The Future of the American Negro

Chapter VII

One of the great questions which Christian education must face in the South is the proper adjustment of the new relations of the two races. It is a question which must be faced calmly, quietly, dispassionately; and the time has now come to rise above party, above race, above colour, above sectionalism, into the region of duty of man to man, of American to American, of Christian to Christian.

I remember not long ago, when about five hundred coloured people sailed from the port of Savannah bound for Liberia, that the news was flashed all over the country, “The Negro has made up his mind to return to his own country,” and that, “in this was the solution of the race problem in the South.” But these short-sighted people forgot the fact that before breakfast that morning about five hundred more Negro children were born in the South alone.

And then, once in a while, somebody is so bold as to predict that the Negro will be absorbed by the white race. Let us look at this phase of the question for a moment. It is a fact that, if a person is known to have one per cent. of African blood in his veins, he ceases to be a white man. The ninety-nine per cent. of Caucasian blood does not weigh by the side of the one per cent. of African blood. The white blood counts for nothing. The person is a Negro every time. So it will be a very difficult task for the white man to absorb the Negro.

Somebody else conceived the idea of colonising the coloured people, of getting territory where nobody lived, putting the coloured people there, and letting them be a nation all by themselves. There are two objections to that. First, you would have to build one wall to keep the coloured people in, and another wall to keep the white people out. If you were to build ten walls around Africa to-day you could not keep the white people out, especially as long as there was a hope of finding gold there.

I have always had the highest respect for those of our race who, in trying to find a solution for our Southern problem, advised a return of the race to Africa, and because of my respect for those who have thus advised, especially Bishop Henry M. Turner, I have tried to make a careful and unbiassed study of the question, during a recent sojourn in Europe, to see what opportunities presented themselves in Africa for self-development and self-government.

I am free to say that I see no way out of the Negro’s present condition in the South by returning to Africa. Aside from other insurmountable obstacles, there is no place in Africa for him to go where his condition would be improved. All Europe—especially England, France, and Germany—has been running a mad race for the last twenty years, to see which could gobble up the greater part of Africa; and there is practically nothing left. Old King Cetewayo put it pretty well when he said, “First come missionary, then come rum, then come traders, then come army”; and Cecil Rhodes has expressed the prevailing sentiment more recently in these words, “I would rather have land than ‘niggers.'” And Cecil Rhodes is directly responsible for the killing of thousands of black natives in South Africa, that he might secure their land.

In a talk with Henry M. Stanley, the explorer, he told me that he knew no place in Africa where the Negroes of the United States might go to advantage; but I want to be more specific. Let us see how Africa has been divided, and then decide whether there is a place left for us. On the Mediterranean coast of Africa, Morocco is an independent State, Algeria is a French possession, Tunis is a French protectorate, Tripoli is a province of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt is a province of Turkey. On the Atlantic coast, Sahara is a French protectorate, Adrar is claimed by Spain, Senegambia is a French trading settlement, Gambia is a British crown colony, Sierra Leone is a British crown colony. Liberia is a republic of freed Negroes, Gold Coast and Ashanti are British colonies and British protectorates, Togoland is a German protectorate, Dahomey is a kingdom subject to French influence, Slave Coast is a British colony and British protectorate, Niger Coast is a British protectorate, the Cameroons are trading settlements protected by Germany, French Congo is a French protectorate, Congo Free State is an international African Association, Angola and Benguela are Portuguese protectorates, and the inland countries are controlled as follows: The Niger States, Masina, etc., are under French protection; Land Gandu is under British protection, administered by the Royal Haussan Niger Company.

South Africa is controlled as follows: Damara and Namaqua Land are German protectorates, Cape Colony is a British colony, Basutoland is a Crown colony, Bechuanaland is a British protectorate, Natal is a British colony, Zululand is a British protectorate, Orange Free State is independent, the South African Republic is independent, and the Zambesi is administered by the British South African Company. Lourence Marques is a Portuguese possession.

East Africa has also been disposed of in the following manner: Mozambique is a Portuguese possession, British Central Africa is a British protectorate, German East Africa is in the German sphere of influence, Zanzibar is a sultanate under British protection, British East Africa is a British protectorate, Somaliland is under British and Italian protection, Abyssinia is independent. East Soudan (including Nubia, Kordofan, Darfur, and Wadai) is in the British sphere of influence. It will be noted that, when one of these European countries cannot get direct control over any section of Africa, it at once gives it out to the world that the country wanted is in the “sphere of its influence,”—a very convenient term. If we are to go to Africa, and be under the control of another government, I think we should prefer to take our chances in the “sphere of influence” of the United States.

All this shows pretty conclusively that a return to Africa for the Negro is out of the question, even provided that a majority of the Negroes wished to go back, which they do not. The adjustment of the relations of the two races must take place here; and it is taking place slowly, but surely. As the Negro is educated to make homes and to respect himself, the white man will in turn respect him.

It has been urged that the Negro has inherent in him certain traits of character that will prevent his ever reaching the standard of civilisation set by the whites, and taking his place among them as an equal. It may be some time before the Negro race as a whole can stand comparison with the white in all respects,—it would be most remarkable, considering the past, if it were not so; but the idea that his objectionable traits and weaknesses are fundamental, I think, is a mistake. For, although there are elements of weakness about the Negro race, there are also many evidences of strength.

It is an encouraging sign, however, when an individual grows to the point where he can hold himself up for personal analysis and study. It is equally encouraging for a race to be able to study itself,—to measure its weakness and strength. It is not helpful to a race to be continually praised and have its weakness overlooked, neither is it the most helpful thing to have its faults alone continually dwelt upon. What is needed is downright, straightforward honesty in both directions; and this is not always to be obtained.

There is little question that one of the Negroes’ weak points is physical. Especially is this true regarding those who live in the large cities, North and South. But in almost every case this physical weakness can be traced to ignorant violation of the laws of health or to vicious habits. The Negro, who during slavery lived on the large plantations in the South, surrounded by restraints, at the close of the war came to the cities, and in many cases found the freedom and temptations of the city too much for him. The transition was too sudden.

When we consider what it meant to have four millions of people slaves to-day and freemen to-morrow, the wonder is that the race has not suffered more physically than it has. I do not believe that statistics can be so marshalled as to prove that the Negro as a race is physically or numerically on the decline. On the other hand, the Negro as a race is increasing in numbers by a larger percentage than is true of the French nation. While the death-rate is large in the cities, the birth-rate is also large; and it is to be borne in mind that eighty-five per cent. of these people in the Gulf States are in the country districts and smaller towns, and there the increase is along healthy and normal lines. As the Negro becomes educated, the high death-rate in the cities will disappear. For proof of this, I have only to mention that a few years ago no coloured man could get insurance in the large first-class insurance companies. Now there are few of these companies which do not seek the insurance of educated coloured men. In the North and South the physical intoxication that was the result of sudden freedom is giving way to an encouraging, sobering process; and, as this continues, the high death-rate will disappear even, in the large cities.

Another element of weakness which shows itself in the present stage of the civilisation of the Negro is his lack of ability to form a purpose and stick to it through a series of years, if need be,—years that involve discouragement as well as encouragement,—till the end shall be reached. Of course there are brilliant exceptions to this rule; but there is no question that here is an element of weakness, and the same, I think, would be true of any race with the Negro’s history.

Few of the resolutions which are made in conventions, etc., are remembered and put into practice six months after the warmth and enthusiasm of the debating hall have disappeared. This, I know, is an element of the white man’s weakness, but it is the Negro I am discussing, not the white man. Individually, the Negro is strong. Collectively, he is weak. This is not to be wondered at. The ability to succeed in organised bodies is one of the highest points in civilisation. There are scores of coloured men who can succeed in any line of business as individuals, or will discuss any subject in a most intelligent manner, yet who, when they attempt to act in an organised body, are utter failures.

But the weakness of the Negro which is most frequently held up to the public gaze is that of his moral character. No one who wants to be honest and at the same time benefit the race will deny that here is where the strengthening is to be done. It has become universally accepted that the family is the foundation, the bulwark, of any race. It should be remembered, sorrowfully withal, that it was the constant tendency of slavery to destroy the family life. All through two hundred and fifty years of slavery, one of the chief objects was to increase the number of slaves; and to this end almost all thought of morality was lost sight of, so that the Negro has had only about thirty years in which to develop a family life; while the Anglo-Saxon rate, with which he is constantly being compared, has had thousands of years of training in home life. The Negro felt all through the years of bondage that he was being forcibly and unjustly deprived of the fruits of his labour. Hence he felt that anything he could get from the white man in return for this labour justly belonged to him. Since this was true, we must be patient in trying to teach him a different code of morals.

From the nature of things, all through slavery it was life in the future world that was emphasised in religious teaching rather than life in this world. In his religious meetings in ante-bellum days the Negro was prevented from discussing many points of practical religion which related to this world; and the white minister, who was his spiritual guide, found it more convenient to talk about heaven than earth, so very naturally that to-day in his religious meeting it is the Negro’s feelings which are worked upon mostly, and it is description of the glories of heaven that occupy most of the time of his sermon.

Having touched upon some of the weak points of the Negro, what are his strong characteristics? The Negro in America is different from most people for whom missionary effort is made, in that he works. He is not ashamed or afraid of work. When hard, constant work is required, ask any Southern white man, and he will tell you that in this the Negro has no superior. He is not given to strikes or to lockouts. He not only works himself, but he is unwilling to prevent other people from working.

Of the forty buildings of various kinds and sizes on the grounds of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, in Alabama, as I have stated before, almost all of them are the results of the labour performed by the students while securing their academic education. One day the student is in his history class. The next day the same student, equally happy, with his trowel and in overalls, is working on a brick wall.

While at present the Negro may lack that tenacious mental grasp which enables one to pursue a scientific or mathematical investigation through a series of years, he has that delicate, mental feeling which enables him to succeed in oratory, music, etc.

While I have spoken of the Negro’s moral weakness, I hope it will be kept in mind that in his original state his is an honest race. It was slavery that corrupted him in this respect. But in morals he also has his strong points.

Few have ever found the Negro guilty of betraying a trust. There are almost no instances in which the Negro betrayed either a Federal or a Confederate soldier who confided in him. There are few instances where the Negro has been entrusted with valuables when he has not been faithful. This country has never had a more loyal citizen. He has never proven himself a rebel. Should the Southern States, which so long held him in slavery, be invaded by a foreign foe, the Negro would be among the first to come to the rescue.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing in connection with the lifting up of the Negro in this country is the fact that he knows that he is down and wants to get up, he knows that he is ignorant and wants to get light. He fills every school-house and every church which is opened for him. He is willing to follow leaders, when he is once convinced that the leaders have his best interest at heart.

Under the constant influence of the Christian education which began thirty-five years ago, his religion is every year becoming less emotional and more rational and practical, though I, for one, hope that he will always retain in a large degree the emotional element in religion.

During the two hundred and fifty years that the Negro spent in slavery he had little cause or incentive to accumulate money or property. Thirty-five years ago this was something which he had to begin to learn. While the great bulk of the race is still without money and property, yet the signs of thrift are evident on every hand. Especially is this noticeable in the large number of neat little homes which are owned by these people on the outer edges of the towns and cities in the South.

I wish to give an example of the sort of thing the Negro has to contend with, however, in his efforts to lift himself up.

Not long ago a mother, a black mother, who lived in one of our Northern States, had heard it whispered around in her community for years that the Negro was lazy, shiftless, and would not work. So, when her only boy grew to sufficient size, at considerable expense and great self-sacrifice, she had her boy thoroughly taught the machinist’s trade. A job was secured in a neighbouring shop. With dinner bucket in hand and spurred on by the prayers of the now happy-hearted mother, the boy entered the shop to begin his first day’s work. What happened? Every one of the twenty white men threw down his tools, and deliberately walked out, swearing that he would not give a black man an opportunity to earn an honest living. Another shop was tried with the same result, and still another, the result ever the same. To-day this once promising, ambitious black man is a wreck,—a confirmed drunkard,—with no hope, no ambition. I ask, Who blasted the life of this young man? On whose hands does his lifeblood rest? The present system of education, or rather want of education, is responsible.

Public schools and colleges should turn out men who will throw open the doors of industry, so that all men, everywhere, regardless of colour, shall have the same opportunity to earn a dollar that they now have to spend it. I know of a good many kinds of cowardice and prejudice, but I know none equal to this. I know not which is the worst,—the slaveholder who perforce compelled his slave to work without compensation or the man who, by force and strikes, compels his neighbour to refrain from working for compensation.

The Negro will be on a different footing in this country when it becomes common to associate the possession of wealth with a black skin. It is not within the province of human nature that the man who is intelligent and virtuous, and owns and cultivates the best farm in his county, is the largest tax-payer, shall very long be denied proper respect and consideration. Those who would help the Negro most effectually during the next fifty years can do so by assisting in his development along scientific and industrial lines in connection with the broadest mental and religious culture.

From the results of the war with Spain let us learn this, that God has been teaching the Spanish nation a terrible lesson. What is it? Simply this, that no nation can disregard the interest of any portion of its members without that nation becoming weak and corrupt. The penalty may be long delayed. God has been teaching Spain that for every one of her subjects that she has left in ignorance, poverty, and crime the price must be paid; and, if it has not been paid with the very heart of the nation, it must be paid with the proudest and bluest blood of her sons and with treasure that is beyond computation. From this spectacle I pray God that America will learn a lesson in respect to the ten million Negroes in this country.

The Negroes in the United States are, in most of the elements of civilisation, weak. Providence has placed them here not without a purpose. One object, in my opinion, is that the stronger race may imbibe a lesson from the weaker in patience, forbearance, and childlike yet supreme trust in the God of the Universe. This race has been placed here that the white man might have a great opportunity of lifting himself by lifting it up.

Out from the Negro colleges and industrial schools in the South there are going forth each year thousands of young men and women into dark and secluded corners, into lonely log school-houses, amidst poverty and ignorance; and though, when they go forth, no drums beat, no banners fly, no friends cheer, yet they are fighting the battles of this country just as truly and bravely as those who go forth to do battle against a foreign enemy.

If they are encouraged and properly supported in their work of educating the masses in the industries, in economy, and in morals, as well as mentally, they will, before many years, get the race upon such an intellectual, industrial, and financial footing that it will be able to enjoy without much trouble all the rights inherent in American citizenship.

Now, if we wish to bring the race to a point where it should be, where it will be strong, and grow and prosper, we have got to, in every way possible, encourage it. We can do this in no better way than by cultivating that amount of faith in the race which will make us patronise its own enterprises wherever those enterprises are worth patronising. I do not believe much in the advice that is often given that we should patronise the enterprises of our race without regard to the worth of those enterprises. I believe that the best way to bring the race to the point where it will compare with other races is to let it understand that, whenever it enters into any line of business, it will be patronised just in proportion as it makes that business as successful, as useful, as is true of any business enterprise conducted by any other race. The race that would grow strong and powerful must have the element of hero-worship in it that will, in the largest degree, make it honour its great men, the men who have succeeded in that race. I think we should be ashamed of the coloured man or woman who would not venerate the name of Frederick Douglass. No race that would not look upon such a man with honour and respect and pride could ever hope to enjoy the respect of any other race. I speak of this, not that I want my people to regard themselves in a narrow, bigoted sense, because there is nothing so hurtful to an individual or to a race as to get into the habit of feeling that there is no good except in its own race, but because I wish that it may have reasonable pride in all that is honourable in its history. Whenever you hear a coloured man say that he hates the people of the other race, there, in most instances, you will find a weak, narrow-minded coloured man. And, whenever you find a white man who expresses the same sentiment toward the people of other races, there, too, in almost every case, you will find a narrow-minded, prejudiced white man.

That person is the broadest, strongest, and most useful who sees something to love and admire in all races, no matter what their colour.

If the Negro race wishes to grow strong, it must learn to respect itself, not to be ashamed. It must learn that it will only grow in proportion as its members have confidence in it, in proportion as they believe that it is a coming race.

We have reached a period when educated Negroes should give more attention to the history of their race; should devote more time to finding out the true history of the race, and in collecting in some museum the relics that mark its progress. It is true of all races of culture and refinement and civilisation that they have gathered in some place the relics which mark the progress of their civilisation, which show how they lived from period to period. We should have so much pride that we would spend more time in looking into the history of the race, more effort and money in perpetuating in some durable form its achievements, so that from year to year, instead of looking back with regret, we can point to our children the rough path through which we grew strong and great.

We have a very bright and striking example in the history of the Jews in this and other countries. There is, perhaps, no race that has suffered so much, not so much in America as in some of the countries in Europe. But these people have clung together. They have had a certain amount of unity, pride, and love of race; and, as the years go on, they will be more and more influential in this country,—a country where they were once despised, and looked upon with scorn and derision. It is largely because the Jewish race has had faith in itself. Unless the Negro learns more and more to imitate the Jew in these matters, to have faith in himself, he cannot expect to have any high degree of success.

I wish to speak upon another subject which largely concerns the welfare of both races, especially in the South,—lynching. It is an unpleasant subject; but I feel that I should be omitting some part of my duty to both races did I not say something on the subject.

For a number of years the South has appealed to the North and to federal authorities, through the public press, from the public platform, and most eloquently through the late Henry W. Grady, to leave the whole matter of the rights and protection of the Negro to the South, declaring that it would see to it that the Negro would be made secure in his citizenship. During the last half-dozen years the whole country, from the President down, has been inclined more than ever to pursue this policy, leaving the whole matter of the destiny of the Negro to the Negro himself and to the Southern white people, among whom the great bulk of Negroes live.

By the present policy of non-interference on the part of the North and the federal government the South is given a sacred trust. How will she execute this trust? The world is waiting and watching to see. The question must be answered largely by the protection it gives to the life of the Negro and the provisions that are made for his development in the organic laws of the State. I fear that but few people in the South realise to what an extent the habit of lynching, or the taking of life without due process of law, has taken hold of us, and is hurting us, not only in the eyes of the world, but in our own moral and material growth.

Lynching was instituted some years ago with the idea of punishing and checking criminal assaults upon women. Let us examine the facts, and see where it has already led us and is likely further to carry us, if we do not rid ourselves of the evil. Many good people in the South, and also out of the South, have gotten the idea that lynching is resorted to for one crime only. I have the facts from an authoritative source. During last year one hundred and twenty-seven persons were lynched in the United States. Of this number, one hundred and eighteen were executed in the South and nine in the North and West. Of the total number lynched, one hundred and two were Negroes, twenty-three were whites, and two Indians. Now, let every one interested in the South, his country, and the cause of humanity, note this fact,—that only twenty-four of the entire number were charged in any way with the crime of rape; that is, twenty-four out of one hundred and twenty-seven cases of lynching. Sixty-one of the remaining cases were for murder, thirteen for being suspected of murder, six for theft, etc. During one week last spring, when I kept a careful record, thirteen Negroes were lynched in three of our Southern States; and not one was even charged with rape. All of these thirteen were accused of murder or house-burning; but in neither case were the men allowed to go before a court, so that their innocence or guilt might be proven.

When we get to the point where four-fifths of the people lynched in our country in one year are for some crime other than rape, we can no longer plead and explain that we lynch for one crime alone.

Let us take another year, that of 1892, for example, when 241 persons were lynched in the whole United States. Of this number 36 were lynched in Northern and Western States, and 205 in our Southern States; 160 were Negroes, 5 of these being women. The facts show that, out of the 241 lynched, only 57 were even charged with rape or attempted rape, leaving in this year alone 184 persons who were lynched for other causes than that of rape.

If it were necessary, I could produce figures for other years. Within a period of six years about 900 persons have been lynched in our Southern States. This is but a few hundred short of the total number of soldiers who lost their lives in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. If we would realise still more fully how far this unfortunate evil is leading us on, note the classes of crime during a few months for which the local papers and the Associated Press say that lynching has been inflicted. They include “murder,” “rioting,” “incendiarism,” “robbery,” “larceny,” “self-defence,” “insulting women,” “alleged stock-poisoning,” “malpractice,” “alleged barn-burning,” “suspected robbery,” “race prejudice,” “attempted murder,” “horse-stealing,” “mistaken identity,” etc.

The evil has so grown that we are now at the point where not only blacks are lynched in the South, but white men as well. Not only this, but within the last six years at least a half-dozen coloured women have been lynched. And there are a few cases where Negroes have lynched members of their own race. What is to be the end of all this? Furthermore, every lynching drives hundreds of Negroes out of the farming districts of the South, where they make the best living and where their services are of greatest value to the country, into the already over-crowded cities.

I know that some argue that the crime of lynching Negroes is not confined to the South. This is true; and no one can excuse such a crime as the shooting of innocent black men in Illinois, who were guilty of nothing, except seeking labour. But my words just now are to the South, where my home is and a part of which I am. Let other sections act as they will; I want to see our beautiful Southland free from this terrible evil of lynching. Lynching does not stop crime. In the vicinity in the South where a coloured man was alleged recently to have committed the most terrible crime ever charged against a member of my race, but a few weeks previously five coloured men had been lynched for supposed incendiarism. If lynching was a cure for crime, surely the lynching of those five would have prevented another Negro from committing a most heinous crime a few weeks later.

We might as well face the facts bravely and wisely. Since the beginning of the world crime has been committed in all civilised and uncivilised countries, and a certain percentage of it will always be committed both in the North and in the South; but I believe that the crime of rape can be stopped. In proportion to the numbers and intelligence of the population of the South, there exists little more crime than in several other sections of the country; but, because of the lynching evil, we are constantly advertising ourselves to the world as a lawless people. We cannot disregard the teachings of the civilised world for eighteen hundred years, that the only way to punish crime is by law. When we leave this anchorage chaos begins.

I am not pleading for the Negro alone. Lynching injures, hardens, and blunts the moral sensibilities of the young and tender manhood of the South. Never shall I forget the remark by a little nine-year-old white boy, with blue eyes and flaxen hair. The little fellow said to his mother, after he had returned from a lynching: “I have seen a man hanged; now I wish I could see one burned.” Rather than hear such a remark from one of my little boys, I would prefer to see him in his grave. This is not all. Every community guilty of lynching says in so many words to the governor, to the legislature, to the sheriff, to the jury, and to the judge: “We have no faith in you and no respect for you. We have no respect for the law which we helped to make.”

In the South, at the present time, there is less excuse for not permitting the law to take its course where a Negro is to be tried than anywhere else in the world; for, almost without exception, the governors, the sheriffs, the judges, the juries, and the lawyers are all white men, and they can be trusted, as a rule, to do their duty. Otherwise, it is needless to tax the people to support these officers. If our present laws are not sufficient properly to punish crime, let the laws be changed; but that the punishment may be by lawfully constituted authorities is the plea I make. The history of the world proves that where the law is most strictly enforced there is the least crime: where people take the administration of the law into their own hands there is the most crime.

But there is still another side. The white man in the South has not only a serious duty and responsibility, but the Negro has a duty and responsibility in this matter. In speaking of my own people, I want to be equally frank; but I speak with the greatest kindness. There is too much crime among them. The figures for a given period show that in the United States thirty per cent. of the crime committed is by Negroes, while we constitute only about twelve per cent. of the entire population. This proportion holds good not only in the South, but also in Northern States and cities.

No race that is so largely ignorant and so recently out of slavery could, perhaps, show a better record, but we must face these plain facts. He is most kind to the Negro who tells him of his faults as well as of his virtues. A large percentage of the crime among us grows out of the idleness of our young men and women. It is for this reason that I have tried to insist upon some industry being taught in connection with their course of literary training. It is vitally important now that every parent, every teacher and minister of the gospel, should teach with unusual emphasis morality and obedience to the law. At the fireside, in the school-room, in the Sunday-school, from the pulpit, and in the Negro press, there should be such a sentiment created regarding the committing of crime against women that no such crime could be charged against any member of the race. Let it be understood, for all time, that no one guilty of rape can find sympathy or shelter with us, and that none will be more active than we in bringing to justice, through the proper authorities, those guilty of crime. Let the criminal and vicious element of the race have, at all times, our most severe condemnation. Let a strict line be drawn between the virtuous and the criminal. I condemn, with all the indignation of my soul, any beast in human form guilty of assaulting a woman. I am sure I voice the sentiment of the thoughtful of my race in this condemnation.

We should not, as a race, become discouraged. We are making progress. No race has ever gotten upon its feet without discouragements and struggles.

I should be a great hypocrite and a coward if I did not add that which my daily experience has taught me to be true; namely, that the Negro has among many of the Southern whites as good friends as he has anywhere in the world. These friends have not forsaken us. They will not do so. Neither will our friends in the North. If we make ourselves intelligent, industrious, economical, and virtuous, of value to the community in which we live, we can and will work out our salvation right here in the South. In every community, by means of organised effort, we should seek, in a manly and honourable way, the confidence, the co-operation, the sympathy, of the best white people in the South and in our respective communities. With the best white people and the best black people standing together, in favour of law and order and justice, I believe that the safety and happiness of both races will be made secure.

We are one in this country. The question of the highest citizenship and the complete education of all concerns nearly ten millions of my people and sixty millions of the white race. When one race is strong, the other is strong; when one is weak, the other is weak. There is no power that can separate our destiny. Unjust laws and customs which exist in many places injure the white man and inconvenience the Negro. No race can wrong another race, simply because it has the power to do so, without being permanently injured in its own morals. The Negro can endure the temporary inconvenience, but the injury to the white man is permanent. It is for the white man to save himself from this degradation that I plead. If a white man steals a Negro’s ballot, it is the white man who is permanently injured. Physical death comes to the one Negro lynched in a county; but death of the morals—death of the soul—comes to those responsible for the lynching.

Those who fought and died on the battlefield for the freedom of the slaves performed their duty heroically and well, but a duty remains to those left. The mere fiat of law cannot make an ignorant voter an intelligent voter, cannot make a dependent man an independent man, cannot make one citizen respect another. These results will come to the Negro, as to all races, by beginning at the bottom and gradually working up to the highest possibilities of his nature.

In the economy of God there is but one standard by which an individual can succeed: there is but one for a race. This country expects that every race shall measure itself by the American standard. During the next half-century, and more, the Negro must continue passing through the severe American crucible. He is to be tested in his patience, his forbearance, his perseverance, his power to endure wrong,—to withstand temptations, to economise, to acquire and use skill,—his ability to compete, to succeed in commerce, to disregard the superficial for the real, the appearance for the substance, to be great and yet small, learned and yet simple, high and yet the servant of all. This,—this is the passport to all that is best in the life of our Republic; and the Negro must possess it or be barred out.

In working out his own destiny, while the main burden of activity must be with the Negro, he will need in the years to come, as he has needed in the past, the help, the encouragement, the guidance, that the strong can give the weak. Thus helped, those of both races in the South will soon throw off the shackles of racial and sectional prejudice, and rise above the clouds of ignorance, narrowness, and selfishness into that atmosphere, that pure sunshine, where it will be the highest ambition to serve man, our brother, regardless of race or previous condition.


Icon for the Public Domain license

This work (The Future of the American Negro by Booker T. Washington) is free of known copyright restrictions.