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WHAT SHALL THE NEGRO DO?
1. THIS paper is addressed directly to the colored people of the United States. A large mass of them, of course, will not see it; yet others of them will. Nothing more forcibly illustrates the great progress of our times than the fact that already one may safely count on reaching a considerable body of readers, wholly or partly of Negro blood, through the pages of a monthly publication adapted to the highest popular intelligence of the Anglo-Saxon race. The explanation of this is, that although the colored man in America enters the second quarter-century of his emancipation without yet having attained the full measure of American freedom decreed to him, he has, nevertheless, enjoyed, for at least twenty years, a larger share of private, public, religious, and political liberty than falls to the lot of any but a few peoples-the freest in the world.
It would be far from the truth to say that other men everywhere, or even that all white men, are freer than he. No subject of the Czar, be he peasant or prince, however rich in privileges, dares claim the rights actually enjoyed by an American freedThe Negro's grievance is not that his liberties are few; it is that, in a land and nation whose measure of every man's freedom is all the freedom any one can attain without infringing upon a like freedom in others, and where all the competitions of life are keyed on this idea, his tenure of almost every public right is somehow mutilated by arbitrary discriminations against him. Not that he is in slave's shackles and between prison walls, or in a Russian's danger of them, but that, being entered in the race for the prize of American citizenship, in accordance with all the rules of the course, and being eager to run, he is first declared an inferior competitor, and then, without gain to any, but with only loss to all, is handicapped and hobbled.
Without gain to any and with loss to all. For in this con
test no one truly wins by another's loss; no one need lose by another's gain; the prize is for every one that reaches the goal, and the more winners there are the better for each and all. The better public citizen the Negro can be the better it will be for the white man. But the Negro's grievance is, that the discriminations made against him are more and more unbearable the better public citizen he is or tries to be; that they are impediments, not to the grovelings of his lower nature, but to the aspirations of his higher; that as long as he is content to travel and lodge as a ragamuffin, frequent the vilest places of amusement, laze about the streets, shun the public library and the best churches and colleges, and neglect every political duty of his citizenship, no white man could be much freer than he finds himself; but that the farther he rises above such life as this the more he is galled and tormented with ignominious discriminations made against him as a public citizen, both by custom and by law; and finally, that as to his mother, his wife, his sister, his daughter, these encouragements to ignoble, and discouragements to nobler, life are only crueler in their case than in his own.
2. What large enjoyment of rights, with what strange suffering of wrongs! Yet to explain the incongruity is easy; the large enjoyment of rights belongs to a new order of things, which has only partly driven out the old order, of which these wrongs are, by comparison, but a slender remnant. To explain is easy, but to remove, to remove these sad and profitless wrongs, what shall the nation do?
There are many answers. We are reminded of what the nation has done, and the record is a great one. For forty years of this nineteenth century, one of whose years counts for a score of any other century's, it made the condition of the Negro the absorbing national question, to which it sacrificed its peace and repose. Admitting much intermixture of motives of selfish power and of self-preservation, yet the fundamental matter was a moral conviction that moved the majority of the nation to refuse to hold slaves or countenance slave-holding by State legislation. To have waived this conviction would have avoided a frightful civil war. The freedom of the Negro was bought at a higher price, in white men's blood and treasure, than any people ever
paid, of their own blood and treasure, for their own liberty. Since the close of the war, many millions of dollars have been spent by private benevolence in the North to qualify the southern Negro, morally and intellectually, for his new freedom, and the outlay continues still undiminished. No equal number of people elsewhere on earth receives so great an amount of missionary educational aid. In the South itself a great change has taken-is taking-place in popular sentiment concerning certain aspects of the Negro's case. In 1885-86 over 58 per cent. of the colored school population in seven great southern States were enrolled in State public schools, in recognition of the necessity and advantage of the Negro's elevation.
These things are not enumerated to remind the Negro of his obligations. His property, as far as it goes, is taxed equally with the white man's for public education and the maintenance of the State; and all the benefactions he has received, added to all the peculations of which he stood accused in the days of his own misrule, are not yet equal to the just dues of a darker past still remaining, and that must ever remain, unpaid to him. They are enumerated not to exhaust the record, but merely to indicate the range of what has been done in the past, and is being done in the present, by white men concerning the Negro's rights and wrongs. The great national political party that first rose to power, and for almost a quarter of a century held governmental control, by its espousal and maintenance of the Negro's cause, still declares that cause a living issue in the national interest. The great party now in power, with one or more disaffected wings from the opposition, though it does not propose to do anything, as to the Negro, that has thus far been left undone, at least consents not to undo anything that has been done. Yet other important issues have been pushed to the front by both parties, and the "Negro question," however pre-eminent in the nation's true interest, is not paramount in the public attention.
But what has the Negro done? What is he doing? The trite answer is, that he has increased from four millions to seven, and is still multiplying faster by natural increase than any other race on the continent. But, also, he has accepted his freedom in the spirit of those who bestowed it; that is, limited by,
and only by, the civil and political rights and duties of American citizenship equally devoid of special privileges and special restrictions. He fought in no mean numbers in the great army that achieved his liberation, and he has laid down, since then, many a life rather than waive the rights guaranteed to him by the American Constitution. In the infancy of his citizenship, steeped in moral and intellectual ignorance, with some of his former masters disfranchised and the rest opposed to almost the whole list of his civil rights, he fell into the arms of unscrupulous leaders and covered not a few pages of history with a record of atrociously corrupt government; yet, as the present writer has lately asserted elsewhere, the freedman never by legislation removed the penalties from anything that the world at large calls a crime, and here it may be added that he never put upon the statute book a law hostile to the universal enjoyment of American liberty. In the darkest day of his power he established the public-school system. He has exceeded expectation in his display of industry, his purchase of land, his accumulation of wealth, his eagerness and capability for education, and even in his political intelligence and parliamentary skill. Even under the artificial and undiscriminating pressure of public caste he is developing social ranks with wide moral and intellectual differences, from the stupid, idle, criminal, and painfully numerous minority at the bottom, to a wealth-holding, educated minority at the top; each emerging, or half emerging, from a huge middle majority of peace-keeping, but uneducated and unskilled farmers, mechanics, and laborers, yet a majority unestranged from the more cultured and prosperous minority of their own race by any differences of religion, conflict of traditions, or rivalry of capital and labor, and hearkening to their counsels more tractably than the mass listens to the few amongst any other people on the continent. He is not open to the charges urged against the Indian or the Chinaman; he does not choose to be a savage, as the one, nor a civil alien and a heathen, as the other, is supposed to choose. He accepts education, sometimes under offensive, and sometimes under expensive, conditions. He proposes to stay in this country, and is eager to be in all things a citizen. His religion is Christianity; and if it
is often glaringly emotional and superficial, so, confessedly, is the Christianity of his betters the world over. He only shares the fault, after all, in large and gross degree, amply explained by his past and present conditions; and in many leading features a description of his faith and practice, worship and works, would differ but little from the history of religion among our white settlers of the Mississippi Valley scarcely seventy-five years ago.
3. Thus far has the nation come, and in view of these developments the old but still anxious question, What shall be done with the Negro? makes room beside it for this: What shall the Negro do? For, as matters stand, it seems only too probable that until the Negro does something further, nothing further will be done. And, indeed, are not the times and the question saying, themselves, by mute signs, that the day has come when the Negro, not the rice-field savage, but you, the educated, law-abiding, taxpaying Negro, must push more strenuously to the front in hisin your-own behalf, and thus in the behalf of all your race in the land? In particular, then, What can- what shall — the Negro do?
You can make the most of the liberty you have. You have large liberty of speech, much freedom of the press, of petition, of organization, of public meeting, liberty to hold property, to prosecute civil and criminal lawsuits, a perfect freedom to use the mails, and a certain-or must we say an uncertain-freedom of the ballot. All these are inestimable liberties, and have been, and are being, used by you. But are they being used faithfully to their utmost extent?
Freedom of public organization, for instance. From the earliest days of his emancipation the Negro has shown a zest and gift for organization, and to-day his private, public, and secret societies, which cost him money to maintain, have thousands of members. Yet only here and there among them is there a club or league for the advocacy and promotion of his civil rights. There is probably no other great national question so nearly destitute of the championship of an active national organization, with officers, treasury, and legal counsel. The causes of this are plain enough. As long as it was the supreme political issue it was left, after our American fashion, entirely to the heated