ALONG THE COLOR LINE: TRADE UNIONS AND THE BLACK WORKER AT THE TURN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
In 1891, a Cincinnati newspaper reported the results of a questionnaire distributed among Southern employers by The Tradesmen, a commercial paper of Nashville. The questionnaire was designed to evaluate the “efficiency of the Negro as a skilled worker, as a factory operative, and as a free laborer generally.” The results of the survey led the paper to conclude that black economic progress was “truly marvelous.” Black spokesmen generally contradicted this sanguine assessment, however. Racial discrimination among white workers, unions, and employers, along with the rising tide of legal segregation, worked in unison toward eliminating Negroes from many traditional occupations and prevented them from entering new ones. Afro-Americans who worked as compositors thus encountered stiff opposition from white workers who wanted them removed. And at the Bureau of Engraving in Washington, D.C., black women were being eliminated even as additional whites were being employed, and the civil service increasingly passed over qualified black applicants (Doc. 1–6).
Even Birmingham, Alabama, which was a virtual boom town in the 1890s, did not provide equal opportunity for Negro employment. Birmingham was “The Negroes’ paradise” according to one black newspaper editor, yet even this optimist was forced to recognize that there was “little demand for skilled colored labor.” Indeed, thousands of blacks wandered about the streets “in fruitless search for something to do,” and to make matters worse, the foundries recruited whites from the North to take their places (Doc. 5, 14). Southern textile manufacturing, which had grown dramatically since the Civil War, also excluded blacks in most instances, and became the special preserve of poor whites. Usually, attempts to employ black workers caused trouble. Such was the case in 1897 at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill of Atlanta. When the company hired black women spinners, their presence precipitated a spontaneous strike by the white operatives, who refused to return until the black women were fired. Again in 1899, the entire plant went out on strike when Negroes were introduced onto the shop floor (Doc. 7, 12).
Unsurprisingly, a wide range of opinion prevailed among southern blacks regarding the best strategy for economic improvement. While some, such as Lizzie Holmes, spoke for many unionists who argued for working class solidarity against the “capitalistic oppressors” (Doc. 9, 16), most blacks enlisted in the ranks of the industrial education movement led by Booker T. Washington, From Tuskegee Institute, Washington won widespread support with the rationale that Negroes should be schooled for skilled occupations since unions would not open their doors for black apprentices (Doc. 3,8,10,19). A small core of blacks resisted complete reliance on industrial education, however, arguing instead for the elimination of racial barriers in the trade unions (Doc. 20).
Compared with the North, however, blacks found a cornucopia of skilled occupations open to them in parts of the South. One black New Yorker visiting Jacksonville, Florida, for example, noticed that the carpenters and brickmasons were nearly all black, a dramatic contrast to the situation in his hometown (Doc. 27). Afro-American leaders publically commented that it was easier for intelligent northern blacks to become professionals than skilled tradesmen. John Durham of Philadelphia noted that blacks simply wanted work, and suggested that wealthy businessmen provide them with jobs rather than philanthropy (Doc. 23, 29, 30). Most northern blacks agreed that labor unions were the real culprits. Even The Freeman of Indianapolis, which heralded the cause of labor as a “sacred one,” blamed the unions for poverty among blacks, and charged that they were controlled by “Negro-haters.” Unions exploited the most oppressed workers of all while, at the same time, they bellowed against capitalist exploitation. The Freeman thus called for black workers to break strikes where white unions excluded them, and most black publications in the North supported the assertion that “trade unions must be brought to terms or made to suffer the consequences” (Doc. 31–36, 39, 43, 45).
1. OPPOSITION TO NEGRO COMPOSITORS
From the Atlanta Constitution
COLUMBIA, S.C., July 17.—The State press is very much agitated over the discovery that one of the leading county papers in the State, the Abbeville Press and Banner, is printed exclusively by negro compositors. A very hot editorial was written upon the subject by the editor who made the discovery that “for the sake of cheap labor young white men were crowded out of a field of industry peculiarly their own.” Another newspaper thought it a degradation of an honorable business, and declared its intention of having “nothing to do with a newspaper edited by a white man and set up by negroes.” Several other journals have followed the lead of the paper which started the boycott, and much editorial space is devoted to the matter. These journals consider the Press and Banner particularly unjustifiable, as it has always been a ferocious enemy of negro education. The Press and Banner declared it was working for the almighty dollar, and proposes to have the cheapest and most satisfactory labor without regard to the boycott. It is somewhat singular that the Baptist Tribune, the largest colored organ in the State, edited by two colored men, should be printed exclusively by white compositors.
New York Times, June 20, 1887.
2. NEGRO COMPOSITORS IN THE SOUTH
From the Montgomery (Ala.) Dispatch, July 21.
Several negro papers in this state have been set up and printed by white compositors. In 1870–71 the Alabama State Gazette, edited by James T. Rapier, who was at that time a prominent politician, was set up and printed in a Democratic newspaper office in this city. The Gazette was probably the first newspaper edited by a negro ever published in Alabama. The Herald, a negro paper now published in Montgomery, until recently was published in a well-known job office in this city. Of course this was all right. But on the other hand a prominent and influential weekly, published in the black belt, and edited by one of the most uncompromising Democrats in the State, who did more to bring about the race issue in 1874, when Houston was elected Governor and the State was freed from negro Republican domination, than any man in Alabama, was set up and worked off a Washington hand press by a negro for several years. The negro got a pretty fair education in the office, and afterward represented his county in the Legislature one or more terms. The paper in question was the Wilcox Vindicator, and it was edited by Major Charles L. Scott, now Minister to Venezuela. Major Scott was one of the rabid Democratic editors in the State during the memorable campaign in 1874, and his paper was quoted far and near. A forcible writer and a man of courage, and as fearless as he was honest and sincere, he made a brilliant record, both through his paper and on the stump by his able advocacy of white supremacy during that dark period of the State’s history. The articles which were characterized by the most scathing abuse and ridicule of the negro as a dupe of unprincipled men, “fools, and thieves,” were set up principally by a negro compositor. Nobody cared then to kick at the employment of the negro by the Vindicator, and although there was a strong opposition paper published in the same town, Camden, at the time, it never referred to the Vindicator’s printer, and this publication of the facts is doubtless the first that has ever been made.
New York Times, July 24, 1887.
3. SKILLED LABOR
Dear Sir:—In your last weeks issue you were kind enough to publish an article relative to the importance of skilled labor among the colored people of our city and state; and the advisability of establishing mechanics institutes in our several communities for the benefit of the colored youth. I see no reason why we should not begin at once a movement, looking forward to the establishment of such an institution in the city of Richmond. Talking about what should be done is vain, unless we act. Now is the time for action.
Can the colored people of this city erect a building suitable for the purposes aforesaid, and meet the expense necessary to the support and maintenance thereof? No man who has a growing family could reasonably object to contributing, at least, one dollar per annum to such a human cause, and all important object. By a little effort we have succeeded in building very many respectable—if not costly and splendid temples of worship. Is it not reasonable to conclude that with determination, and effort commensurate with the importance of the cause, we can succeed in achieving the desired object?
Now we must show ourselves men by sacrificing something for the future welfare of our people, or accept that inevitable alternative resulting from the law of the survival of the fittest in the race of life. Unless we take steps looking forward to the education of our people in the mechanic arts, the future will be a gloomy day for the Negro.
There is every reason to believe that the Southern whites prefer Negro skilled labor to the foreign born mechanic. The Negro is, by nature, peaceable, thoroughly American, and opposed to all revolutionary and dangerous methods in any endeavor to obtain redress for wrongs; and he is satisfied with fair wages.
The opposition to the Negro in the mechanic shops come mainly from the employees, who are, for the most part, foreign born, and, who knowing that the Southern whites have a preference for Negro labor, when efficient, see that it is to their interest to keep up a constant warfare against Negro mechanics. We will never be able to make a successful fight against such prejudice, until we have enough mechanics to take possession of a shop, I am for action along the line indicated.
W. H. SMITH,
May 7th, 1891, Richmond, Va.
Richmond Planet, May 30, 1891.
4. THE NEGRO AS A WORKER
The efficiency of the Negro as a skilled worker, as a factory operative, and as a free laborer generally, is a question of general interest, especially interesting to southern states. The Tradesman recently sent out to extensive employers in the south, a circular asking the following question among others:
“4. What degree of efficiency do you find in common and skilled Negro labor as compared to white labor in like work?
5. Do you intend to continue the employment of Negro labor?
6. Are your Negro laborers improving in effeciency?
8. Does it add or detract from a Negro’s efficiency as a laborer, in your opinion, to educate him?”
The replies received indicate that the wages now paid the Negroes in the south equal, if not exceed, the average wages of white factory operatives, as shown by the census of 1880.
The Negroes, moreover, are as yet generally exempt from the curse of child labor in mine and factories. The summary of answers received by The Tradesman axe thus given:
“Replies were received from 106 persons residing in all the southern states, and employing 7,835 colored workers, of whom 978 are reported to be skilled laborers. The highest wages reported as paid to skilled laborers is $3 per day, the lowest $1.10, and the average wages of skilled laborers $1.75 per day. The highest wages received by unskilled laborers, as shown by these replies, are $1.50 per day, the lowest .60 cents per day, and the average $1.10 per day.
The replies to the fourth question . . . are not so general as the answer to some of the others. Briefly stated, 27 employers of 1,879 colored workers see no difference as to their capacity as compared to white labor; 35 employers of 1,491 colored men prefer white labor, and 49 employers of 5,214 Negroes prefer them to white laborers in the same capacity.
To the inquiry: Does it add to the Negro’s efficiency to educate him? the answers are very interesting. To questions 7 and 8, concerning this topic, there were received 139 answers, most of which were quite brief. Employers, 30 in number, having 2,800 colored employees say that the amount of education which the younger Negroes have received has been of benefit to them, and that it adds to the efficiency of a Negro to educate him.”
From the answers received there is left no doubt that the Negro is becoming capable of doing better work, and that where the opportunity is given him to do skilled labor, as it is in the south, he is capable of developing so as to improve it. There has been some fear on the part of a few that the Negro was not holding his own, or gaining ground in the industrial or mechanical line. However, in spite of his many drawbacks, he is steadily going forward and to one who has made his progress a study, in this line his advancement is truly marvelous. The Tradesman’s inquiries were directed to employers in the Southern States only. In the north the wages run considerably higher. For instance, I have been investigating the wages received by Negroes in the North and their acceptance as employees and find that the highest wages paid to skilled Negro laborers in the North is $4.50, $1.50 in excess of what is paid to skilled Negro laborers in the south. The lowest wages paid to skilled colored laborers in the north, $1.75; the average $2.50 per day. For unskilled Negro labor in the north, the average wages per day $1.35; .25 cents in excess of that in the south. I also find that the skilled Negro laborer, when given a chance, is as preferable, if not more, as the whites, and that there is no difference between the efficiency of a skilled Negro laborer and a skilled white laborer.
Cincinnati Gazette, September 12, 1891.
5. TRADE EXILES
A City Swarming With Idle Negro Mechanics
Birmingham, Ala. Special
Birmingham is the metropolis of Alabama and the Negroes’s paradise. It is to the South what Pittsburgh is to the North, a great mining and manufacturing center, made up of a heterogeneous population. Branded as the “Magic City,” its growth within the past eight years has been wonderful. It is a town of machinery, mills, furnaces and a net work of railroads and electric cars. The majority of the laboring class is colored, filling such places as the proud Caucasians refuse. Like most other undertakings, the whites have a union which leaves the Negro out when it comes to building. There is little demand for skilled colored labor here. It is safe to say not less than five thousand idle men and hungry women and children wander around the streets in fruitless search for something to do. White supremacy and corrupted Democracy, the prevailing powers, often force the Negro to act the part he otherwise would not. The overplus of broken down farmers and bankrupt merchants from the rural districts, who come daily hoping to find something better, only make it worse for the inhabitants. The twenty-eight furnaces in the Birmingham district, besides rolling mills, factories and hundreds of shops. The city furnishes more attractions than work for these labor seekers. Notwithstanding the bitter opposition to “negro domination,” (the interpretation the Bourbon gives to the fact that the Negro is trying to rise), some have arisen above the common level. Birmingham has five colored mail carriers, one jeweler, one undertaking establishment, one inventor, one author, one photographer, one silk grower, the only one in the State, one bank, five editors, three lawyers, two M.D.’s, one S.D., one L.L.D. and D.D.’s by the score.
The Freeman (Indianapolis), October 22, 1892.
6. COLORED WOMEN NOT WANTED
The front page picture of THE FREEMAN last week was accompanied with an argument deploring the American disposition to close the doors of commercial and industrial employment against the youth of the race. This week we are called upon to record as shameful a story of Democratic disposition to militate against some score of worth qualified women of the race as can be found within the annals of political meanness. Since Chief Johnson of the government Bureau of Engraving and printing at Washington, took charge of that office in July ′93, not two years, there have been eighty women removed. Of this number eighteen were white and seventy colored; leaving only ten colored women remaining in the service. Of the whole number dismissed, eighteen white and seventy colored, twelve of the white women have been reinstated and but one colored woman. Another fact, all these women received their appointment through competitive civil service examination. But let the Civil Service Commission that has recently given publicity to the correspondence with the secretary of the treasury upon this matter, finish this story of small beer politics ergo Democratic narrowness and wrong, and after, kick yourslf for not voting that ticket last fall if you can. Said the Commission, writing secretary Carlisle under date of Dec. 15, ′94:
This nearly clean sweep of colored women extended also to appointments from the certifications of the Civil service Commission from the regular eligibles. In the year ended June 30, 1894, forty-five women were passed over upon certification without selection, of whom at least ten were colored. Under Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, Mr. Meredith, appointments were made in the order of grade, practically none being passed over. Under Mr. Meredith there were only eighteen dismissals out of about 158 women employed between 1888 and 1893, as compared with 88 dismissals to 543 employed in a year and a half under Mr. Johnson. At present there are only eight colored women remaining. Of the women dismissed by Mr. Johnson twelve white were reinstated and one colored.
“The fact of this large number of discharges of colored women and of passing them over on a certification has greatly reduced the number of colored women applying for examination. During Mr. Meredith’s term under President Harrison’s administration, there was only one colored woman removed. No allegations have been made to the commission that the colored women were removed for any misconduct.”98
In stating these facts to the Secretary of the Treasury, the commission said:
“From these facts it would appear that under the administration of the present chief of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing there have been very marked discriminating on grounds of color merely, not only in the making of appointments from the eligible register, but the dismissal of persons already in the service.
The Freeman (Indianapolis), February 23, 1895.
7. SPONTANEOUS PROTEST
In 1897 a strike against the employment of Negroes occurred in Atlanta, at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill. The strike was a spontaneous protest against the employment of twenty Negro women spinners who were to work along with white women. Fourteen hundred workers quit, and formed a union that afternoon. The strike lasted only a day. The employers agreed to discharge the Negroes, and the employees agreed to work overtime when necessary. When the workers returned, however, they presented an agreement to Mr. Elsas, the manager, which called for the discharge of all Negroes employed by the company except janitors and scrubbers. Mr. Elsas refused to sign the agreement, stating that it involved more persons that he had verbally agreed to discharge, and adding that he did not see any reason for the discharge of the additional Negroes. Thereupon the workers went on another strike. This strike lasted only one day also, for Mr. Elsas agreed to discharge all Negro employees and to discriminate against none of the strikers. He refused, however, to sign any written agreement. The strike was called off and the workers returned to their places.
Atlanta Constitution, August 5—8, 1897.
8. THE NEGRO: HIS RELATION TO SOUTHERN INDUSTRY
By Will H. Winn, Columbus, Ga.
The oration at the celebration of Emancipation Day at Columbus, Ga., was delivered by Richard R. Wright, head of the State college for negroes, and one of the best informed representatives of his race in Georgia. Referring to the importance of the negro to the South, and the evidence of his progress, he said:99
“We care for our sick; we bury our dead; we build our churches; we are supporting our ministers; we are rearing our families; we are educating our children, and we are gaining property. In the South we are doing 57 per cent of the agricultural work and over 90 per cent of the manual and domestic services; we are doing for the South over one thousand million dollars’ worth of work every year at lower wages than is paid to any other class of laborers in America. We are doing this without strikes and without labor organizations and riots. It is admitted that we are the most peaceable and patient laborers in the world.”
No one with a knowledge of the negro’s condition in the South will question the above statements. While his percentage of labor shows a tendency to decrease in the agricultural districts, the negro is making rapid advances in the mechanical industries of the South—a fact due, in great measure, to the conditions described in the closing sentence of the quotation.
Practical and general trade organization among the negroes of the Gulf States has never been attempted, to my knowledge, and were the initiative to begin at once, with all the forces at our command, it would be a matter of doubt to many minds if the dawn of the 20th century would witness any material progress.
While there are many exceptions, of course, to the general rule, it is a fact patent to every observing man who has studied the negro from contact that as a race, he does not give evidence of a possession of those peculiarities of temperament such as patriotism, sympathy, sacrifice, etc., which are peculiar to most of the Causasian race, and which alone make an organization of the character and complicity of the modern trade union possible—sufficiently to warrant a hope that his condition might be improved by organization corresponding with the good results obtained through white organization.
Those well-meaning but misguided philanthropists (and others) who would attempt a solution of the negro problem in the South on the supposition that his character, his needs and adaptabilities are similar to those of the white race, do not appear to take into consideration certain well-known traits of negro character, prominent among which is his distrust of his fellows in black and his deep-seated prejudice against the white workingman, the ignorance of the adults, and his abandoned and reckless disposition. I said that there were many exceptions to this, but, as applicable to the race, the truthfulness of the above is universally recognized in the South, and may be easily verified.
It would be well for all union men, irrespective of section or opinion, to understand correctly the negroe’s position in the Southern labor movement, as, I believe, he is yet to bring about a complete readjustment of the Southern industrial problem. We must deal honestly and fearlessly with conditions as they are, and not as we would have them be.
At present the negro has a decided advantage over the white man in the Southern industrial field. There is but little if any excuse for an idle negro. If he cannot find employment in the cities, there is always an opening in the country—farmers sometimes having to hold out extra inducements to obtain his labor, as they much prefer him to the white man. In most of the cities he has a practical monopoly in such trades as carpentering, brick-laying, blacksmithing, etc. He does the bulk of the labor at cotton warehouses, compresses, lumber and raw mills. Porters, hotels and restaurant waiters, domestics, coachmen and driver, longshoremen, river hands, corporation hands, firemen and tenders of stationary engines, “day laborers,” etc., etc.—the bulk of them are negroes. Why? Simply because he works for what he can get, as many hours as may be required of him, and is the happiest and most contented individual imaginable. Now who ever heard of a contented people descanting upon burdensome conditions. Is not the “agitator”—he who points out and rebukes error and injustice—the forerunner of reform? And what reform, pray, came about except through the workings of the inseparables—discontent and agitation?
Outside a few of the more skilled and organized trades, if a body of workmen generate sufficient temerity to ask for less hours or an advance in wages, the Goliath in command has only to utter the magical word “negroes!” to drive them back into the ruts in fear, and trembling for their positions. The fact of their not being organized is a sufficient comment on their submissiveness; they know that, in addition to the swarms of white men that may be “shooed” up from the farms, where 5-cent cotton has played hide and seek with their appetites, there are also hordes of negroes ready to drop the plow-shares for work at almost any price in town for the sake of the education which the State gratuitously offers their children. There is hardly any sacrifice of the comforts that the negro will not willingly and cheerfully make in order to educate his children—very commendable, indeed, but alas for expectations! the records show an increase of crime along with it.
I will say, also, that some of their distinguished educators have developed quite as much oratorical ability in denouncing and villifying the trade unions as they have business sagacity in disposing of the large school and charitable donations from the land of the Puritan, in distilling into the young hopefuls a sense of equality and even superiority over the “poor white trash” and “factory tads,” (euphemisms easily recognizable by all who have journeyed Southward). And the ease and dexterity with which they continue to elongate the philanthropic leg forms a study in metaphysics.
Recently, several hundred white textile employes have been discharged to make room for the negro, on the plea of economy. Cotton mills have a way of going to the cheapest market for labor. It is the opinion of many that, in the no distant future, unless the unforeseen should happen, negroes will be worked almost exclusively in the cotton mills of the South—and then what? But that’s another subject.
I have myself anticipated in the organization of several unions that were, in time, forced to disband because their members could not procure work at a union wage in the face of negro competition. Unfortunately, there are but few unions in the South which have the negro as an active competitor that can truly lay claim to stability; and inasmuch as he is an active competitor in 90 per cent of Southern industry it would appear that time and money spent in a general organization of white workingmen is, at best, experimental—notwithstanding that there are industries which public sentiment will not permit the negro to engage in that are not organized, but which should and could be had we the organizers with time and money to accomplish it.
I shall not attempt to discuss a general organization of the Southern negro. In a few local instances it might and doubtless has proven advantageous, but, generally speaking, I doubt if there be a hundred native Southerners who would seriously entertain such a proposition; and as these believe, so would the people of other sections doubtlessly believe with like information on the subject. Public sentiment (an all-powerful factor in such matters) argues that it is impracticable, if not impossible, and altogether out of question, albeit with a due respect for those of different ideas, whose environment, possibly, is not black and yellow on the horizon.
But even admitting as possible a thorough organization of the negroes, it is hardly probable that the white workers generally could be induced to recognize them as union men—that is, brothers in a common cause—and without such recognition or federation or understanding between the two organized races whereby concerted action might be engendered, I submit that organization would be worse than worthless.
From a Southern view, colonization would be a practical and mutually agreeable solution of the negro-labor problem. Bishop Turner, of this State, and many others of the prominent negro divines and educators, all over the South, favor the emigration or colonization scheme, and are now working to that end in favor of the negro republic of Liberia. The only opposition these men encounter is from the capitalistic class (of course), and its chief tool—a hireling press. The negroes themselves are friendly to the proposition, as witnessed by the fact that some 19,000 of them have emigrated to the black republic, although the prosperity of Liberia has been very obvious, it a poor country; its climate is bad, and its native surroundings unfavorable to the purpose.100
The country most suitable in every respect, and at present the most available for negro colonization, is Cuba, “Queen of the Antilles,” and the garden spot of the continent. There the negro would thrive and prosper as he would nowhere else on earth. And with this end in view the United States might well afford to put an end to the horrible conditions now prevalent on that unhappy isle. I believe 90 per cent of the Southern negroes would hail with delight this opportunity.
And the white toilers of the South, once freed from this disorganizing competition and a consequent wage and hour system the most demoralizing of any section of America, would easily demand and receive a just compensation for a reasonable amount of labor.
Reader, this article is not intended to influence your opinion against the negro. No fair-minded man would blame him for that which he cannot help, considering that he, like all humanity, derives his natural character from a source which we dare not assail. I would place him on a higher level, open his way for greater possibilities and rejoice with him in his happiness, but I would also help those whom his competition unwittingly injures.
I have thus laid before you an unprejudiced statement of the negroe’s position in the southern industrial problem.
American Federationist (February, 1898): 269–71.
Shall the Poor Longer Fight the Battles of the Rich
OBLITERATE THE COLOR LINE
THE ONLY JUSTIFIABLE WAR IS THAT OF THE OPPRESSED AGAINST THE OPPRESSOR—THE LATTER ARE UNITED THE WORLD OVER; WHY NOT THE FORMER ALSO?—IT IS THEIR ONLY HOPE OF VICTORY.
A few days ago I listened to an address from a young colored man before an audience of thoughtful men and women, where he acquitted himself remarkably well. He made a strong plea for the obliteration of the color line between laborers. He showed that unless the white labor unions were willing to fraternize with the black people working in the same trades they must all sink into a condition of hopeless slavery nearly as bad as that from which his race had been rescued.
It seemed to me that the young speaker struck the key to the situation, which cannot be too strongly emphasized. The interests of the working people are the same the world over. Their common cause is of more importance than any other issue that can possibly arise. Difference in race, religion, nationality, are minor matters they must be willing to forget and clasp hands over the one cause common to all or give up the struggle for an opportunity to live as human beings should live.
The capitalists, the great moneyed men of the world, understand this perfectly well. So well do they comprehend the fact that already they are practically one. Observe closely, and you will perceive that the money powers of the different nations differ very little on questions of a national, religious, philosophical or even of a strictly political nature. They simply watch each other like hawks to see that one does not get an undue financial advantage of the other. They realize that no question on earth is of as much importance to them as their economic hold on the world. They know, also, that the common people do not realize the solidarity of their own interests and that it is very easy to intensify their differences and keep them fighting with each other over non-essentials. They are perfectly well aware of the sort of stories to fling among them in order to keep them engaged in destroying one another.
It is pitiful to see the faith that the working people put in the importance of their little differences and how little they realize that the “bread and butter question,” the economic question, the question of how to live at all, lies at the bottom of every other question. They are so loyal in their patriotism and so innocently trust that this virtue is shared by all their good countrymen, rich and poor alike. They guard their religion so devotedly, as though it mattered to the exploiters of the earth after what form they worshipped. And that old prejudice, born of the superstitious times when everything strange or foreign was feared or hated is still cherished with a faithfulness worthy of a better cause. For it they turn away from the worker of another color who needs help and who is able to help. For it they follow political leaders into faraway paths, where they lose themselves in a labyrinth of sophistries which bring up nowhere. And therefore it is that the one power which we have to fear is well organized and ready for work in any direction, while we are scattered, distrustful of each other and unable to resist their encroachments.
The critical situation between the United States and Spain illustrates this truth very strongly. The diplomatic action, or, rather, inaction, of the leaders in the two countries proves that principle has nothing whatever to do with a war should one occur, for if love of justice and a desire to defend the helpless is the incentive, why have we waited so long? If ever interference were justifiable, it is in this instance, where women and children, the sick and the wounded, the old and the helpless, have been treated with a ferocity that would put to shame the most savage tribes of the most savage ages. If the honor of the nation is to be the cause, why have we waited so long? American citizens have been insulted over and over again and American rights trampled upon. If Spanish rapacity and cruelty need punishing, why have we waited so long? Why have we waited until an expensive warship is blown to atoms and 250 lives have been sacrificed thereby before we move?101
Even now there will be no war if there are greater values at stake than those involved already, for with the great capitalists of the world there are no national boundaries, no national interests. This may be a startling statement to make, but I believe it is true. They together compose a power that is neither English, German, French or American, and the interests of neither country are considered when compared with the interests of their values which are centered in all lands wherever labor power and natural resources exist. While there is nothing to be gained by a war and much to be lost in the way of the unsettling of values, of stocks, bonds, etc., there is little likelihood of war, unless—which is not likely—the sentiment of the people should rise to an overwhelming force. Race prejudice, patriotism, superstition hatred, any of the emotions always swelling to the surface of the common people, would be appealed to, and the poor working folks of two countries would be set to work butchering each other. But no money lord or politician would get where he would be hurt.
It is a terrible thing to think that the poor workers of this country should be sent out to kill and wound the poor workers of Spain merely because a few leaders may incite them to do so. If there are men brave and strong and good enough to go to Cuba and help the Cubans to gain their liberty, who will drive the mistaken soldiers of Spain, who are themselves poor and are only willing at their rulers’ command, out of the island and then let them go and also come home and let the Cubans arrange their own affairs. I would say, “God speed!” But a war that is to be waged so the verge of destruction, that will blacken and ruin the land and sacrifice countless numbers of lives of innocent people for the sake of a big gunboat or even for the sake of the poor soldiers sacrificed with it, who could not be brought back to life by it, I deeply hope will not come to pass. I wish the common soldiers on one side would send such a message as the soldiers of the commune in 1871 sent to the common soldiers of the Prussian army. In those days it might be answered in a greater, a higher, spirit than it was then.102
The workers on one side of a sea or a river can conceive of no laudable excuse for hating and wanting to murder the workers on the other side of it. They are the producers of the world’s wealth, and they are all suffering alike from a common wrong. They have hut one genuine enemy on earth, and this is the united money power that is fleecing them systematically wherever they are. When they once realize this and refuse to fight for the property of the rich, for the wounded honor of some petted parasite, for the possession of territory out of which capital may wring fresh tribute, for the defining of a boundary line that signifies nothing to any one except a few fleecers, wars will cease, for the world’s great men will not declare war when they see that no one will fight them. They do not want wars that must be waged personally—they only fight by proxy. It is one thing to get up a quarrel in which millions of common men are sacrificed and millions of dollars can be “made” and quite another to precipitate a struggle that must be fought out by oneself.
No, the only laudable, justifiable kind of war that can ever be waged again is one of the oppressed against the oppressor, of the producers against their exploiters, the slaves against the tyrants. Even such a war, let us hope, need never be. Intelligence has spread over the world so rapidly, so widely, that this mighty and vital question of the right of labor to its own productions may be settled peacefully. If the workers of the world will awake to the fact that their interests are the same, and if they will refrain from quarreling with one another about the color of their skin, the places where they happened to be born, the political and religious faiths of their grandfathers, it will be. For rulers and exploiters who will not fight their battles unless they can do it with substitutes will not fight the common people if they can find none among them who will do it for them.
It is not necessary that the people all agree as to theories and remedies, for that would imply that some among them must be hypocrites or that they should crush down their honest convictions. But it is necessary that they have for each other’s opinions the utmost tolerance. It is above all necessary that they recognize that the needs, aspirations and wrongs of the people in all other nations are similar to their own and that if anybody must be killed it isn’t that kind of people.
Don’t, workingmen, be too anxious to load yourself up with killing machines and march away to kill a lot of poor fellows just like yourselves. If you feel the inspiration to help the Cubans, go and do just enough killing to accomplish your purpose—no more. Then come home.
LIZZIE M. HOLMES
Birmingham Labor Advocate, April 2, 1898.
10. HOW OUR EDUCATED YOUNG MEN AND WOMEN CAN FIND EMPLOYMENT
The whole question of textile manufacturing and the making and fitting of clothing is largely a new one in the South and the race must have leaders along this line also. In short, in the laying of a foundation of any race, the needs are largely along the three cardinal lines that I have mentioned: food, shelter and clothing. In order to be more helpful to the young men and women who are being educated, I will be more specific. Any young man or woman who prepares himself thoroughly in any one of these lines will not be long in securing a position at a good salary; agriculture, horticulture, landscape gardening, dairying, stock raising, poultry raising, architecture, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, mining engineering, brick masonry, carpentry, house decorating, house contracting, cooking, dressmaking, millinery, textile manufacturing, tailoring, etc. The fitting of one’s self along any of these lines will either enable him to find a place, or, what is better, to make a place.
The Christian Recorder, September 29, 1898.
11. COLORED LABOR IN COTTON MILLS
“The unfortunate result of an experiment at negro labor at Columbia, S.C.,” says the Louisville Courier-Journal, “is another answer to the oft-repeated query why the colored man is not a skilled laborer.” The paper continues:
“That he does not become a well-paid mechanic instead of a mere hewer of wood and drawer of water is certainly not due to the existence of race prejudice in the South, however it may be in the North. In the South the few blacksmiths or carpenters or bricklayers or trainmen of African descent find ready and remunerative employment. The reason there are not more of them is chiefly to be found in the negro himself. At least this is the opinion of the writer in The American Wool and Cotton Reporter, who details the failure of an enterprise which it once was thought would go a great way toward solving one of the various phases of the race problem.
“The correspondent in this case refers to the failure of a cotton mill at Columbia which was started with the intention of utilizing negroes as operatives. Of course, the mill was to be managed by whites, but it was thought that colored help was equal to the requirements of the machines. The mill has proved a costly loss and will now be sold under foreclosure proceedings. The kind of work the hands did leads to the following bitter observations from The Reporter’s contributor:
“I here take occasion to repeat what I have said before, viz.; that negroes will not make good cotton mill operatives; indeed, now that the experiment has fully tested in two or three instances, it can be stated that they have not made even fair operatives, and there is no reason in the world for believing that they ever will, for I know the average Southern darkey well—his habits and predilections, his instability and love of “freedom.” They will not, as a rule, submit to the application and confinement required of the successful mill operative. They demand too many “holidays.” They must attend their “festerbuls” and lodge and other secret society meetings, to some half-dozen or more of which most of them belong; and even if they were good workmen—which they are not, on machinery of any character, being clumsy and listless at the best—they woefully lack the quality of application (as stated by me at the time, and as has been shown so conclusively by the frequency with which the superintendents of this mill and the one at Charleston have had to hunt new hands) to make successful mill-hands.”
“The writer has a good deal more to say, part of which is undoubtedly true and part of which may be prejudice. One thing, however, can not be controverted, the negro is not disposed to train himself for skilled employment, and to make him do so requires an education which shall dispose him to labor and self-denial. This is the task to which Booker Washington and his fellow workers and students have set themselves, and it is worth their noblest efforts. If professor Washington and such as he can train the negro’s hands to skill and can induce him to live cleanly, soberly, and honestly, they will do a far greater work than the men who put the ballot in his possession.”
The Chattanooga, Tenn., Tradesman says:
“There is no difference of opinion among real business men concerning the cause of the failure. The men at the head of the concern had far more hope, enthusiasm, and theory about them than business sense, an article they seem to have been very short on. Their attempt to do a business of that kind with negro help showed lack of judgment. They began deeply in debt. They enlarged the debt by turning the mill into a sort of textile school, with scholars who went and came as they pleased. The enterprise is hopelessly swamped, tho it might now be prospering, had not its nominal owners gone about to force nature, and in violation of the sound canons of business, undertaken to make mill-operatives out of people who have hardly passed the corn-hoeing, rock-quarrying, and dirt-shoveling stage of civilization. We are glad the failure is complete and final. Being so it will probably deter other cranks from fooling away some money.”
The Literary Digest, October 15, 1898.
12. STRIKE OF MILL WORKERS AT FULTON COTTON MILLS103
ATLANTA, Ga., July 20.—
The Mill slaves were organizing when a number of them were discharged and supplanted by negro labor, because it was cheaper and unorganized. Thereupon the entire force of Mill workers struck, and after being out several days, won the strike, although the active participants in the strike were later discharged and their union crippled. While the strike was in progress, the Executive Committee issued a manifesto to the people, and this manifesto is such a strong indictment against capitalism that it is herewith reproduced.
Manifesto of the Strikers Issued by Textile Union
The Strikers Declare they are not Fighting the Negroes, but are Contending Only for Their Rights—Plain Talk About the Mill Owners.
To Whom It May Concern:
We, the employees of the Fulton Cotton Mills, herewith present to the public the attitude of the cotton mill workers in the present controversy. Notwithstanding the fact that 1,000 wage-workers, composed mostly of women and children, have for years been compelled to have their flesh and blood counted in dollars and cents by the mill owners, owing to excessively long hours of work and extremely long wages, they are now subjected to such indignities as would meet the condemnation of every loyal white citizen of Atlanta, and also of the majority of self-respecting black citizens.
The efforts of the Fulton mill owners to force the white women and girls employed there to work with the negro women who were placed among them, is a deliberate attempt to eliminate the white wage-slaves from this avocation and substitute black wage-slaves because they will work cheaper, although the white wage-slaves do not live but simply exist. The real question at issue now is one of wages and not of prejudice. The mill owners know that the white workers are organizing and becoming more intelligent, and they are making an effort to keep them in subjection by employing cheap labor and forcing the white workers out of employment. . . . The published accounts of the controversy make it appear to the public that it is a strike originating in racial prejudice, but such is not the case. It is a strike against the introduction of cheaper labor; against forcing those people out of work who have held the positions for years, and against the damnable wage-slave system which is building up this cotton mill and the cotton industry of Atlanta on the bodies and souls of the daughters and sons of the fair southland.
We realize that under the system of competitive capitalism conditions cannot be permanently improved and that this system must be supplanted by a co-operative system in which all shall have the opportunity to apply their labor power properly, before permanent relief can come to the people.
Daily People, August 6, 1899.
13. COLORED PEOPLE’S PLEA
Plea-Address Issued By Afro-American Convention
Disfranchisement of Negroes
Lynching of the Black Man of the South—
Inconsistency of the Trade Unions Deplored
The committee appointed by the Indiana Afro-American convention to prepare an address to the public, today gave out the following to the people of America.
We, the colored citizens of Indiana in convention assembled, for the purpose of considering the many forms of injustice to which we are subjected, on account of our color, and believing the great heart of the American people still beats in sympathy with the spirit of liberty and justice for all men, and believing further, that the apparently sleeping conscience of the major portion of the people is largely due to a lack of information concerning our real condition and the wrongs that are heaped upon us as a race in all sections of our country—we deem it wise to issue this address, setting forth the facts which we wish considered appealing to the sense of justice of the American people.
The greatest injustice which we suffer is the taking of human life without trial by jury, at the hands of mobs, which is a violation of the most sacred right known to civilization.
We call the attention of the world to the appalling fact that more than thirteen hundred human beings have been lynched in this country within the past seven years.104
The ingenuity of thousands of a refined civilization has been taxed to its utmost to devise methods of inflicting the most excrutiating tortures upon helpless negroes, surpassing often the practices of savages in barbarity. Hanging and shooting have become too tame—they are flayed alive and left to die, fingers and toes have been “pounded to a jelly,” and then the victims hanged, they are tied to stakes, dismembered and burned, and the roasted remains cut and sold to eager purchasers as souvenirs; they are shot and scalped, etc.
The apologists for these horrible outrages claim defense of pure womanhood as the prime cause of these outbursts of savagery, but we call attention to the fact that, according to the press dispatches from the daily papers published in the sections of country in which these lynchings occur, less than one-third of the 1,300 lynched were not accused of assault or of rape. During last year (1898) according to President Dreher, of Roanoke College, Virginia, out of 127 Negroes lynched, twenty two were accused of assault or attempted assault.
We do not condone crime, and do especially condemn that of rape and favor the punishment of those guilty of it by the death penalty, according to law. We stand ready to unite with all law-abiding citizens for the enforcement of the law.
The category of crime as narrated above, fills us with horror unspeakable, and we feel that it is high time that pulpit and press should unite in an earnest crusade against the terrible American crime of lynching.
We point with sadness to the gross violation of the United States election laws, by statutory enactment, in the states of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana, whereby three-fourths of the Negro voters of those states are disfranchised under the guise of an educational qualification.
We do not protest because of an education qualification, but we do protest against the law because it is only applied to the Negro, and we call upon all citizens who believe in a fair ballot to join us in this protest. Laws should be general in their application, and apply alike to all citizens.
We call upon all men, regardless of race or political faith, who believe in equal rights before the law, to use all honorable means in their power to have the representation in Congress from those states reduced to the basis of their actual voting strength.
Discriminating laws having for their purpose the humiliation and degradation of our people under the thin guise of giving to us the same rights and privileges that are accorded to other citizens, have been enacted by various states.
Those laws—among which may be mentioned the election laws, the separate coach act, school laws in several states, the provisions pertaining to public places of entertainment and amusement—work upon us great hardships and injustice.
As a race of laborers, we sympathize with every honorable and lawful movement or combination, now perfected, or to be perfected, which has for its object the betterment of the condition and environment of honest toil, whether skilled or unskilled, regardless of race or the political and religious creed of those who go to make up the great army of the world’s producers. We, therefore, contemplate with regret the impression that seems to be general throughout our country that for the benefits, protections, encouragements and guarantees vouchsafed to labor through and by the direct influence of the trades unions, no colored man need apply.
It seems to us, with all deference to those earnest and consecrated men who have, and are, devoting their lives to the organization and marshalling of the forces of labor, they are guilty of great inconsistency. It is an axiom of the law, as old as jurisprudence, that “he who seeks equity should first himself be willing to do equity, if he would come into court with clean hands and a prima facie claim that justice be extended him.”
How can the trades unions continue to demand and expect to receive without question or challenge, sympathetic approval and endorsement of public opinion when the very things it is demanding for itself—justice, fair treatment and a living chance to secure through honest toil bread and protection for their loved ones—they refuse to extend to some millions of other laboring men, whose only crime is that of their unfortunate environments, and that Jehovah in his wisdom dowered them with dark skin.
Again, if all labor was organized black and white, skilled and unskilled, such spectacles as have been afforded the world within the last month in the cities of New York, Brooklyn, Cleveland and Evansville, would seldom be witnessed. The “scab” workman black or white not existing could not be used by the oppressors of organized toil to thwart the union in its just and humane demands.
Sincerely hoping that the time will not be longed delayed when union labor will insist upon taking the broad and humane view of this great question, and that every lover of humanity, of justice and of fair play will join us in bringing about the result so anxiously desired we rest our complaint with the conscience and judgment of the great American Nation. Signed by the committee:
EDWARD L. GILLIAM,
JNO. J. BLACKSHEAR,
GEO. W. CABLE,105
W. E. HENDERSON,
S. A. ELBERT,
L. E. CHRISTY,
W. ALLISON SWEENEY,
D. A. GRAHAM
The Freeman (Indianapolis), August 12, 1899.
14. TO REDUCE NEGRO LABOR
White Men Are Being Imported to Take Their Places
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., March 16—The first batch of workmen from the Niles, O., district, who will be employed in the Bessemer and Ensley districts, arrived today. There are 24 men in the party, all of whom will go to work in the puddling department of the Bessemer rolling mills. Several other large parties of skilled laborers from Ohio will arrive during the next few days to complete the quota needed at the Bessemer mills, after which the remainder will go to Ensley to work at the steel plant and furnaces. It is stated that at those places hereafter negro labor will be used for only the rough work, such as loading cars, breaking iron and other heavy drudgery in the furnace yards.
This is part of a general movement which has been inaugurated by the large labor employing corporations of this district to reduce the number of negroes employed to a minimum.
Birmingham Labor Advocate, March 23, 1901.
15. LABOR UNIONS ASSAILED
An Alabama Leader Declares Them Treasonable Organizations
WASHINGTON, June 13.—Before the industrial commission yesterday N. F. Thompson, secretary of the southern industrial convention, of Huntsville, Ala., made a somewhat sensational attack upon labor unions. “Labor organizations are today,” said Mr. Thompson, “the greatest menace to this government that exists inside or outside the pale of our national domain. Their influence for disruption and disorganization of society is far more dangerous to the perpetuation of our government in its purity and power than would be the hostile array on our borders of the armies of the entire world combined.”
In support of his statement he said that on every hand, and for the slightest provocation, all classes of organized labor stand ready to inaugurate a strike, with all its attendant evils, and that in addition to this stronger ties, of consolidation are being urged with the view of being able to inaugurate a sympathetic strike that will embrace all clases of labor, simply to redress the grievances or right the wrongs of one class, however remotely located, or however unjust may be the demands of that class. He maintained that “organizations teaching such theories should be held treasonable in character, and their leaders worse than traitors to their country.” He urged a law making killing in self-defense of any lawful occupation “justifiable homicide,” and said that negro labor was essential to the prosperity of the south.
Richmond Planet, June 16, 1900.
16. THE COLOR LINE IN ORGANIZATION
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., June 25, 1900.
I will say before entering this controversey that I am a democrat and as far from social equality as any man living. Yet after the other Constitutional amendments made the colored man a citizen of the south, I voted for the Fifteenth amendment to give him an equal right in all the states, so he would not be a citizen in one state and an alien in another.
In the labor question, the colored man earns his bread and meat by the sweat of his face, just like I do. His bread and meat, like mine, stops when he ceases to work. In a word, both white and black have to work for a living, whether organized or not. Now, the only question for consideration is, will Organized Labor admit the black man, not only thereby benefiting him, but adding strength to organization; or will it leave him to the tender mercies of the sweatshops?
I may dig coal on one entry and the black man on another some distance away, yet we work together; you may work in one shop and he in another, yet you work together; you may work in a rolling mill and he may fire the engine that runs on the rail you forged into shape, yet you work together. This being an unalterable fact, will organized Labor take him under its protection for mutual benefit, or will it leave him out to be used by the enemies of organization as a powerful force against us. If we act wisely and conservatively in this and all other matters, we will gain the esteem and confidence of all wise, conservative men. If we can do this, we shall have gained all we need.
Intelligence and honesty has ever governed the world. Like the Hebrews, men may have suffered for a time, but an honest, intelligent Moses has always come forth to right their wrongs. “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and now that the dollar has taken the place of the sword to a great extent, the pen is mightier than the dollar. “The fool and his money are soon parted” is an old saying, but is as true today as it ever was.
W. T. WESTBROOK
Birmingham Labor Advocate, June 30, 1900.
17. NEGROES IN ATLANTA
In reply to Mr. W. L. Scarborough, a colored professor in Wilberforce106 University, Ohio, the Atlanta Constitution denies the story which appears to be going the rounds of the Western press, that there is a newsstand in Atlanta at which negroes are not permitted to buy papers. The Constitution adds:
“Here in Atlanta we have negro lawyers, physicians, and dentists; negro merchants, tailors, undertakers, shoemakers, tinners, painters, carriage-makers, blacksmiths, and wheelwrights; negro contractors, who employ white as well as colored workmen; negro machinists, carpenters, cabinet-makers, brick-masons, plasterers, and plumbers; negro workers in shops, in every trade and business for which their ambition and their ability fit them; and opportunities open to them in every direction that their capabilities may suggest.”
Where can anything like this be found in the East or in the West? We happen ourselves to know of the negro dentist in Atlanta. He resigned a good position in the Treasury Department a few months since in order to practice his profession in that city. But think of negro contractors who employ white workmen—and in the South, too! Can Senators Hoar and Chandler name many—or any—such instances at the North, or such a diversity of industries among the colored population as that shown by the Constitution?107
The Nation, August 28, 1900.
18. TRAINING NEGRO LABOR
The experiment of employing colored labor in textile mills in the south is one of peculiar interest, as the ability for skilled workmanship is looked upon as of peculiar interest, as the ability for skilled workmanship is looked upon as in an important degree a measure of the capacity for the development of the race. So far none of the numerous tests have resulted satisfactorily, and yet it is admitted that in no case has a fair trial been given. Negroes have become good mechanics, such as carpenters, bricklayers, and engineers, but in work which requires delicacy of manipulation and taste he has not shown much aptitude. Whether this is from lack of training and opportunity or from indolence or other fault has not yet been determined, and will not be until the negro has been given a fair trial in this respect.
A staff correspondent of the New York “Journal of Commerce,” who has been investigating the textile industries of the south has made the subject of negro labor in mills the text for one of his articles. He does not appear much encouraged. In alluding to the mill erected at Concord, N.C., by negro capital and in which negro labor is to be exclusively employed, he says the mill is ready for work, but had not at that time any money to buy cotton. Its equipment of 5,700 spindles and 140 looms is adequate, but second-hand, and hence could not offer a very satisfactory text. A number of white capitalists are interested in the mill and not only hold a large amount of stock, but had loaned the company $10,000 to complete the plant. White carders, spinners and weavers had offered to teach negroes the work, so there will be no trouble on that score if money can be raised to start the mill.
When Negro girls are whipped in the silk mills of Fayetteville, N.C, the superintendent a Negro man says:
“No one desire more than I do to see the portion of my people improved; but I have no false ideas as to the present condition of the majority of them. They lack responsibility, and are like children where money is concerned. That may be kept in view when dealing with them,”
Certainly this belief of a colored man as to the only way to make his race work skillfully and work regularly differs but little from that practiced in the factories of the North; the difference being one of method only. Northern capitalists are not adverse to brutalities, especially when they use police and militia to club and shoot their workers into submission.
Daily People, November 12, 1900.
19. INDUSTRIAL EDUCATION IS THE SOLUTION
At Tuskegee, Alabama, starting fifteen years ago in a little shanty with one teacher and thirty students, with no property, there has grown up an industrial and educational village where the ideas that I have referred to are put into the heads, hearts, and hands of an army of colored men and women, with the purpose of having them become centers of light and civilization in every part of the South. One visiting the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute today will find eight hundred and fifty students gathered from twenty-four States, with eighty-eight teachers and officers training these students in literary, religious, and industrial work.108
Counting the students and the families of the instructors, the visitor will find a black village of about twelve hundred people. Instead of the old, worn-out plantation that was there fifteen years ago, there is a modern farm of seven hundred acres cultivated by student labor. There are Jersey and Holstein cows and Berkshire pigs, and the butter used is made by the most modern process.
Aside from the dozens of neat, comfortable cottages owned by individual teachers and other persons, who have settled in this village for the purpose of educating their children, he will find thirty-six buildings of various kinds and sizes, owned and built by the school, property valued at three hundred thousand dollars. Perhaps the most interesting thing in connection with these buildings is that, with the exception of three, they have been built by student labor. The friends of the school have furnished money to pay the teachers and for material.
When a building is to be erected, the teacher in charge of the mechanical and architectural drawing department gives to the class in drawing a general description of the building desired, and then there is a competition to see whose plan will be accepted. These same students in most cases help do the practical work of putting up the building—some at the sawmill, the brickyard, or in the carpentry, brickmaking, plastering, painting, and tinsmithing departments. At the same time care is taken to see not only that the building goes up properly, but that the students, who are under intelligent instructors in their special branch, are taught at the same time the principles as well as the practical part of the trade.
The school has the building in the end, and the students have the knowledge of the trade. This same principle applies, whether in the laundry, where the washing for seven or eight hundred people is done, or in the sewing-room, where a large part of the clothing for this colony is made and repaired, or in the wheelwright and blacksmith departments, where all the wagons and buggies used by the school, besides a large number for the outside public, are manufactured, or in the printing-office, where a large part of the printing for the white and colored people in this region is done. Twenty-six different industries are here in constant operation.
When the student is through with his course of training he goes out feeling that it is just as honorable to labor with the hand as with the head, and instead of his having to look for a place, the place usually seeks him, because he has to give that which the South wants. One other thing should not be overlooked in our efforts to develop the black man. As bad as slavery was, almost every large plantation in the South during that time was, in a measure, an industrial school. It had its farming department, its blacksmith, wheelwright, brickmaking, carpentry, and sewing departments. Thus at the close of the war our people were in possession of all the common and skilled labor in the South. For nearly twenty years after the war we overlooked the value of the antebellum training, and no one was trained to replace these skilled men and women who were soon to pass away; and now, as skilled laborers from foreign countries, with not only educated hands but trained brains, begin to come into the South and take these positions once held by us, we are gradually waking up to the fact that we must compete with the white man in the industrial world if we would hold our own. No one understands his value in the labor world better than the old colored man. Recently, when a convention was held in the South by the white people for the purpose of inducing white settlers from the North and West to settle in the South, one of these colored men said to the president of the convention: ‘“Fore de Lord, boss, we’s got as many white people down here now as we niggers can support.”
The negro in the South has another advantage. While there is prejudice against him along certain lines,—in the matter of business in general, and the trades especially,—there is virtually no prejudice so far as the native Southern white man is concerned. White men and black men work at the same carpenter’s bench and on the same brick wall. Sometimes the white man is the “boss,” sometimes the black man is the boss.
Some one chaffed a colored man recently because, when he got through with a contract for building a house, he cleared just ten cents; but he said: “All right, boss; it was worth ten cents to be de boss of dem white men.” If a Southern white man has a contract to let for the building of a house, he prefers the black contractor, because he has been used to doing business of this character with a negro rather than with a white man.
The negro will find his way up as a man just in proportion as he makes himself valuable, possess something that a white man wants, can do something as well as, or better than, a white man.
I would not have my readers get the thought that the problem in the South is settled, that there is nothing else to be done; far from this. Long years of patient, hard work will be required for the betterment of the condition of the negro in the South, as well as for the betterment of the condition of the negro in the West Indies.
There are bright spots here and there that point the way. Perhaps the most that we have accomplished in the last thirty years is to show the North and the South how the fourteen slaves landed a few hundred years ago at Jamestown, Virginia,—now nearly eight millions of freemen in the South alone,—are to be made a safe and useful part of our democratic and Christian institutions.
The main thing that is now needed to bring about a solution of the difficulties in the South is money in large sums, to be used largely for Christian, technical, and industrial education.
Booker T. Washington, “Signs of Progress Among the Negroes,” Century Magazine 37 (1900): 476–77.
20. INDUSTRIAL EDUCATION NOT THE ONLY SOLUTION
I am heartily in favor of the industrial and mechanical training for such Negroes as may feel that their calling is on the farm or in the factory, but I challenge the assertion of those who claim that the only solution of the so-called race problem lies in the direction of the industrial and mechanical training of the Negro.
Surprisingly strange, perhaps, but nevertheless true, slavery itself furnished the race with valuable lessons in industrial and mechanical training, and produced a race of high-class mechanics, skilled workers in wood and iron and metals of all kinds, many of whom remain until this day, and, I regret to say, far more than can obtain employment, caused by the unreasonable and unfriendly attitude of the trade-unions toward colored mechanics. How, then, can the multiplication of Negro mechanics help to solve the so-called race problem, when those who are already skilled cannot obtain employment? In this city, to my personal knowledge, there are a score or more of skilled Negro mechanics who are subject to enforced idleness by reason of the color-phobia which dominates the trade-unions. Those who are disposed to advance the Negro’s best interests can render him invaluable services by demanding, in tones of thunder loud and long, that the trade-unions shall cease to draw the color line, and that fitness and character shall be the only passport to their fellowship. When this barrier shall have been removed, the time for the multiplication of Negro mechanics on anything like a large scale, will have become opportune but not until then.109
I know full well the argument of the contra-contendents—how that an appreciable increase in the present number of Negro mechanics would make a white contractor independent of white mechanics when his interests might warrant the employment of Negro tradesmen. But it cannot be justly claimed that this argument rises to the force and dignity of an argument. It is at the very best but a mere theory, and one shorn of plausibility for the reason that it apparently overlooks the fact that the trade-unions, by the power of the boycott, could influence the dealers both in raw and manufactured material not to sell to said contractor, and thus abort his designs to defy them by the employment of Negro artisans. The trade-unions constitute a most potent organization, and it is very difficult to thwart its will. Therefore, the primal and essential accomplishment is to influence its directors to abandon the cruel and frigid color line.
But, then it can be answered that if the Negro mechanic cannot find employment for his skilled hands, let him go to the farm and engage in agricultural pursuits—learn how to scientifically raise sweet potatoes, as the present chief revivalist of the industrial training for the Negro is wont to urge.
When in the unregistered aeons of the genesis of creative development—when prehistoric man roamed at will, and before God had fixed the bounds of man’s habitation—in what recorded cycle of time was it written on the tablet of divine fiat that the universal position of the Negro should be that of a tiller of the soil? It may not be a self-evident truth that all men are created free and equal, but it is an axiomatic verity that all men, other than imbeciles and idiots, are endowed with mental and spiritual capacities capable of varied and illimitable expansion; and the Negro being a man, is irremovably within the sphere of this axiomatic verity. Hence, unless it can be established that the Negro is not an integral and component part of the original plan of man’s creation, but the increment of a mere accident, the crystallization of the particles of the surplus dust that marked the creative place of generic man, it must be accepted as the corollary of the axiomatic verity that the Negro, in common with all the other race varieties, is endowed with mental and spiritual capacities, capable of varied and illimitable expansion; and that, as a whole, his sphere of operation cannot be limited to the tilling of the soil; but that his development will be marked by variety of attainments and accomplishments, thus proving himself to be an originator as well as an imitator.
Moreover, the acquisition of scientific agriculture cannot possibly profit the masses of the Negroes to any great extent, seeing that they are not the owners of the soil. By this I refer to the diversification of crops as the result of a knowledge of scientific agriculture. The diversification of crops is not dictated and controlled by the tillers of the soil, but by the owners. The plantation hand in the South exercises no choice whatever as to the number of acres he shall plant in cotton or the number he shall plant in corn or wheat or any other cereal. In this regard he must obey the mandate of his employer. In view of this is the suggestion valueless that so far as the utility of a diversification of crops is concerned, that this advice should be pressed upon the owner of the soil rather than upon the tiller? It is the owner alone who can change the existing conditions of things. The advice which Secretary of Agriculture Wilson gave to the young white men of the South, in his address at the McKinley banquet in Savannah, Georgia, was most opportune and should impress the present chief revivalist of industrial training for the Negro with the fact that in insisting on the study of scientific agriculture by the masses of the Negroes, he is building a cage for a bird that is yet to be caught; unless, perchance, the Negroes should become the owners of the soil. There can be no doubt that the practical application of the principles scientific agriculture will increase the yield of a given crop in a stated area; but if by this it is meant that a knowledge of scientific agriculture is essential to teach the Negro how to hoe cotton and plant corn, such is as far from the reality as the east is from the west; as the Negro has long since graduated in the accomplishment of hoeing cotton and planting corn, and his diploma was stamped on the great majority of the ten million bales of cotton which were marketed in this country last year. Therefore aspire to add to the Negro’s present limited fund of knowledge by teaching him how to do something which he does not now know how to do.110
The necessity of the Negro’s training in industrial pursuits, either as a theory or a dictum, did not originate with this generation, but is coeval with his existence on the American continent. With equal propriety might one term John Wesley the apostle of Christianity as to term the Master of Tuskegee the apostle of industrial training for the Negro. The former was simply the revivalist of a long-existing doctrine; the latter is merely the revivalist of an ancient dictum. “Teach the Negro how to work,” and in reechoing this dictum has struck a popular chord in the minds, if not the hearts, of a large element of the American people, some of whom emphasize their approval by throwing dollars into his open hands. . . .111
When the present chief advocate of industrial training for the Negro as the speediest and most effective solution of the so-called race problem shall have gone outside of his own bailiwick, as I have; when he shall have placed himself in a position to observe the present status of the various elements of mankind, notably in Europe, West and Southwest Africa, South America, and the Caribbean Archipelago; when he shall have seen a woman and a dog hitched together and drawing a loaded cart through the streets of Antwerp, Belgium; when he shall have seen Hungarian women digging coal in the mines of their own native land; when he shall have looked upon the peasantry of Europe so poorly fed, poorly clad, poorly housed, and poorly paid; when his attention shall have been directed to the fact that three fifths of the inhabitants of the earth live in a one-room hut, that scientific agriculture is as little known to the peasantry of Europe as it is to the plantation hands of the Southland, and that the farmer has no more to do with the diversification of the crops than do the latter, he may at least find some of his views modified thereby, come to realize that the doctrine of the survival of the fittest will shape and govern the destiny of the Negro as it does that of all other race societies, that the Negro cannot be limited to any one sphere of physical or mental operation, but will ramify every nook and corner of Americanism and add his quota to its strength, perpetuity and adornment.
Nashville American, January 29, 1899.
21. TRUSTS SMILE
Now, any labor leader of intelligence will admit that labor cannot afford to fight labor, that antagonisms should not be promoted between any classes of workmen, be they black or white.
Whenever this is done, trusts smile and enjoy the situation hugely. So long as the colored laborers are careless of the welfare of the white laborers and vice versa, the breach thus made and kept open makes the enemies of labor certain of success in any attack made upon the divided ranks of labor.
Richmond Planet, September 8, 1900.
22. CRITICAL POSITION OF THE NEGRO
Is The Race Losing Ground?
DARK VIEW OF THE PRESENT INDUSTRIAL STATUS OF THE NEGRO OF THE SOUTH—OPINION EXPRESSED THAT THE RACE HAS GONE BACKWARD IN CIVILIZATION AND EFFICIENCY SINCE SLAVERY—A VERY STRIKING TESTIMONY BY A SOUTHERN MAN.
To the Editor of The Republican:—
In an editorial article in The Republican of November 20 in criticising the study of “The Negro in Africa and America,” by James Alexander Tillinghast,112 you accuse him of “inherited bias against the free blacks,” and ask the question:—
“Taking southern agriculture as a whole how was it possible for its farm values to increase in greater percentage in the two decades mentioned (1880–1900) than the farm values of the whole country, if the negro labor, upon which southern agriculture largely depends, was all that time degenerating in quality? Obviously, there is a conflict between Mr. Tillinghast’s conclusion and the broad fact of the southern uplift in agricultural wealth.”
There is no conflict between Mr. Tillinghast’s contentions and the fact of Southern prosperity and development. These are due to the white man, not to the negro, to the immigration of white men from the West and to the uplifting of the poor white of the South, whose progress during these two decades has been as rapid as the decay of the negro as a laborer and a producer. These statements of Mr. Tillinghast are substantiated by the census and every other statistical report published which lets in any light on the subject, and they cannot be brushed away by the general and vague statement of a North Carolina banker as you suggest.
You very properly take agriculture as the industrial field in which the negro makes the best showing, for he has been an agriculturist for generations. Of all the southern crops, that in which he makes the best showing is cotton. The cotton industry is based on negro (slave) labor. The negro was believed to be the best cotton laborer in days of slavery, and the planters even pretended to find that his hand was better made to pick cotton than that of any other race. Originally the entire cotton crop was raised by negro labor; and, at the death of slavery, certainly nine-tenths of it was raised and picked by the negroes. If, however, you return to the census of 1900, statistics of agriculture, volume II, you will find that the two counties producing the largest amount of cotton in the South, over 80,000 bales each, are Ellis and Williamson counties in Texas. The negro constitutes only one-tenth of their population, and produces less than one-tenth of their cotton. Of the 19 southern counties producing over 50,000 bales of cotton each, 17 are overwhelmingly white, nearly all the cotton in them being raised by white labor, and only two are black—Washington county, Miss., and Orangeburg county, S.C. A comparison with former censuses will show that the cotton production is drifting away from the black belt to the white counties in nearly every southern state. Thus, in North Carolina the big cotton counties are white. Louisiana the center of cotton production has shifted from the rich alluvial lands of the Tensas Basin where the cotton is raised by negro labor, to the central district, where the population is mainly white. . . .
Such is the negro in the field of agriculture, where he appears to the greatest advantage. In manufactures no one claims anything for him; in the mechanical trades he is losing ground steadily. In spite of the optimism that you and others feel, the industrial horizon of the negro is growing steadily narrower, and is now actually more limited than in the days of slavery. To those who look only at the surface it seems different, for they see new industrial schools established for negroes, and the old ones enlarged and better endowed. The New Orleans school board has established the higher grades in the negro public schools and will use the money for industrial education of the negro youth, which is proclaimed the panacea for all negro ills.
But when we study the trades, a very different condition of affairs is found. The negro’s field of labor is each day more circumscribed. Slavery, as is well known, is not conducive to manufactures, and it was inimical to mechanical work by the whites. “Mechanic” became a word of reproach to a white man in the South of old; in addition to which he found himself placed at a great disadvantage in competing with negro and perhaps with slave labor. As a consequence, nearly all the mechanical work in the Southwest in antebellum days was done by negroes. The gas company imported white mechanics from Philadelphia, but discharged them and replaced them with negro slaves, finding that the raising of pickaninnies paid 20 per cent on the investment in addition to getting the work done cheaper. Most of the mechanical work, however, was done by the free men and women of color. They were the mechanics, the carpenters, blacksmiths, painters, tailors, dressmakers, etc., and originally the policemen and firemen of New Orleans. Their descendants have been crowded more and more out of the trades, until now, their main source of income is shop work for the clothing factories. They have retrograded immensely during the last 40 years in health, education, labor and social standing, and have drifted back almost to the condition of the plantation darkey. Those who believe that the negro is advancing have but to wander through the rear of the 2d district of New Orleans, where probably 25,000 mulattoes and quadroons, “Creole negroes,” descendants of the free people of color of antebellum days, live today. He will see at once a retrogression to the African type, for these negroes, having ceased all intercourse with the whites, and marrying among the purer blacks, are growing darker. Some of them were wealthy in old days, nearly all had independent means. Scarcely any of them have anything worth mentioning today.
During this period, as compared with even the days of slavery, the negroes have lost ground industrially. They have ceased to be carpenters, painters, engineers, tailors, cigar-makers, shoemakers, except a few who work mainly among their own people. Their labor has become more and more the roughest manual work, and even in the fields they occupy they are each year more circumscribed. In only one trade have they maintained their former standing—a bricklayer’s. Those who are not bricklayers and outside of domestic service are teamsters and loaders, longshoremen who unload and load vessels, or section hands on the railroads. The closing of city contract work to negroes and the division of the ship-loading business between the races has had the effect of crowding a number of negro men out of New Orleans. As a consequence there are more than three negro women to each man, the former supporting themselves by washing and domestic labor. The census figures will probably show fewer negro men at work in New Orleans than 10 years ago, although the colored population of the city has increased.
The statistics read at negro meetings of the property accumulated by negroes in the South are utterly misleading. The negroes own less property in Louisiana than they did in slavery time; the slight increase reported by the auditor is due wholly to improvements in value from greater general prosperity, and it does not keep pace with the general growth of the community or the percentage of increase among the negroes themselves. The proportion of taxpayers among the negroes is growing smaller, and so is the per capita wealth; and if the assessors’ tables be examined, it will be found that the bulk of the property with which the negroes are credited is in the hands of a few of the race, who, although called negroes, are nearly white in color, and altogether white in their ideas, character and aspirations. One-fourth of all the assessed wealth marked “belonging to negroes” in New Orleans, belongs to a half a dozen persons, who would pass for white in any part of the world save the South, who secured much of this wealth through inheritance and have added to it by their energy and diligence. And yet these millions have figured before every negro convention, and in speeches of white sympathizers, as evidence of the progress the negro has made since slavery.
Mr. Tillinghast declares that slavery civilized the negro and that since the withdrawal of slavery the race has gone backward. This view is sharply substantiated in Louisiana where the deterioration of the negro is mainly due to the separation of the races, which is so marked a feature of the South today. Intermarriage between the races is prohibited in Louisiana; even miscegenation was made a crime by the last Legislature, and that influx of white blood which was at least improving the negro mentally has ceased. The separation is growing more marked every day. The law separates the races in the hotels, theaters, restaurants, on the cars, street railways and boats, even in the penitentiary and insane asylum. The trend of affairs has separated them in other respects. The negroes now occupy distinct quarters of the town. In politics, religion and social affairs they are separate. Visitors to New Orleans are always surprised at the small number of negroes they see on the streets, the reason therefore being that the negroes do not visit the white suburbs or patronize white stores. With this separation, the white control and discipline of the negro race has been lost, the negro is thrown more and more on his own resources and the civilizing work of slavery is being undone. The segregation of the negroes is better for the white man, but it has proved a most unfortunate setback for the negro.
But I do not want to wander off into discussion of the negro problem, but merely to call your attention to the fact that there is a flaw in the line of argument you pursued in criticising Mr. Tillinghast, and that because the South is improving today it does not follow that the negro is improving. If you look over the census more carefully and see in what sections of the South there has been prosperity you will see a disproval of your statement. If you do not I shall be glad to furnish it.
New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Springfield Republican, December 1, 1902.
23. DOUGLASS ON WORK
It is easier today to get a colored lad into a lawyer’s office to study law, than into a blacksmith shop to hammer iron. . . . The effects of being ruled out of all respectable trades at the North, has compelled the colored people there to crowd the cities, lanes and allies (sic)—and live by work which no other class of people will do. This work being occasional, coming at intervals, and never long continued exposes them to the ten thousand evils of enforced idleness and poverty.
Frederick Douglass, Oration . . ., Delivered on Friday, October 1st, 1880, quoted in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church Quarterly 5 (July, 1895): 165.
It is very encouraging, as we look over our exchanges, to note that colored barbers in different parts of the country are exhibiting manhood enough to obliterate the color line in their shops. The discriminations which colored men have made in their establishments against colored men, have been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the way of our obtaining civil rights. No other race of people on Gods green earth treats its members as some of ours do each other.
Western Appeal (St. Paul), April 30, 1887.
25. COLOR LINE
A correspondent to the Chicago Conservator writing on the “color line,” seems to think it is because colored men do not apply for places that they do not get them, but that is a mistake. Colored men are constantly making applications for places, but without success.
There have been several instances in this city where colored men have answered advertisements and been requested to call at the advertisers place of business, but when they put in their appearance they would be put off with some lying excuse. And when he does get a place he seldom gets a promotion, but he is kept in the same place he starts in. The correspondent doubtless means well, but he certainly does not know anything about the trouble, trials and tribulations that a young colored man has to undergo in endeavoring to get the commonest clerkship in mercantile circles. There are very few white men who have the nerve and back bone to employ a colored clerk in opposition to the wishes of his other employees, and when they begin to put on airs they at once give in and the obnoxious man and brother is discharged. If the heads of business firms would not look at the color of the applicants but only at their qualifications and when they happened to get a colored man or woman would give him or her support there would be thousands of applications from colored people where not a dozen are now made.
Western Appeal (St. Paul), August 13, 1887.
The St. Louis Browns Refuse to Play With the Cuban Giants
PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 11.—The Philadelphia Times will say tomorrow that for the first time in the history of baseball the color line has been drawn, and that the “world’s champions,” the St. Louis Browns, are the men who have established the precedent that white players must not play with colored men. There have been little dissensions before, but only about a player here and there. The Browns were in open revolt last night. Some time ago President Von Der Ahe arranged for his club to play an exhibition game at West Farms, near New York, with the Cuban Giants, the noted colored club. He was promised a big guarantee, and it was expected that fully 15,000 persons would be present. The game was to have been played today, and President Von Der Ahe yesterday purchased railroad tickets for all his players and made all the arrangements for the trip. While he was at supper at the Continental Hotel last night thinking over the misfortune that had befallen Capt. Comiskey, he was approached by “Tip” O’Neill, the heavy slugging left fielder, who laid a letter on the table and then hastily slipped out of the room. The letter read as follows:
PHILADELPHIA, Penn., Sept. 10.
To Chris Von Der Ahe, Esq.:
DEAR SIR: We, the undersigned members of the St. Louis Baseball Club, do not agree to play against negroes tomorrow. We will cheerfully play against white people at any time, and think, by refusing to play, we are only doing what is right, taking everything into consideration and the shape the team is in at present.
W. A. Latham, John Boyle, J. E. O’Neill, R. L. Caruthers, W. E. Gleason, W. H. Robinson, Charles King, Curt Welch.
President Von Der Ahe did not wait to finish his meal. He left the table hastily and went down stairs into the corridor, where he found the players talking in a group. The sudden appearance of their manager among them surprised the players and they acted like a ship’s crew about to mutiny. When Von Der Ahe asked the meaning of the letter he had just received, nobody answered him. “Yank” Robinson hung his head and sneaked to the rear of the crowd. “Silver” King opened his mouth, but his tongue refused to move, and even Artie Latham, whose jaws are always going, couldn’t get out a word. Receiving no reply, President Von Der Ahe said quietly: “As it seems to be a matter of principle with you, you need not play tomorrow.”
President Von Der Ahe said to a TIMES reporter tonight: “I am sorry to have disappointed the people of West Farms today, as I always fulfill my engagements. I was surprised at the action of my men, especially as they knew a week ago that the game was arranged, and yet they waited until the very last minute before they informed me of their opposition.”
The St. Louis players were not disposed to talk of their action. Latham, Boyle, and O’Neill were the leaders, it is said, and they had considerable trouble in securing the signatures of some of the men. Capt. Comiskey didn’t know anything about the matter, and Knouff refused to sign the letter. They had played with the Cuban Giants before last season, and they seemed to enjoy it better than a contest with white players. Curtis Welch, the centre fielder, played with the Toldeo Club when The Walker, the colored player, was a member of the team, “I think some of the boys wanted a day to themselves,” said Capt. Comiskey. “They have played against colored clubs before without a murmur, and I think they are sorry for their hasty action already.”
The Cuban Giants were originally organized at Trenton about two years ago as an independent club. This season they have been in various places in close proximity to New York City. They are good players and the team has made money. They have played games with the Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, Louisville, Athletic, and other prominent clubs, and this is the first time that any club has refused to play with them on account of their color. The International League recently adopted a resolution prohibiting the employment of colored players by its clubs. This was caused by opposition from the players, who objected to playing with Second Baseman Grant, of the Buffalo Club, and colored Pitcher Stovey, of the Newark Club.
New York Times, September 12, 1887.
27. BLACK TRADESMEN NORTH AND SOUTH
JACKSONVILLE, March 9.—To persons coming South from any Northern city, deep impression is made upon them if they notice, as they cannot help from doing, the change which confronts them in the laborers who do the work requiring brain and muscle. If you stand upon one of the wharfs of the large cities of the North, and watch one of the great steamships as it is being loaded, you find that the work is done entirely by white men. But when the steamer reaches a Southern port, it is unloaded and reloaded by colored men. What is true in this instance is likewise true in many others. The carpentering, bricklaying and machine work which are done in the North principally by white men, are performed in the South chiefly by colored men.
The questions are often asked, Why do we not find more colored men than there are doing this work in the North? Is the North entirely devoid of colored men who possess trades? I think not, and still, so few are the colored men who follow these trades in the North, that if one should go to work upon a building in New York as a carpenter or brick mason, the street in which that building might be situated would almost become impassable by the congregation of people who would stop to behold the strange sight. I mention this to call attention to and emphasize the fact of the scarcity of colored men working at these trades in large cities of the North like New York. No doubt this scarcity is due to the trades unions there. I feel certain that if colored men in the North possessing these trades had an opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities to do the work done by white men, it would be found that their work would lose nothing by comparison with the work done by their white brethren.
The greater part of the carpenter and brick mason work done in this city is performed by colored men. Their work reflects credit upon them and demonstrates that colored men can do as good work in this line, and in fact in any other line, as white men. The only thing they need is the opportunity. It is only a pusillanimous prejudice which prevents them from entering into all of the avenues of life and succeeding as do white men.
New York Age, March 16, 1889.
28. ACCEPTED AS CO-WORKERS
How the New Century Guild of Philadelphia
Was Opened to Colored Women
From the Philadelphia Tribune
Some weeks ago through the instrumentality of Mr. John Durham, President of the Workingmen’s Club, the question was submitted to the ladies of the New Century Guild for Discussion, whether they would accept colored women as co-workers with them in the more exalted avocations of life—as clerks, typewriters, bookkeepers, saleswomen, etc. It is very well known that the New Century Guild is a very strong organization of white working women, possessing among its members some of the ablest of the sex in this city. The question was set for discussion on the first Saturday night in March. Mr. Durham himself opened the debate, and was followed by Counselor Mint, Dr. Wayland and Mrs. Fannie Jackson Coppin; the time being consumed, the matter was continued for the next regular meeting, April 6.113
All fair-minded persons—and especially our own people—will highly appreciate this act of the Ladies’ Guild. Those who are not tinged with color can little appreciate the difficulties that beset a young man or woman of color in obtaining employment above the grade of the ordinary laborer. Employers, in order to escape their responsibility, frequently attribute the cause of their refusal of employment to the prejudices of their employees. The action of the Ladies’ Guild has removed from themselves any responsibility for this injustice. We congratulate them upon their ability to rise above sordid prejudice and accord to all women the right to win as honorable a living as they demand for themselves and, to a great extent, enjoy. It is a cheering mark of the advancement of times.
New York Age, May 3, 1889.
29. WHAT OUR WORKING MEN WANT
I have come here to ask you to help the colored man to get a job. That is all he wants, a job, work,—not occupation in some line to which he is restricted by present customs, but work in any line of employment for which he may have a special liking or ambition. In the North he will soon be out of work. He has been the American janitor, waiter, and barber; but the army of foreign immigrants is gradually thrusting him from these occupations into the higher departments of work. In applying for a trade, the workshops are closed upon him. On seeking a place behind a desk or counter, there is no opening for him. In consequence he turns to the learned professions; and many a half educated fellow who would have made an excellent blacksmith or carpenter or commercial drummer, is now failing most successfully in the pulpit, and selling his independence and real manliness for the money which he receives from kind-hearted, but misguided white philanthropists.
I cannot in the time allotted me, do more than hint at the demoralizing influence this system of encouraging dependency is exerting upon some of the brightest young men of my race. Nor can I tell you of the half-made doctors and lawyers, who, emulating the work of the race’s well-trained professional men, aimlessly struggle and suddenly sink in this sea of human competition and oppression. It is sufficient if I have succeeded in indicating to you my belief, that the real want of the Negro today is freedom of entry into industrial and commercial competition. Give him a chance; if then he should not succeed, dub him, as Bob Toombs did,—the scrub race,—but not till then. Fourteen months ago our club began making personal appeals to employers, in behalf of deserving and promising colored men and women. We have placed one man, a stenographer, who holds his own in a prominent establishment in Philadelphia. Not one girl has secured the humble position of saleswoman. Quietly and earnestly we will keep employers thinking about this question; for we can never become a business people until we shall have an opportunity to acquire business habits and business education.114
Our clubs in this congress are composed of all classes of workers, from the humblest, unskilled laborer to the wealthy capitalist, who is probably the harder worker of the two, and who can see that in seeking communion with what Matthew Arnold calls the universal human spirit, in impelling himself and his fellow to high thinking and high doing, he urges forward true civilization much more than by running his mill or his store or his railroad. As representatives of these industrial extremes, and their intermediate classes, then organized for the moral, intellectual and social well being of the community, you must be interested in this very important phase of the color question. Its appeals to your judgment, your sense of fair play, and—what is a great draw-back to your success—your social aversion—I feel safe in asking you to follow the dictates of your sense of justice, even though you should be compelled to stifle the persistent protests of your inbred prejudices. If you are a workman, do not hesitate to declare your perfect readiness to work by the side of a colored man, who is honest, clean and capable. If you are employers give applicants for work a hearing, and give your colored porter or messenger the same opportunity to learn your business and to rise as you extend your white apprentice or cash boy. If you are accustomed to appropriate a thousand dollars a year to Negro education or Negro Christianity, try the experiment of paying another thousand to the right kind of colored salesman, or bookkeeper, even if you should be compelled to train him yourself; and I assure you that you will have made the first step toward solving the Negro Problem.115
If you are a Northern man be careful how you criticize your Southern neighbor. In the section of the South where caste-feeling is densest, where Negroes dare not attempt to vote, there are human relations between the white man and the black man which are not known in the North.
There is an industrial freedom, which is today threatened by the introduction of Northern capital and labor. Hesitate therefore in your denunciation of political intimidation and reflect upon our own system of industrial caste. Weigh the two, and determine if you can which Is the more to be condemned, the beam or the mote.
Though the colored people have but indirect participation in the gains which accrue from National Tariff system, I am a Protectionist of the Pennsylvania brand; but I do insist that the colored workman, a native who has earned his title to American citizenship by sweat and blood, should enjoy the same opportunities to learn and to rise in every department of work, as are so freely extended to unskilled foreigners.
In closing I beg leave to remind you, that the Negro asks simply to learn. We have no army of prodigies to recommend. Our boys and girls must rise by the same process as your own. We simply ask a square start and a fair field. If then we do not succeed, we deserve to fail. In every city represented in this congress most noble work may be done by the Workingmen’s Clubs, as organizations and individuals. Encouraged, conditionally moved, emboldened by our relations to members of this congress, we ask you to go further in co-operating with us in this movement. Do we ask too much?
New York Age, June 8, 1889.
30. JOHN DURHAM ON UNIONS AND BLACK WORKERS
We know that the most degraded foreigners refuse to work with us; but will you not follow the example of these two Pittsburgh firms Parke Brothers and Company and Clarke Solar Iron Works. Every strike offers you the same opportunity that they have seized to their profit; will you not give our men a chance instead of Hungarians and Italians. Our vote is not a thing to be despised.
New York Age, October 10, 1888.
With the trades-unions closed against our boys, and the business houses against our men and women, it is a curious thing to me that our schools and colleges have not turned out an annual crop of thieves and gamblers, men who are determined not to do menial work.
New York Age, December 1, 1888.
If one will go to the root of the matter, I think that he must decide that the industrial education of the Negro is not due to the fact that he is the American Negro, that he was once a slave, or that he is black. It is merely an application of the law of supply and demand which impels combined workmen to keep everybody out that they possibly can. . . . The Northern Negro knocks at the door of the trade union and says that a poor Negro begs permission to have his boy taken in as an apprentice. Why can we reasonably expect our boys to be accepted when there are thousands of white fathers, members of the union, who are denied the privileges of having their boys learn their own trades, and for the very reason that the members of the unions have determined to sacrifice the interest of their own children in deference to this law of supply and demand.
New York Age, July 21, 1889.
31. ILLITERATE NEGRO-HATERS
No doubt labor unions are excellent things in their way, and serve many good purposes in protecting the interests of the wages-earner, but when such organizations are controlled by narrow-minded, illiterate Negro-haters who deny an industrious colored man an opportunity to learn a trade, they deserve no encouragement at the hands of our race. When they fail to respect the principles of justice and humanity their usefulness is fatally crippled; their mission is ended. The Chandler & Taylor “color strike” is a burning shame and should bring a blush to the brow of every liberal-minded white man in the community. There is yet work for the missionary in Indiana.
The Freeman (Indianapolis), January 18, 1890.
32. COLOR LINE IN TRADES UNIONS
One glaring wrong which has been passed over too lightly is the senseless, inexcusable color proscription practiced by the trades unions of this country. We heartily endorse any project which points to the elevation of our working people, and admire the zeal and earnestness displayed in their many protective unions, but denounce, with all our might, that project if based upon a principle, wrong in the sight of God, and detestable in the eyes of honest and fair-minded men. Race proscription is this, and nothing less. In circles where wealth is the magic countersign, the moneyless man must wait until he can purchase the pass-word. He waits patiently, without murmur. No such excuse can be urged in the case of unions of artisans. They are poor men, working for their daily bread. The Negro’s status has been fixed by public opinion as a laborer. It is manifestly unfair, then, since he must labor, to further restrict his efforts by confining him to particular classes of labor, contrary to his tastes and adaptability. It is poor economic policy to spoil a good machinist to make a poor coachman, or to force a natural-born compositor into the awkward roll of table-waiter. This question should be agitated by the press. Our boys must be given a chance in the trades, and they must not be denied the profit derived from membership in the various unions. The interests of the white man and the black are the same. The sun is too high in the heavens to allow the wheels of national development to be clogged by so small and trivial a thing as color for skin.
The Freeman (Indianapolis), April 19, 1890.
33. LABOR UNIONS AND THE NEGRO
The St. Louis Union Record, a labor paper, in an editorial intended to reflect upon non-union labor, calls attention to the fact, that within the last fifty years the working marts of America, have been supplied at different times with laborers from Ireland, England, Wales, Norway, Sweden, Hungary and Italy. Referring to the trouble and strikes that each one of these nationalities have had with their employees, including the Italians, who of late have been mixed up in strikes and lockouts, the Union says: “Who is to replace him (the Italian) is a question, which now is driving the employers of cheap labor almost crazy. The Darkey won’t answer.”
Why won’t the “darkey,” using the Union Records term of opprobrium in referring to the colored man, why won’t he answer?
Is it because he is outside the pale of necessity, is he independent, and has no need of employment? As a slave, an enforced tiller of the soil and bondman, is it possible that he cultivated such habits of indolence, became so run down and emaciated physically, that his descendents of this day are not equal to the drain that toil would make upon their strength and general health, hence he wouldn’t answer as a substitute for striking white labor?
None of these reasons exist. The Negro as a class are laborers, his past conditions, and present outlook suggests no time for many years to come, when he will not be a laborer, a toiler, depending upon the sweat of his brow for a maintenance and support.
Such are his conditions and prospects, but strange to say, since his emancipation from enforced thralldom, he has been met upon the very threshold of his new found estate, by the opposition, not of capital, not of the men and syndicates who employ labor, and diffuse the benefits of invested wealth amongst the ranks of the “toiling millions,” but by labor, organized systematized labor itself.
Where he should by right, and the bond of similar conditions, expect succor co-operation and a spirit of brotherly encouragement, he has been met with organized opposition and a virulence of hate and hostility, that is a blistering reproach to American institutions, and for which, organized labor, so-called will yet hang its head with shame and enforced humiliation.
The cause of labor is a sacred one, and its demands when inspired by the broad spirit of “fair play” and consideration for the rights of all its votaries, regardless of race or past and present conditions, must sooner or later appeal to the great power of public opinion to such a degree, as will in the end, right the inequalities complained of, and so recently emphasized in the lamented Homestead tragedy, and the subsequent attempted murder of Mr. Frick.116
But before this condition is assured, the spirit of equity must prevail. How can organized labor consistently demand what it steadfastly refuses to extend?
Are not the wants, the necessities of the black man as sacred and crying as are those of white men surrounded by like conditions?
Granted that the Negro has been a slave, more’s the pity, and that the curse of past conditions still pursues him, and is nourished and kept alive by sectional interpretations of the law, and the partisan hatred of locality, the sacred cause of labor, intelligent organized labor, should spurn to become an ally of his foes. Clothed in the habiliments of its great mission, standing as a mediator between capital’s inordinate greed, and labor’s pinching necessity, like the fabled goddess of justice, it should be blind to the color of its beneficiaries, and open-eyed only to their wants.
Until the high priests of organized labor, its advocates, its newspapers and leaders can comprehend this great truth, and be fitted with it, they cannot expect, and should not look for the allegiance and co-operation of black men in the long struggle that is yet before it with the powers of corporate and invested wealth.
Instead of such sneering remarks, as the “darkey won’t answer,” “no nigger need apply,” etc., etc., all things being equal, no field should be barred against him, no opportunity closed to his approach. Less than this is not the Fathership of God, the brotherhood of man.
The Freeman (Indianapolis), July 30, 1892.
With the change in the management and affairs of the Indianapolis Street Railway Co., soon to be consummated, by which the old proprietary interest and management will be succeeded by a new, and we are told more progressive deal all along the lines, comes a query to THE FREEMAN’s mind, which without further ado we propose to air. Inasmuch as it has never been done, why should not this new management about to take possession celebrate its entree to the control of Indianapolis’ richest and most generally patronized corporation by the employment of colored men in a fair and proportionate sense, as conductors, motormen and drivers upon its lines? Presuming that the management will be keenly alive to the fact that the prosperity of its well-established and growing plant is predicated solely upon the support extended by the generous public of Indianapolis, of which the colored people constitute about one eighth of the whole, a sense of justice to its patrons and supporters, ought to urge the management, if applied to properly, and in a due considerate spirit, to at least look with favor upon our proposition as indicated above. We undertake to say that since Indianapolis first boasted of a Street Railway System, the money contributed to its support through the patronage given it by colored citizens of Indianapolis would, if the actual figures could be known, amount to many thousands of dollars. It follows logically that as the city spreads and grows in population from year to year, this condition of facts must be continually enlarged upon, in the matter of dollars and cents contributed to the company through the patronage of the continually growing colored population. There are two lines in particular, Indiana avenue and Mississippi street, that on account of the proximity of hundreds of homes of our people, have been for years, and will continue to be, largely sustained and supported by colored travel, and it would seem to be the simplest justice on the part of the Street Car Company to recognize this fact by the employment of an occasional colored man, in one of the other capacities of driver or conductor. Several Northern cities have already set an example and preceded Indianapolis in this respect, one of the most notable being the city of Cleveland, Ohio, there being no less than a half dozen colored motormen, doing good work, on her electric lines, and drivers in a fair proportion. In everything else very near, as far as the status and treatment of her colored population is concerned, Indianapolis is a shining mark, and has set an example that no city in the Union has surpassed, and very few have come up to. In the matter of recognition in municipal affairs, the colored people of Indianapolis have been for a number of years extended such consideration as has been enjoyed by the colored people of few cities throughout the land, but nevertheless, we must beware of the inaction that comes of satisfaction; we must look ahead, push forward, deem nothing beyond us or too good for us along the lines of manly, upright, persevering action. What the city has done, is done. So much, so good, and we are sure that we appreciate it. We appreciate the recognition extended to us on the police force, in the fire department, and at odd times in the different city and county offices, but should we be content to stop here? We cannot all be policemen, cannot all run with the “fire laddie,” cannot all be selected to go to the county or city desk in different clerical capacities. The city and county governments having shown so fair a spirit to give us employment, why should not the government of some of our great private institutions and corporations be requested to do so? Starting with the Street Railway Co., has there ever been an appeal made to it by the colored people of the city, asking a fair recognition in the ranks of the hundreds of men employed to conduct its service? If not, why not? Its a poor plan to fold your hands and argue because you’re a colored man, was a slave, or the son of a slave, have suffered, that the good chances should come to you because you deserved them. The black man who takes such chances is generally left. The community of Negroes that stakes its growth and improved circumstances on such dissolving hopes, is very liable to remain a community of white-washers, janitors, carriage drivers and waiters. The thing to do, individually and collectively, is to “git up and git,” cultivate a move and go after what you want. A trick untried remains a trick unknown. “Knock and it shall be opened to you, ask and you shall receive,” is a good rule to go by, in business as well as spiritual matters. How many times have we heard colored men
on the street corners in Indianapolis abusing the Street Car Co., and other rich corporations because they employed no colored men. Wasted breath. Why should the Street Car Co., taking it for an example, why should it put itself out of the way, tear its cost to put dollars in the pockets of colored men, until colored men go to them first and signify a desire to put day’s works upon their lines that the dollars may come after? Without desiring to make a scape-goat for attack out of the Street Car Co., and hoping that we may yet see the day in Indianapolis when all men desiring to work may obtain it when qualified, regardless of color, we repeat why should not the Street Car Co. of this city give employment to a fair number of colored men upon its different lines as conductors, motormen and drivers? If it has ever been asked to do so by the colored people of Indianapolis, we do not know it, hence do not know that it would refuse. Is the matter worthy of the consideration of the colored people of Indianapolis, and, if so, will they say so through the columns of THE FREEMAN. Who will be the first one to speak and offer a suggestion for the proper course to be taken in this very important matter? Make your communication short and pointed. THE FREEMAN is with you.
The Freeman (Indianapolis), December 10, 1892.
35. THE RACE NEEDS AN EXAMPLE—SHALL INDIANAPOLIS SET IT?
Our recent editorial, the Indianapolis Street Railway vs. Colored Men, is commencing to bear fruit. The appended communications on another column of this page from reputable, solid citizens of our city, are of the right ring, and we gladly give then the space desired. But the good work begun so auspiciously by The Freeman, should not be allowed to go ahead and blaze the way, but we can do but little unless we are backed up and supported by the race. Four of our leading citizens have spoken, but let thirty and three, or more, speak along the same line, and thus shall you convince the onlookers, the community, that you are a unit in this matter. One newspaper, or two or three men, contending for a just cause, may attract a passing attention, but when twelve or fifteen thousand people speak, all swing at once, with right and justice on their side, something has to come. Send in your communications, The Freeman will take pleasure in publishing them, and when the time comes for other steps to be taken. The Freeman will be found at your back in the spine of right and the race. Sometime between now and early spring, it might be well enough to hold a big mass meeting, in some one of the spacious churches or halls of the city, that a general expression of the people could be heard on this very important question. What the race needs today, not only in Indianapolis, but everywhere in the Union is emancipation from the cruel and unjust burdens of commercial and business caste. Of what value is manhood, liberty, and citizenship, if the privilege and blessings, that rightfully go with them, are denied or taken away? Or taking another view, should a people who are too indolent, too ambitionless, to wake up and try to better their chances in life, be surprised, and rail at fate, because they are continually sucking the hind test? God helps him who helps himself. The Negro has been all and more than he will ever be again in this country politically. That field has been worked, and to death. In the future if he would be an ornament, a help to himself and race, and a force in the affairs of his country, he must expect only to rise and expand, along the beaten paths of manual and industrial effort. We must seek and insist on employment for head and hand. Recognizing the utility and power of organized labor, let him strive to enter its guarded portals and be benefited by the potency of its prestige. If those who should hold out their hands, turn their back upon him, the exigency will surely suggest a remedy, it never falls. In a conversation with statistician Kennedy of the Central Labor Union of this city, we were informed by that gentleman, speaking of the street car question, that should the Street car drivers and conductor’s Union refuse to admit colored men to membership, their charter would be revoked by the powers in authority, as one of the conditions attending the granting of the same, was that no man should be refused admission because of race or religion. If this be true, and it certainly must be for Mr. Kennedy spoke with authority, what might have been an obstruction does not exist, and the blame for refusal to employ colored men, if the request is ever made, it would rest entirely upon the company, which blame we do not think the Company would willingly assume. In the meantime, men of Indianapolis agitate! Agitate! Give us your views and suggestions. There is wisdom and good in council. Once given employment by the Indianapolis Street Car Company their example would be followed by a dozen other great corporations in the city and township. That’s the point. We have no grievance against the street car Co. specially, our grievance is against all who refuse to give us employment. We have simply picked this corporation out on which to test the efficacy of our persuasions, succeeding here, why should we not succeed all along the line? Indianapolis, setting the example, why should not other cities be benefitted accordingly? Speak out, let us hear from you.
The Freeman (Indianapolis), December 31, 1892.
36. SPEAKING FOR THEIR RACE
The following communications from well known and leading Indianapolitians were drawn out by our recent editorial on the justice of the Indianapolis Street Railway Co. giving employment to colored men. They speak for themselves, and well, and will no doubt be followed by others on the same line of complaint.
EDITOR, THE FREEMAN;
I wish to say that your editorial on the Indianapolis Street Car question, is a step in the right direction. You should be encouraged by all good people, and I think both races will concede the justice of your request. I have often wondered why some one has not spoken of it before. I have been talking the matter quite awhile, and during the last street car strike, got myself in bad form with some of our citizens for urging that colored men should be employed to take the places of the “strikers.” I cannot see why it is that you find so many white people opposed to giving such work to colored men, and yet are willing to employ them in other spheres far more important and particular. Nine out of ten of the elegant “turnouts” of the city are handled and driven by colored drivers. Their ladies and children are entrusted to the care of colored coachmen, but when it comes to putting a street car under their control, it is something else. It may be that the company is not solely to blame for this tardy recognition of simple justice, for I don’t think the Negro as a class in the city has ever asked for employment on its lines. I shall rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, when the time comes, as I believe it will, when the members of my race shall be given the same chance, everywhere, to work for an honest living, as is accorded to white men. Yours for the race,
J. A. PURYEAR, Councilman 4th Ward,
EDITOR, THE FREEMAN:
Sir:—In reading the editorials of the last issue of your progressive and enterprising paper, my attention was attracted to an article entitled, “Indianapolis Street Railroad—Colored Men.” I think colored men should be employed as motor men, conductors and drivers for the following reasons: (a) The company is daily enriched by our people, not only from the patronage of the Indiana avenue and Mississippi lines, but from Virginia, Massachusetts and College avenues. (b) Other cities are employing colored men, and we have as many intelligent and competent men in the city of Indianapolis as can be found in any city of the same population in the Union. A few of our intelligent men have been given an opportunity to prove their ability in the city offices, the postoffice, the fire department, the police force and can boast of one of the best detectives in the land. And last but not least, men who have the ability to be a success on the turbulent sea of journalism. I am with THE FREEMAN and believe that if a few of the prominent colored men of the city would form a committee and wait upon the new managers of the City Railway, they would put some colored men on the different street car lines of the city, and the colored man would be no longer conspicuous on account of his absence. Yours for the race in opening avenues for its development.
Pastor of Allen Chapel,
EDITOR, THE FREEMAN:
I desire to say that I am with you in anything that is for the good of my race. My opinion is that the doors of no corporation or industry should be closed to the colored man. Time and again has he demonstrated the fact that he is fully able in everyway to hold his own in any place and at any time, and I hope some good colored men will go to the new Indianapolis Street Car Co. and apply for work, as there should be some employed in every department. Let them start as extra men and by promptness, work their way upward. I am glad you have taken up the subject and hope you will speak of others that are of great importance to the community. Yours truly,
DON D. WELLS,
EDITOR, THE FREEMAN:
It is my opinion that the Citizens R. R. Co. of Indianapolis should give some employment on their lines to the Afro-American. He is part of the city in interest on the improvements, and contributes largely every day of his means to keep the electric wheel moving. The company should consider our case and give us a chance with the balance in the future.
W. T. FLOYD,
G.M., F.A.A.M., of Indiana.
The Freeman (Indianapolis), December 31, 1892.
37. THE NEW GOSPEL OF ORGANIZED LABOR
“A little study of the matter will convince any one that many avenues to work are being steadily closed against the colored people in this city. Some labor unions are shutting them out by adopting a cast-iron rule that the acceptable applicant shall be “white.” There are thousands of living citizens who can remember when there were many colored carpenters, bricklayers and other mechanics employed in the building trades in Philadelphia. Now there are none, or so few as not to count.”—Philadelphia Telegraph.
The Negro problem is a serious one, and will be until it is solved and settled in those courts of equity that hold their sessions in the conscience of men. Rightly understood and spoken of, there’s no such thing as a Negro problem, which has its life and being in the Negro himself. As far as his special entity and actions are concerned, he is no better or worse than other American citizens, and by all the laws of right and equity should share and be treated alike in the battle for life and the pursuit of happiness. The problem, the real problem to be solved, and which may yet shake this nation from centre to circumference, when the time for settlement comes, as come it will, is found in this simple proposition, namely, through what influence, by what means, can the white man of America be induced, persuaded or driven to treat his brother citizen, the Negro, right? Apologize, hope, theorize, speculate as we may, the most serious problem before the American people today resolves itself at last into this simple direct proposition, to this color must it come. Not the Negro’s sins, for as a plain mortal, as God created him, anxious only to live, and let live, he has committed no sin, but the white man’s sins, and his alone, has caused all this trouble between the races, and as sure as there is a God in heaven, sooner or later, somehow and somewhere they must be past upon and expiated at the tribunal of exact and rigid justice. What has become of the many mechanics and skilled artisans of color, that the Telegraph refers to, who in other days made Philadelphia their home, and were given work and countenance by her citizens? All dead think you, or has their hands and brain lost their cunning? Not a bit of it, but of late years the Telegraph might have added, the tyranny and prejudice of “trade unions” and “leagues,” controlled by and for white men, have done their complete work, and today, not only in Philadelphia, but in every considerable Northern city, the Negro mechanic of former days has been driven to the wall, made to feel the stigma of his color, in the name of “union” when there was no union, and in the interests of white men alone, who ninety-nine times in a hundred, had no better claim upon the consideration of the employing classes of the American public, than that other foreign parasite and blood sucker, the detested and hunted John Chinaman, The picture drawn by the Telegraph of the changed condition of the Negro, and his opportunities, as he exists in Philadelphia, is sad enough and true, and contains much food for reflection. Between the mandates of organized labor and the fawning humbleness and sycophancy of capital, with a very few exceptions, who hasten to sneeze when the labor barons of unpronouncable names take snuff, the Northern Negro, from an industrial, bread and butter standpoint, is having a rocky road to travel. Every cloud has its silver lining, hence THE FREEMAN derives a keen satisfaction in directing attention to the brave words of President Gompers, of the American Federation of Labor, delivered before the International Association of Machinists, which convened in Indianapolis a few weeks since. Said Mr. Gompers:
“If a Negro is good enough and smart enough to work alongside of a white man, he ought to be admitted to the trades unions. Then, from a selfish standpoint, it is advisable to admit them. If we don’t they bid against us, and competition in labor, the very thing that labor organizations are fighting against, comes in.
“The machinists say there are so few colored men among them that it is not worthwhile to bother about them. As I said in my address Thursday, if there are none, then this article in their by-laws denying them admission is altogether unnecessary, while, if there are colored machinists, the article is brutal and inhuman. They will see the effect of it, too.”
This is talk of the right ring, and we honor the man who uttered it, and until organized labor, so-called, is imbued through all its ranks with the same lofty ideal of unselfish right and justice, it will always find itself half armed, handicapped, in its battles for its rights. The Labor Signal, of this city, in its issue of May 12th, imbued with the same broad spirit that filled President Gompers, said:
“As education extends among the colored race, and the taste and ambition for the higher and better things of life are cultivated, the young colored man and woman will never be satisfied to pursue the heavy drudgery slavery imposed upon their fathers and mothers. They are bound to enter the skilled trades, as they have a perfect right to do. It is wrong to impose a single barrier to their advancement.”
Keep it up, gentlemen, this better gospel of united labor, you are building right and well. Organized labor, real organized labor, that knows no American citizen by his color, past condition, religions or politics, would be such a force as could stand against the world. In the very act of demanding justice, be great enough to extend it to all men alike, black or white, Jew or Gentile, Catholic or Protestant, and you will have entrenched yourselves behind a barrier, too high to be scaled, too strong to be pierced.
The Freeman (Indianapolis), May 27, 1893.
38. AN OPEN LETTER TO JOHN BURNS, ESQ.117
You have arrived in the United States as the representative labor in England to participate in the general labor conference which willopen at Denver on Monday next. In the name of the rights of labor, we ask you to make some notes for your countrymen at home concerning more than eight million workmen in this country who suffer the gravest injustice at the hands of organized labor in the United States. In the name of these colored workmen, we urge you to report upon the conditions which exist in this country and to recommend that there be no co-operation on the part of British trades unions until American trades unions shall give all workmen in this broad land equality of opportunity.
The people for whom we speak, Sir, are not foreigners. They are not the Poles and Huns and Italians, whose condition has already provoked your compassionate and fraternal interest. They are among the first comers. They arrived with the other first families of Virginia early in the seventeenth century; and, like a large number of their English associates, they were not voluntary exiles from home. Their labor has contributed to the growth of the nation. In every war, colonial, foreign or domestic, their lives have been given freely and bravely in the common defense in peace and war. Suffering every injustice that a cruel, ingenious caste feeling can invent, they have displayed a Christian forbearance and humility beyond the average American comprehension. Their great and only crime consists in having been born black.
In your home in England, you have doubtless read the horrible stories of midnight lynchings in the South; the crime to which we invite your attention is organized throughout this broad land, perpetrated in open daylight and is ten-fold more horrible. Think, Sir, of eight million beings under the boycott of the American people! Not one, says the boycott, shall be a locomotive engineer, a printer, a mechanic. As you travel through the country, verify what we say. The colored man must be the menial, no matter what his capabilities. Mr. Powderly made a magnificent stand for justice at Richmond and his influence began to wane from that moment. Mr. Gompers has attempted to do something; but he stands almost alone. There are a few leaders like these who, unable to inaugurate an agitation for equality, would welcome from you a fraternal word of warning to the effect that they who would demand their rights must respect the rights of others.
If you can spare the time, visit the schools in which colored children study. Visit our churches in which black men preach. Think as you talk to them that the organizations you meet at Denver are striving to starve those souls. And, Sir, in the fire of British love of fair play, raise your voice at Denver, raise your voice in London! Proclaim the truths that the right to work is God-given and that he who steals a man’s birthright to make the best of himself, cannot command the confidence and respect of justice-loving men.
The Christian Recorder, December 6, 1894.
39. EXCLUSION IS WICKED
“Two wrongs never make one right,” and “the tit for tat,” “if-I-can’t, you-sha’nt” methods are not wise because unjust. Again, more laborers are unorganized than are found in unions. These also should have an open field and a fair chance. Barring men by violent means from the right to earn a living when and where their labor is needed, because they do not belong to a union, is usurpation. The exclusion of a person from the benefits of Labor Unions on account of color is wicked and condemnable. . . . Many of these white Labor Unions complain of the monopoly of capital being tyrannical, yet they themselves seek to monopolize employments to the exclusion both of non-Union men and of colored men. In drawing the color line upon labor they become dictatorial, exclusive, and tyrannical. This is a free country, whose sentiment is an open field and a fair chance for all. It is evident, therefore, that along these lines organized labor is wrong in theory, wrong in method.
J. T. Jenifer, “The Labor Question, North and South,” AME Church Review 13, (1896–97): 377.
Possibly no graver problem confronts the colored race in the states North of the Mason-Dixon line, than the one indicated by the subject of this article. Colored people are being rapidly educated in the North, but it is with scarcely the shadow of a hope of obtaining positions for which they are being fitted. To the contrary, no difference what their capabilities are, they are, as a rule, relegated to the most menial and ill-paid labor, and compelled to be servants of servants. Go to the South, where colored people are allowed to be diversified in their industrial pursuits; take the State of Georgia, for example, and we find that in Georgia only 28 per cent of the colored people actually at work are engaged in domestic and personal service. But coming North, and taking a few states at random, we find that in Kansas 57 per cent of the colored people who find anything to do, are engaged in domestic and personal service; in Ohio 61 per cent, in Massachusetts, 65 per cent, in Pennsylvania, 69 per cent, and in New York, 70 per cent, of the people who find anything to do, are engaged in domestic and personal service; and 68 per cent of those domestics are males, showing conclusively that instead of being allowed to engage in the manly, elevating pursuits of labor, as they are in the South, in the North colored people are tied down to a few ill-paid menial occupations.
We may be satisfied, if we will, with the few civil and political privileges that are doled out to us in the North, but I say that no matter how fine a hotel or theater we are allowed to enter to spend money by the side of white men, until we are allowed to enter workshops and factories, steam and street railways, and work and earn money by the side of white men, we are in a more baneful and a more unreasonable state of slavery than that from which we were emancipated in the year 1865. “Oh yes,” argue some people, “colored people are debarred from work in the North, to a great extent, but time alone will settle this question. The colored race has made wonderful progress in the last thirty years.” As for this assertion, progress on the part of colored people against tremendous odds is one thing, and progress on the part of public sentiment to give them opportunities commensurate with their acquired qualifications is quite another. And I defy any person to prove that the industrial conditions of the colored race in the North are a bit better today than they were thirty years ago; but I assert, and defy any person to refute the assertion, that the industrial conditions of the colored race in the North are worse, and much worse than they were thirty years ago, and thirty years is time, a long time, a lifetime to many people.
Even fifteen years ago there were to be found a few colored brakemen on freight trains in the North, and especially in the Northwest a few, very few, colored firemen, conductors, etc. But time, to which so many people flee for refuge, has given birth to railway unions, and they have clutched with octopus fingers for all of these branches of labor. Every race of people is admitted to these unions, exclusive of the colored race, consequently, when you seek the colored man in railway circles in the North today, he is only to be found (thanks to time) in the humble capacity of porter, the most menial and ill-paid position within the gift of a railway corporation.
This is what time is slowly, but surely doing for the colored race in the North, along almost all of the broader avenues of labor. This is an age of combines and organizations. We can scarcely conceive of a branch of labor that is not hampered by organizations. Coal miners, boiler-makers, iron-ship builders, iron moulders, iron workers, brass, tin-plate and sheet-metal workers, street-railway men, railway trainmen, mercantile clerks and salesmen have all organized and discriminate against the colored man; and, as though to cut off his last retreat, the tramps, bums and hoboes of the country have organized and discriminate against him. Oh yes, time will settle this problem, but the colored man will doubtless be at the bottom of the settlings.
“Well,” urge many persons, since white men are organizing so strenuously against colored men, the only thing for colored men to do is to organize among themselves and be prepared to compete with those white organizations.” I have, so far, been unable to see any common-sense in such a proposition. The white people are, figuratively speaking, on top, and I believe that they are going to stay there just as long as we fight them, or try to rival or measure arms with them, I believe that every effort of the colored race to obtain broader industrial privileges is doomed to an ignominious defeat unless we get the Christian white people and liberty-loving white workingmen, to co-operate with us in each and every effort.
We must organize with the white people, but against them—Never!
There are, to my mind, so many false views and theories as to the industrial condition of the colored race in the north, that I am afraid my limited space must be taken in an effort to clear up the debris of false ideas.
One nonsensical argument, and one which, strange to say, I have heard from none but colored people, is that we have no financial interest in the great industries of the country, and for that reason should not expect to be allowed to share in the profits that accrue from them through the medium of manual labor. How intelligent colored persons can be so uncharitable to their own race, is a mystery of mysteries to me.
Only a short time ago an intelligent colored man told me that there was a time in Philadelphia when street railway stock was low, and many colored men might have purchased shares; they failed to do so, and for that neglect on their part, colored residents of the city have no strong point upon which to urge their rights to be conductors, motormen, trolleymen and linemen on the street-railway lines. Well, if colored residents do not own shares in the street railways, they faithfully patronize all of them.
But even though they own no stock and do not spend one cent as patrons, I fail to see in what way that would be an argument against their right to be employed. Such corporations have never been conducted on the spoils system.
I doubt if one man in a hundred, who does ordinary work for those corporations, could trace the remotest relationship to any of the stockholders. But to the contrary, it is an every day occurrence to see aliens, those who can trace no relationship to the nation, and who have no desire to do so, working for those corporations. How, in the face of this, sane men can see colored citizens crowded out of such work, and contend that it is justice, because we own no shares in the industries, is a mystery to me.
How are we ever to own anything unless we are permitted to secure it by honest toil at any kind of labor that we are capable of performing?
We added to the wealth and resources of this country by two hundred and forty-seven years of ceaseless toil as slaves, for which the most conspicuous remuneration was to be cast ignorant, penniless and homeless upon the mercies of a cold and prejudiced world, with a stigma upon us more cruel than the brand of a felon.
Yet the colored man from the earliest conception of this government, has been one of the most reliable and potent factors in the laying of the foundation upon which rests the great institutions and industries of which this country boasts. And I believe that though colored men have no script to attest the fact, they own a share in every railway, every factory, every mill, and every business house that has ever been, or ever will be erected on American soil; at least to the extent of entering such establishments, and working to make an honest living the same as white men do.
Another argument that employers of labor produce, and which many colored persons accept as conclusive, is that white working-men will not work by the side of colored men—an argument as cowardly as it is absurd. I doubt if there is one white man in a hundred who is so prejudiced against colored men that he would absolutely refuse to work with them if it came to a practical test. The threats that white men make to “quit work” if colored men are employed, are bluffs, pure and simple, and if met by a particle of manhood, and moral courage on the part of the employers, would soon be made a thing of the past.
There is, however, little inducement for employers to take this advanced step unless they are brimful of Christianity and love of fair play. If objections are made to colored men, it is easy for the employer to find white men who are just as desirable in every respect as colored men are, or perhaps ever will be. If the natives of America cannot meet the demand it takes the slums of Europe but a short time to make up for the deficit. As for the admonition often given colored men to make themselves so thorough and proficient in the mechanical trades that they will create a demand for themselves because of their superior worth, I see no common sense or reason in it.
With the trades and professions carried almost to the zenith of perfection by a race of people that has had centuries for development, as our competitors, and with only a few years of civilization back of us, how we can be expected to surmount race prejudice and force for ourselves a place in the industrial arena from sheer superiority of ability, is a nut that is too hard to crack.
I think that the colored man has accomplished untold wonders when he can stand by the side of white men and be recognized as their equals in the trades and professions, without being expected to so far excel them that he will overbalance the scale of prejudice and create a demand for himself because of his superior ability. This would be proclaiming the black man the superior of the white man to an extent that our most ardent friends and admirers would not admit.
But, reverting again to the employers, many of them say to colored people: “You have not enough skilled mechanics among you; you have not enough educated men to compete with white labor. Educate and train your men in the trades, and then come to us, and if our white employees refuse to work with you, we will dismiss them and put on entire forces of colored men.” It is my candid opinion that such advice and promises are seldom given in good faith; they are only a ruse and a subterfuge to keep from employing colored men in the first place. If a man has so little backbone as to allow his employees to dictate as to who shall and who shall not work for him, he is the last one who is going to summon enough moral courage to dismiss those men, in the face of public sentiment, to make room for a down-trodden race. But even though he should do all that he promises, I believe that the theory in itself is wrong. The thought of a semi-warfare between colored and white workingmen—colored men entering establishments with the understanding that if white men refuse to work with them, they will be dismissed, and entire forces of colored men substituted—has always been extremely distasteful to me. This is a grave and solemn problem—one that must be solved on the broad principle of Christianity and brotherly love. Just as soon as colored men begin to supplant (?) white workingmen because of the prejudice that exists between the two races, just that soon will this prejudice be kindled into a flame; Christinity set aside; brotherly love trampled under foot; and we shall begin to wield a sword of retaliation that has two edges—one for our enemies, and one for ourselves. And again, such a course would only strengthen the belief of some people that colored and white people cannot and will not work together in harmony.
So, what I would like to see is this: if two colored men are given positions in a large establishment and twenty white men say, “If those Negroes work here, I’ll quit,” instead of raising the cry, “Where can we get twenty colored men to take their places?” there should be such a spirit of justice and love of fair play fostered between the two races that it will be easy to find twenty more white men who will be willing to work with the two colored men, or twenty colored men as the case may be, and thus prove to the world that it is the height of folly to have entire forces of colored men in one establishment and entire forces of white men in another.
I have endeavored to show what I think are some of the false methods and doctrines regarding our condition. I now want to set forth what I think are some practical methods; measures which, if adopted and prosecuted, will free us from industrial subjugation and bring to us the full enjoyment of these, our most precious rights. One of the prime requisites is for us, as a race, to become thoroughly alive to our condition and intensely interested in ourselves. The voice of the race must be lifted as the voice of one man in a plea for justice along these lines. We must unite through our churches with the Christian white people through their churches.
It is the work of Christian churches to solve this problem; it is the work of the church to unlock the doors of manual labor to the colored race in the North. Let Christian people, colored and white, unite through their churches and let the clergy educate the people from their pulpits on this question, and there will soon be such an outburst of public sentiment that such outrages will be made an impossibility. I feel that this article would be incomplete, if I failed to give my ideas of a method by which all liberty-loving churches, white and colored, may soon be united in this cause.
I speak of it with great assurance, because it has been highly approved by some of the leading churches and clergymen of the country, and is now being successfully prosecuted in Philadelphia (as many readers will know), and is doing more, perhaps, to unite the two races than any move has ever done before. The “Industrial Rights League” is the medium through which this reform is being conducted, the object of which is to combine all Christians and lovers of justice, both colored and white, through the churches, into a systematic association whose influence will be used to break down the color line in the various branches of labor.
It is expedient that this organization should be supported by every church and by every member of that church, yet no person is expected to join this organization who would in any way make industrial discriminations against men because of their color. To this end, every person who joins is requested to take the following pledge:
“I do solemnly promise to exert my influence to break down the barrier of prejudice that prevents men, because of color, from engaging in various branches of manual labor in this country. To this end, I pledge myself never to employ, or work with, as occasion demands, any person because of his, or her color.”
It is a well-known fact that the majority of the dominant and better class of laborers are professed Christians and the leading business men and employers of labor want to be looked upon by the world as being devout Christians and large-hearted philanthropists. Yet they degrade the name of Christianity by peremptorily refusing to employ colored men except in the most menial capacities. The object of the above pledge is to incite all Christians and fair-minded persons to mix a little manhood and moral courage with their Christianity, by persistently refusing to make industrial discriminations against men because of their color—a step that no Christian can possibly refuse to take, and if one-fourth of the Christians will take this stand, this problem is solved.
Since the majority of the employers of labor and of the dominant and better class of laborers are professed Christians, it is easy to be seen that this method will bring the majority of those upon whom colored people are dependent for work to the point where they must demonstrate the practical part of their Christianity to the world by strenuously refusing to make industrial discriminations against men because of their color, a refusal which they cannot deny without denying their interest in the most sacred rights of men.
I have expounded this plan in hundreds of white, as well as colored, churches, and they heartily approve of the method, and with very few exceptions, stand ready to give their hearty co-operation. Such a move will receive but little opposition from our most bitter foes, because it is easy to see that it is based upon the broad principle of Christianity and Christian brotherhood.
The move was highly endorsed by the Central Labor Union of Cleveland, Ohio, the most powerful body of organized labor in that State, and it is safe to say that the majority of the thinking class of laborers will give such a cause as this their hearty approval. In the great struggle of the masses against the classes, workingmen are anxious to appear in the role of the oppressed and not the oppressor, consequently they are anxious to appear before the gaze of a sympathetic public as liberty-loving, and considerate of the rights of the most humble sons of toil.
The industrial discriminations made against us are possible only because the public conscience is asleep. Once arouse and awaken the public as to these conditions, and it will be as difficult to find a sensible man who will stand up in defense of such barbarity as it now is to find men who will employ or work with colored men. Let all Christians, white and colored, unite through their churches and throw their combined influence against this outrage, and in a very short time, when it comes to work and wages in this country, men will be recognized not by their race or color, but by their merit and manhood.
JAMES SAMUEL STEMONS
AME Church Review 14 (1897–98): 346–56
Mr. J. S. Stemons, founder of the Industrial Rights League, Philadelphia, contributes a paper in this issue on the labor question. It is a well-considered, clear-cut argument addressed to the reason and justice of those who have it in their power to open up the factories and fields of labor to colored laborers as well as to white. Mr. Stemons’ views are novel in one respect; he argues against putting on solid colored crews to the exclusion of whites, claiming that the idea that a working force must be all white or all colored is engendering and strengthening the antagonism of the two races by making them believe they cannot work together. He says if one colored man has the requisite skill and one man is needed, that man ought to be employed and his white co-laborers ought to receive him beside them. It is unjust, he contends, to the few Negroes who may be fitted, to tell them that the employer would willingly give them work if there were enough of them to fill all the places; thus not only counting for naught all the time and hardship passed in fitting themselves, but holding them accountable for the failures of others whom they in no way control. Mr. Stemons’ views are right and well presented—there should be no color line in labor and strange to say, in the South there is little of it, except what the Northern people have introduced. But are his views practicable?
One would think at first they were not, but his plan of accomplishing this revolution (for it would verily be one) is eminently practical. He proposes to present the matter through the churches, whose mission is to advance the brotherhood of man. No one is asked to go out of his way or do any special thing to remove this taboo on colored labor. He is simply asked to agree not to refuse to work himself, or engage others so to do, beside a colored man. In Mr. Stemons’ opinion, when the churches go on record as striking this attitude, the opposition will weaken and vanish, for the public sentiment behind it will be gone. The Christian people of this country have its reforms in their hands. We say with shame and regret, however, that it is by no means certain that the Christians of this country are willing to do justice in this matter to the Negro. The churches are honey-combed with worldiness, and in some cases consenters to wickedness where the rights of this much-suffering race are concerned. Let us hope for an awakened conscience soon, and a realization of all that justice and sympathy with hearts willing to work for an honest living, demand.
AME Church Review 14 (1897–98): 373.
42. BECAME A WHITE MAN IN ORDER TO SUCCEED
Two brothers, who were printers, came to Philadelphia several years ago to work at their trade. There was nothing in their appearance to indicate their African descent. One secured work in a large office where white men were employed, and the other obtained a place in the composing-room of a paper published by colored men. At the end of two or three years’ faithful service the first of the brothers had become the foreman of the office where he worked. Then one of his subordinates learned that he was a colored man, and promptly communicated the startling news to his fellows at the cases. They immediately appointed a committee to warn the employer that he must at once discharge the colored printer, or get another force of men. The foreman admitted that he was a colored man, and protested that no discrimination should be made against him because of his race.
The employer said: “I agree with you, and your work is entirely satisfactory. Besides, I do resent this dictation by men who have worked with you all this time in perfect harmony. You know more of my business than any of the others,—the contracts which I have on hand, and the loss which I would suffer if these men should suddenly leave. If you can find me a force of colored men as efficient as yourself, I’ll let the others go, and take your force, retaining you in your present position.” The foreman replied: “I cannot get such a force, but I can suggest a plan which will insure ray obtaining work. I have a red-haired brother who is a first-class printer. Discharge me, and take him. I can then secure his place.”
The plan was adopted; the brothers changed places, and harmony reigned in the printing office until the fair-haired brother’s identity was discovered. But the first brother finally gave up the struggle in despair. He left his friends and family one day, and entered a wider world. He became a white man among strangers, and is now successful.
About three years ago I advised a colored printer to apply for admission to one of the unions. As the place of his residence he named a street on which many colored people live. A week or two later three men called at his house, and were received by his mother, who offered to take any message they might have for him. They gave her a sealed envelope, and departed without a word. The envelope contained the same sum of money that the colored printer had sent with his application for admission to the union. He cannot say that the money came from the union. He cannot say that he was denied admission.
At the time of the last strike of streetcar conductors and motormen in Philadelphia, the question of employing colored men was presented both to the company’s managers and to the labor unions. The managers declared that they feared the resentment of the men, and the labor leaders declared that they would make no discrimination in their organizations. Yet, although applications have been filled for more than a year, no colored men are employed in this work in a community one twentieth of whose residents are colored people.
Atlantic Monthly 81 (February, 1898): 228–30.
43. THE RACE PROBLEM AGAIN
Bishop Walters Wants His People to Protest Against Outrages
The colored citizens of New York will soon hold a mass meeting for the purpose of ventilating grievances. Bishop Walters of the African Methodist Episcopal Church has just come out with a statement to his people in which he says that the outrages perpetrated against Postmasters Loften of Hogansville, Ga., and Baker of Lake City, S.C., were for no other cause than their race and color, and, judging from past experience, he does not believe that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.118
The Bishop goes on to say that there is a determined effort on the part of the white labor unions of the country to exclude the negro from the industrial avenues in which he can make an honest living, and, therefore the colored people must organize for self-protection. The Bishop suggests that T. Thomas Fortune, the President of the National Afro-American League, should call a meeting of the leaders of the race at an early date to consider the present condition of affairs and find a remedy. All who unite with him in the request are to communicate with Mr. Fortune.119
Several efforts have been made in past years to get colored men into trades unions, and District Assembly 49 in its palmy days made special efforts in that direction. But only a few colored men comparatively were initiated into the order, as somehow or other white and colored men did not get on very well in any union.120
Comparatively few of the skilled trades have unions of colored men. A colored waiters’ union was once organized, and affiliation with white waiters’ unions was promised, but the union met with very weak support.
Edward McHugh, the organizer of the American Longshoremen’s Union, made it a special feature of his propaganda to try and abolish all race and national feeling among longshoremen, and to unite whites, blacks, and Italians in one body. He was obliged to organize separate unions for the Italians, on account of their ignorance of English, but it is said that the bonds of Union between white and black longshoremen are not strong.121
New York Times, March 14, 1898.
44. LABOR DAY
The first Monday in September is generally observed as Labor Day. It is a day devoted to the interests of labor, when workmen of all grades assemble in public gatherings, listen to speeches of various kinds and presumably make plans for the future benefit of labor. The states generally have made this day a legal holiday so that there can be no demands of business which would detract from the interest of the day. It is pleasant to think that this recognition is given labor by the authorities, for the time was when the laboring man’s interests were of no account whatever with the monetary powers of the country.
Philadelphia is looked upon as the embodiment of things patriotic, but the demonstration made by labor in this city last Monday did not in any way sustain the claim. The procession was anything but representative. At its head we noticed a banner bearing a socialistic motto and other devices which savored more of the anarchistic idea than of the freedom of American institutions.
The personnel of this procession was decidedly foreign, and what attracted our attention most was the entire absence of the Negro from the ranks of the processionists.
Is he not a laborer? Has he not an interest in the celebration of Labor Day as well as the foreigners whom we saw? It can be plainly seen that as far as the existing labor organizations are concerned, the Negro is not recognized as a part of the laboring element of this country. These so-called Labor Unions are organized against him, and as far as possible they make their purpose plain.
The Christian Recorder, September 8, 1898.
45. BRING TRADES UNIONS TO TERMS
Disguise the situation as we may, the Negro is losing ground in the industrial world. This is one particular reason for indorsing the labor propaganda of Booker T. Washington, for the cause which he strives to promote, is the race’s weakest spot.
The potent influence that retards the Negro’s progress industrially is the Chinese wall erected by the trades unions. They form a labor trust, as it were, and prescribe that a white skin shall be one of the necessary qualifications for participation in its benefits. They deny the black boy the right to become an apprentice at a trade, and freeze out the black man who in some way has managed to acquire a fair degree of skill as a workman.
Organization is everything to those who are not rich in this world’s goods. The white man is an adept at combining, and his superiority along this line, coupled with his prejudice against the Negro, is driving the latter to the wall, and crowding him out of pursuits heretofore monopolized by the darker race. The whites are daily encroaching upon the territory preempted by the Negro and the latter is not making any appreciable gains in the white man’s territory to offset it.
The Negro is still an artist in the catering business. He is a painstaking printer, a faithful laborer, a dignified coachman, an expert waiter, an unsurpassed bootblack—but he is being crowded out of these pursuits by the poor whites and foreigners. Labor unions are absorbing these callings, and by the force of organization are filling up the places with men of their own choosing, shutting out the Negro. The union card, instead of a reliable “reference” has become a shibboleth of success in securing employment. By a bluff and fictitious show of strength these unions have terrified politicians into doing their bidding, and many influential men of affairs are held down by the theat by them, not daring to give a day’s work to an individual distasteful to the tyrannical combine. They go so far as to attempt to overrule the dictum of the general government, and cases have frequently been reported where the Public Printer has been unable to keep a man in the service of the nation because the man in question did not belong to the labor trust. Today the street car service, the shops and mills are afraid to put on a faithful and tried Negro because the white employees would strike and tie up the road, causing financial loss to the business.
It is time for the Negro to strike back. The Negro cares nothing for the labor union that denies him the opportunity to earn bread for his family. He cares nothing for a cabal that throttles the freedom of employers favorably inclined toward him, and that terrifies politicians who would otherwise undo the legislation that restricts the black man’s prosperity to the narrowest limit. We are no nearer the solution of this labor problem that we were ten years ago, and the labor unions show no signs of hearkening to the enlightened sentiment of the times. If the unions will not open their doors, they should be fought with all the strength our numbers and influence can command. If we unite and decline to purchase union-made goods, decline to support candidates who will not repudiate union tyranny, pass by the stores of men dominated by union prejudices, and give our tremendous patronage to the alleged “outlaw” or “rat” establishments, we can make ourselves felt. Why shouldn’t we do it? We have nothing to lose. Think over this, colored friends. Something must be done to give our boys and girls a chance. Trade Unions must be brought to terms or made to suffer the consequences.
Colored American, October 29, 1898.
We don’t care how wide Uncle Sam opens the doors in his new possessions if he will only induce the white labor unions in America to open their doors to Negro workmen.
The Recorder (Indianapolis), January 7, 1899.
They hang the negro in the south but they are not so bad in the north; they just simply starve him to death by labor’s union.
The American (Coffeyville, Kansas), March 11, 1899.
If non-union men are not permitted to work and colored men are not permitted to join the unions, where does the colored man come in? Or does he stay out?—Indianapolis News.
Most assuredly he stays out. But why? The abilities of the non-union colored man are never measured by those of the union white man; but ‘tis the color of their respective faces that causes the Negro to remain on the outside.
The Recorder, Indianapolis, August 5, 1899.
What is it to us if the wages of factory employees are increased if over the doors of them the sign hangs out, “No Black Man Wanted Here,” no black boy or girl shall enter here that they may become skilled artisans.
The Christian Recorder, August 17, 1899.
50. THE INDUSTRIAL SITUATION
The New Age, of London, England, has this to say of the industrial situation:
“But the evil American influence is being exercised upon us in ways far more subtle. American so-called, “Socialists” are permeating among our working men, trying to instill into them that the whole world is made for “the white man,”—that there is “a Negro question,” and “a labour question,” instead of the simple fact that there exists everywhere the question of unskilled and skilled labour, and that the Negro of America finds himself ruthlessly pushed back into the former rank, because the Trades Unions will not receive him! It is said that there are already in America more skilled negroes than can obtain work at proper wages—which, if a fact, tells against Booker T. Washington’s hope to “elevate” his race by means of “technical education.”
Again we are to understand that America beyond its borders is making the doctrine manifest that the whole world is made for the white man?
Even England with its conservative ideas admits that the American idea of a white man’s country is obtaining foothold there. The information is scarcely less than astounding.
But there is great hope for salvation in America. If the Negroes are to be saved they must save themselves. This mighty fabric of ours—our commonwealth of states is founded on the almighty dollar. It is the panacea, the battering ram that will breach the most formidable walls.
It is absolutely essential that the Negroes learn to mass their wealth, and employ their kind or else demonstrate the world’s accusation of incapacity and forever be the caste class of the Western Hemisphere. It is evident that from a standpoint of business policy alone, regardless of color and race, that those are to be employed who can in some way contribute greatest to the success of a business undertaking.
Sentiment has never entered the world of business and it never will. The dollar is the actuating motive and no man is willing to impede its progress to his exchequer. Who is the better fitted to promote this flow? It is quite apparent.
It is useless to discuss the relations of unions to Negro workmen. These unions are with us. We know to the Negro’s hurt what they mean. Sentiment or charity will not batter down these walls. The relief lies in the power to compel by the reason of financial sufficiency. Will the race profit by the writing on the wall?
The Freeman (Indianapolis), August 26, 1899.
A sensation new to this section was sprung in Montgomery on the 23rd in the labor circles. A street fair and trades display will be held here, commencing Monday, with a street parade, in which the trades unions were to participate. Today the unions announced that they would take no part in the parade because the committee of the fair decline to allow the Negro trades union a place in the line. The street fair people and the unions appointed committees to confer and try to arrange matters, but without results. The white union men take the position that, as a regularly organized trades union, the Negro organization is entitled to a place in the parade, and that the refusal of the fair committee to give the Negro a place shows disrespect to organized labor rather than to the Negro race.
The Recorder (Indianapolis), October 28, 1899.