THE PULLMAN PORTERS, THE RAILROAD BROTHERHOODS, AND THE BLACK WORKER, 1886–1902
On the surface, Pullman sleeping-car porters appeared to hold enviable jobs, with good pay and excellent working conditions. The belief was wide-spread that Negro porters were essentially contented cosmopolitans who traveled daily to places most people had only heard of. But life was not so glamorous for the men who tended the Pullman cars. Company spies were planted among them to report any potential union activity, and undercover inspectors worked overtime to catch porters who broke any of the innumerable rules. For infractions porters might be fined, or lose their jobs. They spent long hours on duty, and were required to perform every conceivable passenger service, for which there was no extra pay, only the possibility of a tip. In 1886, porters received about $70 per month, out of which they had to purchase uniforms and meals while on the road (Doc. 1–4).
When Eugene V. Debs formed the American Railway Union in June 1893, he intended to unite all railroad workers into one single union. White unionists, however, refused to abandon the restriction of blacks, even though Debs warned them that this policy would end in disaster. Not surprisingly, when the ARU challenged the Pullman Company in 1894, black porters and other Negro railroad men were not inclined to come to the union’s aid. In fact, the Afro-American press openly urged Negroes to take the jobs which the strikers had vacated. In Chicago, some blacks formed an Anti-Strikers Railroad Union to even the score with the ARU. Apparently they succeded, for the Pullman Company defeated the strike, and the union was soon destroyed. In a Harlem speech delivered on October 30, 1923, Debs made clear his belief that the exclusion of Negroes had insured the union’s collapse (Doc. 5–16).
Prior to the formation of the railroad brotherhoods (the firemen, trainmen, conductors, and engineers), blacks held many of the higher-paying positions on the railroads. From their inception, however, the brotherhoods not only excluded Negroes from membership, but they also tried to persuade the companies to eliminate those blacks who had already been employed. For example, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Trainmen called a strike against the Houston and Texas Central Railroad in 1890 demanding the discharge of black employees. When the company refused, and a strike failed, the Brotherhood went into court with a request that blacks be judged incompetent for railroad work. The court, however, refused to render such a judgment (Doc. 11–13). The Firemen and the Trainmen also launched a campaign in their official union organs to arouse support for white supremacy in the service. This campaign was accompanied by an unprecedented outburst of racist polemics in the brotherhood journals (Doc. 27–40).
With whatever contrivance was necessary, including an occasional murder, the four brotherhoods persisted in their efforts to drive blacks from the roads. It took decades to achieve their goal. As late as 1920, there were 6,595 black firemen and a total of 8,275 Negro brakemen, switchmen, flagmen and yardmen. But there was virtually no hiring of Negro replacements as the older workers retired or died, and eventually the brotherhoods achieved their aim of restricting blacks not only from the highly paid jobs, but from all job classifications other than waiters and porters.
1. SPIES ON PULLMAN CARS
It Costs More To Watch Them Than to Pay Them Earnings of Conductors and Porters Reduced by Fines A New Contract Which Employes Must Sign
It is a common source of wonder among travelers who are accustomed to buy their comfort in Pullman cars with liberal “tips” to the porter, whether that functionary will be content to retire and live on his accumulations after he is tired of work, or will continue his fork-over-or-suffer-for-it system of taxation until he is rich enough to own the road. It is the general impression that Pullman car men are well paid by their employers for the work they do, and that whatever extortion passengers feel obliged to submit to is additional remuneration of which the company chooses to remain ignorant. But according to the conditions of the service, as related to a TIMES reporter by a man who has been in it for years, this is very far from the actual state of the case. The Pullman Company allows its porters wages scarcely sufficient to pay for the clothes and food necessary to make their “runs,” and expects passengers, who have paid for their tickets and for the additional accommodation supposed to be afforded in a Pullman car, to look after the support of the porter, and his family if he has one.25
On the trunk lines running out of this city the pay of a Pullman car porter is $16 a month. Out of this he is expected to pay for the clothes and cap required by the regulations of the company, and for his meals while he is on duty. The usual run is from New York to Chicago and return. Not allowing for delays, he is on the road about 37 hours each way. Men who reach Chicago in the morning start on their return trip the same night, or if they arrive there at night they must be ready to return the next morning. If the train is late in arriving at Chicago, it is so many hours lost from the sleep and rest of the Pullman conductor and porters. As a general thing the conductor can count on getting from two or three hours’ sleep while his train is going and coming, but if the cars are anything like full the porters cannot count on so much as that. Supposing a train to be on time at the New York terminus, the Pullman hands are allowed 88 hours off before starting on another trip. If the train is six or eight hours late, not at all an uncommon occurrence, it is so much deducted from the leisure time of the Pullman men.
While on the road they get their meals at reduced rates from lunch counters in railroad stations, or from a dining car if there happens to be one on the train. The employe who gave the information for this article kept track of his expenses for a year, and struck an average of 25 cents a meal, 75 cents a day, or at least $2.25 for the round trip. This he considered an underestimate of each man’s expenses for food in four trips out of five. A porter usually has to buy two uniforms a year at a cost of $18 each. The conductors have to get Winter and Summer uniforms at a cost of about $22 each. Shabby dress or negligence of personal appearance is considered a misdemeanor.
The Pullman car conductors get a salary of $70 a month. On each train the conductor is held responsible for the three cars on his train and the porters under him. If the porters divide their “tips” with the conductors as waiters do with head waiters in several New York restaurants, the company is presumed to know nothing of it. A conductor’s salary is supposed to be sufficient for all his personal needs and his expenses in the service of the company. Allowing $20 a month for meals bought on the road, and $4 a month for his uniform, a conductor does well if he can get $50 a month for his family out of his salary.
But owing to the system of inspection and fines to which the Pullman men must submit, the chances are that the conductor will not get anything like that sum. The conductors and porters are under the constant surveillance of “spotters,” as the train hands call them, or “special agents,” as they call themselves and are called on the company’s pay roll, who report at division headquarters the slightest infringement on the rules of the company. As a general thing, the Pullman conductor can no more tell a spotter from an ordinary passenger than the horse car conductors in the city can single out the company spies who are sent around to see that they do not knock down on registered fares. If a spotter sees any indications of untidiness about the Pullman cars—dust on the windowsills, scraps of paper on the floor thrown there by some heedless passenger, untidy looking berths or seats, soiled washbowls or towels—he reports to the Division Superintendent and the conductor has to pay for it. It makes no difference that the fault may have been a porter’s or a passenger’s, the conductor is held responsible.
The usual fine for misdemeanors of all classes is $2. A conductor considers himself lucky if he gets off with $6 in fines 10 months out of the 12. This makes a big hole in his salary. He has no chance to explain or to contradict the charges. The spotter is believed and the conductor must submit or leave the service. If the porters are not promptly on the railroad station platforms with stools to assist passengers on and off the cars when the train stops, ten chances to one the conductors get fined for not looking after them. But the greatest bone of contention and the most frequent source of complaint is with the magazines and newspapers. If a spotter finds a pile of reading matter tumbled loosely on an unoccupied seat he reports it. If the passenger happens to be temporarily chatting with someone in another seat, or smoking a cigar, and sees the conductor order the porter to straighten out or remove the newspapers, he is likely to make a row about it. Ignorant of the rules, he looks upon it as a piece of unwarrantable officiousness. Then the spotter reports the conductor of incivility to passengers.
This system of espionage hits the porters in a little different way. Unless the complaint against them is a very serious one, in which case they are suspended at the pleasure of the company, their wages are only docked for articles lost or stolen from the cars. It is not at all uncommon for a passenger to walk off with the company’s comb or brush, or to carelessly smash a tumbler, and for this the porter has to pay full price. If he loses a berth check it costs him 50 cents. If he happens to have a keen appetite and an unfortunate month in losses the porter frequently finds that, aside from his “tips” he is actually paying the company for the privilege of working.
On nearly every full train with three or more Pullman cars, that runs over the trunk lines between New York and Chicago a special detective is employed to watch for graver misdemeanors on the part of conductors which may be considered outside the bailiwick of spotters. Necessarily a Pullman car conductor must handle more or less money for berths not purchased in the ticket offices. Usually a check is kept on this by a diagram, which must correspond with reports of tickets collected received from the regular conductors on the railroad. If a conductor makes an error in his diagram, a thing likely to occur at any time when passengers are dissatisfied with berths selected and desire transfers, he is fined for it, and if the offense becomes too frequent, he is liable to suspension. Until a few months ago a Pullman conductor was obliged to leave $100 or more bonds with the company as a guarantee, which was returned to him with legal rates of interest when he was discharged or voluntarily left the service. But now, in most instances, conductors’ bonds are covered by the insurance system, the same as employes that handle money on the elevated railroad.
A conductor who talked with a TIMES reporter figured it. After careful consideration, he said that the Pullman Company paid three times as much money every year to spotters and detectives as their conductors’ and porters’ salaries amounted to. The detectives are usually employed from private agencies. To avoid possibility of their own detection they pay for their accommodation and incidental expenses of the trip the same as other passengers do. It is their business to report something and they report anything. The company’s rules forbid a conductor or a porter to smoke or drink liquor while on duty. It was a common thing, THE TIMES’S informant said, for a detective to proffer a conductor a cigar or a drink and then report him for accepting it. He related this incident:
“Coming through from the west one cold Winter’s day our train was blocked for three hours at a lonesome spot in the road by a snowslide. The Pullman conductor was obliged to be out in the weather a good deal, and on one occasion when he passed through a car a man was giving one or two acquaintances some liquor from what appeared to be his sample case. He called the conductor and proffered him the flask. The man shook his head, though greatly tempted, explaining that it was against the rules.
“‘Oh, bosh,’ said the supposed drummer, ‘take a drink, man. We care nothing about the rules in an emergency like this.’
“The conductor accepted the invitation, took a drink, and went about his work. I offer no excuse for him, because he knew he was disobeying orders, no matter how strong the temptation may have been. His train arrived at its destination he made his report, and went home to bed. He had not been asleep two hours when he was summoned to the office. Very much to the company’s regret, he was politely informed, he had been detected disobeying orders. It had been suspected for some time that some of the men were drinking on duty, and they had evidence beyond doubt that he had taken liquor at such and such a place, [mentioning the time and incident]. Such flagrant disobedience could not be passed over with a mere fine. He might consider himself suspended from further duty, without previous payment of the salary due him, for two weeks. The conductor afterward ascertained to his satisfaction that the man who offered him the drink was the very detective whom the company had sent out to confirm their suspicions. I merely quote this incident to show what some of the men employed as spies will do to retain their positions and earn their salaries. The conductor has no appeal. He must submit without a hearing or even an expostulation. His word counts for nothing against the detective’s report.”
Usually, in cases of accident where no blame could be attached to the employe, the Pullman men have been subject to substantially the same remuneration for time lost while injured as other railroad employes. Recently, however, the following iron-clad contract was issued from the general offices of the company and sent to the Division Superintendents, with instructions to obtain the signatures of the employes and return to the Secretary of the company. The italics are the same as in the printed contract:
THIS IS TO CERTIFY, THAT I, _______, have this day accepted employment by, and enter into the service of, Pullman’s Palace Car Company, hereinafter called the Pullman Company, as _____, subject to the express conditions following:
First—That I may be suspended, definitely or indefinitely, with or without pay, or be discharged from such employment and service, at the pleasure of the Pullman Company, or at the pleasure of any General Division, or Assistant Superintendent, or authorized agent thereof, at any time, without previous notice, such notice being hereby expressly waived.
Second—That, in consideration of such employment and service, and the payment to me of the wages or salary now or hereafter agreed upon, and as a part of the agreement for such employment and service and the payment of such wages or salary I hereby undertake and bind myself to assume all risks of casualities by railroad travel, or otherwise, incident to such employment and service, and accordingly hereby release, acquit, and discharge the Pullman Company from any and all claims for liability of every nature and character whatever, to me, or to my heirs, Executors, Administrators, or legal representatives on account of personal injuries or otherwise.
Third—That I fully understand the meaning and effect of that part of the contracts made between the Pullman Company and the railway companies relating to the running of sleeping, parlor and drawing room cars, which is as follows:
“It is hereby mutually agreed that the said employes of the Pullman Company, named in article ____ of this contract, shall be governed by and subject to the rules and regulations of the railway company which are or may be adopted from time to time for the government of its own employees, and in the event of any liability arising against the railway company for personal injury, death, or otherwise of any employe of the Pullman Company, it is hereby distinctly understood and agreed that the railway company shall be liable only to the same extent it would be to the person injured was an employe in fact of the railway company, and for all liability in excess thereof shall be indemnified and paid by the Pullman Company.”
I hereby undertake and bind myself to obey the rules and regulations of such railway companies in strict compliance with the terms and conditions of the contracts referred to, the same as if I were an employe in fact of such railway companies and in further consideration of such employment and service, and of the payment to me of such wages or salary therefore, by the Pullman Company, and of my transportation free of charges by such railway companies over their lines of railway, where any casualty may occur, if at all. I hereby release, acquit, and forever discharge any such railway companies from all claims for liability of every nature and character whatever, to me or to my heirs, Executors, Administrators, or legal representatives, on account of personal injuries or otherwise, except such liability as would accrue to me if I were at the time an employe in fact of such railway companies.
Fourth—It is distinctly understood by me that this agreement is binding upon me, while in such employment and service, whether in the United States of America, or the Dominion of Canada, or the Republic of Mexico.
The men were called to the division offices, shown this circular, and requested to sign it. Some of them did so without even taking the trouble to read it. Others who asked questions and were inclined to protest were told that all new men taken into the company’s employ would have to sign it, and that old hands would be expected to sign also if they remained in the service. The compulsory contract has created a good deal of dissatisfaction among employes.
In making application for a position, either as conductor or porter in the employ of the Pullman Company, a man must face a formidable written examination involving a great deal of personal history. Among other things he must tell whether or not he has ever been married or divorced, whether he is in debt and if so to whom and how much, how long he went to school, whether he has any physical deformities, why he was discharged from or voluntarily left his last position, whatever that position may have been, whether he uses intoxicating liquors, plays games of chance or gambles in any way whatever, and whether he is willing to go wherever the company may see fit to send him, either in this world or the next.
New York Times, February 6, 1886.
2. SLEEPER SERVICE
The Interstate Commerce Law has cut off so many railroad dead heads that the sleeping car system is on the wane. The persons who patronized the sleepers most were those who traveled on passes, but now having to pay fare they do not care to pay extra for sleepers. The poor porters who depend upon the generosity of the passengers for the tips necessary to eke out the miserable pittances the roads allow them for salary, are sufferers to a considerable extent, and some of them have already been forced to resign their positions, as they cannot pick up enough to pay their expenses. It seems that the Negro gets the worst of every deal, no matter who makes it.
There is little sympathy expressed for Pullman, however, and it is thought that he will lower his rates for berths in his cars, take off the useless conductors and place the porters in charge as conductors and porters, and pay them the same wages usually paid to conductors, and, by these means, the passengers may continue to live in style. . . .
Western Appeal (St. Paul), April 30, 1887.
The United Brotherhood of North America in Session at Chicago
The United Brotherhood of Railway Porters convened in Bryan’s Hall, 446 State Street, Tuesday, at 1 o’clock. The opening remarks by Master Porter, J. P. Miller, were felicitous. Mr. D. E. Beasley, the Secretary, enrolled the following delegation:
M. P. Miller, Chicago
A. W. Bragg, St. Paul
W. C. Day, Boston
Thomas Bond, Chicago
D. E. Beasley, St. Paul
M. A. Charles, Boston
Edward Grigsby, St. Paul
M. W. Caldwell, Chicago
Adjourned at 2 o’clock.
The brotherhood convened Tuesday evening at St. Paul’s Church. After singing “Blest Be the Tie That Binds, Mr. W. H. Johnson, Master Porter of Garnett Lodge of Chicago, delivered an address of welcome. Grand Master Porter James P. Miller then delivered his annual address which was a masterly effort, full of logical reason delivered in a happy style. Mr. Miller is a very rousing speaker and the address was thoroughly enjoyed by all present. Mr. Miller said: “This Brotherhood of Railway Porters was organized for a moral purpose, to encourage higher associations for the porters and habits of economy. The position of porter, though lowly, should be filled by a gentleman. Some of the porters now employed are thieves, gamblers, and frequenters of the lowest dives. There are virtue destroying sharks on the cars who offer the porters from $5 to $25 not to see them carry out their hellish plans, and, I am sorry to say, the bribe is often accepted. The Company cannot rid themselves of those men unless they have the co-operation of the honest porters. Taking off Colored porters and putting on white ones would be swapping a little devil for a big one.
We don’t believe in strikes, what would be the use? If we’d strike a black army one thousand strong from the hotels and barber shops would take our places. We are our worst enemies. It is a shame and disgrace that Colored porters do not receive better support than they now get. Let Colored men remember when they are shouting about golden slippers and “white wings” that God intends they should do well here. “Get education and money and all will be well.”
The Grand Lodge opened in due force with prayer by A. W. Bragg. Committee on credentials appointed, Bro. H. B. Fink moved that the present officers be retained during the session. Carried. Roll call of delegates came next. . . .
The Grand Lodge convened at 10 A.M. with G.M.P. James P. Miller in the chair. After opening in due form the following officers were elected:
James P. Miller, Grand Master Porter
H. N. Valentine, 1st Asst. G.M.P.
D. E. Beasley, 2nd Asst. G.M.P.
J. D. Taylor, Grand Chaplain
J. F. Morgan, Grand Treasurer
Mark W. Caldwell, Grand Secretary
W. C. Day, Grand Marshal
Western Appeal (St. Paul), July 14, 1888.
There are rumors in the air of a strike of the railroad porters, and on this fact a prominent railway official of Chicago says: “If they should strike, we could fill their places at once, and were we unable to do this the cars would run out just the same and neither the traveling public nor the company would be inconvenienced a particle. Our conductors are able to take the same care of the cars and passengers as the porters and can easily fill their places in a pinch. If the porters should strike they would be the most surprised lot of men that ever undertook anything of the kind. They are the most insignificant part of our system and that is the principal reason they are so poorly paid.” This is a grand bluff. The Pullman system would be paralyzed if the porters should strike, as the conductors would refuse to do the menial work the porters perform; not because the first are any better than the latter, but because their pay makes them more independent, while the porters are dependent on the public for their living, and, consequently, “stoop to conquer.” This same official says: “If white men are employed as porters there will be a chance to do away with the tipping evil. A white person has not the same prediction for a gratuitie that a Negro has. We would pay the white porters living wages, and the wage would be beneficial in many respects. Oh yes, they would pay the white men “living wages, he thereby admits that Colored porters are not paid “living wages,” and, that the great Pullman monopoly forces its patrons to pay the poor porter the wages it should pay. The APPEAL does not favor a strike, at this time as it would work a hardship to the families or persons dependent on the porters on account of the lack of organization, but we hope the men will see the necessity of organizing themselves in one large union, and, then, if the Pullman Company will not treat them like men, they can compell them to do so.
The porters have the sympathy of the public as is shown by their tips and they may rest assured that the public desires to have the Pullman Company pay its workmen out of the exhorbitant fees it extorts from the traveling public instead of being compelled, in addition thereto, to pay the wages of the porters in tips. THE APPEAL has ever been a sympathizer with the porters and they may count on our support to secure justice at any price.
Western Appeal (St. Paul), July 19, 1890.
5. A STRIKE THAT SHOULD NOT SUCCEED
“It really seems that the present railroad strike is unjustifiable. No one will question that Count Pullman is a hard taskmaster, but that fact scarcely justifies the tieing up of all the railroads of the country, the stagnation of business and all the attendant evils. The whole public ought not to suffer to help out the Pullman employes. Other and less radical means of securing a settlement would probably prove equally effective.”—Indianapolis Sentinel.
Pullman may be a hard taskmaster, that’s neither here nor there, the remedy is plain. We apprehend there was no string attached to those who complained of his methods to the effect that they were compelled to bear them. They had but to quit, throw up the sponges as they did, and had they gone about their business, sought other employment, and permitted other men anxious to work, to have done so, the stagnation of business, and general unsettling of things complained of would not have taken place. To this color must it come sooner or later in this country, or this country must bid farewell to stability and future security. Either the great principle that every American citizen, whether he be a laboring man, a capitalist, a white man or a black man shall not be disturbed in his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, must be sustained and enforced, or government of the people, by the people, for the people must give way to anarchy, pure and simple, by whatever name it shall elect to be known.
It is a principle as old as civilization that where justice ends, anarchy begins and it is so strange, that this great truth, emphasized so many times, and so terribly during the centuries gone, has to be learned over and over again, as though it was something new under the sun. The right to “strike,” to quit work, to hunt for new fields, to seek to better one’s condition, anent the material necessary things of life belongs to the sacred indisputable rights of existence and cannot be gainsayed or questioned by anyone, but beyond that, what? Because my potato crop runs short by the color of what right, am I to be permitted to forage and subsist upon my neighbor? Because of what I may deem sufficient reason unto myself, I shall determine my labor is worth more than it is bringing in market, am I to be permitted to dictate to my brother, when and how he shall dispose of his toil, and how much he shall receive for it? Because my skin is white and my brother’s is black, should I deny to him in labor’s name and those dependent upon him, the very thing that in the name of humanity I am demanding for myself?
Because the craft I am skilled in feels the necessity of revolt against certain conditions and forces, should there not be a length beyond which the revolt should not go, as interrupting the even tenor and prosperity of other crafts, and in the end, bringing about a general commercial and business destruction? The individual, guilty of one or all these misdemeanors is liable, and when arraigned before the bar of justice and public opinion, is made to suffer for his acts. Is it to be wondered at, and should it be different that organized individualism, confederated labor forces equally guilty, should suffer in the courts of public opinion, for similar violations of the great principles of the fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man? Take this American Railroad Union for instance. For one whole day, at its recent meeting in Chicago, its President, Eugene Debs, pleaded with the delegates in convention, that there should be no color line in the order, that railroad men of good standing, regardless of race, religion or color, should receive alike in the noble name of labor, the protection of the order, and the benefits to accrue from organized demand and action. But although he pleaded in vain, we honor him for his heart and judgment, just in proportion as we despise the organization for its final action. The man who cries thief, while his own pockets are crammed with stolen goods, need not be surprised, if called to an accounting. Organizations of men, whether inspired by the sacred name of labor, or what you will, who go into the court of public opinion for the purpose of demanding equality, should first learn to practice it themselves, and then other things being equal, their hope for victory is many times assured. Strikes have succeeded, and good has resulted from them, but very seldom, and then only when public opinion has backed them up.26
The Freeman (Indianapolis), July 7, 1894.
6. THE RELIABLE LABORER
The great strike which now deems to be sweeping from one section of the country to the other seems destined to endanger the life of the Republic itself. It is a remarkable fact that these acts of lawlessness are confined to white men. The foreign element always largely predominate in these disturbances, and the spirit of unrest is almost wholly confined to them.
Negro labor is the most reliable and contented in the world.
Throughout the southland, no alarm is heard. No declarations which do not comport with the spirit of our government go forth. The colored man labors on.
And yet but comparatively few white men realize the Negro’s value and accord to him that support and recognition which he deserves. It is abuse that is his portion and the crack of the rifle, the report of the shot gun tell in no uncertain manner how with him life is brought to an untimely close.
But this situation of affairs cannot continue forever. The time will come when true merit will be recognized and the Negro’s devotion to the southern white man’s interests accorded the tribute which it deserves.
He knows what is best for his children, and although our fidelity to friends and faithfulness to duties committed unto us has been rewarded with stripes and followed by death the end will be all the more glorious when the divine injunction goes forth, “Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.”
Richmond Planet, July 14, 1894.
7. THE STRIKE
The situation in the West has become alarming and the strikers seem to have been carrying things their own way. This applies however to the suspension of freight traffic. So complete has been the “tie up” that even the United States mail service has been interrupted and the mandates of the federal courts defied.
The President of the United States has accordingly through the War Department ordered troops to the scene of the disturbance, and Chicago has been to an extent at least under martial law.
A peculiar feature of the situation was the protest of Governor Altgeld against the action of President Cleveland in ordering United States troops within the confines of the state of Illinois.27
This is the doctrine of states’ rights that this anarchistic Governor would set forth. The troops are still there and are likely to remain until the trouble is settled. As Attorney-General Olney has well put it, they are to assist the United States Marshals in executing the mandates of the federal courts, to prevent the obstruction of interstate travel.28
It is indeed a peculiar condition of affairs when a Democratic Governor should enter into a contention with a Democratic President as to the right to order United States troops to aid in the execution of the laws.
And stranger still ardent states’ rights southern Democratic journals are supporting the President in this contention.
Richmond Planet, July 14, 1894.
8. A LESSON THAT IS BEING LEARNED
We hope the report of an organization known as the Anti-Strikers’ Railroad Union, composed of colored men, and growing, is true. Not until the Negro becomes cohesive and we may add sensible and combative enough to organize and swing together—thousands strong—for the rights, considerations and opportunities in the battle of life due him as an American citizen, will he be freed from commercial and business ostracism. The curse of past conditions, the federation of labor among the whites, and too much “come day, go day” spirit on his own part, has been against him. We hope the day of his emancipation from the aggressive hoggishness of his foes, and the lethargic, lazy incubus of his own self, is at hand.
He must do something, or he will do nothing.
If he would go up, he must get up! See?
L. B. Stevens, of Chicago, president of the Anti-Strikers’ Union, in an interview in the Inter-Ocean, said among other sensible things:
“The attitude of labor unions and kindred organizations has become so aggressive as to be a serious menace to our system of government, and it is causing a revulsion in public sentiment. If capitalists and large employers of labor had given employment to the native-born American colored man instead of sending to the Old World and bringing here a class of foreign laborers who are not in sympathy with, and seem incapable of comprehending, American institutions many of the labor difficulties that now afflict the country would have been avoided.”
The simple God’s truth, every word of it, and more which could be said. It took this nation two years of continuous defeat in the guage of battle, at the hands of Mr. Jeff Davis & Co., to realize and appreciate the presence of the black man in the land, as a possible bullet stopper and defender of the flag, and it may be by the time the mob spirit, now rampant, and always present, has done its effectual work, and the smoking, gutted ruins of factory, storehouse and business mart is all that is left of American thrift and to mark the trail of the serpent, it may be when that time comes, if not till then, that capitalists, those who employ help and are dependent upon it, will learn to know the value and worth of the Negro—and learning, dare to employ him.29
The Freeman (Indianapolis), July 14, 1894.
9. THE RIGHT TO STRIKE AND THE RIGHT TO WORK
Everybody recognizes the indubitable right of people to work at their own pleasure. Of course, people who, for any reason, being able-bodied and able to find employment, but who voluntarily refuse to work, must not become burdens upon the community. But in every sense the right of working people to go out on a strike is acknowledged by the law and justified and established in public opinion.
If any attempt were made to force a striker to work, the person or persons so attempting would be either fuilty of assault or of false imprisonment, and would be amenable to the law for their acts. Thus the law protects a striker or any other person in his right to be idle, while any attempt to reduce anybody to a state of slavery where he would be forced to work against his or her will is expressly forbidden in the constitution of the United States. Thus it is that a striker knows that he is free from any force or interference by any former employer.
The right to work ought to be as thoroughly protected as is the right to be idle. But it is not. The enforced labor, which is denominated “slavery,” is expressly forbidden by the constitution of the United States, in amendment XIII, and if any attempt were made to coerce a striker into such servitude, the machinery of the United States courts and the entire power of the Government, if necessary, could be put in motion to rescue the subject of such oppression.
But there is no such protection to the right to work. The man who wishes to earn his living by the sweat of his brow must fight his way as best he can. Let some poor fellow attempt to work in a place left vacant by a striker, and commonly he does so at the risk of his life. For his protection, neither Federal nor State courts are invoked, and neither Federal nor State troops are turned out. He is denounced as a scab, and he may be stoned or otherwise beaten by strikers every day in the week for any protection he will get from any fource. Of course, if such a man should be killed outright, somebody might be called in question; but never, if his life be spared, has anybody been punished for depriving, by violence and force of arms, any man of his right to work in a place made vacant by the voluntary retirement of a striker.
Of course, when by a strike the public are greatly incommoded; when property is being destroyed and commerce is obstructed, and a general state of social disorder and disorganization exists through the violence of strikers, posses are sworn in, the troops are called out, and extraordinary means are taken to preserve order; but nothing is ever done to protect men the right to work. And what is the result of it? Why, plainly, that although there may be plenty of men to take the places of strikers, they will not, as a general thing, come forward because they know they will not be protected. That is the experience in this city; it is the experience everywhere. The troops will fire on mobs engaged in wrecking and burning railroad cars and buildings; but when the outlaws confine themselves to beating and intimidating men who are exercising their right to work, it is entirely another matter.
The remedy in our judgment is plain and we mistake the lesson that is being learned every moment these days of unrest and turmoil by the justice-loving, cool headed, fair minded people of this country if in the future that lesson is not acted upon. The moment a trades union man, at the behest and consent of his superior, dares to even threaten to say nothing of laying violent hands upon a fellowman who desires to take up the work he has laid down, that moment he should be restrained by authority and made to understand without the loss of time that the same liberty he arrogates to himself to quit work is just as sacred to the man who desires to work.
The moment so-called organized labor becomes so solicitous for its interest that it will not stop at violence to obtain its end, that moment organized society law and order should meet the mischievous bluff more than half way, and in the name of human rights, and stable government, check it before the fever to wreck trains and destroy property has been allowed its devilish play.
To this color it is not coming, but is come, either the arrogated right of trades unionism must be given full play, the country “be damned,” or anarchistic trades unionism must be squelched that the greater union shall live.
The Freeman (Indianapolis), July 21, 1894.
10. EFFECTS OF THE STRIKE
Negroes are tacitly but none the less completely excluded from railroad positions on most Northern lines. No Negro is ever seen in a position on a railroad which is in the line of railroad promotion. This industrial exclusion is a most serious injustice and, with other like exclusions, lies at the bottom of much of the industrial deficiencies of the Negro. The Chicago strike has led the Rock Island to place a number of Negroes in its yards and switch towers. As in most great strikes the practical result of this upheaval is to give a chance to men who had no chance or small chance before, and the power of the Government, can be in no better business than opening a path to work for men to whom it was before closed.
The Christian Recorder, July 12, 1894.
11. THE RACE QUESTION THE CAUSE WHITE EMPLOYES WILL NOT AFFILIATE WITH COLORED MEN
TERRE HAUTE, Ind., Oct. 6.—Grand Master Sargent of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, who is President of the Supreme Council of the Federation of Railway Employes, today issued a call for the meeting of the council at Houston, Texas, Thursday next, to consider the threatened strike on the Houston and Texas Central Railway. This trouble is the first instance in which the race question has entered into the consideration of a grievance brought before the federation. Mr. Debs said that not one of all the railway organizations accepted colored men as members. The white railway men refuse to take the colored laborers into their orders. There are many colored firemen, brakemen, and switchmen in the South, but the colored man is not made an engineer or conductor. Wages paid to such employes are not equal to the rates on Northern roads.30
The white employes are endeavoring to raise wages in the South, but colored labor can be procured cheaper. The colored railroad men have organizations throughout the South, but they are not permitted to affiliate with the white organizations. Owing to peculiar conditions existing in the South, the questions to be considered by the Executive Council will be grave ones. Mr. Sargent left tonight for St. Louis, where he will spend tomorrow with a grievance committee of the Missouri Pacific, and will proceed to Houston tomorrow night.
New York Times, October 7, 1890.
12. COULD NOT DRAW THE COLOR LINE
ST. LOUIS, Oct. 10.—The trouble which has lately occurred on the Houston and Texas Central Railroad growing out of the refusal of Receiver Dillingham to discharge negro switchmen, and which culminated in a strike, had been satisfactorily settled. Grand Master Sargent of the Locomotive Firemen; S. E. Wilkinson, Grand Master of the Railway Trainmen; F. S. Sweeney, Grand Master of the Switchmen’s Association, and J. W. Martin, Assistant Chief of the Brotherhood of Conductors, arrived at Houston yesterday, and as representatives of the Supreme Council of the Federation of Railway Employes held a consultation with the railroad officials. After a full discussion of the situation the members of the Supreme Council concluded that the strikers had made a mistake, that the color line could not be made an issue, and after a promise on the part of Receiver Dillingham that the strikers should be reinstated the conference ended, and the men will return to work. The road pays full Chicago switchmen’s wages.31
New York Times, October 11, 1890.
13. THE COLOR LINE IN TEXAS
The recent controversy over the color line in Texas is of interest throughout the country. The Houston & Texas Central Railroad began to employ black men in various departments of its service. Some of the white employees struck, and S. E. Wilkinson, Grand Master of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, in their behalf, applied to Mr. Dillingham, the receiver of the road, for the discharge of the blacks. Mr. Dillingham flatly refused to comply with this demand. “The colored men,” he said, “have rendered faithful and efficient service, and I feel it would be unjust to them as it would to any other person, to turn them out simply to put others in their places.” The question was finally carried to the Supreme Council of the Federation, and that body decided that Mr. Dillingham was right. A noteworthy feature of the incident is the fact that Mr. Wilkinson is a Republican, and a Grand Army man, while Mr. Dillingham was a Confederate and is a Democrat.
The Nation, October 30, 1890.
14. APPEAL TO NEGRO WORKERS
When we were organizing the American Railway Union in 1893, I stood on the floor of that Convention all through its deliberations appealing to the delegates to open the door to admit the colored as well as the white man upon equal terms. They refused, and then came a strike and they expected the colored porters and waiters to stand by them. If they had only admitted these porters and waiters to membership in the American Railway Union there would have been a different story of that strike, for it would certainly have had a different result.
I remember one occasion down in Louisville, Kentucky, where we were organizing and they refused to admit colored workers to the union. A strike followed—a strike order exclusively by the white workers. After having ignored the colored workers and refused them admission, the strike came and the colored workers walked out with the white ones. Notwithstanding they had been excluded and insulted, they went out, and the strike had not lasted long until the white men went back to work and broke the strike, leaving the colored men out in the cold in spite of their loyalty to white workers.
Eugene V. Debs, “Appeal to Negro Workers,” at Commonwealth Casino in New York City, October 30, 1923.
15. WILLIAM D. MAHON TO SAMUEL GOMPERS, NOVEMBER 22, 1900
Amalgamated Association of St. Railway Employees of America
Mr. Samuel Gompers
President, A. F. of L.
Dear Sir & Bro:
I received a communication from you sometime ago regarding the organization of the Order of Railway Clerks. I wrote to them for constitution and other information with the intention of calling a meeting and trying to organize a branch of their organization here. I have finally succeeded in getting a brief answer with copy of their constitution, but when we went to examine the constitution we find that it draws the color line and specifies—“any white person of good moral character, who is 16 years of age, etc., etc.” I did not notice this at first but a friend of mine, newspaper man, and I were discussing the matter of trying to call them together, when he discovered the color line being drawn and would not take any interest in it, and I thought I had better write you. I told him that this might have been done in the early stages of the organization and was satisfied that they would not be admitted with the color line drawn. Then another thing, the constitution is very brief and does not specify clearly to my mind who shall be taken in. I thought it was mail clerks and such as that, but from the constitution I should judge it was all kinds of railway clerks, I wish you would make that clear to me also.
Now, if we can take the papers as a criterion, there are going to be any amount of visionary propositions before the Federation, such as compulsory arbitration, etc., etc., at least the labor columns and the reports of the papers are full of it. One has it that a million dollar defense fund will be created. Another compulsory arbitration. Oh, I guess we will have to have our hatchets good and sharp when we get into Louisville. I received a very encouraging letter from Col. McGhill. He informs me that he has a room engaged in the ‘nigger’ quarters of the county jail for me, so should you not find me at the hotel, you may know where to look for me.
Awaiting your reply on the questions above, I remain
W. D. Mahon,
A. F. of L. Archives, Incoming Correspondence.
International Brotherhood of Maintenance-of-Way Employes St. Louis, Mo.
Mr. Frank Morrison33
Secretary, A. F. of L.
Dear Sir and Brother:
Replying to your favor of the 18th inst. I am glad to know you are succeeding in your efforts to organize the colored workers. The Central Bodies of colored workers organized in the southern cities will do much towards clearing the way and making it possible for us to organize the colored men in the small towns and along the railways. The sooner the white men in the Southern States can be caused to realize that a labor organization is a business enterprise, that selling labor is a matter of business, etc., the better it will be for them and the colored workmen. The men who buy labor for profit care as little about the color of the men who do their work, as a farmer does about the color of the mules used in cultivating his farm.
In answer to your question concerning what my opinion or the attitude of the party elected to succeed P. M. Arthur deceased towards the American Federation of Labor will be. I see by the newspapers that his name is Stone. I do not remember whether or not I met him, but I am of the opinion that the policy of the B.L.E. will not be changed very much. For a number of years they have acted upon the theory that there is a certain amount of cake in the dish, and that if any one else gets more, they will have to take less. I have considered the B.L.E. and the O.R.C. auxiliaries to the Railway Managers Association for some time and they wield considerable influence over the members of the B.L.F. and B.R.T. The O.R.T. was under their influence for some time but they discovered that their members were being used by the older Organizations as message boys and that they were not getting anything for their services.34
Our people have suspended work on three or four different roads at different times, and we found to our surprise that the engineers favored the Companies.
I prepared a brief history of the trackmens strike on the C.P.R. and published it in book form. We will send a copy to you under separate cover. The little book is entitled “The Calcium Light Turned on by the Railway Trackmen.” The reports and statements that appear in the book are facts. By perusing it, I think you will conclude that it would be unsafe for us to depend upon the parties referred to, for even moral support, in case our people are forced to suspend work in an effort to improve their conditions.
John T. Wilson,
A. F. of L. Archives, Incoming Correspondence.
17. THE BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE FIREMEN AND THE “NEGRO QUESTION”
W. S. CARTER TO SAMUEL GOMPERS, OCTOBER 3, 1896
Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine
Upon my return to Peoria, I found your circular of September 26th, also one of 9th of the same month concerning the Musician’s Union. I also found a letter and a circular from Local Union #37 of the American Flint & Glass Workers. To each of these I will give space in the November issue of the Magazine.
You can well imagine how terribly disappointed I am at the results of the Galveston Convention in-so-far as an affiliation with the A. F. of L. is concerned. The negro question did it, and I fear that this same question will keep the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen from ever affiliating with the American Federation of Labor. I knew that there would be opposition, but I never dreamed of its bitterness. They did not care to listen to any arguments in favor of removing the word “white” from our Constitution, and you would have been surprised at the intelligent manner in which they came back at the A. F. of L. for demanding its removal. They say that the A. F. of L. pretends to insure autonomy to each of the affiliated unions, and then even before affiliation takes place, demands that our laws shall be changed so as not to discriminate against the negro.
There is no labor organization in the world that has suffered as much by competition with the cheap negro labor as has the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. The Southern negro occupies the same relative position to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, as does the Chinaman to the Cigar Makers’ Union, and you know what would be the effect if the Cigar Makers had a clause in their Constitution antagonistic to Chinese labor if the A. F. of L. demanded its removal.
Nevertheless, the question has been submitted to our subordinate Lodges, and if two-thirds of the Lodges vote in the affirmative, the laws will be changed, and the Firemen will make application for membership in the A. F. of L.
We shall do all in our power to enlighten our members upon this question, but I feel that there is nothing that would assist us as much as for the affiliated unions to help us in our fight. If Mr. Perkins, of the Cigar Makers, Mr. Prescott, of the Printers, Mr. McGuire, of the Carpenters, Mr. O’Connel, of the Machinists, etc., etc., would send a circular letter to each of our Lodges, kindly inviting the B. of L. F. to affiliate with them in the labor movement, it would have a wonderful effect. The influence would be more forcible than should you send them out, for this reason: You are looked upon as the head of the American Federation of Labor, and it is expected of you as a part of your duty to send out these invitations, while such invitations coming through others who are already affiliated, would no doubt carry the point.
In the October number of the Magazine, I have published an extract from the Grand Master’s report concerning the A. F. of L., and next month, I shall take up the matter editorially, and I hope that when the “votes are counted” that “two-thirds” of the Lodges will have decided to “side-track” the negro question.
Now, Mr. Gompers, you know that my heart is set on an affiliation with the A. F. of L., negro, or no negro, and I want to ask you if you do not think that the A. F. of L. goes too far when it attempts to dictate as to who shall be eligible to membership in the component trades unions. I never looked upon this phase of the question before I went to the recent Convention, as I do now, and I believe that if you could have but heard some of the arguments made on this point, you would have to confess that the A. F. of L. does not grant autonomy to the affiliated organizations.
I sincerely hope that all will end well, but if we cannot get the necessary two-thirds vote of the Lodges, in favor of striking the word “white” from our Constitution, I will then contend that it is the duty of the A. F. of L. at its next Convention, to grant autonomy to each of the affiliated unions, so that the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen can become a part of the American Federation of Labor.
W. S. Carter35
A. F. of L. Archives, Incoming Correspondence.
Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine
Dear Mr. Gompers:
Replying to your favor of the 23d inst., will say that the exact wording of the resolution is as follows:—“That the question of affiliation with the A. F. of L. be referred to the Lodges and if adopted by a two-thirds vote of all the Lodges voting, same shall be adopted.” Our members will consider in voting on this question, the propriety of removing the word “white” from our Constitution, instead of the advisability of affiliating with the A. F. of L. To the latter proposition I have met but little or no opposition. Our members, with but few exceptions, desire to affiliate with the A. F. of L., but when it comes to removing the word “white” from the Constitution, they seem to take great exceptions, and this will be the fight. If the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen could be admitted to membership in the A. F. of L. without any changes in the present Constitution, you could consider the battle won. The reason I suggest this to you is that it will perhaps aid you and our friends in offering arguments that will overcome the opposition.
I explained thoroughly the advisability of removing the word “white” from our Constitution and placing it in our ritual. I even said that if we did not decide to affiliate with the A. F. of L., I believed it would be beneficial to place the word “white” in our ritual instead of the Constitution, inasmuch as the negroes could not say we were fighting them.36
Mr. Sargent is on the Pacific coast, trying to reach an adjustment with the officials of the Southern Pacific Co. I suppose he will be back by the first of the month, at which time I understand he will take up the question of the reference vote of our members. While I do not expect to go “out of the way” to say much editorially on this question, I shall certainly quote everything that other trades unions say with regard to the matter. Our entire membership knows how I stand on the question, and anything that I might do would have but little influence, but if they learn that the official publications of other trades unions are interested in us and are saying kind things of us and are desirous that we should affiliate with them, it will be a revelation to our members.
With best wishes for the success of the movement, I remain,
W. S. Carter
Editor & Manager
A. F. of L. Archives, Incoming Correspondence.
19. THE NEGRO QUESTION
I notice a great deal in the MAGAZINE about the American Federation of Labor and the negro firemen. My sentiments have been spoken in nearly every instance. I object to the proposed federation, principally on account of having to strike the word “white” from our constitution. I don’t want to be affiliated with any organization when I have to be on an equality with the negro. When it comes to that I will ask for a final withdrawal, and I will not be alone on this ground, because every true Southern brother will be as I am, and it would be only a short time until every Southern Lodge will have surrendered its charter and I believe a great many Northern Lodges will follow suit.
I was raised in the South, and still live in the South, and will always hold myself above the negro race. I have been running an engine for a little over three years. I have had white firemen and I have had negro firemen. The white firemen will burn less coal than the negro. On the same run a negro will burn from eight to nine tons of coal where the white man will burn about seven tons. The negro gets $1.80 for firing this trip. The white man gets $2.25 for the same trip and burns from one to two tons less than the negro. The least cost of coal is $1 per ton at mines. The negro gets 45 cents less than a white man and consumes from $1 to $2 worth more fuel. I wish some one could show me the economy of having a negro fireman. They (negroes) burn more coal and have less steam than white firemen and cause more delay for want of steam which frequently amounts to overtime for the whole crew. I have one (negro) firing for me, not through choice, but because I can’t help myself. I wish some of the brothers who favor the proposed plan of federation could smell a sweet-scented negro just one time and I think he would change his mind when he votes. I bought a cake of soap and gave to one of them not long ago to go to the river and wash himself so I could stay on the engine with him. A skunk or a pole-cat would have been perfume for him.
I close by predicting that whenever we have to recognize a negro as a labor organization, that the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen will be no more in the South, and will die in the North when our Northern brothers get a little better acquainted with the negro.
A MEMBER OF 426.
Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine (February, 1897): pp. 125–26.
Hostility to negro labor, which has resulted in denying membership to the colored men in leading labor organizations, cropped out again last month at the convention of railroad brotherhoods held in Norfolk, Va. Press reports of an address by Grand Master Frank P. Sargent, of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, state that his utterances show “that one of the chief purposes of the meeting of the brotherhoods was to begin a campaign in advocacy of white supremacy in the railway service.” A despatch to the New York Sun continues:
“Mr. Sargent said that no violations of law was intended and no threats were meant, but that the white men of the South believed that the avenue to the locomotive should be open to whites alone, and these claimed the right to man the engines upon the highways of Southern Commerce. He said that the railway firemen who received in some parts of the South $30 a month, when they asked for higher wages, had been told that colored men could be secured who would work for $25. The speaker said that if this state of things continued more mutterings would be heard now in the Carolinas. He said that the South needed a civilization of intelligent workmen under the flag which has now crossed the sea. Other meetings would be held, he said, and agitation continued until the purpose of the firemen was accomplished.”
The Literary Digets, December 24, 1898.
21. FROM LOCAL 289
I have just received the March MAGAZINE and have read nearly everything in it, giving especial attention to the correspondence. In the February number I see a letter from “A Member of 426” concerning the “negro question.” It speaks ray sentiments exactly, and I have been talking to other members of my Lodge on the subject and they are of the same opinion. Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood in regard to affiliating with the A. F. of L., but if I understand their constitution properly all labor must become organized to accomplish anything, and it looks to me as if we had to take into our different orders all classes of laborers no matter what their avocation may be. Show me a trade of any kind where there are no negroes employed! The carpenter, blacksmith, molder, trackman, or any other trade, is thrown into competition with the negro where the law will allow. Why? Because they will work cheaper and take more abuse than the white man! Now has the negro not taken the place of organized labor in a great many cases? And then to think a man who is a member of organized labor will want to take him into the order and call him “brother.” I saw a letter from Lodge 270 where the writer says, “Why not educate the negroes and organize them?” Are we not educating them now? What are our free schools for but to educate them equally with the whites. And as to organizing them, how are we to do that unless we take them into our orders and teach them the principles of organized labor? And when once organized, even if the color line is drawn, are we not as one Brotherhood?
I am not in favor of abusing the negro in any manner, but they should stay in their place. I don’t want it thought that he should be entirely deprived of the privilege of earning a living at any trade he wishes to follow, but I am not in favor of organizing him and calling him brother. Perhaps if the writer referred to would come South and see what we have to contend with he would change his mind. How would he feel if a Traveling Negro Fireman should walk up to him while on duty and say, “You are burning too much coal. I want that engine cleaned up. She is in awful shape?” What is he going to do but do just as the negro said; for he has had his orders from his superior officer, a negro. Such has been the case in the South. The fireman can’t say a word, for we all know what the result will be when we refuse to obey our superior.
When I hear a man talk as he has written it makes me want to tell him of the experience of an old country preacher. The good old man was preaching and in his sermon said that “the negro was as good as a white man and there should be no distinction made between them.” After the service he went home with a good brother to spend the night and one who thought a man should practice what he preached. There was an old time “Darkey” living with this good brother and he was well treated in every respect, but the good brother now saw a chance to have the preacher prove his teachings; so when the hour came for retiring he was escorted to his room by the host. There was only one bed in the room and in this bed was the darkey. When the reverend gentleman saw the darkey in the bed, he inquired if he must sleep there. His host replied “Yes sir,” left the room and locked the door.
Shall we strike the word “white” out of our constitution? No! One brother from Mt. Moriah Lodge No. 319 says: “No negro can get in our order unless we say so.” Now, how are we going to keep him out if we strike out the word “white?” There are negroes who are just as honest and are as worthy to be members of an organization as white men, and if they should make application how can we reject them? Only by their color? Then what is the use of changing the constitution? Now if we should affiliate will it keep the railroad companies from hiring the negro at reduced wages? Not so long as the law will allow it, and I think the best thing we can do is to “let well enough alone.” I have been a member of Mt. Lookout Lodge No. 289 since 1896 and take a great deal of interest in the order, but when it comes to a lot of nigger lovers putting me down equal with the negro I am forever done with B.L.F. or any other order that favors negro equality.
Should we affiliate would he not, in one sense of the word, be on an equal with us? Will the company raise his wages to equal ours or will they reduce ours to equal his? What have the corporations been doing in the last few years in regard to wages? There are no negro firemen on the railroad I work for, and I am thankful for it; but I see them every day on other roads entering here. It is very amusing to be at the passenger depot when a train rolls in with a negro fireman and watch the other negroes look on. The fireman would not “swap” jobs with President McKinley. Now I hope all members who have the welfare of our noble order at heart will think the matter over before they cast their ballot. It may be a serious mistake.
[The statement is here made with the Grand Master as authority, that the present vote on the question of affiliating with the American Federation of Labor has nothing whatever to do with the negro question. The word “white” will remain in our constitution regardless of how the vote goes, in fact, the vote is not to change a single line of our present constitution, but to give each and every member an opportunity to cast his vote either for or against the proposition to ally the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen with the other trade unions of the country in the industrial struggle which is ahead of us. An official statement will be issued from the office of the Grand Secretary and Treasurer which will show just how many votes were cast for and against the proposition. No man can claim that he “did not understand the question” after the information which has been published in the MAGAZINE].
Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine (April, 1899): 264–65.
22. THE RACE QUESTION
The race question in the South seems to be coming forward with more prominence of late than it has for years. It may be that with the acquisition of more territory people with mixed races, by this Government, is the cause of this fresh agitation; the people realizing that with the assumption of more of the “White Man’s Burden” by this country, some method of controlling that burden must be established, that will prove more satisfactory than the one now in force.
It appears to thousands of Americans today that the fifteenth amendment, giving the negro the right of franchise, has not been the educator and up-lifter of the race that it was designed and expected to be. The placing in office of negroes so illiterate and ignorant as to be unable to understand the first principles of law and justice has had a demoralizing influence on the race and has tended to bring them into greater disrepute, not alone with the people of the Southern States, but of the whole country. The result has been that in South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana laws have been passed, amendatory to the State constitutions, prohibiting illiterates from voting, and so worded as to practically disfranchise the negro voters of those States, and no others. A similar law is soon to be voted on in North Carolina, and no doubt will be adopted there. The whole tendency is to disfranchise the negro—to literally annul the fifteenth amendment. It is the logical conclusion of the relations that have existed between the white and black races for hundreds of generations, and will continue for hundreds more.
The immoral, shiftless, indolent nature of the negro, an inherent viciousness that leads to the committal of brutal and revolting crimes, their utter lack of ambition and desire to advance, are the things that are bringing about a reaction in public sentiment. Of course there are exceptions, but to the negro as a class it will apply.
It may be charged by some as a result of the conditions brought about by slavery, but while some of it may be traceable to that, and while the introduction of slavery into the United States, with its attendant evils, must always be deplored, yet the ignorant, licentious characteristics of the negro have existed through centuries in countries where he has predominated, as well as in those where he has been in the minority.
It may be classed as a step backward to disfranchise the negro, but the time is not far distant, in the light of present events, when it will be one of the leading questions of the hour. The freedom which has been permitted in the right of franchise in this country has led to much of the political corruption from which we now suffer, and has tended to degrade the right of the ballot. The ballot should be so restricted to foreigners coming to this country that when they did become eligible to the franchise they would esteem it as a privilege to be sought for and desired, and not as a matter of universal license, free to all, as it is today, to the disgrace and detriment of the American people.
While liberty and equality are the boasts of Americanism, liberty is degenerating into license in many ways, and absolute equality, even before the law, let alone socially or morally, have never existed even here. The law never handles the rich, though criminal, Mr. L. as it does the poor thief, Mr. P. It deals with the drunken debauchee, Mr. Z., vastly differently than it does with intoxicated “Weary Willie” who falls into its clutches. Socially, legally, physically or morally there has never been and never will be, equality between the members of the white races. Then why talk of an equality between the white and black races, which has not, and never will have, any existence except in the minds of theorists. It is a condition hoped for, but which will never be realized.
In the Hawaiian Islands, where the franchise was permitted the black race, it was but meagerly taken advantage of, and then not in a manner to be encouraging for its perpetuation. Of course, the consent of the governed is talked of as something that can not be overlooked, and among a people where the capability of self-government exists it should be permitted full sway, but that the negro of the South, or anywhere else, for that matter, has arisen, as a race, to the opportunity offered him, cannot be demonstrated. There is no use trying to avoid the race issue that is being constantly thrust before the people, more and more frequently as the months roll on. Existing conditions in the South have not proven satisfactory to the people, and while allowance must be made for race prejudice, there is no doubt much cause for complaint and room for reformation in the present existing relations between the two races.
* * *
It would appear from the testimony of employes in the Bureau of Immigration before the Industrial Commission that our laws relative to the restriction of immigration are not properly planned and are not doing what they were intended to do. Mr. Dobbler, chief of the Board of Immigration Inspectors, testified that it was plain that immigrants were coached so as to give answers to questions asked, in such a manner as to evade our laws. Dr. Lorenzo Ullo, legal adviser of the immigration bureau, testified that the laws were so contradictory that it was difficult to enforce the intent of the law. For instance, a criminal, according to the law, shall be returned to the port from which he came, and to the country to which he belongs. So a German criminal sailing from Paris or a Chinaman from Rome, or other like cases, would be free from the operation of this law.37
There is no actual law for the deportation of contract labor. It is only by implying that meaning in the law of 1891 that this can be done, and even means are found to evade this law by having someone who works for the corporation hire men to come and work in this country from foreign lands, and as the man who hires them is a hired man of the corporation, the intent of the law is evaded. It appears there is no law prohibiting the landing of girls for immoral purposes. The laws appear on their face to fall far short of what was claimed for them, and stand in need of radical changes.
While many newspapers and men claim the present immigration laws are all that could be desired, it is evident they are not, and people so claiming are either ignorant of the facts or have something to gain by so claiming.
With better times in the United States the flood of immigration has again set in, and with apparently very little to bar its progress. Corporations prefer the cheap foreign labor to the American article. The former is more servile and more tractable, at least for a time. Pennsylvania receives a large per cent of this undesirable element—Slavs, Poles, Italians, etc.—until one can go in some parts of that State and easily imagine himself in a foreign country. Immigration laws must be framed with due respect to treaty rights, but this can be done and the laws so worded that a big per cent, of this cheap labor, the criminals and paupers could be kept out, were it not for the opposition such a law meets from the corporations that desire to retain the club they have wielded so long over the heads of American workingmen.
Between the cheap negro “labor and the cheap foreign labor, the intelligent American workingman is threatened in his desire to live and enjoy the benefits of our laws, to educate and raise up to some honorable calling the family about him without becoming virtually a slave himself, or permitting his family to sink into misery and squalor. The only reason that the safety of the rights of these men, who form the groundwork (and bulwark, in time of need) of the United states, is permitted to be threatened is that wealth is running the Government, without any regard to its welfare, but solely in its own interests. Possibly the coming Congress will amend the present laws so as to be more beneficial to the interests of labor, but so far all pressure that could be brought to bear on past Congresses has failed to secure legislation that was satisfactory, or if such laws as were secured appeared as if they would be of benefit to the common people they were vetoed by those higher in authority.
Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine (November, 1899): 593–95.
24. MIXED LABOR
The abolition of slavery by Christian countries may be attributed to the business sagacity of capitalists, inasmuch as slavery has existed from a prehistoric period until capitalists decided that it was more profitable to use “mixed” labor.
Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine (March, 1900): 195.
THE SOUTHERN NEGRO
As a part of the policy adopted by capitalists to depress their wage expense, and thereby increase their profits, negro slaves were first imported. Since the emancipation of the vast army of negro slaves, these slaves have become a part of what Hume called “mixed labor.” These millions of negroes, taken with the millions of laborers imported from Europe and Asia—and the millions of Coolies, Spaniards, Hawaiians, Filipinos, Tagalos, Malays, and numerous other tribes recently annexed, provide a harvest of “mixed labor” for American capitalists. We will write of each in their turn, but now of the Southern negro.38
It is probable that the census of 1900 will show nearly eight million negroes in the Southern States. There is no quarrel between the white working-man and this horde of ignorant servile labor. The negro is there not by his own choosing. He is there to stay; a curse visited upon the white working-men of the South and the North, by the sins of their fathers.
Northern capitalists, within recent years, have begun to realize the profits that can be reaped from Southern negro labor. The Civil War left but few Southern capitalists, and because of the sectional and political prejudices which came as an aftermath of the war, but few Northern capitalists ventured into the negro country. But conditions have changed; sectional prejudice is fast disappearing, and Northern capitalists are rapidly availing themselves of what is said to be the most profitable labor in the world, the Southern negro labor.
It is said that we have the Southern negro with us and we must make the best of it. Too true! But how shall we make the best of it? The ex-slaves of the South and their progeny, are of the same disposition, the same ambitions and hopes, and the same blood as that of their forefathers. While in cities more or less enlightenment has broken in upon their intellects, the vast majority are practically what they were at the time of their emancipation. This is no fault of theirs; there is no war to be made upon them; they are not responsible for their presence in this country, but the white workingman will learn to curse the day, and the men connected with their coming!
One of the leading commercial publications, in America, is The Tradesman, of Chattanooga, Tenn., and one of the most interesting numbers of that journal ever published, is the January, 1900, issue. The book is largely devoted to a symposium on the South and its future. Articles are contributed by the representative men south of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi. Ex-Governor Northern, of Georgia, says of the relation between colored labor and capital:
By those who do not know, it is urged that the presence of the negro in the South will greatly hinder industrial development. This result does not necessarily follow. On the contrary, the negro is one of the South’s best undeveloped resources. He is, by far, better adapted to outdoor conditions at the South than any labor now accessible to us. Properly trained, as is now the policy of the wisest of his leaders, the negro will be well fitted, technically, for all the demands necessary to meet industrial development along the lines upon which his services may be required.
The average negro is loyal and tractable. He will grow to be easily managed, as the years advance; and he will be found to endure hard labor at the South much more satisfactorily than the foreign element generally used in this way. His furnishings are very much less expensive, and his hire, therefore, requires that much less outlay. Under the system of training now commended and generally pursued for the betterment of the negro, he will grow in a degree commensurate with the South’s development, and he will become, more and more, a factor for the South’s successful progress. We must handle him as the negro of the future, and not as the negro of reconstruction antipathies and antagonisms.
Whilst the negro is not beyond criticism in some particulars, we cannot afford to displace him, with nothing better in sight than the prospects for supply now open.
The constantly disturbed social conditions of the North and West are unknown at the South. Because of the character of our labor, the South is practically, and in some sections absolutely, a stranger to riots, strikes and ugly uprisings among the people, in the arraignment of classes or conditions. Such business prosperity will be easily maintained if we adhere to our present relations.
In a few years, in my candid judgment, the negro will not only be worth far more, because of his better adaptation, on our farms, but he will be found working intelligently along all lines of industrial development and growth among our people. If we care for the negro properly and train him intelligently for his own profit and our usefulness, he will become a developed resource and a valuable factor in the betterment that awaits us in the future.
The Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville, Ala., contributes an article entitled “The South; Its Opportunities and Necessities,” in which he says:
There is one prime and all-important movement needed at this time to put the South in the place where Dame Nature so clearly intended she could occupy, and that is, the creation of a stronger and more general public sentiment in this section favorable to industrial interests and industrial progress. That sentiment should establish as its first work, through proper legislation, the correct relation between labor and capital, and not leave it to the possibility of disturbance at the hands of labor agitators on the one side or political demagogues on the other.
In view of the evils that have afflicted industrial centers in the North from these sources, the South should now take this matter in hand while she can, and make it a crime to inaugurate a strike that in any way affected the general public. It is about time in the career of our common country when the rights of the public should be considered at all times, rather than see them ruthlessly trodden under foot at the behest of labor unions, as is the case in every strike of a general nature. It is the worse stain on the pages of our boasted civilization that public rights can be ignored to make way for the supposed rights of labor, under the command of disgruntled individuals. The South was whipped into giving freedom to the negro, now let her set an example to the world of not only maintaining that freedom, by giving the negro the right to work for whom he pleases and for what he pleases; not only this, but guarantee the same right to every white person within her borders. There should be state boards of arbitration in every Southern state, and these should be charged with the duty of inculcating and maintaining proper relations between labor and capital, employers and employes; and to do this efficiently they must be beyond the reach of political influence or control. When the South puts herself in this shape she can feel that her industrial structure is based upon safe and sure foundations, and she may not feel thus if this is neglected.
There is also need of a better sentiment throughout the South toward capital invested in corporations. It should be just as easy for a corporation at any point in the South to secure justice in all matters, as it is for an individual; and if any differences should be known it should be rather in favor of than against corporations, for they are the greatest agencies available for the upbuilding of the South. These are the principal objects to which public sentiment in the South should be turned at this time, and it was to awaken sentiment in this direction that the Southern Industrial Convention was held at Huntsville, Ala., a few weeks ago.
It was noted from the above that the gentleman states that the negro should be protected from “the possibility of disturbance at the hands of labor agitators, and that the South should now take this matter in hand, while she can, and make it a “crime” for the negro to strike. It will be noted that while combinations of labor (trades unions) are to be suppressed by law, combinations of capital (corporations) are to be promoted. He believes that in matters of “justice,” the corporations should have a greater share than individuals.
The President of the Agricultural College of Alabama writes of “Negro Labor and Labor Organizations,” as follows:
The South has the best labor in the world. It is true that the negro is not always mindful of his obligation; but no community, with negro labor, will ever go to bed in peace and get up next morning and find its entire business paralyzed and a howling mob often making selfish and unrighteous demands. The labor unions have been introduced into the South and unless regulated by the stern, positive sense of justice of the business community, or by legislative limitations, will bring into the South disorders which will exceed the disturbances of “reconstruction days.”
As I have above stated, the South, having settled most satisfactorily all of her past problems, should not now permit the needless introduction of grave questions, which will not only injure the progress and prospects of her strongest labor element numbering millions, but which must domineer and cripple capital itself.
The South should continue to offer protection to every class of honest labor which may seek employment within her borders. The negro has a priority claim upon every class of work in the South which he is capable of doing, and he appeals to the South, through public sentiment and legal enactments, to protect him in the enjoyment of his birthright. He does not ask that others be debarred, nor does he desire such discrimination; but he asks for only a chance to stand or fall on his merits in any industrial field in the South.
Unless the Southern people regulate by law the operations of labor unions and labor organizations, as well as mark out an equitable course for capital, the best labor in the world will be ultimately driven out of her markets; and when the South permits this, her best and most loyal laborers will be gone.
When the white man brings white labor to displace his true and tried friend, the negro, then will Communism drive the white man’s coach, Nihilism cook and serve his food, Agrarianism plow his fields and the red flag of Anarchy float over every Southern industry. Can the negro and can the South afford to run wild over the suffrage question? Or can both sit supinely down while these subtle serpents wind their loathsome and deadly coils around our free institutions and throttle every element of justice and liberty in them?39
Between this Southern gentleman’s love for the negro and his hatred of white labor, he grows eloquent. Since when has the negro been his “true and tried friend?” The gentleman positively denies the right to strike to his “true and tried friend, the negro.” Such ranting is laughable to any intelligent man—except a capitalist, or a henchman of capitalists, who hopes to reap wealth from ignorant colored labor, a labor that is more profitable than chattel slavery. These insane shrieks of the President of an Alabama college are like those of a wild animal which fears that a portion of his prey will be taken away from him. This love of the Southern capitalist for his “most loyal laborers,” is like that of a hungry wolf for the sheep he has within his power. Any person who would warn the “sheep” from his “true and tried friend,” the “wolf,” is guilty of Communism, Nihilism, Agrarianism and Anarchy!
The person who writes this article, and one other man employed in this office, were born and grew to manhood in Southern States. They know that the sentiments expressed in this college president’s writings no more express the sentiment of Southern people (other than capitalists and their henchmen), than do “government by injunction,” and “Idaho outrages” represent the sentiments of Northern people. The white man of the South has a burden to bear that is almost heart-breaking, because of the presence of the millions of colored laborers whom Southern Capitalists “love” so much. The white man in the South finds his wages regulated by this “most loyal labor.” The capitalists of the South reap fortunes and leisure from this “most loyal labor.” But let us be specific.
Within recent years, before the advent of labor organizations, white and negro men fired locomotives for less than one-fifth the wages paid to white men in localities where negro firemen were not employed. On the Seaboard Air Line, the distance from Atlanta, Ga., to Abbeville, S. C., is about 139 miles. The wages paid to negro or white firemen was one dollar per day. If the engine went over the division twice in one day, making 278 miles, the wages remained one dollar per day. If the white man refused to accept this pittance, a negro gladly took his place.
On what is now known as the Atlanta, Knoxville & Northern, the distance from Marietta, Ga. to Knoxville, Tenn., is about 205 miles. The pay for firing a locomotive this distance was $1.25.
What the Alabama College president calls the “Anarchist,” came—and conditions are improving, from the workingman’s point of view. The Brotherhoods have escaped the death to which capitalists would assign them, and the firemen on these roads are now better paid.
The capitalists who owned the paper mill at Marietta, Ga., employed white women at twenty cents per day. An “Anarchist” came into their midst, and they struck for better wages. Forthwith these capitalists resorted to their “most loyal labor"—the negro, but were compelled to pay fifty cents per day to get any women to work. While that strike resulted in the substitution of colored for white labor, it also resulted in increasing the wages in the Marietta paper mill from twenty cents per day to fifty cents per day. What the wages are, at this time, is not known, but organized labor left its mark.
According to the report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of North Caroline, for 1897, there were employed in the cotton and woolen mills of that State, 6,822 women, who earned from forty-seven to sixty-six cents per day, and 6,046 children who earned an average of thirty-one cents per day. Skilled machinists earned $1.68-1/2 per day; engineers $1.46; firemen eighty-six cents; skilled labor (men) ninety-nine cents. If the white man, woman or child refused to labor for such profit-breeding wages, there were millions of colored men, women and children who would gladly take their places.
The city of Atlanta, Ga., in the face of such threats as are made by the president of the Alabama College, has become one of the best union-labor cities of the country. The white men of the South are organizing for their own defense and are extorting legislation in behalf of humanity. The murderous convict lease system, which capitalists had adopted, has succumbed to the attacks of the white workingman of the South. In many mills in the South, capitalists worked little children twelve and fourteen hours a day in order to add to their profits, until the white workingmen forbade it. The Atlanta Journal of Labor, of January 27, 1900, contains the following item:
A Georgia cotton mill president communicates his fears to The Constitution that another effort will be made at the next session of the Legislature to deprive the barons of their present privilege to draw fifty to ninety-three per cent, dividends from the life-blood of little children. Poor man!
Mr. Jerome Dowd, professor of Economics and Sociology, Trinity College, North Carolina, says in the February, 1900, issue of Gunton’s Magazine:
Perhaps another reason for the poor wages in the South is the absence of any labor organizations. Farm laborers are too isolated for cooperation, while the operatives in factories, being mostly women and children, of course cannot effect an organization.40
Having suggested some of the causes of cheap labor In the South, let’s now look at some of the effects. First, what are the effects upon other sections of the country? The most pronounced effect is the lowering of wages in textile industries. Wages have been affected also in other lines of industry, although in a less marked and more silent manner. For instance, the employment of negroes in the coal mines of West Virginia, enabling the operatives to sell coal cheaper than could be done in any other part of the country, no doubt played a part in precipitating the cut-throat competition among operators in 1897, bringing down the price of coal and labor in other States, and inaugurating the great strike of that year.
There can be no doubt that the cheap labor in the iron industries of the South has been a factor in the decline in value in iron ore and iron fabrics within the past few years.
Shifting the point of view, let us ask: What are some of the effects of cheap labor upon the South? That many manufacturers are piling up fortunes is beyond question. That wealth is vastly augmenting itself is no less certain. But how are the masses withstanding the sudden revolution from an agricultural to a manufacturing life? How is the eleven and a half hours work-day affecting the well-being of the laborers? How is the employment of children affecting the educational progress of the country, and what will be the final outcome in respect to morals, religion, politics and civilization?
In commenting on such conditions, Professor Gunton says in his Magazine, the same number in which Professor Dowd’s article appears:
Although the wages paid in the South are a marked improvement on what the same laborers had previously received, they are from ten to forty per cent lower for the same work than the wages paid in the Eastern States. The price of weaving, for instance, is about fifty per cent more in New England than in the South. Six and one-fourth cents a cut (fifty yards) is the price for weaving on the improved (Drapper) looms, as against ten cents in New England, where more than three-fourths of the weaving is done on looms for which nineteen and eight-tenths cents a cut is paid.
Since the South has quite as good machinery as the East, these lower wages (and, where day workers are involved, longer hours) very largely result in greater profits to Southern manufacturers. The dividends recently declared in the Southern corporations range from twelve to fifty per cent, and in some few instances more. Whenever a dull time comes and competition between the East and South sets in, Eastern manufacturers under present conditions will be very hard pressed, if not crowded to the wall. The Southern manufacturers will be able to drop prices to a point that will involve loss to their Eastern competitors and still have comfortable profits for themselves.
Now if they are able to do this at all it will be because of this cheaper labor made possible by the low standard of living, the working of babes, and the raising of a generation of ignorant, stultified citizens. The question for the economist and the statesman to ask is: When this inevitable pressure of competition comes, is it for the advantage of the South, for the advantage of the nation, that the standard of the Eastern operatives should be lowered, or that of the Southern operatives raised? One or the other of these is sure to come when this competition arrives.
The reason that white labor is cheap in the South is because if it were not cheap negro labor would be substituted.
Such conditions are the white man’s burden in the South, and if the boasts of capitalists, who have their money invested there, are carried out, this burden will some day be borne by the white man of the North. During the last panic the cotton and woolen mills of the New England States reduced wages, it is reported, in some instances, as much as twenty per cent. The only reason given for this reduction was that Southern mills, with their cheap labor, could supply the demand for cotton and woolen goods cheaper than these goods could be produced in the New England States. Southern capitalists, most of whom are Northern men, boast that in the near future the South will lead in cotton manufactures because “they have the material and labor where each are cheapest.”
During the last panic, when business stagnation and wage reductions swept over the iron-producing centers of the North, ships loaded with Alabama pig iron were sent to Europe. The boast was that iron could be produced in Alabama cheaper than in any other place in the world, because of the cheap colored labor.
When the competition of these cotton mills in the “colored belt” drive those in New England into bankruptcy; when the competition of these iron producers in the “colored belt” put out the fires in the great iron plants of the North; when armies of cheap colored miners from the South overrun the mining regions of the North, then indeed will the Southern negro be a burden borne by all American white men.
Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine (March, 1900): 195–200.
25. A CALL FOR THE ADMISSION OF BLACKS INTO THE BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE FIREMEN
The Negro and Organized Labor in the South
I call attention to what seems to be an important question, the Negro, more so in the South. He is, as he stands today unorganized in labor. There are very few unions that will take him in or co-operate with him in any way. We should take him into our labor unions, teach him and educate him. Then we can go on congratulating ourselves upon the wonderful strides we have made in organization.
The Negro, today, is rarely dissatisfied and never dissatisfied intelligently. Take for instance, Mr. Booker T. Washington, he is the best example of the Negro intellect in the United States and is undoubtedly a superior man, for he is doing his best to help to educate his fellows.
I think we can make a big improvement in the Negro by taking him into our labor organizations for, as he is, there is no ambition in him; he lacks the vital force of dissatisfaction. So let us teach him what our great organizations are for—then you will see a big improvement in his economic condition as well as that of the South. I think this will help to solve the labor problem in the South. The Negro will accept his inferiority to the white man at all times. So let us go on with whatever we have to do that means universal good, fear nothing, ignore all obstacles, and throw ourselves into the effort, and know that we are setting electric forces into action which shall surely some time bring in the results which we desire. No great worthy purpose is ever lost.
GEORGE H. PETERS.
New York, N.Y.
Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine (August, 1902): 286.
26. FIREMEN RESPOND TO THE CALL FOR ADMISSION OF BLACKS
I have just read an article in the August issue of the MAGAZINE, entitled “The Negro and Organized Labor in the South.” The brother’s motives may be all right, but his article will receive a cup of very cold water, wherever it is read in the South.
The negro can organize on his own responsibility if he likes, but he can never affiliate with southern organizations of any kind. The fireman of the South have yet a great work to do among themselves, without crossing the color line and reaching out after Mr. “Burr Head,” to assist him to a place of safety and security, protected by the mantle the Locomotive Firemen now wears with pride, bought with a great price.
What has the negro done to merit recognition by the Firemen? The brother from New York says the negro will accept his inferiority to the white man at all times. Perhaps this is so where he lives, but all southern men would laugh at the brother’s ignorance of the negro, as we find him in the South, for if he is given a foot, he tries to take a block. In many, many cases, he is thick headed and non-progressive, and when he goes to school a couple of years he begins to think he knows it all, and it only makes a worthless fool of him. The southern man has done far more to advance and uplift the negro than he is given credit for, but we draw the line when it comes to taking him into our worthy order.
If the brother is really desirous of helping the organization in the South, let him use his influence toward inaugurating a system whereby subordinate lodges will receive closer attention from Grand Lodge officers, and for this, he will receive consideration and praise from Southern firemen.
Member of 522
* * *
The Negro Problem
In the August number of the MAGAZINE, I noticed an article from the pen of a New York brother in regard to the negro problem in the South, and would like to ask the brother what he knows about the negro problem in the South? Very little, I should judge.
It is very hard for me to understand how a white man can advocate the admission of such an indolent, untrustworthy, shiftless creature into our labor organizations. To some extent he compares the average negro to Mr. Booker T. Washington, which I think is absurd. If the brother had lived in the South as long as the writer has, I am sure no such article would ever have appeared above his signature. If he is a locomotive fireman, he must at some future time hope to become an engineer and, as such, how would he like to have a negro as a daily companion. He may think now that it would be agreeable, but if he were to try it for a short while he would be of a reverse opinion.
So far as educating and elevating the negro, I think it almost as well to educate a hog, for the animal cannot accomplish any harm with his education, while the negro can. I will give you a few instances which have come under my observation, and which I am prepared to prove. In the town where I was raised, there was a young negro boy who was given the best educational advantages that the place afforded, and was also sent away to a higher school. When he had completed his education he returned home and tried his hand at forgery, and the last account I had of him he was spending a term in the State’s prison. Another instance is of an educated negro preacher who was preaching in a town where I resided for awhile. He put his education to the elevating service of using, through the pulpit, every means of making the resident negroes rebellious.
I could cite other instances but for the want of space. These evidences of the negro’s treachery are nothing to be compared with that of the criminal assaults, almost daily made upon our mothers, wives and sisters. I know of an instance within the borders of this state, where a northern lady came here as a missionary to the benighted negroes, and as a return for her kindness and charity, one of her students criminally assaulted her and was hanged for the crime.
We railroad people in the South are sufficiently amused with the negro as train hands and firemen, so much so that we do not want any of his antics in the lodge room. One of his characteristics is that if he feels like it he will report for duty, and if not he will lay off and “rest up.”
Social equality is something that will never be tolerated in the South. When the negro presents himself to become a member of a Southern labor organization, on the day of balloting, black marbles will be at a premium.41
Member of 76.
* * *
I feel it incumbent upon me, in behalf of the members of the labor unions throughout the South, to reply to the article published in the August issue of the MAGAZINE wherein a brother from New York advocated the organization of the negro firemen of the South. If the northern brother believes this would be a good plan, I would suggest that he introduce him into his own lodge first. We of the South do not wish to interfere with the negro where he is. We are content to organize white labor wherever we find it. It is repulsive to any working man in the South, knowing the conditions he does, to entertain such a proposition as has been set forth by the correspondent from New York. There is no point of equality existing between the whites and the blacks as they exist in the South, and the latter are in no way qualified to sit in our council rooms. We have the proper respect for a negro and his labor in its proper place, but that is by no means on a locomotive. The brothers of the North can admit the negro to membership if they desire to do so, but he will never be admitted to membership in a lodge south of the Mason and Dixon line, unless it is the intention to do away with the Brotherhood in the southern country entirely.
It would be well if our New York brother would take a trip through the South and see for himself just what the negro is. I believe such an investigation would entirely change his views with reference to the “coon” as fit material for the upbuilding of a labor organization. It was the brother’s desire to try this first in the South as an experiment. The brothers of the South would much prefer to have this experiment demonstrated in the North, or at least in some other section of the country. We have some members who come here from the North to secure employment, and after a short stay here in contact with the negro, they invariably have less use for him than the people of the South.
It might as well be suggested that we go to Africa and endeavor to educate the apes as to endeavor to educate the negro of the South, especially the class that do follow railroading. Mr. Booker T. Washington is cited as an example, when in fact he is an exception. It would be impossible to find another negro in the United States his equal. If the Chattanooga convention should pass laws admitting the negro to membership, that would be the last convention ever held in the South, for within twenty-four hours after the passage of such a law, there would be no lodges in the South for the negro to join.
I would recommend that the northern brother had better post up on southern conditions before writing again on this subject, for if he knew what a hornet’s nest he has stirred up in this section of the country, and could hear the rough criticisms that are passed on his article in the August issue of the MAGAZINE, he would certainly have no more to say on this question. I will conclude by saying that I do not believe there are many brothers in the North that are in favor of organizing the southern negro.
“I. C. R. R. Fireman.”
McComb City, Miss.
* * *
The Negro in the South
I notice in the August issue of the MAZAGINE, one of our northern brothers urges that the members in the South should organize the negroes. I wish to say that the boys of the South are too white to shake hands with a “burr-head” and call him brother. I believe if the brother will read his article carefully, he will see that it is a direct insult to the members in the South to propose such a condition of affairs. If the brother would come down into the South and study the conditions that exist, he would find that the southern “burr-head” is no fit guest to be invited into the home of any member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. I believe the brother from New York would be surprised if he could realize what the members of the lodges in the South have to contend with, and would be perfectly willing to accord the treatment to the negro that he rightfully receives from the southern people. He would not wish us to be harrassed as we are, much less advocate organizing the element that is the cause of our trouble. We might organize the monkey and teach him all that he could comprehend, but what would we have—a monkey still.
It is the same way with the negro, we cannot expect to make something out of nothing. With reference to Booker T. Washington, it is true he is a southern “coon” and he is all right in his place, but his place is in Africa. If the boys of the North would all treat the negro as he is treated in the South, calling him by the epithets by which he is known throughout the south instead of honoring him by calling him a “colored gentleman” the southern boys would not have so many of them to kill.
I believe if the northern brother will give this matter a little thought, and investigate the conditions as they exist, he will find that he was badly mistaken in his ideas as to the proper method of dealing with the negro.
Member Lodge 200.
* * *
The Negro and Organized Labor in the South
In the August issue of the MAGAZINE, I noticed an article by one of our brothers in which he advocated the acceptance of the negro to labor organizations, at which I was not only surprised, but sorry to learn that one of my brothers should advise equality with a race whom he acknowledges in his article to be inferior in learning, brains, and industry. If the object was simply to educate him (the negro), I would suggest that schools and colleges more suitable in which to educate him, than shoveling coal into a firebox. If it is desired to raise the standard with reference to energy, why not educate a race of our own, equal at least in color?
It is also suggested that the negro is always satisfied. This, to my mind, is one of the great reasons why he should not be admitted. Why lower the standard of labor by injecting into the union one so lazy and indolent, who has no ambition to raise himself above the condition he is now in? Let the negro do something for himself, first; then will be time enough to talk “equality.”
No one is more willing than I to see the negro where he belongs and, when I say this, I believe I voice the sentiments of the South, but I am satisfied his place is not where white men are expected to take him by the hand and call him brother and take him to the bosoms of their families and introduce him to their wives and daughters as Bro._____. It may be said that this is going too far, but I do not think so, as a union, if a “union indeed,” is but one great family, and if not, the sooner that union forfeits its charter the better for labor.
South McAlester, I.T.
* * *
The Negro Problem
In reply to an article which appeared in the August issue of the MAGAZINE, relative to the negro and organized labor in the South, will say that I do not believe the brother was ever south of the State of New York, from the way he speaks of the negro.
As for the B. of L. F. taking in the negro, I hope and pray that I may never live to see the grand old B. of L. F. so disgraced as to take into its protecting folds this class of God’s creation. God sent his beloved Son, our Saviour to the world to obliterate this disgraceful equalization and now, in this enlightened time for us, the grand old B. of L. F. to invoke His anger by social equalization with the negro, I must say that I am very much astonished and grieved to think that any member of this grand old organization would entertain such an idea. Besides, he could not possibly be of any benefit to us, as there is no firmness whatever in the negro; he will swear his life to support you one hour and then, if he saw an extra dollar in it, would kill you, or ruin your hopes if he didn’t see the chance to kill you in the next hour.
We of the South have learned by long experience not to rely upon anything a negro may say; he is a terror to our women and our homes, for we know not when we leave our dear wife and babies, to answer the summons of the caller, but that we may return to find our family outraged and murdered, and our once happy home in ashes.
I pray our Father in Heaven to protect our grand old order from such a downfall as social equalization with the negro.
A Brotherhood Man.
* * *
Organizing the Negro
I am an old fireman and was formerly a member of Red Mountain Lodge No. 339 when that lodge was in existence in Birmingham, Ala. I am what might be termed a Southern-born fireman. I have before me the August issue of the LOCOMOTIVE FIREMEN’S MAGAZINE opened at the article signed by a brother from New York City, relative to the “Negro and Organized Labor,” every word of which sets my blood on fire. I believe I voice the sentiments of every fireman of the South when I say we would rather be absolute slaves of capital than to take the negro into our lodges as an equal and brother, I do not believe that the writer of the article referred to has any personal knowledge of the negro as he exists in the South, or he would never have given expression to such sentiments. When in the South we see a negro and a white man associating together, we are always perfectly safe in deciding that the negro is the most respectable of the two. This is strictly a southern man’s views and I believe if we should endeavor to take the negro into the ranks of the B. of L. F., we would deplete the ranks of the white members of the South. I could continue writing on this subject but fear I would become too radical. So long as I have been a member of the Brotherhood, I have never found the courage to send an article to the MAGAZINE for publication, but I could not let a thing of this kind go by unanswered.
“Southern Tallow Pot.”
* * *
The Negro and Organized Labor in the South
I noticed in the August issue of the MAGAZINE, an article from a New York brother who suggests taking the negro into our labor organizations. Now it is not my intention to cast any reflections on this brother, at all, for we presume that he is not very well acquainted with the “coon,” or “burr-head,” as he is generally called in this part of the world. Mr. Booker T. Washington, is a very intelligent negro and, from what I have heard, is considerably mixed with the Anglo-Saxon. Hence his intelligence.
Now, my brother, I think if you would come South and get a glimpse of our typical southern “coon,” or “burr-head,” and get one good sniff of that aroma he always carries with him, both winter and summer, but more especially when he is out on an excursion train, cooped up in a passenger coach when the thermometer registers about 104 in the shade, you would be in favor of sending him back to Africa, his original home and never entertain even so much as a thought of trying to organize him.
Why! My brother, you cannot get the southern “coon” organized into anything, except it be to beat the white man out of all he can, and if one of them thinks he can gain anything by giving his accomplice away he will willingly do it, and do it at the risk of getting himself into trouble.
I wish to say brother, with the best of feeling, that we are sure if you knew the negro as well as the Southern man, you would never advocate taking him into our Brotherhood; that if you wish to kill the B. of L. F., and kill it quickly and effectually, just take in a few “coons” or “burr-heads.” Brother! My wife and child would not own me as a husband and father if I should go out to attend a meeting of any order, the membership of which was partly composed of the “coon” or “burr-head.”
The negro, as I have always seen him, is most degraded, without honor, principle, pride, or fair intelligence. His chief aim is to do just as little as possible and undermine his fellow workers. The fact is, the negro has ruined bright prospects of many a southern home.
Mer Rouge, La.
Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine (September, 1902): 427–36.
THE BROTHERHOOD OF RAILROAD TRAINMEN AND THE DEMAND FOR BLACK EXCLUSION
27. NECRO DOMINATION
The JOURNAL has always contended that when a labor organization made any distinction when the question of a general betterment of conditions was concerned, in the race, creed or color of the people interested, it made a mistake. The question of negro labor in the South, and of the cheapest labor of foreign countries in the North, is one that demands careful and thoughtful attention. The white laborer of the South does not take kindly to the competition of its colored labor, and the intelligent labor of the North does not take kindly to the competition of the labor forced upon it by indiscriminate immigration, but, in both cases, it would be well for the laborers themselves to note that the natural tendency of wages and conditions of employment is toward the lowest point, and it is to their interest to give to the lowest class of labor and to the poorest paid every assistance to bring it to the higher level of wages and conditions of employment. Where this is not done, unless some exceptional means are used to maintain wages and conditions of employment, they will naturally drop to the lowest point. In the South, negro labor menaces white labor, and, in several instances, white labor has been supplanted by colored labor because it was cheaper, and because the negro was not at all insistent upon the observance of his rights as an employe. In the North we have the same condition in our foreign labor, and the native laborer suffers in consequence. We have before us a case in point in the trouble at the Atlantic Cotton Mills, in which an attempt was made to substitute white with colored labor. The attempt is supposed to have partly failed, although there is every evidence to prove that the owners of the mill are quietly working to “Africanize” the plant. As it is, the conditions in the mill are now worse than those in the penal camps of the state, and the whole result has been caused by the readiness of the negroes to take the place of the whites at less wages. And now, the white laborer is afraid of the attacks of the colored people, who feel that they have been frozen out of employment, and, altogether, the condition is of a “reign of terror order” that does not promise well for the conditions of employment, or the morals of employes in the future. As it is, the negro controls the situation, and it furnishes an object lesson, in this instance at least, to prove that unless the negro is raised, the white man will have to come down. [Ed. note: The above paragraph was reprinted as part of a larger article in the Aug. 1900 issue of the Journal. See below, p. 111.[
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (September, 1899): 880.
Here it is at last. Please bear with me and I will endeavor to let the readers of the JOURNAL know what I think of the above and hereby freely invite comments and criticisms from everybody, regardless of their views on the subject. To begin, we will make the unqualified statement that the Negro is unfit for such service. I will go a step further and say he cannot be fitted either by birth, education or otherwise to fill any position of trust. That is a broad statement, but I believe every brother that has ever worked with the Negro will bear me out in it. Now for some facts to substantiate the above charge. Having been associated with them in my work for the past fifteen years, I will show you the Negro as I have found him. He is a being of an exceedingly low order of intelligence; he is naturally vicious, slothful, filthy and indolent; has none of the finer qualities that go to make a man and the worst feature in his nature is such that he cannot cultivate these qualities to any noticeable extent. To prove it, look at the facilities for educating and improving him, and what is the result? Have they advanced? No. Now I would ask any skeptical brother if it is possible for such a being to discharge the duties of a trainman or switchman? You will all agree with me that it requires some little intelligence and at times the exercise of a little judgment to discharge your duty to yourself and to your employer. The black man is perfectly devoid of these attributes. I could cite you a dozen or more instances to prove conclusively that the above are incontrovertible facts. Here is one: A few years ago the writer was running a train on the T. & P. R. R. from N.O. to Baton Rouge Junction; had been on the road eighteen of twenty hours on local; had two “Burr-heads” and a white flagman; was going to meet the “cannon ball” at a sidetrack that would not hold my train. About 4 a.m. everybody, very tired and sleepy, headed in and left rear end “sticking out;” started Mr. “Burr-head” out to flag; so foggy you could not see a headlight five car lengths so cautioned him to be sure and get out far enough, as that place was not a stop for the “cannon ball.” I watched him till he got out of sight, which was only a short distance owing to the fog; he had the reputation of being a good man (and I will say he was as good a Negro brakeman as I ever saw). Not feeling safe, I followed him. About two telegraph poles from the switch was my flag, the flagman lying in the bushes asleep. Not having time to ask any questions or take any steps to arouse him, after seeing that he was into clear (?) I picked up the red light, which, by the way, was just about out and went after the passenger train, which was stopped in time to avert an accident, attended with a large loss of property and perhaps life. What became of the “Burr-head?” Oh, we made so much noise sawing out the passenger train that he could not sleep well; he woke up in time to catch on just as we were leaving town. Suppose you would like to know what happened to him afterwards. If he had been a white man we all know how he would have fared, but as he was only a poor black man he never lost a minute’s time nor was he even censured. Rest assured he was reported “good and strong.” In commenting on the case, the superintendent (we had no T.M.) said: “Well, the poor fellow had been up so long and working hard he could not be expected to stay awake.” Now, this is not an extreme case nor is it exaggerated in any particular, and no doubt these lines will fall under the eye of some that are familiar with the case. Neither is this an isolated case, and if space would permit I could mention a dozen. Omitting details will mention one that occurred on one of our great trunk lines March 1, 1900: A freight train went in siding to meet fast mail; siding wouldn’t hold freight; “Burrhead” sent to flag “fast mail;” failed to stop them. Result: Two engines (mail train was double-header) and the postal car turned over, seriously and perhaps fatally injuring an engineer and fireman, four or five cars of merchandise destroyed and the cars demolished; a wreck that will cost the company thousands of dollars in loss of property and the loss perhaps of the lives of two men, either one of which is worth more than a thousand “Burrheads.” Now, brothers, that is the kind of labor we have in the “Sunny South” in train and yard service. They are absolutely worthless, in fact, are dangerous to the service. If the above case does not prove my statement they can be multiplied many times over, for any brother in the South that has worked with them will corroborate my statements. Now, brothers, when such a deplorable state of affairs exists It behooves us all as Trainmen and as American citizens to take some steps to remove this foul blot from among us. The remedy—organize. Let us organize thoroughly and then with the most powerful weapon—the ballot—ever wielded by man let us eliminate at once and forever this degraded element from our chosen occupation. Once make it clear to the traveling public that the majority of the loss of life, limb and property is due to the carelessness, indifference, ignorance and incompetence of the “Burrhead,” and my word for it a Negro in train or yard service will soon be a thing of the past. Come, brothers, speak out; let’s hear from somebody else on this subject. With best wishes to all, I am
S. J. WHITTAKER
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (April, 1900): 221–22.
29. THE NEGRO IN TRAIN AND YARD SERVICE
Bro. S. J. Whittaker has so kindly invited everyone to criticize and comment upon his article in April’s issue that I will endeavor to give him a little light on the subject.
He probably might remark that not having the negro to contend with in the connection he writes of, I am not a competent judge. I will leave that to the readers to decide. The most absurd remark he makes is first italicised statement, viz., “He cannot be either fitted by birth, education or otherwise to fill any position of trust.” This statement refers to the negro. Now, why is he not fitted by birth? He is born in a free country, we might say, in his native land, under laws which allow him the same privileges as Bro. Whittaker. Why is he not fitted by education? He has the same educational advantages that any of us have. How about Stephen A. Douglass, Washington T. Booker, R. L. Smith, and hundreds of others? Cannot they be placed in positions of trust? R. L. Smith has been twice sent to the Texas legislature in a district where the white voters outnumber the negroes two to one.42
There are now in the United States nearly 5,000 colored business men, representative of millions of capital. Almost every state contains several negroes in the professions; see the work that the agricultural college at Hampton, Va., is accomplishing! Hundreds of young men and women are being taught useful trades and professions every year. The college at Atlanta, Ga., is accomplishing wonderful things.
Now, the question is, Have the negroes advanced? Our brother says, No. But everyone can see that the negro has advanced, and his advancement has been more wonderful, more rapid than any other nation on the face of the earth, remembering that forty years ago he was in bondage in the United States, a good subject for Edward Markham’s poem, “The man with a hoe,” and one he could have defended with more ease, and today he is found in all the walks of life. The question of color is raised very frequently by our Southern brethren. Why is it that the negro is hired for train and yard service if he is so useless, etc? It must be because competent white men cannot be secured who will remain in the service, consequently the negro has been placed in the train service. The general managers have recognized this fact, and found it practicable to use him as brakeman, fireman, etc.43
The boomer’s day is over; his passing is in operation daily; he has been the cause of the hiring of the negro and the recruit, while competent men are being forced out of the business. I have a prediction to make, and that is, that ten years from date the negro will be running trains in the South, to say nothing about braking! He is adapted to the climate, and his physical make-up is first-class for the service demanded of him.
The Negro has a better opportunity in the North because of lack of prejudice. It was but a short time ago, in the U.S. Senate, when a senator from South Carolina admitted that the people of his state kept the negro from the polls, and, now, Bro. Whittaker don’t want him to work. Everyday examples can be found of men failing to do their duty on account of long hours, drowsiness, and other causes, and the two examples cited don’t prove the rule but just notes the exceptions. Bro. Whittaker, send out your white flagman, and not the “burrhead.” “In case of doubt, adopt the safe course.”44
F. T. DESMOND.
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (May, 1900): 419
30. HERCULEAN LODGE, NO. 574
After an absence of a few months from our worthy JOURNAL, I am compelled to return with a word or two as regards the arguments of the “Negro” in yard or train service. I see where one F. T. Desmond has fully given his opinion, and in so doing has forgotten entirely the subject he started on. F. T. D., you have “run off the track;” better call the wrecker out. You have gone from railroading into educational and political standpoints. Bro. Whittaker was speaking of railroading. Now, Mr. F. T. D., where did the negro ever benefit you aside from a political standpoint? I dare say, nowhere. The class of negro you name, is not by any means the railroad class on which the subject has opened. I myself was born and raised in the South and speak the facts only, not “theories,” or imaginations. The negro is wholly unfit for the service mentioned outside of “porter” for stations and Pullmans or parlor cars. Where there is life at stake the negro should not be tolerated, for if the sun is shining and he is sent back to flag, you can send somebody to waken him up when you are ready for him to come in. It’s dollars to peanuts he will be asleep at his post. In ten years, instead of the negro running engines, you will not find the “Burr-head” in the service at all. As the years come, railroading is fast becoming a profession of refinement of which everyone shall be proud. Now, Mr. F. T. Desmond, just stop one moment and think what you have said and then think what you should have said, and see the difference. The negro is a negro, dead or alive, and there is no dependence to be put in him; here is where Bro. Whittaker said he could not fill a position of trust.
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (June, 1900): 499.
31. THE NEGRO NO GOOD
I don’t know who F. T. Desmond is, but I do know that he does not know anything about the negro as a trainman. If he did, he would not make such a weak argument as he did. The idea of saying that there are 5,000 negro business men in a country with a population of 65,000,000. Why, that percentage is so small that it is hardly worth noticing. Now, for their business; it is peddling fish, clams and oysters, and I suppose he would place the negro washwoman in business. Well, so be it. Now for their education; a very few of them rise to some prominence after they get an education, but they are very scarce. Education makes them saucy, impudent and annoying to the whites. In the town where I live, if you go through a part of the city where there are more negroes than whites, the negroes subject you to every petty annoyance they can, such as passing remarks about you or your lady, or blocking the sidewalks, so you will either walk in the street or run the risk of getting in a street brawl. In the cars, it is just as bad. They walk all over the white ladies’ dresses and shove them and their children about because they can. Mr. Desmond might say there is a law; have them arrested. That would do if we wanted to be in police court every day, but we have not the time, and the most of this lawlessness is committed by the educated negro. If a negro who has to labor at hard labor gets in a street car, he generally behaves himself. It is the educated negro that causes the trouble.
We in Washington know something about the negro trainmen as we have one division where we meet the negro in train service on a road that connects with the Pennsylvania. . . .
Their conductors tell us they can’t be trusted to set off a car without the conductor is looking at them, and when the engineer whistles for the brakes to be applied they will get on top and look to see if there is anything ahead and if they cannot see anything ahead, they will brake, but if they see anything, they will get ready to vacate the premises. A white man will brake first and find out what the trouble is afterwards. The reason some railroads hire the negro is not because he is competent, it is because he is cheap. I know of two roads that have some negro brakemen and firemen and their wages average $35 per month. On these same roads, white men in the same positions get $50 and $75. See the difference? Mr. Desmond makes the prediction that in ten years from date the negro will be running trains. Bible students tell us that there is a time coming called the “millennium,” at which time the lamb will lie down with the lion. When this time comes we shall expect to see the negro running trains, but not until then.
Now, on one of these roads I have mentioned, the managers are replacing the negro with the white labor, and I make the prediction that in ten years there will not be a negro in train service in the United States. There may be some in the islands we have lately taken from Spain, but it is very doubtful. I remain yours in B.S. and I.,
SAMUEL T. GRAVES.
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (June, 1900): 505–506.
32. LOUISVILLE, KY.
I had no idea that Bro. Whittaker’s letter regarding the “Burrhead” as a brakeman and a switchman would bring to light a champion of the monkey tribe. . . .
I understand that no personalities must be indulged in when expecting the publication of a letter, and I do not wish Bro. Desmond (I say brother, but am unable to tell, as he gives no lodge number and only signs, yours respectfully, in place of the old familiar and grand preface to his name, B. S. & I., by which we understand that he is one of us). Well, to make a long story short, I will simply state that Bro. F. T. D. is on the wrong siding and his train of information is late in arriving, and in fact will never arrive unless he moves on to his meeting point. I will endeavor to make up a section of the train of information on “Burrheads” of the Sunny South, and flagging to the station where he is patiently waiting with all the courtesy and brotherly love, hand him a copy of instructions, and orders on the handling of a “Burrhead” train.
To begin with, no one is more familiar with the gentleman with the thick skull and kinky hair than myself. Why? Because I ran a yard where I was not allowed to hire a white switchman. The question comes up, why was this, and using the trainmaster’s own language, when I requested him to allow me to employ white men, he said: “You could not keep them here at the salary we pay,” and I believe he was right. Ninety cents per day was the pay they received. No wonder few cars of merchandise could stay in the yard over night without being robbed. Such wages is the cause of our prisons being full and overflowing. When a man works all day, “Burrhead” or white man, for 90 cents per day and feeds his family and himself, he is hoeing a hard row.
When a white brother loses his position and goes elsewhere for a job, he must have references and good ones; when a “Burrhead” struck me for an office, and I needed them almost every day, I simply obeyed my instructions and telling him to sign one of the old-time death warrants so familiar to all of us, let him go to work. If a “Burrhead” broke up a few cars, he was fired; went up town and got drunk and layed around a few days, changed his name from John to Jim and came back and I hired him over again as per instructions. Are you beginning to catch on? All they want is the “Burrhead’s” cheap work, regardless of the character of any back record, and any “Burrhead” fortunate enough to escape hanging for one of the unmentionable crimes which have made them so pleasant to live with in the South, can get a job switching or braking. Only two weeks ago, a warm personal friend of my own, who was running a train on the I. C., sent his “Burrhead” back to flag. I say back, because the I. C. out of Louisville has two descendants of the babboon tribe in place of one on all trains but local. “Burrhead” goes out, takes a drink of nigger whisky out of the bottle that two-thirds of them always carry, sits down, and a rear-end collision loses the conductor his job. . . .
I could write all day and tell you incident after incident of just such as this and I have only one request to make. Let Bro. Desmond take a pleasure trip to the Sunny South, hunt me up, and myself and little wife will make things pleasant for him, and I will take him around and introduce him to Brother “Burrhead” as he really is in the South, and I will grant that for every word he has spoken in their behalf, he will go home and write a whole book on the shortcoming of the past of the southern home.
Yours in B. S. & I.,
W. R. STINBY.
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (June, 1900): 506.
33. GRAND FORK
I have just been reading my May JOURNAL, and I run across a letter from 536, regarding negroes as brakemen.
The Great Northern has pulled off a white brakeman who was getting $60 per month and put on a negro for $40 per month. Of course, they do not wear the badge of brakeman, but that of porter, and do the white man’s work in every respect as near as they know how and as far as the conductor trusts them, which, I can assure you, is not far. I was standing on the corner the other day and by chance I heard one of those negroes say, the time of the strike on the G. N., in 1894, I worked two weeks in spite of the B. of R. T. men. I just give you this instance to show you what kind of negroes we have up here in this western country railroading.
I also noted the criticism of a certain F. T. Desmond. I don’t know whether he is a white man or not, and if a white man, if he belongs to our order, I don’t think much of his writing. No doubt there may be some very bright minds among the negroes, but you can depend on it, they are not in train or yard service, and I trust that his prediction, that it won’t be many years from now before they will run trains, will never come true. His advice in the close of his letter would tend to lead a man to the impression that he himself does not trust the “Burrhead.” I, for one, thank God I do not have to work with them. To think that our forefathers fought for the freedom and then have them come and take our places for less money than we get, is too much for me.
The Montana Central is out, and perhaps the entire system will go out, and no doubt our places in many instances will be filled by the “Burrhead.” One thing we are sure of is that it will not be by a good B. of R. T., not even by a bad one, if such a thing exists, and a white conductor that would ask for two negro brakemen is not much.
I must now close with all the sympathy at my command for brothers who have to work with the “Burrhead.”
I remain, with best wishes to all B. of R. T. boys, as usual,
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (June, 1900): 507.
34. COLUMBIA, S. C.
In looking over the May JOURNAL, I find a lengthy criticism of Bro. Whittaker’s contribution to April issue, by Bro. Desmond, in which he endeavored to give us “some light on the subject,” and in which he contends that the “Burrhead” is equally capable of holding a position of trust with the white men of our Southland. I am sorry our brother holds such a poor opinion of the Southern boys, and am quite sure he does not know the average negro in train and yard service, because he has not had to contend with him. I agree fully with Bro. Whittaker in saying the negro is not fitted by birth because in the origination of the negro race God himself cursed the descendants of Ham, and said they should be “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” or, in short, servants of the whites. Do you think they are your servants when you have to work with them, and what the average negro in train and yard service knows has to be “drilled” into his head like a poll parrot? I am glad to say there are a few exceptions. I will admit they are free as is every one else who is fortunate enough to be under the Stars and Stripes. If you will come south you yourself would say, as a general rule, the negroes would be better off if they were still in “bondage.” As for education, there are some few who have been benefited by the change, and have nobly tried to elevate the negro race; but, come south, brother, and you will find nearly as many educated negroes in our jails and penitentiaries, but the height of an educated negro’s ambition, and an uneducated one, too, is to go “north,” and I hope to live to see the day when the “whole push” will be north of Mason and Dixon’s line, then our northern brethren will not be so ready to condemn us when we speak. As for the negro trains in ten years, let me ask you a few questions. Would you be willing to trust your wife, mother or sweetheart on a line manned entirely by negroes? Would you be willing to come down and “brake” under the negro? I am sure you would not, and if they are capable of running trains, and will do so, as you say in ten years, why it is they are excluded from our order? Would you be willing to greet them with the endearing title of brother? Come south, brother, and see the negro in his every-day life, as we see him, and not when he is on dress parade. You say the negro has advanced more in the last forty years than any other race. I agree with you, brother, but in what? Immorality, drunkenness and vice of every description. And, who is it that is keeping wages down to “scab pay?” “Mr. Burrhead.” Who is it that is responsible for most of the wrecks in our Southland? The incompetent negro. Our brother wants to know why they are employed? Because a negro will switch all day, twelve hours, thirty days in the month, for $20 per month. The white men will not. A negro will work “local,” fifteen or sixteen hours per day, for $1 per day. The white men will not. They are hired at starvation wages by bosses who think they are practicing economy by hiring cheap labor, and never think of the thousands of dollars the company has to pay for costly wrecks, not to mention the precious lives that are crushed out through the agency of an incompetent negro. One thing more, brother, and I will give way to someone who will answer you more fully than I have done. Are we not banded together, both North and South, for the betterment of our condition? And do you think we can be bettered by having the negro take our places for wages at which no white man can live? A negro and a “scab” come under the same head, and I guess you know what a “scab” is. And, the white conductors are held responsible for the actions of the “Burr-head” brakemen. I know of an instance right here in this city where a good B.R.T. conductor is looking for an office because “Mr. Burrhead” got his job. . . . What became of the negro? Working every day while the worthy brother is looking for an office. That is only one of the many instances that happen daily where the negro is employed in train service. Come south, brother, and if you don’t agree with me in what I say, the treats are on me, and even if you don’t agree with me in every particular, you will have learned a lesson that you will never forget, and that is the “Burrhead” can never be the white man’s equal, for “water can never rise above its level.”
Yours in brotherly love,
A. D. WRIGHT,
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (June, 1900); 507–508.
Many thanks to Bro. Desmond for his “light” on the subject, “The Negro in train and yard service.”
It is as clear as “mud.” There is no mark to tell what part of the country Brother Desmond is in, but it is a safe bet that he is not from any part south of Mason and Dixon’s line. The very tone of his argument (or lack of argument) shows very clearly that he knows not whereof he speaks when it comes to the negro question. He says: “He probably might remark that not having the negro to contend with in the connection he writes of, I am not a competent judge.”
You are right, my brother. I certainly would make that remark if it were not superfluous to do so, but it is not necessary for me to bring that charge, for the brother stands self-convicted in the eyes of everyone that has had any experience with the “Burrhead” in the connection mentioned. If the brother has any doubt as to his having taken the wrong view of the question, let him ask his delegate to the New Orleans convention what the sentiment of that body was with regard to this subject.
With regard to “the most absurd remark he makes,” (this refers to my remark in April issue), I reiterate that statement and maintain that it is an incontestable fact, and is sustained by the evidence.
“Why is he not fitted by birth? He is born in a free country.” So are cows, horses, pigs and dogs; yet if you wanted a cow, you would hardly buy a horse, or if you wanted a buggy horse, would you buy a cow? Yet you had as well do that (as absurd as it sounds), as to expect the “Burrhead” to fill any position of trust, or one that requires the exercise of any judgment, for, as before stated, he is perfectly devoid of that qualification; the same comparison will apply to his educational qualification. The brother certainly has “enlightened” me on the subject of the color of Stephen A. Douglas. I was never personally acquainted with the gentleman (he having died about the time I was born), but from the record, have always inferred that he was a member of the Anglo-Saxon race; as to the others he mentions, they are rare exceptions and only serve to prove the rule. In this connection, will say, whenever you find a so-called negro of intelligence and refinement, if you will just take the trouble to trace his ancestry, you won’t have to go far till you find that he is not a negro in the true sense of the word, but a hybrid, a mongrel, a cross between the Anglo-Saxon and the African, and his African nature has been almost eliminated by the superior intelligence and instinct of the white race. It is useless to pursue an argument on this question with anyone that thinks as Bro. Desmond does.
Shakespeare tells us that “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still;” and indications go to show that this brother would be convinced that way if it were possible to convince him at all. If there was any doubt as to Bro. Desmond’s incompetency to judge this question, such doubt would certainly be dispelled when we read his prediction—“Ten years from date the negro will be running trains in the south, to say nothing of braking.” Of all the “raw brakes” I ever heard any make, that is the “rawest.” Don’t get offended, brother, but I can’t help such comment when I see such dense ignorance displayed on the subject by one who gives every indication otherwise of being a man of superior intelligence.
“The negro has a better opportunity in the north because of lack of prejudice.” What line of reasoning does the brother take to arrive at this conclusion; why and where does prejudice against the negro exist in the South? That is another instance of the brother’s ignorance of the subject under discussion. Now, listen! Why is it, if the negro is treated so much better in the north that he prefers to live in the south? Here is why: He receives better treatment and more consideration in the south than anywhere else on earth. Now, where the northern brother makes a mistake in the treatment of the negro is, he tries to treat him as his equal socially and otherwise. The negro knows better than that. He knows he is not, nor can never hope to be the whiteman’s equal in any way except it by physically.
You misconstrue my meaning, Brother D., when you say: “Now, Bro. Whitaker don’t want him to work.” Such is not my desire. I know full well that he must work, for he can’t be a capitalist and he must live.
What I object to is his being employed in train and yard service of the railroads of the south to the detriment of the good, competent white men and the public welfare at large. The brother asks why these men are employed in train and yard service if they are so useless, etc. If you will come south and go to work on some of our trunk lines that employ this kind of animal for you to work with and have occasion to go before the management in the capacity of a grievance committeeman you will very soon find out why the negro is employed in above mentioned service. You will find also that it is not because he is “adapted to the climate and his physical make-up is first-class for the service demanded of him.”
Bro. Desmond says: “Send out your white flagman and not the Burrhead.” Who are you going to send out when they are both “Burrheads,” as is frequently the case and as was the case in one of the instances mentioned in my last letter, which cost the Illinois Central company thousands of dollars in loss of property? As to the two cases cited by me being exceptions, as before stated, I can call to mind a dozen or more similar cases that have come under my personal observation, and I am only one of several thousand white men who will testify to the incompetency of the “Burrhead” in train and yard service. Now, Bro. Desmond, I would advise you to keep still on the negro question until you learn something about it. Evidently your source of information on this subject is very defective. Nevertheless, I thank you for your criticism, as I believe it will be the means of drawing the fire of some brother that does know something about the question, who is better able to handle it than I am. Come to Memphis if you want to learn something about the ebony-hued brakeman and switchman. If you will come it shall not cost you a cent, and I promise not to try to influence your opinion of the negro in any way, but will be content to let you find out from personal observation just what the “Burrhead” is.
S. J. WHITAKER, Financier 347.
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (June, 1900): 509–10.
36. MEMPHIS, TENN.
It is to be regretted that there has been so much personal feeling exhibited in the discussion of the negro question; in my letter in the April JOURNAL it was not my desire or intention to call forth personal criticism, but the chief aim and object was to air the negro question in print. To attain this end the logical starting point would be in our Official Organ.
If I have been personal, I crave the pardon of any brother who thinks or feels that he has been wronged by any statement of mine, for, brothers, I have no grievance with the B. of R. T., but with the enemies of the B. of R. T., and all other organized labor, chief among which (in my humble opinion) is the negro. As to Bro. Desmond, he is not to be censured for his views of the question, even though they are incorrect. . . .
That statement applies to white men (regardless of nationality), but does not apply to the negro at all. On the roads where he is employed he is in a class by himself; he stands alone, supreme “monarch of all he surveys;” this is not idle talk, but is a matter of record, and is supported by the facts, not “facts” as they are presented by “Mr. J. B. Killebrew, of Nashville, Tenn.,” and “a southern paper” (see September JOURNAL, 1899, page 854), but actual facts as they really exist. Pardon me, brothers if my language is too strong, or appears personal, for it is not my desire nor intention to stir up strife, far from it; and I am doing my best to present this question fairly and fully before the public, feeling that in so doing I am only discharging a sacred duty to not only the B. of R. T. but all the white people of our land. I am trying to be non-partisan and unprejudiced, for the situation is bad enough without coloring or exaggeration. To quote from my April letter: Once make it clear to the public that the majority of the loss of life, limb and property on our railroads is due to the carelessness, indifference, ignorance and incompetency of the negro, it will only be a short time till a negro in train or yard service will be a thing of the past.”
In conclusion, I want to sincerely thank Bro. Desmond again for his criticism, for I honestly believe that his letter has been and will be a power for good in helping to eliminate the “black cloud” from train and yard service. The issue is before us and must be met. It is “up to us” now; what are we going to do, sit idly by and watch “the white man come down?” For come down he must unless we relegate the negro to the cotton field or some other congenial employment, for it is an evident fact that he can never be raised to a degree of efficiency that will entitle him to recognition as a trusted employe in train or yard service. With best wishes to all, I am, fraternally,
S. J. WHITAKER,
Financier, No. 347.
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (August, 1900): 677.
37. NEGRO LABOR: BENEFIT OR DETRIMENT?
The JOURNAL has no disposition “to fiddle on one string,” but sometimes it becomes necessary, even though the music is certain to not be pleasant.
The mention, referred to by Bro. Whitaker, did not have a word to say of the moral elevation of the negro. The entire criticsm was on the wage question, and for the benefit of the JOURNAL readers it is herewith given:
The JOURNAL has always contended that when a labor organization made any distinction when the question of a general betterment of conditions, was concerned, in the race, creed or color of the people interested, it made a mistake. The question of negro labor in the south, and of the cheapest labor of foreign countries in the north, is one that demands careful and thoughtful attention. The white laborer of the south does not take kindly to the competition of its colored labor, and the intelligent labor of the north does not take kindly to the competition of the labor forced upon it by indiscriminate immigration, but in both cases it would be well for the laborers themselves to note that the natural tendency of wages and conditions of employment is toward the lowest point, and it is to their interest to give to the lowest class of labor and to the poorest paid every assistance to bring it to the highest level of wages and conditions of employment. Where this is not done, unless some exceptional means are used to maintain wages and conditions of employment, they will naturally drop to the lowest point. In the south, negro labor menaces white labor, and, in several instances, white labor has been supplanted by colored labor because it was cheaper, and because the negro was not at all insistent upon the observance of his rights as an employe. In the north we have the same condition in our foreign labor, and the native labor suffers in consequence. We have before us a case in point in the trouble at the Atlantic Cotton Hills, in which an attempt was made to substitute white with colored labor. The attempt is supposed to have partly failed, although there is every evidence to prove that the owners of the mill are quietly working to “Africanize” the plant. As it is, the conditions in the mill are now worse than those in the penal camps of the state, and the whole result has been caused by the readiness of the negroes to take the place of the whites at less wages. And now, the white laborer is afraid of the attacks of the colored people, who feel that they have been frozen out of employment, and, altogether, the condition is of a “reign of terror order” that does not promise well for the conditions of employment, or the morals of employes in the future. As it is, the negro controls the situation, and it furnishes an object lesson, in this instance at least, to prove that unless the negro is raised, the white man will have to come down.”45
Every letter that has protested against the negro in train and yard service has had for its basis the cheapness of the negro. And that cheapness is preferred by the companies to ability, intelligence and every other desirable quality in a railroad man. It is true that there are a very few exceptions where the negro is given the same wages as white men, in railroad employment, but the exceptions are very few. If all wages were the same it would be a decidedly contrary condition of affairs if the employer would prefer the lowest order of intelligence and worth to the highest offered him.
Cheap labor is cheap labor, and for a recent illustration the influx of Japanese to America, with their sixty cents a day for track work, is just the least convincing. If the better paid labor of America is satisfied to drop to the lowest level of wages paid, that will be its business and its mistake.
The second article referred to by Bro. Whitaker was as follows:
“It is a question of opinion whether the negro is a benefit or a detriment to the south, and in discussing its future industrial progress the worth or worthlessness of the colored brother is very much in doubt, and the question is generally settled to the satisfaction of the one holding the argument by judging from the standpoint of the worth of the negro to himself personally, regardless of the effect of the influence of the negro on the condition of his neighbor.”
Mr. Polk Brown of Georgia, testified before the Industrial Commission that the negro retarded the growth of the south, and declared that without the negro the south would be open to a better class of labor. Mr. Brown believed that colonization for the negro would be for the interest of the southern States, and to the contrary, another equally good judge of the negro in the person of Mr. J. B. Killebrew, of Nashville, Tenn., says the negro is superior to anybody else in the forest and on the farm, and between the two we are no wiser on some questions than before they expressed an opinion. A southern paper sets forth its views as follows:
“The manufacturing center of the United States will one day be located in the south; and this will come about, strange as it may seem, for the reason that the negro is a fixture here. This line of argument may be somewhat startling, even to southern people who are best acquainted with the situation, for it must be admitted that the negro has been generally considered a hindrance, rather than a help, to the industrial development of the south. . . .
“Organized labor, as it exists today, is a menace to industry. The negro stands as a permanent and positive barrier against labor organization in the south. This declaration is not carelessly made. It is based upon a painstaking investigation which has extended through many years of intimate acquaintance with southern conditions, both industrial and sociological.”
The idea herein expressed is evidently the whole argument in favor of the negro, and is to the effect that the negro is slow, and, perhaps, a barrier to the industrial progress of the south, but he will not listen to the labor organizer, he will always work for low wages, he is docile, sometimes, and stands in the way of increased wages and in the words of the same writer here are the prospects of the south, because of the presence of the negro.
“In a general way, it is considered that organized labor, of the vicious sort, is an evil which the south has thus far fortunately escaped. But we do not owe this blessing to the neglect of the professional agitator. He has done his best, or rather his worst, and failed. Freedom from vicious socialistic conditions is a practical and permanent advantage that the south offers today, and will always offer, to the manufacturer and to others who are seeking profitable investment. It is this tremendous advantage that will one day make the south the manufacturing center of the nations. . . .”
There is nothing easier than for a man (no matter how well read or intelligent) to get a wrong impression of the negro problem, if he relies for his information on “statistics,” which are almost invariably so “crooked or doctored” that they do not convey any idea of the true state of affairs. If anyone has any doubt as to the above statement, let him look through the files of our JOURNAL for the past year; you will find statements from prominent men on this great question that are so at variance with the facts as they really exist that there can be no doubt as to their purpose to mislead; hence the northern brother, or any other brother that draws his information from this source, is not to be blamed but rather pitied, for it must be humiliating to a degree for a man to hunt up facts on a subject, get them from an apparently authentic source, then to form his opinion on said facts, and discover that it is all wrong, that his facts are not facts at all, or if they are they are so misleading as to convey no true idea of the situation. The writer does not claim to “know it all,” nor does he desire to make loud and startling declarations to gain notoriety or just to hear his “head rattle,” but having had twenty-two years’ experience in railroading service and having filled every position in the operating department of a railroad, from “wiper” in the round-house up, and his field of operation not having been confined to any one railroad or system, but several; having worked in twelve or fourteen different states, all in the south and west, thereby being afforded a splendid opportunity to observe the animal under discussion, in all his moods and phases, and under almost every condition imaginable, and after making a special study of the question, feels that his opinion should have some consideration, even were it alone; particularly so, when his position is endorsed and statements corroborated by every man that has ever come in direct contact with the negro in train and yard service.
Right here the writer makes bold to take issue with our worthy editor: JOURNAL of September, 1899, page 880. “As it is, the negro controls the situation, and it furnishes an object lesson, in this instance at least, to prove that unless the negro is raised, the white man will have to come down.” To this I will say, the white man may and probably will have to come down, as the employers seem to be exerting every effort to that end, but as to the negro being raised, that will never be, from the simple fact that there is nothing to build on. In the name of common sense, how are we to “raise or elevate a being that is perfectly devoid of principle, honor, integrity, industry, ambition and every other attribute that goes to make a man? When we can do that we can elevate the negro, not before; do your utmost, and he will never be the white man’s equal, it is not in him. . . .
The writer is as mistaken as the one who would look for the salvation of the north in the ship loads of immigrants that are coming yearly to compete with American labor. The man who can see industrial progress in cheap labor only deserves to be pitied.
Cheap labor is not necessarily the most economical, and the cheap countries of the world today are the ones that are the lowest in their social, moral and industrial development, and the JOURNAL invites the cheap employer to look the matter up for himself.”
This is simply, in general, an argument against the organization of labor and an argument in favor of the negro, because he will not become affiliated with organized labor.
The cheap wages in the south stand in evidence of its lack of thorough organization, and behind it all stands the cheap labor of the negro.
The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen has exerted every effort to reduce the number of negroes in the service; the JOURNAL is with the members in their every effort to lift the “black cloud,” but after all these years of talking and effort, the employer is found just as firmly entrenched in his favorable opinion of colored cheap labor, with all of its influences so disadvantageous to white labor, and with all of its faults, it does appear that the universal law of wages and the tendency to rise or fall should not be overlooked in this instance.
It is humiliating; no one will take kindly to it, but the other course has been tried and its results are painfully apparent.
D. L. CEASE.
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (August, 1900): 677–78.
38. CHATTANOOGA, TENN.
Lodge No. 215 is getting along very nicely. Our goat is busy every Sunday with two or three new candidates. We are away down in the sunny south where the sun is always hot; but now, brothers, we are always on the go from sun up until sun down. No. 215 is only a few in members, but those that are members are the “proper stuff.” We could have more members, but we live up to our Grand Lodge, and when a man joins No. 215 he is the right kind of a brother. What do we want with everyone in our lodge? Brothers, remember we carry the Stars and Stripes in labor organizations today, and in the next ten years we will have the say of everything, when there won’t be a “Burrhead” in the train or yard service.
I have been a member for over two years and I know that the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen is the best in the country. I hardly ever see anything in the JOURNAL about No. 215, but I hope some of the boys will wake up and write to the JOURNAL more than they do. I remain,
Yours in B. S. and I.,
No. 215, “Rooster.”
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (August, 1900): 684.
Speaking of the negro question, F. T. Desmond says the boomer’s day is over and that he has been the cause of the “nig” going braking, and that they will be running trains in the south. I don’t think so; if the boomer has been the cause of the “nig” braking, when the boomer is gone the “nig” will go with him.
Will B. Good.
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (August, 1900): 685.
40. ATLANTA, GEORGIA
Replying to Bro. S. J. Whitaker’s article in the April issue of the JOURNAL on the negroes serving as train and yard men, I wish to heartily endorse Bro. Whitaker and all that has been said in favor of his article. But I must say that F. T. Desmond . . . in the May issue with his article concerning Mr. Negro, is away off the track.
Bro. Desmond, I attribute your views and ideas on the negro to total ignorance on your part. You have, no doubt, often heard the old quotation that “Ignorance is bliss.” You have undertaken a subject that you absolutely know nothing about, therefore it would have been better for you to have kept quiet until you become better informed on this particular question. I was born in the State of Georgia and have lived right here in Georgia and Alabama all my life, right in the heart of the south. I surely ought to know about what I am writing, and I do know, or rest assured you would have never heard from me. You ask why a negro isn’t high born, etc. Well, that is an easy problem and can be easily explained. The reason that the negro is employed in the south as train and yard man isn’t due to the fact that he is so reliable, as you think he is. He is anything but reliable; the railroad officials know this as well as I know it. You simply cannot trust one any further than you can see him, but he can be hired cheaply; he will work for $1 per day or less. The conductor is held responsible for Mr. Negro’s actions, and by his close watch and attention we manage to get along with about as few accidents as is common for railroads. But you let that conductor take his eye off that negro, go to the office to get orders, etc., which is often necessary—any railroad man understands that a conductor cannot always be right with his men. Now see what a chance the company is taking by having negroes employed; they are liable to do anything; one can’t tell. You do not know a negro like I do; if you did, you would hardly allow him to walk on the right of way, much less employ him. You spoke of how the negro has come out in all lines in the past forty years; you also forgot to mention how the chain gang and penitentiary have come out, being filled every day by the negroes. They have increased more than anything I know of, and if you will please note the educated is helping more to support these institutions than anyone else. Oh, yes! he is advancing rapidly, and so is the gallows; it is growing right along by the side of him. Where there is one Booker T. Washington trying to do good work for his race there are thousands upon thousands who are pulling right against him; therefore, he has a heavy upgrade to pull a long train dragging behind him, and I fear that it will be more than ten years before any of his converts will be able and permitted to handle a train. Don’t you ever believe Mr. Negro will ever run trains down here; no, that he won’t, and in less time than ten years you won’t find one employed on a railroad only as a porter or to wait upon the officials. The negro is as high up in railroad circles as he will ever be, yes, he is higher now, for I do not think it will be long before he will be entirely dropped, or it won’t be long before the negroes would own the railroads. The negro question is being discussed more and more every day, and it will only be a matter of time before it will come to a climax, and Mr. Negro’s fate will be settled. They are just as sure to be colonized as they live. I can safely say that never as long as the world stands will they run trains in the south. I know the people where I dwell too well to ever believe they would submit to this. Now, Bro. Desmond, kindly accept an invitation to visit the south; be sure and come by Atlanta, and be my guest, and if you can find one single instance where I have misrepresented facts to you in this case, then your expenses down here and back shall not cost you anything at all. With best wishes to you, I remain yours in B. S. & I.,
W. H. HIGGINBOTTEM, No. 302.
Railroad Trainmen’s Journal (August, 1900): 686–87.