I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem,
As the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
Look not upon me, because I am black,
Because the sun hath looked upon me:
My mother's children were angry with me;
They made me the keeper of the vineyards;
But mine own vineyard have I not kept.
THE SONG OF SOLOMON.
[On the meaning of the bar of music]
Out of the North the train thundered, and we woke to seethe crimson soil of Georgia stretching away bare and monotonous right and left.Here and there lay straggling, unlovely vil- lages, and lean men loafedleisurely at the depots; then again came the stretch of pines and clay. Yet wedid not nod, nor weary of the scene; for this is historic ground. Right acrossour track, three hundred and sixty years ago, wandered the
cavalcade of Hernando de Soto, looking for gold and the Great Sea; and he andhis foot-sore captives disappeared yonder in the grim forests to the west. Heresits Atlanta, the city of a hundred hills, with something Western, somethingSouthern, and something quite its own, in its busy life. Just this side Atlantais the land of the Cherokees and to the southwest, not far from where Sam Hosewas crucified, you may stand on a spot which is to-day the centre of the Negroproblem, -- the centre of those nine million men who are America's darkheritage from slavery and the slave-trade.
Not only is Georgia thus the geographical focus of ourNegro population, but in many other respects, both now and yesterday, the Negroproblems have seemed to be centered in this State. No other State in the Unioncan count a million Negroes among its citizens, -- a population as large as theslave population of the whole Union in 1800; no other State fought so long andstrenuously to gather this host of Africans. Oglethorpe thought slavery againstlaw and gospel; but the circumstances which gave Georgia its first inhabitantswere not calculated to furnish citizens over-nice in their ideas about rum andslaves. Despite the prohibitions of the trustees, these Georgians, like some oftheir descendants, proceeded to take the law into their own hands; and sopliant were the judges, and so flagrant the smuggling, and so earnest were theprayers of Whitefield, that by the middle of the eighteenth century allrestrictions were swept away, and the slave-trade went merrily on for fiftyyears and more.
Down in Darien, where the Delegal riots took place somesummers ago, there used to come a strong protest against slavery from theScotch Highlanders; and the Moravians of Ebenezer did not like the system. Butnot till the Haytian Terror of Toussaint was the trade in men even checked;while the national statute of 1808 did not suffice to stop it. How the Africanspoured in! -- fifty thousand between 1790 and 1810, and then, from Virginia andfrom smugglers, two thousand a year for many years more. So the thirty thousandNegroes of Georgia in 1790 doubled in a decade, -- were over a hundred thousandin 1810, had reached two hundred thousand in 1820, and half a million at thetime of the war. Thus like a snake the black population writhed upward.
But we must hasten on our journey. This that we pass as wenear Atlanta is the ancient land of the Cherokees, -- that brave Indian nationwhich strove so long for its fatherland, until Fate and the United StatesGovernment drove them beyond the Mississippi. If you wish to ride with me youmust come into the "Jim Crow Car." There will be no objection, --already four other white men, and a little white girl with her nurse, are inthere. Usually the races are mixed in there; but the white coach is all white.Of course this car is not so good as the other, but it is fairly clean andcomfortable. The discomfort lies chiefly in the hearts of those four black menyonder -- and in mine.
We rumble south in quite a business-like way. The barered clay and pines of Northern Georgia begin to disappear, and in their placeappears a rich rolling land, luxuriant, and here and there well tilled. This isthe land of the Creek Indians; and a hard time the Georgians had to seize it.The towns grow more frequent and more interesting, and brand-new cotton millsrise on every side. Below Macon the world grows darker; for now we approach theBlack Belt, -- that strange land of shadows, at which even slaves paled in thepast, and whence come now only faint and half-intelligible murmurs to the worldbeyond. The "Jim Crow Car" grows larger and a shade better; threerough field-hands and two or three white loafers accompany us, and the newsboystill spreads his wares at one end. The sun is setting, but we can see thegreat cotton country as we enter it, -- the soil now dark and fertile, now thinand gray, with fruit-trees and dilapidated buildings, -- all the way to Albany.
At Albany, in the heart of the Black Belt, we stop. Twohundred miles south of Atlanta, two hundred miles west of the Atlantic, and onehundred miles north of the Great Gulf lies Dougherty County, with ten thousandNegroes and two thousand whites. The Flint River winds down from Andersonville,and, turning suddenly at Albany, the county-seat, hurries on to join theChattahoochee and the sea. Andrew Jackson knew the Flint well, and marchedacross it once to avenge the Indian Massacre at Fort Mims. That was in 1814,not long before the battle of New Orleans; and by the Creek treaty thatfollowed this campaign, all Dougherty County, and much
other rich land, was ceded to Georgia. Still, settlers fought shy of this land,for the Indians were all about, and they were unpleasant neighbors in thosedays. The panic of 1837, which Jackson bequeathed to Van Buren, turned theplanters from the impoverished lands of Virginia, the Carolinas, and eastGeorgia, toward the West. The Indians were removed to Indian Territory, andsettlers poured into these coveted lands to retrieve their broken fortunes. Fora radius of a hundred miles about Albany, stretched a great fertile land,luxuriant with forests of pine, oak, ash, hickory, and poplar; hot with the sunand damp with the rich black swamp-land; and here the corner-stone of theCotton Kingdom was laid.
Albany is to-day a wide-streeted, placid, Southern town,with a broad sweep of stores and saloons, and flanking rows of homes, -- whitesusually to the north, and blacks to the south. Six days in the week the townlooks decidedly too small for itself, and takes frequent and prolonged naps.But on Saturday suddenly the whole county disgorges itself upon the place, anda perfect flood of black peasantry pours through the streets, fills the stores,blocks the sidewalks, chokes the thoroughfares, and takes full possession ofthe town. They are black, sturdy, uncouth country folk, good- natured andsimple, talkative to a degree, and yet far more silent and brooding than thecrowds of the Rhine-pfalz, or Naples, or Cracow. They drink considerablequantities of whiskey, but do not get very drunk; they talk and laugh loudly attimes, but seldom quarrel or fight. They walk up and down the streets, meet andgossip with friends, stare at the shop windows, buy coffee, cheap candy, andclothes, and at dusk drive home -- happy? well no, not exactly happy, but muchhappier than as though they had not come.
Thus Albany is a real capital, -- a typical Southerncounty town, the centre of the life of ten thousand souls; their point ofcontact with the outer world, their centre of news and gossip, their market forbuying and selling, borrowing and lending, their fountain of justice and law.Once upon a time we knew country life so well and city life so little, that weillustrated city life as that of a closely crowded country district. Now theworld has well-nigh forgotten what the country is, and we must imagine a littlecity of black people
scattered far and wide over three hundred lonesome square miles of land,without train or trolley, in the midst of cotton and corn, and wide patches ofsand and gloomy soil.
It gets pretty hot in Southern Georgia in July, -- a sortof dull, determined heat that seems quite independent of the sun; so it took ussome days to muster courage enough to leave the porch and venture out on thelong country roads, that we might see this unknown world. Finally we started.It was about ten in the morning, bright with a faint breeze, and we joggedleisurely southward in the valley of the Flint. We passed the scatteredbox-like cabins of the brickyard hands, and the long tenement-row facetiouslycalled "The Ark," and were soon in the open country, and on theconfines of the great plantations of other days. There is the "Joe Fieldsplace"; a rough old fellow was he, and had killed many a"nigger" in his day. Twelve miles his plantation used to run, -- aregular barony. It is nearly all gone now; only strag- gling bits belong to thefamily, and the rest has passed to Jews and Negroes. Even the bits which areleft are heavily mortgaged, and, like the rest of the land, tilled by tenants.Here is one of them now, -- a tall brown man, a hard worker and a hard drinker,illiterate, but versed in farmlore, as his nodding crops declare. Thisdistressingly new board house is his, and he has just moved out of yondermoss-grown cabin with its one square room.
From the curtains in Benton's house, down the road, adark comely face is staring at the strangers; for passing carriages are notevery-day occurrences here. Benton is an intelligent yellow man with agood-sized family, and manages a plantation blasted by the war and now thebroken staff of the widow. He might be well-to-do, they say; but he carousestoo much in Albany. And the half-desolate spirit of neglect born of the verysoil seems to have settled on these acres. In times past there were cotton-ginsand machinery here; but they have rotted away.
The whole land seems forlorn and forsaken. Here are theremnants of the vast plantations of the Sheldons, the Pellots, and the Rensons;but the souls of them are passed. The houses lie in half ruin, or have whollydisappeared; the fences have flown, and the families are wandering in theworld.
Strange vicissitudes have met these whilom masters. Yonder stretch the wideacres of Bildad Reasor; he died in war-time, but the upstart overseer hastenedto wed the widow. Then he went, and his neighbors too, and now only the blacktenant remains; but the shadow-hand of the master's grand-nephew or cousin orcreditor stretches out of the gray distance to collect the rack-rentremorselessly, and so the land is uncared-for and poor. Only black tenants canstand such a system, and they only because they must. Ten miles we have riddento-day and have seen no white face.
A resistless feeling of depression falls slowly upon us,despite the gaudy sunshine and the green cottonfields. This, then, is theCotton Kingdom, -- the shadow of a marvellous dream. And where is the King?Perhaps this is he, -- the sweating ploughman, tilling his eighty acres withtwo lean mules, and fighting a hard battle with debt. So we sit musing, until,as we turn a corner on the sandy road, there comes a fairer scene suddenly inview, -- a neat cottage snugly ensconced by the road, and near it a littlestore. A tall bronzed man rises from the porch as we hail him, and comes out toour carriage. He is six feet in height, with a sober face that smiles gravely.He walks too straight to be a tenant, -- yes, he owns two hundred and fortyacres. "The land is run down since the boom-days of eighteen hundred andfifty," he explains, and cotton is low. Three black tenants live on hisplace, and in his little store he keeps a small stock of tobacco, snuff, soap,and soda, for the neighborhood. Here is his gin-house with new machinery justinstalled. Three hundred bales of cotton went through it last year. Twochildren he has sent away to school. Yes, he says sadly, he is getting on, butcotton is down to four cents; I know how Debt sits staring at him.
Wherever the King may be, the parks and palaces of theCotton Kingdom have not wholly disappeared. We plunge even now into greatgroves of oak and towering pine, with an undergrowth of myrtle and shrubbery.This was the "home- house" of the Thompsons, -- slave-barons whodrove their coach and four in the merry past. All is silence now, and ashes,and tangled weeds. The owner put his whole fortune into the rising cottonindustry of the fifties, and with the
falling prices of the eighties he packed up and stole away. Yonder is anothergrove, with unkempt lawn, great magnolias, and grass-grown paths. The Big Housestands in half- ruin, its great front door staring blankly at the street, andthe back part grotesquely restored for its black tenant. A shabby, well-builtNegro he is, unlucky and irresolute. He digs hard to pay rent to the white girlwho owns the remnant of the place. She married a policeman, and lives inSavannah.
Now and again we come to churches. Here is one now, --Shepherd's, they call it, -- a great whitewashed barn of a thing, perched onstilts of stone, and looking for all the world as though it were just restinghere a moment and might be expected to waddle off down the road at almost anytime. And yet it is the centre of a hundred cabin homes; and sometimes, of aSunday, five hundred persons from far and near gather here and talk and eat andsing. There is a school- house near, -- a very airy, empty shed; but even thisis an improvement, for usually the school is held in the church. The churchesvary from log-huts to those like Shepherd's, and the schools from nothing tothis little house that sits demurely on the county line. It is a tinyplank-house, perhaps ten by twenty, and has within a double row of roughunplaned benches, resting mostly on legs, sometimes on boxes. Opposite the dooris a square home-made desk. In one corner are the ruins of a stove, and in theother a dim blackboard. It is the cheerfulest schoolhouse I have seen inDougherty, save in town. Back of the schoolhouse is a lodgehouse two storieshigh and not quite finished. Societies meet there, -- societies "to carefor the sick and bury the dead"; and these societies grow and flourish.
We had come to the boundaries of Dougherty, and wereabout to turn west along the county-line, when all these sights were pointedout to us by a kindly old man, black, white- haired, and seventy. Forty-fiveyears he had lived here, and now supports himself and his old wife by the helpof the steer tethered yonder and the charity of his black neighbors. He showsus the farm of the Hills just across the county line in Baker, -- a widow andtwo strapping sons, who raised ten bales (one need not add "cotton"down here) last year. There are fences and pigs and cows, and the soft-voiced,velvet-
skinned young Memnon, who sauntered half-bashfully over to greet the strangers,is proud of his home. We turn now to the west along the county line. Greatdismantled trunks of pines tower above the green cottonfields, cracking theirna- ked gnarled fingers toward the border of living forest beyond. There islittle beauty in this region, only a sort of crude abandon that suggests power,-- a naked grandeur, as it were. The houses are bare and straight; there are nohammocks or easy-chairs, and few flowers. So when, as here at Rawdon's, onesees a vine clinging to a little porch, and home-like windows peeping over thefences, one takes a long breath. I think I never before quite realized theplace of the Fence in civilization. This is the Land of the Unfenced, wherecrouch on either hand scores of ugly one-room cabins, cheerless and dirty. Herelies the Negro problem in its naked dirt and penury. And here are no fences.But now and then the crisscross rails or straight palings break into view, andthen we know a touch of culture is near. Of course Harrison Gohagen, -- a quietyellow man, young, smooth-faced, and diligent, -- of course he is lord of somehundred acres, and we expect to see a vision of well-kept rooms and fat bedsand laughing children. For has he not fine fences? And those over yonder, whyshould they build fences on the rack-rented land? It will only increase theirrent.
On we wind, through sand and pines and glimpses of oldplantations, till there creeps into sight a cluster of buildings, -- wood andbrick, mills and houses, and scattered cabins. It seemed quite a village. As itcame nearer and nearer, however, the aspect changed: the buildings were rotten,the bricks were falling out, the mills were silent, and the store was closed.Only in the cabins appeared now and then a bit of lazy life. I could imaginethe place under some weird spell, and was half-minded to search out theprincess. An old ragged black man, honest, simple, and improvident, told us thetale. The Wizard of the North -- the Capitalist -- had rushed down in theseventies to woo this coy dark soil. He bought a square mile or more, and for atime the field-hands sang, the gins groaned, and the mills buzzed. Then came achange. The agent's son embezzled the funds and ran off with them. Then theagent himself disappeared. Finally the new agent stole
even the books, and the company in wrath closed its business and its houses,refused to sell, and let houses and furniture and machinery rust and rot. Sothe Waters-Loring plantation was stilled by the spell of dishonesty, and standslike some gaunt rebuke to a scarred land.
Somehow that plantation ended our day's journey; for Icould not shake off the influence of that silent scene. Back toward town weglided, past the straight and thread-like pines, past a dark tree-dotted pondwhere the air was heavy with a dead sweet perfume. White slender-legged curlewsflitted by us, and the garnet blooms of the cotton looked gay against the greenand purple stalks. A peasant girl was hoeing in the field, white-turbaned andblack-limbed. All this we saw, but the spell still lay upon us.
How curious a land is this, -- how full of untold story,of tragedy and laughter, and the rich legacy of human life; shadowed with atragic past, and big with future promise! This is the Black Belt of Georgia.Dougherty County is the west end of the Black Belt, and men once called it theEgypt of the Confederacy. It is full of historic interest. First there is theSwamp, to the west, where the Chickasawhatchee flows sullenly southward. Theshadow of an old plantation lies at its edge, forlorn and dark. Then comes thepool; pendent gray moss and brackish waters appear, and forests filled withwildfowl. In one place the wood is on fire, smouldering in dull red anger; butnobody minds. Then the swamp grows beautiful; a raised road, built by chainedNegro convicts, dips down into it, and forms a way walled and almost covered inliving green. Spreading trees spring from a prodigal luxuri- ance ofundergrowth; great dark green shadows fade into the black background, until allis one mass of tangled semi- tropical foliage, marvellous in its weird savagesplendor. Once we crossed a black silent stream, where the sad trees andwrithing creepers, all glinting fiery yellow and green, seemed like some vastcathedral, -- some green Milan builded of wildwood. And as I crossed, I seemedto see again that fierce tragedy of seventy years ago. Osceola, the Indian-Negro chieftain, had risen in the swamps of Florida, vowing vengeance. Hiswar-cry reached the red Creeks of Dougherty, and their war-cry rang from theChattahoochee to the sea.
Men and women and children fled and fell before them as they swept intoDougherty. In yonder shadows a dark and hideously painted warrior glidedstealthily on, -- another and another, until three hundred had crept into thetreacherous swamp. Then the false slime closing about them called the white menfrom the east. Waist-deep, they fought beneath the tall trees, until thewar-cry was hushed and the Indians glided back into the west. Small wonder thewood is red.
Then came the black slaves. Day after day the clank ofchained feet marching from Virginia and Carolina to Georgia was heard in theserich swamp lands. Day after day the songs of the callous, the wail of themotherless, and the muttered curses of the wretched echoed from the Flint tothe Chickasawhatchee, until by 1860 there had risen in West Dougherty perhapsthe richest slave kingdom the modern world ever knew. A hundred and fiftybarons commanded the labor of nearly six thousand Negroes, held sway over farmswith ninety thousand acres tilled land, valued even in times of cheap soil atthree millions of dollars. Twenty thousand bales of ginned cotton went yearlyto England, New and Old; and men that came there bankrupt made money and grewrich. In a single decade the cotton output increased four-fold and the value oflands was tripled. It was the heyday of the nouveau riche, and a life ofcareless extravagance among the masters.
Four and six bobtailed thoroughbreds rolled their coachesto town; open hospitality and gay entertainment were the rule. Parks and groveswere laid out, rich with flower and vine, and in the midst stood the lowwide-halled "big house," with its porch and columns and greatfireplaces.
And yet with all this there was something sordid,something forced, -- a certain feverish unrest and recklessness; for was notall this show and tinsel built upon a groan? "This land was a littleHell," said a ragged, brown, and grave- faced man to me. We were seatednear a roadside blacksmith shop, and behind was the bare ruin of some master'shome. "I've seen niggers drop dead in the furrow, but they were kickedaside, and the plough never stopped. Down in the guard-house, there's where theblood ran."
With such foundations a kingdom must in time sway andfall. The masters moved to Macon and Augusta, and left only
the irresponsible overseers on the land. And the result is such ruin as this,the Lloyd "home-place": -- great waving oaks, a spread of lawn,myrtles and chestnuts, all ragged and wild; a solitary gate-post standing whereonce was a castle entrance; an old rusty anvil lying amid rotting bellows andwood in the ruins of a blacksmith shop; a wide rambling old mansion, brown anddingy, filled now with the grandchildren of the slaves who once waited on itstables; while the family of the master has dwindled to two lone women, who livein Macon and feed hungrily off the remnants of an earldom. So we ride on, pastphantom gates and falling homes, -- past the once flourishing farms of theSmiths, the Gandys, and the Lagores, -- and find all dilapidated and halfruined, even there where a solitary white woman, a relic of other days, sitsalone in state among miles of Negroes and rides to town in her ancient coacheach day.
This was indeed the Egypt of the Confederacy, -- the richgranary whence potatoes and corn and cotton poured out to the famished andragged Confederate troops as they battled for a cause lost long before 1861.Sheltered and secure, it became the place of refuge for families, wealth, andslaves. Yet even then the hard ruthless rape of the land began to tell. Thered-clay sub-soil already had begun to peer above the loam. The harder theslaves were driven the more careless and fatal was their farming. Then came therevolution of war and Emancipation, the bewilderment of Reconstruction, -- andnow, what is the Egypt of the Confederacy, and what mean- ing has it for thenation's weal or woe?
It is a land of rapid contrasts and of curiously mingledhope and pain. Here sits a pretty blue-eyed quadroon hiding her bare feet; shewas married only last week, and yonder in the field is her dark young husband,hoeing to support her, at thirty cents a day without board. Across the way isGatesby, brown and tall, lord of two thousand acres shrewdly won and held.There is a store conducted by his black son, a black- smith shop, and aginnery. Five miles below here is a town owned and controlled by one white NewEnglander. He owns almost a Rhode Island county, with thousands of acres andhundreds of black laborers. Their cabins look better than most, and the farm,with machinery and fertilizers, is much
more business-like than any in the county, although the manager drives hardbargains in wages. When now we turn and look five miles above, there on theedge of town are five houses of prostitutes, -- two of blacks and three ofwhites; and in one of the houses of the whites a worthless black boy washarbored too openly two years ago; so he was hanged for rape. And here, too, isthe high whitewashed fence of the "stockade," as the county prison iscalled; the white folks say it is ever full of black criminals, -- the blackfolks say that only colored boys are sent to jail, and they not because theyare guilty, but because the State needs criminals to eke out its income bytheir forced labor.
Immigrants are heirs of the slave baron in Dougherty; andas we ride westward, by wide stretching cornfields and stubby orchards of peachand pear, we see on all sides within the circle of dark forest a Land ofCanaan. Here and there are tales of projects for money-getting, born in theswift days of Reconstruction, -- "improvement" companies, winecompanies, mills and factories; most failed, and foreigners fell heir.
It is a beautiful land, this Dougherty, west of the Flint.The forests are wonderful, the solemn pines have disappeared, and this is the"Oakey Woods," with its wealth of hickories, beeches, oaks andpalmettos. But a pall of debt hangs over the beautiful land; the merchants arein debt to the wholesal- ers, the planters are in debt to the merchants, thetenants owe the planters, and laborers bow and bend beneath the burden of itall. Here and there a man has raised his head above these murky waters. Wepassed one fenced stock-farm with grass and grazing cattle, that looked veryhome-like after endless corn and cotton. Here and there are black free-holders:there is the gaunt dull-black Jackson, with his hundred acres. "I says,'Look up! If you don't look up you can't get up,'" remarks Jackson,philosophically. And he's gotten up. Dark Carter's neat barns would do creditto New England. His master helped him to get a start, but when the black mandied last fall the master's sons immediately laid claim to the estate."And them white folks will get it, too," said my yellow gossip.
I turn from these well-tended acres with a comfortablefeeling that the Negro is rising. Even then, however, the
fields, as we proceed, begin to redden and the trees disappear. Rows of oldcabins appear filled with renters and laborers, -- cheerless, bare, and dirty,for the most part, although here and there the very age and decay makes thescene picturesque. A young black fellow greets us. He is twenty- two, and justmarried. Until last year he had good luck renting; then cotton fell, and thesheriff seized and sold all he had. So he moved here, where the rent is higher,the land poorer, and the owner inflexible; he rents a forty-dollar mule fortwenty dollars a year. Poor lad! -- a slave at twenty-two. This plantation,owned now by a foreigner, was a part of the famous Bolton estate. After the warit was for many years worked by gangs of Negro convicts, -- and black convictsthen were even more plentiful than now; it was a way of making Negroes work,and the question of guilt was a minor one. Hard tales of cruelty andmistreatment of the chained freemen are told, but the county authorities weredeaf until the free-labor market was nearly ruined by wholesale migration. Thenthey took the convicts from the plantations, but not until one of the fairestregions of the "Oakey Woods" had been ruined and ravished into a redwaste, out of which only a Yankee or an immigrant could squeeze more blood fromdebt-cursed tenants.
No wonder that Luke Black, slow, dull, and discouraged,shuffles to our carriage and talks hopelessly. Why should he strive? Every yearfinds him deeper in debt. How strange that Georgia, the world-heralded refugeof poor debtors, should bind her own to sloth and misfortune as ruthlessly asever England did! The poor land groans with its birth-pains, and brings forthscarcely a hundred pounds of cotton to the acre, where fifty years ago ityielded eight times as much. Of his meagre yield the tenant pays from a quarterto a third in rent, and most of the rest in interest on food and suppliesbought on credit. Twenty years yonder sunken-cheeked, old black man has laboredunder that system, and now, turned day- laborer, is supporting his wife andboarding himself on his wages of a dollar and a half a week, received only partof the year.
The Bolton convict farm formerly included the neighboringplantation. Here it was that the convicts were lodged in the
great log prison still standing. A dismal place it still remains, with rows ofugly huts filled with surly ignorant tenants. "What rent do you payhere?" I inquired. "I don't know, -- what is it, Sam?" "Allwe make," answered Sam. It is a depressing place, -- bare, unshaded, withno charm of past association, only a memory of forced human toil, -- now, then,and before the war. They are not happy, these black men whom we meet throughoutthis region. There is little of the joyous abandon and playfulness which we arewont to associate with the plantation Negro. At best, the natural good-natureis edged with complaint or has changed into sullenness and gloom. And now andthen it blazes forth in veiled but hot anger. I remember one big red-eyed blackwhom we met by the roadside. Forty-five years he had la- bored on this farm,beginning with nothing, and still having nothing. To be sure, he had given fourchildren a common- school training, and perhaps if the new fence-law had notallowed unfenced crops in West Dougherty he might have raised a little stockand kept ahead. As it is, he is hopelessly in debt, disappointed, andembittered. He stopped us to in- quire after the black boy in Albany, whom itwas said a policeman had shot and killed for loud talking on the side- walk.And then he said slowly: "Let a white man touch me, and he dies; I don'tboast this, -- I don't say it around loud, or before the children, -- but Imean it. I've seen them whip my father and my old mother in them cotton-rowstill the blood ran; by -- " and we passed on.
Now Sears, whom we met next lolling under the chubbyoak-trees, was of quite different fibre. Happy? -- Well, yes; he laughed andflipped pebbles, and thought the world was as it was. He had worked here twelveyears and has nothing but a mortgaged mule. Children? Yes, seven; but theyhadn't been to school this year, -- couldn't afford books and clothes, andcouldn't spare their work. There go part of them to the fields now, -- threebig boys astride mules, and a strapping girl with bare brown legs. Carelessignorance and laziness here, fierce hate and vindictiveness there; -- these arethe extremes of the Negro problem which we met that day, and we scarce knewwhich we preferred.
Here and there we meet distinct characters quite out ofthe
ordinary. One came out of a piece of newly cleared ground, making a wide detourto avoid the snakes. He was an old, hollow-cheeked man, with a drawn andcharacterful brown face. He had a sort of self-contained quaintness and roughhumor impossible to describe; a certain cynical earnestness that puzzled one."The niggers were jealous of me over on the other place," he said,"and so me and the old woman begged this piece of woods, and I cleared itup myself. Made nothing for two years, but I reckon I've got a crop now."The cotton looked tall and rich, and we praised it. He curtsied low, and thenbowed almost to the ground, with an imperturbable gravity that seemed almostsuspicious. Then he con- tinued, "My mule died last week," -- acalamity in this land equal to a devastating fire in town, -- "but a whiteman loaned me another." Then he added, eyeing us, "Oh, I gets alongwith white folks." We turned the conversation. "Bears? deer?" heanswered, "well, I should say there were," and he let fly a string ofbrave oaths, as he told hunting-tales of the swamp. We left him standing stillin the middle of the road looking after us, and yet apparently not noticing us.
The Whistle place, which includes his bit of land, wasbought soon after the war by an English syndicate, the "Dixie Cotton andCorn Company." A marvellous deal of style their factor put on, with hisservants and coach-and-six; so much so that the concern soon landed ininextricable bankruptcy. Nobody lives in the old house now, but a man comeseach winter out of the North and collects his high rents. I know not which arethe more touching, -- such old empty houses, or the homes of the masters' sons.Sad and bitter tales lie hidden back of those white doors, -- tales of poverty,of struggle, of disappointment. A revolution such as that of '63 is a terriblething; they that rose rich in the morning often slept in pau- pers' beds.Beggars and vulgar speculators rose to rule over them, and their children wentastray. See yonder sad-colored house, with its cabins and fences and gladcrops! It is not glad within; last month the prodigal son of the strugglingfather wrote home from the city for money. Money! Where was it to come from?And so the son rose in the night and killed his baby, and killed his wife, andshot himself dead. And the world passed on.
I remember wheeling around a bend in the road beside agraceful bit of forest and a singing brook. A long low house faced us, withporch and flying pillars, great oaken door, and a broad lawn shining in theevening sun. But the window-panes were gone, the pillars were worm-eaten, andthe moss- grown roof was falling in. Half curiously I peered through theunhinged door, and saw where, on the wall across the hall, was written in oncegay letters a faded "Welcome."
Quite a contrast to the southwestern part of DoughertyCounty is the northwest. Soberly timbered in oak and pine, it has none of thathalf-tropical luxuriance of the southwest. Then, too, there are fewer signs ofa romantic past, and more of systematic modern land-grabbing and money-getting.White people are more in evidence here, and farmer and hired labor replace tosome extent the absentee landlord and rack-rented tenant. The crops haveneither the luxuriance of the richer land nor the signs of neglect so oftenseen, and there were fences and meadows here and there. Most of this land waspoor, and beneath the notice of the slave-baron, before the war. Since then hispoor relations and foreign immigrants have seized it. The returns of the farmerare too small to allow much for wages, and yet he will not sell off smallfarms. There is the Negro Sanford; he has worked fourteen years as overseer onthe Ladson place, and "paid out enough for fertilizers to have bought afarm," but the owner will not sell off a few acres.
Two children -- a boy and a girl -- are hoeing sturdilyin the fields on the farm where Corliss works. He is smooth-faced and brown,and is fencing up his pigs. He used to run a successful cotton-gin, but theCotton Seed Oil Trust has forced the price of ginning so low that he says ithardly pays him. He points out a stately old house over the way as the home of"Pa Willis." We eagerly ride over, for "Pa Willis" was thetall and powerful black Moses who led the Negroes for a generation, and ledthem well. He was a Baptist preacher, and when he died, two thousand blackpeople followed him to the grave; and now they preach his funeral sermon eachyear. His widow lives here, -- a weazened, sharp-featured little woman, whocurtsied quaintly as we greeted her. Further on lives Jack Delson, the mostprosperous Negro farmer
in the county. It is a joy to meet him, -- a great broad-shouldered, handsomeblack man, intelligent and jovial. Six hundred and fifty acres he owns, and haseleven black tenants. A neat and tidy home nestled in a flower-garden, and alittle store stands beside it.
We pass the Munson place, where a plucky white widow isrenting and struggling; and the eleven hundred acres of the Sennet plantation,with its Negro overseer. Then the character of the farms begins to change.Nearly all the lands belong to Russian Jews; the overseers are white, and thecabins are bare board-houses scattered here and there. The rents are high, andday-laborers and "contract" hands abound. It is a keen, hard strugglefor living here, and few have time to talk. Tired with the long ride, we gladlydrive into Gillonsville. It is a silent cluster of farmhouses standing on thecrossroads, with one of its stores closed and the other kept by a Negropreacher. They tell great tales of busy times at Gillonsville before all therailroads came to Albany; now it is chiefly a memory. Riding down the street,we stop at the preacher's and seat ourselves before the door. It was one ofthose scenes one cannot soon forget: -- a wide, low, little house, whosemotherly roof reached over and sheltered a snug little porch. There we sat,after the long hot drive, drinking cool water, -- the talkative little store-keeper who is my daily companion; the silent old black woman patchingpantaloons and saying never a word; the ragged picture of helpless misfortunewho called in just to see the preacher; and finally the neat matronlypreacher's wife, plump, yellow, and intelligent. "Own land?" said thewife; "well, only this house." Then she added quietly. "We didbuy seven hundred acres across up yonder, and paid for it; but they cheated usout of it. Sells was the owner." "Sells!" echoed the raggedmisfortune, who was leaning against the balustrade and listening, "he's aregular cheat. I worked for him thirty-seven days this spring, and he paid mein card- board checks which were to be cashed at the end of the month. But henever cashed them, -- kept putting me off. Then the sheriff came and took mymule and corn and furni- ture -- " "Furniture? But furniture isexempt from seizure by law." "Well, he took it just the same,"said the hard-faced man.