Voices from the Black Belt
In a discussion of the Negro problem it is eminently appropriate the Freedman and his neighbor be accorded the privilege of expressing their respective views. The thoughts expressed in this chapter have been gleaned principally from the columns of the Afro-American, a colored weekly, published by the faculty of Biddle University, Charlotte, North Carolina.
The problem of the Negro relates to his capacity for improvement and self-support. Is the American Negro, after centuries of slavery that kept the race in an infantile condition, capable of development and self support?
Over this question the people of our country have expressed differing opinions, many insisting that the servant condition is the better one for the American Negro. The Presbyterian Standard, published at Charlotte, N. C., a section of country in which the latter sentiment still prevails, recently bore this testimony to their progress.
“While it is true of them as a mass that they are an infantile race, it is not true of them in many individual cases. There are thousands of them, who have advanced wonderfully during the last fifty years. They have made progress in every line. They are owning more farms every year, and in our cities they are buying homes, which sometimes would do credit to a more enlightened people. Their Churches are not only built in better taste, but their preachers are becoming better educated, and are exerting a stronger moral influence than ever before.”
This frank statement fairly represents the sentiment of the thoughtful Christian people of the south. Some who have thought otherwise have been led to admit that, “while great advance has been made by a race only fifty years old, it is still in its infancy and therefore in the servant condition.” Nor is it any exception in this respect.
Through adversity and hard treatment, the Irish people who first came to this country were largely in a servant condition. They accepted it. They became our domestics and built our railroads. But “Pat” is not on the railroad now. He is found occupying the seat of the chief justice, or serving as private secretary of the president and filling many other positions of honor and influence throughout the country.
What is thus true of the Irishman is also true of other Europeans, who came to this country. It is an honor to them, that they truly appreciated their condition, accepted it and, through an honest and valiant struggle, rose above that condition to something better.
The American Negro is now making it evident, that he is no exception to this general law of progress, under favorable conditions. It is neither necessary nor prudent to blind their eyes in regard to their real condition and status. Their best friends are those who encourage them to accept the situation in which they have been placed by an over ruling providence, and, through a noble endeavor, worthy of divine favor, rise to something better.
Their friends assist them best by aiding and encouraging them to make this noble endeavor, without which they cannot rise. The mass of the people must have native teachers and preachers to serve as leaders. This suggests the need of two kinds of educational facilities. A common industrial education, that will enable the mass of the people to achieve success in their daily avocations; and some special educational facilities of a higher grade, to prepare the needed supply of teachers, preachers and other leaders.
The mass of the people need an education, the scope of which will reach their physical, mental and spiritual natures. Their greatest need is instruction in the Bible, that it may exert its saving power on their early lives and animate them with noble aspirations.
The Cry Of The Black Belt
“They shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors and he shall send them a Savior and a great one and he shall deliver them.” Isaiah.
The following appeal in behalf of the Freedmen, by Rev. A. W. Verner, D. D., president of Scotia Seminary, Concord, North Carolina, one of the five normal schools of the Presbyterian board, especially intended for girls, is so well and forcibly expressed, we are sure it will be appreciated by every reader.
“The urgent call from the black belt is the cry of souls in distress, the cry of humanity. Fifty years of unprecedented progress, in every line of industrial and intellectual pursuits and religious development, on the part of a considerable number of the colored people, show clearly, that the negro is capable of receiving and using to good advantage the education and training of the Christian school.”
“Industrial education, that lacks genuine Christian culture, does not provide leaders of the right character to redeem the race, and many of our friends in the south do not care to open to the Negro the doors of opportunity, to develop and manifest the best that is in him. It is therefore to the Christian Church of the north and to individuals, who have come to recognize the bond of human brotherhood, to whom this infant race still makes its appeal.”
“The sad and degraded condition of great masses of the race in many localities of the south ought to be an appeal, silent indeed but sufficiently strong, to awaken the sympathy of every one, capable of being touched by the cry of needy humanity. As a representative of the great Presbyterian Church, that has called me into a very important and necessary field of her work; I earnestly appeal to our people to do more for the establishment and fostering of Christian schools among the great masses of the black belt.”
“The Christian Church and the Christian school have something to give, that can be gotten nowhere else. The public school where established and industrial training where available are good and necessary. But the Christian school is still needed and very greatly, to give moral and spiritual ballast to the individual. The leaven of gospel power and purity is needed, to give moral strength to the character and the highest degree of usefulness in life.”
“Christian education is not narrow, it takes in every phase of training that is essential to produce a well developed and useful life. It touches and tints industrial training with a brighter and richer glow. It quickens the faculties of the mind, adds keenness to the power of perception, forms permanent habits of industry and strengthens the will or purpose to do right.
“Christian education emphasizes the fact that it is not merely book learning-storing the mind with knowledge of facts or training the hands to work, but includes moral elevation, as well as intellectual development. It includes everything that tends to make the life purer, better and more useful. It begets and fosters a spirit of hopefulness. It develops that patience and perseverance that is needed for the best performance of every day’s duties.
“Christian education emphasizes personal purity, purity of the family life and the sacredness of the marriage relation. Its whole trend and effect is upward. Its genius is moral, spiritual, industrial, domestic, social and individual elevation. It creates a hunger and thirst for higher and better things. It is the mountain summit from whose height one gets a broader vision, a clearer view of the possibilities and demands of life and a truer conception of all human relations.
“This is the provision that must be made for our black brother. Nothing less will meet his needs. A great responsibility rests with negro leaders who have attained a good degree of intelligence and refinement, but a greater responsibility still rests upon the people of richer blessing and greater power.
“If the spirit of true democracy, which declares, ‘opportunity for every one, according to his capacity and merit,’ and the spirit of Christianity, whose principle is, ‘Help for the weaker as the stronger is able to give it,’ be exercised toward the negro, many of the difficulties will vanish, better conditions will prevail and more desirable results will be secured.”
This cry of humanity from the black belt of our land is very touching and suggestive. It suggests the negro’s greatest and most urgent needs, the Bible, the Bible school and the Christian teacher.
It is the silent appeal of Joseph while passing through the pit and the prison in the land of Israel’s enslavement. Beyond these dark and unpleasant experiences there awaited for Joseph a career of great usefulness in the land of his previous imprisonment.
Let us recognize the fact that God has a great use for the Freedman in this our native land, because he has providentially brought him here and increased his number so greatly.
A spirit of true patriotism, as well as the tie of Christian brotherhood, prompts the lending of a helping hand and an encouraging word, while he solves the problem of his own destiny of great usefulness in the home, the school, the Church, in the shop, on the farm and in the fields of professional opportunity and business activity.
It may be truly said of the Freedmen that they represent the poor of this world, of whom the Lord Jesus said, “Ye have the poor always with you, Me ye have not always. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”