African Americans on the Frontier
African Americans on the Frontier
ADAPTED FROM ESSAYS BY STACY SHORTER
The history of the United States is in part the story of a continuing series of frontiers. The borders between land already settled and territory still to be explored, conquered, and claimed have constantly shifted. When European explorers first landed on North American shores, the entire continent was a frontier. As exploration and settlement progressed, the frontier's location changed. For many years, Americans considered all land west of the Appalachian Mountains to be frontier territory. Now, when we speak of the frontier, we usually mean the land west of the Mississippi River.
The history of African Americans on the frontier, then, begins with their first appearance in North America. Spanish and Portuguese explorers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries included Africans among their crews as they sailed to the Americas. Estevanico, a slave and member of a 1528 Spanish expedition, lived among Native Americans in Mexico and the area of present-day Arizona and New Mexico.
The British also brought Africans to North America, first as indentured servants, later as slaves. When Africans were put to work clearing frontier areas, they often came into contact with Native Americans who had inhabited the continent for thousands of years.
As the black population grew, early African contacts with indigenous peoples in frontier areas were duplicated all over the continent, as in the case of runaway slaves who established maroon colonies among the Seminole people of Spanish Florida. Native American and African American people share a history that has been marked by bonds of blood and culture, as well as violence and prejudice.
TRAPPERS, TRADERS AND EXPLORERS
North American explorers soon recognized the vast wealth the continent held. Much of it was in the form of animal pelts, and during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the fur trade emerged as a primary economic activity along the frontier. Life as a fur trader in the wilderness could be isolating and dangerous, but for many blacks it was preferable to the oppressive life slaves and free blacks faced in more settled areas.
Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable (1745?-1818) was one African American who chose the fur trader's life. Born a slave in Haiti and freed by his French father, in 1793 Du Sable established an independent fur trading post at the mouth of the Chicago River. George Bonga, the son of a slave and a Chippewa woman, worked for John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company and became a prominent trader in his own right.
After the colonies won their independence from Great Britain, the newly formed United States government engaged in rapid territorial expansion and westward exploration. In 1804, John Lewis (1774-1809) and Meriwether Clark (1770-1838) were commissioned by Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) to survey the vast Louisiana Territory, just purchased from France. Beginning at the Missouri River, the expedition traveled across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Northwest, reaching the Pacific Ocean and returning home in just over two years. One member of the Lewis and Clark expedition was Clark's slave, a man known only as York. York proved invaluable to the expedition as a negotiator and interpreter between the explorers and the Indian nations they encountered.
James Beckwourth (1798-1866), a black trapper and explorer, became a member of the Crow nation, married a Crow woman, and served as a Crow chief. Beckwourth Pass, a mountain gateway between the Sierras and the Pacific Ocean, bears his name.
SEE PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT The Autobiography of Nat Love, Cowboy
As the nineteenth century progressed, the United States acquired more territory and extended its boundaries farther westward. The promise of land ownership lured thousands of migrants to frontier areas, where they established homesteads, farms, and communities. Thousands more moved to northern California after gold was discovered there in 1848.
Among the "forty-niners" who flocked to California were free blacks and slaves who traveled over miles of harsh and unfamiliar terrain. The migration, fueled by "gold fever," caused California's population to mushroom, and helps to explain why California had the largest black population in the West during the years before the Civil War.
One of the gold rush migrants was Biddy Mason (1818-1891). Mason and her three daughters walked the nearly two thousand miles from Mississippi to California behind their master's wagon, herding cattle the entire way. When her master decided to return to Mississippi in 1856, Mason sued for and won her family's freedom and their right to remain in California, a free state.
The frontier state of Texas also had a large black population by western standards. Cattle raising was an important part of the Texas economy, and slaves were among the workers who tended the herds. By the 1860s, cowboys were increasingly in demand to herd cattle along trails to northern railroad depots on their way to market. A substantial number of these cowboys were black. Although they earned wages comparable to their white counterparts, black cowboys generally had the low-status job of horse wrangler and seldom became crew chiefs.
Some black cowboys found a measure of fame as skilled riders and ropers. Bill Pickett (c.1860-1932), a star of the Miller and Lux Wild 101 West Show, is credited with inventing the rodeo event known as bulldogging. Nat Love (1854-1921), also known as "Deadwood Dick," spent years as a cowboy in the Southwest and became a Pullman porter after his retirement. His name lives on through a series of dime novels written by Edward L. Wheeler and through his own autobiography, which chronicles his life as a cowboy in sometimes unbelievable terms.
THE BUFFALO SOLDIERS
Cowboys were not the only blacks to ride the range. Members of the Ninth and Tenth cavalries and Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth infantries, better known as the "buffalo soldiers," maintained a constant presence on the western frontier. They performed such essential tasks as fire fighting, building and maintaining military posts and telegraph lines, and protecting stagecoaches and mail routes.
They also served as a police presence in areas where there was a lack of adequate law enforcement. In many frontier areas, the soldiers were the most reliable source of law and order available. Their work included everything from settling civil disputes among settlers to capturing cattle thieves and murderers. Their most important duty, however, was to protect settlers and their land from encroachments by Native Americans. The buffalo soldiers were involved in battles with the Comanche, Kiowa, southern Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indian nations, to name a few.
The buffalo soldiers battled more than Indians. In some cases, their worst enemies were the very civilians whose lives they were sworn to protect. In 1892, soldiers from the Ninth Cavalry were dispatched to Johnson County, Wyoming, to maintain order between stock growers and cattle rustlers during the Johnson County War. There they found themselves the targets of some white citizens in Suggs, Wyoming, who violently objected to the soldiers' presence. Tensions between white settlers and the black soldiers led to a shootout that left one soldier dead.
At other times, though, black soldiers were treated with respect by the white settlers. Their treatment was dependent upon a number of factors, most notably the threat from Native Americans.
EXODUSTERS AND BLACK TOWNS
Black settlers throughout the West experienced the same uncertain treatment as the buffalo soldiers. Generally, the abundance of cheap land and the pioneers' reliance on each other made for fairly peaceful relations between black and white settlers. But as frontier areas became more populous, settled, and "civilized," old patterns of prejudice began to emerge.
Nevertheless, thousands of African American migrants swarmed into Kansas beginning in 1879, when conditions in the South after Reconstruction had become unbearable. The lack of economic and political opportunity, as well as state-sanctioned racial violence, drove them from their homes. The hope for a better life and the promises of land speculators, both black and white, drove them on. More than twenty thousand blacks migrated to Kansas and other parts of the West between 1879 and 1880.
This migration, called the "Exoduster" movement, was led by Benjamin "Pap" Singleton (1809-1892), a seventy-year-old man who was motivated by religious faith to help deliver his people to the promised land of Kansas. Families gathered themselves and all the belongings they could carry and boarded river boats traveling up the Mississippi River. Migrants then traveled on foot or by horse or wagon to reach a place where their lives and their rights might be respected.
The migration caused a national outcry. White landowners in the South feared the loss of their cheap labor force. The Exodusters encountered many hardships upon their arrival. In 1880, Congress formed a special committee to investigate the causes of the migration.
From the Exoduster movement emerged a host of black towns in Kansas and neighboring Oklahoma. Towns such as Nicodemus, Kansas, and Langston, Oklahoma, were founded in the 1880s by blacks, primarily as agricultural communities. Farther west, black towns such as Blackdom, New Mexico; Allensworth, California; and Deerfield, Colorado; were founded as places where African American settlers might attain economic and political self-sufficiency. For a variety of reasons, most of these towns failed, and their residents moved away. Nicodemus is one of the few still in existence today.SEE PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT John Mercer Langston Speaks on the Mass Exodus of African Americans from the South
As a result of the Exoduster movement and increased migration westward after the Civil War, the black population in the west grew rapidly. Even with the increase, however, it remained very small, and in most western states this is still the case. For instance, the largest number of African Americans living in Nevada in the nineteenth century was 396, in 1880. Moreover, the majority of black frontier settlers were men. In turn-of-the-century Los Angeles, black females were so scarce that black men "inspected" incoming trains, looking for possible mates.
Those black women who did travel west were usually older and better educated than black women in general. Any woman traveling alone faced dangers specific to her sex, and for black women the dangers were compounded by their race. Despite the risks, black women did migrate west. One such woman was Clara Brown (1800-1885), who at the age of fifty-five traveled from St. Louis to Denver in a covered wagon.
Once migrants settled in their new homes, the isolation and separation from friends and family could be frightening. One migrant to Seattle described the experience: "There were few of our people in Seattle when we came in 1889 and at times I got very lonely. "Despite their small numbers, African Americans throughout the West attempted to duplicate familiar community structures such as the church, lodges, and benevolent societies.
Women were especially active as community builders. Lucy Phillips, who moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, with her family in 1868, donated land for the Allen A.M.E. Church and held meetings in her home in the years before the chapel was built. In Central City, Colorado, Clara Brown became active in church and charitable causes and used some of her earnings as a laundress to help over thirty members of her family relocate to Colorado.
Family and community ties have always been an important feature of the African American experience, and western migrants developed a number of ways to maintain theirs. Pullman porters on the transcontinental railroad served as an informal but critical link between eastern and western black communities. Often they encouraged migration by carrying messages between family members and serving as examples of opportunities the West had to offer.
The West also had a thriving black press. California was home to several black newspapers, including the Western Appeal, the Mirror of the Times, and the San Francisco Elevator. The columns of these papers were filled with letters from African American correspondents writing from all over the west.
In much of the West, the land was not suitable for farming, and African Americans engaged in other occupations in order to survive. Many operated hotels and boardinghouses. Barney Ford had a spectacular career as a hotelier in both Denver and Cheyenne. After migrating to California from Boston, Mary Ellen Pleasant (1812-1904) became a successful boardinghouse operator and used the money she made to invest in mining stock and real estate. Mary Fields (1832-1914), of Cascade, Montana, worked as a freight hauler, restaurant owner, laundress, and mail coach driver. She was also known for her expertise with a six-shooter, having participated in at least one shootout.
Blacks also participated in the political life of the West. William Hardin was elected to the Wyoming Territorial Legislature in 1879 and 1882, in part because of the black community's support. William Leidesdorff (1810-1848), who moved to California when it was still owned by Mexico, served as American consul after the United States took over the territory.
CHANGING IDEAS OF THE FRONTIER
Today, the frontier lives on as one of the most enduring American symbols, a land of cowboys, shootouts, and wide-open spaces. But many of our perceptions about the West come from television, movies, and books that have romanticized the frontier experience and ignored some of its realities. The precise meanings of "the West" and "the Frontier" are still being debated today.
As the debate rages on, historians attempt to make history more inclusive, gathering information about people like African Americans whose experience is often ignored in popular myths of the frontier. Such work gives us a truer and more interesting account of how all Westerners—not just cowboys—led their lives on the frontier.
Berwanger, Eugene H. The Frontier against Slavery: Western Anti-Negro Prejudice and the Slavery Extension Controversy. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1967.
Bontemps, Arna, and Jack Conroy. Anyplace but Here. NewYork:Hill and Wang, 1966.
Carroll, John M., ed. The Black Military Experience in the American West. New York: Liveright, 1971.
Durham, Philip, and Edward Jones. The Negro Cowboys. NewYork:Dodd, Mead, 1965.
Katz, William Loren. The Black West, A Pictorial History. 3rd ed.Seattle: Open Hand Publishing, 1987.
Painter, Nell Irvin. Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction New York: W.W. Norton, 1976.
Porter, Kenneth Wiggins. The Negro on the American Frontier. New York: Arno Press, 1971.
Rusco, Elmer. "Good Time Coming?" Black Nevadans in the Nineteenth Century. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1975.
Savage, W. Sherman. Blacks in the West. Westport: GreenwoodPress, 1976.
Slatta, Richard W. Cowboys of the Americas. New Haven: YaleUniversity Press, 1990.
White, Richard. "It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own": A New History of the American West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.
PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT
The Autobiography of Nat Love, Cowboy
Of the thousands of black cowboys who herded cattle along the Chisholm Trail in the years following the Civil War, Nat Love (alias Deadwood Dick) is perhaps the best known, thanks in large part to his 1907 autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love.
Excerpt from The Life and Adventures of Deadwood Dick, by Nat Love
The World is Before me. I Join the Texas Cowboys. Red River Dick. My First Outfit. My First Indian Fight. I Learn to use my Gun. It was on the tenth day of February, 1869, that I left the old home, near Nashville, Tennessee. I was at that time about fifteen years old, and though while young in years the hard work and farm life had made me strong and hearty, much beyond my years, and I had full confidence in myself as being able to take care of myself and making my way.
I at once struck out for Kansas of which I had heard something. And believing it was a good place in which to seek employment. It was in the west, and it was the great west I wanted to see, and so by walking and occasional lifts from farmers going my way and taking advantage of every thing that promised to assist me on my way, I eventually brought up at Dodge City, Kansas, which at that time was a typical frontier city, with a great many saloons, dance halls, and gambling houses, and very little of anything else. When I arrived the town was full of cow boys from the surrounding ranches, and from Texas and other parts of the west. As Kansas was a great cattle center and market, the wild cow boy, prancing horses of which I was very fond, and the wild life generally, all had their attractions for me, and I decided to try for a place with them. Although its seemed to me I had met with a bad outfit, at least some of them, going around among them I watched my chances to get to speak with them, as I wanted to find some one whom I thought would give me a civil answer to the questions I wanted to ask, but they all seemed too wild around town, so the next day I went out where they were in camp.
Approaching a party who were eating their breakfast, I got to speak with them. They asked me to have some breakfast with them, which invitation I gladly accepted. During the meal I got a chance to ask them many questions. They proved to be a Texas outfit, who had just come up with a herd of cattle and having delivered them they were preparing to return. There were several colored cow boys among them, and good ones too. After breakfast I asked the camp boss for a job as cow boy. He asked me if I could ride a wild horse. I said "yes sir. "He said if you can I will give you a job. So he spoke to one of the colored cow boys called Bronco Jim, and told him to go out and rope old Good Eye, saddle him and put me on his back. Bronco Jim gave me a few pointers and told me to look out for the horse was especially bad on pitching. I told Jim I was a good rider and not afraid of him I thought I had rode pitching horses before, but from the time I mounted old Good Eye I knew I had not learned what pitching was. This proved the worst horse to ride I had ever mounted in my life, but I stayed with him and the cow boys were the most surprised outfit you ever saw, as they had taken me for a tenderfoot, pure and simple. After the horse got tired and I dismounted the boss said he would give me a job and pay me $30.00 per month and more later on. He asked what my name was and I answered Nat Love he said to the boys we will call him Red River Dick. I went by this name for a long time.
The boss took me to the city and got my outfit, which consisted of a new saddle, bridle and spurs, chaps, a pair of blankets and a fine 45 Colt revolver. Now that the business which brought them to Dodge City was concluded, preparations were made to start out for the Pan Handle country in Texas to the home ranch. The outfit of which I was now a member was called the Duval outfit, and their brand was known as the Pig Pen brand. I worked with this outfit for over three years. On this strip there were only about fifteen of us riders, all excepting myself were hardy, experienced men, always ready for anything that might turn up, but they were as jolly a set of fellows as on could find in a long journey. There now being nothing to keep us longer in Dodge City, we prepared for the return journey, and left the next day over the old Dodge and Sun City lonesome trail, on a journey which was to prove the most eventful of my life up to now.
A few miles out we encountered some of the hardest hail storms I ever saw, causing discomfort to man and beast, but I had no notion of getting discouraged but I resolved to be always ready for any call that might be made on me, of whatever nature it might be, and those with whom I have lived and worked will tell you I have kept that resolve. Not far from Dodge City on our way home we encountered a band of the old Victoria tribe of Indians and had a sharp fight.
These Indians were nearly always harrassing travelers and traders and the stock men of that part of the country, and were very troublesome. In this band we encountered there were about a hundred painted bucks all well mounted. When we saw the Indians they were coming after us yelling like demons. As we were not expecting Indians at this particular time, we were taken somewhat by surprise.
We only had fifteen men in our outfit, but nothing daunted we stood our ground and fought the Indians to a stand. One of the boys was shot off his horse and killed near me. The Indians got his horse, bridle and saddle. During this fight we lost all but six of our horses, our entire packing outfit and our extra saddle horses, which the Indians stampeded, then rounded them up after the fight and drove them off. And as we only had six horses left us, we were unable to follow them, although we had the satisfaction of knowing we had made several good Indians out of bad ones.
This was my first Indian fight and likewise the first Indians I had ever seen. When I saw them coming after us and heard their blood curdling yell, I lost all courage and thought my time had come to die. I was too badly scared to run, some of the boys told me to use my gun and shoot for all I was worth. Now I had just got my outfit and had never shot off a gun in my life, but their words brought me back to earth and seeing they were all using their guns in a way that showed they were used to it, I unlimbered my artillery and after the first shot I lost all fear and fought like a veteran.
We soon routed the Indians and they left, taking with them nearly all we had, and we were powerless to pursue them. We were compelled to finish our journey home almost on foot, as there were only six horses left to fourteen of us. Our friend and companion who was shot in the fight, we buried on the plains, wrapped in his blanket with stones piled over his grave. After this engagement with the Indians I seemed to lose all sense as to what fear was and thereafter during my whole life on the range I never experienced the least feeling of fear, no matter how trying the ordeal or how desperate my position.
The home ranch was located on the Palo Duro river in the western part of the Pan Handle, Texas, which we reached in the latter part of May, if taking us considerably over a month to make the return journey home from Dodge City. I remained in the employ of the Duval outfit for three years, making regular trips to Dodge City every season and to many other places in the surrounding states with herds of horses and cattle for market and to be delivered to other ranch owners all over Texas, Wyoming and the Dakotas. By strict attention to business, born of a genuine love of the free and wild life of the range, and absolute fearlessness, I became known throughout the country as a good all around cow boy and a splendid hand in a stampede.
After returning from one of our trips north with a bunch of cattle in the fall of 1872, I received and accepted a better position with the Pete Gallinger company, whose immense range was located on the Gila River in southern Arizona. So after drawing the balance of my pay from the Duval company and bidding good bye to the true and tried companions of the past three years, who had learned me the business and been with me in many a trying situation, it was with genuine regret that I left them for my new position, one that meant more to me in pay and experience. I stayed with Pete Gallinger company for several years and soon became one of their most trusted men, taking an important part in all the big round-ups and cuttings throughout western Texas, Arizona and other states where the company had interests to be looked after, sometimes riding eighty miles a day for days at a time over the trails of Texas and the surrounding country and naturally I soon became well known among the cowboys rangers, scouts and guides it was my pleasure to meet in my wanderings over the country, in the wake of immense herds of the long horned Texas cattle and large bands of range horses. Many of these men who were my companions on the trail and in camp, have since become famous in story and history, and a braver, truer set of men never lived than these wild sons of the plains whose home was in the saddle and their couch, mother earth, with the sky for a covering. They were always ready to share their blanket and their last ration with a less fortunate fellow companion and always assisted each other in the many trying situations that were continually coming up in a cowboy's life.
When we were not on the trail taking large herds of cattle or horses to market or to be delivered to other ranches we were engaged in range riding, moving large numbers of cattle from one grazing range to another, keeping them together, and hunting up strays which, despite the most earnest efforts of the range riders would get away from the main herd and wander for miles over the plains before they could be found, overtaken and returned to the main herd.
Then the Indians and the white outlaws who infested the country gave us no end of trouble, as they lost no opportunity to cut out and run off the choicest part of a herd of long horns, or the best of a band of horses, causing the cowboys a ride of many a long mile over the dusty plains in pursuit, and many are the fierce engagements we had, when after a long chase of perhaps hundreds of miles over the ranges we overtook the thieves. It then became a case of "to the victor belongs the spoils," as there was no law respected in this wild country, except the law of might and the persuasive qualities of the 45 Colt pistol.
Accordingly it became absolutely necessary for a cowboy to understand his gun and know how to place its contents where it would do the most good, therefore I in common with my other companions never lost an opportunity to practice with my 45 Colts and the opportunities were not lacking by any means and so in time I became fairly proficient and able in most cases to hit a barn door providing the door was not too far away, and was steadily improving in this as I was in experience and knowledge of the other branches of the business which I had chosen as my life's work and which I had begun to like so well, because while the life was hard and in some ways exacting, yet it was free and wild and contained the elements of danger which my nature craved and which began to manifest itself when I was a pugnacious youngster on the old plantation in our rock battles and the breaking of the wild horses. I gloried in the danger, and the wild and free life of the plains, the new country I was continually traversing, and the many new scenes and incidents continually arising in the life of a rough rider.
PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT
John Mercer Langston Speaks on the Mass Exodus of African Americans from the South
In 1879 John Mercer Langston was asked to comment on the mass exodus of African American southerners, or Exodusters, to Kansas and the other plains states. On October 7, he delivered the following speech at Lincoln Hall in Washington, declaring that the "exodus of colored Americans is intimately connected with and inseparable from the continued existence of the old order of things in the South."
The Causes Which Led the Colored People of the South to Leave Their Homes—The Lesson of the Exodus
Seventeen years ago, on the 22d day of September, Abraham Lincoln published his preliminary Proclamation of Emancipation, and one hundred days thereafter, on the 1st day of January, 1863, he issued the proclamation in which he designated the States and parts of States in which the abolition of slavery, as a war measure, was declared. The abolition of slavery in the border States soon followed; and those persons who, prior to this action, had been held and designated as things, chattels personal, sustaining in the eye of the law only the status of four-footed beasts and creeping things, were given emancipation, and, as supposed, all those dignities which are implied in self-ownership and manhood.
The measure of emancipation, however, was not granted as the consequence of a healthy, moral, public sentiment pervading the country; not upon political considerations advanced, elucidated, and enforced by our leading statesmen; not in answer to appeals of abolition reformers and philanthropists, but as a military necessity at the time felt by the Government and the loyal North engaged in a struggle with and against the slave oligarchy of the South. Had emancipation rested upon moral and political bases, as the result of agitation and debate, the condition of the emancipated class might have been considerably changed. Some distinct governmental provision might have been taken for its due settlement, even upon lands appropriated specially for this purpose; and some system of education provided whereby it might have, in an earlier and more thorough manner, mastered lump.
And more fully appreciated the lessons taught and impressed in freedom and by civil responsibility. But emancipation as a war measure, was instant and speedy; and its consummation, characterized by no prior consideration and debate as to the subsequent situation of the freedman, left him in simple ownership of his person—other destitute in the extreme.
Hence the Negro, yesterday a slave, finds himself today, as emancipated, in the enjoyment of the simplest and merest self-ownership. Without property on the one side, and destitute of educational and moral appliances for his elevation on the other, he can look only to the philanthropic, the Christian, the benevolent public even for food, clothing, and those simpler elementary matters of instruction which tend to confirm him in the consciousness of the self-ownership which had just been conferred. All honor to the philanthropic, the Christian and benevolent public of this and other lands for the liberal and generous manner in which responses were made to the wants of the emancipated colored American. Many noble families of the North gave their best son and their best daughter to educate and to elevate, as far as practicable, the newly-made freedman; others their money by thousands to advance his material and educational interests. It was a sight worthy of the civilized, Christian country in which we live to witness how the noble sons and daughters of such heroic, devoted families attempted this work; with what earnestness, vigor, and matchless moral heroism. And the little good we find to-day already accomplished among the freed people of the South is more largely due to the efforts and offerings here referred to than to any Government assistance, State or national, which has been given.
With regard to the emancipation of the American slave, there have existed from the foundation of our Government two opinions, the one favoring and the other opposing it; and as slavery itself grew hoary-headed, the institution becoming more and more deep-seated, hedged about and defended by State action and national recognition, public sentiment against its abolition became more general and fixed. So much was this the case that we have not to travel far back in the history of our country to find when the two great political parties, the Whig and Democratic, pledged themselves to its maintenance and support as a positive, moral, legal, and political finality. Every one of us recollects with the most vivid distinctness the action had by these parties with regard to the compromise measures of 1850; and the American Church, in several of its important branches, as if it would not be outdone by the great political organizations of the day, was not slow in making solemn and positive utterances founded, as was claimed, upon the philosophy and logic, the theology and teachings of the Old and New Testaments, favoring this institution, which made and sustained property in the bodies and souls of men created in the image of our Heavenly Father. It is also within our memory, that memory running back not beyond a quarter of a century of our past, that the leading doctors of divinity, the conspicuous pulpit orators of our country argued, with an ardor befitting a better cause, with an eloquence frequently to the common mind irresistible and overwhelming, that slavery was a divine institution, sanctioned and sanctified by the teachings of Moses and Paul.
It was out of this state of things, a state of things implied in the declarations which I have just made in regard to the national parties and the church, that the great Republican party, organized in 1854, avowing its purpose to stay the extension of slavery, had its origin, and entered upon that glorious national career which is so distinguished by its triumphs in favor of freedom, equal rights, the support of free institutions, the maintenance of the Government, and the perpetuation of the Union of the States. It was upon the vote of this party finally that Abraham Lincoln was made President of the United States; it was the triumph of this party that gave occasion to the slave oligarchy to move in the establishment of a southern Confederacy, and the severance from the union of those States in which this new government was to take control. And as the old Democratic party passed out of power, James Buchanan retiring to the eternal shades of night, forever disgraced by the action which he had taken, or failed to take, (for his sin is at once one of commission and omission,) the great slave-power received that death-blow, under which, staggering, it fell, dying in the midst of the thunders of the great guns, whose echoes, lasting through the ages, are a warning to those who would break our Union and sunder our Government; while they are glad music, the perpetual song of joy to those who, accepting the sentiments of our Declaration and the doctrines of our Constitution, hold life, property and sacred honor in pledge to the maintenance of all those institutions which protect, defend and eternize American freedom with its sacred blessings.
But in the discussions had with regard to the nonextension of slavery, the distinctive principles of the Republican party and its purposes should it come into power, nothing had been said really, with reference to the immediate abolition of slavery in the several States where it existed, and no well-defined position had been taken, no measures suggested for ameliorating the condition of the slave in such States, should he be emancipated. Indeed, the one great purpose, the sole object which the most advanced leader of the Republican party advocated and expected to realize, was the prevention of the spread of slavery into territory then free. But it was discovered in the midst of our war against the rebellion, that the abolition of slavery, as just indicated, was a fitting and necessary war measure; and the brave and true Lincoln, with one mighty stroke of his pen, decreed the emancipation of the Negro, who went out from his prison-house of enslavement, but in the poverty bequeathed by centuries of hard and cruel oppression. He was landless; he was homeless. Destitute mainly of those things which distinguish the humblest life, he has been battling for the past seventeen years of his freedom, in a material sense, for the merest, simplest necessaries of a lowly condition. In fact, the merest emancipation of person and body has been practically the only thing, up to this hour, which has been guaranteed him. In this connection it is our duty to discriminate between simple emancipation, accompanied by a destitution characteristic of slave existence, and practical freedom, in which such destitution does not ordinarily exist; for if provision is not made for the newly emancipated by State or national regulation, opportunity, with fair wages, ought to be given for regular and remunerative labor, with intelligent investment of its proceeds in those things which are indispensable to well-ordered and prosperous life.
This brings me directly to the consideration of the condition of the American ex-slave as we find him today, struggling for life, with its common, usual rewards, in the South. This condition ought to be considered in its several relations of protection, industry, and politics. In dwelling on this branch of the subject we are not to forget that our national Constitution has been amended so as to guarantee freedom, civil rights, and the ballot to the freedom; that Congress has legislated in support of any rights, immunities, and privileges claimed by this class of our citizens; and that it is true that generally in the States of the South laws have been enacted the purpose and object of which seem to be the protection and conservation of the rights, civil and other, which belong to the same class. In a word, as far as mere legislation is concerned, the condition of the freedman seems to be altogether tolerable—indeed good. In a material and industrial point of view, however, as well as political, the difficulty in his case seems to be even more deep-rooted and hard of management. His real condition is described and duly appreciated only when we recollect that although emancipated and legislation has been had in this case, as stated, still he has not been given practical independence of the old slave-holding class, constituting the land-proprietors and employers in the section where he lives and labors for daily support. And besides this, he is left to seek existence in the midst of those classes who of all others are most interested in demonstrating that emancipation is a failure; that the freedman is incapable of cultivating those things that pertain to dignified, honorable life; and that slavery is his natural and normal condition. Not only holding the lands, the old slave-holding class control the wealth and intelligence, as well as the social and governmental appliances of that section. They are masters in the church, masters in the courts, masters in the schools, masters in politics, masters at the polls, and masters of the legislatures, as well as the plantations, directing and controlling according to their caprices, their interests, their prejudices, and their predilections. The non-landholding white of the South must do their bidding; and the non-landholding Negro, also, occupies a subservient position to them. Depending, then, for labor, food, clothing and shelter upon his former master—the property holder—who is his abusive, tyrannical employer, making even harder exactions than he was wont to make of him when a slave, the condition of the freedman is certainly sad.
If what is here stated with regard to the condition of the freedman be true, reasoning a priori, to say the least, one might naturally conclude that the measure of protection accorded him would be limited and inadequate; that his industrial situation and prospects would be anything other than prosperous and promising; and that his exercise of political powers would be circumscribed and obstructed—as far as possible entirely hindered.
Mere philosophying, however, finds no place in this connection. The facts that bear upon this point are clear, positive, and undeniable. The freedman is without protection. His condition as a laborer, whether he work for wages, as a share-farmer, or renter, is not favorable; indeed, it is lamentable; while as a voter, it is well known that he cannot safely cast a free ballot according to the dictates of a wise and patriotic judgment. The "bull-dozing" record of the South is well understood, and the knowledge of the bloody deeds of its instigators and supporters is widespread and fully appreciated by the people of our country. Nor do his appeals to the courts of justice for redress of wrong meet with any success. If he make an appeal on law and fact to a jury of his fellow-citizens, who should, even from their own interest, if from no other and higher consideration, do him justice, what is the result? Even if the facts be plain and the law clear in support of his claim, the jury disagree ordinarily, and the judicial remedy which would naturally work him justice is defeated in its operation. This is true in civil as well as criminal proceedings, especially where the interests of the landed class as against the freedman are involved. In this regard the black man seems to have no rights which the white man is bound to respect.
After seventeen years of emancipation, in a condition of life even worse than that of serfage, in struggles against want and hardship, taxing his utmost endurance, the freedman has at last discovered his real situation and necessities, and has resolved, if possible, to relieve himself by escaping thence. What more natural than his effort in this regard, what more manly, what more worthy of him? What effort is better calculated to relieve him of his servile dependence? This movement is a declaration of the purpose of the freedman to assert and maintain that independence in his own behalf, without which no individual and no people can rise to the level of dignified and honorable manhood. His exodus, if justified on no other ground, is justified thoroughly and entirely by the fact that it is, on his part, an effort to relieve himself of his present condition of utter dependence upon the old slave-holding class which he has served so faithfully in the past, and thus secure to himself the fact as well as the consciousness of real freedom.
The history of the emancipated classes of the world, whether they have been serfs or slaves, abundantly sustains the assertion that in most cases in which emancipation has occurred, and the emancipated class has been left under the control of the former master class, in the midst of the old associations of its slavery, upon the plantations or estates where it was wont to labor, such class thus situated and thus controlled does not and cannot rise until it has by some means freed itself from the dependence connected with such condition. It remains, in fact, in a servile position, without self-control, self-reliance, or independent character; without the purpose to make earnest, courageous effort to accomplish those things which are worthy of manhood.
It is not astonishing that centuries of enslavement embed in the very soul of the enslaved the spirit of servility and dependence; nor is it astonishing that this feeling once mastering the soul of man, holds it enchained to those things which work degradation and ruin to freedom. The soul of man is only relieved of this feeling as it becomes conscious of its own power in the assertion and maintenance of its own purposes in the struggles and achievements of life. And until the soul is emancipated from this feeling, man does not enjoy real, substantial freedom. While one man leans against another, or in his soul fears him, he is subservient; and in his subserviency loses his freedom as he does the real dignity of his manhood. And this is especially true of a class once enslaved.
To really comprehend the condition of the freed class, it is necessary to understand and appreciate that on the part of the ex-master class there still exists the feeling of superiority; the feeling of the right to rule, direct, and, in fact, to own, if not the body and soul, certainly the services of its former slaves; while on the part of the dependent and serving class, there exists, from long habit connected with its slave condition, the sense of inferiority, of subserviency—a disposition to go and come as commanded. Either the relations of the two classes must be changed entirely, and the change thoroughly recognized and admitted by both, or the former masters will attempt the continuance of their old conduct and ways of mastership; while the other class, not conscious of its freedom, will continue to serve as formerly from fear and force of habit, their freedom being only recognized as something ideal, without the practical benefits which it should bring.
If there be any doubts in the mind of any intelligent person in regard to this matter, he has only to read carefully the history of the emancipation of the serf of Russia and consider his present condition; the history of the West India bondman and consider his situation, to be entirely convinced that the statement is true. Wallace, in dwelling upon the emancipation of the serfs in Russia and in considering the question as to how their condition may be improved, states, in addition to other considerations offered, that "it would be well to organize an extensive system of emigration by which a portion of the peasantry would be transferred from the barren soil of the North and West to the rich fertile lands of the Eastern provinces."
It may be claimed that in this case the only reason why emigration is recommended is that the emancipation law did not confer upon the peasants of Russia as much land as they required, and consequently the peasant, who has merely his legal portion, has neither enough work nor enough revenue. But to one who considers the case of the Russian serf dispassionately and with care, it will be apparent that the real difficulty in his case is that although provision has been made for him, as far as land is concerned, he has been left practically in a state of dependence, if not upon the land proprietors, upon the Commune; and up to this time has not been able—discovering his real condition—to assert his independence of surroundings which tend to hold him in servile position. It will be remembered that the three fundamental principles of the law of emancipation in Russia were, as stated by Wallace, first, that the serf should at once receive the civil rights of the free rural class and that the authority of the proprietor should be replaced by Communal self-government; second, that the rural Communes should, as far as possible, retain the land they actually held, and should in return pay to the proprietor certain yearly dues in money and labor; third, that the government should, by means of credit, assist the Communes to redeem these dues, or, in other words, to purchase the lands ceded to them in usufruct. These conditions constitute the substantial features of the emancipation law of Russia. Upon close examination of these provisions, it will be discovered that although the emancipated serf is given, through the Commune, an interest in the soil, he is not relieved of a dependence which, in fact, keeps him in a servile condition; and until he has that freedom, which is indispensable to the cultivation of the highest possibilities of honorable manhood, he will be restless and his condition unsatisfactory, as it is unfortunate and unhappy. Let him but change his condition, emigrating from the old places so familiar to him, where his oppression and his real condition can never be forgotten, and settling in our own new and free country, where the blessings of liberty are guaranteed to every son and daughter of any and all nationalities, without money and without price, without stint, and without limit other than legal, and he enters upon new life, with new prosperity and new joy. It is emigration with its new conditions that gives to him and his posterity, the blessings of real freedom, which are more precious than rubies, more to be desired than any other human possession.
But that we may understand this subject from the slaveholding standpoint rather than that of serfage, and as connected with our own rather than the Eastern continent, it may be well to consider for a moment the condition of the emancipated bondman of the West India Islands. Here reference need only be made to the Islands of Barbados and Trinidad. In an excellent little work, entitled "The Ordeal of Free Labor in the West Indies," written by William G. Sewell, it is stated, in speaking of the condition of the laborers in the former island, that: "Under the new practice, still in force, a laborer has a house and land-allotment on an estate for which he pays a stipulated rent; but he is under an engagement besides, as a condition of renting, to give to the estate a certain number of days' labor at certain stipulated wages, varying from one-sixth to one-third less than the market price. The rate of wages in Barbados is about twenty-four cents per day; but the laborer, fettered by the system of tenancy-at-will, is compelled to work for his landlord at twenty cents per day. He is, therefore, virtually a slave; for if he resists the condition of his bond he is ejected by summary process, and loses the profit he hoped to reap upon his little stock. This remnant of coercion must be abolished wherever it exists—and it prevails, with some exceptions, in all the West India colonies—before it can be said that emancipation has been thoroughly tested. "After making this statement the author gives account of the organization of an association in Barbados for the improvement of the social and moral condition of the laboring population, stating that in the preamble to the resolutions adopted at the first meeting thereof, it was declared that "one of the main barriers to social progress" in the island "arose from a want of confidence between the employer and the employed. "He regrets the fact that the proprietor-body set their faces at once against this movement, and he says: "The planters, tenacious of their privileges and like aristocracies all the world over, anxious to retain their power over the masses, met to counteract the new movement, denounced the society for attempting to arouse unjust suspicions in the minds of the ignorant touching their rights, viewing with alarm and as a political movement the demand for a more liberal tenure, and as an effort to jeopardize the successful system of plantation management" as adopted. They maintained that the best of feeling existed between them and their tenants; and, finally, they declared their inherent right to adopt such measures as they might think fit for the good government, safety, and well-doing of their properties. Here is the master class asserting its right to be masters, and in effect believing it to be the duty of the laborer, even when emancipated, to consent to remain in a servile and slavish attitude.
If we turn from Barbados to Trinidad, it will be found that the people in the latter island, having left the estates upon which they were slaves, and thus exchanged a condition of servitude for one of independence,"as a natural consequence are more enlightened, better educated, and more wealthy than their brethren in Barbados. "Herein, claims Mr. Sewell, we discover the distinction that should be made between the Negroes in Trinidad and in the other islands where they have been able to leave the estates and work for themselves, and those in Barbados, where, by force of circumstances, they have been compelled to remain on the estates and work for others.
While it is true that in Barbados the ex-slave has shown himself a valuable and persistent laborer, to such a degree and extent that that island is said to be in its culture a beautiful garden, unnatural, unjust distinctions, on account of color, exist to this day, against the black and mulatto classes, and it may be said that the real condition of such classes is that of the free Negro where his social and civil rights are not recognized and respected.
Under the title of "Social Distinctions in Barbados," the author to whom I refer states that "the distinctions of caste are more strikingly observed in Barbados than in any other British West India colony. No person, male or female, with the slightest taint of African blood is admitted to white society. No matter what the standing of a father, his influence cannot secure for his colored off-spring the social status that he himself occupies; and the rule is more rigidly carried out among women than it is among the men."
Dwelling still on this subject, Mr. Sewell says: "But when he (the Barbadian planter) and all the other white inhabitants of the island make a difference of color their only line of distinction, and parade their reasons in an offensive and obnoxious way—when white planters refuse to associate with colored planters, white merchants with colored merchants, and white mechanics with colored mechanics—simply because they are colored, the question ceases to be a purely social one and assumes a dangerous political complexion. As long as the colored people were slaves, their heart-burnings and jealousies might be disregarded with impunity or contemptuously ignored. But freedom has opened to them the way to progress and power, and if their present progress and present power have proved, as they have proved, that color is no insuperable barrier to social, intellectual development and refinement, it is but wise to make it no longer an insuperable barrier to social advancement."
But such social discrimination are apt to continue, fostered always and everywhere by the master class against the laborer, especially if the latter has been a slave, and, on his being emancipated, is left thereafter in the conditions and under the control which were connected with his enslavement. Such distinctions will last until, by some manly utterance or courageous deed, he demonstrates his independence of the old servile condition, and his capacity to dare and achieve upon his self-reliance, as a fearless, independent man. It is in recognition of the principle here elaborated that Cassagnac, in his "History of the Working and Burgher Classes," in speaking of the mode of emancipation in France and the allotments of land allowed upon leases made with regard thereto, especially the contracts made for long terms, removing thereby the emancipated far from the influence and control of the former master class, says: "This kind of contract had this advantage, that when they were for a long term, as, for example, for three generations, a century passed, during which the action of the master upon the slave was restrained and weakened; while the slave, almost free in fact, acquired the manners and customs of the father of a family, became industrious, economical, settled, prudent, accumulated small profits and left them to his children. At the end of a century, when three generations had passed away, the master was much less a master, the slave was much less a slave. Both had forgotten whence they came by only seeing where they stood."
The inference to be drawn from the facts adduced is this: In proportion as the emancipated class is relieved of the presence and control of the class formerly owners and masters, from the conditions of its former enslavement, the spirit of servility is removed and that of self-assertion, self-reliance, and independence is cultivated, while steady, solid progress is made in the accumulation of the valuable fruits of industry.
The feeling too generally entertained by the old master toward his former slave, and by the latter toward the former, after emancipation, is strikingly illustrated in the story told by Herodotus with respect to the Scythian, who advised his comrades as to the manner in which they should meet and resist the army of their slaves, who, having taken possession of their households, their wives, and the management of public affairs, resisted them on their return from a protacted military expedition. He counselled his comrades to throw away their weapons, their arrows and their darts, and meet their opponents without any means of defence save the whips which they used upon their horses. Said he: "Whilst they see us with arms, they think themselves our equals in birth and importance; but as soon as they shall see us with whips in our hands, they will be impressed with a sense of their servile condition, and resist no longer. "The historian reports that the plan suggested was adopted, and proved to be entirely successful.
How shall the American ex-slave, who has served for two hundred and forty-five years under the influence of which I speak, be relieved of the presence and control of a class heretofore his masters? The history of the world offers but one solution of this question, and that solution is found in his exodus. Let him go forth; and where sympathy and the recognition of liberty and equal rights are accorded him; where labor is to be performed; where struggle is to be made; where the stern realities of life are to be met, there let him demonstrate his courage, his self-reliance, his manly independence. Under such new conditions his capacities, his powers and his efforts will win the crown which befits the brow of noble manhood.
The exodus of the colored American is intimately connected with and inseparable from the continued existence of the old order of things in the South. Up to this time there seems to have been in this regard practically little, if any, change. It is very true that a few plantations, comparatively speaking, have changed hands; a few even of the former slave class have here and there possessed themselves of small homes, have bought small pieces of land, and erected thereon small houses; but "the great house" has not disappeared, nor has the Negro quarter; and in some of the Southern States the old whipping-post, with its proverbial thirty-nine lashes, is still recognized as a judicial institution. Nor have the modes of industry, or the crops grown in that section, been materially changed. Cotton and sugar are the chief products of the South to-day, as they were a half century ago. Nor has there been any change, certainly no general and fundamental change, in the feelings and purposes of the old slave-holding class as to their right to work, drive, and scourge the Negro laborer. Having been his master once, their conduct would indicate that they believe, even in spite of the action of the General Government and the results of our great war, that their mastership is to continue forever. Nor has the feeling of the non-slaveholding class of the South undergone any material change with respect to the freedman. Indeed, it seems to be true that this class hates the colored man more now than when was a slave; and stands ready at the command of the aristocratic class to do its bidding, even to the shedding of his blood. As showing that this condition of affairs is true and that little advancement has been made, one has only to pronounce in your hearing certain terrible words coined in connection with the barbarous, cruel treatment that has been meted out to the emancipated class of Mississippi, Louisiana, and other States formerly slaveholding. What is the meaning of the frightful words, "Ku-Klux," "Bull-dozers;" and the terrible expression, "the shot-gun or Mississippi policy?" The meaning is clear. It is that neither the old slaveholding spirit, nor the old slaveholding purpose or control is dead in the South; that plantocracy, with its fearful power and influences, has not passed away; that the colored American under it is in a condition of practical enslavement, trodden down and outraged by those who exercise control over him. Such things will continue so long as the spirit of slavery exists in the South; so long as the old master class is in power; so long as the freedman consents to remain in a condition more terrible than any serfage of which history gives account. How can this condition of things be broken up? How can the planter-rule be changed? How can the master class be made to realize that it is no longer slaveholding, and that the slave has been set free? And how can the freedman be made to feel and realize that having been emancipated, practical liberty is within his reach, and that it is his duty to accept and enjoy it in its richest fruits; fearing neither the responsibilities of enfranchised manhood, nor trembling as a coward in the presence of trials and dangers?
To the intelligent and sagacious inquirer, who, without feeling, without passion, but philosophically and in a states-man-like manner considers this matter, there can be, as it seems to me, but a single answer. It is this: Let the freedman of the South, as far as practicable, take from the old plantocracy, by his exodus, the strong arms, broad shoulders, stalwart bodies, which, by compulsion, have been made to prop and sustain such system too long already in this day of freedom. Let him stand from beneath and the fabric will fall, and a new necessary reconstruction will follow.
But is it possible to transfer all the freedmen from the Southern part of the country? Perhaps not. It is, however, possible and practicable to so reduce the colored laborers of the South by emigration to the various States of the North and West, as to compel the landholders—the planters—to make and to observe reasonable contracts with those who remain; to compel all white classes there to act in good faith; and address themselves to the necessary labor upon the plantation, as well as elsewhere; obeying the law and respecting the rights of their neighbors.
Thus the old order of things would be speedily changed, and the industrial interests of that section greatly advanced; while the civil and political rights of all would be, through necessity, respected and sustained. Even the exodus movement just commenced, small as it is, insignificant as it appears to be, has produced in this regard a state of feeling in the South which justifies entirely the opinion here expressed.
It is well to recollect that in the South we find a barren, effete civilization—a civilization the natural product of slavery and slave-holding institutions. The school, the college, the institution of learning, publicly or privately established by the State or in connection with the church, has not taken deep root there, bearing fruit in natural abundance. The masses of the freed people are illiterate. How could it be otherwise? But a large portion of the whites are also illiterate. The existence of slavery accounts for the condition of both these classes in this respect. All those things which appertain to an advancing civilization—healthful, vigorous and manly—seem to be wanting in the Southern section of our country.
Let the freedman come to the North, let him go to the West, and his contact with new men, new things, a new order of life, new moral and educational influences will advance him in the scale of being in an incomparably short time, even beyond the expectations of the most sanguine. In his new home he will cultivate personal independence and free thought, acquiring in the meantime experience, knowledge and wisdom, which will enlarge his mind, ennoble his soul, and fit him for those higher walks of life, as merchant, mechanic, lawyer, doctor, minister, scientist or scholar. In other words still, the same benefits, the same blessings enjoyed by the newcomer from Ireland, England, and other foreign countries, tending so largely to elevate the thought, the purposes of such person, will be given to the ex-slave, and operate with equal power in the improvement of his mind and condition.
But as things are at present constituted in the South, the old methods of slavery and slave labor still prevailing, there is a large excess of laborers in that section. It is to be remembered that in slavery seven men, at least, were required to do the work of a single man in freedom. The exodus works at once the salvation of such surplus laborers by furnishing them a field for their muscle and labor in the unimproved acres of the West and North, thus not only benefiting them, but aiding in the development of the sections where they may locate. This consideration the people of the West and North appreciate, and their invitation to the poor freedman comes from them cordially and heartily. Cassagnac, in his work heretofore referred to—"The History of the Working and Burgher Classes"—in dwelling upon the Proletariat, says that it embraces: First, working men; second, mendicants; third, thieves; and fourth, women of the town. In explaining what he means by these several designations, he states that a working man is a proletary who works and gains wages for a living; a mendicant is a proletary who will not or cannot work, and who begs for a living; a thief is a proletary who will neither work nor beg, and who steals for a living; a woman of the town is a proletary who will neither work nor beg nor steal, and who prostitutes herself for a living. As the friend of the freedman, as one who would see him other and better than either of the classes here named composing the Proletariat of Cassagnac; who would see him more than the ordinary working man in the sense explained; who would see him a landholder and owner; who would see him master, as he is father, of his own household, rearing his family and his children in the fear and the admonition of his Heavenly Father; growing sons, indeed, to the State, with shoulders broad and Atlantean, fit to bear the responsibilities of earnest, dignified, manly life, I do not fear but approve and advocate his emigration.
Where shall he go? It has already been indicated that the North and the West furnish the localities open for the freedman, and to which he should go. It certainly would not be wise for him in large numbers to settle in any one State of the Union; but even in thousands he would be received and welcomed to kind, hospitable homes in the various States of the sections named, where labor, educational advantages, and the opportunity to rise as a man, a citizen and a voter would be furnished him.
But to his emigration there are objections:
First. It is claimed that the Negro should remain in the South, and demand of the Government protection from the wrongs which are perpetrated against him, it being asserted that for him to emigrate at this time there-from is to surrender the fundamental principle of protection which is guaranteed him, as well as every other citizen of the Republic, by the Constitution of the United States. Here it must be remembered that in emigrating from the South to the North the freedman is simply moving from one section of our common country to another, simply exercising his individual right to go when and where it suits his convenience and his advantage. In the next place, it is the exercise of such constitutional right that he leaves a section of the country where slavery has created a barbarous and oppressive public sentiment, the source of all the abuses which he suffers, and which it is impossible, certainly impracticable, to reach and eradicate by any legislative enactment had by the General Government, or by any legal fiat; and which, in fact, can only be changed and improved by educational and moral appliances brought to bear upon the masses of the people of the South for an indefinite period. This objection is urged, too, in disregard both of the considerations just now suggested, in reply thereto, and in disregard of the fact that the freedman emigrating to the North or West puts himself in far better condition than he is in the South, in every sense; while he makes himself useful upon a larger and better scale to the country generally.
But it may be claimed, and doubtless is, that if the freedman leaves the South under the oppressions which are heaped upon him, he yields to an unconstitutional proceeding on the part of the dominant classes, and thus weakness, if he does not surrender, the right to demand protection generally. In answer to this opinion it may be justly replied, that the freedman has a right to protection, and it ought to be granted to him at once, if possible; but it can hardly be required of the freedman who desires to leave the South to remain in his present condition and sacrifice himself, make himself a martyr in such manner.
Secondly. It is claimed that the freedman cannot endure a northern and western climate. It is said that the winters of these sections are too severe for him; that in their chilling winds, their biting frosts, their deep, freezing snows, he will find himself sickening and speadily dying. Upon what facts and data this opinion is presented and sustained it is difficult to imagine. It is true, as justified by observation, and as facts and figures would show, could they be secured, that the colored man as he goes north into colder regions adapths himself with ease to the climate. While it is true that in no part of our country does the colored man show more robust health, finer physical development and endurance, and consequent longevity, than in the northern and western portions of our country. In fact so much is this the case that latterly it has become a thing of general observation and remark. It is where the zymotic and malarial disorders prevail that the Negro sickens and dies; and this is abundantly shown in the fearful death rate that is given by sanitarians as connected with the warm and tropical regions of our own and other countries.
In the third place it is objected that if there is any considerable emigration from the South the freedmen who are left behind will be forgotten—their case ignored. But if the views already presented be correct, if emigration will work the results which are claimed, then this objection is fully and completely met. The old plan-tocracy is abolished; the slave system is entirely overthrown and the industrial systems of the South reconstructed; all oppressions and abuses are removed; protection and fair wages with the prospect of general agricultural improvement and the enjoyment of all civil and political rights are guaranteed; and thus the vexatious Southern problem is solved.
Again it is urged that the freedman is too poor to emigrate. Those who urge this objection ought to remember that it is the poor and oppressed in all ages and in all countries who have emigrated. One never emigrates only as he seeks to improve his condition, to relieve himself and family of want, to escape oppression and abuse, to gain such position as that, while he enjoys his freedom and rights, it is possible for him to cultivate as to himself and his children those circumstances of property, wealth, and intellectual, and moral, and religious culture, which distinguish desirable, wise, human existence.
Is it wise for the poor, starving, oppressed Irishman to quit the country of his nativity to seek a new home in our goodly land, where opportunities of culture, the accumulation of wealth, advancement and success await his endeavors? From whom comes the negative response? Then let no man either despise or oppose the exodus of the freedman, who now, realizing his real condition, emigrates from the old plantation and Negro quarter, from the scenes of his former enslavement, from the hateful and oppressive control of a stupid and tyrannical landed aristocracy, from poverty, from ignorance, from degradation to a home among those who value freedom, free institutions, educational and material, moral and Christian worth, individual effort and achievement—to a home among those who, loyal to God and man, never fail to give sympathy, succor and hospitable welcome to the needy son of Ireland, or the yet more needy son of Mississippi, who comes seeking not only liberty, but the opportunity to labor, to live, and achieve in their midst.
Our own national experience furnishes a valuable lesson upon the subject under consideration; and pondering such lesson wisely, the freedman and his family will do well to act in its light. This lesson is presented in the two-fold character of individual and family emigration, and the success and prosperity gained in connection therewith.
The family of a New England farmer is numerous. His sons are not needed at home; and there is no remunerative labor, manual or other, to be had in the community where this family lives. What is done? What has always been done in such families under such circumstances? Let the well-ordered and worthy household, the beautiful, fertile and productive farm, the substantial and enduring success, the political, the official, or the professional distinction which have been gained, and which now belong to the eldest son of such family, who, leaving home, settled fifty years ago in one of our nearer or more remote Western States, give the answer. But the community is overcrowded. Whole families are without work and pinching want seems to be near the door. What has been, and what is done in such cases? We know full well; for the populous, rich, prosperous, growing, vigorous, matchless West, with its thousands of free, Christian homes, noble sons, intelligent, heroic daughters, makes the answer in full, clear, positive, eloquent manner.
Then, too, in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, not to mention other States in connection with which the same thing is true, the colored American has moved heretofore from the South, and establishing settlements in the States named, has proved by his complete success the benefit and advantages of emigration. His rich and prosperous settlements in Pike county, Ohio, and in Cass county, Michigan, deserve in this connection special mention. But why dwell on these facts? For the colored man is seen now in all parts of the North; and wherever he is, earnest, sober, and industrious, he makes reasonable advancement, commendable progress, in the honest ways of life.
In view, then of the considerations presented; to secure the highest good of all the parties concerned by the overthrow of the plantocracy of the South and the reconstruction of the industrial system of that section, on the basis of free labor, justice, and fair dealing; to relieve the ex-slave from his dependent and practical slavery, and while giving him the fact and consciousness of his freedom and independence, furnish him the opportunity to cultivate, not only ordinary labor, but to build up his present interests, industrial, material, educational, and moral, with reference to that future of which his past conduct, his capabilities and powers, his loyal and Christian devotion, give such reasonable promise, I do most reverently and heartily accept the lesson contained in the words—
I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their task-masters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good land, and large, a land flowing with milk and honey.
SOURCE: Copyright © 1926 by John Mercer Langston, not renewed.
Nat Love (1854-1921), Cowboy
Born into slavery in Tennessee in 1854, Nat Love showed an early love of adventure and became an expert horseman at a young age. With freedom, he began to look around for something other than farming, and at the age of fifteen he headed west for Dodge City, Kansas. There he met a group of cowboys and signed on with them to herd cattle between Texas and points north on the Chisholm Trail.
For the next twenty years, Nat Love worked the range as a cowboy, driving cattle, fighting off Indians and outlaws, becoming an expert sharpshooter, and going from one almost unbelievable scrape to another. His triumphs at the 1876 Deadwood City Rodeo earned him the nickname of "Deadwood Dick. "In 1890, as the railroads began to replace the cattle drive, Love signed off as a cowboy and became a Pullman porter.
John Mercer Langston (1829-1897)
John Mercer Langston was born into slavery in Virginia in 1829, the son of Ralph Quarles and Lucy Langston. Despite the fact that they were different races, Quarles and Langston lived together as man and wife. Quarles arranged in his will for his family to be sent to Ohio. There, John Mercer grew up under the guardianship of his father's friend, Captain William Gooch. When Gooch sought to relocate to Missouri, a slave state, Langston remained in Ohio where he graduated from Oberlin College in 1849.
Langston rose to achieve considerable fame and position. He was elected to the Brownhelm (Ohio) City Council in 1855, the first known African American to win elective office. In 1868 he became inspector general of the Freedmen's Bureau, and in the same year he founded the Law School at Howard University, serving as its dean from 1870 to 1873.