The Souls of Black Folk
W. E. B. Du Bois.

Part 3 out of 4

occupied a house with seven rooms; only fourteen have five
rooms or more. The mass live in one- and two-room homes.

The size and arrangements of a people's homes are no
unfair index of their condition. If, then, we inquire more
carefully into these Negro homes, we find much that is
unsatisfactory. All over the face of the land is the one-room
cabin,--now standing in the shadow of the Big House, now
staring at the dusty road, now rising dark and sombre amid
the green of the cotton-fields. It is nearly always old and bare,
built of rough boards, and neither plastered nor ceiled. Light
and ventilation are supplied by the single door and by the
square hole in the wall with its wooden shutter. There is no
glass, porch, or ornamentation without. Within is a fireplace,
black and smoky, and usually unsteady with age. A bed or
two, a table, a wooden chest, and a few chairs compose the
furniture; while a stray show-bill or a newspaper makes up
the decorations for the walls. Now and then one may find
such a cabin kept scrupulously neat, with merry steaming
fireplaces and hospitable door; but the majority are dirty and
dilapidated, smelling of eating and sleeping, poorly venti-
lated, and anything but homes.

Above all, the cabins are crowded. We have come to associ-
ate crowding with homes in cities almost exclusively. This is
primarily because we have so little accurate knowledge of
country life. Here in Dougherty County one may find families
of eight and ten occupying one or two rooms, and for every
ten rooms of house accommodation for the Negroes there are
twenty-five persons. The worst tenement abominations of
New York do not have above twenty-two persons for every
ten rooms. Of course, one small, close room in a city,
without a yard, is in many respects worse than the larger
single country room. In other respects it is better; it has glass
windows, a decent chimney, and a trustworthy floor. The
single great advantage of the Negro peasant is that he may
spend most of his life outside his hovel, in the open fields.

There are four chief causes of these wretched homes: First,
long custom born of slavery has assigned such homes to
Negroes; white laborers would be offered better accommoda-
tions, and might, for that and similar reasons, give better
work. Secondly, the Negroes, used to such accommodations,
do not as a rule demand better; they do not know what better
houses mean. Thirdly, the landlords as a class have not yet
come to realize that it is a good business investment to raise
the standard of living among labor by slow and judicious
methods; that a Negro laborer who demands three rooms and
fifty cents a day would give more efficient work and leave a
larger profit than a discouraged toiler herding his family in
one room and working for thirty cents. Lastly, among such
conditions of life there are few incentives to make the laborer
become a better farmer. If he is ambitious, he moves to town
or tries other labor; as a tenant-farmer his outlook is almost
hopeless, and following it as a makeshift, he takes the house
that is given him without protest.

In such homes, then, these Negro peasants live. The fami-
lies are both small and large; there are many single tenants,
--widows and bachelors, and remnants of broken groups.
The system of labor and the size of the houses both tend to
the breaking up of family groups: the grown children go away
as contract hands or migrate to town, the sister goes into
service; and so one finds many families with hosts of babies,
and many newly married couples, but comparatively few
families with half-grown and grown sons and daughters. The
average size of Negro families has undoubtedly decreased
since the war, primarily from economic stress. In Russia over
a third of the bridegrooms and over half the brides are under
twenty; the same was true of the antebellum Negroes. To-
day, however, very few of the boys and less than a fifth of
the Negro girls under twenty are married. The young men
marry between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five; the
young women between twenty and thirty. Such postponement
is due to the difficulty of earning sufficient to rear and
support a family; and it undoubtedly leads, in the country
districts, to sexual immorality. The form of this immorality,
however, is very seldom that of prostitution, and less fre-
quently that of illegitimacy than one would imagine. Rather,
it takes the form of separation and desertion after a family
group has been formed. The number of separated persons is
thirty-five to the thousand,--a very large number. It would
of course be unfair to compare this number with divorce
statistics, for many of these separated women are in reality
widowed, were the truth known, and in other cases the
separation is not permanent. Nevertheless, here lies the seat
of greatest moral danger. There is little or no prostitution
among these Negroes, and over three-fourths of the families, as
found by house-to-house investigation, deserve to be classed
as decent people with considerable regard for female chastity.
To be sure, the ideas of the mass would not suit New
England, and there are many loose habits and notions. Yet
the rate of illegitimacy is undoubtedly lower than in Austria
or Italy, and the women as a class are modest. The plague-
spot in sexual relations is easy marriage and easy separation.
This is no sudden development, nor the fruit of Emancipa-
tion. It is the plain heritage from slavery. In those days Sam,
with his master's consent, "took up" with Mary. No cere-
mony was necessary, and in the busy life of the great planta-
tions of the Black Belt it was usually dispensed with. If now
the master needed Sam's work in another plantation or in
another part of the same plantation, or if he took a notion to
sell the slave, Sam's married life with Mary was usually
unceremoniously broken, and then it was clearly to the mas-
ter's interest to have both of them take new mates. This
widespread custom of two centuries has not been eradicated
in thirty years. To-day Sam's grandson "takes up" with a
woman without license or ceremony; they live together de-
cently and honestly, and are, to all intents and purposes, man
and wife. Sometimes these unions are never broken until
death; but in too many cases family quarrels, a roving spirit,
a rival suitor, or perhaps more frequently the hopeless battle
to support a family, lead to separation, and a broken house-
hold is the result. The Negro church has done much to stop
this practice, and now most marriage ceremonies are per-
formed by the pastors. Nevertheless, the evil is still deep
seated, and only a general raising of the standard of living
will finally cure it.

Looking now at the county black population as a whole, it
is fair to characterize it as poor and ignorant. Perhaps ten per
cent compose the well-to-do and the best of the laborers,
while at least nine per cent are thoroughly lewd and vicious.
The rest, over eighty per cent, are poor and ignorant, fairly
honest and well meaning, plodding, and to a degree shiftless,
with some but not great sexual looseness. Such class lines are
by no means fixed; they vary, one might almost say, with the
price of cotton. The degree of ignorance cannot easily be
expressed. We may say, for instance, that nearly two-thirds
of them cannot read or write. This but partially expresses the
fact. They are ignorant of the world about them, of modern
economic organization, of the function of government, of
individual worth and possibilities,--of nearly all those things
which slavery in self-defence had to keep them from learning.
Much that the white boy imbibes from his earliest social
atmosphere forms the puzzling problems of the black boy's
mature years. America is not another word for Opportunity
to all her sons.

It is easy for us to lose ourselves in details in endeavoring
to grasp and comprehend the real condition of a mass of human
beings. We often forget that each unit in the mass is a
throbbing human soul. Ignorant it may be, and poverty stricken,
black and curious in limb and ways and thought; and yet it
loves and hates, it toils and tires, it laughs and weeps its
bitter tears, and looks in vague and awful longing at the grim
horizon of its life,--all this, even as you and I. These black
thousands are not in reality lazy; they are improvident and
careless; they insist on breaking the monotony of toil with a
glimpse at the great town-world on Saturday; they have their
loafers and their rascals; but the great mass of them work
continuously and faithfully for a return, and under circum-
stances that would call forth equal voluntary effort from few
if any other modern laboring class. Over eighty-eight per cent
of them--men, women, and children--are farmers. Indeed,
this is almost the only industry. Most of the children get their
schooling after the "crops are laid by," and very few there
are that stay in school after the spring work has begun.
Child-labor is to be found here in some of its worst phases, as
fostering ignorance and stunting physical development. With
the grown men of the county there is little variety in work:
thirteen hundred are farmers, and two hundred are laborers,
teamsters, etc., including twenty-four artisans, ten merchants,
twenty-one preachers, and four teachers. This narrowness of
life reaches its maximum among the women: thirteen hundred
and fifty of these are farm laborers, one hundred are servants
and washerwomen, leaving sixty-five housewives, eight teach-
ers, and six seamstresses.

Among this people there is no leisure class. We often forget
that in the United States over half the youth and adults are not
in the world earning incomes, but are making homes, learn-
ing of the world, or resting after the heat of the strife. But
here ninety-six per cent are toiling; no one with leisure to turn
the bare and cheerless cabin into a home, no old folks to sit
beside the fire and hand down traditions of the past; little of
careless happy childhood and dreaming youth. The dull mo-
notony of daily toil is broken only by the gayety of the
thoughtless and the Saturday trip to town. The toil, like all
farm toil, is monotonous, and here there are little machinery
and few tools to relieve its burdensome drudgery. But with all
this, it is work in the pure open air, and this is something in a
day when fresh air is scarce.

The land on the whole is still fertile, despite long abuse.
For nine or ten months in succession the crops will come if
asked: garden vegetables in April, grain in May, melons in
June and July, hay in August, sweet potatoes in September,
and cotton from then to Christmas. And yet on two-thirds of
the land there is but one crop, and that leaves the toilers in
debt. Why is this?

Away down the Baysan road, where the broad flat fields
are flanked by great oak forests, is a plantation; many thou-
sands of acres it used to run, here and there, and beyond the
great wood. Thirteen hundred human beings here obeyed the
call of one,--were his in body, and largely in soul. One of
them lives there yet,--a short, stocky man, his dull-brown
face seamed and drawn, and his tightly curled hair gray-
white. The crops? Just tolerable, he said; just tolerable. Get-
ting on? No--he wasn't getting on at all. Smith of Albany
"furnishes" him, and his rent is eight hundred pounds of
cotton. Can't make anything at that. Why didn't he buy land!
Humph! Takes money to buy land. And he turns away. Free!
The most piteous thing amid all the black ruin of war-time,
amid the broken fortunes of the masters, the blighted hopes of
mothers and maidens, and the fall of an empire,--the most
piteous thing amid all this was the black freedman who threw
down his hoe because the world called him free. What did
such a mockery of freedom mean? Not a cent of money, not
an inch of land, not a mouthful of victuals,--not even owner-
ship of the rags on his back. Free! On Saturday, once or
twice a month, the old master, before the war, used to dole
out bacon and meal to his Negroes. And after the first flush
of freedom wore off, and his true helplessness dawned on the
freedman, he came back and picked up his hoe, and old
master still doled out his bacon and meal. The legal form of
service was theoretically far different; in practice, task-work
or "cropping" was substituted for daily toil in gangs; and the
slave gradually became a metayer, or tenant on shares, in
name, but a laborer with indeterminate wages in fact.

Still the price of cotton fell, and gradually the landlords
deserted their plantations, and the reign of the merchant began.
The merchant of the Black Belt is a curious institution,--part
banker, part landlord, part banker, and part despot. His store,
which used most frequently to stand at the cross-roads and be-
come the centre of a weekly village, has now moved to town;
and thither the Negro tenant follows him. The merchant keeps
everything,--clothes and shoes, coffee and sugar, pork and
meal, canned and dried goods, wagons and ploughs, seed and
fertilizer,--and what he has not in stock he can give you an
order for at the store across the way. Here, then, comes the ten-
ant, Sam Scott, after he has contracted with some absent land-
lord's agent for hiring forty acres of land; he fingers his hat
nervously until the merchant finishes his morning chat with
Colonel Saunders, and calls out, "Well, Sam, what do you
want?" Sam wants him to "furnish" him,--i.e., to advance him
food and clothing for the year, and perhaps seed and tools, until
his crop is raised and sold. If Sam seems a favorable subject,
he and the merchant go to a lawyer, and Sam executes a chattel
mortgage on his mule and wagon in return for seed and a week's
rations. As soon as the green cotton-leaves appear above the
ground, another mortgage is given on the "crop." Every
Saturday, or at longer intervals, Sam calls upon the merchant
for his "rations"; a family of five usually gets about thirty
pounds of fat side-pork and a couple of bushels of cornmeal a
month. Besides this, clothing and shoes must be furnished; if
Sam or his family is sick, there are orders on the druggist and
doctor; if the mule wants shoeing, an order on the black-
smith, etc. If Sam is a hard worker and crops promise well,
he is often encouraged to buy more,--sugar, extra clothes,
perhaps a buggy. But he is seldom encouraged to save. When
cotton rose to ten cents last fall, the shrewd merchants of
Dougherty County sold a thousand buggies in one season,
mostly to black men.

The security offered for such transactions--a crop and
chattel mortgage--may at first seem slight. And, indeed, the
merchants tell many a true tale of shiftlessness and cheating;
of cotton picked at night, mules disappearing, and tenants
absconding. But on the whole the merchant of the Black Belt
is the most prosperous man in the section. So skilfully and so
closely has he drawn the bonds of the law about the tenant,
that the black man has often simply to choose between pau-
perism and crime; he "waives" all homestead exemptions in
his contract; he cannot touch his own mortgaged crop, which
the laws put almost in the full control of the land-owner and
of the merchant. When the crop is growing the merchant
watches it like a hawk; as soon as it is ready for market he
takes possession of it, sells it, pays the landowner his rent,
subtracts his bill for supplies, and if, as sometimes happens,
there is anything left, he hands it over to the black serf for his
Christmas celebration.

The direct result of this system is an all-cotton scheme of
agriculture and the continued bankruptcy of the tenant. The
currency of the Black Belt is cotton. It is a crop always
salable for ready money, not usually subject to great yearly
fluctuations in price, and one which the Negroes know how
to raise. The landlord therefore demands his rent in cotton,
and the merchant will accept mortgages on no other crop.
There is no use asking the black tenant, then, to diversify his
crops,--he cannot under this system. Moreover, the system is
bound to bankrupt the tenant. I remember once meeting a
little one-mule wagon on the River road. A young black
fellow sat in it driving listlessly, his elbows on his knees. His
dark-faced wife sat beside him, stolid, silent.

"Hello!" cried my driver,--he has a most imprudent way
of addressing these people, though they seem used to it,
--"what have you got there?"

"Meat and meal," answered the man, stopping. The meat
lay uncovered in the bottom of the wagon,--a great thin side
of fat pork covered with salt; the meal was in a white bushel

"What did you pay for that meat?"

"Ten cents a pound." It could have been bought for six or
seven cents cash.

"And the meal?"

"Two dollars." One dollar and ten cents is the cash price
in town. Here was a man paying five dollars for goods which
he could have bought for three dollars cash, and raised for
one dollar or one dollar and a half.

Yet it is not wholly his fault. The Negro farmer started
behind,--started in debt. This was not his choosing, but the
crime of this happy-go-lucky nation which goes blundering
along with its Reconstruction tragedies, its Spanish war inter-
ludes and Philippine matinees, just as though God really were
dead. Once in debt, it is no easy matter for a whole race to

In the year of low-priced cotton, 1898, out of three hun-
dred tenant families one hundred and seventy-five ended their
year's work in debt to the extent of fourteen thousand dollars;
fifty cleared nothing, and the remaining seventy-five made a
total profit of sixteen hundred dollars. The net indebtedness
of the black tenant families of the whole county must have
been at least sixty thousand dollars. In a more prosperous
year the situation is far better; but on the average the majority
of tenants end the year even, or in debt, which means that
they work for board and clothes. Such an economic organiza-
tion is radically wrong. Whose is the blame?

The underlying causes of this situation are complicated but
discernible. And one of the chief, outside the carelessness of
the nation in letting the slave start with nothing, is the
widespread opinion among the merchants and employers of
the Black Belt that only by the slavery of debt can the Negro
be kept at work. Without doubt, some pressure was necessary
at the beginning of the free-labor system to keep the listless
and lazy at work; and even to-day the mass of the Negro
laborers need stricter guardianship than most Northern labor-
ers. Behind this honest and widespread opinion dishonesty
and cheating of the ignorant laborers have a good chance to
take refuge. And to all this must be added the obvious fact
that a slave ancestry and a system of unrequited toil has not
improved the efficiency or temper of the mass of black
laborers. Nor is this peculiar to Sambo; it has in history been
just as true of John and Hans, of Jacques and Pat, of all
ground-down peasantries. Such is the situation of the mass of
the Negroes in the Black Belt to-day; and they are thinking
about it. Crime, and a cheap and dangerous socialism, are the
inevitable results of this pondering. I see now that ragged
black man sitting on a log, aimlessly whittling a stick. He
muttered to me with the murmur of many ages, when he said:
"White man sit down whole year; Nigger work day and night
and make crop; Nigger hardly gits bread and meat; white man
sittin' down gits all. It's wrong." And what do the better
classes of Negroes do to improve their situation? One of two
things: if any way possible, they buy land; if not, they
migrate to town. Just as centuries ago it was no easy thing for
the serf to escape into the freedom of town-life, even so
to-day there are hindrances laid in the way of county laborers.
In considerable parts of all the Gulf States, and especially in
Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas, the Negroes on the
plantations in the back-country districts are still held at forced
labor practically without wages. Especially is this true in
districts where the farmers are composed of the more ignorant
class of poor whites, and the Negroes are beyond the reach of
schools and intercourse with their advancing fellows. If such
a peon should run away, the sheriff, elected by white suf-
frage, can usually be depended on to catch the fugitive, return
him, and ask no questions. If he escape to another county, a
charge of petty thieving, easily true, can be depended upon to
secure his return. Even if some unduly officious person insist
upon a trial, neighborly comity will probably make his con-
viction sure, and then the labor due the county can easily be
bought by the master. Such a system is impossible in the
more civilized parts of the South, or near the large towns and
cities; but in those vast stretches of land beyond the telegraph
and the newspaper the spirit of the Thirteenth Amendment is
sadly broken. This represents the lowest economic depths of
the black American peasant; and in a study of the rise and
condition of the Negro freeholder we must trace his economic
progress from the modern serfdom.

Even in the better-ordered country districts of the South the
free movement of agricultural laborers is hindered by the
migration-agent laws. The "Associated Press" recently in-
formed the world of the arrest of a young white man in
Southern Georgia who represented the "Atlantic Naval Sup-
plies Company," and who "was caught in the act of enticing
hands from the turpentine farm of Mr. John Greer." The
crime for which this young man was arrested is taxed five
hundred dollars for each county in which the employment
agent proposes to gather laborers for work outside the State.
Thus the Negroes' ignorance of the labor-market outside his
own vicinity is increased rather than diminished by the laws
of nearly every Southern State.

Similar to such measures is the unwritten law of the back
districts and small towns of the South, that the character of all
Negroes unknown to the mass of the community must be
vouched for by some white man. This is really a revival of
the old Roman idea of the patron under whose protection the
new-made freedman was put. In many instances this system
has been of great good to the Negro, and very often under the
protection and guidance of the former master's family, or
other white friends, the freedman progressed in wealth and
morality. But the same system has in other cases resulted in
the refusal of whole communities to recognize the right of a
Negro to change his habitation and to be master of his own
fortunes. A black stranger in Baker County, Georgia, for
instance, is liable to be stopped anywhere on the public
highway and made to state his business to the satisfaction of
any white interrogator. If he fails to give a suitable answer, or
seems too independent or "sassy," he may be arrested or
summarily driven away.

Thus it is that in the country districts of the South, by
written or unwritten law, peonage, hindrances to the migra-
tion of labor, and a system of white patronage exists over
large areas. Besides this, the chance for lawless oppression
and illegal exactions is vastly greater in the country than in
the city, and nearly all the more serious race disturbances of
the last decade have arisen from disputes in the count be-
tween master and man,--as, for instance, the Sam Hose
affair. As a result of such a situation, there arose, first, the
Black Belt; and, second, the Migration to Town. The Black
Belt was not, as many assumed, a movement toward fields of
labor under more genial climatic conditions; it was primarily
a huddling for self-protection,--a massing of the black popu-
lation for mutual defence in order to secure the peace and
tranquillity necessary to economic advance. This movement
took place between Emancipation and 1880, and only par-
tially accomplished the desired results. The rush to town
since 1880 is the counter-movement of men disappointed in
the economic opportunities of the Black Belt.

In Dougherty County, Georgia, one can see easily the
results of this experiment in huddling for protection. Only ten
per cent of the adult population was born in the county, and
yet the blacks outnumber the whites four or five to one. There
is undoubtedly a security to the blacks in their very numbers,--a
personal freedom from arbitrary treatment, which makes hun-
dreds of laborers cling to Dougherty in spite of low wages
and economic distress. But a change is coming, and slowly
but surely even here the agricultural laborers are drifting to
town and leaving the broad acres behind. Why is this? Why
do not the Negroes become land-owners, and build up the
black landed peasantry, which has for a generation and more
been the dream of philanthropist and statesman?

To the car-window sociologist, to the man who seeks to
understand and know the South by devoting the few leisure
hours of a holiday trip to unravelling the snarl of centuries,--to
such men very often the whole trouble with the black field-
hand may be summed up by Aunt Ophelia's word, "Shift-
less!" They have noted repeatedly scenes like one I saw last
summer. We were riding along the highroad to town at the
close of a long hot day. A couple of young black fellows
passed us in a muleteam, with several bushels of loose corn in
the ear. One was driving, listlessly bent forward, his elbows
on his knees,--a happy-go-lucky, careless picture of irrespon-
sibility. The other was fast asleep in the bottom of the wagon.
As we passed we noticed an ear of corn fall from the wagon.
They never saw it,--not they. A rod farther on we noted
another ear on the ground; and between that creeping mule
and town we counted twenty-six ears of corn. Shiftless? Yes,
the personification of shiftlessness. And yet follow those
boys: they are not lazy; to-morrow morning they'll be up with
the sun; they work hard when they do work, and they work
willingly. They have no sordid, selfish, money-getting ways,
but rather a fine disdain for mere cash. They'll loaf before
your face and work behind your back with good-natured
honesty. They'll steal a watermelon, and hand you back your
lost purse intact. Their great defect as laborers lies in their
lack of incentive beyond the mere pleasure of physical exer-
tion. They are careless because they have not found that it
pays to be careful; they are improvident because the im-
provident ones of their acquaintance get on about as well as
the provident. Above all, they cannot see why they should
take unusual pains to make the white man's land better, or to
fatten his mule, or save his corn. On the other hand, the
white land-owner argues that any attempt to improve these
laborers by increased responsibility, or higher wages, or
better homes, or land of their own, would be sure to result in
failure. He shows his Northern visitor the scarred and wretched
land; the ruined mansions, the worn-out soil and mortgaged
acres, and says, This is Negro freedom!

Now it happens that both master and man have just enough
argument on their respective sides to make it difficult for
them to understand each other. The Negro dimly personifies
in the white man all his ills and misfortunes; if he is poor, it
is because the white man seizes the fruit of his toil; if he is
ignorant, it is because the white man gives him neither time
nor facilities to learn; and, indeed, if any misfortune happens
to him, it is because of some hidden machinations of "white
folks." On the other hand, the masters and the masters' sons
have never been able to see why the Negro, instead of settling
down to he day-laborers for bread and clothes, are infected
with a silly desire to rise in the world, and why they are
sulky, dissatisfied, and careless, where their fathers were
happy and dumb and faithful. "Why, you niggers have an
easier time than I do," said a puzzled Albany merchant to his
black customer. "Yes," he replied, "and so does yo' hogs."

Taking, then, the dissatisfied and shiftless field-hand as a
starting-point, let us inquire how the black thousands of
Dougherty have struggled from him up toward their ideal,
and what that ideal is. All social struggle is evidenced by the
rise, first of economic, then of social classes, among a homo-
geneous population. To-day the following economic classes
are plainly differentiated among these Negroes.

A "submerged tenth" of croppers, with a few paupers;
forty per cent who are metayers and thirty-nine per cent of
semi-metayers and wage-laborers. There are left five per cent
of money-renters and six per cent of freeholders,--the "Up-
per Ten" of the land. The croppers are entirely without
capital, even in the limited sense of food or money to keep
them from seed-time to harvest. All they furnish is their
labor; the land-owner furnishes land, stock, tools, seed, and
house; and at the end of the year the laborer gets from a third
to a half of the crop. Out of his share, however, comes pay
and interest for food and clothing advanced him during the
year. Thus we have a laborer without capital and without
wages, and an employer whose capital is largely his employ-
ees' wages. It is an unsatisfactory arrangement, both for hirer
and hired, and is usually in vogue on poor land with hard-
pressed owners.

Above the croppers come the great mass of the black
population who work the land on their own responsibility,
paying rent in cotton and supported by the crop-mortgage
system. After the war this system was attractive to the freedmen
on account of its larger freedom and its possibility for making
a surplus. But with the carrying out of the crop-lien system,
the deterioration of the land, and the slavery of debt, the
position of the metayers has sunk to a dead level of practi-
cally unrewarded toil. Formerly all tenants had some capital,
and often considerable; but absentee landlordism, rising rack-
rent, and failing cotton have stripped them well-nigh of all,
and probably not over half of them to-day own their mules.
The change from cropper to tenant was accomplished by
fixing the rent. If, now, the rent fixed was reasonable, this
was an incentive to the tenant to strive. On the other hand, if
the rent was too high, or if the land deteriorated, the result
was to discourage and check the efforts of the black peas-
antry. There is no doubt that the latter case is true; that in
Dougherty County every economic advantage of the price of
cotton in market and of the strivings of the tenant has been
taken advantage of by the landlords and merchants, and
swallowed up in rent and interest. If cotton rose in price, the
rent rose even higher; if cotton fell, the rent remained or
followed reluctantly. If the tenant worked hard and raised a
large crop, his rent was raised the next year; if that year the
crop failed, his corn was confiscated and his mule sold for
debt. There were, of course, exceptions to this,--cases of
personal kindness and forbearance; but in the vast majority of
cases the rule was to extract the uttermost farthing from the
mass of the black farm laborers.

The average metayer pays from twenty to thirty per cent of
his crop in rent. The result of such rack-rent can only be
evil,--abuse and neglect of the soil, deterioration in the
character of the laborers, and a widespread sense of injustice.
"Wherever the country is poor," cried Arthur Young, "it is
in the hands of metayers," and "their condition is more
wretched than that of day-laborers." He was talking of Italy a
century ago; but he might have been talking of Dougherty
County to-day. And especially is that true to-day which he
declares was true in France before the Revolution: "The
metayers are considered as little better than menial servants,
removable at pleasure, and obliged to conform in all things to
the will of the landlords." On this low plane half the black
population of Dougherty County--perhaps more than half the
black millions of this land--are to-day struggling.

A degree above these we may place those laborers who
receive money wages for their work. Some receive a house
with perhaps a garden-spot; then supplies of food and cloth-
ing are advanced, and certain fixed wages are given at the
end of the year, varying from thirty to sixty dollars, out of
which the supplies must be paid for, with interest. About
eighteen per cent of the population belong to this class of
semi-metayers, while twenty-two per cent are laborers paid
by the month or year, and are either "furnished" by their
own savings or perhaps more usually by some merchant who
takes his chances of payment. Such laborers receive from
thirty-five to fifty cents a day during the working season.
They are usually young unmarried persons, some being women;
and when they marry they sink to the class of metayers, or,
more seldom, become renters.

The renters for fixed money rentals are the first of the
emerging classes, and form five per cent of the families. The
sole advantage of this small class is their freedom to choose
their crops, and the increased responsibility which comes
through having money transactions. While some of the rent-
ers differ little in condition from the metayers, yet on the
whole they are more intelligent and responsible persons, and
are the ones who eventually become land-owners. Their bet-
ter character and greater shrewdness enable them to gain,
perhaps to demand, better terms in rents; rented farms, vary-
ing from forty to a hundred acres, bear an average rental of
about fifty-four dollars a year. The men who conduct such
farms do not long remain renters; either they sink to meta-
yers, or with a successful series of harvests rise to be

In 1870 the tax-books of Dougherty report no Negroes as
landholders. If there were any such at that time,--and there
may have been a few,--their land was probably held in the
name of some white patron,--a method not uncommon
during slavery. In 1875 ownership of land had begun with
seven hundred and fifty acres; ten years later this had in-
creased to over sixty-five hundred acres, to nine thousand
acres in 1890 and ten thousand in 1900. The total assessed
property has in this same period risen from eighty thousand
dollars in 1875 to two hundred and forty thousand dollars in

Two circumstances complicate this development and make
it in some respects difficult to be sure of the real tendencies;
they are the panic of 1893, and the low price of cotton in
1898. Besides this, the system of assessing property in the
country districts of Georgia is somewhat antiquated and of
uncertain statistical value; there are no assessors, and each
man makes a sworn return to a tax-receiver. Thus public
opinion plays a large part, and the returns vary strangely from
year to year. Certainly these figures show the small amount
of accumulated capital among the Negroes, and the conse-
quent large dependence of their property on temporary pros-
perity. They have little to tide over a few years of economic
depression, and are at the mercy of the cotton-market far
more than the whites. And thus the land-owners, despite their
marvellous efforts, are really a transient class, continually
being depleted by those who fall back into the class of renters
or metayers, and augmented by newcomers from the masses.
Of one hundred land-owners in 1898, half had bought their
land since 1893, a fourth between 1890 and 1893, a fifth
between 1884 and 1890, and the rest between 1870 and 1884.
In all, one hundred and eighty-five Negroes have owned land
in this county since 1875.

If all the black land-owners who had ever held land here
had kept it or left it in the hands of black men, the Negroes
would have owned nearer thirty thousand acres than the
fifteen thousand they now hold. And yet these fifteen thou-
sand acres are a creditable showing,--a proof of no little
weight of the worth and ability of the Negro people. If they
had been given an economic start at Emancipation, if they
had been in an enlightened and rich community which really
desired their best good, then we might perhaps call such a
result small or even insignificant. But for a few thousand
poor ignorant field-hands, in the face of poverty, a falling
market, and social stress, to save and capitalize two hundred
thousand dollars in a generation has meant a tremendous
effort. The rise of a nation, the pressing forward of a social
class, means a bitter struggle, a hard and soul-sickening battle
with the world such as few of the more favored classes know
or appreciate.

Out of the hard economic conditions of this portion of the
Black Belt, only six per cent of the population have suc-
ceeded in emerging into peasant proprietorship; and these are
not all firmly fixed, but grow and shrink in number with the
wavering of the cotton-market. Fully ninety-four per cent have
struggled for land and failed, and half of them sit in hopeless
serfdom. For these there is one other avenue of escape toward
which they have turned in increasing numbers, namely, mi-
gration to town. A glance at the distribution of land among
the black owners curiously reveals this fact. In 1898 the
holdings were as follows: Under forty acres, forty-nine fami-
lies; forty to two hundred and fifty acres, seventeen families;
two hundred and fifty to one thousand acres, thirteen fami-
lies; one thousand or more acres, two families. Now in 1890
there were forty-four holdings, but only nine of these were
under forty acres. The great increase of holdings, then, has
come in the buying of small homesteads near town, where
their owners really share in the town life; this is a part of the
rush to town. And for every land-owner who has thus hurried
away from the narrow and hard conditions of country life,
how many field-hands, how many tenants, how many ruined
renters, have joined that long procession? Is it not strange
compensation? The sin of the country districts is visited on
the town, and the social sores of city life to-day may, here in
Dougherty County, and perhaps in many places near and far,
look for their final healing without the city walls.


Of the Sons of Master and Man

Life treads on life, and heart on heart;
We press too close in church and mart
To keep a dream or grave apart.


The world-old phenomenon of the contact of diverse races of
men is to have new exemplification during the new century.
Indeed, the characteristic of our age is the contact of European
civilization with the world's undeveloped peoples. Whatever
we may say of the results of such contact in the past, it
certainly forms a chapter in human action not pleasant to
look back upon. War, murder, slavery, extermination, and
debauchery,--this has again and again been the result of
carrying civilization and the blessed gospel to the isles of the
sea and the heathen without the law. Nor does it altogether
satisfy the conscience of the modern world to be told compla-
cently that all this has been right and proper, the fated
triumph of strength over weakness, of righteousness over
evil, of superiors over inferiors. It would certainly be sooth-
ing if one could readily believe all this; and yet there are too
many ugly facts for everything to be thus easily explained
away. We feel and know that there are many delicate differ-
ences in race psychology, numberless changes that our crude
social measurements are not yet able to follow minutely,
which explain much of history and social development. At
the same time, too, we know that these considerations have
never adequately explained or excused the triumph of brute
force and cunning over weakness and innocence.

It is, then, the strife of all honorable men of the twentieth
century to see that in the future competition of races the
survival of the fittest shall mean the triumph of the good, the
beautiful, and the true; that we may be able to preserve for
future civilization all that is really fine and noble and strong,
and not continue to put a premium on greed and impudence
and cruelty. To bring this hope to fruition, we are compelled
daily to turn more and more to a conscientious study of the
phenomena of race-contact,--to a study frank and fair, and
not falsified and colored by our wishes or our fears. And we
have in the South as fine a field for such a study as the world
affords,--a field, to be sure, which the average American
scientist deems somewhat beneath his dignity, and which the
average man who is not a scientist knows all about, but
nevertheless a line of study which by reason of the enormous
race complications with which God seems about to punish
this nation must increasingly claim our sober attention, study,
and thought, we must ask, what are the actual relations of
whites and blacks in the South? and we must be answered,
not by apology or fault-finding, but by a plain, unvarnished

In the civilized life of to-day the contact of men and their
relations to each other fall in a few main lines of action and
communication: there is, first, the physical proximity of home
and dwelling-places, the way in which neighborhoods group
themselves, and the contiguity of neighborhoods. Secondly,
and in our age chiefest, there are the economic relations,
--the methods by which individuals cooperate for earning a
living, for the mutual satisfaction of wants, for the production
of wealth. Next, there are the political relations, the cooperation
in social control, in group government, in laying and paying
the burden of taxation. In the fourth place there are the less
tangible but highly important forms of intellectual contact and
commerce, the interchange of ideas through conversation and
conference, through periodicals and libraries; and, above all,
the gradual formation for each community of that curious
tertium quid which we call public opinion. Closely allied with
this come the various forms of social contact in everyday life,
in travel, in theatres, in house gatherings, in marrying and
giving in marriage. Finally, there are the varying forms of
religious enterprise, of moral teaching and benevolent en-
deavor. These are the principal ways in which men living in
the same communities are brought into contact with each
other. It is my present task, therefore, to indicate, from my
point of view, how the black race in the South meet and
mingle with the whites in these matters of everyday life.

First, as to physical dwelling. It is usually possible to draw
in nearly every Southern community a physical color-line on
the map, on the one side of which whites dwell and on the
other Negroes. The winding and intricacy of the geographical
color-line varies, of course, in different communities. I know
some towns where a straight line drawn through the middle of
the main street separates nine-tenths of the whites from nine-
tenths of the blacks. In other towns the older settlement of
whites has been encircled by a broad band of blacks; in still
other cases little settlements or nuclei of blacks have sprung
up amid surrounding whites. Usually in cities each street has
its distinctive color, and only now and then do the colors
meet in close proximity. Even in the country something of
this segregation is manifest in the smaller areas, and of course
in the larger phenomena of the Black Belt.

All this segregation by color is largely independent of that
natural clustering by social grades common to all communi-
ties. A Negro slum may be in dangerous proximity to a white
residence quarter, while it is quite common to find a white
slum planted in the heart of a respectable Negro district. One
thing, however, seldom occurs: the best of the whites and the
best of the Negroes almost never live in anything like close
proximity. It thus happens that in nearly every Southern town
and city, both whites and blacks see commonly the worst of
each other. This is a vast change from the situation in the
past, when, through the close contact of master and house-
servant in the patriarchal big house, one found the best of both
races in close contact and sympathy, while at the same time
the squalor and dull round of toil among the field-hands was
removed from the sight and hearing of the family. One can
easily see how a person who saw slavery thus from his
father's parlors, and sees freedom on the streets of a great
city, fails to grasp or comprehend the whole of the new
picture. On the other hand, the settled belief of the mass of
the Negroes that the Southern white people do not have the
black man's best interests at heart has been intensified in later
years by this continual daily contact of the better class of
blacks with the worst representatives of the white race.

Coming now to the economic relations of the races, we are
on ground made familiar by study, much discussion, and no
little philanthropic effort. And yet with all this there are many
essential elements in the cooperation of Negroes and whites
for work and wealth that are too readily overlooked or not
thoroughly understood. The average American can easily con-
ceive of a rich land awaiting development and filled with
black laborers. To him the Southern problem is simply that of
making efficient workingmen out of this material, by giving
them the requisite technical skill and the help of invested
capital. The problem, however, is by no means as simple as
this, from the obvious fact that these workingmen have been
trained for centuries as slaves. They exhibit, therefore, all the
advantages and defects of such training; they are willing and
good-natured, but not self-reliant, provident, or careful. If
now the economic development of the South is to be pushed
to the verge of exploitation, as seems probable, then we have
a mass of workingmen thrown into relentless competition
with the workingmen of the world, but handicapped by a
training the very opposite to that of the modern self-reliant
democratic laborer. What the black laborer needs is careful
personal guidance, group leadership of men with hearts in
their bosoms, to train them to foresight, carefulness, and
honesty. Nor does it require any fine-spun theories of racial
differences to prove the necessity of such group training after
the brains of the race have been knocked out by two hundred
and fifty years of assiduous education in submission, care-
lessness, and stealing. After Emancipation, it was the plain
duty of some one to assume this group leadership and training
of the Negro laborer. I will not stop here to inquire whose
duty it was--whether that of the white ex-master who had
profited by unpaid toil, or the Northern philanthropist whose
persistence brought on the crisis, or the National Government
whose edict freed the bondmen; I will not stop to ask whose
duty it was, but I insist it was the duty of some one to see that
these workingmen were not left alone and unguided, without
capital, without land, without skill, without economic organi-
zation, without even the bald protection of law, order, and
decency,--left in a great land, not to settle down to slow and
careful internal development, but destined to be thrown al-
most immediately into relentless and sharp competition with
the best of modern workingmen under an economic system
where every participant is fighting for himself, and too often
utterly regardless of the rights or welfare of his neighbor.

For we must never forget that the economic system of the
South to-day which has succeeded the old regime is not the
same system as that of the old industrial North, of England,
or of France, with their trade-unions, their restrictive laws,
their written and unwritten commercial customs, and their
long experience. It is, rather, a copy of that England of the
early nineteenth century, before the factory acts,--the En-
gland that wrung pity from thinkers and fired the wrath of
Carlyle. The rod of empire that passed from the hands of
Southern gentlemen in 1865, partly by force, partly by their
own petulance, has never returned to them. Rather it has
passed to those men who have come to take charge of the
industrial exploitation of the New South,--the sons of poor
whites fired with a new thirst for wealth and power, thrifty
and avaricious Yankees, and unscrupulous immigrants. Into
the hands of these men the Southern laborers, white and
black, have fallen; and this to their sorrow. For the laborers
as such, there is in these new captains of industry neither love
nor hate, neither sympathy nor romance; it is a cold question
of dollars and dividends. Under such a system all labor is
bound to suffer. Even the white laborers are not yet intelli-
gent, thrifty, and well trained enough to maintain themselves
against the powerful inroads of organized capital. The results
among them, even, are long hours of toil, low wages, child
labor, and lack of protection against usury and cheating. But
among the black laborers all this is aggravated, first, by a
race prejudice which varies from a doubt and distrust among
the best element of whites to a frenzied hatred among the
worst; and, secondly, it is aggravated, as I have said before,
by the wretched economic heritage of the freedmen from
slavery. With this training it is difficult for the freedman to
learn to grasp the opportunities already opened to him, and the
new opportunities are seldom given him, but go by favor to
the whites.

Left by the best elements of the South with little protection
or oversight, he has been made in law and custom the victim
of the worst and most unscrupulous men in each community.
The crop-lien system which is depopulating the fields of the
South is not simply the result of shiftlessness on the part of
Negroes, but is also the result of cunningly devised laws as to
mortgages, liens, and misdemeanors, which can be made by
conscienceless men to entrap and snare the unwary until
escape is impossible, further toil a farce, and protest a crime.
I have seen, in the Black Belt of Georgia, an ignorant, honest
Negro buy and pay for a farm in installments three separate
times, and then in the face of law and decency the enterpris-
ing American who sold it to him pocketed the money and
deed and left the black man landless, to labor on his own land
at thirty cents a day. I have seen a black farmer fall in debt to
a white storekeeper, and that storekeeper go to his farm and
strip it of every single marketable article,--mules, ploughs,
stored crops, tools, furniture, bedding, clocks, looking-glass,
--and all this without a sheriff or officer, in the face of the
law for homestead exemptions, and without rendering to a
single responsible person any account or reckoning. And such
proceedings can happen, and will happen, in any community
where a class of ignorant toilers are placed by custom and
race-prejudice beyond the pale of sympathy and race-
brotherhood. So long as the best elements of a community do
not feel in duty bound to protect and train and care for the
weaker members of their group, they leave them to be preyed
upon by these swindlers and rascals.

This unfortunate economic situation does not mean the
hindrance of all advance in the black South, or the absence of
a class of black landlords and mechanics who, in spite of
disadvantages, are accumulating property and making good
citizens. But it does mean that this class is not nearly so large
as a fairer economic system might easily make it, that those
who survive in the competition are handicapped so as to
accomplish much less than they deserve to, and that, above
all, the personnel of the successful class is left to chance and
accident, and not to any intelligent culling or reasonable
methods of selection. As a remedy for this, there is but one
possible procedure. We must accept some of the race preju-
dice in the South as a fact,--deplorable in its intensity,
unfortunate in results, and dangerous for the future, but nev-
ertheless a hard fact which only time can efface. We cannot
hope, then, in this generation, or for several generations, that
the mass of the whites can be brought to assume that close
sympathetic and self-sacrificing leadership of the blacks which
their present situation so eloquently demands. Such leader-
ship, such social teaching and example, must come from the
blacks themselves. For some time men doubted as to whether
the Negro could develop such leaders; but to-day no one
seriously disputes the capability of individual Negroes to
assimilate the culture and common sense of modern civiliza-
tion, and to pass it on, to some extent at least, to their
fellows. If this is true, then here is the path out of the
economic situation, and here is the imperative demand for
trained Negro leaders of character and intelligence,--men of
skill, men of light and leading, college-bred men, black
captains of industry, and missionaries of culture; men who
thoroughly comprehend and know modern civilization, and
can take hold of Negro communities and raise and train them
by force of precept and example, deep sympathy, and the
inspiration of common blood and ideals. But if such men are
to be effective they must have some power,--they must be
backed by the best public opinion of these communities, and
able to wield for their objects and aims such weapons as the
experience of the world has taught are indispensable to hu-
man progress.

Of such weapons the greatest, perhaps, in the modern
world is the power of the ballot; and this brings me to a
consideration of the third form of contact between whites and
blacks in the South,--political activity.

In the attitude of the American mind toward Negro suffrage
can be traced with unusual accuracy the prevalent conceptions
of government. In the fifties we were near enough the echoes
of the French Revolution to believe pretty thoroughly in
universal suffrage. We argued, as we thought then rather
logically, that no social class was so good, so true, and so
disinterested as to be trusted wholly with the political destiny
of its neighbors; that in every state the best arbiters of their
own welfare are the persons directly affected; consequently
that it is only by arming every hand with a ballot,--with the
right to have a voice in the policy of the state,--that the
greatest good to the greatest number could be attained. To be
sure, there were objections to these arguments, but we thought
we had answered them tersely and convincingly; if some one
complained of the ignorance of voters, we answered, "Edu-
cate them." If another complained of their venality, we
replied, "Disfranchise them or put them in jail." And, fi-
nally, to the men who feared demagogues and the natural
perversity of some human beings we insisted that time and
bitter experience would teach the most hardheaded. It was at
this time that the question of Negro suffrage in the South was
raised. Here was a defenceless people suddenly made free.
How were they to be protected from those who did not
believe in their freedom and were determined to thwart it?
Not by force, said the North; not by government guardian-
ship, said the South; then by the ballot, the sole and legiti-
mate defence of a free people, said the Common Sense of the
Nation. No one thought, at the time, that the ex-slaves could
use the ballot intelligently or very effectively; but they did
think that the possession of so great power by a great class in
the nation would compel their fellows to educate this class to
its intelligent use.

Meantime, new thoughts came to the nation: the inevitable
period of moral retrogression and political trickery that ever
follows in the wake of war overtook us. So flagrant became
the political scandals that reputable men began to leave poli-
tics alone, and politics consequently became disreputable.
Men began to pride themselves on having nothing to do with
their own government, and to agree tacitly with those who
regarded public office as a private perquisite. In this state of
mind it became easy to wink at the suppression of the Negro
vote in the South, and to advise self-respecting Negroes to
leave politics entirely alone. The decent and reputable citi-
zens of the North who neglected their own civic duties grew
hilarious over the exaggerated importance with which the
Negro regarded the franchise. Thus it easily happened that
more and more the better class of Negroes followed the
advice from abroad and the pressure from home, and took no
further interest in politics, leaving to the careless and the
venal of their race the exercise of their rights as voters. The
black vote that still remained was not trained and educated,
but further debauched by open and unblushing bribery, or
force and fraud; until the Negro voter was thoroughly inocu-
lated with the idea that politics was a method of private gain
by disreputable means.

And finally, now, to-day, when we are awakening to the
fact that the perpetuity of republican institutions on this conti-
nent depends on the purification of the ballot, the civic
training of voters, and the raising of voting to the plane of a
solemn duty which a patriotic citizen neglects to his peril and
to the peril of his children's children,--in this day, when we
are striving for a renaissance of civic virtue, what are we
going to say to the black voter of the South? Are we going to
tell him still that politics is a disreputable and useless form of
human activity? Are we going to induce the best class of
Negroes to take less and less interest in government, and to
give up their right to take such an interest, without a protest?
I am not saying a word against all legitimate efforts to purge
the ballot of ignorance, pauperism, and crime. But few have
pretended that the present movement for disfranchisement in
the South is for such a purpose; it has been plainly and
frankly declared in nearly every case that the object of the
disfranchising laws is the elimination of the black man from

Now, is this a minor matter which has no influence on the
main question of the industrial and intellectual development
of the Negro? Can we establish a mass of black laborers and
artisans and landholders in the South who, by law and public
opinion, have absolutely no voice in shaping the laws under
which they live and work? Can the modern organization of
industry, assuming as it does free democratic government and
the power and ability of the laboring classes to compel re-
spect for their welfare,--can this system be carried out in the
South when half its laboring force is voiceless in the public
councils and powerless in its own defence? To-day the black
man of the South has almost nothing to say as to how much
he shall be taxed, or how those taxes shall be expended; as to
who shall execute the laws, and how they shall do it; as to
who shall make the laws, and how they shall be made. It is
pitiable that frantic efforts must be made at critical times to
get law-makers in some States even to listen to the respectful
presentation of the black man's side of a current controversy.
Daily the Negro is coming more and more to look upon law
and justice, not as protecting safeguards, but as sources of
humiliation and oppression. The laws are made by men who
have little interest in him; they are executed by men who have
absolutely no motive for treating the black people with cour-
tesy or consideration; and, finally, the accused law-breaker is
tried, not by his peers, but too often by men who would
rather punish ten innocent Negroes than let one guilty one

I should be the last one to deny the patent weaknesses and
shortcomings of the Negro people; I should be the last to
withhold sympathy from the white South in its efforts to solve
its intricate social problems. I freely acknowledged that it is
possible, and sometimes best, that a partially undeveloped
people should be ruled by the best of their stronger and better
neighbors for their own good, until such time as they can start
and fight the world's battles alone. I have already pointed out
how sorely in need of such economic and spiritual guidance
the emancipated Negro was, and I am quite willing to admit
that if the representatives of the best white Southern public
opinion were the ruling and guiding powers in the South
to-day the conditions indicated would be fairly well fulfilled.
But the point I have insisted upon and now emphasize again,
is that the best opinion of the South to-day is not the ruling
opinion. That to leave the Negro helpless and without a ballot
to-day is to leave him not to the guidance of the best, but
rather to the exploitation and debauchment of the worst; that
this is no truer of the South than of the North,--of the North
than of Europe: in any land, in any country under modern
free competition, to lay any class of weak and despised
people, be they white, black, or blue, at the political mercy
of their stronger, richer, and more resourceful fellows, is a
temptation which human nature seldom has withstood and
seldom will withstand.

Moreover, the political status of the Negro in the South is
closely connected with the question of Negro crime. There
can be no doubt that crime among Negroes has sensibly
increased in the last thirty years, and that there has appeared
in the slums of great cities a distinct criminal class among the
blacks. In explaining this unfortunate development, we must
note two things: (1) that the inevitable result of Emancipation
was to increase crime and criminals, and (2) that the police
system of the South was primarily designed to control slaves.
As to the first point, we must not forget that under a strict
slave system there can scarcely be such a thing as crime. But
when these variously constituted human particles are sud-
denly thrown broadcast on the sea of life, some swim, some
sink, and some hang suspended, to be forced up or down by
the chance currents of a busy hurrying world. So great an
economic and social revolution as swept the South in '63
meant a weeding out among the Negroes of the incompetents
and vicious, the beginning of a differentiation of social grades.
Now a rising group of people are not lifted bodily from the
ground like an inert solid mass, but rather stretch upward like
a living plant with its roots still clinging in the mould. The
appearance, therefore, of the Negro criminal was a phenome-
non to be awaited; and while it causes anxiety, it should not
occasion surprise.

Here again the hope for the future depended peculiarly on
careful and delicate dealing with these criminals. Their of-
fences at first were those of laziness, carelessness, and im-
pulse, rather than of malignity or ungoverned viciousness.
Such misdemeanors needed discriminating treatment, firm but
reformatory, with no hint of injustice, and full proof of guilt.
For such dealing with criminals, white or black, the South
had no machinery, no adequate jails or reformatories; its
police system was arranged to deal with blacks alone, and
tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a mem-
ber of that police. Thus grew up a double system of justice,
which erred on the white side by undue leniency and the
practical immunity of red-handed criminals, and erred on the
black side by undue severity, injustice, and lack of discrimi-
nation. For, as I have said, the police system of the South
was originally designed to keep track of all Negroes, not
simply of criminals; and when the Negroes were freed and
the whole South was convinced of the impossibility of free
Negro labor, the first and almost universal device was to
use the courts as a means of reenslaving the blacks. It
was not then a question of crime, but rather one of color,
that settled a man's conviction on almost any charge. Thus
Negroes came to look upon courts as instruments of in-
justice and oppression, and upon those convicted in them
as martyrs and victims.

When, now, the real Negro criminal appeared, and instead of
petty stealing and vagrancy we began to have highway rob-
bery, burglary, murder, and rape, there was a curious effect
on both sides the color-line: the Negroes refused to believe
the evidence of white witnesses or the fairness of white
juries, so that the greatest deterrent to crime, the public
opinion of one's own social caste, was lost, and the criminal
was looked upon as crucified rather than hanged. On the
other hand, the whites, used to being careless as to the guilt
or innocence of accused Negroes, were swept in moments of
passion beyond law, reason, and decency. Such a situation is
bound to increase crime, and has increased it. To natural
viciousness and vagrancy are being daily added motives of
revolt and revenge which stir up all the latent savagery of
both races and make peaceful attention to economic de-
velopment often impossible.

But the chief problem in any community cursed with crime
is not the punishment of the criminals, but the preventing of
the young from being trained to crime. And here again the
peculiar conditions of the South have prevented proper pre-
cautions. I have seen twelve-year-old boys working in chains
on the public streets of Atlanta, directly in front of the
schools, in company with old and hardened criminals; and
this indiscriminate mingling of men and women and children
makes the chain-gangs perfect schools of crime and debauch-
ery. The struggle for reformatories, which has gone on in
Virginia, Georgia, and other States, is the one encouraging
sign of the awakening of some communities to the suicidal
results of this policy.

It is the public schools, however, which can be made,
outside the homes, the greatest means of training decent
self-respecting citizens. We have been so hotly engaged re-
cently in discussing trade-schools and the higher education
that the pitiable plight of the public-school system in the
South has almost dropped from view. Of every five dollars
spent for public education in the State of Georgia, the white
schools get four dollars and the Negro one dollar; and even
then the white public-school system, save in the cities, is bad
and cries for reform. If this is true of the whites, what of the
blacks? I am becoming more and more convinced, as I look
upon the system of common-school training in the South, that
the national government must soon step in and aid popular
education in some way. To-day it has been only by the most
strenuous efforts on the part of the thinking men of the South
that the Negro's share of the school fund has not been cut
down to a pittance in some half-dozen States; and that move-
ment not only is not dead, but in many communities is
gaining strength. What in the name of reason does this nation
expect of a people, poorly trained and hard pressed in severe
economic competition, without political rights, and with ludi-
crously inadequate common-school facilities? What can it
expect but crime and listlessness, offset here and there by the
dogged struggles of the fortunate and more determined who
are themselves buoyed by the hope that in due time the country
will come to its senses?

I have thus far sought to make clear the physical, eco-
nomic, and political relations of the Negroes and whites in
the South, as I have conceived them, including, for the
reasons set forth, crime and education. But after all that has
been said on these more tangible matters of human contact,
there still remains a part essential to a proper description of
the South which it is difficult to describe or fix in terms easily
understood by strangers. It is, in fine, the atmosphere of the
land, the thought and feeling, the thousand and one little
actions which go to make up life. In any community or nation
it is these little things which are most elusive to the grasp and
yet most essential to any clear conception of the group life
taken as a whole. What is thus true of all communities is
peculiarly true of the South, where, outside of written history
and outside of printed law, there has been going on for a
generation as deep a storm and stress of human souls, as
intense a ferment of feeling, as intricate a writhing of spirit,
as ever a people experienced. Within and without the sombre
veil of color vast social forces have been at work,--efforts
for human betterment, movements toward disintegration and
despair, tragedies and comedies in social and economic life,
and a swaying and lifting and sinking of human hearts which
have made this land a land of mingled sorrow and joy, of
change and excitement and unrest.

The centre of this spiritual turmoil has ever been the mil-
lions of black freedmen and their sons, whose destiny is so
fatefully bound up with that of the nation. And yet the casual
observer visiting the South sees at first little of this. He notes
the growing frequency of dark faces as he rides along,--but
otherwise the days slip lazily on, the sun shines, and this little
world seems as happy and contented as other worlds he has
visited. Indeed, on the question of questions--the Negro
problem--he hears so little that there almost seems to be a
conspiracy of silence; the morning papers seldom mention it,
and then usually in a far-fetched academic way, and indeed
almost every one seems to forget and ignore the darker half of
the land, until the astonished visitor is inclined to ask if after
all there IS any problem here. But if he lingers long enough
there comes the awakening: perhaps in a sudden whirl of
passion which leaves him gasping at its bitter intensity; more
likely in a gradually dawning sense of things he had not at
first noticed. Slowly but surely his eyes begin to catch the
shadows of the color-line: here he meets crowds of Negroes
and whites; then he is suddenly aware that he cannot discover
a single dark face; or again at the close of a day's wandering
he may find himself in some strange assembly, where all
faces are tinged brown or black, and where he has the vague,
uncomfortable feeling of the stranger. He realizes at last that
silently, resistlessly, the world about flows by him in two
great streams: they ripple on in the same sunshine, they
approach and mingle their waters in seeming carelessness,
--then they divide and flow wide apart. It is done quietly; no
mistakes are made, or if one occurs, the swift arm of the law
and of public opinion swings down for a moment, as when
the other day a black man and a white woman were arrested
for talking together on Whitehall Street in Atlanta.

Now if one notices carefully one will see that between
these two worlds, despite much physical contact and daily
intermingling, there is almost no community of intellectual
life or point of transference where the thoughts and feelings
of one race can come into direct contact and sympathy with
the thoughts and feelings of the other. Before and directly
after the war, when all the best of the Negroes were domestic
servants in the best of the white families, there were bonds of
intimacy, affection, and sometimes blood relationship, be-
tween the races. They lived in the same home, shared in the
family life, often attended the same church, and talked and
conversed with each other. But the increasing civilization of
the Negro since then has naturally meant the development of
higher classes: there are increasing numbers of ministers,
teachers, physicians, merchants, mechanics, and independent
farmers, who by nature and training are the aristocracy and
leaders of the blacks. Between them, however, and the best
element of the whites, there is little or no intellectual com-
merce. They go to separate churches, they live in separate
sections, they are strictly separated in all public gatherings,
they travel separately, and they are beginning to read dif-
ferent papers and books. To most libraries, lectures, concerts,
and museums, Negroes are either not admitted at all, or on
terms peculiarly galling to the pride of the very classes who
might otherwise be attracted. The daily paper chronicles the
doings of the black world from afar with no great regard
for accuracy; and so on, throughout the category of means for
intellectual communication,--schools, conferences, efforts for
social betterment, and the like,--it is usually true that the
very representatives of the two races, who for mutual benefit
and the welfare of the land ought to be in complete under-
standing and sympathy, are so far strangers that one side
thinks all whites are narrow and prejudiced, and the other
thinks educated Negroes dangerous and insolent. Moreover,
in a land where the tyranny of public opinion and the intoler-
ance of criticism is for obvious historical reasons so strong as
in the South, such a situation is extremely difficult to correct.
The white man, as well as the Negro, is bound and barred by
the color-line, and many a scheme of friendliness and philan-
thropy, of broad-minded sympathy and generous fellowship
between the two has dropped still-born because some busy-
body has forced the color-question to the front and brought
the tremendous force of unwritten law against the innovators.

It is hardly necessary for me to add very much in regard to
the social contact between the races. Nothing has come to
replace that finer sympathy and love between some masters
and house servants which the radical and more uncompromis-
ing drawing of the color-line in recent years has caused
almost completely to disappear. In a world where it means so
much to take a man by the hand and sit beside him, to look
frankly into his eyes and feel his heart beating with red blood;
in a world where a social cigar or a cup of tea together means
more than legislative halls and magazine articles and speeches,
--one can imagine the consequences of the almost utter
absence of such social amenities between estranged races,
whose separation extends even to parks and streetcars.

Here there can be none of that social going down to the
people,--the opening of heart and hand of the best to the
worst, in generous acknowledgment of a common humanity
and a common destiny. On the other hand, in matters of
simple almsgiving, where there can be no question of social
contact, and in the succor of the aged and sick, the South, as
if stirred by a feeling of its unfortunate limitations, is gener-
ous to a fault. The black beggar is never turned away without
a good deal more than a crust, and a call for help for the
unfortunate meets quick response. I remember, one cold win-
ter, in Atlanta, when I refrained from contributing to a public
relief fund lest Negroes should be discriminated against, I
afterward inquired of a friend: "Were any black people re-
ceiving aid?" "Why," said he, "they were all black."

And yet this does not touch the kernel of the problem.
Human advancement is not a mere question of almsgiving,
but rather of sympathy and cooperation among classes who
would scorn charity. And here is a land where, in the higher
walks of life, in all the higher striving for the good and noble
and true, the color-line comes to separate natural friends and
coworkers; while at the bottom of the social group, in the
saloon, the gambling-hell, and the brothel, that same line
wavers and disappears.

I have sought to paint an average picture of real relations
between the sons of master and man in the South. I have not
glossed over matters for policy's sake, for I fear we have
already gone too far in that sort of thing. On the other hand, I
have sincerely sought to let no unfair exaggerations creep in.
I do not doubt that in some Southern communities conditions
are better than those I have indicated; while I am no less
certain that in other communities they are far worse.

Nor does the paradox and danger of this situation fail to
interest and perplex the best conscience of the South. Deeply
religious and intensely democratic as are the mass of the
whites, they feel acutely the false position in which the Negro
problems place them. Such an essentially honest-hearted and
generous people cannot cite the caste-levelling precepts of
Christianity, or believe in equality of opportunity for all men,
without coming to feel more and more with each generation
that the present drawing of the color-line is a flat contradic-
tion to their beliefs and professions. But just as often as they
come to this point, the present social condition of the Negro
stands as a menace and a portent before even the most
open-minded: if there were nothing to charge against the
Negro but his blackness or other physical peculiarities, they
argue, the problem would be comparatively simple; but what
can we say to his ignorance, shiftlessness, poverty, and crime?
can a self-respecting group hold anything but the least possi-
ble fellowship with such persons and survive? and shall we let
a mawkish sentiment sweep away the culture of our fathers or
the hope of our children? The argument so put is of great
strength, but it is not a whit stronger than the argument of
thinking Negroes: granted, they reply, that the condition of
our masses is bad; there is certainly on the one hand adequate
historical cause for this, and unmistakable evidence that no
small number have, in spite of tremendous disadvantages,
risen to the level of American civilization. And when, by
proscription and prejudice, these same Negroes are classed
with and treated like the lowest of their people, simply because
they are Negroes, such a policy not only discourages thrift
and intelligence among black men, but puts a direct premium
on the very things you complain of,--inefficiency and crime.
Draw lines of crime, of incompetency, of vice, as tightly and
uncompromisingly as you will, for these things must be
proscribed; but a color-line not only does not accomplish this
purpose, but thwarts it.

In the face of two such arguments, the future of the South
depends on the ability of the representatives of these opposing
views to see and appreciate and sympathize with each other's
position,--for the Negro to realize more deeply than he does
at present the need of uplifting the masses of his people, for
the white people to realize more vividly than they have yet
done the deadening and disastrous effect of a color-prejudice
that classes Phillis Wheatley and Sam Hose in the same
despised class.

It is not enough for the Negroes to declare that color-
prejudice is the sole cause of their social condition, nor for
the white South to reply that their social condition is the main
cause of prejudice. They both act as reciprocal cause and
effect, and a change in neither alone will bring the desired
effect. Both must change, or neither can improve to any great
extent. The Negro cannot stand the present reactionary ten-
dencies and unreasoning drawing of the color-line indefinitely
without discouragement and retrogression. And the condition
of the Negro is ever the excuse for further discrimination.
Only by a union of intelligence and sympathy across the
color-line in this critical period of the Republic shall justice
and right triumph,

"That mind and soul according well,
May make one music as before,
But vaster."


Of the Faith of the Fathers

Dim face of Beauty haunting all the world,
Fair face of Beauty all too fair to see,
Where the lost stars adown the heavens are hurled,--

There, there alone for thee

May white peace be.

Beauty, sad face of Beauty, Mystery, Wonder,
What are these dreams to foolish babbling men
Who cry with little noises 'neath the thunder

Of Ages ground to sand,

To a little sand.


It was out in the country, far from home, far from my foster
home, on a dark Sunday night. The road wandered from our
rambling log-house up the stony bed of a creek, past wheat
and corn, until we could hear dimly across the fields a
rhythmic cadence of song,--soft, thrilling, powerful, that
swelled and died sorrowfully in our ears. I was a country
schoolteacher then, fresh from the East, and had never seen a
Southern Negro revival. To be sure, we in Berkshire were not
perhaps as stiff and formal as they in Suffolk of olden time;
yet we were very quiet and subdued, and I know not what
would have happened those clear Sabbath mornings had some
one punctuated the sermon with a wild scream, or interrupted
the long prayer with a loud Amen! And so most striking to
me, as I approached the village and the little plain church
perched aloft, was the air of intense excitement that possessed
that mass of black folk. A sort of suppressed terror hung in
the air and seemed to seize us,--a pythian madness, a
demoniac possession, that lent terrible reality to song and
word. The black and massive form of the preacher swayed
and quivered as the words crowded to his lips and flew at us
in singular eloquence. The people moaned and fluttered, and
then the gaunt-cheeked brown woman beside me suddenly
leaped straight into the air and shrieked like a lost soul, while
round about came wail and groan and outcry, and a scene of
human passion such as I had never conceived before.

Those who have not thus witnessed the frenzy of a Negro
revival in the untouched backwoods of the South can but
dimly realize the religious feeling of the slave; as described,
such scenes appear grotesque and funny, but as seen they are
awful. Three things characterized this religion of the slave,
--the Preacher, the Music, and the Frenzy. The Preacher is
the most unique personality developed by the Negro on Amer-
ican soil. A leader, a politician, an orator, a "boss," an
intriguer, an idealist,--all these he is, and ever, too, the
centre of a group of men, now twenty, now a thousand in
number. The combination of a certain adroitness with deep-
seated earnestness, of tact with consummate ability, gave him
his preeminence, and helps him maintain it. The type, of
course, varies according to time and place, from the West
Indies in the sixteenth century to New England in the nine-
teenth, and from the Mississippi bottoms to cities like New
Orleans or New York.

The Music of Negro religion is that plaintive rhythmic
melody, with its touching minor cadences, which, despite
caricature and defilement, still remains the most original and
beautiful expression of human life and longing yet born on
American soil. Sprung from the African forests, where its
counterpart can still be heard, it was adapted, changed, and
intensified by the tragic soul-life of the slave, until, under the
stress of law and whip, it became the one true expression of a
people's sorrow, despair, and hope.

Finally the Frenzy of "Shouting," when the Spirit of the
Lord passed by, and, seizing the devotee, made him mad
with supernatural joy, was the last essential of Negro religion
and the one more devoutly believed in than all the rest. It
varied in expression from the silent rapt countenance or the
low murmur and moan to the mad abandon of physical fervor,
--the stamping, shrieking, and shouting, the rushing to and
fro and wild waving of arms, the weeping and laughing, the
vision and the trance. All this is nothing new in the world,
but old as religion, as Delphi and Endor. And so firm a hold
did it have on the Negro, that many generations firmly be-
lieved that without this visible manifestation of the God there
could be no true communion with the Invisible.

These were the characteristics of Negro religious life as
developed up to the time of Emancipation. Since under the
peculiar circumstances of the black man's environment they
were the one expression of his higher life, they are of deep
interest to the student of his development, both socially and
psychologically. Numerous are the attractive lines of inquiry
that here group themselves. What did slavery mean to the
African savage? What was his attitude toward the World and
Life? What seemed to him good and evil,--God and Devil?
Whither went his longings and strivings, and wherefore were
his heart-burnings and disappointments? Answers to such
questions can come only from a study of Negro religion as a
development, through its gradual changes from the heathen-
ism of the Gold Coast to the institutional Negro church of

Moreover, the religious growth of millions of men, even
though they be slaves, cannot be without potent influence
upon their contemporaries. The Methodists and Baptists of
America owe much of their condition to the silent but potent
influence of their millions of Negro converts. Especially is
this noticeable in the South, where theology and religious
philosophy are on this account a long way behind the North,
and where the religion of the poor whites is a plain copy of
Negro thought and methods. The mass of "gospel" hymns
which has swept through American churches and well-nigh
ruined our sense of song consists largely of debased imita-
tions of Negro melodies made by ears that caught the jingle
but not the music, the body but not the soul, of the Jubilee
songs. It is thus clear that the study of Negro religion is not
only a vital part of the history of the Negro in America, but
no uninteresting part of American history.

The Negro church of to-day is the social centre of Negro
life in the United States, and the most characteristic expres-
sion of African character. Take a typical church in a small
Virginia town: it is the "First Baptist"--a roomy brick edi-
fice seating five hundred or more persons, tastefully finished
in Georgia pine, with a carpet, a small organ, and stained-
glass windows. Underneath is a large assembly room with
benches. This building is the central club-house of a commu-
nity of a thousand or more Negroes. Various organizations
meet here,--the church proper, the Sunday-school, two or
three insurance societies, women's societies, secret societies,
and mass meetings of various kinds. Entertainments, suppers,
and lectures are held beside the five or six regular weekly
religious services. Considerable sums of money are collected
and expended here, employment is found for the idle, strang-
ers are introduced, news is disseminated and charity distri-
buted. At the same time this social, intellectual, and economic
centre is a religious centre of great power. Depravity, Sin,
Redemption, Heaven, Hell, and Damnation are preached twice
a Sunday after the crops are laid by; and few indeed of the
community have the hardihood to withstand conversion. Back
of this more formal religion, the Church often stands as a real
conserver of morals, a strengthener of family life, and the
final authority on what is Good and Right.

Thus one can see in the Negro church to-day, reproduced
in microcosm, all the great world from which the Negro is cut
off by color-prejudice and social condition. In the great city
churches the same tendency is noticeable and in many re-
spects emphasized. A great church like the Bethel of Phila-
delphia has over eleven hundred members, an edifice seating
fifteen hundred persons and valued at one hundred thousand
dollars, an annual budget of five thousand dollars, and a
government consisting of a pastor with several assisting local
preachers, an executive and legislative board, financial boards
and tax collectors; general church meetings for making laws;
sub-divided groups led by class leaders, a company of militia,
and twenty-four auxiliary societies. The activity of a church
like this is immense and far-reaching, and the bishops who
preside over these organizations throughout the land are among
the most powerful Negro rulers in the world.

Such churches are really governments of men, and conse-
quently a little investigation reveals the curious fact that, in
the South, at least, practically every American Negro is a
church member. Some, to be sure, are not regularly enrolled,
and a few do not habitually attend services; but, practically, a
proscribed people must have a social centre, and that centre
for this people is the Negro church. The census of 1890
showed nearly twenty-four thousand Negro churches in the
country, with a total enrolled membership of over two and a
half millions, or ten actual church members to every twenty-
eight persons, and in some Southern States one in every two
persons. Besides these there is the large number who, while
not enrolled as members, attend and take part in many of the
activities of the church. There is an organized Negro church
for every sixty black families in the nation, and in some
States for every forty families, owning, on an average, a
thousand dollars' worth of property each, or nearly twenty-six
million dollars in all.

Such, then, is the large development of the Negro church
since Emancipation. The question now is, What have been
the successive steps of this social history and what are the
present tendencies? First, we must realize that no such institu-
tion as the Negro church could rear itself without definite
historical foundations. These foundations we can find if we
remember that the social history of the Negro did not start in
America. He was brought from a definite social environment,
--the polygamous clan life under the headship of the chief
and the potent influence of the priest. His religion was nature-
worship, with profound belief in invisible surrounding influ-
ences, good and bad, and his worship was through incantation
and sacrifice. The first rude change in this life was the slave
ship and the West Indian sugar-fields. The plantation organi-
zation replaced the clan and tribe, and the white master
replaced the chief with far greater and more despotic powers.
Forced and long-continued toil became the rule of life, the
old ties of blood relationship and kinship disappeared, and
instead of the family appeared a new polygamy and polyan-
dry, which, in some cases, almost reached promiscuity. It
was a terrific social revolution, and yet some traces were
retained of the former group life, and the chief remaining
institution was the Priest or Medicine-man. He early appeared
on the plantation and found his function as the healer of the
sick, the interpreter of the Unknown, the comforter of the
sorrowing, the supernatural avenger of wrong, and the one
who rudely but picturesquely expressed the longing, disappoint-
ment, and resentment of a stolen and oppressed people. Thus,
as bard, physician, judge, and priest, within the narrow limits
allowed by the slave system, rose the Negro preacher, and under
him the first church was not at first by any means Christian
nor definitely organized; rather it was an adaptation and
mingling of heathen rites among the members of each planta-
tion, and roughly designated as Voodooism. Association with
the masters, missionary effort and motives of expediency
gave these rites an early veneer of Christianity, and after the
lapse of many generations the Negro church became Christian.

Two characteristic things must be noticed in regard to the
church. First, it became almost entirely Baptist and Methodist
in faith; secondly, as a social institution it antedated by many
decades the monogamic Negro home. From the very circum-
stances of its beginning, the church was confined to the
plantation, and consisted primarily of a series of disconnected
units; although, later on, some freedom of movement was
allowed, still this geographical limitation was always impor-
tant and was one cause of the spread of the decentralized and
democratic Baptist faith among the slaves. At the same time,
the visible rite of baptism appealed strongly to their mystic
temperament. To-day the Baptist Church is still largest in
membership among Negroes, and has a million and a half
communicants. Next in popularity came the churches organ-
ized in connection with the white neighboring churches, chiefly
Baptist and Methodist, with a few Episcopalian and others.
The Methodists still form the second greatest denomination,
with nearly a million members. The faith of these two leading
denominations was more suited to the slave church from the
prominence they gave to religious feeling and fervor. The
Negro membership in other denominations has always been
small and relatively unimportant, although the Episcopalians
and Presbyterians are gaining among the more intelligent
classes to-day, and the Catholic Church is making headway
in certain sections. After Emancipation, and still earlier in
the North, the Negro churches largely severed such affili-
ations as they had had with the white churches, either by
choice or by compulsion. The Baptist churches became inde-
pendent, but the Methodists were compelled early to unite for
purposes of episcopal government. This gave rise to the great
African Methodist Church, the greatest Negro organization in
the world, to the Zion Church and the Colored Methodist,
and to the black conferences and churches in this and other

The second fact noted, namely, that the Negro church ante-
dates the Negro home, leads to an explanation of much that is
paradoxical in this communistic institution and in the morals
of its members. But especially it leads us to regard this
institution as peculiarly the expression of the inner ethical life
of a people in a sense seldom true elsewhere. Let us turn,
then, from the outer physical development of the church to
the more important inner ethical life of the people who com-
pose it. The Negro has already been pointed out many times
as a religious animal,--a being of that deep emotional nature
which turns instinctively toward the supernatural. Endowed
with a rich tropical imagination and a keen, delicate appre-
ciation of Nature, the transplanted African lived in a world
animate with gods and devils, elves and witches; full of
strange influences,--of Good to be implored, of Evil to be
propitiated. Slavery, then, was to him the dark triumph of
Evil over him. All the hateful powers of the Under-world
were striving against him, and a spirit of revolt and revenge
filled his heart. He called up all the resources of heathenism
to aid,--exorcism and witch-craft, the mysterious Obi wor-
ship with its barbarious rites, spells, and blood-sacrifice even,
now and then, of human victims. Weird midnight orgies and
mystic conjurations were invoked, the witch-woman and the
voodoo-priest became the centre of Negro group life, and that
vein of vague superstition which characterizes the unlettered
Negro even to-day was deepened and strengthened.

In spite, however, of such success as that of the fierce
Maroons, the Danish blacks, and others, the spirit of revolt
gradually died away under the untiring energy and superior
strength of the slave masters. By the middle of the eighteenth
century the black slave had sunk, with hushed murmurs, to
his place at the bottom of a new economic system, and was
unconsciously ripe for a new philosophy of life. Nothing
suited his condition then better than the doctrines of passive
submission embodied in the newly learned Christianity. Slave
masters early realized this, and cheerfully aided religious
propaganda within certain bounds. The long system of repres-
sion and degradation of the Negro tended to emphasize the
elements of his character which made him a valuable chattel:
courtesy became humility, moral strength degenerated into
submission, and the exquisite native appreciation of the beau-
tiful became an infinite capacity for dumb suffering. The
Negro, losing the joy of this world, eagerly seized upon the
offered conceptions of the next; the avenging Spirit of the
Lord enjoining patience in this world, under sorrow and
tribulation until the Great Day when He should lead His dark
children home,--this became his comforting dream. His
preacher repeated the prophecy, and his bards sang,--

"Children, we all shall be free
When the Lord shall appear!"

This deep religious fatalism, painted so beautifully in "Un-
cle Tom," came soon to breed, as all fatalistic faiths will, the
sensualist side by side with the martyr. Under the lax moral
life of the plantation, where marriage was a farce, laziness a
virtue, and property a theft, a religion of resignation and
submission degenerated easily, in less strenuous minds, into a
philosophy of indulgence and crime. Many of the worst
characteristics of the Negro masses of to-day had their seed in
this period of the slave's ethical growth. Here it was that the
Home was ruined under the very shadow of the Church,
white and black; here habits of shiftlessness took root, and
sullen hopelessness replaced hopeful strife.

With the beginning of the abolition movement and the
gradual growth of a class of free Negroes came a change. We
often neglect the influence of the freedman before the war,
because of the paucity of his numbers and the small weight he
had in the history of the nation. But we must not forget that
his chief influence was internal,--was exerted on the black
world; and that there he was the ethical and social leader.
Huddled as he was in a few centres like Philadelphia, New
York, and New Orleans, the masses of the freedmen sank
into poverty and listlessness; but not all of them. The free
Negro leader early arose and his chief characteristic was
intense earnestness and deep feeling on the slavery question.
Freedom became to him a real thing and not a dream. His
religion became darker and more intense, and into his ethics
crept a note of revenge, into his songs a day of reckoning
close at hand. The "Coming of the Lord" swept this side of
Death, and came to be a thing to be hoped for in this day.
Through fugitive slaves and irrepressible discussion this de-
sire for freedom seized the black millions still in bondage,
and became their one ideal of life. The black bards caught
new notes, and sometimes even dared to sing,--

"O Freedom, O Freedom, O Freedom over me!
Before I'll be a slave
I'll be buried in my grave,
And go home to my Lord
And be free."

For fifty years Negro religion thus transformed itself and
identified itself with the dream of Abolition, until that which
was a radical fad in the white North and an anarchistic plot in
the white South had become a religion to the black world.
Thus, when Emancipation finally came, it seemed to the
freedman a literal Coming of the Lord. His fervid imagination
was stirred as never before, by the tramp of armies, the blood
and dust of battle, and the wail and whirl of social upheaval.
He stood dumb and motionless before the whirlwind: what
had he to do with it? Was it not the Lord's doing, and
marvellous in his eyes? Joyed and bewildered with what
came, he stood awaiting new wonders till the inevitable Age
of Reaction swept over the nation and brought the crisis of

It is difficult to explain clearly the present critical stage of
Negro religion. First, we must remember that living as the
blacks do in close contact with a great modern nation, and
sharing, although imperfectly, the soul-life of that nation,
they must necessarily be affected more or less directly by all
the religious and ethical forces that are to-day moving the
United States. These questions and movements are, however,
overshadowed and dwarfed by the (to them) all-important
question of their civil, political, and economic status. They
must perpetually discuss the "Negro Problem,"--must live,
move, and have their being in it, and interpret all else in its
light or darkness. With this come, too, peculiar problems of
their inner life,--of the status of women, the maintenance of
Home, the training of children, the accumulation of wealth,
and the prevention of crime. All this must mean a time of
intense ethical ferment, of religious heart-searching and intel-
lectual unrest. From the double life every American Negro
must live, as a Negro and as an American, as swept on by the
current of the nineteenth while yet struggling in the eddies of
the fifteenth century,--from this must arise a painful self-
consciousness, an almost morbid sense of personality and a
moral hesitancy which is fatal to self-confidence. The worlds
within and without the Veil of Color are changing, and
changing rapidly, but not at the same rate, not in the same
way; and this must produce a peculiar wrenching of the soul,
a peculiar sense of doubt and bewilderment. Such a double
life, with double thoughts, double duties, and double social
classes, must give rise to double words and double ideals,
and tempt the mind to pretence or revolt, to hypocrisy or

In some such doubtful words and phrases can one perhaps
most clearly picture the peculiar ethical paradox that faces the
Negro of to-day and is tingeing and changing his religious
life. Feeling that his rights and his dearest ideals are being
trampled upon, that the public conscience is ever more deaf
to his righteous appeal, and that all the reactionary forces of
prejudice, greed, and revenge are daily gaining new strength
and fresh allies, the Negro faces no enviable dilemma. Con-
scious of his impotence, and pessimistic, he often becomes
bitter and vindictive; and his religion, instead of a worship, is
a complaint and a curse, a wail rather than a hope, a sneer
rather than a faith. On the other hand, another type of mind,
shrewder and keener and more tortuous too, sees in the very
strength of the anti-Negro movement its patent weaknesses,
and with Jesuitic casuistry is deterred by no ethical considera-
tions in the endeavor to turn this weakness to the black man's
strength. Thus we have two great and hardly reconcilable
streams of thought and ethical strivings; the danger of the one
lies in anarchy, that of the other in hypocrisy. The one type
of Negro stands almost ready to curse God and die, and the
other is too often found a traitor to right and a coward before
force; the one is wedded to ideals remote, whimsical, perhaps
impossible of realization; the other forgets that life is more
than meat and the body more than raiment. But, after all, is
not this simply the writhing of the age translated into black,--
the triumph of the Lie which today, with its false culture,
faces the hideousness of the anarchist assassin?

To-day the two groups of Negroes, the one in the North,
the other in the South, represent these divergent ethical tend-
encies, the first tending toward radicalism, the other toward
hypocritical compromise. It is no idle regret with which the
white South mourns the loss of the old-time Negro,--the
frank, honest, simple old servant who stood for the earlier
religious age of submission and humility. With all his lazi-
ness and lack of many elements of true manhood, he was at
least open-hearted, faithful, and sincere. To-day he is gone,
but who is to blame for his going? Is it not those very persons
who mourn for him? Is it not the tendency, born of Recon-
struction and Reaction, to found a society on lawlessness and
deception, to tamper with the moral fibre of a naturally
honest and straightforward people until the whites threaten to
become ungovernable tyrants and the blacks criminals and
hypocrites? Deception is the natural defence of the weak
against the strong, and the South used it for many years
against its conquerors; to-day it must be prepared to see its
black proletariat turn that same two-edged weapon against
itself. And how natural this is! The death of Denmark Vesey
and Nat Turner proved long since to the Negro the present
hopelessness of physical defence. Political defence is becom-
ing less and less available, and economic defence is still only
partially effective. But there is a patent defence at hand,--the
defence of deception and flattery, of cajoling and lying. It is
the same defence which peasants of the Middle Age used and
which left its stamp on their character for centuries. To-day
the young Negro of the South who would succeed cannot be
frank and outspoken, honest and self-assertive, but rather he
is daily tempted to be silent and wary, politic and sly; he
must flatter and be pleasant, endure petty insults with a smile,
shut his eyes to wrong; in too many cases he sees positive
personal advantage in deception and lying. His real thoughts,
his real aspirations, must be guarded in whispers; he must not
criticise, he must not complain. Patience, humility, and adroit-
ness must, in these growing black youth, replace impulse,
manliness, and courage. With this sacrifice there is an eco-
nomic opening, and perhaps peace and some prosperity. With-
out this there is riot, migration, or crime. Nor is this situation
peculiar to the Southern United States, is it not rather the only
method by which undeveloped races have gained the right to
share modern culture? The price of culture is a Lie.

On the other hand, in the North the tendency is to empha-
size the radicalism of the Negro. Driven from his birthright in
the South by a situation at which every fibre of his more
outspoken and assertive nature revolts, he finds himself in a
land where he can scarcely earn a decent living amid the
harsh competition and the color discrimination. At the same
time, through schools and periodicals, discussions and lec-
tures, he is intellectually quickened and awakened. The soul,
long pent up and dwarfed, suddenly expands in new-found
freedom. What wonder that every tendency is to excess,--
radical complaint, radical remedies, bitter denunciation
or angry silence. Some sink, some rise. The criminal and
the sensualist leave the church for the gambling-hell
and the brothel, and fill the slums of Chicago and Baltimore;
the better classes segregate themselves from the group-life of
both white and black, and form an aristocracy, cultured but
pessimistic, whose bitter criticism stings while it points out
no way of escape. They despise the submission and sub-
serviency of the Southern Negroes, but offer no other means
by which a poor and oppressed minority can exist side by side
with its masters. Feeling deeply and keenly the tendencies
and opportunities of the age in which they live, their souls are
bitter at the fate which drops the Veil between; and the very
fact that this bitterness is natural and justifiable only serves to
intensify it and make it more maddening.

Between the two extreme types of ethical attitude which I
have thus sought to make clear wavers the mass of the
millions of Negroes, North and South; and their religious life
and activity partake of this social conflict within their ranks.
Their churches are differentiating,--now into groups of cold,
fashionable devotees, in no way distinguishable from similar
white groups save in color of skin; now into large social and
business institutions catering to the desire for information and
amusement of their members, warily avoiding unpleasant
questions both within and without the black world, and preach-
ing in effect if not in word: Dum vivimus, vivamus.

But back of this still broods silently the deep religious
feeling of the real Negro heart, the stirring, unguided might
of powerful human souls who have lost the guiding star of the
past and seek in the great night a new religious ideal. Some
day the Awakening will come, when the pent-up vigor of ten
million souls shall sweep irresistibly toward the Goal, out of
the Valley of the Shadow of Death, where all that makes life
worth living--Liberty, Justice, and Right--is marked "For
White People Only."


Of the Passing of the First-Born

O sister, sister, thy first-begotten,
The hands that cling and the feet that follow,
The voice of the child's blood crying yet,
Thou hast forgotten, O summer swallow,
But the world shall end when I forget.


"Unto you a child is born," sang the bit of yellow paper that
fluttered into my room one brown October morning. Then the
fear of fatherhood mingled wildly with the joy of creation; I
wondered how it looked and how it felt--what were its eyes,
and how its hair curled and crumpled itself. And I thought in
awe of her,--she who had slept with Death to tear a man-child
from underneath her heart, while I was unconsciously wan-
dering. I fled to my wife and child, repeating the while to
myself half wonderingly, "Wife and child? Wife and child?"--
fled fast and faster than boat and steam-car, and yet must ever
impatiently await them; away from the hard-voiced city, away
from the flickering sea into my own Berkshire Hills that sit
all sadly guarding the gates of Massachusetts.

Up the stairs I ran to the wan mother and whimpering
babe, to the sanctuary on whose altar a life at my bidding had
offered itself to win a life, and won. What is this tiny
formless thing, this newborn wail from an unknown world,
--all head and voice? I handle it curiously, and watch per-
plexed its winking, breathing, and sneezing. I did not love it
then; it seemed a ludicrous thing to love; but her I loved, my
girl-mother, she whom now I saw unfolding like the glory of
the morning--the transfigured woman. Through her I came to
love the wee thing, as it grew strong; as its little soul un-
folded itself in twitter and cry and half-formed word, and as
its eyes caught the gleam and flash of life. How beautiful he
was, with his olive-tinted flesh and dark gold ringlets, his
eyes of mingled blue and brown, his perfect little limbs, and
the soft voluptuous roll which the blood of Africa had moulded
into his features! I held him in my arms, after we had sped


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