Read CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION. of The Negro Farmer , free online book, by Carl Kelsey, on

In the last three hundred years there have been many questions of general interest before the American people. It is doubtful, however, if there is another problem, which is as warmly debated to-day as ever and whose solution is yet so uncertain, as that of the Negro. In the second decade of the seventeenth century protests were being filed against black slavery, but the system was continued for nearly 250 years. The discussion grew more and more bitter, and to participation in it ignorance, then as now, was no bar. The North had less and less direct contact with the Negro. The religious hostility to human bondage was strengthened by the steadily increasing difference in economic development which resulted in the creation of sectional prejudices and jealousies. The North held the negro to be greatly wronged, and accounts of his pitiable condition and of the many individual cases of ill treatment fanned the flames of wrath. The reports of travelers, however, had little influence compared with the religious sentiments which felt outraged by the existence of bond servitude in the land. Through all the years there was little attempt to scientifically study the character of the problem or the nature of the subject. A mistaken economic sentiment in the South and a strong moral sentiment at the North rendered such studies unnecessary, if not impossible. The South, perceiving the benefits of slavery, was blind to its fundamental weaknesses, and the North, unacquainted with Negro character, held to the natural equality of all men. Thus slavery itself became a barrier to the getting of an adequate knowledge of the needs of the slave. The feeling grew that if the shackles of slavery were broken, the Negro would at once be as other men. The economic differences finally led to the war. It is not to be forgotten that slavery itself was not the cause of the war, nor was there any thought on the part of the Union leaders to make the blacks citizens. That this was done later was a glowing tribute to their ignorance of the real demands of the situation. The Republican party of to-day shows no indication of repeating this mistake in the newly acquired islands. I would not be understood as opposing suffrage of the blacks, but any thoughtful observer must agree that as a race they were not prepared for popular government at the time of their liberation. The folly of the measures adopted none can fail to see who will read the history of South Carolina or Mississippi during what is called “Reconstruction.”

Immediately after the war, new sources of information regarding the Negro were afforded the North. The leaders of the carpet-bag regime, playing political games, circulated glowing reports of the progress of the ex-slaves. A second class of persons, the teachers, went South, and back came rose-colored accounts. It might seem that the teacher could best judge of the capacity of a people. The trouble is that in the schools they saw the best specimens of the race, at the impressionable period of their lives, and under abnormal conditions. There is in the school an atmosphere about the child which stimulates his desire to advance, but a relapse often comes when ordinary home conditions are renewed. Moreover, it is well known that the children of all primitive races are very quick and apt up to a certain period in their lives, excelling often children of civilized peoples, but that this disappears when maturity is reached. Hence, the average teacher, not coming in close contact with the mass of the people under normal surroundings, gives, although sincerely, a very misleading picture of actual conditions. A third class of informants were the tourists, and their ability to get at the heart of the situation is obvious. There remain to be mentioned the Negro teachers and school entrepreneurs. Naturally these have presented such facts as they thought would serve to open the purses of their hearers. Some have been honest, many more unintentionally dishonest, and others deliberately deceitful. The relative size of these classes it is unnecessary to attempt to ascertain. They have talked and sung their way into the hearts of the hearers as does the pitiful beggar on the street. The donor sees that evidently something is needed, and gives with little, if any, careful investigation as to the real needs of the case. The result of it all has been that the testimony of those who knew far more than was possible for any outsider, the southern whites, has gone unheeded, not to say that it has been spurned as hostile and valueless. The blame, of course, is not always on one side, and as will be shown later, there are many southern whites who have as little to do with the Negro, and consequently know as little about him, as the average New Yorker. This situation has been most unfortunate for all concerned. It should not be forgotten that the question of the progress of the Negro has far more direct meaning for the southerner, and that he is far more deeply interested in it than is his northern brother, the popular impression to the contrary notwithstanding. It is unnecessary to seek explanations, but it is a pleasure to recognize that there are many indications that a better day is coming, and indications now point to a hearty co-operation in educational efforts. There are many reasons for the change, and perhaps the greatest of these is summed up in “Industrial Training.”

The North is slowly learning that the Negro is not a dark-skinned Yankee, and that thousands of generations in Africa have produced a being very different from him whose ancestors lived an equal time in Europe. In a word, we now see that slavery does not account for all the differences between the blacks and whites, and that their origins lie farther back. Our acquaintance with the ancestors of the Negro is meager. We do not even know how many of the numerous African tribes are represented in our midst. A good deal of Semitic blood had already been infused into the more northern tribes. What influence did this have and how many descendants of these tribes are there in America? Tribal distinctions have been hopelessly lost in this country, and the blending has gone on so continuously that perhaps there would be little practical benefit if the stocks could be determined to-day. It is, however, a curious commentary on the turn discussions of the question have taken, that not until 1902 did any one find it advisable to publish a comprehensive study of the African environment and to trace its influence on subsequent development. Yet this is one of the fundamental preliminaries to any real knowledge of the subject.

In close connection with the preceding is the question of the mulatto. Besides the blending of African stocks there has been a good deal of intermixture of white blood. We do not even know how many full blooded Africans there are in America, nor does the last census seek to ascertain. Mulattoes have almost entirely been the offspring of white fathers and black mothers, and probably most of the fathers have been boys and young men. Without attempting a discussion of this subject, whose results ethnologists cannot yet tell, it is certain that a half breed is not a full blood, a mulatto is not a Negro, in spite of the social classification to the contrary. The general belief is that the mulatto is superior, either for good or bad, to the pure Negro. The visitor to the South cannot fail to be struck with the fact that with rare exceptions the colored men in places of responsibility, in education or in business, are evidently not pure negroes. Even in slavery times, the mulattoes were preferred for certain positions, such as overseers, the blacks as field hands. Attention is called to this merely to show our ignorance of an important point. Some may claim that it is a matter of no consequence. This I cannot admit. To me it seems of some significance to know whether mulattoes (and other crosses) form more than their relative percentage of the graduates of the higher schools; whether they are succeeding in business better than the blacks; whether town life is proving particularly attractive to them; whether they have greater or less moral and physical stamina, than the blacks. The lack of definite knowledge should at least stop the prevalent practice of taking the progress of a band of mulattoes and attempting to estimate that of the Negroes thereby. It may be that some day the mulatto will entirely supplant the black, but there is no immediate probability of this. Until we know the facts, our prophecies are but wild guesses. It should be remembered that a crossing of white and black may show itself in the yellow negro or the changed head and features, either, or both, as the case may be. A dark skin is, therefore, no sure indication of purity and blood.

It is often taken for granted that the Negro has practically equal opportunities in the various parts of the South, and that a fairly uniform rate of progress may be expected. This assumption rests on an ignorance of the geographical location of the mass of blacks. It will be shown that they are living in several distinct agricultural zones in which success must be sought according to local possibilities. Development always depends upon the environment, and we should expect, therefore, unequal progress for the Negroes. Even the highest fruits of civilization fail if the bases of life are suddenly changed. The Congregational Church has not flourished among the Negroes as have some other denominations, in spite of its great activity in educational work. The American mode of government is being greatly modified to make it fit conditions in Porto Rico. The manufacturers of Pennsylvania and the farmers of Iowa do not agree as to the articles on which duties should be levied, and it is a question if the two have the same interpretation of the principle of protection. Different environments produce different types. So it will be in the case of the Negro. If we are to understand the conditions on which his progress depends, we must pay some attention to economic geography. That this will result in a recognition of the need for shaping plans and methods according to local needs is obvious. The present thesis does not pretend to be a completed study, much less an attempt to solve the Negro problem. It is written in the hope of calling attention to some of the results of this geographic location as illustrated in the situation of the Negro farmer in various parts of the South.

The attempt is made to describe the situation of the average man. It is fully recognized that there are numbers of exceptions among the Negroes as well as among the white school teachers, referred to above. That there is much in the present situation, both of encouragement and discouragement, is patent. Unfortunately, most of us shut our eyes to one or the other set of facts and are wildly optimistic or pessimistic, accordingly. That there may be no misunderstanding of my position, let me say that I agree with the late Dr. J. L. M. Curry in stating that: “I have very little respect for the intelligence or the patriotism of the man who doubts the capacity of the negro for improvement or usefulness.”