From birth till death enslaved; in word, in deed, unmanned!
* * * * * * * * *
Hereditary bondsmen! Know ye not
Who would be free themselves must strike the blow?
[On the meaning of the bar of music]
Easily the most striking thing in the history of theAmerican Negro since 1876 is the ascendancy of Mr. Booker T. Washington. Itbegan at the time when war memories and ideals were rapidly passing; a day ofastonishing commercial devel- opment was dawning; a sense of doubt andhesitation overtook the freedmen's sons, -- then it was that his leading began.Mr. Washington came, with a simple definite programme, at the psychologicalmoment when the nation was a little ashamed of having bestowed so muchsentiment on Negroes, and was concentrating its energies on Dollars. Hisprogramme of industrial education, conciliation of the South, and submissionand silence as to civil and political rights, was not wholly original; the FreeNegroes from 1830 up to war-time had striven to build industrial schools, andthe American Missionary Association had from the first taught various trades;and
Price and others had sought a way of honorable alliance with the best of theSoutherners. But Mr. Washington first indissolubly linked these things; he putenthusiasm, unlimited energy, and perfect faith into his programme, and changedit from a by-path into a veritable Way of Life. And the tale of the methods bywhich he did this is a fascinating study of human life.
It startled the nation to hear a Negro advocating such aprogramme after many decades of bitter complaint; it startled and won theapplause of the South, it interested and won the admiration of the North; andafter a confused murmur of protest, it silenced if it did not convert theNegroes themselves.
To gain the sympathy and cooperation of the variouselements comprising the white South was Mr. Washington's first task; and this,at the time Tuskegee was founded, seemed, for a black man, well-nighimpossible. And yet ten years later it was done in the word spoken at Atlanta:"In all things purely social we can be as separate as the five fingers,and yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." This"Atlanta Compromise" is by all odds the most notable thing in Mr.Washington's career. The South interpreted it in different ways: the radicalsreceived it as a complete surrender of the demand for civil and politicalequality; the conservatives, as a generously conceived working basis for mutualunderstanding. So both approved it, and to-day its author is certainly the mostdistinguished Southerner since Jefferson Davis, and the one with the largestpersonal following.
Next to this achievement comes Mr. Washington's work ingaining place and consideration in the North. Others less shrewd and tactfulhad formerly essayed to sit on these two stools and had fallen between them;but as Mr. Washington knew the heart of the South from birth and training, soby singular insight he intuitively grasped the spirit of the age which wasdominating the North. And so thoroughly did he learn the speech and thought oftriumphant commercialism, and the ideals of material prosperity, that thepicture of a lone black boy poring over a French grammar amid the weeds anddirt of a neglected home soon seemed to him the acme of absurdities. Onewonders what Socrates and St. Francis of Assisi would say to this.
And yet this very singleness of vision and thoroughoneness with his age is a mark of the successful man. It is as though Naturemust needs make men narrow in order to give them force. So Mr. Washington'scult has gained unquestioning followers, his work has wonderfully prospered,his friends are legion, and his enemies are confounded. To-day he stands as theone recognized spokesman of his ten million fellows, and one of the mostnotable figures in a nation of seventy millions. One hesitates, therefore, tocriticise a life which, beginning with so little, has done so much. And yet thetime is come when one may speak in all sincerity and utter courtesy of themistakes and shortcomings of Mr. Washington's career, as well as of histriumphs, without being thought captious or envious, and without forgettingthat it is easier to do ill than well in the world.
The criticism that has hitherto met Mr. Washington hasnot always been of this broad character. In the South especially has he had towalk warily to avoid the harshest judgments, -- and naturally so, for he isdealing with the one subject of deepest sensitiveness to that section. Twice --once when at the Chicago celebration of the Spanish-American War he alluded tothe color-prejudice that is "eating away the vitals of the South,"and once when he dined with President Roosevelt -- has the resulting Southerncriticism been violent enough to threaten seriously his popularity. In theNorth the feeling has several times forced itself into words, that Mr.Washington's counsels of submission overlooked certain ele- ments of truemanhood, and that his educational programme was unnecessarily narrow. Usually,however, such criticism has not found open expression, although, too, thespiritual sons of the Abolitionists have not been prepared to acknowl- edgethat the schools founded before Tuskegee, by men of broad ideals andself-sacrificing spirit, were wholly failures or worthy of ridicule. While,then, criticism has not failed to follow Mr. Washington, yet the prevailingpublic opinion of the land has been but too willing to deliver the solution ofa wearisome problem into his hands, and say, "If that is all you and yourrace ask, take it."
Among his own people, however, Mr. Washington hasencountered the strongest and most lasting opposition, amounting
at times to bitterness, and even today continuing strong and insistent eventhough largely silenced in outward expression by the public opinion of thenation. Some of this opposition is, of course, mere envy; the disappointment ofdisplaced demagogues and the spite of narrow minds. But aside from this, thereis among educated and thoughtful colored men in all parts of the land a feelingof deep regret, sorrow, and apprehension at the wide currency and ascendancywhich some of Mr. Washington's theories have gained. These same men admire hissincerity of purpose, and are willing to forgive much to honest endeavor whichis doing something worth the doing. They cooperate with Mr. Washington as faras they conscientiously can; and, indeed, it is no ordinary tribute to thisman's tact and power that, steering as he must between so many diverseinterests and opinions, he so largely retains the respect of all.
But the hushing of the criticism of honest opponents is adangerous thing. It leads some of the best of the critics to unfortunatesilence and paralysis of effort, and others to burst into speech sopassionately and intemperately as to lose listeners. Honest and earnestcriticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched, -- criticism ofwriters by readers, -- this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard ofmodern society. If the best of the American Negroes receive by outer pressure aleader whom they had not recognized before, manifestly there is here a certainpalpable gain. Yet there is also irreparable loss, -- a loss of that peculiarlyvaluable educa- tion which a group receives when by search and criticism itfinds and commissions its own leaders. The way in which this is done is at oncethe most elementary and the nicest problem of social growth. History is but therecord of such group- leadership; and yet how infinitely changeful is its typeand character! And of all types and kinds, what can be more instructive thanthe leadership of a group within a group? -- that curious double movement wherereal progress may be negative and actual advance be relative retrogression. Allthis is the social student's inspiration and despair.
Now in the past the American Negro has had instructiveexperience in the choosing of group leaders, founding thus a
peculiar dynasty which in the light of present conditions is worth whilestudying. When sticks and stones and beasts form the sole environment of apeople, their attitude is largely one of determined opposition to and conquestof natural forces. But when to earth and brute is added an environment of menand ideas, then the attitude of the imprisoned group may take three main forms,-- a feeling of revolt and revenge; an attempt to adjust all thought and actionto the will of the greater group; or, finally, a determined effort atself-realization and self-development despite environing opinion. The influenceof all of these attitudes at various times can be traced in the history of theAmerican Negro, and in the evolution of his successive leaders.
Before 1750, while the fire of African freedom stillburned in the veins of the slaves, there was in all leadership or attemptedleadership but the one motive of revolt and revenge, -- typified in theterrible Maroons, the Danish blacks, and Cato of Stono, and veiling all theAmericas in fear of insurrection. The liberalizing tendencies of the latterhalf of the eighteenth century brought, along with kindlier relations betweenblack and white, thoughts of ultimate adjustment and assimilation. Suchaspiration was especially voiced in the earnest songs of Phyllis, in themartyrdom of Attucks, the fighting of Salem and Poor, the intellectualaccomplishments of Banneker and Derham, and the political demands of theCuffes.
Stern financial and social stress after the war cooledmuch of the previous humanitarian ardor. The disappointment and impatience ofthe Negroes at the persistence of slavery and serfdom voiced itself in twomovements. The slaves in the South, aroused undoubtedly by vague rumors of theHaytian revolt, made three fierce attempts at insurrection, -- in 1800 underGabriel in Virginia, in 1822 under Vesey in Carolina, and in 1831 again inVirginia under the terrible Nat Turner. In the Free States, on the other hand,a new and curious attempt at self-development was made. In Philadelphia and NewYork color-prescription led to a withdrawal of Negro communicants from whitechurches and the formation of a peculiar socio-religious institution among theNegroes known as the African Church, -- an organization still living andcontrolling in its various branches over a million of men.
Walker's wild appeal against the trend of the times showed how the world waschanging after the coming of the cotton- gin. By 1830 slavery seemed hopelesslyfastened on the South, and the slaves thoroughly cowed into submission. Thefree Negroes of the North, inspired by the mulatto immigrants from the WestIndies, began to change the basis of their demands; they recognized the slaveryof slaves, but insisted that they themselves were freemen, and soughtassimilation and amalgamation with the nation on the same terms with other men.Thus, Forten and Purvis of Philadelphia, Shad of Wilmington, Du Bois of NewHaven, Barbadoes of Boston, and others, strove singly and together as men, theysaid, not as slaves; as "people of color," not as"Negroes." The trend of the times, however, refused them recognitionsave in individual and exceptional cases, considered them as one with all thedespised blacks, and they soon found themselves striving to keep even therights they formerly had of voting and working and moving as freemen. Schemesof migration and colonization arose among them; but these they refused toentertain, and they eventually turned to the Abolition movement as a finalrefuge.
Here, led by Remond, Nell, Wells-Brown, and Douglass, anew period of self-assertion and self-development dawned. To be sure, ultimatefreedom and assimilation was the ideal before the leaders, but the assertion ofthe manhood rights of the Negro by himself was the main reliance, and JohnBrown's raid was the extreme of its logic. After the war and eman- cipation,the great form of Frederick Douglass, the greatest of American Negro leaders,still led the host. Self-assertion, especially in political lines, was the mainprogramme, and behind Douglass came Elliot, Bruce, and Langston, and theReconstruction politicians, and, less conspicuous but of greater socialsignificance, Alexander Crummell and Bishop Daniel Payne.
Then came the Revolution of 1876, the suppression of theNegro votes, the changing and shifting of ideals, and the seeking of new lightsin the great night. Douglass, in his old age, still bravely stood for theideals of his early manhood, -- ultimate assimilation through self-assertion,and on no other terms. For a time Price arose as a new leader, destined, it
seemed, not to give up, but to re-state the old ideals in a form less repugnantto the white South. But he passed away in his prime. Then came the new leader.Nearly all the former ones had become leaders by the silent suffrage of theirfellows, had sought to lead their own people alone, and were usually, saveDouglass, little known outside their race. But Booker T. Washington arose asessentially the leader not of one race but of two, -- a compromiser between theSouth, the North, and the Negro. Naturally the Negroes resented, at firstbitterly, signs of compromise which surrendered their civil and politi- calrights, even though this was to be exchanged for larger chances of economicdevelopment. The rich and dominating North, however, was not only weary of therace problem, but was investing largely in Southern enterprises, and welcomedany method of peaceful cooperation. Thus, by national opinion, the Negroesbegan to recognize Mr. Washington's leadership; and the voice of criticism washushed.
Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the oldattitude of adjustment and submission; but adjustment at such a peculiar timeas to make his programme unique. This is an age of unusual economicdevelopment, and Mr. Washington's programme naturally takes an economic cast,becoming a gospel of Work and Money to such an extent as apparently almostcompletely to overshadow the higher aims of life. Moreover, this is an age whenthe more advanced races are coming in closer contact with the less developedraces, and the race-feeling is therefore intensified; and Mr. Washington'sprogramme practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races.Again, in our own land, the reaction from the sentiment of war time has givenimpetus to race-prejudice against Negroes, and Mr. Washington withdraws many ofthe high demands of Negroes as men and American citizens. In other periods ofintensified prejudice all the Negro's tendency to self-assertion has beencalled forth; at this period a policy of submission is advocated. In thehistory of nearly all other races and peoples the doctrine preached at suchcrises has been that manly self-respect is worth more than lands and houses,and that a people who voluntarily surrender such respect, or cease striving forit, are not worth civilizing.
In answer to this, it has been claimed that the Negro can
survive only through submission. Mr. Washington distinctly asks that blackpeople give up, at least for the present, three things, --
and concentrate all their energies on industrialeducation, and accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South. Thispolicy has been courageously and insistently advocated for over fifteen years,and has been triumphant for perhaps ten years. As a result of this tender ofthe palm-branch, what has been the return? In these years there have occurred:
These movements are not, to be sure, direct results ofMr. Washington's teachings; but his propaganda has, without a shadow of doubt,helped their speedier accomplishment. The question then comes: Is it possible,and probable, that nine millions of men can make effective progress in economiclines if they are deprived of political rights, made a servile caste, andallowed only the most meagre chance for develop- ing their exceptional men? Ifhistory and reason give any distinct answer to these questions, it is anemphatic No. And Mr. Washington thus faces the triple paradox of hiscareer:
This triple paradox in Mr. Washington's position is theobject of criticism by two classes of colored Americans. One class isspiritually descended from Toussaint the Savior, through Gabriel, Vesey, andTurner, and they represent the attitude of revolt and revenge; they hate thewhite South blindly and distrust the white race generally, and so far as theyagree on definite action, think that the Negro's only hope lies in emigrationbeyond the borders of the United States. And yet, by the irony of fate, nothinghas more effectually made this programme seem hopeless than the recent courseof the United States toward weaker and darker peoples in the West Indies,Hawaii, and the Philippines, -- for where in the world may we go and be safefrom lying and brute force?
The other class of Negroes who cannot agree with Mr.Washington has hitherto said little aloud. They deprecate the sight ofscattered counsels, of internal disagreement; and especially they dislikemaking their just criticism of a useful and earnest man an excuse for a generaldischarge of venom from small-minded opponents. Nevertheless, the questionsinvolved are so fundamental and serious that it is difficult to see how menlike the Grimkes, Kelly Miller, J. W. E. Bowen, and other representatives ofthis group, can much longer be silent. Such men feel in conscience bound to askof this nation three things:
They acknowledge Mr. Washington's invaluable service incounselling patience and courtesy in such demands; they do not ask thatignorant black men vote when ignorant whites are debarred, or that anyreasonable restrictions in the suffrage should not be applied; they know thatthe low social level of the mass of the race is responsible for muchdiscrimination against it, but they also know, and the nation knows, thatrelentless color-prejudice is more often a cause than a result of the Negro'sdegradation; they seek the abatement of this relic of barbarism, and not itssystematic encouragement and pampering by all agencies of social power from theAssociated Press to the Church of Christ. They advocate, with Mr. Washington, abroad system of Negro common schools supplemented
by thorough industrial training; but they are surprised that a man of Mr.Washington's insight cannot see that no such educational system ever has restedor can rest on any other basis than that of the well-equipped college anduniversity, and they insist that there is a demand for a few such institutionsthroughout the South to train the best of the Negro youth as teachers,professional men, and leaders.
This group of men honor Mr. Washington for his attitudeof conciliation toward the white South; they accept the "AtlantaCompromise" in its broadest interpretation; they recog- nize, with him,many signs of promise, many men of high purpose and fair judgment, in thissection; they know that no easy task has been laid upon a region alreadytottering under heavy burdens. But, nevertheless, they insist that the way totruth and right lies in straightforward honesty, not in indiscriminateflattery; in praising those of the South who do well and criticisinguncompromisingly those who do ill; in taking advantage of the opportunities athand and urging their fellows to do the same, but at the same time inremembering that only a firm adherence to their higher ideals and aspirationswill ever keep those ideals within the realm of possibility. They do not expectthat the free right to vote, to enjoy civic rights, and to be educated, willcome in a moment; they do not expect to see the bias and prejudices of yearsdisappear at the blast of a trumpet; but they are absolutely certain that theway for a people to gain their reasonable rights is not by voluntarily throwingthem away and insisting that they do not want them; that the way for a peopleto gain respect is not by continually belittling and ridiculing themselves;that, on the contrary, Negroes must insist continually, in season and out ofseason, that voting is necessary to modern manhood, that color discriminationis barbarism, and that black boys need education as well as white boys.
In failing thus to state plainly and unequivocally thelegitimate demands of their people, even at the cost of opposing an honoredleader, the thinking classes of American Negroes would shirk a heavyresponsibility, -- a responsibility to themselves, a responsibility to thestruggling masses, a responsibility to the darker races of men whose futuredepends so largely on this American experiment, but especially a responsibility
to this nation, -- this common Fatherland. It is wrong to encourage a man or apeople in evil-doing; it is wrong to aid and abet a national crime simplybecause it is unpopular not to do so. The growing spirit of kindliness andreconciliation between the North and South after the frightful difference of ageneration ago ought to be a source of deep congratulation to all, andespecially to those whose mistreatment caused the war; but if thatreconciliation is to be marked by the industrial slavery and civic death ofthose same black men, with permanent legislation into a position ofinferiority, then those black men, if they are really men, are called upon byevery consideration of patriotism and loyalty to oppose such a course by allcivilized methods, even though such opposition involves disagreement with Mr.Booker T. Washington. We have no right to sit silently by while the inevitableseeds are sown for a harvest of disaster to our children, black and white.
First, it is the duty of black men to judge the Southdiscriminatingly. The present generation of Southerners are not responsible forthe past, and they should not be blindly hated or blamed for it. Furthermore,to no class is the indiscriminate endorsement of the recent course of the Southtoward Negroes more nauseating than to the best thought of the South. The Southis not "solid"; it is a land in the ferment of social change, whereinforces of all kinds are fighting for supremacy; and to praise the ill the Southis today perpetrating is just as wrong as to condemn the good. Discriminatingand broad-minded criticism is what the South needs, -- needs it for the sake ofher own white sons and daughters, and for the insurance of robust, healthymental and moral development.
Today even the attitude of the Southern whites toward theblacks is not, as so many assume, in all cases the same; the ignorantSoutherner hates the Negro, the workingmen fear his competition, themoney-makers wish to use him as a laborer, some of the educated see a menace inhis upward development, while others -- usually the sons of the masters -- wishto help him to rise. National opinion has enabled this last class to maintainthe Negro common schools, and to protect the Negro partially in property, life,and limb. Through the pressure
of the money-makers, the Negro is in danger of being reduced to semi-slavery,especially in the country districts; the workingmen, and those of the educatedwho fear the Negro, have united to disfranchise him, and some have urged hisdeportation; while the passions of the ignorant are easily aroused to lynch andabuse any black man. To praise this intricate whirl of thought and prejudice isnonsense; to in- veigh indiscriminately against "the South" isunjust; but to use the same breath in praising Governor Aycock, exposingSenator Morgan, arguing with Mr. Thomas Nelson Page, and denouncing Senator BenTillman, is not only sane, but the imperative duty of thinking black men.
It would be unjust to Mr. Washington not to acknowledgethat in several instances he has opposed movements in the South which wereunjust to the Negro; he sent memorials to the Louisiana and Alabamaconstitutional conventions, he has spoken against lynching, and in other wayshas openly or silently set his influence against sinister schemes andunfortunate happenings. Notwithstanding this, it is equally true to assert thaton the whole the distinct impression left by Mr. Washington's propaganda is,first, that the South is justified in its present attitude toward the Negrobecause of the Negro's degradation; secondly, that the prime cause of theNegro's failure to rise more quickly is his wrong education in the past; and,thirdly, that his future rise depends primarily on his own efforts. Each ofthese propositions is a dangerous half-truth. The supplementary truths mustnever be lost sight of: first, slavery and race-prejudice are potent if notsufficient causes of the Negro's position; second, industrial and common-school training were necessarily slow in planting because they had to await theblack teachers trained by higher institutions, -- it being extremely doubtfulif any essentially different develop- ment was possible, and certainly aTuskegee was unthinkable before 1880; and, third, while it is a great truth tosay that the Negro must strive and strive mightily to help himself, it isequally true that unless his striving be not simply seconded, but ratheraroused and encouraged, by the initiative of the richer and wiser environinggroup, he cannot hope for great success.
In his failure to realize and impress this last point,Mr.
Washington is especially to be criticised. His doctrine has tended to make thewhites, North and South, shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro'sshoulders and stand aside as critical and rather pessimistic spectators; whenin fact the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are cleanif we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.
The South ought to be led, by candid and honestcriticism, to assert her better self and do her full duty to the race she hascruelly wronged and is still wronging. The North -- her co- partner in guilt --cannot salve her conscience by plastering it with gold. We cannot settle thisproblem by diplomacy and suaveness, by "policy" alone. If worse cometo worst, can the moral fibre of this country survive the slow throttling andmurder of nine millions of men?
The black men of America have a duty to perform, a dutystern and delicate, -- a forward movement to oppose a part of the work of theirgreatest leader. So far as Mr. Washington preaches Thrift, Patience, andIndustrial Training for the masses, we must hold up his hands and strive withhim, rejoicing in his honors and glorying in the strength of this Joshua calledof God and of man to lead the headless host. But so far as Mr. Washingtonapologizes for injustice, North or South, does not rightly value the privilegeand duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effects of caste distinctions,and opposes the higher training and ambition of our brighter minds, -- so faras he, the South, or the Nation, does this, -- we must unceasingly and firmlyoppose them. By every civilized and peaceful method we must strive for therights which the world accords to men, clinging unwaveringly to those greatwords which the sons of the Fathers would fain forget: "We hold thesetruths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they areendowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these arelife, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."