A PLEA FOR THE WHITE SOUTH BY A COLOURED WOMAN
The indifference manifested by the whole American nation to the obstacles to progress which now confront the best white people in the South is as amazing as it is painful. Occasionally one hears about the cruel yoke of bondage under which coloured people in the South groan at the present time. It is safe to assert that few if any words either spoken or written on this subject are untrue, since it is well nigh impossible to exaggerate the facts. But the coloured American is not the only slave in the South to-day. There are hundreds of white men who have been blessed with splendid intellects, who are kind and tender of heart and who yearn to be true to their higher, better natures, who dare not follow the dictates of their conscience and be just, because they languish in the chains forged by a tyrannical public opinion and a cruel, vindictive intolerance of those who dare dissent from prevailing views.
If the South were a Sodom and Gomorrah in which no justice-loving, law-abiding white men could be found, as one is tempted to describe it when he thinks how frequently crime is committed in that section and how seldom the criminal, if he be white, gets his just deserts, the prospects for the white man’s future would be far gloomier than are those of the race which he so cruelly wrongs. It cannot be denied that the majority of white people in the South acquiesce in the crimes committed by the lynchers, the white caps, and the Constitution-smashers, who have violently snatched the right of citizenship from more than a million men, for if they did not, these particular varieties of lawlessness would disappear in a very short time. But the tacit consent given to lawlessness by the just and upright white men in the South is the result of intimidation, rather than a deliberate purpose on their part to sanction wrong.
For this reason it is plainly the duty of the North, East, and West to protect the South from itself. It matters not that the South spurns the advice and declines the assistance of other sections in the United States. If a good citizen or a consistent Christian should see a man committing suicide by plunging a dagger into his heart or jumping into a river, would he stand still and let him take his life, because his desperate brother did not want him to interfere? When one section of this country is reverting to barbarism by adopting methods common to the dark ages, such as excluding the children of a certain race or class from the public schools, first on one pretext and then another, and thereby forcing future American citizens to grow up in ignorance as dense and as dark as that with which the Russian peasants are cursed to-day; when one section of this country is resorting to such antediluvian, anti-Christian measures as the Ameer of Afghanistan would be ashamed to approve, shall the wiser, saner members of the national family stand still and see their rash and wicked brother toboggan to his ruin?
There are at least three reasons why the nation as a whole should give prevailing conditions in the South their careful and conscientious consideration. The weightiest argument which could be advanced in behalf of this proposition is that it is the country’s duty to the South itself. A great deal is written and spoken about the New South to-day. Orators from all sections wax eloquent about the phenomenal change of heart toward the North and the great breadth of view toward the freedmen manifested by the “New South.” One need only study conditions which obtain in the South to-day, however, to be convinced that the people of that section were never more deeply rooted and grounded in the opinions which they have always held, were never determined to be governed by them in everything affecting both public and private affairs, and were never more bent upon enacting these views into law, so far as in them lies, they are to-day. By deeds as well as by words the South is daily proving how resolute and unshaken it is in its purpose to defy even the constitution of the United States, whenever it runs counter to its opinion and offends its prejudices.
So frequently and persistently does the South display the Confederate flag, for instance, that the Department of the Potomac G.A.R. has recently passed resolutions expressing “the regret and sorrow with which it views the public display of an emblem which tends to keep alive the bitterness and animosity engendered by the war.” It was also resolved that "such a course tends to instill into the minds of coming generations aversion, if not hostility, to our national emblem, and is not in accord with the oft-repeated professions made by the Southern people of their love for the national emblem and their devotion to the Union."
It cannot be too strongly emphasized, nor too often repeated, that there is a class of white people in the South who are as irrevocably opposed to injustice and lawlessness as human beings can possibly be. It would be as unjust to charge the whole white South with willful, malicious violation of the Constitution, because the citizens generally countenance its infraction by their silence, as it would be to accuse the whole North of approving disfranchisement of coloured men because northerners do not protest. It would be as absurd to say that all white people in the South sanction the injustice and barbarity of which coloured men, women, and children are so often the unfortunate victims in that section, as it would be to claim that everybody in the North disapproves of these crimes against the coloured man and is willing to accord him his rights.
Before the term "White South," as used in this article, is defined, it is cheerfully admitted that there are exceptional white men in the South, whose ideals and standards are as high as are those of the purest, best citizens anywhere in the United States. But when the "South" or the "White South" is referred to in this article, those people are designated who mould the public opinion which manifests itself through the laws enacted by the legislatures of the respective southern States, and through the customs which are generally observed and which amount to an written law.
If the laws recently enacted in nearly every state in the South are an index of the mind and the heart of the people of that section, and if actions speak louder than words, the South was never more hostile to the coloured man, as well as to his friends, and was never more determined to keep him as near the level of the brute as possible than it is today. Reduced to the lowest terms, the test put to every question which arises for discussion in the South, no matter to what it may directly pertain, is its possible bearing upon the race problem. To the South's inability to forget the results of the Civil War, and to its attitude toward the emancipated race, may be attributed its inability to make the mental, spiritual, and material progress which it might otherwise easily attain. The mind cannot (certainly the mind does not) flourish in an atmosphere which is close and impure, and which is neither recharged nor purified by fresh currents and revivifying draughts of new thoughts. That there have been comparatively few contributions made by southern writers to the best literature of the country is an indisputable fact. Nothing but the enforced narrowness of view and the imperious bigotry which hang like a pall over the mind can explain this dearth of literary talent in the South.
Not long ago, in discussing the place occupied by the South in American letter, Professor George Edward Woodberry, Professor of Comparative Literature in Columbia University, New York City, expressed himself as follows:
The South is uncritical. The power of criticism, which is one of the prime forces of modern thought in the last century, never penetrated the South. There was never a place there, nor is there now, for minorities of opinion and still less for individual protest, for germinating reforms, for frank expression of a view differing from that of a community. In this respect the South has been as much cut off from the modern world, and still is, as Ireland from England in other ways. It lies outside the current of the age, and this is one reason why there has been such an absence of ideas in its life. It is curious to observe that what the South has afforded to general literature, in the main was given into the hands of strangers. The Virginian record was written by Thackeray's imagination. The theme of slavery was written in Uncle Tom's Cabin, the one book by which the South survives in literature, for better or for worse.
With scarcely a single exception the inventors of labour-saving machines and appliances, for which this country has become so famous, hail from the North. The report of the Civil Service Commission recently issued shows that Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee have not their share of Federal appointments, because the applicants for positions from those States are not qualified to receive them. The failure of the southern States to furnish eligibles for registers from which appointments are chiefly made is shown by the fact that of the 383 appointments from technical registers, only 35 went to the South. On the 5th of October, when these figures were compiled for the report, there remained on all the registers of a technical character only fifty southern eligibles, many with such low ratings as to preclude the likelihood of their being reached for certification. The report of the Civil Service Commission proves conclusively that the South is greatly in arrears in securing the plums to which it is entitled by an equitable distribution of government jobs on the basis of one in every 10,000 Citizens, because there are so few applicants for positions living in that section who have the proper technical qualifications. Most every southern applicant wants to be a clerk, and as a matter of fact the South has furnished 58.21 percent of all clerk appointments; but the demand is for men with technical qualifications, scarcely any for clerks. When, therefore, the Commission desires to give the South the preference, it finds itself without eligibles and must fall back on those States which have already received their full share. This tangible proof of the intellectual inertia of the South, as revealed by the report of the Civil Service Commission, tallies with a statement made in the Atlanta Constitution just three years ago. In lamenting the mental inertia and backwardness of the South, this newspaper, which is one of the largest and most reliable journals in this section, expressed itself as follows: "We have as many illiterate white men in the South today over twenty-one years as there were fifty-two years ago, when the census of 1850 was taken."
This barrenness of brain and this dearth of intellectual activity, in a section inhabited by men and women in whose innate mental inferiority nobody believes, can be accounted for on one hypothesis alone. It is due to the brain blight, superinduced by the ban placed upon the freedom of thought. And this freedom of thought will always be a mental impossibility in the South, until the white people of that section cease to make their coloured brother the subject of paramount importance, cease to insist that there shall be but a single solitary opinion, both concerning his rights and privileges as a citizen and the treatment which must be accorded him by all members of the dominant race, whether they concur in the opinion of the majority or not.
As the intellectual faculties of the southern white people have been dwarfed, because they have placed consideration of the coloured man and his status among them above everything else, because they have allowed nobody, no matter whence he hailed nor how competent he was to judge, to dissent from the generally accepted view without paying a heavy penalty for defying public sentiment, so progress along financial and commercial lines has been impeded, because the white people of the South have been busier raising huge barriers in the coloured man's path to knowledge and achievements, along various lines which he might have otherwise attained, than they have been developing the wonderful natural resources of their rich and fertile land. The South has greatly prospered since the war. It is tilling its fields, working its mines of coal and ore, and filling its coffers with gold. But there is no doubt that much greater commercial prosperity would have been attained by the South if the same attention had been bestowed upon improving its agricultural facilities as has been given to devising ways and means of handicapping a struggling, backward race. Southern States like South Carolina and Georgia, for instance, which formed a part of the original thirteen, are poor and backward indeed compared with some of their younger sisters in the West, like Iowa and Illinois. Some of the eastern and western states that were admitted into the Union long after the Revolutionary War are not so rich in natural resources as are some of the southern States among the original thirteen. And yet these younger children in the national family have progressed far more rapidly along intellectual and financial lines than their elders in the South, because the inhabitants of the former have expended all their powers of body and mind building up a strong, substantial commonwealth and developing their resources to the fullest extent. None of their precious energy has been dissipated in frantic, hysterical efforts to hold in perpetual subjection a heavily handicapped race and to coerce others into adopting their standard of conduct and accepting their views. Gratifying, therefore, as has been the development of the South's agricultural and mineral resources, there is no doubt that the progress along these lines might have been greater if so much strength of the best white people in the South had not been expended manufacturing expedients for keeping their coloured brother in what they call "his place." The fear manifested by the southern white people that their coloured brother might, if not prevented, soar to heights which they are determined he shall never scale appears all the more groundless and inconsistent when it is recalled how strenuously they insist that he belongs to a naturally inferior race. But this is only one of the many illogical, irrational positions into which the South is trapped, and is only one of the many points on which it is obliged to stultify itself, because of its misguided, fanatical loyalty to the fetish of race prejudice, before which every knee must bow. Thus many a southern white man, possessing those qualities of intellect and those graces of heart which would have admirably fitted him to be a leader in affairs of high and noble emprise, has contented himself with being a mere policeman, whose only ambition in life was to keep a close watch upon the coloured man's aspirations, strike him upon the head with a bludgeon and arrest him, either when he aspired too high or tried to escape from the narrow intellectual, political, and social inclosure into which each and every member of his race, without regard to individual merit or capacity, had been forcibly corralled. In being deprived of the service of men who have thus prostituted their talents, not only the South but the whole nation has sustained an irreparable loss.
If there were any sign of improvement among southern white people as a whole, so far as concerns their attitude toward every subject which bears, even remotely, upon the race problem, their prospects, as well as those of the people who are oppressed, would be far brighter than they are. But no microscope now on the market is sufficiently powerful to enable even the lynx-eyed to detect the slightest change for the better. Legislatures in the southern States are never more enthusiastic and industrious than when they are bent upon enacting measures for the purpose of repressing the coloured man's aspirations by law. Today one State legislature will exhaust Webster's Unabridged trying to find language sufficiently strong and lurid to express the necessity of dividing the taxes so that coloured children shall have no more schools than taxes paid by their parents will support. Tomorrow another State will actually pass a law, as Louisiana has done, prohibiting the public schools for coloured children from instructing them beyond the fourth or fifth grades, with the understanding that what they get in the five grades shall be none too good. All the southern States, with the exception of Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas, have robbed coloured men of their right of citizenship, and have thus reduced more than 1,000,000 Americans to the level of serfs and slaves. So pernicious has been the influence of the far South that a border State like Virginia, only a stone's throw from the district in which the national capital is located, has disfranchised coloured men. Maryland, encouraged by Virginia's success in violating the amendments to the Constitution, tried with all her might and main just a few months ago to emulate her neighbor's unworthy example. Jim Crow cars enter and leave the National Capital filled with indignant, humiliated coloured citizens every hour in the day. Under such circumstances neither the most sanguine citizen in the North nor the most optimistic member of the oppressed race in the United States can lay the flattering unction to his soul that the South has accepted the result of the Civil War and is willing to grant coloured men the rights, privileges, and immunities of citizenship guaranteed them by the Constitution. No truer statement of the South's position today could possibly be made than that expressed by General Lee in his address to the Confederate Veterans at their reunion in Louisville last summer. Without mincing matters, or making unnecessary apologies, he declared that the South had accomplished by peaceful revolution, what it had been unable to effect by means of war.
One might go on indefinitely supplying evidence to prove that, as a whole, the South is as implacable and unreconstructed, so far as concerns its attitude toward that part of the Constitution which guarantees the freedman his rights as well as towards those who insist that these rights be respected, as it was at the close of the war. There is a law--call it human, divine, retributive justice or what you will, but there is an inexorable law which decrees that those who persistently and cold-bloodedly oppress the weak shall not for ever escape the consequences of their guilt. Therefore, those who love the South and who have its interests at heart should never cease to labour and remonstrate with it, till it has been turned from its evil way. It is plainly the nation's duty, therefore, to do everything in its power to emancipate the South from the thraldom of its own prejudices; release it from the slavery of the brain-blighting, soul-crushing intolerance of other people's views; teach it the difference between the highest, purest patriotism and a narrow, sectional pride; instill into it a sense of justice which will prevent it either from inflicting or withholding penalties for wrong-doing and crime on account of the colour of a man's skin; and finally breathe into the hearts of the people as a whole a broad, Christian charity which will extend even to their former slaves.
Secondly, the South should be rescued from its follies and sins, not only because it will work its own destruction if it continues to pursue its present course, but because the spiritual and moral welfare of the American people as a whole is greatly imperiled thereby. What with its shameful record on lynching, what with its crimes committed by desperadoes belonging to various bands of organized violence, what with its Convict Lease system, that new form of slavery which obtains in nearly every State in the South and is in some respect more cruel and more crushing than the old; what with its Contract Labor system, designed and practiced for the purpose of deceiving and defrauding ignorant, defenseless coloured laborers; what with the shocking number of murders and homicides committed in so many instances with impunity, the South is in an unfortunate and alarming condition indeed. In Governor Hayward's message to the General Assembly of South Carolina in January of the current year he admits with sorrow and regret the reign of lawlessness in the State, and deplores the fact that although an appropriation to apprehend lynchers had been set aside at his request, no convictions had been made. With great intensity of feeling he declared that such outrages as those which so frequently occur in his State lead to all disregard of law, the cheapening of human life, and undermines our very civilization. In discussing the blood-guiltiness in Governor Hayward's State a short time ago, the Nashville American, one of the fairest and most reliable newspapers in the South, stated that if the killing in other States had been in the same ratio to population as in South Carolina, a larger number of people would have been murdered in the United States during l902 than fell on the American side in the Spanish and Philippine wars.
Although coloured men are usually the victims of the lawlessness and cruelty committed with the knowledge and consent of some of the Southern Commonwealths, white men from the North have occasionally suffered too. Only last December a sickening story of this cruel suffering was related by two white boys from Seymour, Ind., who had escaped from a Convict Lease camp in Mississippi, whose Governor, by the way, recently kicked a coloured convict nearly to death, because while blacking this high state official's shoes, the unfortunate convict said something to which the Governor took exception. These boys declared they found white men in the convict camps of Mississippi who had been held as slaves for ten years. The experience of the Indiana boys tallies with that of two New York boys together with 200 others were lured to Florida last fall by promises of work at good pay. When they reached their service place, however, they were partly starved, flogged, shot, and finally placed in a chain gang and compelled to work until they fainted, when they were whipped for the weakness. According to official statistics a coloured man was lynched in Mississippi every eighteen days in 1905, and of this number only two were even charged with what is so falsely and maliciously called the "usual crime." One was shot because he was accused of writing an insulting letter, and one because he was charged with making threats. Crimes heinous enough occur in the North, it is true, but it is inconceivable that an institution so diabolical as the Convict Lease system could flourish anywhere in the North, East, or West with the knowledge and consent of either the citizens or the officials of the respective States. A short time ago the Grand Jury of Ware Co., Georgia, declared that at least twenty citizens of that county were held as slaves in a camp owned by one of the leading members of the Georgia legislature. The witnesses who were called testified that brutalities practiced in this camp were too revolting to be described.
Thus the white youth of the South are being hardened and brutalized by the shocking spectacles they are forced to witness on every hand. Truly the South is sowing seeds of lawlessness and cruelty which in the very nature of the case will spring up armed men in the years to come. Accounts of deeds of violence recently perpetrated by white students upon coloured people amply prove this fact. Last December the cadets of Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., made a revengeful raid on the house of a coloured man, beat him unmercifully and marched him half dead, to jail, simply because it was rumored that he either fired a shot at the cadet himself, or knew the man who did. Not only by examples of cruelty and lawlessness, but also by social and political demarcations based exclusively upon race and class, the white youth of this country are being tainted in a very conceivable way. 'Resolved, That a Jim Crow Car Law should be adopted and Enforced in the District of Columbia' was the subject of a discussion engaged in January of the present year by the Columbian Debating Society of the George Washington University, which is situated in the National Capital, and decision was rendered in favour of the Jim Crow car.
In discussing questions bearing upon national, State, or municipal affairs, or touching matters of private concern, the South never fails to interject its views on the race problem and render a decision accordingly, no matter how remotely connected with the subject these views may be nor how great may be the advantages accruing to the South if it will temporarily sink these extraneous opinions out of sight. For instance, there is no doubt that southern white women would be greatly benefited by joining the General Federation of Women's Clubs and thereby coming into contact with some of the brightest minds in the United States. But only a few months ago the Alabama Federation of Women's Clubs voted down a resolution favouring such a union, because a coloured woman was admitted as a delegate in Milwaukee a long time ago, and that, too, in spite of the fact that the General Federation has since then adopted rules, so as to atone for thus offending their southern sisters, which practically exclude coloured women from the Federation altogether. And so one fact after another might be cited to prove that the South's present attitude of mind and state of heart preclude the possibility of progress. Stagnation of an individual or a collection of individuals invariably means retrogression in the end. That one section of this union cannot retrograde without dragging down all the others is an axiom.
If, therefore, the North, East, and West feel they are not their brother's keeper, and are not moved by the missionary spirit to lift the South out of the slough of stagnation in which it now lies, surely the second point urged as a reason for making a plea in its behalf will appeal to every patriot in the land. To all who give the subject careful consideration it must be clear that self-preservation and an intelligent concern for the nation as a whole command all true patriots to act, and act at once. If one section of this country is permitted to trample with impunity upon any provision of the Constitution with which it takes issue, another will surely resort to the same expedient to render null and void any section or clause to which it is opposed. It does not require a great amount of profundity or perspicacity to see that the violation of one fundamental law invariably leads to the infraction of another.
If general observance of the law by the citizens of a country is a test of a nation's civilization, and if statistics on this subject count for anything, then the United States of America belongs at the very foot of the civilized nations' class. Quite recently ex-Ambassador Andrew White declared that with the single exception of Sicily more murders are committed in the United States than in any other civilized country in the world. Not long ago a well-known white clergyman in Louisville, Ky., startled his congregation one Sunday morning by declaring that home life is safer in the dominions of the Ameer of Afghanistan than it is in Kentucky.
There are more murders (said he) in Louisville, Ky., with 200,000 people than there are in London with nearly 7,000,000. There are more murders in Kentucky with its 2,000,000 people than in Great Britain with a population of 40,000,000. Finally there are more murders in the United States than in the whole of Europe, with Italy and Turkey left out and Russia included.
This statement was made, of course, before the wholesale slaughter of the Russian Jews.
No other civilized nation (said this Louisville clergyman) approaches this in the matter of murders, and those which come nearest to it are Italy and Turkey, where the assassin's knife is freely used and where men allow their anger and hatred and disgraceful passions to rule their conduct.
Several distinguished men in the congregation were so shocked at these statistics that they determined to study the subject themselves, but after a careful investigation had been instituted, they admitted these figures could not be truthfully denied.
At the annual dinner of the Authors' Club, given in honor of the Lord Chief Justice of England in December 1904, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle devoted a part of his remarks to the laxity with which the law against murder is administered in the United States. During the Boer War, he said, Great Britain had lost 22,000 lives. But during the same three years the United States had lost 10,000 more, that is 32,000 lives, by murder and homicide in a time of peace. Many of these crimes, he said, had gone unpunished. The Lord Chief Justice took occasion to corroborate what Sir Arthur had said.
It is painful to every true American, of course, to know that lawlessness prevails to such an extent in the country he loves. It is the duty of true patriots, however, to stare disagreeable facts in the face, for in no other way will it be possible to remedy some of the evils which exist. And no matter how seriously the coloured American may be handicapped today, nor how grievously he was oppressed in the past, there are no truer patriots in the United States today than are the 10,000,000 coloured people who know and love no fatherland but this. In every war which this country has waged in the past, coloured men have fought and died with a courage and a patriotism surpassed by none.
Is it not true that this country's red record, which can neither be concealed nor denied, may be accounted for in large measure by the impunity with which crimes are committed against coloured people in the South? Coloured men, women, and children are being shot to death, flayed alive, and burned at the stake, while the murderers not only escape punishment as a rule; but are rarely, if ever, called to account. So rapidly has the crime of lynching spread that now it is confined to no one particular section, but we see it breaking out here and there in places where we would least expect to find it. During the riot which occurred in New York City a few years ago an eye-witness declared that poor old coloured men who were returning peacefully and unsuspectingly home from their work, were cruelly set upon and brutally beaten by ruffians for no reason whatsoever except that they were coloured. If, therefore, the North, East, and West are not moved by a sense of duty to save the South from itself and protect coloured men in their rights, the sooner those sections realize that self-preservation demands immediate and vigorous action on their part, the more surely will they be able to avert national tragedies which sanctioned lawlessness invariably precipitates.
If the events which transpired before the Civil War teach one lesson more than another , it is that tolerating wrong, temporizing with injustice, and long forbearance with evildoers are sure to bring shame, disgrace, and sorrow upon the nation that makes the fatal mistake. Putting off till tomorrow the correction of national evils which should be made today simply delays for a little the hour of wrath which is sure to strike. And when the day of retribution finally dawns, then the difficulty of throttling evils, grown great and strong by time, is increased a thousand-fold. Delay is wicked; delay is dangerous, delay means death, are the words of warning written upon every page of United States history from the day the Declaration of Independence was signed till Fort Sumter was fired upon by rebel guns. The French Revolution taught France the danger of delay in redressing the wrongs of the oppressed. Russia is learning the same lesson, to her sorrow and cost, today. God grant that our own beloved land may not be forced to atone a second time in a nation's blood and tears for tacitly consenting to cruel wrongs heaped upon the oppressed.
But if the first two reasons for making a plea in behalf of the South are not sufficient to arouse those who love their country, surely the third will appeal to all who love their fellow men. It is useless to talk about elevating the masses of a backward, struggling race until the scales of prejudice fall from the eyes of the stronger people, by whom the progress of the weaker is retarded, and without whose consent and support it will be impossible for the weaker to rise. In the South today an intelligent coloured man or woman suffers a veritable martyrdom. From the books they have read, and from the speeches of the Revolutionary fathers, which breathe forth hatred of oppression in every line, the intelligent coloured people in this country have learned to love liberty more than they love life. The love of freedom with which the very air in this country is heavily charged is inhaled by coloured Americans at every breath, and yet they know they are not free. They see they are not free to develop their God-given faculties and engage in any pursuit to which both their capacity and inclination lead them, and on account of which they might brilliantly succeed, although this is the privilege enjoyed by the representatives of every other race who land on American shores. Although it cannot be truthfully asserted that coloured people are free anywhere in the United States in the same sense as are all other Americans, whether indigenous or adopted, their yoke of bondage is heaviest in the South. In that section the are nearly 8,000,000 human beings, some of whom have very little, others a larger proportion of African blood coursing through their veins, who virtually occupy the position of serfs, when they are not actually held as slaves, in this Government founded upon liberty and equality before the law of all. The tortures endured by Tantalus, famished with hunger and perched with thirst, as he gazed upon food and water placed within his sight but out of reach, were not more terrible than are those suffered by coloured people in the United states who see all other races and nationalities enjoying opportunities of various kinds which they, too, long to possess, but of which they are systematically and continually deprived. The pity of it is that the just and generous hearted sons and daughters of the South who would gladly rescue, so far as in them lies, the deserving members of the downtrodden and handicapped race from their cruel fate are deterred from following the dictates of humanity, because they know at a heavy penalty for their deeds of kindness they will be obliged to pay.
One of the discouraging phases of the coloured man's status in the South is the persistency with which his strong and powerful brothers criticize and condemn the whole race for the mistakes made and the crimes committed by the few. For this reason no greater service could be rendered the coloured people of this country by those who have their interests at heart than to show the white South how rash and wicked is its course toward the freedmen in its midst, and what an irreparable injury it is doing them by the misrepresentations which it constantly circulates against the whole race. Even by southerners who are supposed to be broad-minded and just, the coloured man's vices are constantly exaggerated beyond a semblance of truth, in spite of the fact that his accusers are themselves responsible for most of them, his defects are emphasized in every possible way, and his mental ability either underestimated or scoffed at. In many instances these misrepresentations are not the result of deliberate malice. There is no doubt that many southerners do not realize how unjust and untruthful they are in their tirades against the oppressed race.
By looking continually and exclusively at one side of the race problem, and by a misguided loyalty to the sophistries and traditions of the past, their intellect is stunted, so far as concerns their ability to grasp any subject touching the coloured American, their reasoning faculties are dwarfed, and they are literally seduced from the truth. By a continual exaggeration of the coloured man's vices, by a studied suppression of the proofs of his marvelous advancement, by a judicious though malicious use of epithets, such as social equality, negro domination, and others which poison and mislead the public mind; by a watchful, searching skepticism with respect to evidence in the coloured man's favor, and a convenient credulity with respect to every report or tradition which can be used to prove the coloured man's depravity, the South has almost succeeded in persuading the whole world that it is a martyr and the coloured American is a brute. When a race or class is marked in any community, when its vices and defects are upon everybody's tongue and its depravity is conceded by all, it requires an amount of courage, goodness, and grit such as few human beings possess, for a single individual in that underestimated or slandered class to live down the opprobrium of which he is a vicarious victim. It is an axiom that whatever the hardships and misfortunes of a race may be, they fall with greatest severity upon women. The treatment accorded coloured women in the United States is but another proof of this well-established rule. A minister of the Gospel hailing from the South stood in the pulpit of New York Church, and declared, not long ago, that virtue in coloured women is so rare that any consideration of it is futile. There are very few men of any race, no matter how low in the social scale they may be, who can be induced to give damaging evidence against the character of a woman, no matter how frail or friendless she may be nor how urgent the necessity that her unsavory record be exposed. But this rule of chivalry usually observed by all men toward all women, and to which the South insists it is pledged, has not always protected coloured women in the United States.
In 1895 the President of the Missouri Press Association sent an open letter to Miss Balgarnie of England, well known for her interest in the coloured people of the United States, which, with the exception of the slander recently uttered by the minister to whom reference has just been made, is probably the most unjustifiable and venomous attack ever made upon the womanhood of any race by a man. After painting in the most lurid colours possible the depth of the coloured American's degradation, he cites an example to prove his case against coloured women, which for coarse vulgarity and malicious mendacity cannot be surpassed in the bewildering confusion of false charges preferred against the victims of oppression and degradation by those who are responsible for their ruin. More than that, Southern white women who shine brilliantly in the galaxy of letters are not ashamed to prostitute their talent by publicly proclaiming their coloured sister's immorality to the world in both the newspapers and leading periodicals of the North, while they gloat in ghoulish glee over her shame. It is difficult to understand how the women of any race, under any circumstances and for any reason whatever, could bring themselves to slander in so wholesale, and so cold-blooded a manner the womanhood of another race, particularly if those who wield the withering, blighting, character-assassinating pens are the daughters of parents responsible in the sight of God and men for the heredity and environment of the very women whose moral delinquencies they expose and assail. And so it happens that the very air which a coloured girl breathes in that section where the majority live is heavy with traditions and accusations of the frailty of both her race and her sex. Statistics, however, which have been compiled by White men themselves show that in spite of the fateful heritage of slavery, in spite of the numerous pitfalls laid to entrap coloured girls, and though the safeguards usually thrown around maidenly youth and innocence are, in at least one section of this country, withheld from coloured girls, immorality among coloured women in the United States is not so great as among women similarly situated in at least five foreign lands.
As a preparation for the war of the Rebellion, Mr. Lincoln declared that the ringleaders in the conspiracy against this government had been assiduously debauching the public mind for thirty years. Ingenious sophisms were invented, he said, by which right-thinking people of that section were deceived and misled. In the war which the professional negro-haters (not the whole South) have made upon the liberty of coloured people ever since their emancipation was proclaimed, precisely the same base methods have been pursued. The rapidity with which the South has poisoned the mind of 'the North against coloured people, and has succeeded in withdrawing from them the sympathy and assistance of those who were once known to be their best friends, is a splendid tribute to the persuasiveness, the persistency, the plausibility, and the power of the South, while it resembles nothing so much as a skilful trick of legerdemain.
View the conditions which now obtain in the South from any standpoint one may, he must inevitably reach the conclusion that for the sake of 8,000,000 human beings crying for justice and a fair chance, strenuous efforts should be made by the North, East, and West to instill into Southern people a wholesome reverence for the law. Failure to inflict upon an individual, or a collection of individuals, the penalty for wrongdoing and crime is simply to encourage still further defiance of the law. Therefore the men in the North, East, and West who are aiding and abetting political corruption and crime wherever it may exist, by allowing those who commit it to go unpunished and unrebuked are equal in guilt with those who flagrantly violate the law.
Mary Church Terrell.
Terrell, Mary Church. 1905. “A Plea for the White South by a Colored Woman." Mary Church Terrell Papers. Library of Congress. https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/ms009311.mss42549.0377