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CHAPTER XIII

Negro Traits and Characteristics-Their Influence Upon the Race Question

S

IR H. H. JOHNSTON, the noted administrator, writer and African explorer, tells us that the indigenous tribes of African Negroes exhibit an actual tendency towards retrogression rather than advancement. "In some respects," says Johnston, "I think the tendency of the Negro for several centuries past has been an actual retrograde one. As we come to read the unwritten history of Africa by researches into languages, manners, customs, traditions, we seem to see a backward rather than a forward movement going on for some thousand years past-a return toward the savage and even the brute."

This writer may possibly have overdrawn the picture, but what he has to say is confirmatory of what we have shown the race to be in former chapters, and at the same time enables us the better to account for racial traits and characteristics so conspicuous among our Afro-Amercian Negroes throughout the South.

There are several well-defined classes of Negroes in the Southern states and some, among the best class, display admirable qualities of thrift and foresight; but the great body of Negroes in the United States are little removed from Johnston's description of African tribal characteristics in their positive tendencies towards retrogression. This, too, is more marked now than it was twenty or thirty years ago and is especially noticeable in certain rural localities

in the South, where voluntary segregations of the race have taken place almost to the exclusion of white population; and is unquestionably due largely to the fact that the generation of emancipated slaves was far superior in many ways to the later generations born in freedom.

Few Negroes are mentally capable of grasping the true meaning of freedom, and fewer still are able to conceive the relations which the race must ever bear to the dominant Anglo-American and the fact that industry, morality and frugality are inseparable conditions of substantial citizenship and public respect. A vague notion that liberty means license to idle away his time; to evade labor and effort; to avoid supplying the urgent needs of the white man for labor; and to indulge himself in the lowest depths of moral depravity; is the average Negro's conception of the privileges conferred by freedom and citizenship.

Unpopular though it may be, we are fully persuaded that much book-learning has proven to be a curse rather than a blessing to the Negro; and that it is to-day an active and potent influence in the solution of the Negro problem. If its present influence upon that race is to continue it will certainly constitute a contributing cause in his relative reduction in numerical strength, for too much book-learning absolutely disqualifies him as a laborer, and for the great mass of Negroes hard labor is the only hope of salvation. Most Negroes with a common school education look upon physical work as a disgraceful form of punishment, and when forced to it as a last resort to drive starvation temporarily from the door-nothing can induce them to continue when they have a few dollars in hand. Neither their own nor their employers' interests will suffice to induce

them to continue their labors until the pittance they possess has been consumed.

While all this is in perfect harmony with his lack of intelligence it is nevertheless positively alarming when considered from the standpoint of the welfare of that race. As we have already pointed out-and shall later show even more conclusively from statistical and other positive sources of information-the ultimate doom of the race as a serious American or Southern problem is in any event sealed and settled; but the present attitude of the great mass of Southern Negroes in positively refusing and evading work in every possible manner, is not only seriously crippling Southern commercial advancement—which, however, is only temporary, for they are being rapidly supplanted by white labor-but it is also threatening, and indeed actually producing among them a condition of starvation. Not a starvation in the sense of direct and sudden death from the total absence of food-although our alms-houses and other charitable institutions are well burdened with this class-but one of the contributing elements in an inordinate mortality rate; by virtue of the fact that this great body of worthless Negroes have an insufficient supply of a poor quality of food, and do not get a wholesome variety. This fact opens the way for the contraction and rapid progress of diseases of all kinds; which-as will presently be shown— are depleting the ranks of the race.

Those who, like ourselves, have carefully studied the Negro race from prehistoric times, or even those who have studied only the American side of the question, are already well aware of these truths; but unfortunately for the black race in the United States the great body of those big-hearted and generous Americans, who desire to befriend him with their

philanthropic aid, are little informed as to the great basic truths that underlie the welfare and survival of the Negro. Unfortunately natural and artificial conditions have combined to supply the philanthropist with untrustworthy information regarding this whole subject. Many of the so-called authorities on this subject get their principal information by traveling about in splendidly equipped railroad trains, and banqueting with Negroes and whites who are far removed from the lowly-the real mass of our Negro population. It is without the range of average human nature-white or black-to be able, under this artificial environment, to gain an accurate and impartial mental concept of these great natural and artificial sociological problems. They, perforce, see things as they would like them to be, rather than just as they are actually found to be when considered in the cold concrete reality of causation and consequence.

The missionary, the educational enthusiast, the politician, the observer from foreign countries, while on the whole honest, are, nevertheless, all biasedeach looking at things through glasses fitted for his special purpose, and ground for the work of magnifying those features of the conditions which it is pleasing to him to see in distorted proportions.

Of course it is natural also, for each of us to think that his opportunities for observing, as well as his capacities for interpreting the actual conditions, are superior to those of others. But it must, on the other hand, be confessed by all that the writer on this subject who has chanced not to come under any of these biasing influences is, in so much, a better interpreter of facts than those subjected to one or another of the special view-points referred to.

There are, as we have said, several distinct classes

of Negroes; a small class decidedly frugal and moral; a much larger class of small farmers and laborers, who are fairly prosperous; but more than half of all Negroes in southern United States are thriftless, aimless, lazy people; trying to evade occupation and consequently often seeking a livelihood through pilfering.

In nearly every section of the South it is a wellknown fact and, temporarily at least, a serious economic problem-that Negro labor is hard to get and unreliable even at high prices. Most Negroes had rather idle away their time than work for a dollar a day on the farm. There is probably not another country in the world where labor is plentiful and in demand, yet cannot be had for good wages. No other country could long continue to carry such a large class in comparative idleness; and the South will not do it always. This latter class of Negroes 'will be, and are now being, supplanted by a class of thrifty and industrious Northern and European settlers, willing and anxious to secure regular and profitable employment. It does not require a philosopher to foretell the inevitable consequence of this sociological condition.

If we were called upon to suggest the best means of aiding and protecting the Negro in health and happiness our reply would be,-give him from three to ten acres of land and just enough schooling to enable him to read, write and count. After a very careful and exhaustive study of this Negro question we feel absolutely certain that nothing could prove a greater blessing to the black man in America. The possession of a small piece of land does more to make of him a good and useful citizen than all else combined. He will never voluntarily sell it, but will apply himself to useful labor in order to hold it.

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