On The Train, Near Bristol, Tenn., November 11, 1883.
FLOYD THORNHILL sworn and examined.
By the CHAIRMAN:
Question. Where were you born?—A. In Campbell County, Virginia, 8 miles from Lynchburg. I was born and raised a slave.
Q. Where have you lived from your birth until now?—A. Lynchburg has been my principal home. I worked at another place near there for about a year. Then I worked off and on for about two years on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Then for about two years I worked in Lynchburg in a tobacco factory, and since that time I have been working as porter on these cars.
Q. How old are you?—A. I am going on thirty-four years of age. I was sixteen years old when Lee surrendered.
Q. Are you a man of family?—A. Yes, sir; I have four children.
Q. Where do your family live now?—A. In Lynchburg.
Q. What do you call your present business?—A. Sleeping-car porter, running between Washington and New Orleans.
Q. Is this an important route between the North and the South?—A. Yes, sir; it is called the boss route—the boss Southern railroad.
Q. How long have you worked at your present business?—A. About three years.
Q. What pay do you get?—A. Twelve dollars a month.
Q. In addition to that you get something from the passengers, I suppose?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. How much does that amount to, on an average?—A. Well, I reckon, from time to time, I make here about $30 a month.
Q. Do you mean besides the $12 a month wages that you get regularly?—A. Yes, sir; I don’t average so much as that, though, because sometimes from New Orleans I don’t have but perhaps two passengers—sometimes one, sometimes two, and sometimes three. Pretty much all the travel I have now is going southward.
Q. What is the distance between Washington and New Orleans by this route?—A. One thousand two hundred and thirteen miles.
Q. How long does it take to make the trip one way?—A. Two days and two nights and until 9.20 the next night.
Q. What chance have you to see your family?—A. When I get to Lynchburg, they have two extra porters there, and the superintendent allows me to put one of these extra men on, and that gives me two days and two nights. He only allows that once or twice a month, but he is more lenient in that way than any other superintendent of the company.
Q. You and the conductor go over the route together, of course?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. What pay does he get, or what do the conductors generally receive?—A. The old conductors on this line get about $75; the other conductors get, some $75, some $65, and some $60.
Q. I suppose you have been a good deal among the negroes who work in the city, and also among those who work in the country, on the land?—A. Yes, sir; right smart.
Q. What do they work at in Lynchburg?—A. The principal thing at Lynchburg is the tobacco business; some of the factories make smoking tobacco and some shipping tobacco.
Q. What are the prominent tobacco manufacturing points in Virginia?—A. Lynchburg, Danville, Richmond, and Petersburg are great tobacco points; but I don’t think there is any of them ahead of Lynchburg for tobacco. They put up more there than they do in Danville or Petersburg; I don’t know so much about Richmond, but I think Lynchburg beats Richmond, too.
Q. You have worked at the tobacco business for several years; is it hard work?—A. Yes, sir; right hard work, the part that I have done; I worked in the price-room, the last finishing. Some of the tobacco is made by machine and wrapped by hand, then put in the drying-room, then steamed, then packed until it comes to be tough; then after it comes to be tough it is let down into the price-room and run under 12-inch rollers of all shape.
Q. What pay did you get when you worked at that business?—A. I got 60 cents a hundred.
Q. How much could you earn in a day or a week?—A. Some weeks $12.50, some weeks $10.50, some weeks as low as $9, and some weeks as high as $14.50.
Q. Did you save any money while you were at that business?—A. Yes, sir; I saved some money.
Q. How much?—A. Well, in that time I bought me a lot 55 feet by 100 feet. That lot cost me about $200 at the time I bought it, but I suppose it would be worth a good deal more now, because the place is so much built up.
Q. Have you got a house on it?—A. Oh, yes.
Q. Did you build the house yourself?—A. Yes, sir; It cost me $800.
Q. Do your family live in that house now?—A. Yes, sir; in that house.
Q. Are the house and lot fully paid for?—A. No, sir; not altogether; I owes nearly $150 on them.
Q. You have some furniture, of course?—A. Yes, sir; no costly furniture; good common furniture.
Q. How much do you think you are worth altogether?—A. Well, if my place was sold I don’t think I would get the full value of it, but I would not like to take less than $1,000 for it.
Q. Do you mean for the place and the things you have in it and upon it?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Have you earned all that money yourself?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Are you an expert hand at the tobacco business?—A. Yes, sir. I was the boss hand in Lynchburg. I am the boss hand that was ever known there. I have done more than anybody else ever did in that business; that can be proved by the tobacco men; they will back me up in it. I have done well in that town. I have worked for some of the biggest manufacturers, and I have never been turned off in my life.
Q. Do your wife or children work at tobacco making?—A. Yes; my boy worked during the summer. He is about eight years old now, and he wanted to work and they gave him $1.50 a week.
Q. Is he getting that pay now?—A. No; he is going to school now, but when he works he can get that.
Q. Your wife does not work in the factory?—A. No, sir; she washes and sews some. The white people that raised her showed her how to sew, and she can make any kind of a dress.
Q. How long have you been married?—A. Ten years.
Q. Have you lost any children?—A. Yes, sir; six. But there didn’t none of them come to time. My wife is not very strong.
Q. Is your wife growing stronger?—A. Yes, sir; she is stronger than when she was young; but she was always very delicate, and the white people that raised her kept her in the house and learned her to sew. She has had whooping-cough and asthma; she had asthma when I married her, but she does not have it now but once a year.
Q. Do the colored people generally have large families?—A. Generally so.
Q. How about their losing a good many of their children?—A. Some is that way and some not. All women is not weakly alike, you know; some is stronger.
Q. Do your children go to school?—A. One of them does; the one that is eight years old.
School Attendance in Lynchburg.
Q. How long are the schools kept open each year?—A. I think the session is about nine months in the year. They have a vacation of about three months, I think; I don’t believe now but it is only two months, because I kind of remember that my little boy didn’t stop going to school till some time in June.
Q. Are the teachers white or colored?—A. Some white and some colored.
Q. Do you have colored teachers in the schools for the colored people?—A. There is one part white and another part colored.
Q. Are the schools mixed or separate?—A. They are separate.
Q. There are no white children in the colored schools, nor colored children in the white schools?—A. No, sir; not one.
The Colored People Want Separate Schools.
Q. You don’t want to have any white children in your schools, I suppose?—A. No, sir.
Q. How do the colored people generally feel about that?—A. They want their children to go to their own schools. I never heard one colored man say that he wanted his children to go to a white school.
Q. Why not?—A. Well it’s just this: them children would not do to go to school together anyhow.
Q. Why not?—A. Well, now, I’ll tell you. The white children, them that is big enough, knows we have been slaves that belonged to their parents, and there comes a great ‘sturbment out of that. The white children will show authority over the nigger, and I don’t believe they have any business to go to school together. That is my idea. Now, I am a mighty strange man. If I am working for you and you treat me good and pay me, that is all right, but you could not have me come and sit down in your dining-room, because I never been used to it, and I don’t look to it, and the dinner is just as good after you are gone, and my feelings would feel freer to sit down by myself. Now them is facts.
Q. Is it so among the children?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. But still the white children and the colored children get along well enough elsewhere don’t they?—A. Certainly they do.
Q. Do they agree pretty well generally outside the schools; do they get into quarrels on the street, for instance?—A. There is not much of that at Lynchburg. Sometimes, of course, a bad one may throw a rock at some of the others, but there is not much of that at Lynchburg.
Q. Do the white and colored children quarrel more than the white children quarrel among themselves?—A. No, sir; I don’t think they do. Sometimes you will hear one say something about the other or talking about what they are going to do to each other, but that is the way children will do, you know.
Q. And, on the whole, you don’t think that the white children and the colored children quarrel more than the children of the same color do?—A. No, sir; they get along very well together.
Advantages of Education.
Q. Do you think it is of any consequence whether the children go to school or not?—A. Certainly; I tell you I believe in doing the best you can for the children. When a boy comes to be a man he will need it. I have managed to get along pretty well, but sometimes I imagine that if I could read and write it would be better. Many a time a passenger hands me a ticket; wants to know which way he is going, and I have to tell him, “I can’t read, but if you will read it along I will tell you whether it is the Kenesaw route or not?” I might take it myself and hum over it and make it out in a kind of a way, but not satisfactory. So I believe in children being educated and elevated somehow, because when they come to be men it is great help.
Q. Then you mean to keep your children at school, I suppose?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Is that the feeling of the colored people generally?—A. Well, they seem to be tolerable earnest to keep the children going to school.
Q. What wages do colored men generally receive for working on the land in this part of the country or about Lynchburg?—A. They get from $10 to $12 a month and board.
Q. Do they also have houses and garden plots?—A. Yes, sir; they generally have as much land as they want.
Q. Do the women have anything to do?—A. Yes, sir; they sometimes works for wages; sometimes they does washing, and sometimes they works out in the field.
Q. How many hours do the men and women work generally?—A. The women works along with the men, except that sometimes they have to stop and go home and get the meals.
Q. What pay do the women get?—A. About 50 cents a day.
Q. Do the girls work on the land at all?—A. Yes, sir; some of the girls work at it, and some of them go to school. When they aint going to school they work.
Q. What sort of work do most of the girls do?—A. The girls works the same as the old people do, weedin’ corn or suckerin’ tobacco or hoein’ corn or bindin’ wheat in the harvest field—most any kind of work.
Colored Land-Owners in Virginia.
Q. Do the colored people own much land?—A. Yes, sir; a great many colored people have right smart little farms in Virginia. I don’t know how many, but I know there is a good many. I know a man named Jackson that has had three farms, and he has two now.
Q. Do you know what he paid for them?—A. No; I don’t know what they cost him, but I know one of them is 300 acres. It is in Campbell County, beyond Campbell’s Mountain, 7 or 8 miles from Lynchburg.
Q. Has that man paid for his land?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Did he have anything twenty years ago?—A. No, sir; certainly he did not.
Q. He was a slave then, I suppose?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. He did not have even himself then?—A. No sir, he did not have himself then.
Q. Have you any brothers?—A. Yes, sir; I have one brother in Prince Edward County. He has got forty acres of land and a team. He has got good, rich land. He raises wheat and tobacco and corn.
Q. How much wheat can he raise to the acre?—A. Eight or ten bushels.
Q. What is it worth a bushel there?—A. Sometimes they get $1 for it, and sometimes $1.25.
Q. I suppose they eat it themselves mostly?—A. They don’t sell much wheat. My brother has his wheat ground up into flour, but he always keeps enough for himself.
Q. I see that these colored people about the railroad station dress about as well as the rest of the folks. Is that the case generally through this part of the country?—A. Yes, sir.
The Colored People Well Off in Virginia.
Q. On the whole, how are the colored folks generally getting on in Virginia?—A. Well, some parts of Virginia is very poor, you know, but I believe that generally the colored people in Virginia beats them in any of the other States. I may be wrong about it, but that is my opinion. I mean any other State where there is so many colored people. Some parts of Virginia is good and some parts is poor. I know two colored men about 5 miles from where my brother lives, and each one of them fellows has a good, big farm, and an orchard, and two or three horses and buggies and all those things. They are doing well.
Q. Then you think that the colored people generally in Virginia are getting along very well and are pretty happy?—A. Yes, sir; they are getting along very well generally.
Q. Better than they used to?—A. Oh, yes; I think they get along now a good deal better than they used to. I think the people in the country, the farmers, know better how to go to work and how to live, and at the end of the year now they have got something. There is very few of them now that hasn’t got something at the end of the year.
Q. Do they save it?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. What do they do with it?—A. Well, some of them that has enough to do it with gets them little places. They have got a good many places now in Virginia—the colored folks. But some of them undertook to buy places, and they have lost them because the crops have failed; they have had bad crops sometimes.
Q. What did you do before you worked at the tobacco business?—A. The first work that I did after emancipation was for the man that I belonged to. I staid with him about a year. Then I came to Lynchburg, and tended a garden for a gentleman that now lives in Danville. I worked in Lynchburg at that about a year. I was going on to about seventeen years of age then, and he gave me $5 a month and board. After that summer I went out on the Manassas Railroad, and worked there from Mount Jackson to Harrisonburg. Then after that I went to Lynchburg at Christmas, and I went down to ——— depot, and worked there about nine months. Then I came back to Lynchburg, and went into the tobacco factory, and I worked there, off and on, about twelve years. The tobacco factory commenced business shortly after the surrender, and it was run up to about October; then the tobacco business was dull and there could not be nothing done for three months or better, in the year, and I would go out on the railroad to work and come back to the factory in the spring. I done that to pay expenses, and in that time I saved up a good deal of money.
Q. What did you do with that?—A. That was money that I kept bad company with and throwed away. I was making ten or twelve dollars a week and I throwed that away along with it. After I got married I commenced saving up some money, and as soon as I got a couple of hundred dollars ahead—of course it took me some little time to save up $200 and keep my little expenses going. When I got a couple of hundred dollars ahead I bought this lot that I told you about. I bought it on payments of $6, $12, and $18, and I paid for it and got the deed. I gave a deed of trust after I made the first payment and then after I made my last payment I got a deed of release. There was a lot of white people that carried on a building association, and I got into that as well as other people. I borrowed $250 out of that, and I stint myself in the way of eating and clothes and everything of that sort to save money. Of course I had a suit of clothes to go to church, but my working clothes was pretty bad. I paid my $250 and I reckon nearly $50 interest, and the man got me to sign some papers that was all wrong. That is where a man that has got an education can take advantage of a man that hasn’t. I got along so well with that man that I thought it was all right, but it was not. That building loan association not only robbed the poor men but it robbed the rich men too. They got me to sign some papers, and they wanted to take my place, and they would have taken it only that I got another man to pay the $270. I paid that man up, and now I have got a house that cost me about $800, and I suppose I have paid nearly $1,000 for that place, and I owe about $150 on it now.
Q. But, as the result of it all, you have got your home?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. You are a little over thirty years of age?—A. Yes, sir; nearly thirty-four.
Freedom Better Than Slavery With a Good Master.
Q. I suppose you have had a pretty hard time since the surrender. Do you think you would have been better if you had staid a slave and let somebody else take care of you?—A. Well, I would not like to say that, because I like to be honest in what I say, and of course a man that is free is better off than a slave. I had a good master when I was a slave, as many others perhaps did not. He had a number of old people on his place, and he would give them a house or anything they wanted. I suppose he had about five hundred people altogether, and he had about fourteen or fifteen sons and daughters, and all these had slaves, and they was all considered to be good people. But other people was not like them. He didn’t put none of the boys out in the field to work until they were seventeen years old; he kept them doing light work around the yard. I was not old enough to be put to hard work, but even if I had been, my master would not have put me to it, because he was a good man. He would not allow the overseers to whip nary one of the slaves. He said he knew how to treat them right, and if he didn’t punish them, he wouldn’t allow anybody else to do it.
Q. Still, you think you are better off on the whole than you were in slavery?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Is that the feeling of the colored people generally?—A. Well, yes, sir. Some of the colored people in the towns and in the country, too, aint smart; they don’t work; they lay around and get a suit of clothes wherever they can—hardly that sometimes—but I don’t call them people smart. They don’t deserve anything. If I had been a slave I could not have done harder work than I have done since I have been free. The inspector says that I am the boss porter on this company’s cars, and he knows them all.
Q. You have always contrived to keep at the head of your profession?—A. Yes, sir; that is the way I do. That is the way I done at the tobacco business. If I aint going to work honest, I aint going to hire myself to a man. I have got to work. I haven’t got no education, and if anybody was to give me an office at $3,000 a year I could not fill it.
Q. Do you think that if you had education you would be better off?—A. Well, I don’t know. I see some people that have tolerably fine educations and they are no better off than I am; in fact they are worse off than I am.
Q. Do you suppose that if they were like you in other respects they would be better off for having education?—A. Well, I suppose so. Of course I would have known better what I was signing for that man if I had an education. I thought he was doing honest with me, but he wasn’t.
Q. You speak of having some good clothes to go to church; do you go to church right along?—A. Yes, sir; I never fail to go to church three times on Sunday.
Q. What church do you go to?—A. The First Baptist Church. If I did not go to church three times on Sunday I would feel that there was something that I hadn’t done. I know very well that if it doesn’t do me no good it will not do me no harm certainly.
Q. What is all this noise about that I notice at these stations as we pass along—this shouting and music and general excitement?—A. I think it is about the election. They have gained Virginia, you know, and it is natural, you know, on either side to give a little toss about it. If the opposite party gets a man of course there is just as much joy on that side.
Q. Which way has it gone here?—A. I think it is Democratic.
Q. There used to be a good deal of trouble here ten or fifteen years ago about politics, I believe?—A. Yes, sir; but the people now, they have come to have more sense as a general thing. You know the colored people is very ignorant people about Congress and all the business that may be passed there; they don’t know it because they haven’t sufficient knowledge to read and understand it. Some of them do know how to read about it now, but I don’t know whether they understand it altogether or not. A heap of them reads that doesn’t understand.
Q. Well, you don’t have such disturbances here as you used to have, I suppose?—A. No, sir. This thing at Danville this last time was the first ‘sturbance for a long time. Elections is always very quiet now. I run on the cars, you know, and I don’t have much chance to get out and stop along the way, and I haven’t had much chance to know about this election. Of course there is always plenty of papers in the cars, but, then, I can’t read them with much understanding to myself, so I don’t know much about such things since I have been on the cars. I don’t stay long enough in any one place to find out much about it.
Q. The point I want to get at is whether you have any trouble of late about elections such as you used to have some years ago?—A. No, sir; we do not.
Q. Everybody votes as he pleases now, and that is the end of it, I suppose?—A. Yes; the generality of them votes. Some don’t vote; they don’t care which way the election goes. I believe in a man voting like he wants to vote, but it is well enough for the voters to understand how they want to vote. A great many voters don’t understand how they want to vote. A man makes a speech on the stump and they work by him; they go by what he says; they don’t really go by themselves; they go by that man on the stump; they just vote because they have got that privilege, but they don’t know what they are voting for. One of those stump speakers says to the voter, “This is the right one,” and then that voter will go and vote that way; otherwise perhaps he will vote on the other side. If the colored people ever get enlightened there won’t be so much trouble about elections, because they will understand. There is one-third of the colored people at least that don’t understand what they are voting for. It makes no difference who comes out, if their leader says, “That is the right man,” and a man comes and makes a stump speech to them they guide that way; they don’t know themselves whether they are going right or wrong.
Q. So you think they had better go to school in order to get enlightened?—A. Yes; I think that would be better.
Q. You run on this route all the way to New Orleans, I understand?—A. Yes, sir.
The Colored People Generally Doing Well.
Q. Of course you see a good many colored people along the way?—A. Oh, yes.
Q. You remember pretty well, I suppose, the condition of the colored people ten or fifteen years ago; are they improving or getting worse, in your opinion?—A. From what I can see in passing along on the railroads, I think the people are getting on pretty well. I was passing along through Georgia last year and I recollect there was a big camp-meeting at a place called La Grange. There was about two thousand people there, I think, and it seems to me they had a good time; they seemed to be getting along well. There was one gentleman on the cars, a passenger, who lived at Montgomery, Ala., and he says to me, “Porter, you see all this cotton here?” I says, “Yes.” “Well,” says he, “all this is the colored people’s cotton; they rent the farms from the white people and most every man’s farm clears $800 this year.” Now that man lives in Alabama and he knows. He said they made from $700 to $800 clear of all expenses.
Q. He was speaking, I suppose, of what was made by the farmer and his family working together?—A. Yes, sir; these people get groceries and things at the stores through the year, and at the end of the year after they settle up, if they have got much clear I think they have done very well indeed.
Q. What have you observed as to the condition of the colored people in Louisiana?—A. As to Louisiana I can’t say very much, because I go right through the swampy part of the country, where there is not much farming, but I notice that the colored people at New Orleans seem to get along very well. The “travelers,” wagoners, and draymen there get more pay than anybody else that I know of. They get from $15 to $18 a week, and the fellows that work along the wharves makes sometimes from $18 to $20 a week in the spring and fall. But in the part of the State that I go through on the cars there’s not much farming; it seems to be all swamp.
Q. How is it with the colored people in Alabama?—A. They seem to be doing very well in Alabama. I have seen colored men that farmed down there come to Lynchburg, and they had more money than anybody that farmed about Lynchburg. I remember one that had his mother there at Lynchburg and he had some $800 or $1,000. He was sold down in Alabama in slavery time and he lives there now. I know of another man in Montgomery, Ala., that makes money. He was sold down there in slavery time and he stays there yet. But in Virginia the colored people seem to get on very well. I am sorry about that little ‘sturbance at Danville, but that could have been done without, and that is the only ‘sturbance in Virginia for some time past. This is a rich part of Virginia along here and the people get along very well.
Q. What part of Virginia is this?—A. This is Southwest Virginia.
Q. About how far are we from Bristol, Tenn.?—A. We are about 60 miles from Bristol, now.
Q. Do you think of anything else you can state as to the condition of the colored folks?—A. No, sir; I don’t think of anything else just now.
Q. Do many of them work on the farms or plantations?—A. Yes, sir; there is a lot of colored people working on plantations around Lynchburg.
Q. Are they generally of steady habits? Do they save their money generally?—A. Some of them is very saving, and again there is others that waste what they makes.
Q. How is it about the young women?—A. Well, they don’t do very well in the town; in the country they are much better. They like to dress in the town. Some of them goes to school, some takes in Washington, and some goes to service.
Wages and Morals of Young Colored Women.
Q. What wages can they get in service?—A. Some of them in Lynchburg gets $8 a month; some $6, some $5, and some about $4. When they work by the day they get 50 cents a day; most all of them are with some family in town.
Q. Are the young colored women generally inclined to work?—A. Yes. Pretty much all of them works at service in private families. Them that doesn’t, their mothers take in washing and they help them to wash. Then, some of them work in the tobacco factories.
Q. Do the young folks marry and settle down, generally?—A. A great many gets married, but a great many lives single, too. Some of them “breaks the cane down” (as the old man said), and everybody is down on them for a long time. A girl like that doesn’t get any respectable people to pay any attention to her, so she often goes where she can be paid attention to. Some of them recover from that step after awhile and get married. I blame the colored people themselves for a heap of their girls turning out badly. A man must try to raise his child like he expects for her to live. If I had a daughter and I didn’t think a man was goin’ to pay genteel respect to her, I would not let her go to church with him or loll round the fence and talk. If you suffer your daughter to go to church with every man that has got on a stiff collar, and every time she goes to church, if she has to go and come by a round-about way, and then stand out round the corners and round the gate, that is not genteel at all. I believe in lettin’ girls and boys have privileges in a respectable way, and if you start children right, they’ll go ahead right, as a general thing, though sometimes, of course, one will go off anyhow. But its too late to teach children after they have grown up. That’s the way with the colored people. They think so much of their child that they hate to keep him “crank,” as they call it, and the first thing they know he’s gone. Now, I have never been accused of anything in my life—never had any trouble. The firm I worked with gave me a recommendation for this place, and then I got a pass to go down to New Orleans. It requires an honest man in a place like this, because many and many a time I pick up a pocket-book or some other valuable thing, and if there is no owner for it, I turn it in to the office. I haven’t lost a week since I’ve been working for this company. I lost very little time during the twelve years I worked at the tobacco business.
Q. I infer from what you say that if a colored man sets out to work in this part of the country he can get along and make a comfortable living for himself and his family?—A. Oh, yes.
Q. Well, people have to work for a living, wherever they are. A man has to do that up North, and I believe that most of them work harder there than you do down here.—A. Yes, sir; I reckon so. I have got a brother in Jersey City. He waits on a gentleman up there, and that gentleman is mighty good to my brother. He gives him $50 a month and the privilege of selling the manure, and then he gives him the privilege of riding white people out in his conveyance (to give the horses exercise), and they pay him the same as they would any other hackman. So my brother, I suppose, is making nearly $80 a month. He has been with that gentleman nearly eight years now.
Q. Do you think the colored people generally are pretty well contented?—A. Oh, yes; pretty well contented, and they get along very well, the most of them—them that tries to get along, gets along very well.
Q. I suppose you have about as good a chance as anybody to see how they are getting along all through this part of the country. You see about as many colored folks as any one, and you keep your eyes open, I judge.—A. Yes, sir; somtimes I ask them at different places how they are gettin’ along, and they generally seem to be doin’ pretty well. Down in Georgia there was two colored men hung, and I was talkin’ to a colored man about it, and he said, “Those two colored men done wrong and it’s right that they should be hung.” So I said no more. Them that belongs in a State, that’s their home, and I believe that if I was to go down into Georgia and get into a fuss with one of the white people there, the colored men would beat me. Down at Opelika when they had a ‘sturbance there and the governor of Alabama had to send troops, I asked one colored man, “What’s the matter, you are so bad down here?” and he says, “This is my home, and we are gettin’ along here as well as you are in your own home.” He didn’t want me to talk anything against the folks down there, so I never said any more. If they have a little fuss they don’t want anybody else to interfere.
BIRMINGHAM, ALA., November 16, 1883.
Rev. ISAIAH H. WELSH (colored) sworn and examined.
By the CHAIRMAN:
Question. You are a clergyman of what denomination?—Answer. I am a clergyman of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first colored independent organization in this country.
Q. You are a settled pastor over a church of that denomination in this city?—A. I am.
Q. How long is it since your church was organized in this city?—A. It has been nearly fifteen years.
Q. How long have you been pastor of it?—A. Seven months.
Q. From what point did you come here?—A. Selma, Ala.
Religion Among the Negroes.
Q. How large is your church in numbers?—A. We have a membership of over three hundred. The congregation is nearly five hundred or six hundred.
Q. Are there other colored congregations in this city?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. How many?—A. There are five in all, but some of them are very small.
Q. What is their aggregate attendance, do you think?—A. I think the average is about two hundred and fifty.
Q. Are there six in all, including yours?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. How many white churches are there here?—A. Nearly every denomination of whites is represented here by a church organization.
Q. Is there a Catholic church here?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. White and colored both?—A. White only.
Q. Does the Catholic Church organize the races separately or together?—A. Sometimes they are allowed to worship together, I believe. Here, I understand the priest has extended a very cordial invitation to colored Catholics to unite with the whites in worship; but in larger cities, such as Washington City, they are organized separately.
Q. The tendency of both races is to organize separately where they exist in sufficient numbers, is it not?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Is it not generally the preference of both races to do that?—A. It appears to be so.
Q. You find it so on the part of the colored people, do you not?—A. Yes, sir; there is a strong tendency to be separate.
Q. In school and in church and in social gatherings?—A. Yes, sir.
The Color Line.
Q. There is a social line of demarkation distinctly drawn between the races in accordance with the wishes of both races?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. That does not lead to any ill feeling between the races, I suppose, because it is a thing that each desires for itself; a separation that is meant for their mutual pleasure and their mutual good?—A. Yes, sir; we think it is better not to thrust ourselves upon the other race, and to avoid race-clashing as much as possible; we prefer that way both in worship and in social gatherings.
Q. Is that feeling increasing or lessening among your people?—A. Well, I think it is increasing slowly.
Q. Along with that, is good nature preserved, or is there a tendency toward acrimony and hostility of feeling between the races?—A. Good nature and good feeling seem to be cherished quite generally.
Q. And you think that is the way to preserve good feeling; to keep the races separate?—A. Yes, sir; I think so.
Q. How long have you been a clergyman?—A. Thirteen years.
Condition and Prospects of the Colored People.
Q. I wish you would state to the committee, in your own way, such things as you would like to say about your own race and the white race in this part of the country—the relations that exist between them, the condition of both races here, past, present, and prospective, how you feel about the future of your people, and how the colored people themselves, generally, and also the white people, feel about it.—A. Well, in the past our people have been placed under very discouraging circumstances, and most of the trouble that has arisen can be attributed, I presume, to the manner in which they have been treated on the farms. Soon after emancipation a great many of the colored people were forced to leave the farms and flock to the cities. That, of course, compelled a great many of them to herd together in the cities, and sometimes large to accommodate one good-sized family. This herding together has had a very injurious effect upon the health of the people; but a great many of them were disposed to remain in the city for want of protection elsewhere, thinking that they could be better protected in the city than in the country. That was largely the case some time ago, when there was a great deal of bitter feeling between the races, which resulted in the death of a goodly number of our people. Then there was a class of men that came down to this country some years back, and gave us very bad advice and instruction. That instruction was of a political nature, and its tendency was to produce unpleasant feeling between the races. Our people were instructed and led by men who really did not feel very much interested in us, and when we were exposed to danger and death they, to a very great extent, deserted us in the time of our greatest need.
Q. Who were those men? I do not ask for names, but merely for an indication of the class to whom you refer.—A. Well, some were running for Congress, and some were striving for the legislature and for various elective offices.
Q. They were candidates for political positions?—A. Yes, sir.
The Exodus and its Causes.2
Q. About what time do you refer to in that statement?—A. Along about 1870, 1871, 1872, and 1873. During the period of political excitement most of the people who were employed on farms were induced by these men to leave their work and engage in politics—stumping, and that sort of thing—with the promise of pay. Of course, that business had a tendency to unsettle the laboring class of people, and to enrage the land holders against them, and in many instances, under the contract system, of which I have some knowledge, especially in South Carolina and Virginia, from my acquaintance with the Freedmen’s Bureau, the land owners failed to keep their contracts, and that had a discouraging effect upon the laborers, and that fact accounts to a great extent for the exodus, of which you have probably heard a good deal—more, perhaps, than I am able to tell you. The colored people felt compelled to seek new homes where they could have some certainty of getting what they worked for. However, the complexion of things has changed very much since that time, and has improved very much, and while we still have some matters to lament, there are many things of which we feel proud.
With regard to our race, generally, I can say that it is making some advancement in many respects, and would make more if the trades were open to our young men. The entrances to the different trades seem, however, to be closed against them to a very great extent. There seems to be a disposition on the part of some laborers in some localities to shut our people out. While some colored parents, fathers especially, are anxious to have their sons learn trades, believing that to be the best means by which they can provide for their future usefulness, there are very few trades outside of the barber’s occupation of which our young men have a chance to acquire a knowledge, and therefore they are mostly engaged about here in mining and doing other subordinate work; very few of them are learning trades. There are some labor organizations here which, while they have no definite rules forbidding colored men to enter, yet do practically exclude them. Of course, all this is very discouraging, not only to the young people, but to parents.
Industrial Schools Needed.
If we had industrial schools established among us where these different trades could be learned, it would be very much better, and I think it would have an excellent effect upon our colored people especially.
I am satisfied that if such schools were established and maintained here they would have a very good influence generally, but of course I am unable to say how they should be supported. I presume, however, that they might be maintained the same as any other schools, but I think they would succeed very much better if they were taken under the fostering care of the General Government. The time of study would be lengthened and were there agents of the Government to look after that matter particularly, I think the schools would succeed remarkably well with all classes of people here. Such schools would not only benefit the colored people, but they would also greatly benefit the laboring class of whites.
The School Term Too Short.
We long to see the day when the school terms will be lengthened. They are too short now for the children to make much progress. A child in some instances spends three months in school and nine months out of school, so that when he is in school you may say he is always on review, and is never making any progress. By the time he gets started in the study the school is compelled to close from want of means or some other unavoidable circumstance, and while it is closed the pupils lose as much as they have gained during the short school term. Of course this state of things has a very injurious effect upon both races, especially the laboring classes. People in easy circumstances are able to establish private schools or to patronize such schools where they are already established, and in that way to overcome these difficulties under which the poorer people labor.
Abolish the Liquor Traffic.
So far as intemperance among our people is concerned, of course there is a good deal of it, and we are hoping that there will be an abolishment of the liquor traffic in this country. There seems to be a disposition on the part of the laboring men, especially men who are not able to afford it, to spend their leisure time and their money in drink; this I notice among both races. As Mayor Lane has well stated, it is not confined to one race. I don’t know whether the Government could possibly stop that or not; they might possibly abolish the liquor traffic, but I don’t believe they feel very strongly inclined to. do that; however, it would be a very good thing if it could be done; for, of course, the less drink there is among all classes, but especially the poor, the more means they will have to live comfortably and to educate their children. Very often they will spend enough at one time to furnish their children with books for the whole season in school.
That class of people have a very limited idea of economy, they are not economical. Of course our people in the past never had to think about economy, they had some one else to think for them and take care of them, but now they have been thrown out upon their own resources and have to do their own thinking; and of course, everything is new to them and they perhaps cannot give as much attention to this matter of economy as they should; still, some of them are doing remarkably well in that regard, some are saving money and living very comfortably and buying homes. There is nothing that tends to unsettle the people more than poverty. Wherever a man has a home you generally find that man temperate and reliable in every respect. There is a class of our people that are anxious to buy homes and settle down, and were the inducements offered to them by the land-holders to purchase lands stronger, I think they would be more ready to do it. The land-holders here can do a great deal to induce the poorer classes to purchase land and to make homes. When our people get homes they will feel that they have an interest in the soil, and it will stimulate them to be more industrious and saving, and they would be better able to support and educate their families. If the body of the people were situated in that way, then, even if the State was not able to support the schools for a sufficiently long term each year, the parents would have sufficient means saved to enable them to employ teachers. In certain districts they do that now. Where there are several families located close together they sometimes unite and employ a teacher during the summer months to instruct their children, and those private schools are very often continued until the public schools reopen. But, of course, a great many of our people are not able to do this.
Q. Are the colored people able to do it to any extent?—A. Only a very few of them.
Private Colored Schools.
Q. How many colored children in this city attend private schools?—A. I presume about thirty-five or forty. There are two private schools. I visited one and found about fifteen children there, and I was reliably informed that in the other colored private school there are about the same number. But the colored people are unable generally to send their children to private schools because of the tax, and in many instances the tax upon the parents for sending their children to the public schools has proved rather a barrier to their attendance. I gleaned from Mayor Lane’s statement this morning what I did not know before in regard to the admission of children to the public schools whose parents are not able to pay. I never knew that that was the rule. The general impression in my church is that unless the parent pays for the child it is not allowed to attend school. I am not certain, but I think the principal of our school has left that impression upon the minds of the parents.
Q. Well, that is one of the things we came down here for, to correct that impression.—A. I am pleased to know it. I should have been pleased to have been able to state to my own people what Mayor Lane stated here this morning on that subject.
Q. Well, you can do it now, can’t you?—A. If I am authorized by Mayor Lane I will do so with pleasure.
The MAYOR. Of course that is the case. Where the parents are not able to pay, the children will be admitted free of charge.
The CHAIRMAN. Is that the general rule throughout the State?
The MAYOR. No; I speak only of Birmingham.
The WITNESS. The mayor’s announcement will have a very good effect hereafter upon the attendance at the public schools. Quite a number of the children have been kept away, especially among members of my church. I have never had to talk with the mayor upon this subject, but I spoke to one member of the school board, from whom I gained very little information, so that I was unable to correct the impression which generally prevails among our people; but in the future I shall take pleasure in doing so. Now, if the school terms could be lengthened it would have a very salutary effect upon the people, and the children would make very much better progress than they possibly can otherwise.
There is a disposition to ask the Government to appropriate sufficient money to continue the schools eight or nine months a year, and if that were done I think they would be very successful.
Q. When you say “the Government” you mean the General Government?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. You say you find a desire among your people that such an appropriation should be made?—A. Yes, sir; a very strong desire. Inasmuch as the Freedman’s Bank was a failure, and they lost a good deal of money that they had saved up for the education of their children, some of them are of opinion that it would be well for the Government to take some steps to reimburse them in some way. 3
Q. I did not quite understand what you said in regard to the distribution or the expenditure of such a fund, if it were appropriated?—A. Well, some think that it would be best for the Government if it makes the appropriation to have its own agents to make the distribution, while others are under the impression that it would be best to turn the money over to the State and let it make the distribution. But that is a matter upon which the people have not really decided; they are not particular as to the way, so long as the thing is done.
Q. From the way in which the State officers administer the State educational fund, do you think that if an appropriation were made by the General Government to aid the cause of education down here, there would be any difficulty in having it fairly divided between the races?—A. Well, I presume it might be fairly divided; I could not say. I know that some of the officers of this State are very reliable and very honest, and I believe they would do their duty in that regard. The country districts, however, I could not say much about; I am not acquainted with the school officers there or their character. But the general State officers I should believe would do their whole duty; especially Mr. Armstrong, the superintendent; I believe he would do his whole duty in that regard.
Q. And you think if difficulties arose, it would be in the counties and towns?—A. Yes, sir. From what I can learn, I believe there would be no difficulty here in our city. Elsewhere there might be some difficulty. Some people have such an apprehension.
Q. I understood Mr. Armstrong, the State superintendent, to say that in case of any complaint or of any just cause of complaint existing, there was a method provided in the law for bringing the abuse to his attention. I did not understand exactly what power he had to correct any abuse, but I understood him to say that it could be brought to his attention and publicly exposed, so that the power of public opinion could be brought to bear for its correction.
Mr. PUGH. He has the power of peremptory removal, but he has never exercised it, because there has never been any occasion.4
A Colored School Superintendent Wanted.
The WITNESS. In our address, which we presented yesterday, we called his attention to that question, and asked that there should be a State superintendent selected from our race to superintend the education of our people, and also that there should be district superintendents to attend to the work in the districts.
By the CHAIRMAN:
Q. You want the rule of unmixed schools carried out to the fullest extent, then?—A. Yes, sir. We do not think that the present superintendent can do all the work; we don’t think that he can give that attention to the education of our children that its importance demands, and, of course, if we had a superintendent of our own race in each of these districts it would have an inspiring effect on the teachers. We need Teachers’ Institutes for our teachers. In many instances the teachers are not at all up to the times; they are considerably behind; some of them don’t study very much, and in fact are not encouraged to study. Now, in such cases a district superintendent of our own race would look after them and spur them on, and they would probably do their work much better than they do now, and introduce progressive modes and methods of teaching.
Q. Are there any colored superintendents of schools in any of the counties of the State, that you know of?—A. There are none that I know of. I don’t think that there are any.
Q. The logic runs down, but it does not run up?—A. No, sir; it doesn’t run up very far. We are trying, if possible, to give it some encouragement in an upward direction.
Q. The superintendents are appointed?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. But your State superintendent at the head of the matter is, you say, a man in whom all have confidence?—A. Yes, sir; a very excellent man.
Q. Don’t you think that by application to him you could have superintendents of your own race appointed in the counties where your people are numerous?—A. I think so. Well, we made a formal application of that character yesterday.
Q. In what county?—A. It was not confined to any particular county.
Q. You applied for district superintendents?—A. Yes, sir; one for each Congressional district, and one for the State.
Q. I understood the State superintendent to say that there was a superintendent appointed for each county.—A. Not from our race.
Q. But you say you asked for a superintendent of your own race, not for each county, but for each Congressional district?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Has he power to make such an appointment as that?—A. We don’t know that he has, but we thought that he might recommend it to the legislature, and that if it was done it would greatly improve educational matters among our people.
Q. Well, it would seem to be but fair that you should have something to say about the supervision, since you have to support the schools.—A. The visit of a superintendent or a member of the school board has a very good effect, you know, on both teacher and pupils. I know that from my own experience as a teacher. It certainly inspires the teacher. And then the superintendent always comes with new and improved methods and posts the teacher in anything that he is deficient in.
Q. Is there any other matter that you wish to bring to our attention?
A. There is nothing else that I think of at present. Having lost considerable rest, I am not prepared, mentally, as well as I might be, under other circumstances, to make a statement.
Good Feeling Between the Races.
I might add, however, that there is a growing feeling between the races. I had the pleasure of assuring the governor of that yesterday, and calling his attention to that one blessing, that there is a good feeling subsisting between the two races.
Q. And you say that that feeling is increasing?—A. Yes, sir; it is really encouraging.
Q. You think, I suppose, that the white race will get so by and by, that they will vote the Republican ticket?—A. Well, the principles without the name.
The Negro Vote Divided.
By Mr. PUGH:
Q. Don’t you think the colored people are just as likely to vote the Democratic ticket as the whites are to vote the Republican ticket?—A. Well, they might vote that ticket a little and some will vote it straight out. They are beginning to think for themselves politically. They are a little divided since the decision on the civil rights bill, and I am afraid they will be more divided. It is hard to determine the political sentiment among our people now; a very difficult matter.5
By the CHAIRMAN:
Q. I suppose the same is true of the white people?—A. Yes, sir; it is true of both races now.
Q. I thought so yesterday from what we heard here about the tariff.
A. Yes, sir; they are very much divided on the tariff.
Q. Among the manufacturers there is no division on that subject, is there?—A. No, sir; there is a strong oneness among them.
By the CHAIRMAN:
Q. Then you think the time is coming when the white folks here will be permitted to vote as they please? [Laughter.]—A. I think so; and the colored folks, too. I think the time is coming when they will select the best men for public positions, regardless of politics.
Q. In that case the black folks will help them, won’t they?—A. Yes, sir; to a very great extent.
Q. I suppose you fancy that when they adopt that stand-point, the candidates will have to be taken from the colored ranks sometimes?—A. Well, no, sir; except where they are qualified.
By Mr. PUGH:
Q. You say that the Democrats have elected State officers who have your confidence and the confidence of the colored people?—A. I spoke particularly of Mr. Armstrong.
Q. Is there any other State officer in whom you have not confidence; and, if so, have you any reason for having no confidence in him?—A. None whatever. I spoke only of Mr. Armstrong, because I had no occasion to allude to the others. I singled out Mr. Armstrong because I am personally acquainted with him, and have learned considerable about him. But the matter of politics will take care of itself in the South.
The CHAIRMAN: That is the way it should be, and I should rejoice as much as anybody to see the time when the colored people will divide as other people do upon political questions.
The WITNESS. We intend to do that in the future—to think as we please and vote as we please—if the vote is only counted as it is cast; but those matters will all be remedied after awhile, I presume.
The CHAIRMAN. I suppose when the people down here get better educated they can count better. [Laughter.]
The WITNESS. Yes, sir. In some instances others have been doing the counting for them.
The CHAIRMAN. The “others” are the ones that I was thinking of in making that remark.
Mr. PUGH. Both sides have counted in that way, have they not?
The WITNESS. Oh, yes, sir; we have got men on both sides who possess a remarkable faculty for counting. [Laughter.] There is very little difference I find; they all do good counting.
The CHAIRMAN. And make a record accordingly.
The WITNESS. Yes, sir.
Mr. PUGH. Education will obviate the necessity of resorting to false counting to avoid other evils, will it not?
The WITNESS. Yes, sir. I believe that education will remedy that matter.
Mr. PUGH. Education will remedy the evils by keeping bad men out of office.
The WITNESS. That is so; we want better men.
BIRMINGHAM, ALA., November 16, 1883.
JAMES A. SCOTT (colored) sworn and examined.
By the CHAIRMAN:
Question. Where do you live?—Answer. In Birmingham, Ala.
Q. How long have you resided here?—A. About nineteen months.
Q. Where did you come from to Birmingham?—A. I came from Montgomery.
Q. You understand the general scope of my inquiry, now go on and make any statement that you desire to make in regard to the condition of your own race here, or in regard to their relation with the white race.
Why The Colored People Crowd Into The Towns.
A. Well, I can say that the advancement and progress of the colored people has been remarkable. The fact that they have rushed into the towns in the South has been caused by a desire which took possession of them just after the surrender and during the days of reconstruction, to obtain protection. The colored people and the poor white people have been two distinct classes, and they have been antagonistic to each other ever since they have been together in this country, and that natural antagonism just after the war was intensified, and all the trouble and disorder that we had in the South was the result, I believe, of the antagonism and bad feeling which existed between those two classes. During the days of slavery a colored man would refer to a poor white man as poor white trash, and there was a natural antipathy between them, and there always has been bad feeling. The better class of the white people of the South have never indorsed the lawlessness that did exist here, and which was the cause of the colored men rushing into the cities. Those colored men came to the cities and towns, and many of them who had been industrious before, contracted habits of idleness, and just got to taking the world as they could find it. That was one reason why a great many of them left the farms in the South. This is an idea that occurred to me some years ago, and while I was the editor of a paper in Montgomery I frequently referred to it, and endeavored to show the people that all of that bad feeling between the black man and the white man was the result of the antagonism between these two classes that I have mentioned.
Q. Are you an editor?—A. I was formerly editor of a paper in Montgomery.
Q. What is your business now?—A. I am a practicing lawyer here. I have said this much by way of preface to the general statement that I desire to make.
The educational facilities for the colored people are not so good now as they were some years ago—well, they may be just as good, but I fear our friends do not take that interest in the schools that they ought to take. I know a county where the superintendent never visits the schools from the time they open until they close. The schools are open four, five, or six months. It is a fact that in some of the counties, for instance in Madison—they have a most excellent superintendent, who takes a great interest in the schools; but you go into other counties in the lower part of the State and you will find the case quite different, and particularly is that the fact with regard to Montgomery County, because I lived there five years and I know the facts. I know that the schools would open and the superintendent would never visit them, and he never did take that interest in them that he ought to have taken.
Q. Montgomery is where Mr. Armstrong lives?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Don’t you think you ought to call his attention to those facts, then, because he has power to remedy that evil?—A. I frequently called the attention of the superintendent of education to the fact, and at one time he issued a circular letter to his county superintendents to visit the colored schools.
Q. Men who do not visit the schools are of course unfit to distribute the school money, and when you make these facts known to Mr. Armstrong I am confident that he will remove the delinquent superintendents. You have confidence in Mr. Armstrong?—A. Yes, sir; I believe that Mr. Armstrong is a conscientious gentleman who desires to see the educational interests of the State advanced without regard to race or color, and I believe I voice the sentiment of the colored people of the State when I say that they have the fullest confidence in every State officer. Referring to Dr. Welch’s testimony in regard to the request to the governor to appoint a colored State superintendent, a mass-meeting of colored citizens was held and also a committee was appointed to visit the railroad commission and lay before them certain complaints in regard to the treatment received by the colored people from the various railroads of the State. That committee consisted of Dr. Welch and myself and three other colored men. In the mean time we drew up an address to the governor and set forth the fact of this lack of interest in the work of education, and asked the governor to recommend to the next legislature the enactment of such a law as would secure to the colored people a State superintendent of their own and an additional superintendent in each district who would visit their schools and see that the proper methods of education were adopted. That was the object of that visit to the governor. We were received very cordially by the governor and the superintendent of education.
Q. Did the governor indicate any intention to accede to your request?
A. Yes, sir; the governor received the gentlemen cordially and gave them a warm welcome, and assured them that every fact they stated and every complaint they made should be duly considered by himself and by the gentlemen of the cabinet.
Discrimination Against Colored People On Railroads.
We also visited the railroad commission and made certain complaints against the railroads of Alabama. There has been a universal discrimination here in Alabama, and, indeed, all over the South, in the treatment of the colored people as to the cars they are permitted to ride in. The white people have always labored under the impression that whenever a colored man attempted to go into the ladies’ car, he did it simply because it was a car for the white people. Now if the white people looked at it as we look at it, taking a common-sense view of it, they would see that that idea is erroneous and false. We go into those cars simply because there are better accommodations there, and because we secure better protection in the ladies’ car, for the general sentiment of the white men certainly protects their ladies. But in the cars alloted to the colored people a white man comes in and smokes cigars, and chews tobacco, and curses and swears, and all that kind of thing, and the conductors on the various roads don’t exercise their powers for the protection of the colored passengers. We made these complaints to the railroad commission, and the president of the commission told us that it was a matter within their jurisdiction, and that they would take cognizance of it, and would see that those complaints were looked into, and those evils remedied. We asked simply for equal accommodation and protection with the white people in riding on the railroads, and the 22d day of this month was set for a final hearing, and the superintendent of railroads was summoned to be there at the final hearing of the matter, and we have the assurance of the gentlemen of the commission that the subject will be acted upon promptly, and that the vexed question—for this is one of the most vexed questions that we have to deal with in the South—will be settled. We expect, therefore, that so far as Alabama is concerned, the people of both races will have equal accommodation. Our people do not care whether they are put in the front of the train or in the middle or at the tail end, so long as they have proper accommodations and proper protection.
Q. As I understand the case, you simply want the same accommodations that the white people have for the same money?—A. Yes, sir.
The Civil Rights Bill.
Q. And if your request is granted that will settle the civil rights bill, so far as Alabama is concerned?—A. Yes, sir; very satisfactorily to the colored people. By the way, I always regarded the civil rights bill as a humbug and a fraud. I never saw any colored men in the South that exercised the privileges that it conferred on them, and I always regarded it as a piece of political clap-trap.
Q. You have found out that all the protection you could get for your persons and your property was to be got from the State?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Is there any further statement that you desire to make?—A. I believe not. Dr. Welsh expressed my sentiments on the labor question very elaborately, and I can adopt his statement as my own almost without change.
An Encouraging Prospect.
Q. What is your idea as to the outlook of the colored people of this State for the future?—A. I think the outlook for the colored people is good; I don’t see any discouraging signs. They are educating their children, acquiring property, becoming independent in politics, and exercising their thinking powers. I think that is a considerable advance upon the state of things heretofore existing.
Q. What about your schools? Have you sufficient money to maintain them properly?—A. No, sir; that is the great trouble. I am not as well posted on the school question as I ought to be. I am not engaged in teaching and have not been for a long time, and therefore I am not very well posted, but my observation is that the school advantages are not so good as they ought to be. I believe that if they had money, and could have it judiciously applied, our schools could be made more efficient, but I can say here that so far as Birmingham is concerned, we have a very efficient school system here is very good, and a great improvement on that which formerly existed.
Q. Do you desire to make any further statement?—A. No, sir; nothing else occurs to my mind now.
BIRMINGHAM, ALA., November 16, 1883.
JESSE CLAXTON (colored) sworn and examined.
By Mr. PUGH:
Question. Do you live in Birmingham?—Answer. Yes, sir.
Q. What is your business?—A. I am a carpenter.
Q. How long have you been a carpenter?—A. Twenty-nine years.
Q. How did you learn your trade?—A. I was bound out in Richmond, Va., by my owner.
Q. Then you learned your trade when you were a slave?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. And you have been at work at it ever since?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. How long have you been living here?—A. About ten years.
A Colored Contractor.
Q. Are you a mechanic working by the day or a contractor?—A. I am a contractor now and have been for a good many years.
Q. Then you employ laborers yourself?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. What wages do you pay the carpenters you employ?—A. From $1.50 to $2.50 per day.
Q. How have you succeeded in your business as a contractor?—A. I have done mighty well. I have had some bad luck, though, but I can blame nobody for it only myself.
Q. Have you been able to save anything?—A. Yes, sir; I have saved a great deal and lost a great deal.
Q. How does your financial condition compare now with what it has been in the past?—A. Well, sir, it is very poor now, but it has been better.
Q. You have been better off than you are now?—A. Oh yes, sir; I have been worth a good deal of property in this place, but I have not got it now. I have some, though.
Q. How did you lose it?—A. My own misfortunes, bad luck, as other men sometimes have.
Q. What are the opportunities here for men in your trade to make money?
A. Good; very good.
Q. Are they better now than they have been?—A. Well, the opportunity has been better than it is right now, but it is good enough now.
Q. In what respect has it been better than it is now?—A. Well, when this place first started we got a little better wages for building a house than we can get now.
Q. There is more competition now?—A. Yes, sir; I worked on this very building (the court-house) making those frames. I was getting $3 a day then, working by the day.
Q. If there is anything further that you want to let us know about the condition of your trade or of the working people generally or anything that you think we can do to improve their condition you may go on and state it.—
A. I don’t suppose that I could state anything to you that you could do for me, because the work is here, and if a man can do it the people will give it to him and pay him for it, and if he tries he can make money. There is some that makes a good deal of money here and some that has a chance to make it and don’t make it.
Q. Well, that is the case everywhere, is it not?—A. Oh, yes; this is really about the best part of Alabama for colored people. They can get more work to do, and they can get better pay for it, I believe. The colored people generally have no trouble with the better class of white people in this country; in fact, everywhere that I have been the well raised, wealthy, respectable white people are generally friends to the colored people, but it is the class that is nearly on a level with them that oppresses them, if any at all.
Insufficient School Privileges—Aid Wanted.
In some parts of the State the colored people has no chance to get their children to school, somehow. In Saint Clair County, a part of the State that I have been through this year, there is so few colored people living there that the county superintendent says there is not enough colored children to pay the teacher, and consequently they do not get any teaching at all. If they lived in a township where there was a great many colored people then they could get a school.
Q. Do you think of anything else that you would like to state?—A. Nothing else that I know of that is worth stating here.
By the CHAIRMAN:
Q. Are there any trades unions among the colored people, or any institutions of that nature?—A. Not here. I belonged to one or two in Georgia and Virginia.
Q. Were they of any benefit to you?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. I suppose you agree with the other witnesses here in regard to desiring aid from the General Government for your schools?—A. Yes, sir. If the colored people had the chance to get their children into shops to learn trades, it would be a great help to them. The people here that owns the works, I don’t suppose they would have any objection to taking in colored apprentices, but the class that works there won’t work with them as a general thing. Now, if there was some way to give colored people trades it would be a great benefit.
BIRMINGHAM, ALA., November 16, 1883.
J. G. GOING (colored) sworn and examined.
By the CHAIRMAN:
Question. Do you live in Birmingham?—Answer. Yes, sir.
Q. What is your business?—A. I am a barber by profession.
Q. You understand the subject of our inquiry; go on and make any statement that you desire on the subject.
The Colored People Doing Well.
A. Well, taking everything into consideration, I think the colored people through this section of the country are doing pretty well. They get pretty fair wages for their work and there is a good lot of work here to do; common labor, I think, gets from $1 to $1.25 a day, some more and some less, and an economical man save something out of that. There is a good number of colored men here that have acquired homes, and some have got very good property. I don’t know of any section of country in this State where they are doing as well as they are here.
Q. How badly are they doing anywhere?—A. I don’t know that they are doing overly badly anywhere.
Q. How well are they doing outside of Birmingham?—A. I don’t know much about what is going on outside of this town, because I don’t go much to the country. In the place that I came from the colored men was doing pretty well, some of them living on good farms and having nice property.
Q. Do you think the colored men are buying land more than they used to?
A. Yes, sir; a good deal more.
Q. You think they have generally the idea that they want to own land?
A. Yes, sir.
Colored Men Thriftless, Just Like White People.
A. Well, colored people are just like white people in that respect. Plenty of white men work all their lives and don’t accumulate anything, and it is the same way with colored people, but it is more general with them, I think, because they are not cultured as much as the white people. It is the more ignorant class of people that are the sufferers in that respect, both white and colored.
Education The Remedy.
Q. You think that if they knew more they would save more?—A. Oh, yes, and they would be better citizens in every way. A great amount of the crime that is committed by both whites and blacks is committed by the more or less ignorant people.
Q. You all seem to be thoroughly impressed with the idea that it is well and desirable to be better educated?—A. Yes, sir; that is the thing that our people need mostly. What they need is a common-school system—not colleges, but a common-school system that would meet the wants of the poorer classes, white and black. The colored people, for instance, the poorer classes, cannot send their children off to be educated, and it is the same way with the white people; a few colored people and a few white people can, but the poorer classes cannot.
Q. Have you thought anything about the establishment of the postal savings bank system here, and whether it would be a good thing?—A. No, sir; I have not thought much of that.
Q. Which do you think is the best way for a colored man who has no home to invest his money, in a bank or in a piece of land?—A. Well, the safest way, I think, is to put it in property.
Q. Then, you think that nobody needs to wait for the establishment of savings banks in order to save money?—A. Oh, no; they do not need to wait; but there are very few people who are laying up anything.
Q. Is there any difficulty in their getting land here to buy?—A. None at all, if they have got the money to pay for it.
Q. Can they get trusted like other folks—can they buy a piece of land, paying part down, give a mortgage, and get time to pay the balance?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Is there any place of which you have knowledge where it is better to buy land than it is here?—A. Well, the tendency around this country is for the value of land to go up.
Q. So that if a man buys a piece of land it may increase in value a great deal faster than his money would increase at interest?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Is there any other point that you wish to suggest?—A. No, sir; that is all. About the most important thing for our people is to try to have good common schools established.
Federal Aid Wanted.
Q. And you want national aid to help that along, do you?—A. Yes, sir. Our school system here is very poor. The State does not appropriate much money for the support of the schools, and the result is that there are very few children in school. The parents are all poor and are not able to send their children to school in many cases. I reckon there are one thousand children in this town of school age that are not in school.
The CHAIRMAN. If you are going to elect Democrats to office in Alabama, you must insist upon it that they shall give you good schools.
The WITNESS. It is always pretty easy to make that bargain, but the sticking up to it is more trouble.
The CHAIRMAN. You do the voting before you get the schools.
The WITNESS. That is the trouble.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, insist upon it that your Representatives in Washington shall vote for a national appropriation to aid your school system.
BIRMINGHAM, ALA., November 16, 1883.
N. R. FIELDING (colored) sworn and examined.
By the CHAIRMAN.
Question. You live in Birmingham?—Answer. Yes, sir.
Q. What is your business?—. I am a bricklayer.
Q. Are you a good one?—A. Well, you know I might say so without other people believing it. I pass for one, anyhow.
Q. Do you get plenty of work?—A. Yes, sir.
Another Colored Contractor
Q. Do you ever take contracts and employ others to help you?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. How many men have you had in your employ at one time?—A. I have had six or eight bricklayers, apart from laborers. Probably I have had twenty-five men altogether employed, including laborers.
Q. Then you have yourself superintended the labor of twenty-five men in your business?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. It is skilled work that you do?—A. Yes.
Q. You understand the general subject of our inquiry. If you have any ideas that you think would be useful to the committee, just make your own statement of them.—A. Well, I have not given the subject much thought. I was just caught up and asked to meet this committee, and I did not know what they wanted with me.
Q. Well, we want to know, in a general way, how you colored people, and other laboring people, are getting along here, and how you think you are getting along—whether you feel that your condition is improving or is getting worse, and generally how you are situated in this part of the country.—A. A question like that I will answer first in regard to myself, and then, perhaps, I can branch out a little about other people. My circumstances are very good. Since I have been in business I have made quite a success as a bricklayer, while others that have been more advanced and better workmen than I am, have not made as much as I have. There is a great many men, you know, that will make a dollar to-day and spend a dollar, and there is others that will make only fifty cents, but will save it. Wherever I made any money I saved a part of it.
Q. Have you a family?—.A. Yes, sir; I have two children.
Q. You have got a home?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Do you send your children to school?—A. My oldest girl is going to school, but not in this county. She is going to school at Limestone.
Q. How old is she?—A. She is fourteen.
Q. How old is your other child?—A. He is going on two years of age.
Q. Is your house in this city?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Do you own it?—A. Yes.
Q. Have you any objection to telling us what your place is worth?—A. Well, I can get $2,500 cash for it, if I want to sell it.
Q. Is it in a good situation?—A. Yes, sir; I have got a good two-story house of thirteen rooms.
Q. A brick house?—A. No, sir; it is a frame house.
Q. What did it cost you?—A. It cost me about $900, the way I built it. I paid $250 for the lot, and now the same lot, with nothing on it, would be worth $500.
Q. You have made that by saving and managing a little?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Tell us now about the rest of the colored folks.
Colored Men Who Are Dependent and “Oppressed.”
A. Well, the rest suffers themselves to be oppressed in some instances, but in others they do not. What they earn in the week most of them go on Saturday and spend it in rowdiness, and don’t have anything left on Monday morning. In old times, you know, we always used to have a living from our master’s smoke-house, and if the master did not have anything for us to eat we waited until he got it for us, and a good many of the colored people are of that opinion still—they wait for some one else to provide for them without trying to provide for themselves. But there is others that do better, and there is some others that would probably do better only that they are somewhat oppressed in their labor.
Q. What do you mean by “oppressed:”?—A. Well, they are not permitted to get the value of their labor.
Q. In what way does that come about?—A. Suppose I was a journeyman, working for a contractor, he would give me $2.50 a day, and a white man would come along, and if the contractor wanted another man and employed him he might give him $3.50 or $4 a day.
Q. For doing the same work?—A. Yes, sir; and sometimes the white man might not be as good a workman as I was. The highest wages a colored man gets now is $2.50 a day, while the white men get $3 or $4 a day. They always get 50 cents or $1 a day more than colored men, even though the colored man be a better workman.
Q. How does that come to be so?—A. Well, we look at it that it is all on account of color.
Q. They discount your color?—A. Yes, sir; it is not worth a great deal to be black.
Q. There is no compound interest on that?—A. No, sir; not a bit.
Q. The main question, after all, is whether you are not improving under all these difficulties; whether things are not getting better. We have had a big war and lots of trouble all around, but now the question is whether we are improving all over the country?—A. If we are getting along at all, it must be better than it used to be, because it is impossible for us to be in a worse condition than we were then. If there is any change at all it must be to the better. All the condition wherein we are not better is this being oppressed in our labor, in our work, and deprived of being advanced in skilled labor as we might be. We have no opportunities to learn trades as the whites have.
Q. Do you take any apprentices?—A. Yes, sir; but I do not have work enough to keep them. I have had one.
Q. Do you think that the white man has the preference over the black man as a skilled laborer?—A. Oh, yes; two to one in every respect, in any kind of work from a saw-mill up.
Q. In what they call common labor, the lowest paid labor, which will get most wages, the white or the colored?—A. If there is any difference at all in that, the white man will get from 10 cents to 25 cents a day more than the colored man. On the railroads they will pay a colored man 80 cents or 90 cents a day and a white man $1 a day.
Q. Where the work is the same?—A. Yes, sir; the same thing. Take the same tools and the same work, and the men working side by side.
Q. What reason do they give for that discrimination?—A. Some give the reason that it takes more for the white man to live on than the colored man, and that, consequently, they pay him higher wages, so that he may live better. The colored man, they say, gets board for $2.50 a week, while the white man has to pay $3.50, and they have to make up the difference in wages to make the men even.
Q. Do you think that is so?—A. I have some doubt about it. I think the board bill depends upon where the man boards and what he demands for his subsistence.
Q. Have you thought of anything which the General Government ought to do, or that you would like to have it do, for the improvement of your condition here?—A. I really don’t know of anything that you could do for us. I have never given much time to matters outside of what comes directly in my business of bricklaying. I don’t profess to know everything connected with that, but I don’t know whether the Government could improve that or not. It seems to be a matter left entirely to the contractors.
Poor and Insufficient Schools.
Q. How are your schools here?—A. Well, I am somewhat opposed to the school system. I don’t know who to find fault for it directly, but the poorer classes of colored people here are deprived of schools. The State or the county makes a little appropriation to start a school, but, as some people have already testified, we have very incompetent teachers, a good many of them; and the poorer children, that are not able to go to school, they are charged a “supplement,” and they are not able to pay that, so they are not able to go to school on account of the supplement fund. They are charged 10 cents a week. Now, where a man has to work for $1 a day, and has to pay from $5 to $10 month, and has five or six children to go to school, he cannot afford to send them to school and pay 10 cents a week extra for each of them; and if he is not able to pay that his children are not allowed to go to school, and he is deprived of the benefit of the public appropriation which the State makes for that purpose.
Mr. PUGH. You are mistaken about that I think.
The WITNESS. No, sir; I am not.
Mr. PUGH. Well, the mayor differs with you about it. He says that if the parents are not able to pay, the children are received in the schools at any rate.
The WITNESS. Well, they do not go, and they are refused admittance to the schools, and that has been so within the last thirty or sixty days.
Mr. PUGH. The mayor says that if they say that they are unable to pay they are admitted without pay.
The WITNESS. Well, I have always argued that they could not be deprived of going to school, but the teachers have undertaken to collect money from them, and if the parents don’t pay they send the children home. I don’t know whether it is done by authority or not, but I know it is done.
The CHAIRMAN. There is nothing to pay the teachers but that fund, is there?
The WITNESS. My idea is that if a school is being run in the name of the public, the poor children ought to get the benefit of it even if it does not run but one month. There is a heap of people that would send their children if they could pay.
Q. Do you think of anything else that you desire to state?—A. No, sir; nothing else.
AUGUSTA, GA., November 23, 1883.
The Colored Farm Laborers and Farmers of Georgia.
R. R. WRIGHT (colored)sworn and examined.
By the CHAIRMAN:
Question. You have heard the questions that have been asked other witnesses here and the testimony they have given, so that you have a general idea of the kind of information that we are seeking; now you may proceed to make any statement you please on the subjects to which this investigation relates.—Answer. Well, since I have been here this evening some thoughts have occurred to me, suggested by what I have heard said in regard to the labor question in this State, and I suppose the same may be said to be true of the South generally. About 75 per cent of the Georgia farm-laborers are colored, and 25 per cent, of those work for wages at about $8.33-1/3 per month; between 35 and 40 per cent of them work as tenants, paying a portion of what accrues from their labor as rental for the land, and probably between 10 and 15 percent own the land, on which they work. The colored people of Georgia own something over seven acres of land to every colored male voter; that land, however, is cut up into small farms of between fifty and one hundred acres each, and is, of course, confined in its ownership to a much less number than the number of voters. Of the farm laborers, probably the most impoverished and wretched are those that are farm tenants; they till the land on shares, and in such cases generally the whole family, the mother, as well as the children, work for wages, and at the end of the year they come out in debt. This result I think is caused by the small wages they receive; but partly, perhaps, also by the fact that they do not understand farming. Still the colored people are accumulating some property. In this State they pay taxes on something over $6,000,000.
This last year they made gains to the amount of $111,285, but this does not so much show their prosperity as it does their arduous industry and stinting frugality. The colored people, I suppose, are the most saving people on earth under the circumstances. I have heard it said that the Irishman, I believe can live on what the New Englander throws away; that the Chinaman can live on what the Irishman throws away, and, I believe, that the colored man can live on what the Chinaman would throw away.
Q. And he is the most muscular of them all?—A. That may be true.
Q. It would follow that the others injure themselves by eating, would it not?—A. I don’t know whether that would follow or not; it does not seem to be so; they seem to grow fatter while the colored man grows leaner.
Q. Still they are inferior to the colored man in the matter of physical strength, are they not?—A. I think that is true. It was proved by the reports to the Secretary of War a short time ago that the colored man, for all purposes of war and everything else, showed less sickness, less disability from disease or from hard work, or from soldierly duties generally than the white man. That statement is in the official reports, and I make it on that ground and from what I have heard; and it will be generally admitted, I suppose, that I may be called a representative negro.
Q. Have you any white blood in you?—A. No, sir; I have sixteen-sixteenths black blood in me. [Laughter.] When I say that, I may be called a representative negro; I do not mean, of course, in point of education, or in point of intelligence, but I mean racially.
Education—The Negroes Have Made More Progress Than The Whites.
Now, in regard to education, I think the colored people have given more attention to education and have made greater progress in it since the war than the white people have. That may seem a startling proposition, but it is certainly true. Let us take Georgia for example. In 1871 or 1870, when the schools in this State began, there were entered 49,000 white children and 6,000 colored. The white people, of course, had been educated up to the point where they saw the importance of educating their children; the colored people had not. To-day, however, in the schools of Georgia there are only about two white children to one colored. Now, taking into consideration the fact that there is considerable prejudice against the colored people, as has been evinced here to-night, this seems to me to be quite a remarkable showing, and it proves that the colored people are taking hold of education vigorously, and not only that, but also that the white people of the South are beginning to feel that it is right and wise to educate the colored people. I do not believe that the contrary sentiment to which expression has been given here is widely extended throughout this State, or throughout the South. I do not know much about the other portions of the country, but I know something about Georgia, and it is my opinion that the white people generally do not think it is wrong to educate the colored people. I believe that the white people generally understand that education is the very thing the colored people need most, and that the two races will get along better and have a better and more harmonious feeling between them the more they are both educated. That I believe is the general sentiment throughout this State now, and I think it is the same throughout the South generally. There are something over one millior colored children in the South, and of that number eight hundred thousand are in the schools. That shows beyond question that they are taking hold of education in earnest.
The Race Question.
There is another question that has come up here to-day, in regard to the comparative superiority and inferiority of races. I do not know that I am capable of talking intelligently upon that subject, but I will venture to say that I think this idea of the inferiority of any race is a mistake. I think that the differences between races are simply matters of education, training, surroundings. Some people think that the white man is inherently superior to the black man. That may be so, but let us look at facts. I believe that very nearly three-fourths of this globe is owned and inhabited by colored people. I may be a little wrong in stating the proportion, but I do not think I am very far wrong. Then it is generally admitted that religion has been a great means of human development and progress, and I think that about all the great religions which have blest this world have come from the colored races—all. In other words, what is called the Aryan race has not originated a single great religion. I believe, too, that our methods of alphabetic writing all came from the colored race, and I think the majority of the sciences in their origin have come from the colored races. I think also that the term Caucasian, if it is taken historically, is somewhat misleading. The Caucasian race includes the Aryan, the Semitic, and the Hamitic race, the race to which I claim to belong. Hence, I say, the expression Caucasian race is misleading. The leading type of the Hamitic race is the Egyptian. Now I take the testimony of those people who know, and who, I feel are capable of instructing me on this point, and I find them saying that the Egyptians were actually woolly-haired negroes. In Humboldt’s Cosmos (vol. 2, p. 531) you will find that testimony, and Humboldt, I presume, is pretty good authority. The same thing is stated in Herodotus, and in a number of other authors with whom you gentlemen are doubtless familiar. Now, if that is true, the idea that this negro race is inherently inferior, seems to me to be at least a little limping. Again, it was said here to-day that the white race had never been enslaved or ruled over—by which I understood the gentlemen to mean that the Aryan race or the Teutonic race had never been enslaved by a colored race. If what I have already said on this question of race has any foundation, that is evidently a mistake. The Israelites, I suppose, must be included in the white race, but we all know that Israel was conquered by Egypt, and hence it follows, it seems to me, that there have been instances in which the white race has been dominated and held in slavery by a black race.6
Q. How long were the Israelites in Egypt?—A. About four hundred years, I think.
Q. How long is it since America was discovered by Columbus?—A. A little short of four hundred years, and slavery here did not begin as early as that, and it has already disappeared. Therefore the negro in America has not been in slavery quite so long as that white race was in slavery in Egypt. Again, Nimrod, who was a descendant of Ham, and who, I think, will be admitted to have been an ancestor of the negro race—this same Nimrod founded Nineveh and founded some other places between the Tigris and the Euphrates. From Nineveh the race came toward the west, over into the islands of the sea, over into Greece, and I think it is generally conceded that from that region we get a great deal of this very civilization which we talk so much about and boast of as a Caucasian or white civilization. If I have any correct idea of what history teaches on that subject, almost the first civilization of which we have record was in the Nile Valley, coming up from Ethiopia and was a negro civilization. The next civilization was that between the Tigris and the Euphrates, and in the Indian Peninsula. Some of the people of India were descendants of this same man of whom I have spoken, and the Arabians, also.
Now, to say that these races which preceded the Caucasian race, the Aryan race, and who laid the first foundations of civilization and the arts, and sciences, were inferior races, does not seem to me quite reasonable. Possibly it is not to be expected that it should seem reasonable to me, but certainly it does not. This idea of the inferiority of the colored race is based upon a theory which seems to have obtained in this country because of slavery. Now, slavery, as I have just shown, has at different periods of the world’s history prevailed with every race. There is not a race on the top side of the earth that has not, at one time or another, been subjected to slavery in some of its members, and really—if you will pardon me for talking in this general way, for I have not prepared anything, but am just talking upon general facts—I venture to say that this Aryan race, or this Teutonic race, is itself an amalgam. It is a composition of nearly all the races on the top side of the earth. Now, when this subject of inferiority comes up it strikes me that this is a point to be considered. What is the Teutonic or the Anglo-Saxon race, or the Aryan race? As gentlemen discuss it, it seems to be merely a matter of color. Now, I understand that in Madagascar there are some black Jews. I understand also that in some portions of Africa there are people with white skin. That may not be true, but it is certainly believed by a good many of the scientists and ethnologists that these differences of food and climatic influences, and I offer that as testimony to show that if differences in food and in climate can change the constitution of man and change his color, then these differences of race, so called, are a mere matter of color and not of brain. These influences, operating for a great number of years, may cause these differences to become fixed, and, as it were, constitutional, and so the different families of man go on, growing more distinct in these external respects, until in the case of each race the color becomes a constitutional feature; because if we take the Bible, and it ought to be good testimony to all Americans, or to the great majority of them—at any rate, to all who believe that we live in a Christian country—if we take the Bible as authority, we cannot get around the idea that Adam was the forefather of all the living, that Noah was descended from him, and that from the Noachian line we have all descended, and hence that all these nations are of one blood. It seems to me, therefore, that it becomes us to acknowledge the fact that difference of color is simply a constitutional difference, resulting from difference, of climate, different education, and different circumstances, and that it is those influences that have made me inferior to you, Senator, or that make me inferior to the gentlemen who gave us that splendid argument awhile ago on the question of the inferiority of my race. That is the way it strikes me.
A Danger Ahead.
I have one other thought. It is this: I am a young man, but although young I have some patriotic feeling which rises in my breast, and some interest in the welfare of this State and of this South land in which I was born and from which I have drawn all that I am. Having that idea and that feeling I have thought, in view of the late census, in view of the facts that are brought out and exhibited there, that attention ought to be given to the fact that the race to which you gentlemen belong is increasing at the rate of only 2 per cent, every thirty-five years, while the race to which I belong is increasing at the rate of 3-1/2 per cent, every twenty years. Now, at that rate of increase, the race to which I belong will soon be twice as numerous in these Southern States as the race to which you belong, and, in view of that fact, I have sometimes asked myself the question what will become of these two races when there is such a disparity of numbers between them and when there is inculcated into the minds of the people of both races a feeling of antipathy toward each other—when I am taught to feel that you are determined to dominate over me and that I must do all I can to try to ride over you—what will become of this South land with such a feeling and such a disparity between the races? I have asked myself that question, and I have asked whether it would not be best for you and best for me to try to get rid of this antagonistic feeling and do away with this idea of dividing on the color line. I do not believe that these two races will ever mix. There have been fewer mulattoes born within the last year than ever before, and I think there is no probability of the amalgamation of the races.
Now, as to politics, if you make the standard intelligence and respectability, I believe that a majority of the white people and a majority of the black people will vote to put in office those who are best capable of ruling wisely and honestly. If I am more capable of ruling than you are why should I not be elected to the Senate or to fill any other position? And, on the other hand, if you are more capable than I am, why should not you be elected instead of me? It seems to me if you come to that conclusion—if the South comes to that conclusion, if the United States come to that conclusion—it will do away with the race question and the race problem. Then, when I become more educated and intelligent, I naturally look to the most intelligent man I can find to advise me, without regard to whether he is black or white.
The Duty of the General Government as to Education at the South.
In respect to education, the South has lost much and suffered much. It has been too impoverished, and it is still too poor to educate its people properly. There is a large number of white people and of colored people at the South who have no means of education, and I believe that illiteracy among the white people is shown by the census to be greater in proportion than among the colored people, 28 per cent, as against 11 per cent. Now, the United States Government has taken a great deal from the South—justly, I suppose, or unjustly (I do not pronounce upon that)—I refer to this tax upon cotton and the confiscation of property during the war. Whether justly or unjustly, the Government has done that, and now it has millions of dollars in its treasury lying idle, as I understand, and why should it not help the South to take care of the ignorant people, and to bear the burden of this mass of ignorance that it has turned loose on the Southern people? There is no doubt that it is a mass of ignorance. The greater portion of our people are, of course, ignorant, and I believe it is the duty of the United States Government to help to educate them, and I believe, further, that it will be for the direct advantage of the Government to do so. Of course, as one who is engaged in the cause of education, I add my voice to other voices that have been raised on that subject. I have been teaching for several years; ever since I was quite a lad I have done nothing but teach school, and I know something personally about the ignorance among my own people. Therefore, I say, I join with the other gentlemen who have spoken in saying to the National Government to make that appropriation of $10,000,000 for five years at least.
Q. What is your knowledge as to the actual condition of your race and of the white race throughout this State, in the country portions of the State, in respect to education?—A. In the country the colored people are deplorably ignorant. They have a free school for three months, of course, but they are so poor, as a general thing, that they are hardly able to keep their children at school even during those three months. For that period the schools are practically free; there is no doubt about that.
Q. Are the schools in continuous session for three months?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. How much more can a boy learn in three months than he can forget in nine months?—A. I think he will forget about three times as much as he learns, if that is possible. That is where the great trouble comes in, and yet it is wonderful how much they do learn, although it looks as if they would forget everything. It takes them three or four terms to get along so that they can retain anything they do learn, but very often they do not make any progress, because they forget by the next term what they have learned in this. Still, after about two or three terms you find they have gained something. I have taught school in the country a good deal, and I think the case is just about the same with the poor white people. They have been largely neglected. I believe there has been $25,000,000 expended by charitable societies in the South among the colored people, while there has been a very small amount spent among the poor white people, and they are almost as badly off as the colored people.
Relations Between the Poor Whites and the Negroes.
Q. How do the poor white people and the colored people who live in the same neighborhoods feel toward each other, so far as you have observed?—A. Well, I have had considerable opportunity to judge of that, and I think they get along very well together. Now and then they have a little trouble.
Q. Where does the trouble come in?—A. There are two sources of trouble. One is the political source, and the other is—I reckon it might be called a social source, or something of that kind. It is true, the poorer white people are unable to do much more than the poorer colored people, and I think the farmers usually prefer the colored laborers, because they are more docile and tractable than the white laborers. Of course that preference for colored laborers in many cases deprives poor white men of opportunities of employment, and that brings about some feeling. I have noticed some feeling about that in some localities. For instance, in Murray County, Colonel Carter owns a large part of the county—I do not know how many hundred acres of land—and he has four or five hundred colored men employed, and all around his plantation there are white men living. I taught school there for awhile, and I found that there was some little trouble between Colonel Carter’s tenants and these poor white people in the neighborhood, whom he would not employ. In that mountain region there is very little tillable land, and that probably is an additional reason why this feeling exists.
Q. It was really a competition for life?—A. I think that was really it. There is some trouble on that ground, and there is also some on political grounds. It is natural though, I think, and I have thought so all along. There are so many intelligent men among the white people and so few among the colored people, and it does look hard for a man who owns the property and has the intelligence to submit to the domineering of those who have not. That is natural, and it would be so among any other people, I believe. That is where the trouble comes on that matter, and while I would not justify many things that have occurred, still, I say, it is natural that there should be some trouble on that ground. I think, however, that when the people become generally better educated, and when the idea that Mr. Jackson has advanced here this evening is done away with, I think there will be no trouble whatever between the races, none in the world.
Rich Colored Men.
Q. So you feel as hopeful about the future as the last witness did?—A. Oh, yes, sir. I do not know how hopeful he felt, but I am sure I feel hopeful. I know some colored men who are gaining property—or, to use the more explicit term that was used here by Mr. Jackson, some black men who have property, and I believe there are some of those black men who are worth as much as $500,000.
Q. Do you mean that you know a colored man who is worth half a million dollars?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Has he any white blood in him?—A. I do not think he has any. He is a little blacker than I am.
Q. About seventeen-sixteenths, I suppose? [Laughter.]—A. I suppose so. It is stated that there are some of them who own nearly $1,000,000. There is one colored lady who lives in Brooklyn who is worth $1,000,000, I believe.
Q. How did she get it?—A. I am not certain as to how she came by it. I know of quite a black man in Americus who owns nearly half of that town; I think he is one of the largest shareholders in the bank there. He furnishes a house to his old master, and takes good care of him.
Q. How much do you say he is worth?—A. I suppose that Mr. Head is worth on toward $100,000. That is pretty good for a colored man in Georgia, or anywhere in the South, who has been free only about eighteen years.
Q. How did that man get his money?—A. He got it by dint of hard labor and frugality.
Q. How many white men have made $100,000 in Georgia since the war by dint of hard labor and frugality?—A. I should think there were many. I suppose that most of the wealth in the South has been made by good bargains and shrewd investments. This gentleman has made his money by industry and judicious investments. He has taken all that lower part of the city of Americus that the people had almost thrown away, and has built houses on it and made that part of the city very valuable.
America Common Ground. The Negro at Home in the South, And Going to Stay.
Q. Is there any need of you colored people staying in this country?—A. Yes, sir; this is our home.
Q. It is ours, too, you know?—A. Yes, sir. I think this whole question of race ought to be done away with. The Irishman need not change his racial quality to become an American; why, then, should the African change his? America is common ground. The Creator has set it apart, in my opinion, for the purpose of bringing over and planting here all the branches of the human race, and He is going to make this the common ground where they shall all come and live together as brethren and I think that the colored man, having been brought here by no wish or act of his own, has a right to stay, and is going to stay, and I think further that he is going to stay right here in the South, because the South is congenial to him and is just the place for him.
Q. What do you think of the idea of colonizing your race in Africa?—A. That was spoken of here, and your question brings it back to my mind. Africa has a large population already, and when they did attempt to set up a colony of our people there they selected a little place in one of the worst parts of Africa—the worst part for civilization—Liberia, a region which is known to be just the place to kill people off rather than to build up a civilized community. However, that has no effect upon us; it does not concern us. We have no desire to go to Africa.
Q. If I understand your view, you do not think there is any probability of race collisions here in the future?—A. No, sir; I do not think there is. I think there is less probability of that now than there has ever been. As people become intelligent they select wiser leaders. The white race being of course in the advance, and likely to continue so for perhaps a century to come, as intelligence spreads throughout the whole community, they will be likely to be selected to take the lead as a general thing. There is no doubt about that at all, and therefore there are not likely to be any race collisions.
There is No Real Race “Problem” in the South.
Q. Don’t you think it is well enough for you colored people to let this class of questions alone at present and attend to business and get all the money you can and let everybody else do the same?—A. Yes, sir; that is it. There is really no such “problem” here as has been talked about. All this fuss and furor about it seems to me to be simply an effort to create a problem rather than an attempt to solve one. It is a striving to get together enough disturbing elements to make a problem, rather than an effort to find a solution of any problem that really exists; and if this question is let alone, and the people go on attending to their business it will settle itself, and all the people of this country will have no difficulty in living together in peace and harmony.
Q. What is your age?—A. I am thirty years old.
Q. Where were you born?—A. In Whitfield County, Georgia.
Q. Were you ever a slave?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. What schooling have you had?—A. I have been at school about seven or eight years.
Q. Where?—A. At the Atlanta University.
Q. Are you a graduate?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. When did you graduate?—A. In 1876.
Q. I understand that you have been a teacher ever since?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. In Georgia all the time?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. What pay do you get?—A. I get $75 a month.
Q. How many pupils do you have?—A. Forty.
Q. Where is your school?—A. In this city.
Q. How long have you taught here?—A. I have taught here going on four years.
Q. In the same school all the time?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Do you teach boys and girls?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. Is yours what is called a common school or a high school?—A. It is the high school, the only one of the kind in the State.
Q. Then a high school for colored children, and the only one in the State, is here in Augusta?—A. Yes, sir.
Q. You have no trouble, you say, in getting along with the white people?—A. None in the world. Some of my best friends are among the white people. I have always expressed my views on almost any subject that I have felt disposed to talk about and have never had any trouble whatever.
Q. And I suppose you are descended direct from those curly-headed people you have told us about?—A. I think I am. My grandfather was a Mandingo brought over to Maryland; a native African; then they drifted down to South Carolina, and my mother came to this country, and I am here.
Q. Where does the Mandingo tribe live now in Africa?—A. On the northeastern coast of Liberia; above that. They are said to be one of the most intelligent tribes. A neighboring tribe, the Vivas, invented an alphabet of their own, similar to the Phoenician, not so very similar, but in some respects similar and answering the same purposes.
Q. How long is it since they invented it?—A. I think it was in the eighth century.
Q. Have they any written literature?—A. I have seen some short poems given in Mr. Williams’s history, but I don’t know that they have any amount of literature. 7
Q. They have a religion, I suppose?—A. They have a religion of their own. Their religion, however, is Mohammedan. That is the religion of most of them.
Q. Do you claim that the Phoenicians were a colored people?—A. Yes, sir. I claim that they were the descendants of Ham.
Q. And you claim that Hannibal was a Phoenician?—A. Yes, sir. Hannibal, and Hamilcar the conqueror of Spain.
Q. Hannibal did some fighting with the Romans, I believe?—A. Yes, sir; he made Rome quail as he came across the Alps.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, all I have got to say to you colored people is be as good to us as you can, and give us a fair chance. [Laughter.]
Report of the (Education and Labor) Committee of the Senate Upon the Relations between Labor and Capital, and Testimony Taken by the Committee (Washington, D.C., 1885), vol. III, pp. 3–12, 372–83, 399–405, 811–19.