The Color Line Question

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It is not the question of social equality. No one doubts the right of individuals, or the family, or the social circle, to draw their lines of association and fellowship at their own pleasure, whether at wealth, rank, fashion, talent, or anything else. To confound this with the real question, is not candid.

Still less is it the question of the inter-marriage of the races. Here, individual preference is undeniable. To claim that this is the question, and to ask tauntingly: “Do you want your daughter to marry a nigger?” is ungentlemanly and unworthy of an answer.

The question is: Shall a line be drawn between the white and black races, giving rights and privileges in Church and State to the one race, which are denied to the other, solely because of race or color? In other words: Shall a line be drawn which shall separate the Negroes, and assign them as a race to the position of inferiors irrespective of merit or character, and merely on the ground of race or color?

To narrow the discussion, we leave out of view the civil or political aspect of the question and confine ourselves to the religious, and we propose to give a few illustrations. A Negro in every way qualified, in character, piety, and intelligence, applies for membership in a white church. Shall the color-line be drawn and he be refused admission for no other reason than that he is a Negro? This does not imply that the whites and blacks should be urged or persuaded to unite in all churches or in any church. It may be conceded that the blacks generally do not desire to unite with white churches, and that, in their present state of culture, it may not always be for their edification to do so. But where an individual Negro does believe that it would be for his edification and growth in grace to belong to a white church, shall the color that God stamped on him, or the race in which God gave him his birth, be a sufficient reason for refusing him? The question and the principle apply equally if the Negro should be given to understand that while he would not actually be refused admission, yet the preference of the church would be that he should not apply; nay, we do not see why the principle is not the same if the well-known attitude of the church on the race question should be such that the Christian self-respect of the Negro would not allow him to make the application.

Again, shall colored churches, conferences or presbyteries be formed on the same territory in order that the colored members may not unite with the white churches, conferences or presbyteries? Shall a line be run between the races on the simple ground of race or color, and irrespective of character, convenience or choice, so that the Negro as a church member shall not be allowed to choose the church he shall join, or as a minister the option as to his conference or presbytery? For one race to demand such a line of separation, is to consign the other race to a position of inferiority as humiliating as it is discouraging. Such is the demand of race prejudice, and such the position of inferiority in which it insists on placing the Negro. Slavery held the Negro there, and since emancipation, this race-separation is intended to accomplish the same purpose. The Southern white man makes no objection to the race or color of the Negro, but only to his position as an equal. He was not merely tolerated, he was more than tolerated, as a slave, and he is now as a servant.

The present controversy in regard to the color-line is calling forth some frank admissions from intelligent white men at the South. Thus the Rev. Wm. H. Campbell, an Episcopal clergyman of South Carolina, vindicates his refusal to sit in Convention with the Negroes by the inferiority which the Almighty has stamped upon them. Mr. Campbell says:

“The Bishop does not understand or appreciate the reasons why some of us cannot, under any circumstances, sit in Convention with Negroes. The objections commonly made need not here be referred to. The difficulty with some of us is not ‘on account of color,’ as it is usually, but not with strict accuracy, put; for some Negroes are as white as some white men, but because they are of an inferior race, so made by the Almighty and never intended by him to be put on an equality with the white race, in either Church or State.”

The question at issue is not one of expediency, but of principle; and, among Christians, whether in the individual church or the ecclesiastical body, it is a question of Christian duty to be settled by the Divine authority of the Master himself. We propose no argument on the subject, but content ourselves by quoting a few well-known passages of Scripture, which, though familiar, have lost neither their significance nor their authority. In the end, the voice of God must be decisive.

“And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.”

“God hath showed me that I should call no man common or unclean.”

“Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation, he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him.”

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ.”

“Inasmuch as ye have not done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have not done it unto me.”

The Negro Question

This is the title of a recent brochure by George W. Cable, published by the American Missionary Association. With the most vigorous and courageous devotion to the question that “is the gravest in American affairs,” Mr. Cable addresses himself to the problem and to the answer that should be made to it. His apprehension of injustice is so keen and true, and his seriousness, in view of the weariness and offense that the whole subject gives to a great majority of the people, is so urgent, that the paper has been criticized as pessimistic, and as an impatient cry against evils that are speedily being rectified. We may say that the optimistic view of evils never did much to correct them, and that those who are patient with wrongs will never create a sentiment against them. To us, this seems the voice of a prophet pleading for righteousness to man and righteousness in the land.

Wade Hampton

We opened the June number of the Forum with the confident expectation that the article on “What Negro Supremacy Means,” by Senator Wade Hampton, would furnish some well-considered and statesmanlike views on that important topic. We expected to find a fair, if not an encouraging, statement of the changes that twenty years have wrought in the educational and property qualifications of the Negro. But we confess our utter disappointment, in finding that Senator Wade devotes his entire article to details of the Acts of the South Carolina Legislature, from 1868 to 1876, in other words, to the reconstruction or carpet-bag period. He adds, it is true, a quotation from an address of Abraham Lincoln, but that dates back into the still remoter past, 1859. Mr. Lincoln learned something better before he died.

We make no defense of that carpet-bag Legislature, but does not Senator Wade recognize the change that has taken place in the condition of the Negro— a change that is going on at an increased ratio? Would an article be worth much on “What Anglo-Saxon Supremacy Means,” based on extracts from Roman histories in regard to the ancient Germans? True, the comparison is an extreme one, but it must be remembered that more progress is now made in human civilization in one year, than in a century then. But let us confine ourselves to the facts as they now stand. The present generation of Negroes in the South has had the aid of the public schools, limited and inadequate as they are, and it has had the still more valuable aid of schools sustained by Northern benevolence, supplemented in some cases by aid from the Southern States, that have furnished instruction of the best quality in all ranges of study, from primary to college and professional. From Hampton, Va., to Austin, Texas, these schools, supported by various religious denominations, with carefully selected and thoroughly competent teachers from the North, have been sending forth their graduates as teachers, preachers, professional and business men. These schools of all grades number more than two hundred, and a large per cent. of their graduates become teachers who are giving a mighty uplift to their people. A colored editor could say truthfully two years ago, “We have preachers learned and eloquent; we have professors in colleges by hundreds, and school-masters by thousands; successful farmers, merchants, ministers, lawyers, editors, educators and physicians.” To all this it may be added that careful estimates place the amount of property on which the Negroes in the Southern States pay taxes, at one hundred millions of dollars. Surely this race could now furnish legislators more intelligent and more interested in the assessment of taxes than in 1868, and the number and quality will be rapidly increased every year. Senator Hampton might have looked around and ahead, and not backward only! His article, as it stands, stamps him as a veritable Bourbon; “he has forgotten nothing and he has learned nothing.”

A Colored Man’s View of It

Mr. Cable’s Pamphlet, “The Negro Question,” was sent to an educated Christian colored man in the South. We make some brief extracts from his letter acknowledging the receipt of the pamphlet. He says:

I have read “The Negro Question,” by Geo. W. Cable, and appreciate it highly. It is the ablest treatment of the subject intellectually, morally and judicially that I ever saw. Mr. Cable has dealt with that great question with the insight of a statesman and a thinker, and the candor of a true Christian. Oh, how I am vexed and do smart when I think of the wicked treatment I and my people are subjected to on account of the God-given color, and by a people claiming and professing to be Christians! I can hardly believe that any other people ever bore the names freemen and citizens, and at the same time were shut out from so many of their rights and liberties as we are. Our manhood is outraged, our civil and political rights are abused, our women are robbed of their womanhood and their chastity is insulted, our aspirations are banded and proscription is held up to our eyes wherever we go, and enforced against us with Egyptian exactness and Spartan severity, and the most vexatious and grievous fact of all is, that the strong arm of the law of the land loses its power when it comes our turn to receive justice. The law either plays truant, or openly acknowledges that it has no power to defend us. But the God of law and justice, who broke down one form of slavery, will break down this, too. Still, there is a part for us to do. On this line, as on others, the man who needs help must help himself while he asks for help.

Expulsion Of Negroes From Marion, Arkansas

It is not our custom to publish details of alleged outrages upon the colored people at the South. We have no wish to stir up strife by recalling memories of the past, or by giving incidents of recent aggression against the helpless. But this case in Marion is free from bloody details and is a simple illustration of the determination of the white people to maintain their sway in the South.

The simple facts in the case are, that in Crittenden County, Arkansas, of which Marion is the county town, the population is chiefly colored, the ratio being seven Negroes to one white man. For several years the office of Judge of the County and Probate Court, and the Clerk and under officers of the court, were colored men. The more important county offices were held by white men. On a given day, fifty or more heavily-armed white men appeared at the county seat and drove from their offices and homes the colored officers named above, together with the colored local doctor, the lawyer, the schoolmaster of the colored school, the editor of the colored newspaper and a number of other prominent colored citizens.

The farther details of the transaction are given in a thoughtful and calm article in a recent number of The Independent by Rev. B.A. Imes, the colored minister of the church at Memphis, Tenn., under the care of this Association. We give below all of the article that relates to the facts:

The Crittenden County Outrage

From the bluff at Memphis we look across the river, where along the western shore stretch the forests of Crittenden County, Arkansas, and Marion, about fourteen miles from Memphis, is the county-seat. The story of the recent banishment of fifteen prominent colored office-holders, professional men and farmers has gone to the world.

The whites, well armed, took their game by surprise, bagged and shipped it without bloodshed. Now the “empire is peace” they say, although for a time terror reigned among the startled colored people.

With a Negro population six or seven times as large as the white, it is not strange that the County Court Judge, the County Clerk and his deputy should be Negroes, nor that they should aspire to other places in public life.

Unfortunately, as all witnesses agree, Judge Lewis and Clerk Ferguson were given to drinking habits, which brought them under accusation before the courts for drunkenness. It was probable that they would have been convicted; but without awaiting the tardiness of the law, a shorter process was found.

In palliation of their hasty banishment it is claimed that anonymous letters were sent to some of the leading white citizens, warning them to leave the county. These letters it is asserted—not proved—must have proceeded from Clerk Ferguson’s office, although not written by himself. The object was to intimidate those who would be most efficient in convicting and deposing the unworthy officials.

Furthermore, there are two opposing factions of colored Baptists at Marion, and it is surmised that one of these factions, regarding these prominent characters as their enemies, had something to do with the letter-writing in order to bring down wrath upon them. Still another theory is, that the whites have only been awaiting their chance, and taking advantage of favorable conditions, knew when and whence the said letters would be issued. It was all arranged beforehand. At all events, the time was very short, after the delivery of the letters, until Winchester rifles and shot-guns were in the hands of some scores of white citizens, and fifteen Negro men, including Lewis and Ferguson, York Byers, a deputy sheriff and well-to-do farmer, Dr. Stith, a successful young physician, and others, were speedily sent across the river to Memphis.

Clerk Ferguson found himself surrounded by a squad of these brave [pg 278] men, who, with rifles presented, demanded that he sign without ceremony a resignation. He signed. Byers escaped through the swamps, made his way to the river, and came to Memphis in a sorry plight. The other victims were put upon the train with orders to go and never return. Byers was to be violently dealt with, had they caught him.

Sandy S. Odom, living on his farm about six miles from Marion, I am informed, refused to leave his home, when waited upon and ordered to go. Said he. “All I have is here—wife, child and farm—I can’t go away.” For a time his pluck seemed to be respected. His fault was that of being a friend of the Marion officials. He had once served at Little Rock as a legislator from his district, but, like Cincinnatus, had since resumed the plow.

According to the latest by the Memphis Appeal, Odom has decided that discretion is the better part of valor, and will be off for a safer place as soon as his business affairs can be arranged.

The Governor of Arkansas has refused to interfere, because the Circuit Court Judge at Marion has solemnly charged the grand jury as to their duty toward the writers of threatening letters, and also toward those who unlawfully drove citizens from their homes, etc. But this solemn part of the proceeding was enacted, in spite of the fact that the sheriff of Crittenden County was one of the leading spirits in the outrage upon the defenseless black men, and the judge and grand jury and all Crittendon County are far from expecting to hear of any white man being arrested.

But last Sunday, Dr. Stith, one of the exiles, went back to Marion on the morning train. He had heard that his wife was sick, and he said: “If I am a man I must go to her.” He was promptly arrested by the patrol force at Marion and lodged in jail, where he is likely to remain until next January meeting of court before he can have a trial. There is nothing brought against him aside from his having been once associated with the “offensive partisans.” He had at one time been an active politician, but more recently has devoted himself to his profession, and was already known as a successful physician. Like Odom, his character is not assailed: but he was educated, and influential among the people.

Two young ladies, teachers from Memphis, one of whom had taught last year at Marion, went thither soon after Dr. Stith’s arrest, to make inquiry about a situation for teaching.

They were closely watched, and in an interview were warned by a reporter of the Memphis Appeal that it was not safe for them to remain in Marion. They had reason to think that they were being watched as spies in the interest of the banished; hence their stay was very brief.

When the Clerk Ferguson had vacated, a “white citizen” was at once put into that office. It is a remarkable fact that, aside from a few hints about the necessity of maintaining order and proceeding according to law, the general tone of the press here is to the effect that this occurrence, though unfortunate on account of its effect at the North, was really justifiable.

The cruel wrong inflicted upon those who have no crime laid to their charge, no personal reproach of character, is treated as though it were but little more than a joke. If the two officials were guilty of drunkenness no one doubts that they could have been legally removed from office. If the colored people at Marion are divided into factions, then the whites could the more easily combine forces against the officials in question, or any political ring which may have existed. But there was a general Negro uprising threatened, and in order to save their own lives the whites made haste to get into the field first. This is the avowed excuse. But it is certain that no one believes there was serious danger of a Negro uprising. The men arrested and banished were unarmed, and taken by surprise. If they were in any sense desperate or dangerous characters they turned cowards suddenly, making no resistance. Indeed, there is but one excuse for their bloodless surrender. They display to the world the utter groundlessness of the charge of a conspiracy. No dynamite bombs, no loaded weapons, no evidence of organized bands were discovered.

In all the history of the shot-gun policy and the unnumbered outrages committed, there are on record few, if any, cases of conspiracy against life and property on the part of the Negro. But the true animus of the Crittenden County affair, I think, is found in the current declaration which is used at Marion on the part of the brave men who drove out these exiles, viz.: “We don’t want any educated niggers, and won’t have ‘em here, not even to teach school.”

It should not be overlooked, that in this instance there is fully revealed that singular idea which so widely prevails at the South, viz.: A Negro is in his place only and always as a subordinate. It is assumed that to educate him unfits him for his mission in life, unless that education looks simply to some hand service.

With this fact before us, we can explain the dead silence of the pulpit and the press of the South as touching the first principles of justice.

The end justifies the means when “Negro rule” is to be prevented, and to protest against this bold subversion of the great principles of citizenship in the Republic, is to “wave the bloody shirt.” We will admit that it is by no means desirable that a mass of illiterate people should hold sway, but we claim that the Southern white people can break the “color line” if they will, by admitting frankly the rights of the Negro, and by encouraging him to aspire to an intelligent and worthy manhood.



MLA Source Citation:

Various. The American Missionary, Vol. 43, No. 8, August, 1889. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 1 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/black-genealogy/the-color-line-question.htm - Last updated on Mar 7th, 2013


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