way since in yelling crowds he followed the banners of Sherman. I do not think he is going to stop short, and I wonder where he is going to and where at last he will arrive.”

I passed through Eatonton, the birthplace of Joel Chandler Harris, on my way to the sea. He taught us much about the Negro. In England Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit have become as cherished as the toys of the nursery. I think Uncle Remus meant as much to us as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The genial point of view and the genial books do as much to help humanity as the strong and bitter ones. Both certainly have their place. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” stirred people out of a lazy attitude of mind toward the Negro slaves, but in America it aggravated a bitterness which no other book has been able to allay. The very intensity of the white man’s thought about the Negro bodes ill for the future. The White men of the North deliberately have made the effort to rear a Negro intelligentsia. The idealists of the North said, “You shall go on”; others said, “No, you shall stay as you were”; the clash of the two wills lit up racial war, but the Negro has sided with the idealists who sought to raise him, with the Friends of Pennsylvania and the humanitarians of New England.

In the panic of Sherman’s approach the planters and their wives told their slaves that[163] the Yanks would flog them and burn them or put them in the front of the battle, and drown the women and children in the Ogeechee or the Chattahoochee. Many believed and fled with their masters; others hid in the woods, but the rumor of salvation was on the lips of most. The Southerner has a saying, “The nigger is the greatest union in the country.” News indeed travels faster among slaves and servants than among employers and masters. There was not much hesitation when the army arrived. The Negroes saw and believed. The incredulous were converted and the scared persuaded out of their hiding places. All with one accord forgot their fear and then went to the other extreme; that is, as far in credulity as their dull minds had lodged in incredulity. The arrival of the victors gave rise to the most extravagant hopes. The Negro had never reasoned about anything in an informed way. He knew nothing of the world except the simplicity of the plantation. He had on the one hand slavery, and on the other the vague and vast idealism of Christian hymns; the melancholy of bondage and the emotionalism of Evangelical religion. He did not think of New York, London, Paris, St. Petersburg, of the workingmen’s movement, of free thought, of political economy, but only of “de ole plantation,” and then “de ribber.” From drab slavery he looked straight to Jordan and the golden gates, and to a no-work, easy-going paradise[164] happy as the day is long, with God as Massa, and Mary and the Son to play with. There were no between stages to which to aspire. They expected, as did the Puritan churches about them, the huge combustion of the Last Day, and they did not set much store by this world. Hence their exalted state of mind following Sherman’s army. They were ready to shout Glory when the world was afire, and they displayed all the emotion which should have been saved for the coming of the Lord.

At first Sherman’s army was quite pleased, and encouraged the emotion of the freed men. But it got to be too much for the Yankee soldiers, who felt at last that the Blacks were overdoing it and that in any case they were a nuisance. The nearer they got to Savannah the more impatient did they become. At last they began to destroy bridges between themselves and the Negroes, and put rivers between them. Then, after leaving Millen for the pine forests of the Savannah shore, they deliberately destroyed the bridge over Ebenezer Creek. There was a wild panic, a stampede, and many, it is said, were drowned in the stream. The splendor of the army went by, the brass bands, the cheering and the singing of the soldiers and the standard bearers of the North in the midst of them, the wagons, the many wagons laden with spoil, and the droves of cattle. But[165] for Georgia and the Negro there set in the twilight of ruin and disillusion.

Rural Georgia is not very much better off to-day than it was in slavery days. The large tracts of land which the Blacks thought would be given them they neither could nor would farm. They lacked experience and initiative. They could be too easily deceived by their white neighbors, and were too subservient to their erstwhile masters to make good in the race of human individuals striving one against another.

“No Negroes own land hereabout,” said some Negro renters to me between Shady Dale and Eatonton. “They did, but got into debt and lost it. We rent a thirty-acre farm and pay two bales of cotton rent.” At the current price of cotton, 38 cents a pound, that amounted to 380 dollars in American currency, or 95 pounds in British currency, but the tenants paid in cotton, and as cotton boomed their rents advanced.

It seemed to be everywhere customary to reckon rent in cotton bales, and it is easy to see what an economic serf the Negro can become under such terms. This system, known as “truck” in England, was long since abolished, but its evils were so notorious that truck has remained a proverbial expression for chicane—hence the phrase “to have no truck with it.” The Negro is better off as a laborer on a white man’s plantation than he is when having the responsibility[166] of picking a crop for master before he picks one for himself.

There are many features of life on the modern plantation, be it of sugar or cotton, which suggest slavery. Virtual slavery is called peonage and many examples were given me by Negroes. It is arranged in some places that the Negro handles as little money as possible. Instead of money he has credit checks, metal or cardboard disks, which he can use at the general store to purchase his provisions. He is kept in debt so that he can never get out, and so lives with a halter round his neck. Especially during the war, when the rumor of war wages was tempting the colored labor of the South to migrate North in huge numbers, efforts were made to keep the Negro without the means of straying from the locality where the labor of his hands was the foundation of the life of the community. Other forms of peonage prevalent in rural parts is the commuting of punishment for forced labor, the hiring out of penal labor to companies or public authorities. This resembles the use made of prisoners during the recent world war, and is virtual slavery.

All inroads made on the liberty of the subject might fittingly be classed as peonage—the denial of the vote to those legally enfranchised, intimidation by lynch law, etc.

I talked with an old Negro after leaving Louisville and tramping south toward Midville. He[167] was lolling in rags on his porch—very near white. His father had been his black mother’s white master. He remembered Sherman’s passing when he was a boy. A remarkably intelligent and tragic face, where an unhappy white man looked out on the misery of abject poverty and quasi-bondage. Cotton had proved bad this year. The boll weevil had entered the pod early. There were but three or four bales to the plow. He did not know how he’d foot his bills. The rations given him in the spring had become exhausted. He had also hoped to buy clothes. He said the traders came early in the year and supplied him with all sorts of things on the strength of a large cotton crop, and he pointed to a toy bicycle lying upside down in the grass. He let his little boy stride it, and mother thought it fine. Last year God had blessed them with a very fine crop, and why should He not be as kind this year? So he signed on for the toy bicycle and for a gramophone as well. Now he complained that they were cutting off his rations, mother lay ill a-bed, the weather was getting cold, and they had no clothes. The boss was coming presently to turn them out of the cabin altogether, and they did not know where to go. Even while we were talking two bullet-headed young fellows, clean-shaven, frank, and surly, came up in an automobile, stopped short, and rated the old man from where they sat in the car. The cabin and the little cotton plantation belonged[168] to them now, and the old fellow was reverting from small proprietor to be laborer on a plantation, and to be laborer was little better than to be slave.

“We have to let down rope ladders to our people to get them up here,” said a colored dean of a university to me. “We live in such abysses down below, and there is no regular way out of the pit.”

I felt as I was marching into Georgia as if I were descending the rope ladder. What a contrast there was between the bright, radiant-faced girls at Atlanta studying science and languages, and those whom I was meeting now. There was a regular sequence or gradation going downward to filth and serfdom. The first bathed twice a day, and spent hours working “anti-kink” not only into their hair but into their souls and minds. They were fresh and fit and happy as morning itself. That was on the Atlanta heights. I stepped down to the world of business with its heavier, gloomier types, the hard-faced, skillful, and acquisitive doctors, the fire-delivering, shadowy-minded clergy, the excited and eager yet heavy-footed politicians. I took the road and met the troubled landowners, pathetically happy to exist, though drowning in mortgage and debt; from them I passed to the farm laborers, with the jowl of the savage, matted hair, bent backs, deformed with joyless toil, exuding poisonous perspiration and foul[169] odor, herded like cattle or worse, nearer to the beast than our domestic animals, feared by women and weak men, as beasts are feared when they come in the likeness of human beings.

There were, however, steps lower still in the ladder which leads downward from the Atlanta hills. Frequently along the road I saw men in yellow-striped overalls, plodding together, working together, overlooked by a white man with a gun, and as they walked sounded the pitiful clank-clank of the chains. It is rather curious, kandali in Siberia are an atrocity, but in sections of the United States they are quite natural.

“We do not keep ‘em in jail, but make ‘em work,” says the white man knowingly. “When there’s much work to do on the roads we soon find the labor.” At Springfield I remarked the terrible state of disrepair of the highway and public buildings. The reason was that instead of setting their criminals to work on them they handed them over to the State authorities. Other towns knew better. But in the chain gang and the striped convict so easily obtained at the courts the ex-slave was seen at his worst, and the rope ladder stopped short before touching bottom.

There is not much to endear the ordinary wooden cabins in which the mass of America’s black peasantry is found to live. They are poorer and barer than the worst you would see[170] in Russia. Ex-serf has fared better than ex-slave. However, one detail of charm on this Georgian way was the putting up of tiny stars as a sign of boys serving in the army, a humble star of hope and glory like some tiny flower blossoming out of season in the wilds—one white star for a boy in the army, a golden one for a boy who had died. In their submerged way the Negroes were proud of having helped in the war. The glory, or the idea, or the parrot cry of “making the world safe for democracy” had penetrated even into the most obscure abodes. The poor Negro had discovered Europe at last, and was especially in love with one nation—the French. The South generally had not been very eager to see the Negro in the war and has not reacted sympathetically to the black man’s war glory.

“There’s no managing the neegahs now, they’s got so biggety since the war,” said a white woman at Shadydale. “Las’ year we white people jus’ had to pick the cotton usselves, men, women, and chillen.” She told me she did not think it a bit nice of the French girls to walk out with Negro soldiers, and then told a story of a French bride brought home by one of the white boys. She tittered. “Yes ... she had twins soon af’ she came, and would you b’lieve it, they were neegahs. Of course he sent her right back.” The French intimacy with the Negro soldiers has cooled the Southerner’s[171] regard for the best-loved nation of Europe. It has also stirred up the racial fear concerning Negroes and white women. Because the black soldier was a favorite of the white girls in France it is thought that his eye roves more readily to the pure womanhood of the South.

Lynching seems often to be due to puritanical fervor, and is compatible with a type of religiosity. Mob feeling against love is very dangerous. A pastor kisses a girl of his congregation, a deacon happens to see it, and his career is ended. An old man on the road volunteered the fact that he had never “sinned” with a woman, black or white, his whole life. Certainly there is a high standard of righteousness. Family life is pure, and love-making is not the chief interest in life as in some European countries. Men’s minds are more on their business, and women’s on their homes. I am tempted to think that if the white race which inhabits the South were French or Russian or Polish or Greek there would be no lynchings. The great number of mixed relationships would beget tolerance for inter-racial attraction. I said to a young Floridan going through in his car—“I can well imagine a certain type of European women ogling the Negro, making eyes at him and luring him to his destruction. Have you ever come across such a type?” He answered “No, and if there were, we’d do away with her, too.”


Of course this rigidly moral point of view falls away when it is a matter of the white man and the black girl or the mulatto. The morality of the Negro woman was badly undermined in slavery days, when slave children were bred without any thought of sin or shame. But though the moral standard has been low, it is nothing like so low as it was. Pride of race has been born, and the moral purity of the colored woman as a whole is now comparatively higher. Certainly even in the country districts, where the Negro is nearest to his old state of being a chattel, there is a great decrease in the number of half-bred children. The solution of the racial problem by ultimate blending of color is not one which seems likely to succeed here in the course of nature. Black and White are far more separate and distinct in freedom than they were in slavery. Even the black mammy is dying out. There are not so many of that type of colored women. The white mother, moreover, has more scruple against giving her child away from her own breast. The Southern woman is as much against promiscuous relationships with Negro women as her manfolk is against the Negro’s roving eyes. One woman said, “You can understand the fondness of our young men for some of the Negro girls when as babies they were suckled by a Negro woman.” There is much psychological truth in that.

During these weeks on the roads of Georgia[173] three Negroes were burned in my neighborhood, two near Savannah for supposed complicity in the murder of a deputy sheriff, and a mob of about a thousand white men took pleasure in the auto-da-fé. A short while later near Macon a Negro was accused of making love to a woman of fifty as she was coming home from church one Sunday evening. Some one certainly attacked her, though what was his object might be questionable. The accused man fled for his life. He was captured at midnight by certain well-known citizens whose names were published in the press. The sheriff argued with a crowd of about four hundred in the public street for about an hour and a half, and then, like Pilate, washed his hands of the matter and let the mob have its way. Paul Brooker, the Negro, lay on the ground maltreated, but living; gasoline was poured over him, a lighted match was applied, and he was burned to death. This was not in Catholic Spain in the days of the Inquisition, but in religious Georgia, solid for Wilson and the League of Nations. I was told I could not understand why such things had to be done. No Englishman and no Northerner could ever penetrate the secret of it. That seemed to put me in the wrong when conversing with the Southern people. It was a curious fact, however, that they also for their part took no pains to understand how such things made the blood boil in the veins of one who lived elsewhere. It was not the execution[174] nor the crime but the cruelty that seemed to me unforgivable. I could understand killing the Negro, but I could not and would not care to understand the state of mind of the four hundred who enjoyed his torments.

Burnings and hangings and mob violence of other kinds are frequent in most of the States of the South, but even in such cases where the names of citizens are given in the press no prosecution or inquiry seems to follow. Thus the great flag is flouted, and it is possible to imagine the cynical mirth with which the ecstasy of the Negroes following the Army of Liberation in 1864 might be compared with the hilarity of the Southern mob in 1920 watching the ex-slave slowly burning to death on their accusation and yelling for mercy when there was no merciful ear to hear.

I suppose nothing begets hate so readily as cruelty. That is why in all wars there is so much mongering of atrocities: one side tries to find out all the cruelties and barbarities committed by the other just to stir up its own adherents. So in the Civil War all the brutalities of the slave owners were made known, and the Northern soldier’s blood boiled because of them. Although the quarrel is now healed, there was, at the time, a deep hate of the Southerners in the war. It was not only a martial conflict but personal hatred and contempt. What was done[175] to the Blacks was aggravated by what was done to the white prisoners. The North discovered a cruelty and callousness in the South which must have been a puzzle to those who reflected that they were of the same race. For Georgia is predominantly English by extraction, and still proud, as I found, of grandfathers and great-grandfathers born in the old country. Some ascribe the change of temperament to the hot sun and to the southern latitude; more, to the brutalizing influences of slavery itself.

When I was at Millen, which once in the glare of a burning railroad swarmed with Sherman’s troopers, I went out to the old Southern battery at Lawton and saw the mounds and the fields where the pen of Northern prisoners was kept. It is waving with grass or corn to-day, and there is a beautiful crystal spring in the midst of serene, untroubled nature. Here the prisoners were concentrated in a space of ground three hundred feet square, enclosed in a stockade and without covering, exposed to all kinds of weather. When any escaped they were chased with bloodhounds. Some seven hundred and fifty died while in this concentration camp. No wonder a soldier of the time wrote: “It fevered the blood of our brave boys.... God certainly will visit the authors of all this crime with a terrible judgment.”

Sherman’s soldiers destroyed every hound they could find in Georgia as they passed[176] through—so strongly did they resent the barbarity of hunting men with dogs. For the South had learned to hunt runaway slaves with bloodhounds, and it was a type of hunting which gave a peculiar satisfaction to the lust of cruelty. What they learned in the maltreatment of their slaves they could put into practice against the prisoners they obtained. There again, however, the war has failed to bear fruit; for the hunting of Negroes with bloodhounds has become common once more.

The Northern soldiers did not become gentler to the Southern population as they advanced further into the depths of the country. Rather the reverse. They would have been even more destructive than before had they not found the country to be more and more sparsely settled. The march from Millen to Savannah would have resulted in the harshest treatment of the people, but happily the way lay through forests and through the uncultivated wildernesses of Nature herself. The army had only its prisoners to vent its displeasure upon, and they certainly did not pet the few hundred Confederate soldiers and “civilian personages” whom they had collected in bondage. The enemy was found to have mined the road at one point. An officer of the Union Army had his leg blown off. Eight-inch shells had been buried in the sand with friction matches to explode them when trod on. Sherman was very angry, and called it murder,[177] not war, in a way which reminds one of the indignation caused when in the late war the Germans started anything novel. The answer to this mining of the road was to make the rebel prisoners march ahead of the column in close formation so as to explode any more which might be laid on the way. They were greatly afraid, and begged hard to be let off—much to the mirth of the supposed victims. It was not until nearing one of the forts of Savannah that another mine exploded—the hurt done to the prisoners remains unrecorded.

The way is eastward to Sylvania and the Savannah River, and then south to the rice fields and the harbor. The road is deep in sand, and on each side is uncleared country with high yellow reeds below and lofty pines above. Persimmons, ripe and yellow, grow by the wayside, a luscious fruit, good when just rotten and full of softness and sun heat. Large bird-like butterflies gracefully flitting down the long corridors between the pines, and myriads of jumping mantises and grasshoppers suggest that it is not November. The golden foliage of an occasional beech reminds you that it is. The woods are deep and gloomy and melancholy. A poorer population lives by pitch-boiling and lumbering. Every pine tree is bearded with lichen. Moss hangs in long festoons from the branches. The great dark trunks are here and there silvered[178] with congealed floods of sap. Trenches two inches deep have been cut in the wood, and tin gutters and pots have been fixed up to collect the resin. Every other tree has a brown pot tied to it, and each pot is half full of the pearly liquid life of the trees. You emerge from the forest to the pretty clearing of Rincom with a Lutheran church which has a metal swan above the spire—symbol of the fact that the first congregation, the one that built the church, had come across the water from Europe. Six miles from Rincom is the oldest church in all this part of Georgia, the Ebenezer Chapel, founded by those first German settlers who sailed up the Savannah River, and in part founded the colony of Georgia. It also is a church of the swan. The forest is very dense, and Negroes with shotguns are potting at wild birds from the highway. Wayside cottages and churches seem almost overcome with the tillandsia, a subtropical mossy growth that seems to grow downward rather than upward. There is a slight clearing and a cemetery in the depth of the forest, and the hundreds of pines and cypresses and oaks about it are weeping with this hanging moss. The county is that of Effingham. Springfield, the capital, without electric light, deep in yellow sand, with a great public square where all the many trees look like weeping willows because of this gray-green tillandsia hair trailing and waving ten or twenty feet to a tress, is an[179] obscure town. Guideposts for Florida begin to appear, and heavy touring cars roll past on the way to Miami and Palm Beach. There are some charming wooden churches—the Negro ones being poorer, looking better sacrifices unto God than those of the Whites. But above the counter in the chief store is written

In God we trust,
All others pay cash.

The sound of the axe clashes in the woods. There are many fallen trunks on which it is possible to sit down and rest. Sea mist rolls in from the Atlantic, and warm airs push through it, feeding the marvelous tropical mosses. It’s a long way to Savannah—distance seems to be intensified by the narrowness of the gray corridor of the road through the vast, high forest. There rises from the obstructed earth black oak and sterile vine and palmettoes like ladies’ hands with opened fans. The surface whence the forest grows is swampy, old, lichened, mossy, springy. It’s hard to find solid earth, so many branches seem to be overgrown with verdure and moss. In the heat long snakes glide away from your approach, having seen you before you saw them. And rat, rat, rat, the red-polled woodpeckers in their tree-top cities call upon one another and seek their insect luncheons and then flit home and knock again. The white people speak a “nigger brogue” which is[180] almost indistinguishable from Negro talk, and they never pronounce an r. The Negro seems very poor and illiterate and afraid. “Hear comes the OLD RELIABLE FRIND with the LIFT of CHRIST” says a notice on an old wooden church of colored folk.

I am overtaken by a Negro with a wagon and twelve bales of cotton, and though he seems trying to race a huge touring car “heading for Florida” with trunks on top and whole family within, he slows down to pick me up. His is an enormous lorry, ponderous and ramshackle, shaking the bones out of your body as it takes you along. The Negro boy held the steering wheel nonchalantly with one hand and blundered along at top speed. After ten miles of this we entered one of the vast cotton warehouses outside Savannah, passed the gateman who would not have let me in but he thought I was in charge, and we saw where a hundred thousand bales were being housed and kept. Scores of Negroes were at work manipulating bales on trolley trains run by petrol engines all over the asphalted way, and from shed to shed.

“Are you shipping much cotton?” I asked of a white man who was giving us a receipt for the cotton brought in, while a dozen husky fellows were unloading the wagon. “Not much,” said he. “Holding for better prices,” he added, and smiled knowingly.

Then with the empty wagon we rolled off for[181] Savannah, and the boy driver told me he was going to work his passage soon on a ship from Savannah to New York. “We don’t get a chance down here.”

And yet how much better off was he with his wagon, and union wages, and life in a large city than the poor ex-slave, on the land!

While unlading, it had become dark. But an hour more through the forest brought us to the outlying slums of Savannah, and then to the “red-light district” where were music and dancing, and open doors and windows, and the red glow of the lamp luring colored youth to lowest pleasures; then to the grandeur and spaciousness of modern Savannah, and the white man’s civilization, up out of Georgia, up out of the pit, through the veil of the forest and of Nature to the serene heights of world civilization once more.




The march to the sea, like John Brown’s soul marching to eternity, was a moving symbol of the faith of the war. Men saw in it the march of the cause of humanity as a whole. Sherman offered Savannah as a Christmas gift to Abraham Lincoln, and the star of Bethlehem shone anew over a ravaged land and ravaged hearts. The news when it came was a signal for great popular rejoicing and a prophetic belief in the end of the war. Four months afterward there was a general capitulation of the South. It is true America’s most innocent and Christian man was destroyed by hate—another Golgotha day in history, when on Good Friday in a theatre in Washington Lincoln was assassinated—but the fight had been fought and the victory won. It became possible to ratify the abolition of slavery by the re-establishment of the Union and the common consent of all the States.

“In Sixty Three the slaves were free; In Sixty Four the war was o’er,” says a rhyme, but in truth the Negroes were not free in the South till the South had been conquered by the[183] United States, and the war was not o’er till April, 1865. It was on the 24th of May, 1865, that the army marched past the White House in its final grand review, bearing aloft its battle-riven flags festooned with flowers. There was glory in the North; the twilight of confusion in the South; and the Negroes were free. Peace came once more, though not peace in men’s hearts. War hate still bred hate, and the lust of cruelty called into being its monster progeny of revenge.

The fanatic who murdered Lincoln in doing so struck the whole of his own people. The planters who burned the runaway slaves, the soldiers who during the war put to death the Negro prisoners who fell into their hands, the actions generally of the embittered, brought the calamity of retaliatory spite not only upon themselves but upon the innocent and the just and the kind. A policy of punishment and not of reconciliation ruled at Washington, and the white South suffered. The Negroes and the Negro cause suffered also. The ex-slaves were given votes and put on an electoral equality with white men. This was a palpable injustice and indignity. The Negroes in 1863 were not prepared in mind or in soul or in knowledge for the exercise of the franchise. Neither were they gifted with the power of will and physical strength necessary to hold the suffrage when it was given them. There was the same[184] exaltation nationally when the victory was won as there had been locally when Sherman marched through, and the same disillusion and the same destruction of bridges was to take place also. Where the white man went the black man could not follow. For a brief space of time the ex-slave dominated the white South. The black vote was exploited by political charlatans; Negroes did not vote, they were voted, and then a way was made out of injustice to put the white man and ex-master of slaves in the right again. For wrong though the South had been, the war should still have left the educated white man in authority and not put him under the heel of the illiterate. The poor slaves just freed, but not educated, not blown upon by the winds of culture, not sunned in America’s bright moral sun, were in no position to vote upon America’s destiny or to take a directing hand in her affairs. As is usual after a war, the victors wanted a revolution in the land where they had won. The white North revenged itself on the white South. But a black revolution was a thing that could not be. Racial instinct came to the help of the Whites, and through general tacit understandings and organized conspiracies the new black masters were ousted from their places. Then fear of what might be, and once more, revenge born of the brief black dominion, went as far the other way in injustice. Nigger baiting arose,[185] mob violence took the place of the justice of the courts. The central authority was flouted, first covertly and then openly. The Negro was hustled back to peonage and servility, and one might be tempted to think that the cause for which all the blood of the Civil War had been shed was lost. It would have been lost had not slavery become a complete anachronism in world society. The yoke could not be reimposed upon the Negro’s neck. His freedom has persisted, it has grown.

The maximum of persecution of the Negro in recent years does not equal the misery of slavery. Even if all the lynchings and burnings and humiliations and disabilities be put together they do not add up to one year of servitude. Most Negroes understand that. They know that no matter what may be the vicissitudes they pass through they are still progressing to an ever fuller freedom.

In viewing the whole situation one is apt to underestimate the unhappiness of slavery and to magnify the unhappiness of the present era of freedom. It is blessed to be free. Even to be the worst possible peon is far removed from slavery. The great significance of the Emancipation is that the Negro slaves were set free—free for anything and everything in the wide world. In the prison house of a national institution of slavery there was no hope, no sense of the ultimate possibilities latent in a man.[186] But with freedom every baby became a potential Alexander.

In 1863 a new life began to germinate, began to have promise. Some thought that it must show forth at once. But that was fallacious. It was bound to spend a long time underground before the first modest shoots of the new should appear. Many have argued that the Negro would come to nothing in his freedom, and even those who have believed in his destiny have been impatient. Premature greetings have been given time and oft to new Negro culture and responsibility. The only criticism made here is that they were premature. The greatest of these was the suffrage.

I have said that the denial of the Negro his legitimate vote is a part of peonage, and I have also said that it was wrong to give the freed-men votes at once. I should like to explain how Negro suffrage stands to-day.

In the first place, it was wrong to enfranchise the ex-slaves, not because they were not entitled to votes, but because they were not ready to be intrusted with votes. In 1863 in England as well as in America the world could be saved by the ballot box alone. It was a rebellion against this belief that caused Carlyle to fulminate against “Nigger Democracy.” In talking with Dean Brawley of Morehouse College at Atlanta, I noticed a prejudice against Carlyle which is very widespread among educated colored people.[187] In the first place I should like to assure them that the use by Carlyle of the expression “nigger” has nothing in common with the brutal and contemptuous sense in which that word is used in America. Thus we say “working like a nigger,” an expression derived from the life of the slaves; “nigger diploma,” a contemptuous English expression for a high degree such as Doctor of Literature or Doctor of Divinity, thought to have been purchased in America at a Negro university; the ten little nigger boys, the black boys who come so swiftly to bad ends in the familiar rhyme of our childhood. “Nigger” is in England a playful word for a Negro, and is used always in the nursery. It is the children’s word for a black man, preferably for one who has been thoroughly blacked. Carlyle was one of the most reverent of men, and not accustomed to speak contemptuously of God’s creatures. But he was contemptuous of the suffrage. To him and to Ruskin and to many another it seemed absurd that the voice of the educated man and the illiterate should have the same value; that the many who are dull and ignorant should be allowed to outvote the few who know. The enfranchisement of the freed Negroes furnished Carlyle with an example of carrying an absurdity to its logical conclusion.

The alternative to government by ballot has, however, proved to be government by the domination[188] of a military caste, and mankind generally in our time has shown that it prefers the former. The ballot box with all its absurdity seems nevertheless our only means of carrying on in freedom. It would be wrong to grant the suffrage to the millions of savages under British rule in Africa, because they could not use it. And it was wrong to enfranchise Negrodom in America with a stroke of the pen after the Civil War. It has done the Negroes more harm than good.

To have such a grievance as to be legally enfranchised and yet physically denied the use of the vote is, of course, great harm. It affects the social mind. It makes bitterness and brews agitation. To be conscripted and called upon to fight for the country when this grievance is in mind has aggravated the harm already done. “We are not too low to fight the foe, but we’re too low to share in the spoil,” as the story goes. I heard a Negro comedian indulging in funniosities at a colored music hall win great applause by a chansonette:

Cullud folk will be ready to fight
When cullud folk has equal right.
I a’nt so foolish as I seem to be.

And it is a reasonable sentiment.

The fact is, Negrodom has to a great extent qualified to vote. Half the population is sunk in economic bondage and illiteracy, but the[189] other half has more than average capacity for citizenship. Yet in spite of the Constitution and the Federal authority these many millions remain practically without voice in all the Southern States. Physical force is exerted to keep them from the ballot box.

The Southerner affects to believe that the educated Negro is even less fitted to have a vote than the illiterate sort. But that is because he hates to see the Negro rise. He will tell you that in certain States the Negroes outnumber the Whites by ten to one. But that is a characteristic misstatement. It is hard to find a city where the black vote exceeds the white. In the last census the blackest cities were Birmingham and Memphis, where the Negroes proved to be forty per cent. of the population, while in

Richmond it was 37%
Atlanta 34%
Nashville 34%
Washington 29%
New Orleans 27%

And there are only two States where the Negro population exceeds that of the White; namely, Mississippi and South Carolina, where the Negroes were 57 per cent. and 55 per cent. of the total population.

If, as seems only fair, an illiteracy test were made legal by amendment of the Constitution,[190] white voters would outnumber black by a large margin.

As for having anything to fear from the educated Negro vote, there is of course one matter of anxiety. The Negro would be bound to fight for social justice, and violence would be done to racial prejudice.

The South is, however, determined that the Negro shall never vote again. Year by year the colored people as a whole grow in intelligence, in capacity, and in the number of its intelligentsia, but the South is not moved. It sees no explosion in the future, and makes no provision for one—will not, till the explosion comes.

Racial fear, no doubt, plays a large part in this determination, but there is a further consideration. The Solid South votes Democratic to a man. The Negro, if he had a chance, would vote as solidly Republican. I remember being present at a violent quarrel at a Negro meeting in New Orleans—one Negro, though he had not a vote, had actually called himself a Democrat. A remedying of the defective suffrage would be an enormous access of strength to the Republican party. For this reason Democrats exaggerate their racial fear. And also for that reason every Republican politician who gains power is bound to make a bid to break the solid South. Senator Lodge himself was the author of a “Force Bill” which came near enactment some years ago, and it would have placed Federal[191] soldiers at every ballot box in the South, to protect black voters.

The South defies anything which the Federal Government may devise. As Senator Lamar, of Mississippi, said to his colleagues in the Senate:

“But there is one issue upon which the South is solid, and upon which she will remain solid—the protection of her civilization from subjection to an ignorant and servile race. And neither Federal honors nor Federal bayonets can shake that solidity.”

President Wilson’s administration has been one which was dominated by Southern Democrats, and as the Southern vote has been behind him and them, there could hardly be any help given to the Negroes. The Democratic failure has nevertheless been a real disappointment. Wilson’s radical idealism; his plunge to the root of trouble wherever trouble was, led many to believe that he would do something to remedy the pitiable state of the Negroes. Some legal palliative would come with a better grace from Democrats than a forceful measure enacted over their heads by Republicans. Perhaps with the downfall of the Democratic party and the coming triumph of the Republicans something practical will be done during the next few years to help the Negro. The main hope of color must lie in a Republican President and a Republican Senate being in power[192] together. November, 1920, and its elections will be as fateful for the Negro as for the world.

Roosevelt gave his party a generous lead when he received Booker T. Washington at the White House, and I heard young Colonel Roosevelt one evening, with his father’s nerve and pluck, promise a vast Negro audience a “square deal” if they would have patience. That square deal is the Negro’s right, especially in the matter of the vote. It is strange that the movement for the “rights of man” inaugurated practically in the French Revolution should have stopped short about 1870, and the contrary ideal of the “privilege of individuals” begun to progress. As Sutton Griggs very forcefully put it in his address to the National Baptist Convention at Newark, New Jersey:

“In 1792 a motion was carried in the English House of Commons providing for the gradual abolition of the slave traffic. In 1794 the French Convention decreed that the rights of French citizens should be granted to all slaves in French colonies. In 1834 the British abolished slavery entirely within their dominions. In 1848 French slaves were emancipated. In 1863 the Dutch set their slaves free. The South, unmoved by world thought, clung to its slaves, but they were violently torn from her grasp in the Civil War. Under the impulse of the doctrine of the native equality of all men the[193] Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, forbidding the denial of the right to vote because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, was adopted in the year 1869. In the year 1870, bills were passed by Congress providing fines and imprisonment for anyone who even tried to prevent the Negro from voting or to keep his vote from being counted.

“But all of the forces that could be marshaled have not, up to the present time, been able to move our nation or the world one inch forward in a straight line from this point. The action just mentioned stands as the last recorded national act designed to incorporate the Negro race in the governmental structure without reservations. Further efforts were made by powerful forces, but all have proved to be abortive. In 1875 a very comprehensive bill intended to make the Negroes of the South secure in their rights passed the lower house of Congress but was defeated in the Senate. Some years later, the Lodge Election Bill, having the same purpose, passed the House but was defeated in the Senate. The Republican party’s platform, upon which President Taft was elected, contained an unequivocal declaration in favor of enforcing the Fifteenth Amendment in letter and in spirit, but no legislation in that direction was attempted during his term of office.”


To-day, however, a world war and the greatest affirmation of the rights of nations if not of man, has been made. There is an opportunity to resume the interrupted advance.




I made an expedition into Alabama from Atlanta, and again saw something of that State when I got down to the Gulf of Mexico. In the matter of Negro life it is first of all important because of Tuskegee Institute, which, like the college at Hampton, is sometimes called the Mecca of the American Negro. It was founded by Booker T. Washington, and is the visible expression of the self-help idea. There, as at Hampton, the ex-slave is taught to do something as the end of his schooling. The establishment is now under the guidance of the beloved Dr. Moton, a wise and genial African giant of pure Negro extraction: his father is said to have been a prince who in selling his captives was himself lured on to a slaver, and suddenly found himself in the position of his own captive enemies. This was during Civil War time, and he came to America a slave but to be made free. As a boy barely able to sign his name young Moton first appeared at Hampton, and the authorities were at first doubtful about accepting him as a student. But what they would have missed! Dr. Moton is the very best type of Negro teacher, the worthy[196] successor of Booker Washington. Tuskegee, besides its educational work, does much to combat race hatred, and keeps public opinion in America well informed on the lynchings that take place. The presence of the institute in the backward State of Alabama is very important for the future of the South.

At Birmingham, Alabama, I was presented to a very charming young widow who had been left rather rich, a well-educated lady of leisure, who lived well and dressed well, and was possessed of a recognizable American chic. I met her in town, and then in response to an invitation called on her at her house. She was certainly a Negro beauty, and I have no doubt was highly desired in marriage. There was a clear five thousand a year besides her charms, and it was impossible not to feel some of the glamour of that fact—

The belle of the season is wasting

an hour upon you.

Mmmmmm she cooed to everything I said. She was shy as a pedestal without its statue; her eyes burned, and I could not help feeling all the atmosphere of “romance.” If she had been a shade lighter in complexion any white man might have fallen in love with her.

Her children—or was it the children of one of her black servants?—were playing with a family of real Negro dolls, not “nigger dolls,” the stove black, red-lipped nigger of the nursery,[197] but colored dolls, after Nature. This was very charming, and I should have liked to see a baby woolly head at the swelling bosom of my beautiful acquaintance. She would have made a delightful study for a black Madonna.

To have their own dolls is one of the new racial triumphs of the colored people in America. Formerly they had to put up with the pink and white darlings with yellow hair and pale blue eyes, those reflections of German babies, which have hitherto held the market of dolls. It has taken the Negroes half a century of freedom before it occurred to them that the doll, being the promise of baby-to-be, it was not entirely good for morals, and for black racial pride, that their little girls should love white dollies. Perhaps it was mooted first as a business proposition. It might be a paying enterprise to manufacture real colored folk’s dolls, brown dolls, mulatto dolls, near white dolls, black and kinky ones, sad or pretty ones. The year 1920 sees a lively doll industry in progress. It is believed that in time the white dolly will become a rarity in the Negro home. Whence children may learn a lesson: Your pet doll would not perhaps be another girl’s pet doll.

It was also at Southern Brum that, calling on Reverend Williams, I happened upon this singular conversation:

“Now, isn’t it absurd for us to have white angels?”


“You surely would not like them black?”

“We give Sunday-school cards to our children with white angels on them. It’s wrong.”

“Black angels would be ugly.”

“No more ugly than white.”

I thought the whiteness of the angels was as the whiteness of white light which contained all color. That, however, was lost on the reverend, who happened to be a realist.

“Christ himself was not white. He would have had to travel in a Jim Crow car,” said he. “But put it to yourself: isn’t it absurd for us to be taught that the good are all white, and that sin itself is black?”

“It does seem to leave you in the shade,” said I.

“Expressions such as ‘black as sin’ ought to be deleted from the language. One might as well say ‘white as sin.’”

I ransacked my brain rapidly.

“We say ‘pale as envy,’” said I.

“‘Black spite,’” he retorted. “Why should it be black?”

I could not say.

“Then Adam and Eve in the Garden,” he went on, “are always shown as beautifully white creatures, whereas, considering the climate, they may well have been as dark-skinned as any Negro couple in Alabama. Babylon was built by Negroes.”

“Would you have Adam and Eve painted black?”


“Why, yes, I would.”

This struck me as rather diverting, but it was quite serious. Later, in New York one night at Liberty Hall, before I was driven out as a white interloper, I heard an orator say to an admiring host of Negroes: “Why, I ask you, is God always shown as white? It is because He is the white man’s God. It is the God of our masters. (Yes, brothers, that’s it.) It’s the God of those who persecute and despise the colored people. Brothers, we’ve got to knock that white God down and put up a black God. We’ve got to rewrite the Old Testament and the New from a black man’s point of view. Our theologians must get busy on a black God.”

This was what we Whites call clap trap, and irreverent as well. But it seemed to take well with the Harlem brothers. Once more a lesson may be derived for older children—— If you make God in your own image, it does not follow that other children will agree that it is like——

It reminded me of the enthusiasm of the soldiers when they got home from the war and took a good look at their own womenkind; they thought them so much more good looking than French or German girls. Girls and dolls, angels and Gods, we like them to correspond to our own complexion.

Birmingham at night glows to the sky with furnaces. A hundred thousand black proletarians earn their living on coal and steel, stirring[200] up soot to heaven. Though I met there the charming Mrs. J——, whom I have mentioned, and also other educated Negroes, it is not to be supposed that it is a place of culture, white or black. It is a straggling city with an ugly, misshapen, ill-balanced interior or center part like a table spread with small teacups and large jam pots. It will not stand comparison with Atlanta or New Orleans or Richmond. Strictly speaking, it is not a city, but an agglomeration of industrialism. Nevertheless, the factories which surround it are owned by companies of vast resources, and it is claimed that in the steel industry there are some of the most extensive industrial plants in the world. Business is little disturbed by strikes. On the gates of the vast factory estates is written: We do not want you unless you are able to look after yourself. Careless men are always liable to accident. Some notices declare “Non-Union Shops,” others “Open Shops,” but it does not seem to matter much. The unions have little power. Wages are high, though not as high as in the North, but the cost of living is very much less, and there is a lower standard of respectability. In some cases the industrials are housed on the factory grounds, and you see Negro dwellings which amount to industrial barracks. Every gate has its porter or civilian sentry, and in order to reach your workingman you may have to show what your business is with him. On the way to[201] his door you are met by the notice that trespassers will be prosecuted.

There is no encouragement to loiterers, but you may see the Negro gangs at work, organized squads of workers hard at it, with Negro foremen or white foremen. A myriad-fold Negro industrialism straggles near mines and furnaces, blacker than in Nature. The coaly black Negro collier, the sooted face of steel worker and tar operative are curious comments on whether it is good to be Black or to be White. Coke products flame and smoke at innumerable pipes, while locomotives are panting and steaming forward and back, and a platoon of chimney stacks belches forth dense blackness, which, enfolded in the breeze, wanders over the heavens and one’s eyes.

I strayed in at the doors of some very dirty Negro houses. Here was little of the amour propre of Baltimore and Philadelphia. Anti-kink was not being generally applied, and as far as the little ones were concerned, mother’s little Alabama coon seemed to be getting a little bit too much for mother. It is not difficult to understand the disgust of people in the North when in 1917 and 1918 Negro families rolled up in their thousands from the South—the real obscure, fuzzy-wuzzy, large-featured, smelly Negro of submerged Alabama. The sight of them was responsible for much of the feeling which inspired the Northern riots. “We know[202] our Northern Negroes,” they said in the North, “but these from the South were like no Negroes we had ever seen.” There was awakened much prejudice against these uncouth Africans, who seemed so near to the savage and the beast. It was natural, perhaps. But high wages and new hopes and ideals quickly improve the black immigrant. He is being absorbed into the generality of black Negrodom, in its established worthiness and respectability, above the Mason-Dixon line. It would be difficult after a few years to pick out a Southern Negro in a crowd in New York.

The little black children in the suburbs of Birmingham were alternately very confiding and then suddenly scared and then confiding again as I tried to talk to them. There was much fear in their bodies. They seemed if anything to be blacker than their parents, and I volunteered the opinion that a good deal of their color would come off in a course of hot baths. But washing facilities were of a rudimentary kind, and the passion for being fit and fresh could not readily be developed.

The white South could improve its Negroes infinitely if it cared to do so. On the whole, however, it does not wish its Negroes to rise and seems most happy when they can readily be identified with the beasts that perish. But if it thought more highly of the Negro, the Negro would rise.


I visited Professor K—— in his three-storied house. He had been one of the Negro Four-Minute Men who had made popular addresses to his people during the war fervor, inducing them to be “patriotic” and subscribe their dollars to various funds. He said he was deeply discouraged. He did not belong to Alabama and would much rather live in a more civilized part of the world, but he gave his life for the uplift of the children. He was doing what he could, but the Whites gave no co-operation. In these factory areas the colored children outnumbered the Whites five to one. Teaching was, of course, segregated; he had no objection to that, but very, very little was done by comparison for the black children. They had most need of blessing—but they shared only in parsimony and curses. He showed me his school—a ramshackle building of old, faded wood. “Oh, but our teachers have enthusiasm,” said he. “They’re doing a work of God, and they love it. Yes, sir.”

I obtained an impression which I think is sound, that there was more keenness to teach on the part of the colored people of Alabama than on the part of the Whites. White schools find some difficulty in obtaining good teachers; colored schools find no such difficulty. If colored students only go on in the way they have begun, there is quite a good prospect of their obtaining posts to teach white children in white[204] schools—not perhaps soon in Alabama, for it is strongly prejudiced, but elsewhere first, and then in this State. To start off with, they would be excellent with young children. There is a broad road of conquest standing open there. As Booker T. Washington very sagaciously pointed out to his people, there is no stronger argument in their favor than personal attainment.

However, looking around the houses of the industrialized masses here, one can only be appalled at the inadequacy of civilization. There is nothing that is better than in the forlorn mining villages of the Russian Ural. It makes a sort of Negro little better than a nigger, and it is surprising that he does not run amuck more often than he does.

If the outlying settlements reminded of the Ural, the center of the city reminded of nothing better than Omsk. Here on the main street, at Eighteenth Street, is a very “jazzy” corner, resplendent with five times too much light at night, vocal with noisy music, and swarming with Negroes of all castes and colors. By day it is like a web of gregarious larvæ; by night it is the entrance to wonderland. Here is massed together the Negro enterprise of the city. Most of the characters of Octavus Roy Cohen’s clever Negro stories are thought to be derived from this corner—Mr. Florian Slappey, Lawyer Evans Chew, and the rest. Do not their ways and doings divert a vast number of readers to[205] the Saturday Evening Post? I may have met some of them. I cannot say. But I met their like.

The chief establishment is the savings bank building, a squat, six-story erection in red brick. It is flanked by places of amusement, but in itself it is an ark of professionalism and learning. It is a hive of many cells or cabinets, and every cabinet has its special occupant, a doctor here, a dentist there, a lawyer in the other, another doctor, a professor, an agent, and so on. You may meet nearly all who count in Birmingham Negrodom here. By the way, the local way of pronouncing the name of the city is Bumming Ham; if you say politely, Birmingham, pronouncing with lips and teeth in the front part of the mouth, no one will understand what you mean. A Negro pastor whirled me round to the hub of Bumming Ham in his brand-new car. He had lately had a very successful revival, of which the motor was an outward and visible sign. And I called on many of the notables. I met a short, scrubby Negro of fifty, whose complexion seemed to have been drenched in yellowness. He explained this by the statement that the blood of Senator H—— flowed in his veins. The senator had taken a liberty with his mother, who for her part was thoroughly black. He thanked the senator, since probably he had given him some brains; his mother’s side of the family was unusually hard-headed.[206] He had become a professor. His daughter was a remarkable public speaker, and as Senator H—— was an orator, he used to tell his Sarah that there was Senator H—— coming out in her. “The Negro has been mixed with the best blood in the South,” said he; “the blood of the masters, the English aristocrats who came first to the country.”

I did not think there was much in that.

“Are mulattoes increasing or decreasing in numbers?” I asked.

He thought they were increasing. But he did not deny the fact that Negro children tend to revert to type. When two mulattoes marry, the children are generally darker than the parents, and often real Negro types. The white man’s strain is thrown out rapidly.

“How, then, is it that mulattoes and near Whites are on the increase?” The professor thought for one reason there was still much illegitimacy, and for another the Negro race under civilized conditions was getting a little fairer on the whole. Some of the mulatto women were extremely beautiful, and consequently more attractive to white men. The white women of the South hated the mulatto women because they took their husbands away from them. He thought a good deal of race hatred was fostered by the white woman, who instinctively hated the other race.

“Did you ever hear of a union between a[207] Negro woman and a white man that was on other than an animal plane?” I asked him.

Professor M—— knew of several instances where an infatuation for a Negro woman had inspired a white man to make good in life. It was generally a tragedy, for they could not marry, and they were subject to coarse suspicion and raillery and intrigue. It stood in the way of the white man finding a white bride, and of the Negro woman finding a Negro husband. Where a white man had become interested in a Negro woman it was not good for the health of a Negro man to pretend to her affections. The mob feeling against Negroes was so readily aroused that it was the easiest thing in Alabama for a white man who had a grudge against a Negro to “frame up” a crime or a scandal and make him leave the neighborhood or remain constantly in danger of being roughly handled.

Alabama has a bad record for lynching. It is about fifth in the list of bad States. I understood that lynching was on the increase. The old folk, the people who had been slave owners, the settled inhabitants of places like Anniston and Montgomery, and of the country, knew all the family history of their “niggers” from A to Z, and what they might do, or could do, and they were friendly, compared with the “new sort.”

The poor Whites loved to be in mobs and feel in mobs. Over their meals and at work and in[208] the trolley cars they loved to talk in the way of the mob. Individually they don’t understand the Negro—they are afraid of him, like dogs that will only attack when in numbers. They mostly came to America after the Civil War and the Emancipation found the Negroes in possession of land or of work or of houses. They had their grievances, and instead of visiting them upon God or the Devil or Society in general, found the Negro a convenient fetish and visited their discontent on him. It soon became a habit, then it became a sort of lust and brutal sport.

The older and more solid people have been much annoyed by the growth of this brutality, and something definite is being done to combat it in Alabama. Committees have been formed, or were being formed in the fall of 1919, in every county in the State, half white, half colored, to inquire into racial strife and see what could be done for life and freedom.

An old Negro said to me: “We had two clocks on the cabin wall, and one was very slow and deliberate and always seemed to say:

“’Take yo’ time. Take yo’ time!

“But the other gabbled to us:

“’Get together, get together, get together!’ That’s what we got to do to-day, brothers—get together.”

The Negroes are fond of emphasizing the triviality of color differences. They reprove the[209] white man playfully. “Why get so excited about difference in color? We believe in equality of rights for all men,” I heard a leader say, “for all men of whatever color—white, black, brown, or yellow, or blue.” And his audience laughed. “Two boys go into a shop; one buys a red toy, the other a blue toy—but it is not very important which color—the toy’s the same.”

But of course color prejudice or preference is not such a haphazard matter, and prejudice against the Negro is prejudice against more than color. The toy, so to speak, is different. It may be as good, but it is different. The body, and especially the skull, of a Negro is different from that of the white man. The nervous system, the brain, the mind and soul, are different. I heard the theory put forward in the name of Christian Science that in God’s perfect plan there were no Negroes. Their dark skins were other men’s evil thought about them. All men were really white, and the outward appearance of their skin could be made to correspond to the white idea by concentrated true thought about them. That is a charitable and beautiful faith to live by. But what of the new line of Negroes who are proud of being black, who abhor pallor as nausea? There are many Negroes now who have a religion of being black. The new generation of children is being brought up to glorify Negro color. It is told of the princes and warriors from which it is descended, learns with[210] the geography of the United States the geography of Africa, and delights in the cognomen—Afro-American. The color issue will never be settled by all Negroes becoming Whites. It seems clear also that it cannot be solved by all men becoming mulattoes. There seems to remain just one obvious solution, and that is in distinct and parallel development, equality before the law, and mutual understanding and tolerance.




Shoemaker: No, my lord, they don’t hurt you there.
Foppington: I tell thee, they pinch me execrably.
Shoemaker: Well, then, my lord, if those shoes pinch you, I’ll be d——d.
Foppington: Why, wilt thou undertake to persuade me I cannot feel?
Shoemaker: Your lordship may please to feel what you think fit; but that shoe does not hurt you.
—(“A Trip to Scarborough.”)

The Southern point of view can be gathered together in a very short chapter. Its expression has so crystallized that it can be set down in a series of paragraphs and phrases. Whosoever doth not believe, without doubt he shall be damned everlastingly. Wherever you meet a Southerner, be it in the remotest corner of the earth, it is the same as in native Alabama. I was talking to the Mother Superior of a convent one day in a genial English countryside. Although I did not know it, she derived from Mississippi. I mentioned the subject of the Negro, and from her quiet face, meager with fasting and pale with meditation, there flashed nevertheless the Southern flame—like lightning across the room.

You have only to mention the Negro sympathetically in a public meeting and some one of[212] Southern extraction will be found opposing to you a statement of the Southern creed. Thus, after speaking one morning at Carnegie Hall, some one came up to me and said very emphatically: If you had lived among the Negroes you would not speak of them as you do—the inevitable Southerner.

This is his creed:

1. We understand the niggers and they like us. When they go North they’re crazy till they get back to us. The North does not understand the nigger, pets him and spoils him, and at last dislikes him more than any Southerner.

2. We have occasionally race riots in the South, but they are generally caused by Yankees who have come South. In any case the worst riots in recent years have taken place in the North—at Washington, right under the President’s nose, and at Chicago.

3. Few Northerners or Englishmen understand or can understand the Negro problem. Those who understand, agree with us. Those who do not agree, do not understand.

4. The nigger is all right as long as he is kept in his place. You must make him keep his distance. If once you are familiar with him, you are lost. He will give himself such airs that it will be impossible to get on with him.

5. The nigger is an animal. The male of the species we generally call a “buck nigger.” Like the animals, he is full of lust. Like the animals,[213] also, he does not feel pain. When he is burned it is not the same as a white man burning. Like the animals, he has no soul either to lose or to save, and Christianity and education are alike wasted on him. The polished Negro is merely disgusting, like an ape in evening dress. You clothe him and dress him and put him at table, but he’s an animal all the same and is bound to behave like one. You can’t trust him.

6. Under the influence of alcohol the Negro becomes a wild beast. He goes out of control. No fear of consequence can stop him. That is why some of the Southern States have been so ardently prohibitionist.

7. If you had to live with them you’d understand how terrible it is.

8. The nigger is a liar. He will say anything to your face to please you, or anything he thinks you want him to say. He’ll tell you stories of lynchings that would make you think we lynched a nigger every week, instead of it’s being the rarest occurrence.

9. When we lynch ‘em it’s for a very good reason—to protect our white women. Ask any of your English or Northern friends, who pity the Negro, whether they’d be willing to let their daughters marry a Negro. It’s a horrible thought. But that is what the Negro is always after—the white woman. His fancy runs to her, and if it were not for the terror of being lynched we should never be able to leave our wives and[214] daughters in security. The R in the middle of the Negro’s name stands for his favorite proclivity. We burn ‘em alive, yes, and do it slow, because killing’s too good for them, and we get just so mad that everyone wants to be there, and have his part in putting them to death. In the North they do not lynch the Negro, but if one commits a crime they blame the whole Negro race. In the South we find the guilty man and punish him.

10. When the white man goes to the Negro girl, it’s different. He ought to be ashamed of himself, but there, it’s human nature, and you can’t be too stern with him.

11. The white man is master, and must remain master. But you do not realize how precarious his position is, outnumbered as he is, ten to one, in many districts. If the niggers joined hands against us we might be all killed in a night.

12. They have votes. By the greatest injustice ever committed in this country, the Constitution of the United States was amended to give these people votes and give them power over us. It is true we prevent them using their votes, and override the Constitution at every election. But political agitation goes on all the time. Every Negro would vote Republican if he had a chance, just because we vote Democrat. The Republican party knows that, and is always conspiring to restore to the Negro his lost power of[215] voting. It will never succeed, but you can see the anxiety it causes us.

13. As for education, it’s bad for the nigger almost every way, and every new educated nigger makes it more difficult to keep ‘em down. But kept down they must be.

14. Justice? Well, you ask any nigger which he’d prefer, a Southern court of justice and a Southern judge, or a Northern one. He would always prefer the Southern one, because in the South we understand him. And we’re very fond of them and they of us. We get on very well together.

Southern belief rarely strays out of this codified expression of thought. Get into converse with a Southerner on the subject of the Negroes, and you will almost always be able to refer his talk to 1 or 6 or 10 or some other paragraph of the foregoing. It is sufficiently pat and parrot-like to be amusing at last. The Negro himself is amused and pained by it. It amounts to this: The Southerner has made the Negro a pair of boots and he says they fit very well. The Negro says they don’t fit. But the Southerner says he’ll risk his salvation on it—he made the boots, and he knows his trade. The Negro, however, has to wear them.

Perhaps if it were merely opinion, the idleness of the spoken word, the Southern point of view would merit less attention. Talk might be[216] discounted, as mere talk is discounted by responsible minds. But it has unfortunately a remarkable counterpart in action. It is the concomitant of mob murder and torture. It is expressed not only in narrow and bitter phrase, but in actual flesh twisting; not only in the flames of fanaticism, but in real flames.

Lynching is a popular sport in the South. It is perhaps popular in idea all over the world. Even in Great Britain, where the policeman is on a sort of moral pedestal, and is paid immense respect, how often among the masses does one hear the sentiment that such and such a person should be put against a wall and shot. Even in a nation that has such a phrase as “the majesty of the law” the idea of taking the law into one’s own hands is generally popular. In Russia, samosudi, as they are called, are frequent, and there is a short and terrible way with pickpockets when the crowd finds them out. France’s passion for la lanterne does not need to be enlarged upon.

It is said that in countries where the laws are badly administered and the police held in little respect, lynchings are the more frequent. This is so. And while lynching can have a moral sanction at first, it may, if unchecked, grow to be a popular sport, a means of “national” holiday, like the shows of Rome, the auto-da-fé’s of Spain, bullfights, and boxing competitions. When sufficient cause for a lynching is lacking,[217] cause may have to be invented, just to let the folk have some “fun.” In the United States to-day there are not sufficient crimes committed by the Negroes to satisfy the hunger of the crowd for lynchings. So inevitably many innocent black men are sacrificed just for sport’s sake.

Last year seventy-seven Negroes were lynched in America; fourteen of them were burned alive. Burning appears to be on the increase, and is an obvious indication of growing mob lust. This form of brutality has long ago ceased in the Europe from which perhaps it was derived. Spaniards burned the Indians. Indians burned the settlers. Settlers burned their runaway slaves. And still to-day in comparatively large numbers the white Southern mob burns its Negro victims. It has its historical background. The thought of burning supposed delinquents alive is common in Southern minds. “Make ‘em die slow” is even a watchword.

The Southern half of the United States is fond of saying that the North is now quite as bad in its treatment of the Negro. Happily, that is untrue. Seventy-two out of the seventy-seven lynchings occurred south of the Mason-Dixon line, and the rest occurred in the Western States. The North was immune. Unfortunately, this good record was marred by some bad race riots in Northern cities.

Of all the States, Georgia had the worst record[218] for lynching. During last year she lynched twenty-two persons, almost twice as many as the next worst, Mississippi. Two of these were for alleged attacks on white women. The rest were for a variety of crimes and misdemeanors. Thus, in April, a soldier was beaten to death at Blakely for wearing his uniform too long. In May, at Warrenton, Benny Richards was burned to death for murder. In the first week in August a soldier was shot for refusing to yield the road, and another was hanged for discussing the Chicago race riots. At Pope City another soldier was lynched for shooting. In the belief that the Negroes were planning a rising, Eli Cooper was taken at Ocmulgee and publicly burned at the stake. On September 10th, in the Georgian city of Athens, another Negro, Obe Cox, was burned for murder. In Americus, in October, Ernest Glenwood was drowned as a propagandist. On October 5th, Moses Martin was shot for incautious remarks. Next day, at Lincolnton, one Negro was shot for misleading the mob, and two others were burned alive for committing murder. Next day another was shot at Macon for attempted murder. Two were hanged at Buena Vista for intimacy with a white woman, and before the end of the month three more met their end from the mob for shooting and manslaughter.

As far as Georgia is concerned, this record disposes of the theory that lynching only takes[219] place when white women have been attacked. As a matter of fact, the commonest motive for lynching of Negroes throughout the United States has been shown to be mob condemnation, of violence—not of lust. By far the greatest number of lynchings are for supposed murder. The mob lynches the Negro as a man shoots his dog when the latter has turned on him. Formerly, attacks on women provided the greater number of cases. If the Negro were fool enough ever to make eyes at a white woman, he risked his life. Many innocent admirations and misunderstandings have resulted in lynchings. As for rape, the Negro who commits it is bound to come to a violent end. Very few escape lynching, and the South claims that whatever immunity it enjoys from Negro sexual crimes is due to the deterrent of lynch law. It claims that if the criminals were merely dealt with according to the law, sexual crimes would speedily multiply.

White people with the white-race instinct are generally ready to condone lynching when it is proved that it thus acts as a deterrent. Perhaps they are right, and they ought not to put it to themselves from the black man’s point of view. But there is the other point of view, and there is the collective opinion of the colored people on the subject, and that opinion is being organized and will make itself felt. It is worth attention and sympathy.


Granted that the black man is the under man as far as the Whites are concerned, is he not entitled to some protection for his own women? One of these Georgia lynchings which occurred last year was a characteristic affair. It occurred at the town of Milan. Two young white fellows tried to break into a house and seize two colored girls living there with their mother. They ran screaming to a neighbor’s home. The Whites tore down a door, ripped up flooring, fired a gun, and made a great disturbance. One old Negro woman was so frightened she jumped into a well, and a worthy Negro grandfather of seventy-two years came out with a shotgun and fired in defence of the women. One of the white men fired on him. The Negro fired back and killed him. The other white man fled. Now, for that deed, instead of being honored as a brave man, the Negro was seized by the white mob and hanged on a high post, and his old body was shot to pieces. This man was a good and quiet citizen who went to chapel every Sunday, and had performed his duty at peace with God and man for a lifetime. The man who led the lynchers was a “Christian” preacher. Sworn evidence on the matter was taken, but the officers of the law in the county refused to act.

This lynching was by no means exceptional in its character. To cite an exceptional affair, one might well take the happenings in Brooks[221] and Lowndes Counties, Georgia, in May, 1918. Here a white bully with a pronounced spite against Negroes had been in court and paid the fine of thirty dollars for gambling which had been pronounced against a certain colored man called Sidney Johnson, and the latter had been sent to his estate to work off the debt. This is an example of the abuse of the law for keeping Negroes still in a state of slavery—a characteristic example of peonage.

Johnson did the work to pay off the fine, but the farmer held him to do a great deal more. Eventually the Negro feigned sickness as an excuse for not doing any more. The farmer then came to his house and flogged him. It must be supposed this roused the devil in Johnson; he threatened the farmer, and he paid a return visit to the white man’s house, fired on him through the window, killing the man himself and dangerously wounding his wife. At once the usual lynching committee was formed, and for a whole week they hunted for Johnson, who had gone into hiding. During that time they lynched eleven Negroes, of whom one was a woman.

The white farmer had given cause for much hatred. He had constantly ill-treated his colored laborers. On one occasion he had flogged a Negro woman. Her husband had stood up for her, and he had him arrested and sentenced to a term of penal servitude in chains. The white[222] mob concluded that he must have shot the farmer for revenge, and they accordingly lynched him. He was shot to death. His wife would not be quieted, but kept insisting that her poor husband had been innocent. The mob therefore seized her. It tied her upside down by her ankles to a tree, poured petrol on her clothing, and burned her to death. White American women will perhaps take note that this colored sister of theirs was in her eighth month with child. The mob around her was not angry or insensate, but hysterical with brutal pleasure. The clothes burned off her body. Her child, prematurely born, was kicked to and fro by the mob and then—— Well, that is perhaps sufficient. There are many details of this crime which cannot be set down in print. But all these facts were authenticated and submitted to the governor of the State. The point that struck me was the pleasure which was taken by the mob in the sufferings which it was causing. It was drunk with cruelty. Here was little idea of a deterrent. Here was no question of racial prudence. From the point of view of the natural history of mankind, it put those white denizens of Georgia on a lower level than cannibals.

It was America’s glorious May, when she was pouring troops into Europe and winning the war; hundreds of thousands of Negroes were clad in the uniform of the army and were fighting[223] for “freedom and justice” in Europe. The moral eloquence of the President was in all men’s minds. America had the chance to take the moral leadership of the world.

But away back in Georgia the mob pursued its horrible way. At length it found the original Johnson who had committed the murder, and he defended himself to the last in a house with gun and revolver, and died fighting. His dead body was dragged at the back of a motor car through the district, and then burned.

The facts were brought to the attention of the governor, and he made a statement denouncing mob violence. But no one was ever brought to justice, though the names of the ringleaders were ascertained. No committee of inquiry was sent from Washington. In fact, the people of Georgia were allowed thus to smirch the glorious flag of the republic and to lower the opinion of America in every capital of the world; for the facts of this story have been printed in circular form and distributed widely. It is undoubtedly a remarkable example of lynching.

It seems rather strange that lynching crowds allow themselves to be photographed. Men and women and children in hundreds are to be seen in horrible pictures. One sees the summer mob all in straw hats, the men without coats or waistcoats, the women in white blouses, all eager,[224] some mirthful, some facetious. You can upon occasion buy these photographs as picture postcards. The people are neither ashamed nor afraid.

Northern Negroes go down to investigate lynchings, buy these photographs, bring them back to safe New York, and then print them off in circulars with details of the whole affair. Southern newspapers, though reticent, cannot forego giving descriptions of lynchings, everyone is so much interested in them. Newspaper reports are also reprinted. There is no need to resort to hearsay in telling of the mob murders of the South. They are heavily documented and absolutely authenticated. The United States Government cannot, for instance, prosecute such a Negro association as the N. A. A. C. P. for the pamphlets it issues on lynchings, because it does no more than publish facts which have been publicly authenticated. If prosecuted, worse details would see light. Therefore, these pamphlets go forth.

The first thing they do is tell the colored people as a whole what has been happening. The Negroes of Alabama and Tennessee hear what has been happening in Georgia; the Negroes of Florida and Louisiana hear what has taken place in Arkansas and Texas. Above all, the educated Northern Negroes know of it. Advanced papers such as the Crisis, the Chicago Defender, and the Negro Messenger are giving[225] the Negro people as a whole a new consciousness. First of all in Christianity in the days of slavery and in their melancholy plantation music they obtained a collective race consciousness. And now, through persecution on the one hand and newspapers on the other they are strengthening and fulfilling that consciousness. Destiny is being shaped in this race, and white men are the instruments who are shaping it. May it not emerge eventually as a sword, the sword of the wrath of the Lord.

I met many Whites who boasted of having taken part in a lynching, and I have met those who possessed gruesome mementoes in the shape of charred bones and gray, dry, Negro skin. I said they were fools. Actually to have the signs upon them! Truly they were in the state of mind in which most men seem to be when fate is going to overtake them. They were proud of their “quick way with niggers,” they justified it, they felt the wisdom of lynching could never be disproved. The matter to them was not worth arguing. They assumed that anyone who wished to argue the point must have sympathy with the “niggers,” and that was enough for them. It never occurred to them that one who doubted the wisdom of lynching might be actuated by sympathy or at least apprehensive for them.

I felt sorry for the white women of the South; there will some day be a terrible reckoning[226] against them. Their honor and safety are being made the pretext for terrible brutality and cruelty. Revenge, when it gains its opportunity, will therefore wreak itself upon the white woman most. Because in the name of the white woman they justify burning Negroes at the stake to-day, white women may be burned by black mobs by and by. There is no doubt that almost any insurrection of Negroes could ultimately be put down by force, and that it would be very bad for the Negroes and for their cause, but before it could be put down what might happen? And should it synchronize with revolutionary disturbances among the Whites themselves, or with a foreign war?

I do not believe that there are real conspiracies of Negroes. But there is growing disaffection. The colored people are a friendly, easy-going, fond-to-foolish folk by nature. But their affection and devotion have been roughly refused. It has almost disappeared. Now we have the phenomenon of Negro mothers telling their little children of the terrible things done by the white folk, and every Negro child is learning that the white man is his enemy. Every lynching, every auto-da-fé is secreting hate and the need for revenge in the Negro masses. Because the Negroes are weak and helpless and unorganized to-day, illiterate often, stupid and unbalanced often, clownish and funny and unreliable, white folk think that it will always be[227] so. But they are wrong. While the industrialized masses of the Whites are certainly degenerating, the masses of the Negroes are certainly rising. Trouble is bound to arise and retribution terrible. What the lowbrows of the South are teaching the Negro he will be found to have learned, and as Shylock said about revenge—it will go hard but he betters the instruction.

It may be thought that this is written with too much emphasis, and that this statement on the lynchings is too unmerciful to the white South. But I believe it is absolutely necessary. There are those who would be ready to do again the injustice which was done to the Whites in the South after the Civil War. When discussing these matters in the North I have been horror-struck by the opinions I have heard expressed. This is written in no partisan spirit, and I believe those who would rejoice in the destruction or punishment of the Southern white population are utterly wrong in heart. Punishment and revenge will only perpetuate the strife. But an éclaircissement, a flood of daylight on these matters, a thorough shaking of these stupid people down below the line—a warning in such terrible terms as I have made, might save Black and White for the religion of love and a joy in God’s creatures.

It may come from a stranger, a complete outsider, with more force than from an American. I have, however, found a Southerner who condemned[228] Georgia, the Roman Catholic Bishop, Benjamin J. Keiley, who gave out a very serious warning in Savannah on the 2nd of November of last year. He said:

“It is hardly necessary to state that I am a Southerner.... I warmly love the South; and her story, her traditions, and her ideals are very dear to me.... But I fully recognize the absolute justice of one charge which is made against her, and I look with grave apprehension to the future, for no people that disregards justice can ever have the blessing of God, and we are guilty of great injustice to the Negro. The Negro was brought here against his will; he is here and he will remain here, and he is not treated with justice by us; nay, I will say that he is often not treated with ordinary humanity.

“Look at the statistics in our own State. Georgia stands first in the list of States in the matter of lynching. Has there ever been a man punished in this State for lynching a Negro?

“Lynching is murder, nothing else.

“Besides, is it not the fact that fair and impartial justice is not meted out to white and colored men alike? The courts of this State either set the example, or follow the example set them, and they make a great distinction between the white and the black criminal brought before them. The latter as a rule gets the full limit of the law. Do you ever hear of a street difficulty in which a Negro and a white man were involved which was brought before a[229] judge, in which, no matter what were the real facts of the case, the Negro did not get the worst of it?

“Georgians boast of being a Christian people, and this year they are putting their hands into their pockets to raise millions to bring the light of Christianity, as understood by them, to some less favored peoples in Europe.

“I would like to know if it is entirely compatible with Christian morality to treat the Negro as he is treated here? My belief is that the Negro and the white man were redeemed by the blood of Christ shed on the cross of Calvary, and that the Christian religion absolutely condemns injustice to anyone and forbids the taking of life.

“To me the murder of a Negro is as much murder as the killing of a white man, and in each case Christian civilization demands that the punishment of the crime should rest in the hands of the lawfully constituted authorities.

“I have lived to see in Georgia an appeal made to the highest authority in the State for protection of the lives of colored men, women, and children, answered by the statement that the Negro should not commit crimes! The people of Georgia vest in certain officials the execution of justice. Yet no lyncher has ever been punished here, and I regret to state that public sentiment seems to justify the conduct of the officials.

“Only a short time ago I was reading the[230] strange news of the race riots in the Northern and Western cities. Thank God, we have had none of these riots in the South. Do you know the reason? The only reason is the forbearance of the Negro. He has been treated with gross injustice; he has not retaliated. In all these cases gross disregard for law and order are either the cause or the direct consequence of those disturbances.

“Are there not numbers of honest, law-abiding citizens of Georgia who know that I am telling God’s truth, and who will protest against this injustice to the Negro? Is there not a just and fearless man on the bench in this State who will have the courage to announce that there shall be no difference in his court between the white man and the colored man?

“Injustice and disregard of law and the lawful conduct of affairs are the sure forerunners of anarchy and the loss of our liberty, and we are drifting in that direction.

“The Negro will not stand asking for justice from Georgia laws or Georgia courts. He has been patient, and I hope he will remain so, but he well knows where the remedy lies, and he will very soon be found knocking at the door of the Federal Congress, asking protection. And Congress will hear him.

“If appeals to right, justice, to Christian morality, do not avail to put a stop to this injustice to the Negro and protect him against[231] the murderous lynchers, then Georgia will see Federal bayonets giving him protection.”

Such a voice is very rare. The warning is the more worth heeding.




The Negro’s refrain, “Let My People Go,” continues to have a strong emotional appeal. Though devoted to the Southland in an intense, sentimental way, for the Negro has an infinitely pathetic love of home, he has come sorrowfully to the conclusion—he must go away from here. It is strange, because homesickness is almost a mania with the Negro. He relates himself to the white master’s house where he works, to the rude cabin where his family live, to his church, to the “home niggers,” in an extravagant pathological way which has nothing to do with gratitude. Perhaps it is because as a people the slaves were uprooted out of a home in Africa, and they have a haunting melancholy in the hidden depths of their souls. I believe their childish idealization of heaven in their hymns is fundamentally a sort of homesickness. The Negro is not a natural nomad or vagrant like the Russian, the Jew, the Tartar. He must have been as geographically fixed in his native haunts in Africa. Judge, then, how great a disturbance[233] must take place before the Negro en masse would be ready to emigrate. Yet so it is to-day. With consternation in their aspect, whole families, whole communities, are waiting—to go North. And hundreds of thousands of them are on the move. Of course it is not a complete change of scene. The North has its Negro masses too. One rather loses sight of them among the Whites, but they are there. And they do not cease to invite their unhappy brothers and sisters down South to throw up everything and come North.

While it is commonly said that the Negro cannot stand the colder climate of the North, there is, however, not much evidence to that effect. As their orators are proud to declaim—the only civilized man to accompany Peary to the actual North Pole was his trusted servant, Matt Henson, a Negro. To some delicate Negroes, no doubt, a severe climate would be fatal, but that is true for Whites as well as Negroes. On the whole, the Northern air seems to be good for the Negro if he can stand it. The Negroes of New York and Chicago and Boston, and the Canadian Negroes, are firmer in flesh and in will than those who live in the South. And they are certainly more energetic. They yield more hope for the race as a whole than do the others. Perhaps one ought to discount this fact in the light of the extra prosperity and happiness of the Northern Negroes. There is nothing[234] that will undermine the constitution more than terror and nervous depression. Security is the real Negro ozone.

There has been during the last three years a steady migration of Negroes northward. This has been primarily due to the stoppage of foreign immigration and the consequent labor shortage in the districts which depended on the immigrant. The reasons why the Negro was ready to leave his Southern habitat have been summarized in the U. S. Department of Labor Report:[5]

“General dissatisfaction with conditions, ravages of boll weevil, floods, change of crop system, low wages, poor houses on plantations, poor school facilities, unsatisfactory crop settlements, rough treatment, cruelty of the law officers, unfairness in courts, lynching, desire for travel, labor agents, the Negro press, letters from friends in the North, and, finally, advice of white friends in the South where crops had failed.”

It is impossible to calculate the numbers with any likelihood of accuracy. Even the census of 1920 will hardly indicate what has taken place—for no one can say what allowance ought to be made for natural increase in the last ten years. But the insurance companies reckon that between May, 1916, and September, 1917,[235] between thirty-five and forty thousand Negroes left Georgia. Perhaps the net loss to the South has been a quarter of a million, the majority young, single men and women. Some certainly put the figure higher. The movement has slowed down, owing to the after-the-war stagnancy in trade, the very bad housing conditions in the North, the race riot in Chicago, and other retarding influences. With a revival of trade it may go on more rapidly. Certainly whenever a countryside in the South is visited by some special act of violence there is a tendency for the colored population to flee. Unfortunately, the lot of migrants of the type of Negroes is always a hard one. It is difficult to settle down in a new community. Irregular habits bring disease. Provincial dullness makes it difficult to find a job or to evade sharpers. Unfortunately, also, Negroes are not by nature altruistic, not clannish like the Jews. They do not help one another in distress as much as poor Whites do. So many who flee northward inevitably come to grief.

It is urged in the South that the North is not entirely appreciative of the influx of so many Negroes. But, on the other hand, it is alleged that the large Northern companies sent their agents into every State in the South seeking labor. It was certainly useful to the companies. And although the loose and nondescript unemployed immigrants were guilty of a number of[236] crimes, it is generally held that those who found employment proved very steady and reliable. The Negro proved a safe man in the munition factory, and it was found he could do a white man’s job in a mine and in the steel works. The employers of labor were well pleased. But there was a section of the community that was not pleased, and that was the working class—the poor Whites once more, who saw in Negro migration an influx of non-union labor, depressing wages, and lowering the standard of living. The workingmen speedily quarreled with the Negro—seeing in him the oft encountered strike breaker. Those who have gone through the Negro district of Chicago, with its filthy, ramshackle frame buildings occupied by Negro families, a family to a room, know how appalling is the aspect of the Negro there. In the old days the white population took it as a matter of course, as they did so many other things in this evil industrial conglomeration so aptly called the Jungle. But too much competition and too many unfamiliar, gloomy Negro faces on the streets caused the nervous shock which accounted for the Chicago riots, begun strangely enough not by a Negro attack, but by a white youth knocking a Negro boy off a raft on the lake and drowning him. The three days’ free fight which ensued was one of the most disillusioning episodes in the history of Northern friendship for the Negro.


Nevertheless, Negro leaders still cry “Come North!”

There have always been those who thought that the Negro problem could be solved by encouraging migration. The exodus to the North was hailed as a partial liquidation of the Southern trouble. Doubtless an even distribution of Negroes over the whole of the country would put them in the desired minority as regards Whites. Outnumbered by ten to one, they would never seem to threaten to grasp electoral control or be in a position to use physical force with a chance of success. But these are highly theoretical suppositions. Even at the present great rate of exodus it would take hundreds of years to even them out, and there is no reason to think that the emigrants would distribute themselves easily. They would probably crowd more and more into the large cities like Chicago and Pittsburgh, and be as much involved in evil conditions there as they were in the South.

Another popular misconception is that it is possible to find a home for the Negro in Africa, and get rid of him that way. Men say airily, “Pack them all off to Liberia,” as they used to say, “Send the Jews back to Palestine.” It is not a practical proposal. Abraham Lincoln held this view, and he opened negotiations with foreign governments in order to find suitable[238] territory for Negro colonization, but he gave up the idea when General Butler, who investigated the matter for him, convinced him that the Negro birth rate was greater than any possible rate of transport.

What was true in 1865 ought to be more obvious to-day. It is a physical impossibility to transport those twelve millions and their progeny to Africa. If a large instalment were taken, would they not perish from starvation and disease? The eyes of the world would be on the United States doing such a thing, and they would be involved in a terrible scandal.

But, indeed, the first to cry out “Give us back our niggers” would be the South; for her whole prosperity has a foundation of Negro labor. Take away the black population, and the white farmers, and traders, and financiers would be so impoverished that they also would want to emigrate to Africa.

In a material way would not the whole continent of America suffer greatly? You cannot withdraw twelve million from the laboring class and go on as before. It is a ridiculous solution. The only reason for giving it place in serious criticism is that so many people nurse the delusion that the problem can be solved by deportation. It stands in the way when people would otherwise face the facts honestly—our forefathers introduced the Negro into our midst, he is here to stay, and we have to find[239] out what is best for him and best for the White, taking the facts as they are.

One good purpose has, however, been served by the encouragement of Negro emigration back to Africa. It has kept the Negro in touch with his original home. It has broadened the Negro’s outlook and started a Negro Zionism—a sentiment for Africa. The Negro loves large conceptions—the universal tempts his mind as it tempts that of the Slav. In short, Liberianism has possessed the Negro of a world movement.




Lynching is more associated with the cotton-growing districts than with others. It is not a fact that the further south you go the more violent the temper of the people. Southeastern Georgia, where the main business is lumbering and rice growing, has a better record than the cotton-growing interior. The cotton planters are aware of this, and it is not uncommon to curse the cotton and wish they could turn to something else. Cotton is not a popular industry. In the old days it bound slavery upon planter and Negro—for cotton necessitates cheap labor—and now it keeps the Negro down and perpetuates an ungenerous type of life.

I worked down the Atlantic coast to Brunswick and Jacksonville, preparing in mind for some sort of joyful surprise when I should enter Florida. Brunswick is one of the oldest ports in Georgia. As far as records go, it has never been disgraced by a lynching. Its background of industry is chiefly timber, and the eye looks in vain for a cotton bale or a cotton blossom. It is a peaceful little city, all sand and low palm and scrub, with innumerable grasshoppers and butterflies even in December. An open-streeted[241] port with placid, happy Negroes and no race movement of any kind.

At Jacksonville one experiences a complete change of air. It is the climate of Florida, and the difference between cotton and fruit. The difference also between much sombre business and some gilded pleasure. When the rich from the North step out of their cars in Florida and take their ease at Palm Beach, they naturally would not care to be mixed up in the South’s pet sport. Lynchings are bad business in Florida, for if the things occurred there that take place in the neighboring State of Georgia it would certainly frighten away many polite and wealthy visitors. As regards the white woman also, the Floridians do not so assiduously libel the Negro as do the Georgians. Ladies need not be afraid to visit the watering places; the colored man is said to have his passions well under control. Most of the trouble that does occur is in more obscure places, and more in northern than in southern Florida.

Jacksonville is a large port with a population bordering on a hundred thousand. Naturally, there are masses of poor as well as numbers of rich. There is employment for a great quantity of Negro labor, and on the streets one may observe the characteristics of a large maritime city. What strikes an Englishman visiting these Atlantic ports—Baltimore, Norfolk, Savannah, Jacksonville, when compared with Hull, Cardiff,[242] Liverpool, London Docks, etc.—is the absence of that somewhat agitating phenomenon of black dock laborers walking out with poor white girls. You may see them any evening in England. As a natural and instinctive thing, most Whites resent it, and street fights in England are the not uncommon result. In America, walking out with Negroes either innocently or otherwise is impossible. Riots and lynchings do not arise from that reason, but from alleged individual assaults upon white women. It should be remarked that womanhood in America is practically idealized. The public as a whole is disinclined to tolerate a woman smoking or drinking, or bathing in inadequate attire, or even “spooning.” It would not occur to a poor white factory girl as even possible to walk out with a Negro. Her moral self-esteem is higher than that of her English sister. The girls who are seen walking out with Negroes in London belong more often to a class which is economically or morally submerged.

The Jacksonville Negroes were in a state of considerable anxiety and ferment when I was there. Not because of white-woman trouble, but in anticipation of a riot breaking out on one plea or another. A bad lynching had occurred in the preceding September. A drunken White quarreled with a Negro taxi driver, threatened him and exasperated him, whereupon a conflict ensued in which the White was killed. The white[243] mob then rounded up every Negro chauffeur in the city and terrified a great number of homes, because the lyncher does not care whether he lynches the right Negro or not, as long as one of them suffers. And in this case two paid the penalty. Undoubtedly the horror and terror of being taken by the mob is the worst of an execution of this kind.

The Negroes were very suspicious of white men, and I did not make much progress inquiring into their ways of life. I found, however, a considerably inflated prosperity of churches, due to the philanthropy of Northern visitors, and a well-to-do black proletariat working in the shipbuilding yard and the docks. Nearly all the work done by them was, however, unskilled, and they were only taken as substitutes on skilled work. Substitutes earned as much as seven dollars a day. There is a “Colored” Bank and, as at Birmingham, a so-called “skyscraper” of six stories accommodating all and sundry of trades and professions. Once more, successful drug stores and burial parlors, and a Mme. Nettie Price with beauty establishment. I called at the War Camp Community Club for colored soldiers and sailors—not so enterprising as the one I visited at Norfolk—but the right sort of institution, well used in a proper and discreet way.

I crossed the neck of land to Pensacola, passing through Tallahassee, a district where fine[244] leaves of tobacco for cigar wrapping are grown under trellis. Orange groves hung in plenteous fruit just ripe to pick, changing from green to gold. Pensacola is a port with a great history of its own involving Spanish, British, French, American history. Its background is of orange groves and pecan orchards. The pecan nut, a refinement from the walnut, is so prized in the rest of the United States that one can make a good living and save money on a planting of a hundred or so trees. The main street of Pensacola, leading down to the long pier, is very picturesque, with its mariners’ grocers and marine stores. A passenger vessel plies weekly to Mobile, the great fruit port of southern Alabama, and it is possible to get a passage on cargo boats going to New Orleans. Before the war there was much maritime traffic, but few of the vessels which sailed away to do transport and other war duties have returned.

Pensacola claims to be the oldest white city in the United States, disputing the matter with St. Augustine, Jacksonville, and is taking the question very seriously in view of any celebration. It is not an important place, but is building toward its own supposed greatness, has a fine new railway station and huge, white stone post office and mammoth hotel. These buildings are puzzling in a town where life seems so placid.

Here was a bad lynching for rape a year ago,[245] and a Negro was burned to death. Representations were made to the governor of Florida on the matter. The governor, Sidney I. Catts, replied that he made every effort to keep down lynching in the State, but he could not bring the lynchers to trial, as the citizenship of the State would not stand for it. Apparently he condoned the burning of the Negro, because it was a clear case of sexual wantonness and violence on the part of one of the Negro race. It is somewhat surprising that the chief officer of the law should thus fail to uphold the law. Who is to uphold it if he do not? A contrast this, to the heroic behavior of Mayor Smith of Omaha!

Nature did not intend the Gulf of Mexico as a frame for lynching, nor that those happy, blue skies should look down on human candles. If ever there was a serene and happy place in the world it is here, and there is scope for all races to live and to let live. Health is on the shoulder of the winds that blow; fish and fruit and grain and sugar are abundant. Are not the harbors bobbing with grapefruit; upon occasion does not every boy suck the natural sugar from the cane? The luscious canteloupe fills with the sun; peaches and nectarines swell to double sizes of lusciousness and sweetness. Visitors, moreover, bring a plenitude of dollars and scatter them as they go. Jacksonville, Tallahassee,[246] Pensacola, Mobile, New Orleans—they are more blest by Nature than other cities of the South.

Personally, I preferred New Orleans. It is the finest and most interesting city in which to live. It is by far the largest city of the South, Atlanta coming second, and Birmingham, Alabama, third. It is the great port of the vast Mississippi River, and is the head of what was a mighty river traffic. It faces south, and is more related to France and Spain and the Indies than to Britain and Scandinavia and the North Atlantic. Like New York, it has also a strange mixture of races, but they are southern races.

Of course it has been notorious as a city of pleasure and fast living. Everyone says to the tourist, “When you get to New Orleans, you’ll see ‘life,’” by which is meant the life-wasting of the immoral. Its reputation in that respect resembled that of Cairo, and the curious, even if they did not wish to taste, could pay to be shown round and thus satisfy their eyes by looking upon evil. The money which flows southward from the pockets of the rich throughout the winter has no doubt helped to keep the red light burning. Now all has changed, however. The various vice crusades and the enactment of prohibition have combined to bring New Orleans to the moral level of other cities of America. There is a violent opposition to the Puritan movement in many sections of the population, and the law is flouted very often, but[247] New Orleans nevertheless has ceased to present any particular interest to the low pleasure seeker or those of morbid imagination. The city will be the better for it. It is a wonderful place. The inhabitants, after all, were not mainly engaged in the business of pleasure, but in honest trade, and they increase ever. New Orleans is the metropolis of the South, and has a vast and growing commerce which is rendered picturesque by the glamour of that abundance of Nature in the midst of which she is founded.

One pictures New Orleans as a city of men in white, with white hats as well as white clothes, men smoking heavy, black cigars, or sauntering idly in the company of exotic-looking ladies; a city of wide open streets and white houses, of many open-air cafés and garden theatres and luxuriant parks, a place certainly of fashion and gayety and elegant living. But what I found on my first impression was an unpainted city, a mass of houses mostly wooden, but mouldering, pallid, and peeling, of every hue of decay. Some walls seemed ready to fall out, some ready to fall in. Man of the period 1920, European, industrialized, diminutive, clad in sober garb, pursued the common way of life. The cheap lunch shop, hall-mark of American civilization, identified the city as American. There were the usual lofty, ramshackle caravanserai with Negro bell boys and the clatter of ice water, the usual public gardens strewn with the newspapers[248] of the day. But though it was winter, the weather was hot. The atmosphere was dense and warm, and the closeness was not dissipated even by the wind when it came. A gale blew in from the Gulf. It scattered warm rain in the city, it rushed through multitudes of palm trees in the suburbs outside.

The American part of the city is vast and residential and conventional. The business section expresses business; the home section is uptown and removed from the life of the center. If there were only this “new” part, nothing would distinguish New Orleans from other cities. But it has its vieux carrée in which its history is written, the old, or French, part of the town. The American side is continually rebuilding itself, but the French remains as it was. It has not torn itself down and got rebuilt in modern style. Its great public place is Jackson Square, flanked by the market, and that is beautifully prim and French, but it is foiled by ugly railings and municipal sheds. Nevertheless, it holds one more than does the architectural grandeur of Lafayette Square, in the American half, with its stupendously grand Post Office and Town Hall; and the subdued simplicity of Dauphine Street and Chartres and Bienville and many others is better than any quantity of the new and takes one back in mind to Old Paris and Old London. With all its Creole restaurants and cheap markets and French[249] churches, it reminded me forcibly of Soho, in London, but of course it is larger and grander.

Once a tongue of the Mississippi divided the old from the new, a long and narrow strip of somewhat torpid water. Now it has been filled up, though where the water was it is in some places green with grass. Six lines of electric cars and four streams of other traffic go up and down Canal Street, as it is now called. It is a great highway, finer in some respects than the Nevsky Prospect in Petrograd, certainly broader. On one side of it and down to the water edge it is definitely and undoubtedly old; on the other it is definitely and undoubtedly new. On one side is reality and matter of fact, on the other glamour and color; on one you make or lose money, on the other you have or miss adventures; one is prose, the other poetry; and it is well understood in New Orleans. You work in one, you live a conventional home life in one, but in the other you seek pleasure and adventures away from home. Not that you cannot dine on the new side, where there are costly and luxurious hotels, but an interesting and characteristic story might be written of a man who stayed too long over his wine in the new part, and then, late at night, strayed across this broad, dark Lethe which divides old from new, to lose himself on the farther side—an adventure and a dream.

The foreign streets are of red brick and[250] painted wood, with vine-wreathed verandas and balconies. The houses are crowded within. Red painted wood, with vine-wreathed verandas and show a bed occupying half a tiny room, and perhaps a Creole lady in the bed. There is not much squeamishness in the Creoles. French is spoken everywhere, and often English is not understood. Most of the people are Catholic, and are related spiritually to “Mother Church.” Old St. Louis Cathedral, with its spiky tower, is full of people of a Sunday morning, and the service is so perfunctory that it is clear it is no mission church, but one long established and sure. There are monastical institutions, even for the Negroes. While Irish Catholics do not like Negroes, the French and Spanish do. Specially interesting is the Convent of the Sacred Heart, with its black Mother Superior and its happy, placid Negro Catholicism. The best of the Negroes call themselves Negro Creoles. The Creoles are the cross-breed of French and Spaniard and their descendants. Strictly speaking, no Negroes are Creoles, but the descendants of the slaves of the Creoles and in general the French and Spanish-speaking Negroes call themselves Negro Creoles, and are generally indulged in the appellation. Creoles indeed have not much prejudice against color, being much mixed themselves, and in any case of French extraction, and the French have never had much sense of racial distinction. To[251] speak French is a sign of belonging to society in New Orleans. The opening of the opera season at the French Opera House (lately burned down) is the event of the winter, and everyone of importance must be present. The next sign of good taste is to know cuisine, and to be able to differentiate the delicaces and the subtleties of the famous Creole chefs.

I visited the mayor, Catholic, but of German name. He could not easily have kept his mayoralty with such a name in England. But here he was very popular. He was a human pyramid in long, voluminous morning coat, smoking a cigar as he worked, but walking with a ponderous and poised walk, and exhibiting a front of truly mayoral proportions. He said, concerning the Negroes, “We have no trouble with them here; we get on very well together. They are outside politics; that makes it much easier. If they had the power to vote, of course it would be different.” New Orleans is one of those places where a Negro’s grandfather must have voted if he is to vote, and he must prove that his grandfather voted. I demurred to the mayor. “The Negroes seem very suspicious of the Whites, and hostile,” said I. He thought not. It was evidently his set policy to have that point of view. Politically he could not afford to be strongly interested in the Negro ferment. For although the disenfranchised Negro population thought him friendly to them, the Whites[252] also thought him “sound on the nigger question.” No white man who expressed sympathy for the Negro could possibly succeed in Louisiana politics. There was proceeding while I was there a violent election campaign for the governorship of the State, and it was curious that, though the Negro could take little personal part in the choosing of the governor, he nevertheless took almost first place in the political discussions. Soundness on the Negro question seemed to be the chief test of candidacy. A man who might betray lynchers to justice or anything of that kind was evidently feared by the white population. Nevertheless, as I have said, the Creoles were on friendly terms with the Negroes. It is the Anglo-Saxon and Irish-American section of the population, the undifferentiated Southern Whites, who determine the way of politics here, as elsewhere in the South. It is likely that if the Creoles were left to themselves with the Negro population, they would grant them full rights, not only in the courts and in suffrage, but socially. The Negroes know this, and are therefore on very good terms with the French-speaking population.

Nevertheless, it must be said that but for a handful of leaders the Negro population is more dull, more impassive, and ignorant than elsewhere. A black proletariat of a hundred thousand ought to be able to raise on its broad base a fine column of intelligence and business.[253] There ought to be large and flourishing groups of doctors and lawyers and shopkeepers, but here, as at Birmingham, there is the usual Insurance Society’s building, which is all-in-all. And Negro insurance is little more than the organization of burying clubs, with the Negro undertakers as prime beneficiaries. The biggest Negro business throughout the South is connected with burying Negroes. It is sad, but it is characteristic of this era of their development. New Orleans has its “Pythian Building,” its temple of the Knights of Pythias, of which the debonair Mr. Green is Grand Master, not only for the State of Louisiana, but for the world. This is the civic center of the Negro’s life in New Orleans, and, like the Penny Bank Building of Birmingham, and its sister building at Jacksonville, houses many activities. The Pythian Temple of New Orleans is said to be the finest Negro building in the United States. It is a fine edifice, and in America business is judged much more by the building it inhabits than in Europe. An integral part of the temple is a very useful theatre, not a cinema hall, but a genuine stage for the “legitimate” drama. Here, no doubt, the Knights of Pythias appear in full regalia and parade to do the pseudo ritual of the society. But the theatre is used for all manner of purposes.

I was present one Sunday afternoon at a local meeting of the National Association. The Southern[254] White is opposed to the Association, and would do much to thwart it if he knew much about it. But the Southern Whites do not mix with Negro intellectuals, and are content to live in that paradise indicated by the mayor—We get on all right with them down here.

When, however, a bad lynching takes place the local white population soon hears of the National Association. It sends its representatives down from New York to investigate the facts. In such cases facts are the last things the white community wish brought to light, and then the National Association is discovered and roundly abused. Its representatives are sometimes white, which makes them more dangerous from a Southern point of view. Attempts are made to “railroad” them—run them out of town.

The case of Mr. Shillady, in Texas, must be mentioned here. He is the white secretary of this militant association, and has done very valuable work for his country by investigating and authenticating the details of mob murders. Texas has a bad record for lynching, rioting, and lawlessness. The Texan people, however, would not have him, and he was actually thrashed publicly by a judge and a constable. It was done in front of the Driscoll Hotel, Austin, where Shillady was staying. Having been assaulted in this way, he was put on a Northern train and told to leave it at his peril. The judge[255] remains still judge, the constable remains still a constable—if he be not now a sergeant or inspector. When we sing “Down Texas Way” that is what it means.

The local meeting this Sunday afternoon was of a quarrelsome character. A well-known and devoted Negro leader had been accused in a New Orleans Negro paper of “selling out the colored folk” at St. Louis. There had been great enthusiasm in the forming of what is called the “American Legion,” a national club of all who had served or worn an American uniform in the Great War. Negro membership of the Legion was apparently being barred in the South, and some wrong-headed Negro journalist had accused an old Creole Negro of attending the St. Louis inaugural gathering of the Legion and agreeing that Negro soldiers and sailors should be excluded.

A violent personal quarrel banged from man to man. As I was asked to speak, I told them I thought they could ill afford to quarrel among themselves. Nevertheless, I had noticed a marked disposition to quarrel among the educated Negroes. Loyalty to one another was not one of their characteristics. No people could do much who did not prize unity more than discord. While so many were against them all, how absurd to spend an afternoon quarreling with one another!

This was warmly applauded, though no doubt[256] one might as well sit in Canute’s chair and “bid the main flood bate its usual height,” as bid them cease to quarrel. They brought the fighting instinct out of Africa, and still longed to wield the battle-axe.

Besides the Pythian Temple Block, New Orleans has also a sort of South Street, a cheap line of shops with “swell toggery” for Negroes. Negro suit-pressing establishments, barbers, and the like, pawnshops, and what not. This is South Rampart, and on it is the People’s Drug Store, a hive of Negro life. Up above the store Mrs. Camille Cohen-Bell operates an insurance company, and her father, W. L. Cohen, runs for what it is worth in opinion (it cannot count much in votes), the Negro Republican party.

During a fortnight in New Orleans I visited frequently this pleasant company of Negro Creoles, the well-educated Mrs. Bell, who loved to speak French, and her ebullient father. The place was haunted by undertakers. It appeared that when a Negro was insured in the company he was allotted to an undertaker in case of death. Undertakers therefore became very anxious when clients moved out of their parish. If any one fell sick away from home, and there was the likelihood of his dying and being buried by a stranger, the fret of the local buriers was comical.

I met here a very advanced Negro lady who gave out very positive views on morality. The[257] presence of a white man was perhaps a challenge to her mind. Some white woman called Jean Gordon had been making a missionary address to the Negroes on moral purity and proper behavior at a large Baptist church. I did not hear Jean Gordon, but her black protagonist was so forceful I asked her to write a statement of what she thought. This was her answer to Jean Gordon:

“ ... Jean Gordon states that every young colored girl knows no white man may marry her under the law, and if she brings into the world an illegitimate child she is not fit to be a mother. All very true. Now, I daresay that every young colored girl is aware of this fact, but, judging from the way the white men run after these colored girls, either they (the white men) are in ignorance of the law, or it is their object flagrantly to disobey it. There is one thing I wish all white men and women to bear in mind, when they refer to illicit relations of white men and black women, and vice versa—it is this: the laws of this Southland are made by white men, and no sooner have they made these laws than they get busy finding ways to break them and evading punishment for so doing. It is a well-known fact that no Negro woman seeks the attentions of a white man—rather is the shoe on the other foot, and Negro women have a very hard time making Whites keep in their places. However, the attraction is not confined to the[258] men of the white race, for good-looking colored men have as hard a time as the good-looking colored women. So, it seems to me that if Jean Gordon should address an audience of white men and women, and plead with them to teach their boys, husbands, brothers, and fathers the necessity of respecting the laws, and the women of all races, then colored young women would have no trouble keeping their virtue and their morals. All honor is due to the Negro women, for no one knows better than Jean Gordon herself the terrible pressure brought against them by white men who seek to force their attentions on them. The wonder of it is that so many of them are able to hold out against such odds, but God is in His heaven and does not sleep. So, I say, let the white women get busy and teach morality and respect to their own, and we shall see how that will work out. As for illegitimate children, the bearing of these is not confined to women of the Negro race by any means. The white infant asylums will give ample proof of this. We know full well that a white man may not marry a colored girl in the South, but we wonder just why it is he does not marry the white girl whom he seduces? I am able to give a partial reason—THE FORCE OF HABIT! The white man has grown so accustomed to seducing Negro women and getting by with it, that the virtue of his own women has come to mean nothing to him.


“We now come to Jean Gordon’s statement relative to ‘wild stories are being circulated that the Negro won the great world war....’ No intelligent Negro can claim that the Negro won the world war, but every intelligent man, woman, and child, in this country and on the other side, is aware that the Negro did his share in winning it over there, and did his full share over here. The Negro has participated in every war in which this country has engaged, and at no time did he retreat nor show the yellow streak. No one can cite an instance where a Negro protested against going to the front. Against propaganda that was overwhelming, the Negro remained loyal. The first Negroes to set foot on French soil were from Louisiana—longshoremen; they were not soldiers, true, but they did what they were sent to do, and did it well. Very few white regiments from Louisiana saw the firing line, yet they are all soldiers. No doubt, had they been sent to the front, they would have fought, but so would every black citizen of the United States. However, if it is true that ‘comparatively few of them fought when the total of the millions of white men who died in that struggle is considered,’ the reason for that is that the South did its level best to keep the Negro out of the war as a soldier. And it must be known that every white man who fought and died was not an American! Every black man who fought did his part creditably,[260] as has ever been the case. Whole Negro regiments were decorated by the French, and bear in mind that among those who were the first to be decorated by the French were American Negroes! As for the fighting qualities of the Negro, all I need do is to refer any ‘doubting Thomas’ to Xon Hill. Nothing more need be said. And I repeat for all concerned that while the Negro did not win the world war, he did his share in helping to win it over there, and he and his women who remained over here helped to win it by laboring and giving funds.... The Negro dug trenches, he fought, he died on the battlefield, he gave of his money and his labor over here, and his women gave of their money and labor. Did the Negro help win the great world war? I’ll say he did!!! Will anyone say he did not? If anyone has done more, let him come forward.

“Before concluding, I wish to ask Jean Gordon just why it is she and the women of the South are so bitterly opposed to giving suffrage to Negro women? Do they fear us? Yea, they need to fear us, for we have made up our minds that we are going to help our men of the South get their rights, and Jean Gordon, being a woman, is fully aware that when a woman wills a thing, it is as good as done. The Negro men are going to come out on top, and their women are going to see to it. The Negro men are going to learn to protect their women from the snares[261] of white men, and their women are going to help them do this, too.... No longer does a Negro woman consider it an honor to have a white man for a ‘friend’—a lover; gradually have we made her understand that it is an insult, and she now tells her father, brother, or husband, as the case may be, and it is up to this man to defend the virtue of his female relative, in the same way the white man defends his. No more do we hear nice-looking colored boys bragging that such and such a white woman is quite crazy for him, for we have shown him that her affection for him is likely to lead him into trouble, so, having quite a variety of colors to choose from in the women of his own race (thanks to the white man for that), the Negro boy runs along with the kind of girl who pleases him, and keeps out of trouble. Very often, though, the White does not let him stay out of trouble—there are so many ways devised by these nice white people to hurt the Negro who is peaceably bent. The Negro has been patient, true, but we all know there is an end to all patience. I hope the time has come when the Whites of this section will take up more time in improving themselves and less time in seeing the error of our ways. We both of us have much to do, but we Negroes are aware of it, and are anxious to improve ourselves, but we are unable to take pattern after those who are more in need of lessons than we. The Negro is bound to come out[262] on top—even though he is in a hopeless minority. Right will ever and always crush Might; for reference, see William Hohenzollern!”

By this sulphurous little smoke one may know of subterranean fire. When the earthquake comes the Jean Gordons will fall down and the new Negro woman will stand forth. White society in places like New Orleans may one day be overthrown unless it can live for ideals and reform its institutions. Much depends on the law which is corrupted and much on the churches now in decay. Literature in New Orleans is nigh dead, so I will not mention that.




Resentment is the main characteristic of the Negro forward movement. In endeavoring to understand the Negro mind a maximum is gained by answering the question: What does it mean to have been a slave? Analysis of racial consciousness at once brings to light in the case of the Negro a slave mentality. He has been pre-dispositioned by slavery.

To have been a slave, or to be the child of a slave, means to have an old unpaid grudge in the blood; to have, in fact, resentment either smouldering or abeyant or militant. If it does not develop in the slave it will develop in the child of the slave or the child of the child. It may not take a violent form. Certain circumstances, such as prosperity, have power to neutralize it. On the other hand, certain other circumstances have power to bring it more rapidly to a head. The virus feeds on grievances, will even feed on imaginary grievances, but most certainly will grow apace on real grievances. In all seriousness, there is nothing like burning people alive for bringing out active spite and hate. Because of burning and lynching, the[264] whole of American Negrodom swells larger in resentment, day by day, and moon by moon.

The character of ex-slave, and the child of one who was a slave, is aptly shown by the way the Negro treats animals, in the way also in which he treats those Negroes who happen to come under him.

It is appalling to hear a Negro say to a horse struggling with a heavy load: “I’ll take a stick and beat you to death,” and to realize that the voice of the tyrannous master is being repeated as by a human phonograph. If the American Negroes are more cruel to animals, though quick to understand their ways, it is because they conceive of themselves as masters and the animals as their slaves.

For while a man is a slave he is learning in one way to be a master. A slave’s children are more ready to be tyrannous than the children of one who never has been a slave. When a slave is being flogged he is learning racially how to flog when he gets a chance. His children will have a flogging spirit in them. When he is being tortured he is learning how to torture.

The Anglo-Saxon looks upon animals as friends and equals. He loves his horse and his dog, he honors the fox and the bear. Not so the Negro, the Russian peasant, the Jew. They have an attitude toward the animals which is quite other. And toward human beings in their power or employ they often have a point[265] of view which is hateful. The peasant workman in the power of the Kulak peasant, the Jewish seamstress in the power of the Jew who owns the “sweatshop,” the Negro workman under the Negro boss or foreman! To be in the power of a master is bad, but to be in the power of a slave is so much worse!

In a land where the slave class is gaining power there is therefore a great deal of resentment in the air. America has it; Russia has it. To-day all the world has it. In the Great War the youth of almost every country underwent the yoke of military slavery, and what resentment there is against the masters! In Germany, where that slavery was worst, it raised Spartacus from death. And who was this Spartacus who has suddenly become a type and given a name to a movement? Himself a slave, he led an insurrection of slaves against Rome. The masters defeated him and killed him, and the heads of hundreds of his followers were impaled on spikes upon all roads which led to Rome—a warning and a witness to all other slaves of that and other times. Bitter and malignant blood-stained faces stared at the passers-by upon the Roman highway. They stare still in history, and they stare to-day, not from pikes, but from an infinite number of children of slaves. Spartacus lives.

What is called the Spartacus movement in Germany is called Bolshevism in Russia. Bolshevism[266] is eminently a slave movement. The children of the serfs have grasped everything. Its first expression has been class war and revenge on the master class. There is so much of slave in the Russian that his racial name is Slav. Now comes out all the resentment and ill feeling of centuries. Unlike the followers of Spartacus, the Russian serf has triumphed, and instead of having his head impaled he has been able to impale the heads of his masters. From his example all slaves and children of slaves throughout the world have taken courage. Russian serfs and military slaves and wage slaves and Negroes are finding an accord, and here we have the foundation for a grand proletarian revolutionary movement throughout the world.

It may be objected that the American Negroes are not Bolshevik. They are not in name, but they are potentially of the same spirit. They hate the white proletariat because the latter uses them ill, but curiously enough they have a common cause. The leaders of the Negro forward movement are almost exclusively Bolshevik in spirit. We cannot wonder at it. Persecution has developed a great resentment and class hate. When the time comes, Dr. Du Bois and Johnson and Walter White and Pickens and the rest will know whose side they are on in the great world struggle.

There are those who will say that if ever the lynching mob become the victims of the enraged[267] Negroes no one will shed tears but the lynchers themselves. They say the lyncher knows that he is wrong and has been told so often enough. Thus, in a pedagogic way, think the wiseheads who do not stray out of doors when a Negro is being killed. Thus think also the governors of the States, the sheriffs, the judges, the police, and the law. But they are fond and foolish. It is not the lynching crowd on whom vengeance will ultimately be taken. The Negro mob, when it rises, may easily join with the lynchers and make common cause against those who should have administered the law, and against those who have stood idly by. In those days we may see the ugly crowd making its way to the Pilate governors, who so often wash their hands, and beating them to death and burning their wives. That is the real movement. There is nothing very reasonable in it, but the risen mob is not guided by logic.

Resentment is the principal feeling of the Negro soldiers returned from France. It is an example of how modern life, undirected, uncontrolled, and unadvised, is manufacturing ever and ever more of the dangerous stuff of revolution.

A policy as to the use of Negro citizens in the Great War was not come to in the United States. Once more the seemingly unworkable theories of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were applied equally to the[268] Negro as to the white man, as if the Negro were only a white man with a dark skin. Negroes were conscripted equally with white men, drilled and equipped, and sent to France, without any regard to the two vital questions:

1. Is it fitting, and can America condone the use of colored troops to fight white enemies?
2. When many white citizens have such a violent animus against the Negro, is it practicable to use the latter in the army?

The first of these questions was evaded by America as it had been from the first by France. There are many who think that the use of “native” troops against the Germans was more indefensible than the German use of poison gas. For, by using colored troops against Whites in a white man’s quarrel, the moral leadership of the Whites is obviously thrown away, and there are bound to be serious after-effects in the weakening of morale.

The second question was merely an important practical detail that had been overlooked. Theoretically, all American citizens are equal. The laws apply without distinction of race or color. In practice, equality is denied. What more natural than to continue in the theoretical assumption of equality, and hope that divergency in practice might be overlooked. What more absurd, however, than to take a man who is being[269] illegally disfranchised by the community and make him fight for that community?

The Northern white soldier did not, however, feel ill disposed toward the black soldier, and I have met those who saw deeds of heroism done by Negroes, and many who saw them wounded and suffering in the common cause, and felt drawn toward them, to help them and their brothers. But whatever may have been the common feeling about Negro soldiers in the United States, it was definitely hostile to them in the camps in France. There emerged two characteristic points of view: (1) That it was good to kill off as many Negroes as possible, as that helped to solve the Negro problem. (2) That the Negro was not worthy to fight for his country.

Not much for patriotism to feed on there! There seems never to have been any resolve to make first-class Negro regiments, and those units who served in France were by no means adequately trained. By all competent accounts they were very slack, and it goes without saying that an almost superhuman effort of discipline was necessary to obtain complete steadiness in this terrible war. It was common to endeavor to terrorize the Negroes by alarming and exaggerated accounts of the horrors of battle. Negroes were talked to by Whites in a very unsoldierly way. Baiting them and scaring them was thought to be better sport than dealing with[270] them sternly and seriously. There is no doubt also that some white soldiers rejoiced to see the Negro put back into the slavery position and forced to obey on pain of death. There are those who cannot forgive the Negro having got free from slavery, and for them the spectacle of the Negro in the rank and file afforded much pleasure. Threating Negroes with a court-martial and death sentence became a characteristic jest.

The white man, however, soon found that the Negro fell into the humor of the war more readily than into the tragedy of it. It agreed with his own sense of humor. It was soon impossible to scare the raw recruits with yarns. The idea of running away from a machine gun became natural and hilarious. The dangers from night-bombing raiders over the lines were facetiously exaggerated. Hiding best became a humorous point of honor, and one Negro would vaunt against another how far he fled. Private soldiers chaffed their officers on the subject of death. Asked what “going over the top” meant, the raw recruit would answer: “I know; it means Good mornin’, Jesus.” In short, in nearly every Negro unit there set in a humoresque attitude to the war.

Officer: The Germans are going to start an offensive.

Negro Soldier: That so, cap? Then we’se spread the news over France.

As the popular joke has it.


The Negro officer then began to receive the white man’s attention. Having trained many colored officers, Negroes often of education and means and refinement, and having given them commission and uniform, the Staff came to the conclusion that they had made a mistake. The white Southern officer stirred up trouble, the white ranker would not salute. There was the usual sordid squabble in officers’ messes. And then the upshot—a great number of Negro officers subjected to the humiliation of losing their commissions and being placed in the ranks. This discouragement necessarily set the Negro officer thinking. It cultivated his resentment. It sowed in his heart the seed of national disaffection.

The next serious trouble was that of the French women and the Negro. The indifference of white women whether the man they walked with was black or brown or white was taken as an intolerable affront by Southerners. They felt called upon to interfere and save the French woman from herself. The rape legend was imported, and every effort was made to infect the French male with race prejudice. Happily, the propaganda failed. For one thing, Puritanism does not easily take root in a French heart, and for another, the French have no instinctive horror of Negroes. Possibly the rape legend even made the Negro a little ornamental from the point of view of amour. “Black American[272] troops in France have given rise to as many complaints of attempted rape as all the rest of the army ‘Les troupes noires Americaines en France ont donné lieu, a elle seules, a autant de plaintes pour tentatives de viol, que tout le reste de l’Armée,’” as an army order puts it.

Negro honor, however, demands that the charge be rebutted, and the matter has been thoroughly investigated. There does not seem to be much in it. As every one knows who served in the ranks, women of easy virtue were extremely plentiful and complaisant. The need might easily have been to protect the Negro from the women rather than the women from the Negro.

The fact is simply that the Negro walking with a white woman is to the Southern American White as a red rag to a bull. And as by nature this White is unrestrained and unreasonable, he seeks by all means, fair or foul, to part them.

Finally, the culmination of the story of the American Negro in the war is that the White denied him any valor or prowess or military virtue of any kind, said the Negro was a coward and a runaway and utterly useless in the fighting line. Fighting units were taken off their allotted duty and changed to labor units. Regiments were ordered home; whole brigades were given as a present to the grateful French. They[273] may have been rather inefficient. But, if so, that was due to bad training. Negroes have fought magnificently in America’s wars of the past. They are a great fighting race, and they are capable of discipline.

I listened when at New Orleans to a lecture given by Sergeant Needham Roberts of the 369th U. S. Infantry, a handsome young Negro warrior, twice wounded, the first American to be decorated by the French Government. He was entirely patriotic, and made the apathetic Negro audience stand to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” He told how he ran away from home to enlist, trained with a mass of black strangers, went across the ocean—quite a terrifying experience for some of these young soldiers, who but for the war had never crossed the sea. He gave his first impressions of France and of the line, the exaggerated fright of shell explosions and night attacks and bombs from the air. They were just getting used to the first aspect of war when one day the news flew round—“We are all ordered home again.” Official orders to that effect quickly followed. They had all packed up and were marching to entrain for Cherbourg when, according to the sergeant, Foch intervened.

“Why are you sending them back?” said he.

“They are not wanted.”

Foch seemed astonished.


“If you cannot use them, I can,” said the French marshal.

And then, hurray!—we were attached to the French.

It was no playground, the French front, but, as ever, a sterner piece of reality than American or British. The Negroes were hotly engaged and had many casualties. Roberts won his Croix de Guerre for a feat which he performed with his chum, Pete Johnson. They had been left at an advanced listening post and apparently overlooked—not relieved for three days and three nights. The division had been relieved. On the third night the Germans made a raid which the two Negro soldiers repelled by themselves, first throwing out their bombs, then firing, and finishing with a remarkable bit of butchery with the bayonet. The Germans whom they did not put out of action they put to flight. How many Germans lay dead it would be difficult to say. The number probably grew like those of Falstaff’s men in buckram, but I did hear twenty mentioned.

There was no doubt about the fact that Sergeant Roberts was a jolly soldier—a “bonny faechter”—and he made himself on good terms with his audience very quickly. He came from New York, and had swung along Fifth Avenue with the heroes of New York’s Fighting Fifteenth. He was full of the faith of the North, horribly depressed by the atmosphere of the[275] South, above all by the passivity and apathy of the Negroes of New Orleans. He had better keep north of the Mason-Dixon line, for he is evidently a born fighter.

If the war itself was a persistent educator of the Negro, his subsequent treatment after the Armistice enforced very terribly what he learned. It would be hardly worth while to enlarge on this in detail. The fact which I wished to isolate is the growing resentment of the colored people, the fact that some twelve millions are becoming highly charged with resentment.

As illustration of this resentment one could quote much from the spoken and the written word of the Negroes. But a poem, or part of a poem, may suffice. It is Archibald Grimké’s “Thirteen Black Soldiers.” The 24th United States Infantry, a Negro regiment, was sent to Houston, Texas, and was received with lack of sympathy and some hostility by the population. A series of petty troubles culminated in a riot and mutiny. Sixty-four Negroes were court-martialled, and thirteen were sentenced to death, and hanged. It seems to show a lack of foresight to station a Negro regiment among such a hostile people as the Texans. They are more the enemies of the Negroes than were the Germans, and there was certainty of trouble. Grimké’s poem expresses the boiling resentment to which I have referred.


She hanged them, her thirteen black soldiers,
She hanged them for mutiny and murder,
She hanged them after she had put on them her uniform,
After she had put on them her uniform, the uniform of her soldiers,
She told them they were to be brave, to fight and, if needs be, to die for her.
This was many years before she hanged them, her thirteen black soldiers.
She told them to go there and they went,
To come here and they came, her brave black soldiers.
For her they went without food and water,
For her they suffered cold and heat,
For her they marched by day,
For her they watched by night,
For her in strange lands they stood fearless,
For her in strange lands they watched shelterless,
For her in strange lands they fought,
For her in strange lands they bled,
For her they faced fevers and fierce men,
For her they were always and everywhere ready to die.
And now she has hanged them, her thirteen black soldiers.
For murder and mutiny she hanged them in anger and hate,
Hanged them in secret and dark and disgrace,
In secret and dark she disowned them,
In secret and dark buried them and left them in nameless disgrace.
Why did she hang them, her thirteen black soldiers?

What had they done to merit such fate?
She sent them to Houston, to Houston, in Texas,
She sent them in her uniform to this Southern city,
She sent them, her soldiers, her thirteen brave soldiers,
They went at her bidding to Houston,
They went where they were ordered.
They could not choose another place,
For they were soldiers and went where they were ordered.
They marched into Houston not knowing what awaited them.
Insult awaited them and violence.
Insult and violence hissed at them from house windows and struck at them in the streets,
American colorphobia hissed and struck at them as they passed by on the streets.
In the street cars they met discrimination and insult,
[277]“They are not soldiers, they and their uniforms,
They are but common niggers,
They must be treated like common niggers,
They and their uniform.”
So hissed colorphobia, indigenous to Texas.
And then it squirted its venom on them,
Squirted its venom on them and on their uniform.

And what did she do, she who put that uniform on them,
And bade them to do and die if needs be for her?
Did she raise an arm to protect them?
Did she raise her voice to frighten away the reptilian thing?
Did she lift a finger or say a word of rebuke at it?
Did she do anything in defence of her black soldiers?
She did nothing. She sat complacent, indifferent in her seat of power.
She had eyes, but she refused to see what Houston was doing to her black soldiers,
She had ears, but she stuffed them with cotton,
That she might not hear the murmured rage of her black soldiers,
They suffered alone, they were defenceless against insult and violence,
For she would not see them nor hear them nor protect them.
Then in desperation they smote the reptilian thing,
They smote it as they had smitten before her enemies,
For was it not her enemy, the reptilian thing, as well as their own?
They in an hour of madness smote it in battle furiously,
And it shrank back from their blows hysterical,
Terror and fear of death seized it, and it cried unto her to help.
And she, who would not hear her black soldiers in their dire need,
She, who put her uniform on them, heard their enemy.
She flew at its call and hanged her brave black soldiers.
She hanged them for doing for themselves what she ought to have done for them,
She hanged them for resenting insult to her uniform,
She hanged them for defending from violence her brave black soldiers.
They marched with the dignity of brave men to the gallows,
With the souls of warriors they marched without a whimper to their doom.
And so they were hanged, her thirteen black soldiers,
And so they lie buried in nameless disgrace.


Is the watchword of Dr. Du Bois to be wondered?—

We return.
We return from fighting.
We return fighting.

I met at Memphis, Tennessee, one of the few Southern white men who are sympathetic to the Negro and understand the gravity of the situation. This was Mr. Bolton Smith, a rich business man, a member of the Rotary Club quand meme. As one who among other activities advances money on the security of real estate in the Mississippi Delta, he necessarily has been brought a great deal into contact with the Negro. Society in Memphis looked at him somewhat askance because he did not share the current conventional view, but he was not blackballed, only indulgently laughed at as one who had a weak spot in his mental armor. In places remote from Memphis, however, his views receive weighty consideration.

If he had his way he would give the Negro his right and his due, and stop lynching. He does not believe the Negro wishes “social equality,” the right to mix indiscriminately with white people, in schools, in trains, in marriage. He thinks the Negro prefers to be separate as long as there is no implied dishonor. He made a special study of the Frederick Douglass School at Cincinnati, an all black school which is admirably conducted, and found that by[279] themselves the Negroes progress more than when mixed with Whites. As Cincinnati is a city on the northern fringe, with northern institutions, the Negroes had the choice to go to mixed schools with white children if they desired, but they preferred to be by themselves, and indeed did better by themselves. As regards Jim Crow cars, Smith said he would give equal comfort and equal facilities in colored cars and in colored waiting rooms. He does not think the Negro desires to be in a Pullman car where there are white women. It works without scandal in the North, but there is too much risk of the woman going into hysterics in the South, and the Negro getting lynched at a wayside station. He believes in abandoning “the policy of pin pricks,” and, above all, in suppressing lynching and race riot.

He was, however, strongly opposed to Du Bois and the National Association. He considered that Du Bois was leading the Negroes wrongly, leading them in fact to a worse calamity than any which had yet overtaken them. “If the Negro resorts to force,” said Mr. Smith to me, “he will be destroyed. In peace and in law the white man fails to understand how to handle the Negro, but if it comes to force, the issue becomes quite simple for the white man, and the Negro stands little more chance than a savage. Christianity alone can save the Negro, and the leaders of the National Association[280] are leading the people away from Christianity.” He wished all Negroes could see how fatal it is for them to abandon Christianity.

“If it were not for the lynchings, the National Association and its newspaper would shrink to very small proportions. Every time a Negro is lynched it adds a thousand to the circulation of the Crisis, and a burning adds ten thousand,” said he.

“Hell would soon lose its heat should sin expire,” said I. I was inclined to agree that the only way was through Christianity. But there is such a thing as the wrath of God, and it is not incompatible with Divine Fatherhood and all-merciful Providence. John Brown has been greatly condemned, but he was not outside Christianity—surely he was a child of God. He used to think that without much shedding of blood the crimes of this guilty land could be purged away, but now....

I do not think the white South will be able to avert the wrath of God by machine guns, nor will it quell the Negro by force once the Negro moves from the depths of his being. Better than believe in meeting the great wrath is to be advised betimes and mend one’s ways. Was not the Civil War a sufficient bloodletting? Could not the lesson be learned?

It is certainly in vain to work directly against Du Bois when his power as a leader of revolt could be removed utterly by stopping the lynching.[281] The U. S. Postmaster General refused postal facilities to one number of his newspaper because it was going too far in stirring up sedition, but it was ineffectual, and was, on the contrary, a useful advertisement for the paper. And then, is it not known there are far more advanced groups of Negroes than that of the association of which Dr. Du Bois is president? There are those who laugh Du Bois to scorn as a Moderate. There are those who have sworn that for every Negro done to death by the mob two white men shall somehow perish. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the gospel—or rather, two eyes for one. Something is being started which will not cease with a recital of the Beatitudes. If America does not cast out the devil of class hate from the midst of her she will again be ravished by the Angel of Death as in the Civil War. The established peaceful routine of a country like America is very deceptive. All seems so permanent, so unshakable. The new refinement, the new politeness and well-lined culture, and vast commercial organization and press suggest that no calamity could overtake them. The force that makes for disruption and anarchy is generated silently and secretly. It accumulates, accumulates, and one day it must discharge itself. Its name is resentment, and its first expression is revenge.




Dr. W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, as the leader of the militant movement, is the greatest force among the Negroes to-day. Light of skin, short of stature, square-headed, he would pass easily in Southern Europe or in Russia as a white man. He looks rather like a highly polished Jewish professor. Considered carefully, however, it will be realized that behind an impassive mask-like face is an emotional and fiery nature. There is a white heat of resentment in him, and a decision not to forgive. Possibly his devotion to the cause and the race drags him down a little. For he is possessed of an unusual literary genius. The fire that ran in the veins of Dumas and of Pushkin is in him also, and as a master of the written word he stands entirely without rival in the American Negro world. In that respect he is altogether a greater man than Booker T. Washington. The latter was a practical genius, and what is gall and wormwood in the bosom of Du Bois was the milk of human kindness in his more sooty, natural breast. “I’m going to shout ‘Glory!’ when this world is afire, and I don’t feel noways tired,” he used always[283] to be saying. “Booker T.,” as he is affectionately called, was the wonderful colored baby of the first days of freedom. His, “Up from Slavery,” which he wrote, and the vocational institute of Tuskegee, Alabama, are the chief monuments which he left behind him. But his portrait is almost as common in Negro cabins as pictures of the Tsar used to be in Russian izbas. “Our Booker T.,” the Negroes say lovingly and possessingly, looking upon the first of their number who rose from the dark depths of servitude, first fruits of them that slept. Freedom and Hope raised Booker T. Washington, but now he is dead a new time needs a new leader. Fain would the Whites have “Booker T.” back. The amenable Negro leader is much more to their taste than the militant one.

Many years ago Du Bois wrote “Souls of Black Folk,” which is a fascinating personal study. It has a true literary quality which raises it from the ruck of ephemeral publications to an enduring place. It is, however, immature. There is an emphasis of personal culture, and a note of self-pity, which a more developed writer would have been at pains to transmute. But the gift is unmistakable. You perceive it again and in better measure in “Darkwater,” published this year.

It has taken the war and the recent increased persecution of the Negro people to bring out the real power of Du Bois. As a labor leader[284] said to me, “He is first of all a statesman and a politician. He is leading the Negroes. I wonder where he will lead them to?”

Certainly no other Negro in the United States is regarded by so many others as his leader. No doubt most of the quiet, cautious, and traditionally religious Negroes fight shy of him. But they, for their part, have no leader. Dr. Moton, the lineal descendant of Booker Washington at Tuskegee Institute, is only a leader in the sense that Dr. Arnold of Rugby might be considered a leader. He is there in his place. He is a great light, and is taken for granted.

In August, 1919, Dr. Moton wrote to the President, warning him of the growing tension:

“I want especially to call your attention to the intense feeling on the part of the colored people throughout the country toward white people, and the apparent revolutionary attitude of many Negroes, which shows itself in a desire to have justice at any cost. The riots in Washington and Chicago and near riots in many other cities have not surprised me in the least. I predicted in an address several months ago, at the fiftieth anniversary of the Hampton Institute, on the second of May—ex-President Taft and Mr. George Foster Peabody were present at the time—that this would happen if the matter was not taken hold of vigorously by the thoughtful elements of both races.


“I think the time is at hand, and I think of nothing that would have a more salutary effect on the whole situation now than if you should in your own wise way, as you did a year ago, make a statement regarding mob law; laying especial stress on lynching and every form of injustice and unfairness. You would lose nothing by specifically referring to the lynching record in the past six months; many of them have been attended with unusual horrors, and it would be easy to do it now because of the two most recent riots in the North, notably, Washington and Chicago. The South was never more ready to listen than at present to that kind of advice, and it would have a tremendously stabilizing effect, as I have said, on the members of my race.

“You very probably saw the account of the lynching in Georgia of an old colored man seventy years of age, who shot one of two intoxicated white men in his attempt to protect two colored girls who had been commanded to come out of their home in the night by these two men. The colored man killed the white man after he had been shot by one of the white men because he had simply protested.

“I am enclosing the lynching record for the past six months and an editorial from the Atlanta Constitution, which strongly denounces mob violence.

“With all kind wishes, and assuring you of[286] no desire to add to your burdens, but simply to call attention to what seems to me vital not only for the interest of the twelve millions of black people, but equally as important for the welfare of the millions of Whites whom they touch, I am,

“Very sincerely and gratefully,

R. R. Moton.”

In reply to this letter, President Wilson wrote Dr. Moton as follows:

“My dear Dr. Moton:

“Thank you sincerely for your letter of August eighth. It conveys information and suggestions, the importance of which I fully realize and for which I am sincerely obliged. I will take the suggestions you make under very serious consideration, because I realize how critical the situation has become and how important it is to steady affairs in every possible way.

“Again thanking you for your public-spirited co-operation,

“Cordially and sincerely yours,

Woodrow Wilson.”

With this conventional reply the matter closes, and things in America became steadily worse in the months which followed. The twilight peace of Tuskegee has been in contrast with the loud, clamorous denunciations from[287] Dr. Du Bois. For Du Bois gives forth new words of leadership each month. He has a voice like a trumpet and must be heard. Therefore, he is the leader.

Associated with him are many brilliant men of whom the most powerful is the poet and orator, James Welldon Johnson, a darker man than Du Bois, slender and taller. He is energetic, and may constantly be heard from platforms in New York and elsewhere. I heard him speak. I was not moved by him as by Dean Pickens, but he is more intense and has the reputation of extraordinary brilliance at times.

If the persecution were lifted from off the Negro race there would doubtless be room for quiet educational leadership, and flamboyancy would fail. White sympathizers such as Mr. Bolton Smith of Memphis emphasize the value of the quieter, more unobtrusive work done in places like Piney Woods School, the Frederick Douglass School, by Laurence Jones and Principal Russell. But of course peaceful growth is impossible until the mass of the people are guaranteed against the present terrifying mob violence and general social injustice.

On the other hand, it does not follow that Du Bois is a new Moses leading his people to a Promised Land. He may be leading them to terrific bloodshed and slaughter. He may be leading them to a complete racial fiasco, not because he wants to do so or can do otherwise,[288] but because perhaps that fiasco is written on the American Negro’s card of destiny.

The Negroes are arming themselves. They are more ready to retaliate—to quote a letter from Memphis: “There is an increased determination on the part of great numbers of Negroes to defend their rights by force.... The Negro is emotional, and the masses of them are quite ready to think they are oppressed in matters in which they are not oppressed at all, and therefore to use force on unjustifiable occasions. This shows itself in the increased use of firearms by petty thieves against the police. A Negro was arrested here recently on the charge of selling stolen chickens. His home was known. It was inconceivable that the ordinary white petty thief would shoot officers of the law in order to prevent an arrest which probably would have resulted in a comparatively small punishment, but this man murdered an officer and is to be hung. The same thing has occurred here several times. Under these circumstances it is difficult to induce the police to hold the proper attitude toward the Negro. They never know when he is going to shoot, and so it is natural that they should shoot a Negro much quicker than they would a white man. This begets in its turn a feeling of resentment which makes the relations between the Negro and the police more difficult. I cannot emphasize too strongly the fact that when a minority tries to protect[289] itself—although it may use only the weapons which the majority in the past has been accustomed to use in defending itself against tyranny, the minority is apt to find itself condemned in the eyes of the public. Take the attitude which the mass of Americans are occupying with reference to the Reds and their deportation.... A small number of the Reds have appealed to force—the whole crowd are more or less outlawed by American public opinion. What I am apprehensive of if the Negroes continue to follow Du Bois is just such an embitterment of relations between the two races. I do not believe that the race relation in Chicago is the better for the race riot. On the other hand, in Europe, every revolution usually resulted sooner or later in greater freedom even where the revolution was suppressed. My experience with Negro uprisings has been precisely the reverse. Such progress as the Negro has made has been by education and the awakening of the conscience of the white man.

“To put the matter in a few words, the problem that I would like immensely to emphasize to you, is the wholly abnormal position of the minority seeking its rights. We are apt to think that the Negro can achieve these rights in the way that our ancestors achieved theirs against the aristocracy, but unless I am utterly wrong, that view is doomed to failure and if followed will result in embittering the relations[290] between the races so that segregation or deportation or extermination must result. Personally I do not believe that we will fail, but if we succeed it will be in spite of Du Bois and of the attitude of armed resistance. Never was a better illustration of the wisdom under certain conditions of the Tolstoi attitude of non-resistance.”

That of course is nicely deduced, but events are not ruled by wisdom and logic. It might very well have been said to the Israelites during the long period of the Plagues. It is such a period in the history of the Negroes.




The American Negroes are the aristocrats of the Negro world. It may be a paradox to assume that a proletariat can become an aristocracy, but an aristocracy is the best a race can produce in culture and manners. No doubt African Negrodom is made up of a great number of races, but all seem to have one common interest and to yield more homage to the name of Africa itself than to any constituent part, kingdom, or state or pasture. The American Negro is beginning to lead Africa as he is leading the Indies. The reason is that the children of the American slaves have made the greatest cultural progress of all Negroes. Though persecution has been less in some parts of Africa and on the West Indian islands, opportunity has also been less. In 1863 America committed herself to the task of raising her millions of black slaves to the cultural level of white citizenship. But no one has ever essayed to raise the savage masses of Africa much higher than the baptismal font. It is always pointed out to the American Negro that his good fortune is prodigious. The Negro retorts that if he has[292] good fortune his fathers paid for it in the sufferings of slavery, and he still pays in the price of lynching. Yet, of course, the Negroes in Africa have suffered greatly, and their fathers suffered greatly. No Negro can deny that he owes America much. And Africa owes, or will owe, more still.

In America the door at least stands open for Negro progress. In Africa, and especially in South Africa, it is not quite certain that the door is not closed. If the door remains ajar it is not because the white man wills it, but because the American Negro has got his foot in. A low Commercial-Imperial idea reigns. The native is, “the labor on the spot.” An unfailing supply of cheap native labor is considered the great desideratum. Attempts on the Negro’s part to raise himself by education or by technical skill are looked upon with suspicion, and one must remember that as far as the British Empire or French or Belgian mandatorial regions are concerned there are no institutions in Africa comparable to Tuskegee and Hampton. If the labor unions in the United States are foolishly antagonistic to the progress of Negro skilled labor, they are twice more so in South Africa. If there is peonage in America there is an abundance of pseudo slavery in Africa, and while the American trolley car has its Jim Crow section the South African one often has not even that, and the Negro must[293] walk unless accompanied by white employer. An open hostility has arisen between Black and White which much resembles that of the Southern States of America. If it were not for the leadership of the American Negroes it would not be promising for Negrodom as a whole.

Of course there is a vital difference between the British Empire and the United States; the people of the empire are subjects, and of the republic they are citizens. While Britain technically rules her four hundred million colored subjects from above downward America theoretically holds that all her people are free and equal. The American ideal is higher, the British more practical.

There is another difference, and it is that our Blacks, except in the Indies, are mostly indigenous, and have not been transplanted from their native wilds. They have not been slaves and have not the slave psychology. In Africa the white man is in contact with masses of natives in a primitive condition; in the United States the Negro has been definitely cut off from his kith and kin. The American Negro was set free in a land rampant with democratic ideals and possessed of a sublime belief in human progress. But Africa has been and is increasingly a commercial domain whose only function from the modern white man’s point of view is the making of material fortune. The white man in Africa is much more exclusively a dollar[294] hunter than the American. And though Britain has been much praised for letting South Africa govern herself it does not seem as if the Union was mating much progress in ideals and culture. The King of England was a better friend to the native than the local government is proving itself to be.

A blatant anti-nigger tendency is growing throughout the British Empire, and it is very vulgar, very undignified, and at the same time disgraceful. It applies to India and Egypt as much as to Africa. It is due perhaps to a general deterioration in education and training. One may remark that those who complain of the ways of their servants are generally unfitted to have servants, and it is characteristic of parvenus to ill treat those beneath them, and I would say if a white man cannot get on well with a Negro it is a sign that he is not a gentleman. But the genuine type of English gentleman is passing. To think that the race of Livingstone and Stanley and Harry Johnston should be pitifully complaining about the Negroes, as if God had not made them aright!

The British people used to be able to manage native races well—in the age of the Victorian, when the Englishman could treat his native servant as if he were a gentleman also, never doubting that in God’s sight an equal dignity invested both master and man. Read the memoirs and letters of colonial people of time[295] past, and then compare with the current noisy prejudice in India and Africa. The falling away is appalling. And the “natives” know the change which has been coming about—the new type of officer and employer, the man with the whisky brain, the mind stocked with music-hall funniosity and pseudo cynicism, the grumbler, the man who expects everything to have been arranged for his comfort and success beforehand. Astonishing to hear young officers calling even Hindoos and Syrians and Arabs niggers! The native instinctively knows the man of restraint and good manners and human dignity and properly trained unselfishness. The lowest coolie can tell the difference between a gentleman and a cad; and the educated colored man, while he respects in the deepest way the nation of Shakespeare and Burke and Wellington and Gordon, is puzzled to find a common spirit in the English-speaking people of to-day.

“I was reared in an atmosphere of admiration—almost of veneration—for England,” says Dr. Du Bois. “I had always looked on England as the best administrator of colored peoples, and laid her success to her system of justice,” but he wavers in that faith now, having heard the new story of Hindoos and Arabs and the Negroes of South Africa and Negroes of West Africa.

In converse with Professor Hoffmann in New[296] Orleans, a British subject formerly in the service of the British Government in Northern Nigeria, an extremely capable and enlightened Negro, now head master of a colored school, I found confirmation of this. His impression of the change of spirit in the empire was similar to that expressed by Du Bois, and I found admiration of British rule giving way to doubt in many Negro minds. Indeed it has been possible for American Anglophobes to do a good deal of propaganda among the Negroes by representing how badly the natives now fare under British rule. There is some exaggeration in this respect, but it makes an important impression on the mind of the American Negro. He has begun to feel a care and an anxiety for the condition of his brethren overseas. The educated Negro of the United States now feels a responsibility toward the African Negro, and also toward all dark-skinned people whatsoever.

The assumption by the Negro of a common ground with the natives of India is somewhat surprising and amusing. There is no ethnological common ground. But the color bar of the British Empire applies almost as stringently to the Indians as to the Negroes. “We’ll smash them all to hell,” says a bellicose Negro stranger to a young Hindoo student at Washington, much to the astonishment of the latter.[297] The advanced Negroes of America place the liberation of the peoples of India and Egypt in the very foreground of their world policy. They say also that the natives of South Africa must be delivered from the Union of South Africa.

One thing is certain, and that is that the British Empire will not hold together for long unless the Whites can manage the Blacks, and uphold the standard of justice which was formerly lived by. Votes are not necessary, but ordinary human rights of free existence and opportunity are necessary. The empire is at the crossroads. It is a question whether it can be held together by good will, or whether Britain will be forced to inaugurate a rule of force and obedience. The old conception of good will is being tested in South Africa and Egypt and India as it is in Ireland. Possibly as a result of the war, political circumstances may force it back to the ideal of force and a paramount central authority. The belief of native races in the King, and their hatred of the King’s intermediaries, is characteristic of the time. The American Negro is keeping a sharp lookout on the lot of colored people within the British Empire. As he leads in intelligence, in ideals, and in material wealth, he intends to missionarize the native world in the name of civilization. The missionaries are called agitators; their press seditious; their ideals dangerous; but words do[298] not alter the fact that the flag of Pan-African unity has been raised, and the common needs of all dark-skinned races have been mooted.

The Republic of Liberia has often been dismissed as a failure, by the white man. But it is destined to be America’s advanced post in Africa for Black civilizing Black. I was fortunate in meeting in America Bishop Lloyd, just returned from Liberia, and he gave a very interesting account of the positive side of development there. First of all the American Negro is the élite, the aristocracy of Liberia. He is taking upon himself the immense task of educating the Negro masses of the interior. In this and in commerce and in the establishment of law and order, Liberia is very successful. America and American ideals are a gospel to the Liberian Negroes. Never a word is said of the injustices and sufferings which attend Negro life in the States, but on the contrary America is regarded as a Negro Paradise. When America declared war on Germany it was the joy of Liberia to declare war also, and her war effort was remarkable.

It is somewhat curious that while British difficulties with native races obtain large advertisement in the United States and elsewhere, the lynchings and burnings and race riots of America are in general successfully hushed up within the States where they occur. But of course the American Negro is very proud of the[299] America which he feels he helped in no small way to make. America has given the Negro an ideal, and she is to him religion. All that is new in the Negro movement, moreover, takes its rise from America.

We have seen inaugurated in New York recently the so-called “Black Star Line,” a line of steamships owned by Negroes, and manned by Negroes. Its object is to trade with Negro communities, and advance the common interests of the dark-skinned people throughout the world. Whether it is destined to succeed depends on the soundness of its financial backing. But it is an interesting adventure. Its first ship out of New York carried out the last cargo of whisky before “Prohibition” set in. A storm forced the vessel back to port after the port had become legally “dry,” and some thought the cargo would be seized. It was said there were many leaks to the ship, but after many parleys and reconnaissances with white officials the Yarmouth, afterwards named Frederick Douglass, got away.

It is generally advertised under the caption “OVER THE TOP—FOR WHAT?” and was started by a Negro orator called the Hon. Marcus Garvey. He founded a society known as The Universal Negro Improvement Association which boasts now a membership of over two millions in America, Africa, and the Indies. This is a militant organization. But its membership[300] is evidently useful as a ready-to-hand investing public who can be persuaded to put its money into a whole series of Negro business enterprises, such as “The Negro Factories Corporation,” “West Indies Trading Association of Canada,” and, of course, the Black Star Line. The association has its organ, “The Negro World,” and it meets, as far as New York is concerned, at a place called popularly “The Subway Church,” between Seventh and Lenox Avenues. Whites are not wanted, and indeed not admitted, but the crowds are so huge it is possible to slip in. Musical features alternate with impassioned oratory. Whether, like a bubble blown from the soap of commerce and the water and air of humanitarianism, this will burst and let the members down, or whether it is sound and genuine, it is at least instructive and interesting in its developments. The lecturers and speakers choose the largest terms of thought, and visualize always some four hundred millions of colored brethren throughout the world. A universal convention is even to be called.

How the Yarmouth fared with the rest of her “wet cargo” during its six months’ trip has not been made public, but the Negroes hailed the progress of the vessel as a “diplomatic triumph,” and when it returned to New York an accession of 25,000 new members was announced. Five thousand in Cuba, two thousand[301] five hundred in Jamaica, eight thousand in Panama, seven thousand in Bocas del Toro and Port Limon; the staff of the ship and its “ambassadors” were feted on their return. All made speeches, and all were greeted with the greatest enthusiasm. Thus, at the “Star Casino” one of the ambassadors described the arrival at Jamaica:

“At last we came in sight of the emerald isle of the Caribbean Sea—that beautiful island that is ever green—that wonderful island Jamaica; and dear indeed is the island of Jamaica to me. With pleasure I saw the people as they crowded along the docks to catch the first view of our steamer, the first ship of the Black Star Line. I could hear the hurrahs and the huzzahs as she majestically wended her way up to Port Royal. We had taken on board our Negro pilot, who piloted us into the harbor of Kingston, one of the finest harbors of the world. As she sped along, the people of Kingston were running down the streets in order that they might catch a sight of the Yarmouth. We steamed to the dock and they came on board. They did not wait for invitation to the captain’s cabin, but came up to the wheelhouse, they came into the chart room, they invaded every portion of the ship.... On the second night after our arrival a grand reception was arranged.”

The ship made a triumphal entry wherever[302] she arrived. At one port where the ropes were thrown out from the ship, the Negroes seized them, pulled her alongside the dock of a fruit company, and then with their hands pulled the vessel itself the entire length of the quay. No one had ever seen the like, but the Blacks wanted to feel it with their hands—their own ship.

This was strictly a new-world voyage, and a comparatively easy one, with plenty of passengers and of freight. The cry is for more ships and bigger enterprise, and if the company makes good Africa will no doubt see Africa come riding toward itself on the waves. It is possible, however, that the Whites of Africa may prove more hostile than those of the easy-going States of South America and the Indies. The news of the Negro line is no doubt very rousing for all intelligent colored people.

What in reality is Black Internationalism is hardly realized as yet, especially by Great Britain. Anything said against the Negroes is heard by a vast number of educated and intelligent colored people. Thus you find the words of the Germanophile E. D. Morel used to stir the masses against Britain. Says Morel, according to the Negroes: “The results of installing black barbarians among European communities are inevitable.... The African is the most developed sexually of any.... Sexually, they are unrestrained and unrestrainable. That is perfectly[303] well known.... For the working classes the importation of Negro mercenaries by the hundred thousand from the heart of Africa to fight the battles and execute the lusts of capitalist governments in the heart of Europe is a terrific portent. The workers alike of Britain, France, and Italy will be ill advised if they allow it to pass in silence.” And when the Daily Herald says that “Wherever there are black troops who have been long distant from their own womenfolk there follows a ghastly outbreak of prostitution, rape, and syphilis” it is necessarily treated as a slur by Negroes. A Negro writer who protested in a well-written and cogent letter to that newspaper fails to get his letter printed, but he prints it all right in the Negro press of America, and asks, “Why this obscene maniacal outburst about the sex-vitality of black men in a proletarian paper?”

If there is a race riot as at Cardiff or Liverpool, or if a scheme is mooted to dispossess the squatters of Rhodesia of more of their land, or a General Dyer machine-guns a crowd of civilians in the name of keeping order in India—it is absurd to think of the matter locally and provincially. It is discussed throughout the world. It is impossible to act now as if the subject races had no collective consciousness.

So much for the point of view of the world outside America. There is another point of[304] view which is perhaps closer to those subjects specially treated in this volume. What the world does to the native and says of him are known in America. America has power to help the native races of dark color throughout the world, and many Americans, white as well as dark, are willing to do so. But there is one very serious difficulty, and that is the moral sanction.

While those things occur; such as burning Negroes at the stake and denying them the equable justice of a true Court of Law, America has no right to speak; her truly grand idealism is rendered almost wholly impotent. It was the same in the promulgation of the League of Nations and the idea of helping small nations; it is the same with regard to American interference, in the name of human rights and ideals, in the Irish question. It can always be objected: Why do you not look after your own subjects first, and save your Negroes? An American said to me in Philadelphia: “I am not overfond of the Bolsheviks, but of one thing I am glad—The red hand of the Tsar will never rule again.”


And another said: “Thank God the pogroms are over.”

Are they?

And a third said: “I am sorry America refused to take a mandate for Armenia.”


But why not take a mandate for Georgia and Mississippi?

In 1919, when the question of American delegations to Ireland was being discussed, a member in the British House of Commons asked if a British delegation could not be sent to America to investigate conditions among the Negroes.

Mr. Bonar Law thought that a very humorous suggestion. The very humor of it was sufficient answer to America. No need for Britain to send investigators.

As long as America with her ideals was enough unto herself the Negro question was strictly her affair. But when she takes the moral leadership of the civilized world it becomes to a certain extent every one’s affair.

The point is that America as a whole cannot afford to tolerate what is done locally in particular States. It is not a matter of non-interference from Washington in the local affairs of Georgia and Mississippi and the rest. The baleful happenings in these States rob Americans in other States of their good name, and spoil America’s reputation in the world. The fact that the terms of the Constitution are not carried out, decreases throughout the value of the American citizenship. And the growing scandal causes America’s opinions on world politics to be seriously discounted.


Thus though America was antipathetic to the old Tsarist régime, and still talks of the “bloody Tsar,” it is a fact growing daily more obvious that compared with the present régime of the great republic the rule of the Tsar over his subject races was in some ways better. On the other hand, the American press has lately been flooded with the atrocities of the Bolsheviks. The fact is, we, all of us, believe evil readily of a country which is far away, but are not ready to face evils near at home when they affect ourselves.

Thus the matter affects the world and America. There is a third interest, and that is exclusively of the Negro himself. He needs a guaranteed charter, an authenticated minimum. If the vote cannot be given him, at least let him have justice; if he cannot be admitted to labor unions let his labor be adequately protected; if an offense against a white woman is regarded as specially heinous and dangerous let the legal punishment be increased; afford his women protection also. If the Whites have changed their minds about slavery let them state how much they sanction—what are its limits. Let the American Republic and the British Empire state their policy with regard to their colored population. Make it clear and manifest.

The Negro’s chief danger lies in a consensus[307] of evil opinion concerning him. The South rejoices when a race riot disgraces some Northern city and says: “They’re beginning to find out the Negro isn’t an angel up there.” When a General Dyer uses the machine-gun argument, or a mob of dockers fall foul of Negro immigrants at Cardiff or Liverpool, America smiles and says, “You also?” When there are reports of constant trouble in South Africa someone else says, “So you cannot get on with them either?” and when one is burned to death in Georgia, South Africa says, “So you burn them to death, eh?”

Out of a cycle of happenings is derived the thought: No one can afford to feel virtuous about the Negro.

That fact no doubt helps the Negro press in the chanting of its sorrows, but it does not help the Negro himself. In fact, it shuts out a good deal of hope which might have been derived from white sympathy, and it threatens the colored peoples as a whole with worse things to be. These are the days of democracies and white proletariats, and both show themselves less friendly toward Negroes and “natives” than the old monarchies. Their hostility is based on an old fashioned ignorant contempt; competition in the labor market, and a sort of fear. Probably it can be overcome in time, but if so it will not be through white enlightenment, but through a world organization and understanding[308] on the part of the colored races. For while throughout the world the Whites degenerate somewhat, these others rise. The gulf between the two is being diminished, and there may come a time not very far away when the white hegemony will be lost.




From New Orleans I traveled up the Mississippi; calling at such characteristic points as Reserve, Vicksburg, Greenville, Mound Bayou, Memphis, accomplishing the journey partly by rail and partly by boat. Reserve is a vast sugar plantation owned by five brothers. It is only thirty miles from the great city and the Whites are mostly Creoles. The Mother of Rivers, clad in brown silk, flows toward the green humps of hundreds of levees and embankments. The shores are low and level, and there grows almost to the water edge a vast, close, ten-feet-high jungle of sugar cane. You walk along the top of the levee till you see a lane running across the plantation like a trench dug through it. In the lane itself there is no view except the erect, green wall of canes on either hand and the blue sky above. Beneath your feet are cart ruts and withered stalks of sugar gone purple at the joints and straw-colored in the flanks. Take a stalk and break it across, and it breaks in shreds like a bamboo, revealing the inner fatness of sweet pith which you can suck if you will, for it is sugar. It has a dilute sweetness[310] which rapidly cloys an unaccustomed palate, though the people of the countryside suck it continuously, and many consider the natural sugar the source of all health. The taste is reproduced very well in the pralines on which New Orleans prides itself.

A long and novel sort of lane this through the sugar! A Negro worker coming along the road sees a white man, but does not want to meet him, and he takes three steps into the dark-green depths, clawing his way inside as through many barely shut doors, and he is lost. You would seek him in vain if he wished to hide.

The lane debouches into a sun-bathed, half-cleared area which is covered with stricken canes looking like warriors tumbled in death after a great battle; for it is winter and the time of the taking of the harvest. Negro gangs with rough bills like meat choppers are slicing the side leaves from the cane and then cutting, slicing and cutting, all over the plantation, with joyous noise, and there are great numbers of dark girls in straw hats working methodically and rhythmically from the shoulder and the bosom, striking, clipping, felling, as it were automatically, unwaveringly. They break in and cut in, strewing ever more extensively the carpet of canes in their rear, but the wall they attack is ten times as dense as the thickest field of corn and twice as high. The master or overseer, on horseback, stands about and calls[311] sharply to the workers in French patois. He may be white Creole, but is often as dark as his gang. Where sugar is not rising, beyond the plantations if you walk as far, Nature seems sunk in swamp and swarming with snakes. The low jungle over the Mississippi marshes has many alligators and a multitude of other reptiles.

In a clearing of the sugar harvest it is possible to sit on a hummock of grass and see something of a plantation as a whole. It is a cloudless day with the faintest haze over the blueness of the sky. The sun heat is tempered by a delightful air which keeps on moving all the time like an invisible river of health and vigor. There is a whispering in the myriads of the canes, and you hear the slashing and the clumping of the cutting which is going on all the while. On one hand are the rudimentary huts of the Negroes, like dressing rooms, on the other the lofty refinery of white-painted corrugated iron, with many chimneys and cranes. The refinery, using electric power taken from the river, works off all the local cane and also imports large quantities of raw sugar brought from Cuba. Pile driving is going on in the Mississippi, and there will soon be a landing stage to which the Cuban steamers themselves can approach. The Louisiana cane is red and the Cuban is yellow-green, and the latter is much the sweeter. On the plantation, where a fair[312] stretch of ground has been cleared, the motor plough is at work with huge spiked wheels, turning the black soil over the sugar seed for next year. The cane has an eye at each joint, the eye is the seed, and from it sprouts next year’s plant, growing at right angles to the old cane in the earth. “In February,” says the young Creole ploughman, “the young plants have to be dug up and replanted. Work goes on steadily all the year round.”

I resumed my way up the Mississippi on an old, broken-down steamer with a remarkably high, wooden, dripping, splashing paddle wheel. To go by boat used to be a favorite way of traveling, but the new railways on each side of the great river have killed the water traffic by taking away all large freight. It does not seem a profitable enterprise to ply the Mississippi for passengers alone. There are therefore only a few river steamers left, and these have to call at all the tiniest and obscurest waterside places and lumber camps, and can seldom make more than forty or fifty miles a day. Few people will travel a week or ten days or a fortnight or anything you like to Memphis when a locomotive will do it in twenty-four hours. The passengers therefore sit in stuffy trains listening to the vers libre of the man who offers in a low voice: chewing gum, cigarettes, iced coco-cola; and the country whirls past them unprofitably. The cotton bales which used to go down stream in thousands[313] upon river steamers are now closely packed in railway trucks; and the molasses goes no longer in barrels, but in huge, iron cisterns on wheels. There is therefore little traffic on the mighty river—she is happier and freer, more as she was of yore, with few steamers, few barges, few rafts—instead, only an occasional rowing boat and a ferry. The water is brown and vast and placid, and runs in many courses beyond wooded islands, beyond vast, swampy forks and tongues of the mainland. It is a sort of café-au-lait color, and the shadows mantle softly upon it deliciously. Willows grow in the water on its shores and islands, and in shadow or sunlight the water laps gently the many tree trunks or lies still under the green shade of the branches. It is a great, intricate, unexplored labyrinth of waters, and now you see it unadorned and lovely, with no advertisements on its banks and no shoddy reminder of our civilization on any hand—the Mississippi as she was when we first saw her. I traveled on a boat called Senator Cordill and we made barely thirty miles a day, so many were the stopping places, so many the accidents. It cost a little over a dollar a day, including board, and was the nearest approach to a gift. The ship had a motley gang of colored laborers fetching freight on their backs in intermittent procession, beating out dust from the long, wooden gangway up which they tramped with their burdens. The[314] wooden paddle wheel, which was ten feet high, had got into disrepair, and at a riverside town where we stopped some colored carpenters were at work fitting new wooden parts into her while close-cropped Negroes with coal-dusted skulls shoveled coal aboard from a lighter. We had three wooden decks rolling with small freight for tiny places in Louisiana, Mississippi State, and Arkansas. In the cabins were huge family bedsteads, and no locks on the doors. When the wheel was repaired and the time came for departure the Negro crew deserted en masse, and the captain, with the unlighted cigar which he had rolled and bitten in his capacious mouth all day, stood on the bank and accosted all and sundry, begging them to come aboard and work on the ship. Meanwhile in a quayside hut Negro girls were “shimmying” as they brought in food for their colored boys, and our erstwhile crew was heard singing and shouting. Only next morning did we get enough hands, and at the misty dawn, when the river was so still that it looked like an unbroken sheet of ice, we raised anchor and plunged outward again. In the main current whole trees were seen to be floating, and our wheel might easily strike one of them and get broken again. We sat down to breakfast, the eight passengers: one was a judge, another a district attorney, a third was an agent for timber, and the rest were women. The china at table was of different shapes and sizes, and[315] there were only three teaspoons—so the rest of the passengers were served with tablespoons for their coffee.

Judge T—— insisted on having a teaspoon from the colored girl who waited on us, but was obliged to content himself with the tablespoon laid.

“Teaspoons is sca’ce,” said she.

We stop at various “landing places,” points and creeks and bends, the boat generally coming close to shore. A long plank is thrown out, and then commences the cakewalk of the Negro “rousters” carrying out all manner of goods—in one place it is materials for the building of a church—and bringing back cotton bales or whatever else may be waiting for us. It is a sight at which one could gaze spellbound for hours; for the Negroes keep in step and seem listening to an inaudible music. They lurch with their shoulders, kick out with their flexible knees, and whether taking long strides or marking time they keep in unison with the whole, their heads bent, their eyes half closed and bleared with some inner preoccupation. They are in all manner of ragged garments: one has a lilac-covered hat, another an old dressing gown, others are in sloppy blue overalls, some wear shabby Cuban hats, and they go screeching and singing and dodging knocks on the head, but always keeping step with the dance. The captain, with yesterday’s unlit cigar stuck in[316] the side of his month, gives directions about each bit of freight, using wonderful expressions of abuse and otherwise “encouraging” the “niggers.” Looking at the “rousters” you can easily understand that dancing of a certain kind is innate with the Negro and springs from him. He has an inborn sense of the beating of time which we call rhythm. It is so exaggerated that it tilts out ridiculously with his stomach and controls inanely his bobbing head and nose and dropping eyes. He looks a savage, but he is spellbound. He is completely illiterate and largely unintelligent, but he has solved the problem of carrying huge cotton bales to the ship, providing a rhythmical physical stream for them to flow upon. It is not half the effort that it would be to white people without rhythm.

One of the reasons why the Negroes box so well is because they do it in the same rhythmical way they shift these cotton bales.

Presently they commence to sing while they haul up the anchor, and a rowing boat passing us with Negro oarsmen is also choric with bright, hard, rhythmic music. These people understand music and time in their bodies, not in their minds. Their blood and their nerves have consciousness of tempo.

The many stops in Mississippi State afford opportunities of going ashore, picking up wild pecan nuts, talking to Negroes at their cabin doors. One never sees a white man. This along[317] the Mississippi is the real black belt. According to the census, the Negro is in a clear majority. This causes the Whites to be always apprehensive. The idea prevails that the Black can only be kept in his place by terror. As regards this point of view, the Whites prize above everything solidarity of opinion. They hold that they cannot afford to discuss the matter, and they will tolerate no cleavage. In politics all are of course Democrats, and if the American Democratic party is on the whole much less liable to “splits” than the Republican party, it is largely due to the discipline of the black belt.

“They outnumber us ten to one,” says the agent for timber, exaggerating characteristically. “It’s come to such a point hereabout that they’re pulling the white women out of their houses. It’s done every day.”

I could not believe that.

“But if a Black attacks a white woman hereabouts he is certain to be lynched, and knows it,” said I.

“Yes, it’s the only way.”

“But there is not a lynching every day?”


“So there are not really so many attacks on the women.”

But the day-moth of his thought refused to be caught in a logical net.

“Did you ever see a man tarred and feathered?” I asked of the district attorney.


“No, but I’ve seen one lynched, and helped to lynch him,” said he.

“But lynching isn’t very good for legal business,” I hazarded.

He at once felt ruffled.

“It doesn’t make any difference to the Negro,” said he. “He hasn’t got a soul. They don’t go to heaven or hell.”

“How do you make that out?”

“They’re just animals,” said he. “They were never in the Garden of Eden, for Adam and Eve were white. Consequently, as they had no part in original sin, they have no share in our salvation either. Christ did not come to save those who never fell from grace.”

“I never heard that before,” said I, and was so greatly amused I could not help showing it.

The attorney sought me out afterwards with Biblical proof. The sons of Cain, it appears, took themselves wives from the daughters of men; these other men were not descended from Adam and were probably Negroes—the attorney was perfectly serious. The judge, however, to whom we referred the matter, was of a cynical turn of mind, and chuckled heartily. “I am a subscriber to foreign missions,” said he. “If they have not Adam for their father, why do we send missionaries to Africa?”

One of the chief places which I wished to visit was the Negro city of Mound Bayou, in the Mississippi Delta. In the blackest part of the[319] State of Mississippi this is a city which is entirely Negro, possesses a Negro mayor, Negro policemen, and indeed is entirely without accommodation for white men. I stayed there a night in a Negro hotel where the old wall paper was in hundreds of peeling strips hanging on the walls, and everything in the bedroom was broken. It is a musical sort of city, all a-jangle with the banjo and the brassy clamor of the gramophone. Places of amusement are many—the Lyceum, the Casino, the Bon-Ton café (with jazzy music), the Luck Coles restaurant, etc.; one sees many advertisements of minstrel shows. But it is a working city, and at present, with the high cotton prices, it is tasting real prosperity. It is situated in the rich land of the Delta, very malarial and snake-haunted, and therefore not very suitable for white men, but the district produces the highest quality of cotton in the United States. It is in a way a one-man city, and owes most to Charles Banks, who is one of those agreeable and talented African giants, who, like Dr. Moton and others, seem to have an unexpected capacity for greatness. His energy and calm foresight and his money guarantee the gins and the cottonseed-oil factory and the Negro bank and probably the local newspaper and one or other of the churches.

In Mound Bayou is no segregation and no racial trouble, and the Negroes show how happily they can live when unmolested. It is a type[320] of settlement well worth encouraging. The chief interest of the city just now is the building of a “consolidated school.” All the small schools are to be pulled down, and the money has been subscribed for the building of a handsome new school on modern lines. It will be put up facing the Carnegie Library Building. I was sorry to see the latter devoid of books, and used as a Sunday school, but the building was given before the city was ready for the responsible work of organizing and controlling a public library. I talked in the infants’ school to a strange array of children with heads like marbles, and found a common chord in interest and love for animals. We imitated together all the animals we knew, and agreed that no one who did not love animals ever came to anything in this world. But if they loved their animals, they must love teacher too. I talked in the beautiful Wesleyan church on the difference between E pluribus unum and E pluribus duo, but that was to grown-ups—and they were so dull, compared with the children. The point was, however, that though the United States might fail to obtain unity of race, her peoples, white and black and yellow, Teutonic and Slav and the rest, could still be one in ideal.

“We are trying here to understand the beauty of being black,” said one of the audience edifyingly. “Solomon’s bride herself was black,” said he.


Mound Bayou is the pride of Mississippi, as far as the black part of it is concerned. The crowds that appear when a train comes in remind one of similar pictures in Africa. America seems to have disappeared and Africa to have been substituted. An entirely black South, or even one State entirely black, is, however, unthinkable. The white man has shed too much blood for his ideals there. He can never easily abandon any part of it. He must rise to the standard of his sacrifices. To my eyes, Mound Bayou was a little pathetic—like the sort of small establishment of a woman who has been separated from a rich husband through estrangement or desertion. It is not quite in the nature of things, and is more like a courageous protest than the beginning of something new. It stands, however, as a symbol of incompatibility of temperament.

There are many who say that when left to himself the Negro slips back from civilization into a primitive state of laziness or savagery, and they instance life in Haiti and the supposed failure of Liberia. It is said that he does not keep up the white man’s standard, he is not so strenuous, he is not a good organizer, nor dependable. That is not entirely true, but there is some truth in it. Mound Bayou is situated in a highly malarial region, unfitted for white habitation, but being surrounded with the best cotton-growing land in America it ought to be[322] exceedingly prosperous. The best that can be said is that the local planters are in a better plight than their neighbors who are intermingled with Whites. Complete financial failure has threatened the little city in the past, and if it were not for the founder, Mr. Montgomery, and its financier, Mr. Banks, most of the proprietorship must have passed over into white hands. To all appearances, the Negro needs decent white co-operation in business, and mixed commercial relationships are better than segregated ones. The difficulty is to find conscientious business Whites who realize that the prosperity of the Negro is worth while. The fixed idea of the white business man is to fool the Negro and exploit him to the last penny.

Mound Bayou has its own Negro cotton buyers, who give a fair price for the cotton. But it is with the greatest difficulty that a Negro planter can obtain from a white buyer the true market price, and it is rare that a landlord who receives cotton bales as rent will take into consideration the enhanced price of cotton, even though the enhancement is supposed to be primarily due to the smallness of the harvest. Where the white man is in control it is true the Negro produces more because he has to in order to live, but he is nevertheless the victim of a systematized swindling, and he knows it. It is causing a growing discontent among the black peasantry, and I was continually told about it.


One of the worst riots of 1919 took place on the other side of the river—in the State of Arkansas, at Elaine. It is also in this so-called Delta region. The origin of the riot was rooted in the economic problem. The white buyers and landlords had been consistently defrauding the Negro countryside by overlooking the enhanced value of cotton. Cotton had risen in price from a pre-war average of ten cents a pound to twenty-eight cents in 1917 and actually to forty cents in the current year. Formerly it was generally represented to the Negro that he was always deep in debt for his “rations” or his rent. The white policy was to keep the Negro in debt. It was never the custom to render him accounts or to argue with him when he claimed more than was handed him.

“You had a fine crop—you’re just about straight,” was a common greeting in the fall of 1919.

But with the prolific Delta crop of cotton and a quadruple price, the discontent of the Negro can be imagined. It was intense, and was growing.

There are two versions of the outcome of it. One is that a firm of white lawyers approached some of the Negro planters with an idea of taking the matter to court and seeing what could be obtained in redress. The other is that the Negroes “got together,” organized a body called “The Farmers’ Progressive Union,[324]” which then approached the firm of lawyers on its own account. I incline to think that the former is the more probable. The white firm thought there was money to be made from fighting Negro claims. Some of the Negroes were actually agreed to take the matter to a Federal Grand Jury, and charge the Whites with frustration of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The Negroes were undoubtedly daring, and held public meetings and used sufficient bravado to alarm the local white population. The rumor flew from farm to farm that the Negroes were plotting an insurrection. Someone discovered a heap of rifles stacked where they had been left and forgotten when the Armistice had interrupted drilling. This gave the necessary color to the idea. Besides the rusty rifles, the Negroes were seen to be not without firearms of one kind or another. The Negro loves weapons, as an Oriental loves jewelry. Shotguns and revolvers in plenty are to be found in the cabins of the colored country folk. The Whites put up a provocateur as before a pogrom in Russia. He started firing on Negroes at random in the Elaine streets. Then two white officials attempted to break into a Negro meeting, resorted to arms, and were met by firing in return. One of the Whites was killed, the other wounded. This started the three days of destruction in Phillips County. The whole Negro population[325] was rounded up by white troops and farmers with rifles. Machine guns were even brought into play against an imaginary black army. A great number of Negroes were put in a stockade under military arrest, many were killed, many wounded. And three hundred were placed in jail and charged with riot and murder. No Whites were arrested. The governor, a Mr. Brough, was largely responsible for this method of investigating the alleged conspiracy of the Negroes to make an insurrection. The whole occurrence was astonishingly ugly, and it was followed by ten-minute trials before exclusively white juries, and swift sentences to electrocution for some Negro prisoners, and to long terms of penal servitude for others. The riot and the trials so exasperated Negroes throughout the United States that there is no doubt a Federal Commission of impartial men might well have been appointed to investigate the whole affair, both as regards its inception and as regards its military culmination and its aftermath of trial and punishment. As it is, though Governor Brough says to the Negroes, “You did plan an insurrection,” and though the Whites of Elaine may feel happier and more secure, it is an obvious truism that the white population of other States cannot be feeling more secure because of it, and that the Negroes in other districts feel less secure—they feel the[326] need to arm. It has caused a great increase in public insecurity. Perhaps because of this the riot has been more discussed than other riots. Somewhat shocked and fretful, the governor, who is probably a brisk business man, and in no way like one of those more neurotic governors of Russian provinces which occur in Aùdreyev’s tales, called a meeting. Some four hundred Whites and tamed Negroes were brought together to see what could be done to improve race relationship. This was a month after these events.

The Commercial Appeal of Memphis reports the governor’s remarks:

“This meeting has been called for the purpose of a heart-to-heart discussion of the relations between the white people and the Negroes of the State. These relations have become strained, especially by the recent rebellion in Phillips County. I say ‘rebellion’ advisedly and without qualifications, for it was an insurrection, and a damnable one.

“And I want to say in the beginning that Arkansas is going to handle her own problems. I do not intend to go to New York City or to Topeka, Kansas. When I want advice from Negroes I shall ask it from Arkansas Negroes, and when I want similar advice from white people, I shall get it from the white people of Arkansas.


“I also wish to say that I do not intend to be intimidated by any publications or any letters I may receive. I have already received several letters which said that if I permitted the execution of these twelve Negroes from Phillips County to go through, I would be assassinated. One of the letters contained a crude drawing of a coffin, represented to be my own in case the Negroes were electrocuted. I received one letter to-day which stated that the entire city of Helena would be burned if these Negroes went to their death. But I repeat that I will not be intimidated by any outside influence in this question. Our own questions must be settled within the boundaries of our State, and I believe that there are not enough representative Negroes in the State to do this.”

So said the governor, but it is rather a question whether in these days of Leagues of Nations and Alliances and “sympathies” one State like Arkansas, washed partly by a great river, can live entirely within its own boundaries and without outside consideration.

The mighty Mississippi rolls onward, bearing the spars and the sands of half the States of America to the sea. And after the massacre at Elaine, for some days, dead bodies of Negroes were washed up on other shores. Doleful messengers, these, on the river of Time.




I suppose not many make the pilgrimage of America; land in New England with the Puritans or sail up the James River with the Cavaliers, linger reflectively at Mt. Vernon, consider Boston Harbor and the tax on tea, pause at Bunker Hill, and so on—or visit Sumter, where the Stars and Stripes were hauled down by the South, and then make the tour of the war which followed. It would be worth while—to think a little at Gettysburg and think again in Georgia, walking perchance to the sea after General Sherman. No such pilgrimage would be complete without riding the great mother river of America, and it occurred to me that a fitting place in which to end a pilgrimage, as far as the South is concerned, might be Vicksburg, with its vast National Cemetery of the dead of the Civil War. It is one of the most remarkable war shrines in any land. But, more than that, it is a solemn reminder of all the brothers’ blood that can be shed out of pride and vainglory of heart, and an obstinate refusal on the part of one section of a nation to follow the guiding star of the whole.


Vicksburg is a beautiful city, built on a steep cliff, continually in sight of the broad, brown, passive streams of the Delta and the strips of forest which break up the waters. Above it all are the beautiful lawns and terraces of the National Cemetery rising from the Mississippi shore, and the dead lie in view, as it were, of the broad loveliness of the river. Sixteen thousand Americans hallow the soil. They are mostly of Grant’s army, but over and above there is another burying ground with many of his enemies. No vulgar notice warns you not to pick the flowers. Pick them if you will. But poems and prayers are scattered everywhere, and still as you go you pause and read, and pause and read again—

On Fame’s eternal camping ground

Their silent tents are spread,

And glory guards with solemn round

The bivouac of the dead.

Tiny cubes of white marble give the soldiers’ numbers and names and regiments. It reminds one now somehow of the great cemeteries of France.

The mighty troop, the flashing blade,

The bugle’s stirring blast,

The charge, the dreadful cannonade,

The din, the shout, are past,

says the next notice board. And yet, are they past? Are they not always going on—as long as the cause for which the soldiers fought remains?


They fought for unity. They fought also for freedom. They had to do what fanatical old John Brown set out to do at Harper’s Ferry, try to release the land from that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. They strove to do it by righteous force. They were martyrs on the altar of their country. And there is no doubt their country loved them for their devotion. No land honors more its heroic dead than does America. It is no mean thing to have died for America. The smoke still rises to heaven where her men were slain, and it will rise until their cause is completely vindicated.

Down below in the city, at the corner of Clay and Farmer Streets, last year they burned a Negro to death, suspending him from a tree over a slow fire. According to the evening paper, “The flesh on the body began to crinkle and blister. The face of the Negro became horribly distorted with pain. He assumed an attitude of prayer, raising his palms together.”

When the victim was dead the leader of the mob cried out: “Have you had enough fun, boys?” And they cut him down.

That Negro is with John Brown and the repentant thief and many another such, in Paradise. But those who did the deed are damned. The Negroes have been fleeing from Vicksburg ever since this terrible day. But the dead of the old war remain in these great cemeteries.[331] Something has been effected: the children of the slaves are become free, but the children of those who used to be masters still take a Negro now and then and burn him to death.

I sat on a pyramid of lawn and looked down to the river. There was a din of sawmills. The Memphis train went howling past, and then with a petty rush on the road below an electric trolley car from Vicksburg. The world went on in seeming peace. A throng of Negro workmen holding on to one another came singing along the way. They were not slaves, anyway. They had life, the beginnings of new life. Though fraught with grave dangers, impeded by prejudice and hate and a thousand difficulties—nevertheless it was new life that they had. And those who died to give it them lie in these quiet graves while the river of life goes past. They did not mean that the gift of freedom should be tarnished. Most of them would be ready to die again to complete the gift they gave. And John Brown himself if he should reappear would not be sweetened by what he saw happening in the world. His soul goes marching on, but it is still the soul of vengeance and wrath.



Best men, 18-25 $1,200 $1,300
Fair men 950 1,050
Boys 375 950
Young women 800 1,000
Girls, 5 ft. 750 850
4 ft. 9 ins. 700 750
4 ft. 350 450
—“A Journey Through the Seaboard
Slave States,” by F. L. Olmsted.

[2] “Two Years on a Georgian Plantation,” by Frances Kemble.

[3] “Sherman’s Memoirs.”

[4] Field Orders 119 and 120, abbreviated.

[5] “Negro Migration in 1916-17,” Government Printing Office, Washington, 1919.


—Obvious print and punctuation errors were corrected.

—The transcriber of this project created the book cover image using the title page of the original book. The image is placed in the public domain.