NO COLOR LINE WANTED
A national convention of colored men is to be held soon, for the advancement of the colored race. The propositions at present advanced point to the marshalling of the colored vote in every State through a general executive committee, whose duty it shall be to advise voters.
This is a great scheme—for party politicians—if it will only work. But how it can effect any advancement of the general body of colored men remains to be seen. The disabilities from which they suffer are social and economic, and cannot be remedied by laws or by being used as a stepping stone for office seekers.
The only way by which the colored men can benefit themselves is to affiliate with the white races wherever possible in trades unions and K. of L. assemblies, and prove by practical work that their aims and objects are the same—the advancement of the material welfare of the whole race, without drawing any color line.
The Labor Leaf (Detroit), December 22, 1886.
2. IDA B. WELLS DESCRIBES A KNIGHTS OF LABOR MEETING IN MEMPHIS40
I was fortunate enough to attend a meeting of the Knights of Labor. . . . I noticed that everyone who came was welcomed and every woman from black to white was seated with courtesy usually extended to white ladies alone in this town. It was the first assembly of the sort in this town where color was not the criterion to recognition as ladies and gentlemen. Seeing this I could listen to their enunciation of the principles of truth and accept them with a better grace than all the sounding brass and tinkling cymbal of a Moody or Sam Jones, even expounded in a consecrative house and over the word of God.
New York Freeman, January 15, 1887; Cleveland Gazette, January 22, 1887.
Colored and White Workmen Unite Against Oppression—A Laughable Incident
PENSACOLA, Feb. 5—On Tuesday, 1st inst., the bay men (or the men that work in the bay) struck on account of some wrong doing of a certain stevedore. The scene on Palafox’s wharf was not a pleasant one, owing to the rage the major part of the men were in. Some of the offending parties were badly used, getting several severe blows, and having to leap into the bay or seek refuge in the boat houses. On the 2d the “guano men” (or the men that work in guano) all quit work and marched to Sunday’s Hall, held a meeting, elected officers and formed a society to be known as the Guano Association. They wanted better wages, $2.50, $2, and $1.50 per day. Some of the leading spirits called on their employers (the officials of the L. & N. R. R.) and expressed their desire in a polite manner, only to be told that they would not get it. On the 3d they called to get the pay due them. Their employers paid them, but refused to agree to give the wages they asked. Tuesday was a laughable day indeed. The Escambia Rifles (white) marched out with glittering muskets and bayonets to make the poor and oppressed colored and white men fall in submission; but they were badly mistaken, for as soon as they got as far as the workmen cared to have them come, they were surrounded. The workmen politely pointed out the way and they willingly went back to their armory. Wednesday at 12 o’clock the stevedore in fault gave satisfaction. Yesterday the officials of the railroad brought in from along their line about 160 men to take the places of the guano strikers. They were met on the wharf by the strikers, who told them what would be the consequences if they went to work. After hearing the awful wrath that would befall them, they told the officials that they would not risk their lives. Hon. P. H. Davidson, Assembly-elect, is one of Florida’s most prominent Knights of Labor. Rev. Thos. Darly, pastor of the A. M. E. Zion Church, is having his commodious church repaired and plastered, preparatory to the convening of the annual conference of the connection some time this month.
New York Freeman, February 12, 1887.
Oxford, N.C., May 20, 1887
The Assemblies of this place and vicinity wish me to make known to the Order at large the unenviable position of the Knights of Labor here. As soon as it became generally known that we had an Assembly here persecution followed, and no stone was left unturned to create ill-feeling against us. The Chicago anarchist riot was used to our prejudice. The disregard of the “color-line” by the Richmond General Assembly and the partial success of the Republican party in our State last November were also used against us. They pointed at us with scorn, and kept crying “Nigger! Nigger!” until the two words “Nigger” and “Knights” became synonomous terms.
R.J.C.M.W., L.A. 7478, Journal of United Labor, June 11, 1887.
Calera, Ala., June 4, 1887.
Knightsville is a village composed of nothing but colored people, who now number thirty-three. They own about two hundred and eighty acres of land. Knightsville is solid for the Knights of Labor. The Anderson Local Assembly now numbers forty-four, and applications are coming in weekly. Steps are being taken to start a co-operative store in Knightsville.
H. D. and R. S., L.A. 9867.
Journal of United Labor, July 2, 1887.
The colored Knights of Labor will go to the park and the whites to Magnolia Bluff. They could not possibly all go to the same place and whoop off the “glorious 4th” together. That would be too much like social equality for our Southern brethren.
New York Freeman, July 9, 1887.
Graniteville, S. C.
July 20, 1887
I guess you would like to hear from this part of the Sunny South. We are about to have some trouble here with the trustees of the Masonic hall, owned by the Masons and Odd Fellows. The trustees said we could not have the hall any more if we permitted negroes to meet there with us. That is their excuse, but I know better. I see through their little game—they want to break up the Knights of Labor here, but we intend to have the Knights of Labor in spite of all opposition, for we know our noble Order is right, and when we are right God is on our side, and when He is on our side I don’t care a straw who is against us. You will see what kind of people we have here. We are going to carry on our work without the fear or favor of any one.
Journal of United Labor, August 6, 1887.
“Charley White was arraigned before Esquire Gavin yesterday on the charge of cruelly beating an eleven year old boy. At the trial it was proven that he knocked the boy down and kicked him until his nose bled. He was fined $15.00 and cost. The victim is bruised from foot to crown and is in a critical condition.”
You will notice that this outrage is palmed off to the outside world as having been perpetrated by “a cruel negro.” You will also notice that this “capitalistic news-rag” is as silent as the grave as to the place where this diabolical crime was committed. The allegation that any negro was directly or even remotely connected with this outrage is as black and false as the heart and brain which concocted the subterfuge, which was invented for no other purpose than to shield the pious rascals [White is a teacher in the Duke M. E. Church], who are robbing the blacks and stomachs of the laboring people in order to build five churches and fill their souls with a spurious modern article, as so-called salvation. Through the machinations and blandishments of the pious (?) leaders of the M. E. Church, many of our former brothers and sisters have been weaned from their feality and allegiance to our noble Order. They have been made to understand that their situations in the factory depended upon their attendance or membership in the above farcical synagogue.
The Recorder finding public indignation so stormy was reluctantly compelled to make at least a show of noticing the affair. Hence the above item, White, the maltreater, is a human (?) thing with a white skin, is one of the Duke bosses, and a sanctified—God save the mark!—saint and a member of the Church. The boy beaten is also white, and of a highly respected white family. The item above quoted is a specimen of some of the tricks resorted to by the subsidized press to hide the flagrant rascality of those who are attempting to crush out our noble Order in the town.
Journal of United Labor, August 6, 1887.
Why the Colored Workmen Take Little Part In It
To the Editor:
As a strike is now in progress at the Black Diamond Steel Works, where many of our race are employed, the colored people hereabouts feel a deep interest in its final outcome. As yet few colored men have taken part in it, it having been thus far thought unwise to do so. It is true our white brothers, who joined the Knights of Labor and organized the strike without conferring with, or in any way consulting us, now invite us to join with them and help them to obtain the desired increase in wages and control by the Knights of Labor of the works. But as we were not taken into their schemes at its inception, and as it was thought by them that no trouble would be experienced in obtaining what they wanted without our assistance, we question very much the sincerity and honesty of this invitation. Our experience as a race with these organizations has, on the whole, not been such as to give us either great satisfaction or confidence in white men’s fidelity. For so often after we have joined them, and the desired object has been attained, we have discovered that sinister and selfish motives were the whole and only cause that led them to seek us as members.
A few years ago a number of colored men working at this mill were induced to join the Amalgamated Association, thereby relinquishing the positions which they held at these works. They were sent to Beaver Falls, Pa., to work in a mill there controlled by said Association, and the men there, brothers too, mark you, refused to work with them because they were black. It is true Mr. Jaret, then chairman of that Association, sat down upon those skunks, but when that mill closed down, and those men went out from there to seek employment in other mills governed by the Amalgamated, while the men did not openly refuse to work with them, they managed always to find some pretext or excuse to keep from employing them.41
Now, Mr. Editor, I am not opposed to organized labor. God forbid that I should be when its members are honest, just and true! But when I join any society, I want to have pretty strong assurance that I will be treated fairly. I do not want to join any organization the members of which will refuse to work by my side because the color of my skin happens to be of a darker hue than their own. Now what the white men in these organizations should and must do, if they want colored men to join with and confide in them, is to give them a square deal—give them a genuine white man’s chance—and my word for it they will flock into them like bees into a hive. If they will take Mr. B. F. Stewart’s advice! “take the colored man by the hand and convince him by actual fact that you will be true to him and not a traitor to your pledge,” he will be found with them ever and always; for there are not under heaven men in whose breasts beat truer hearts than in the breast of the Negro.
JOHN LUCUS DENNIS
Colored Puddler at Black Diamond Steel Works, Pittsburg, Pa., Aug. 8.
New York Freeman, August 13, 1887.
Shady Grove Assembly is booming. Since October 10 we have initiated 82 members. Although we are living under many difficulties and oppressions, we intend using every means at our command to advance the interests of the Order. Knighthood is moving right along among the colored people of this State. We believe that one of the ends for which man was created is labor; he is constituted for this mentally, morally and physically. Labor is a fixed law of man’s nature and is necessary to his happiness; and, being a primeval law of his nature, it is honorable and dignified, and to disregard this law is to set the all-wise Creator at defiance. Heretofore agricultural labor and learning have been widely separated, and this is one cause why such labor has, by certain classes, been deemed degrading. Nothing can be more injurious to progress in agriculture than this baneful hallucination. Here in the South this mistaken sentiment must be got rid of. Our necessities, our prosperity demands it. Young men must be educated to honor and dignify labor in its actual performance, and to accomplish this there must be a change in our educational system.
The man who does not honor labor is an enemy to his own and his country’s welfare. I think that discussing the benefits of a people in secret is the best method of all; when we reap those benefits we shall see them openly. For a long time the secrets of Knighthood were hidden from public gaze, but at last we see the light breaking forth and illuminating the mind of every thinking man in America. Its principles have aroused men to think for themselves, and has added one of the brightest pages to the history of the toilers. It has proved that the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few means death to labor. May the good work still continue until the rights of labor are acknowledged and accorded.
Journal of United Labor, December 10, 1887.
When the condition of the people of our county is considered, I think it will be admitted that our increase in membership is very encouraging. Although many are led to believe by some of the white people that no good will come of their connection with the Order, and that if they join they will give them employment no longer, they are mustering up courage and will eventually become members. Men on the farms get .50, women .25 to .30, and lumber-getters .80 cents a day; section hands $18.20 and school teachers $15 to $25 a month. Meat sells for .10, flour .03-1/2, and coffee .25 cents a pound.
J.B.L., L.A. 816
Journal of United Labor, May 10, 1888.
Bay Minetta, Ala.
May 21, 1888
We have two assemblies in our vicinity—one colored and one white—both in good working order. They were organized last September by our State Master Workman. The larger portion of the members of our assembly (No. 10853) are residing upon the premises of their employers, causing them to suffer oppressions of various kinds, which could be avoided if they had homes of their own. We have started a small co-operative grocery store. The prospects for success are very promising. The majority of our members are employed on turpentine farms. The Knights in this county are taking an active part in the interest of the United Labor Party, and held a nominating convention on May 5.42
S. J. B.
Journal of United Labor, June 9, 1888.
It may be of interest to the rest of the Knights of Labor world to learn some of the happiness in the Bluff City of the South. The Order here is composed of L.A.’s 5075 and 7944 with a membership of 500 of the very best material in the community of both races. Our members are all employed. Wages for unskilled laborers, however, are not as high as in other portions of the country, though mechanics and artisans are paid well. The industries of the place are two cotton mills, two oils, a foundry, and machine shop, cotton compress, lumber yards, and a small number of minor industries. On the 13th inst. Brother W. H. Bailey, of the General Executive Board paid a visit to our city, and a meeting of the two locals was hastily called, at which he delivered an address that was very instructive and attentively listened to by the 300 or so who were present, who went away much impressed with what they heard. One of the great needs of the South is lecturers to instruct not only the public, but the members in the true principles of the Order. . . .
R. V. S.
Journal of United Labor, June 9, 1888.
A Speech Delivered by Hon. Jas. J. Sullivan on June 28, at Donaldsville, La.
At a meeting of Knights of Labor, held Sunday, June 28, 1889, in the hall belonging to that order, and situated on Claiborne street, in the town of Donaldsonville—the object of the meeting being to devise ways and means for raising funds to extinguish the mortgage bearing on the said property. Mr. J. J. Sullivan, responsive to an invitation, made the following address:
Friends and fellow citizens, and brother Knights: I congratulate you upon the spirit shown on so important an occasion as that of raising money to save your property, which is right and proper, and I gracefully acknowledge the compliment implied in calling upon me to assist in expressing the thoughts and sentiments natural to this and other occasions. “One like many other good causes it has its ebbs and flows, successes and failures, joyous hopes and saddening tears.” In the days gone by, we gratefully and lovingly repeated the names of our great men and their works. We shouted the praises of these great men as God inspired benefactors. At that time, too, it was well enough and easy to blow aloud our trumpets and call out the crowd through the streets with gay processions, for since the great exodus of the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage, no people had had greater cause for such joyous demonstration. But the time for such demonstration is over. It is not the past but the present and the future that most concerns us to-day; our past was slavery. We cannot recur to it with any sense of composure. The history of it is a record of stripes, a revelation of agony. It is written in characters of blood; its breath is a sigh its voice a groan, and we turn from it with a shudder. The duty of to-day is to meet the questions that confront us with intelligence and courage, without the least desire to awaken undue alarm. I declare to you that no home since the abolition of slavery in these Southern States of the Union, have the moral, social and political surroundings of the colored people of this country been more solemn and foreboding than they are this day. If this statement is startling it is only because the facts are startling. I speak only of the things I do know, and testify of the things I have seen. Nature has given me a buoyant disposition. I like to look upon the bright and hopeful side of affairs. No man can see the silver lining of a black cloud more joyfully than I but he is a more hopeful man than I am who will tell you that the rights and liberties of the colored people in this country have passed beyond the danger line. Mark, if you please, the fact, for it is a fact, an ominous fact, that no time in the history of the conflict between slavery and freedom has the character of the Negro as a man been made the subject of a freer and more serious discussion in all the avenues of debate than during the past and present year. Against him have been marshalled the whole artillery of science, philosophy and history. We are not only confronted by open foes, but we are assailed in the guise of sympathy and friendship, and presented as objects of pity.
The strong point made against the Negro and his cause, is the statement widely circulated and greatly relied upon, that no two people so different in race and color can live together in the same country on a level of equal civil and political rights and powers; that nature herself has ordained that the relations of two such races must be that of domination and subjugation. This old slave-holding Calhoun and McDuffy doctrine, which we long ago thought dead and buried, is revived in unexpected quarters, and confronts us to-day as sternly as it did forty years ago. Then it was employed as the sure defence of slavery, now it is employed as a justification for later and greater wrongs visited on us.43
To those who are assuming that there is no cause of apprehension; that we are secure in the possession of all that has been gained by the war and reconstruction, I ask what means the universal and palpable concern manifested through all the avenues of debate as to the future of the Negro in this country? for this question meets us now at every town. The brain of every statesman in this country is taxed with this question. Whence this solicitude or apparent solicitude? To me, the question has a sinister meaning. It is prompted not so much by concern for the welfare of the Negro as by considerations of how his relation to the American government may effect the welfare and happiness of the American people. The Negro is a member of the body politic. This talk about him implies that he is regarded as a diseased member. It is wisely said by physicians that any member of the human body is in a healthy condition when it gives no occasion to think of it. The fact that the American people of the Caucasian race are continually thinking of the Negro and never cease to call attention to him, shows that his relation to them is felt to be abnormal and unhealthy. Justice and magnaminity are elements of American character. They may do much for us but we are in no condition to depend upon these qualities exclusively.
History repeats itself. The black man fought for American independence; the Negro’s blood mingled with the white man’s blood at Bunker Hill, but this sacrifice on his part won for him only temporary applause. He was returned to his former condition. He fought bravely with General Jackson at New Orleans, but his reward was only slavery and chains. These facts speak trumpet tongued of the kind of people with whom we have to deal, and through them we may contemplate the sternest.44
I have said that at no time has the character of the Negro been so generally and seriously discussed as now. I do not regard discussion as an evil in itself. I regard it not as an enemy, but as a friend. It has served us well at other times in our history, and I hope it may serve us well at this time.
Controversy, whether of words or blows, whether in the forum or on the battlefield, may help us if we make the right use of it. We are not to be like dumb driven cattle in this discussion, in this war of words and conflicting theories; our business is to answer back wisely, modestly and yet grandly.
While I do not regard discussion as an enemy, I cannot but deem it in this instance as out of place and unfortunate. It comes to us as a surprise and a bitter disappointment; it implies a deplorable unrest and unsoundness in the public mind; it shows that the reconstruction of our national institutions upon a basis of liberty, justice and equality is not yet accepted as a final and irrevocable settlement of the Negro’s relation to the government and of his membership in the body politic.
I deny and utterly scout the idea that there is now, properly speaking, any such thing as a Negro problem before the American people. It is not the Negro, educated or illiterate, intelligent or ignorant, who is on trial or whose qualities are giving trouble to the nation. The real problem lies in the other direction. It is not so much what the Negro is, what he has been, or what he may be, that constitutes the problem. Here, as elsewhere, the lesser is included in the greater; the Negro’s significance is dwarfed by a factor vastly larger than himself. The real question, the all-commanding question, is, whether American justice, American liberty, American civilization, American laws and American Christianity, can be made to include and protect alike and forever all American citizens in the rights which, in a generous moment in the nation’s life, have been guaranteed to them by the organic and fundamental law of the land; it is whether this great nation shall conquer its prejudices, rise to the dignity of its professions and proceed in the sublime course of truth and liberty marked out for itself since the late war, or swing back to its ancient moorings of slavery and barbarism. The Negro is of inferior activity and power in the solution of this problem; he is the clay, the nation is the potter; he is the subject, the Nation is the sovereign. It is not what he shall be or do, but what the Nation shall be and do, which is to solve this great national problem. The real problem lies in the other direction. It is not so much what the Negro is, what he has been, or what he may be, that constitutes the problem. Here, as elsewhere, the lesser is included in the greater; the Negro’s significance is dwarfed by a factor vastly larger than himself.
The difference between colored and white here is, that the one by reason of color needs legal protection, and the other by reason of color does not need protection. It is nevertheless true that manhood is insulted in both cases. No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow-man without at last finding the other end of it fastened about his own neck. The lesson of all the ages on this point is, that a wrong done to one man is a wrong done to all men. It may not be felt at the moment, and the evil day may be long delayed, but so sure as there is a moral government of the universe, so sure will the harvest of evil come. Color prejudice is not the only prejudice against which a republic like ours should guard. The spirit of caste is dangerous everywhere. There is the prejudice of the rich against the poor, the pride and prejudice of the idle dandy against the hard-handed workingman. There is, worst of all, religious prejudice; a prejudice which has stained a whole continent with blood. It is in fact a spirit infernal, against which every enlightened man should wage perpetual war. Perhaps no class of our fellow-citizens has carried this prejudice against color to a point more extreme and dangerous than our Catholic Irish fellow-citizens, and yet no people on the face of the earth have been more relentlessly persecuted and oppressed on account of race and religion than the Irish people; but in Ireland persecution at last reached a point where it reacts terribly upon her persecutors. England to-day is reaping the bitter consequence of her injustice and oppression. Ask any man of intelligence to-day “What is the chief source of England’s weakness? What has reduced her to the rank of a second-class power?” and the answer will be “Ireland.” Poor, ragged, hungry and oppressed as she is, she is strong enough to be a standing menace to the power and glory of England. Let me say right here to our Caucasian brother, you need no black Ireland in America, you need no aggrieved class in America, strong as you are without the Negro, you are stronger with him, the power and friendship of seven millions of people scattered all over the country, however humble, are not to be despised. We do not ask for revenge, we simply ask for justice; we are willing to forget the past, willing to hide our scars, anxious to bury the broken chains, and to forget miseries and hardships, the tears and agonies of two hundred years.
Another opportunity is given for the people of this country to take sides. According to my belief the supreme thing for every man to do is to be absolutely true to himself, all consequences, whether rewards or punishment, whether honor and power or disgrace and poverty, are as dreams undreamt. I have made my choice; I have taken my stand. Where my brain and heart go there I will publicly and openly walk; doing this is my highest conception of duty. Being allowed to do this is liberty. If this is not a free government, if citizens cannot now be protected, regardless of race or color, if the three sacred amendments have been undermined by the supreme court we must have another, and if that fails then another, and we must neither stop nor pause until the Constitution shall become a perfect shield for every human being beneath our flag.
New Orleans Weekly Pelican, July 27, 1889.