DARKEST AMERICA AND THE WAY OUT
An Address by REV. DR. JAMES E. MASON, Professor of Political Economy in, and Secretary of, Livingstone College, North Carolina, before the Empire Club of Canada, on December 14, 1911.
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen,-
It is a long and difficult journey from driving mules in a coal mine to standing in this distinguished presence. I feel a good deal in this connection as a venerable coloured preacher felt in. another connection. After long and exacting toil he had succeeded in erecting a splendid place of worship. Shortly afterwards a violent storm destroyed it. He was acquainted with Dr. Henson, of Chicago, and appeared in his splendid church to seek financial aid. He told his story. The dollars poured out upon the table and rolled over on the floor, and the good old coloured brother's eyes stood out in amazement. Dr. Henson felt that the preacher would like to give expression to his feelings and he said, "Won't you say something further?" And he said, "Let us pray," and among other things he said: "Lord have mercy on thy poor unworthy servant and show him how to behave himself, for he has never been in such good company before." (Laughter.) I can heartily sympathize with him. I deeply appreciate the honour conferred and the confidence implied in appearing here today. It is gratifying to stand within a great municipality and within the borders of a great Dominion where character and intelligence and not colour make the man. (Applause.) For many years the Afro-American has been deeply interested in Canada. During the dark and starless night of slavery they founded the first underground railway known of in history, and before the subways were inaugurated they found their way through to Canada. As illustrative of their devotion and affection, I call your attention but to a single incident: A venerable lady about to leave the old homestead, among admiring friends and acquaintances said, "Farewell, Good-Bye my Brothers and Sister, if I don't see you any more on earth I hope to meet you in Canada." (Laughter.) It was a beautiful afternoon in the famous home of a Southern, town. The vines were running over the trellis, and the grapes growing purple with the kisses of the autumn sun. The monarch of the day was sinking to rest in the west. Seated in his old arm-chair, surrounded by distinguished men was the late chieftain of what was once a powerful confederacy. They were discussing sociological and philosophical questions. Before them was a pictorial representation of the material prosperity of the country. To the right were the varied industries of New England, its fields of waving grain, its granite-scabbed hills, and grand old mountains. At the top were the diversified industries of the north with its densely populated cities and sparsely settled rural districts, with their mighty manufacturing establishments. To the left were winding emigrant trains west of the Mississippi, and cities rising up as if by magic in a night, as indicating the establishing of the grandest Republic on which the sun ever shone. At the base were the industries of the south, its rice, its tobacco, its cotton, and a negro asleep on a bale of cotton. Mr. Davis was intensely interested in the pictorial representation, and when asked his personal opinion about it said: "Gentlemen, I like it all very well, but one thing I don't like, that negro asleep on that bale of cotton. He is asleep now, but what will we do when he wakes up?" Mr. Davis, as if in prophetic vision, seemed to take in at a glance our growing and glorious Republic with its vine-clad hills, its mill-strewn vales, its sunlit homes, its wire-woven, iron-bound lands, and sail-wreathed oceans. He saw the Negro in the store, in the office, in the factory; he saw him interwoven in all the hopes and possibilities of the Republic and he said, "Gentlemen, what will you do when he wakes up?" So that question of the eminent ecclesiastic, "What shall we do with the Negro?" still remains one of the most momentous problems of our Christian civilization. Con templated in whatever aspect, this problem bristles with perplexities and is difficult of solution; and this arises from two or three considerations. In the first place the Negro was invited or came to America, that is that part of it called the United States, upon the cordial invitation of the Anglo-Saxon. (Laughter.) Upon his introduction into the Republic he was made unusually familiar with an institution, a peculiar institution called slavery. Slavery only developed the animal and mechanical side of the Negro so that for 50 to 100 years prior to emancipation, eminent anthropologists and ethnologists declared that he was a distinct species outside of the human family. In the next place, since emancipation a marvellous transformation has taken place in the life and character of the Negro. The older representatives here today readily recall that it was said that the Negro was incapable of high education and civilization, that without the care of his former master he would soon deteriorate and decay, and whatever might be the state of his external environment he would never be able to keep pace with the onward sweep and stride of Anglo-Saxon civilization. In fact some said he would soon die out. An eminent ethnologist after an extended tour in the black belt returned to Brooklyn, and at the conclusion of an unusually eloquent address was asked if the Negroes were really dying out, "Well," he said, "some two weeks ago I received and accepted a most cordial invitation to dine with a coloured brother in the black belt, and .seated about the father and mother were fifteen children." No further answer was necessary.
But this brings us to the question, what shall we do r with him? Some tell us that the best way to solve the problem is by absorption, but this is not encouraging. The Negro has been in America for 290 years, and, according to the late Dr. Babbitt, one of the foremost. Episcopalian clergymen, there are 2,000,000 Creoles, Octoroons and Mulattoes today in the United States. It has taken nearly 300 years to absorb 2,000,000. We have 250,000,000 in Africa, black as midnight, and how long will it fake to absorb them? But seriously, 300 years is long enough to establish a new type of man. Has such a new type come to life in the United States as the result of the commingling of our heterogeneous nationality? I will not indulge in any speculations upon this subject. The facts alone shall speak for themselves. First of all, take the history of the Anglo-Saxon race in America. In many respects, as you all know, this is the foremost element in our American population, in largeness of numbers, in civil polity and power, in educational impress and religious influence. What has become of this element of our American population? Everybody knows that in New England along the Atlantic seaboard and in the far west, fully three fifths of the American population are descendants of the same hardy, plodding, common-sense people that they were centuries ago, when their fathers pressed through the forests of Jamestown or planted their feet upon the high sterile soil of Plymouth. The Celtic family came to America in two columns. The French entered Canada in 1607; they came with all the glow, fervour, gallantry, social aptitude, and religious loyalty which for centuries have characterized the Gallic blood, and which are still conspicuous elements on both sides of the Atlantic. The other column, began their emigration in 1670, and they have almost depopulated Ireland to populate America, and their numbers now are in the millions. The German, like the Celtic family, came in two columns and made New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania their habitat. The high Germans have been streaming into our Republic since 1648, bringing with them that learning, that art and acquisitiveness; which has given such an elastic spring to American culture, depth of philosophy and inspiration to music and to art. And there they are in great colonies in our middle and western States, and yet can anybody discover any decline in the purity of German blood or the likelihood of its ultimate loss in the veins of an alien people he Negro contingent came quickly on the heels of the Cavalier of Jamestown, and before the arrival of the Puritan in the east. That perfidious barque of Sir John Hawkins, which ported the slave captive over the sea from Africa, preceded the Mayflower by one year and five months. From that one small cargo and its after arrivals has arisen a large negro population, variously estimated at from eleven to thirteen millions. In the wide rural areas of the south, it is a purely Negro population, but in the large cities of the north there has been a wide intermixture of blood. This has been taken by some as an evidence of partial or entire amalgamation; but I claim that the past in this instance is no criterion for the future. Then, moreover, I claim that the principle of continuity is as masterful in races as in nations, as in families; and when a race, that is a compact homeogenous population consisting of one blood and ancestry, once enters a land, and settles therein as its home and heritage, then in my judgment it becomes a fact as fixed and abiding as the rooting of the Pyrenees in Spain or the Alps in Italy.
We are told in the next place that the best way to solve the problem is by segregation. They say separate the negro from the white, purchase a western territory or a part of Mexico, and let the negro people build up a kingdom or empire of their own. But this proposition puts us on the end of two dilemmas. In the first place it would be difficult to purchase a territory large enough to keep all the Negroes in, and then, if any precious diamonds or valuable rubies were found there, it would be difficult to build a fence high enough to keep all the white people out. (Laughter.)
But we hear it often stated that deportation is the real solution. They say the negroes came from Africa, let them return to Africa. But I would call your attention to the fact that this is impracticable and unreasonable. In the first place, according to the latest statistics nearly 1,000 coloured children are born every 24 hours. Where would you get the ships? If you sent over a thousand Negroes this morning, tomorrow morning a thousand more Negro babies would be crying for deportation. (Laughter.) And then it would be unusually and extremely expensive. According to the lowest rating made in the days of Henry Clay it would cost enough to educate all the children of school age for four generations. I can never hear anyone speak seriously of the matter without thinking of the good old coloured brother in Virginia dying. His last night had come; and his spiritual adviser was near the bedside. Among other things he is reported as saying: "Brother, I done s'pose you long to be agone, to be wiff Aunt Jane and Marsa Jesus, and all the myriads that had gone over the dark river and am a livin' forever; I s'pose you done long to walk the gol' paved streets ob de new Jerusalem?" The question seemed to give strength to the dying man and he said: "I don' know; Aunt Jane and Marsa Jesus may be there, but I tell you I prefer remainin' where I am a leetle better acquainted." (Laughter.)
Now my friends, the Negro has been touched with the spirit of American liberty, he has been uplifted and thrilled with American possibilities, and whatever may be the attractions in Porto Rico or some distant point, he prefers remaining where he is a little better acquainted.
There are three fundamental principles which have been prominent in. the development of modern Christian civilization. I think we may attribute the success of the Anglo-Saxon to the three factors, the Bible, the spelling book, and the hoe. If I can show you within the -next few minutes the Negro is responsive to either or all of these factors, I think we have the solution of the problem. In the first place what about the Bible? Is the Negro capable of religious instruction? I think the concensus of opinion is that there is no missionary field in all the world where a dollar invested will bring back such gratifying fruitage as money given for the uplift of the black race in the south. What was our religion when you came to us? It was a wild hysteria, a heterogeneous compound of paganism, largely without reason or common-sense It was a religion without, the Bible; the Scriptures- and the Ten Commandments were as foreign to our mind as the Vedas of India or the moral precepts of Confucius. But through the missionary efforts of white friends and later leadership of 3,000 trained and 20,000 untrained ministers, today the Negroes are the most religious race in the United States. They own over $50,000,000 worth of property; and the latest statistics show per capita, in proportion to their wealth, they contributed more to religious enterprise in the past year than any other nationality in the United States. (Applause.) I think therefore you will admit we are capable of religious instruction.
What about the spelling book? Is the Negro capable of being educated? Fifty years ago there were less than 30,000 Negroes in the United States who could read and write. Today we have an army of 1,500,000 students attending over Zoo universities and schools of secondary instruction. This vast army is marshalled and controlled by 35,000 negro teachers. A large number of them have advanced to the knowledge of grammar, geography, and arithmetic; a large number of them have stretched forth to philosophic acquaintance with, and acquisition of, literature and science; a large number of them are preparing for the professions of law and medicine; and a large number of them are preparing for the work of the Holy Ministry. Think of this and you have some idea of the difference between the bright and hopeful present and the past dark and disastrous night of our intellectual history. We have produced over 500 authors who have written over 1,300 books; we have over 800,000 volumes on the shelves of our schools representing an expenditure of over $300,000. Numbers of our young men and young women have studied Latin, and read Nepos, Virgil, and Caesar; have studied Greek, and read Homer and Demosthenes. They are climbing up into all the higher forms of learning. The silvery tones of their orators and the enchanting songs of, their women are heard in all the south land.
What about the hoe? Will the Negro work? When emancipated we did not own our own bodies in which were enshrined immortal spirits. Out of these slavery had crushed every noble impulse, all the springs of action. today this same race are the possessors of a -wider area of territory than all New England; and pay taxes on $929,000,000 worth of taxable property. And it is well to add, this property has not come down to them from rich ancestry. I was sent as one of the speakers to the Atlantic Exposition during the Religious Congress, and one beautiful afternoon when out walking with a wealthy, contractor, I said: "How is it in the hot bottoms of Alabama, in the malaria districts of Georgia, you insist upon exclusively Negro labour?" -,"Well," he said: "we have found no other nationality we can substitute for the Negroes in those regions." The Negro is the chief staple producing element in the south. He has felled its forests, drained its marshes" cultivated its highlands, bridged its chasms, spanned its rivers, and made the wilderness to blossom as the rose. (Applause.)
Well, you say, how do all these elements enter in t0 correct lynching, political disfranchisements, and the other evils that the Negro is heir to in the United States? Why, by giving all classes the right point of view. Just in proportion as the Negro is taken into the human family and is acknowledged as a human being and becomes one of the brotherhood of men, he will be treated as a man. We believe that black is an unenviable badge only in proportion as its points to his degradation. In fact we think that black is the most popular colour in the world. (Laughter.) Look at the, black hats and the black coats worn by the Anglo-Saxon It is a self-evident fact that they are not opposed to black per se. Therefore we feel proportionately as these three important factors enter in and change the Negro's environment, the perplexing problem will be solved.
After all, let me say finally, the Negro has a great mission to perform, and we feel that that mission is not confined to the original southern States, or 3,200,000 square miles of American territory. In the providence of God our work stretches across the raging boundless sea and connects with a continent the largest in the world. In their-land no Star of Bethlehem points to the Redeemer of men. They sit in darkness unpenetrated by the light of the Cross. He who said--Go, preach my gospel to every creature, wills that these 250,000,000 shall come from darkness into light, and front the power of sin and Satan to the power of God. Therefore we feel our work is grand. Whether we view it in the uplifting of the millions here or the millions in Africa, we feel that our work is grand.
I know not what questions may come up for solution in the onward sweep of civilization around the globe, I know riot what problems may confront the United States in its upward march into the future. But I am sure of one thing, that under these three great forces, standing in the light of Calvary, the staggering ages shall find their way up to its summit, where the nations forgetful of invidious distinction, and ever mindful of their common origin, will seat themselves beneath the glorious aegis of immortal rest. (Prolonged applause.)