The “Problem of the Negro” is an old and familiar phrase. It relates to the fact, that, however many and great have been the benefits derived from his labor and loyalty, the best management of him has been a troublesome problem to the statesmen of this country, ever since the declaration of independence, and especially the Freedman, since his emancipation.
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Like a prism or cube, this problem has several sides, but unlike these symbols, its various sides are unlike each other. The solution of it has always appeared to be different when viewed from different angles of vision. Observers in one part of our country unite in saying, “this is the best way to solve this problem,” while others in another section insist, they know a better way. The statesman views it from one point of view, the labor leader from another and the Christian philanthropist from still another standpoint.
The first part of this problem, the one relating to the fact of his freedom, has already been solved. The solution of this introductory part of the problem caused preliminary struggles in Kansas and other places, including the Civil War. It served to bring out that which was noblest and best in Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederic Douglass, Henry Ward Beecher, Horace Greeley, Charles Summer, Abraham Lincoln and others.
The parts that remain to be solved relate to his uplift from ignorance, poverty and degradation, to the attainment of the ability to support himself, by a fair chance in the labor market, and the enjoyment of approved educational, religious and political privileges.
He has been accorded the right to own property, and is enjoying that right to the full extent of his ability to acquire and hold it.
He has been accorded limited educational and religious privileges, and has made a very commendable progress along both of these lines.
It is at this point we reach the difficult and unsolved part of the problem.
The intelligent and prosperous portion of them in the South, though native and loyal Americans, are discriminated against, and denied rights and recognitions, that are accorded other nationalities, though illiterate. The popular reason assigned, for locally withholding from all of them certain privileges of citizenship, is the fact that a great number of them continue to be illiterate.
In several of the states the Freedman is denied the privilege of enjoying the instruction of competent white teachers in their state and public schools, and in all of them he is prohibited from attending white schools, as in Pennsylvania and other northern states. The discriminations against them are so general, that it is almost impossible for any of them to acquire skill as workmen, or become fitted to serve their own people in the professions, except from those of their own number, or institutions of learning provided specially for them.
Representation In Congress
During the last forty years, the Freedmen have been counted as a part of the population, in apportioning the districts for the election of Representatives in the Congress of the United States. This inclusion of their number, in the arrangement of the districts, has enabled the states to which they belong, to have a considerable number of additional congressmen that they would not have had, if the districts had been arranged according to the white population, which alone has been permitted to vote.
Since 1910 the additional number of Congressmen representing the suppressed vote of the Freedmen, has been 32 in a total of 82 members. These additional representatives, based on the population representing the suppressed vote of the Freedmen, have come from the different states as follows: Alabama, 5; Arkansas, 2; Florida, 1; Georgia, 6; Louisiana, 4; Mississippi, 5; North Carolina, 4; South Carolina, 4; Texas, 1. Total, 32.
This is an unexpected and a rather anomalous condition. It places the Freedmen in this country on a plane somewhat similar to that accorded the Philippines and Porto Ricans, as regards the matter of government and participation therein.
It also, however, suggests the goal towards which education, religion and consequent material prosperity are gradually uplifting the race. This goal is clearly expressed in the following amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
Amendments To The Constitution
Article XIII. Section I. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.-(Ratified Dec. 18, 1865.)
Article XIV. Section I. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States, and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for president and vice-president of the United States, representatives in congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion, which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.- (Ratified July 28, 1868.)
Article XV. Section I. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2. The congress shall have power to enforce this article (or these articles) by appropriate legislation.-(Ratified March 30, 1870.)
Negro Senators And Representatives
As a result of these amendments two negroes, one free born, the other a Freedman were elected to the United States senate, namely, Hiram R. Revels, 1870-1871; and Blanche K. Bruce, 1875-1881, both from Mississippi.
Twenty others have enjoyed the privilege of serving as representatives in congress, during the thirty-two years intervening between 1869 and 1901. The first of these was Jefferson Long of Georgia, who served alone in 1869 and 1870. During the next four years 1871 to 1874, there were four representatives, representing Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and South Carolina, the last having two colored representatives during this entire period. Their number was then reduced to two representatives, and finally to none since 1901, save that there were three during the terms commencing 1877, 1881 and 1883. Their last representatives were George W. Murray of South Carolina, 1893 to 1897; and George H. White of North Carolina, 1897 to 1901.
Five of these twenty representatives were re-elected and served terms of four years; three served six years, and Joseph H. Rainey of South Carolina enjoyed the unusual privilege of serving ten years, 1875 to 1885. Eight of them were from South Carolina, four from North Carolina, three from Alabama and one from Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia.
During the seventies and eighties the Freedmen were to a considerable extent disfranchised by means of “election devices, practices and intimidations.”
Since 1890, when Mississippi took the lead, a number of the states have passed laws restricting the right of suffrage on their part to such tests as the payment of their annual taxes, previous to a certain date; ownership of a certain amount of land or personal property, the ability to read and write the constitution of the state or of the United States, and the “Grandfather Clause” which permits one unable to meet the educational or property tests to continue to vote, if he enjoyed that privilege, or is a lineal descendant of one that did so, previous to the date mentioned therein, usually 1867.
The following states have enacted laws containing the “Grandfather Clause:” South Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and in 1910, Oklahoma. This part of the Oklahoma statute reads as follows:
“But no person who was on January 1, 1866, or at any time prior thereto, entitled to vote under any form of government, or who at that time resided in some foreign nation, and no lineal descendant of such person shall be denied the right to register and vote because of his inability to so read and write such Constitution.”
Result Contrary To Expectation
This historic record, of representation in the highest legislative council of the nation, is very suggestive. That the Freedmen should have been accorded the largest number of representatives just after the dawn of freedom, when their general condition has always been described as extremely deplorable, that this number should have been gradually diminished with the spread of intelligence among them; and that finally they should have no representative during the last thirteen years, when their progress in education and material prosperity has been, at their fiftieth anniversary, declared to be “wonderful,” certainly does not seem to be in accordance with what one intuitively would expect to be the natural order of things.
It is quite natural the present order of things should awaken and develop a feeling of protest on the part of the Freedmen, for they appreciate rights and privileges as well as other races and nations.
Their segregation, enforced on all alike in cities, public places and conveyances results also in many disappointing and humiliating experiences to those who are leaders among them.
The existing order is, however, an expression of local public sentiment and of the wisest statesmanship of those, who claim to be the best friends of the Freedman, because they live nearest to him and know better than others how to provide for his needs, including rights and privileges.
He enjoys the privileges of public protection to life, property and the pursuit of happiness, but to a considerable extent is denied the privilege of representation in making laws and exercising the power of government.
These historic facts relating to the gradual curtailment of the privilege of representation in legislation and government have been noted, not merely because they form an important part in a full statement of the negro problem, but as a prelude to the following facts, and suggestions to the Freedmen.
The history of the Negro in America has been one of providential leading and apparently to enable him to work out his own destiny. From the time the Dutch slave ship in 1619 landed the first importation, consisting of 20 slaves, at Jamestown, Virginia, to the present time, every important event or change in his condition has come to him from others, who without aid or suggestion from him have been moved to act for him.
The experience of Joseph, in passing through the pit and the prison, on the way to his real mission, the experience of Israel in Egypt from the death of Joseph until the time of their deliverance at the Red Sea, and the experience of Nehemiah and Daniel, captives at Babylon, who were there providentially led and prepared for the most signal services of their lives, seem like historic parallels flashing from inspired Bible story, their comforting and prophetic light on the servile and dark experiences of the negro in America.
In all of these instances the persons were subject to the control of others, the way seemed dark, trying and utterly disappointing, and the opportunities, that prepared the way for important transitions, came unsought and in ways wholly unexpected. The things that proved of greatest importance in every instance were the intelligence, integrity, patience and piety of the individual.
The God-fearing integrity of Joseph was expressed when he resisted a great temptation by saying, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”
Israel in Egypt submissively and obediently undertook to make the full tale of brick when unsympathetic taskmasters withheld the usual and necessary amount of straw.
Nehemiah, a captive cup-bearer of a heathen prince, won his confidence and when honorably permitted to return and rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, nobly answered his idle opposers, “I am doing a great work I cannot come down to you.”
Daniel, when a captive youth, “purposed in his heart not to defile himself with the King’s meat or the wine which he drank,” or be swerved from his fidelity to the living and true God by threats of the lion’s den. When the lives of the wise men of Babylon were in danger of being suddenly taken by royal command, he is introduced to King Nebuchadnezzar with the significant words, “I have found a MAN of the captives of Judah that will make known to the King the interpretation.” He was a man whose power of vision enabled him to forecast the future correctly and possessed the courage to act prudently. Though a captive and denied many privileges, he proved himself an intelligent and trustworthy man and, serving as a special counselor of five successive heathen kings, achieved for himself the worthy reputation of being the greatest statesman of his age.
All of these men discovered, that their imprisonment or captivity was a part of the divine plan that providentially led and prepared them for their real mission, which in each instance proved to be one of prominent usefulness.
All of them were true patriots, but none of them were “office seekers” or “corrupt politicians.” They loved more than any other their own native land, because of its sacred literature and religious institutions, but they were loyal and true to those who ruled over them in a foreign land. If any of them had manifested a political ambition, the divine plan, in regard to their promotion and usefulness, would have been immediately frustrated, and the memory of their names would have perished with their generation.
A Divine Mission
May we not believe that God had a plan and purpose, in bringing the negro to the Christian colonies, that established our government on the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty. His condition during the period of servitude, which lasted 246 years, was perhaps in many places but little worse than that of most of his kinsmen in Africa, during this same period; while now, at the end of the first fifty years of freedom, the condition and prospects of the intelligent and prosperous ones among them, are declared to be better than those enjoyed by their kinsmen, any where on earth.
The Freedman’s Friends
The Freedman has hosts of friends, who are interested in his welfare. He has interested neighbors, amongst whom he lives, and also friends at a distance. Both are trying to solve the problem of his true relation to American institutions and privileges. While both have been co-operating together to a considerable extent and in a very commendable manner for the betterment of his condition, it remains to note however that if one is considered by the other as moving too slowly, or too rapidly, one acts as a gentle spur or check to the other.
This is the harmonizing process that is now going on among the friends of the Freedman. He is scarcely regarded as a participating factor in this harmonizing process. There are times when to him every new event seems to be one moving him in the wrong direction. His natural impulse, on experiencing these apparently adverse movements, is to raise the voice of bitter complaint against one set of his friends. When this is done in a personal or partisan way it is offensive and always does more harm than good. This method of procedure should therefore never be approved or adopted.
A respectful protest against a wrong and an appeal to have it removed, addressed to the person or body having the power to remove it, is an inherent right and a proper method of procedure whenever deemed advisable.
“Love thy neighbor as thyself” should be regarded as a fundamental principle by every Freedman. When the herdmen of Abraham and Lot had a little trouble over cattle and pastures, Abraham, who had received all the land by promise and Lot was really a troublesome intruder, discovered the greatness of his soul and settled the difficulty by saying to Lot,
“Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen, for we be brethren.
“Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself from me, if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.”
Do not become impatient. Your friends at a distance, especially those in the Churches, are generously endeavoring to help you to climb the ladder of progress, until a larger proportion of the race has been uplifted to the plane of an enlightened Christian civilization.
That the Freedman, notwithstanding his wonderful progress during the last fifty years, is still in an infantile condition is freely confessed. It was eighty years from the time the helpless babe was uplifted from the river, before Moses was called to be the leader and deliverer of Israel. The uplift from the river and training in his case came from the gentle hands of others. This fact is quite significant.
The Freedman who, avoiding the worthless and corrupt politician and over zealous office seeker, makes a good success of his farm and co-operates cordially with his friends and neighbors in effecting the educational and moral uplift of his race, will be happiest while he lives and do most to hasten the day, when political privileges, now temporarily withheld, will be restored to those who are found capable and worthy of their enjoyment.
If you happen to live in a state where your neighbor does not wish you to be a politician and hold office, do not worry. There are thousands of citizens every year and in all parts of our land, who do not vote and merely because they do not care to do so.
The voice of protest, against the useless and corrupt politician, is now heard in all parts of our land. In many of our cities, he has already been relegated to the junk heap, by the adoption of the commission form of government. Two of the states, Kansas and Oklahoma, are now vying with each other, to see which shall be first to adopt the same system in the management of the public affairs of the state, and thus dispense with a lot of unnecessary public officials.
“A public office is a public trust” and affords an opportunity to render a useful and honorable service, but holding public office is not essential to the happiness and prosperity of any of us. An over eager desire to hold public office often suggests nothing more, than an effort to find employment for the idle. The better way, as in the cases of Saul and David, kings of Israel, and of Washington and Grant, commanders-in-chief of our armies, is to let the office seek the man.
The Golden Rule
“As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them.”
The application of the Golden Rule to this part of this problem, suggests that every man is entitled to recognition according to his worth.
“Our country can fulfill its high mission among the nations of the earth, conferring lasting benefits on ourselves and all mankind, only by guaranteeing to its humblest citizen his just right to life, liberty, protection from injustice, the enjoyment of the fruits of his own labor and the pursuit of happiness in his own way, as long as he walks in the path of rectitude and duty and does not trespass upon the rights of others,” declares ex-President Roosevelt.
“Morality, and not expediency, is the thing that must guide us,” is the emphatic declaration of President Woodrow Wilson. The false assumption that “the end justifies the means has come from self-centered men, who see in their own interests the interests of the country, and do not have vision enough to read it in wider terms, the universal terms of equity and justice.”