Briefly stated and divested of sophistry, the Southern Problem is the settled determination of the whites to ignore the civil and political equality of the negroes, to deprive them of natural and constitutional rights and to keep them in absolute subjection—in a word, to suppress the negro as a man and citizen. Kindness, consideration, generosity and even strict equity from individual whites to individual negroes do not negative this statement of the Problem, because collectively, the whites at the cry of “Nigger” immediately band themselves into solid phalanx to oppose every move or measure looking to equality of citizenship, regardless of race or color, but they visit with political death and social disability all who advocate or even believe that the principle on which our government is founded, namely, the equality of all men, shall be a vital reality and not a barren ideality.
To state the Southern Problem is, however, easier than to find or rather to apply the Solution after discovered. The solution is simply, to do right, to exact no more than is just, and to be willing to do to others as we have a right to be done by. But what is right is so often beclouded by ignorance, prejudice and selfishness, it is ofttimes not only difficult to know the right, but, especially when enjoying unrighteous advantages, more difficult to be willing to do right after right
is plainly acknowledged. Now the Southern Problem, like perhaps all great moral and social problems, is thus beclouded, and it is mainly a conflict between right and knowledge on one side and selfishness and ignorance on the other, complicated, however, by a large admixture of an inferior race, but for which admixture there would be no Southern Problem. But with this admixture, introducing race antipathy and the fear that unless the inferior race is arbitrarily suppressed, it may, directly or by combination, gain control and upset social order, the problem becomes so difficult it is doubtful whether human nature is equal to the solution. But whether equal or not, we should not be deterred by difficulties however grave, and each good citizen should do what in him lies to solve a problem which has already immensely impaired the welfare and happiness of the South, and which threatens if unsolved to plunge her into a condition, moral, material and intellectual, little superior to Mexico or the South American Republics.
No one man, however great, is sufficient, but all may assist. As proudest structure is built of innumerable little bricks, each insignificant in itself, so the Southern Problem may be solved by innumerable little acts or suggestions, each insignificant in itself. I now therefore cast my two mites into the treasury whence solution may flow, thankful if they tend in the least to the solution of a problem upon which depend the welfare and happiness of the millions now inhabiting the South, and of the untold millions yet to inhabit it.
The South herself must solve her problem. Others may, indeed must assist and encourage, but the South must work out her own solution. The South may be anathematized for her treatment of her black children, and the anathemas may be richly merited, but they will only confirm her in her treatment—like fabled traveler exposed to wintry blasts, she will hug her delusions only the closer. The South may be approached on her sentimental, on her humanitarian, on her religious side, and the appeals may be ever so eloquent and pathetic but they will all be in vain, because human nature
while enjoying unjust gains and privileges, has never yet heeded such appeals. Human nature must first be convinced that unjust dealings mean material injury, and that just dealings mean material good; must be convinced that tyranny and oppression, though first blighting the oppressed finally blight the oppressor, and leave the State a desolate barbarism.
Now the South is enjoying unjust gains, privileges and advantages, at the expense of six millions of its fellow-citizens, and it ignorantly supposes that this condition of affairs is for her benefit, and so long as the South so believes, she cannot be expected to take any steps to alter existing conditions. Hence to induce the South to recognize a Southern Problem and then to solve it, the South must be convinced that her settled determination to deprive the negroes of their natural and constitutional rights, and to keep them in subjection really worse than slavery, destroys her prosperity, saps her political strength, and endangers if not dooms her peculiar civilization which she cherishes so fondly.
How, then, can the South be convinced? By appeals to her intelligent self-interest, and there are many avenues by which she can be approached. Ah! but that is so low, so degrading a motive! Possibly; but it is the only lever available in the present condition of human nature. But such motive is not low and degrading for the argument of good sometime or somewhere is the only motive that can permanently influence men, however exalted. But whether exalted or degraded, appeal to intelligent self-interest is the contribution I now bring to the solution of the Southern Problem.
Returning to our starting point, the Southern Problem is this: The South believes that the negro must be suppressed, otherwise he may, directly or indirectly, gain control. In that event, not only prosperity but civilization will be destroyed. Therefore, to prevent such dire results, the negro must be deprived of his natural and constitutional rights. The result of such belief is what I shall call coercion.
Coercion then is the position to be turned, the citadel to be captured, and the way to turn or capture is to test Coercion
by its fruits. If its fruits are good, they will be revealed by the prosperity and happiness of the South; if bad, they will be revealed by the bad condition of the South. The conflict must rage around the good or bad fruits of coercion. Now, nobody claims the South to be either prosperous or satisfied. It may therefore be affirmed that the fruits of coercion are not good. But now show that its fruits are not only bad, but destructive—first destroying prosperity; and second, civilization, because no, certainly no high, civilization can long exist apart from prosperity. If this is done successfully the South may probably be convinced of the evils of coercion, which may then be abandoned, and the Southern Problem is solved. To convince the South, approach it somewhat as follows:
For the past eighteen years you have with incessant vigilance and an iron hand, so coerced the negroes, and all suspected of a desire to accord them the full or even qualified rights of citizens, that not a voice from Potomac to Mississippi is lifted in opposition. This is long enough to test the merits of coercion. Now what are its merits? To test them show the condition of affairs individually and collectively; and first, What is the condition of the individual? Inquiry will elicit the reply, Bad, very bad; that outside of a few cities few are prospering, most are ever struggling to keep head above water, and many are bankrupt; that values have steadily depreciated; that all are sellers, but that their improved estates that twenty years ago sold readily at ten or more dollars an acre, are now unsaleable at price of wild government land; that their crops have dwindled, their barns have decayed, their fences have rotted, their orchards have died, their ditches have clogged, their fields have returned to nature, and their cattle have diminished; that discontent vexes and despondency oppresses, and that people are deserting birthplace and heritage, and flying to cities or to states where, coercion being unknown, prosperity prevails.
As proving abandonment of home, show by census that between 1880 and 1890 forty per cent of the natural increase of the nine Southern States east of the Mississippi, and sixty
per cent of the natural increase of Virginia fled the land of their birth. Such is the lamentable condition of the whites. The condition of the negroes—their indigence and consequently their ignorance and degradation, are beyond description. Drive home these and other evil effects of coercion, and if the South will not listen to the logic and eloquence of facts, neither will she be persuaded though Washington himself arose from the dead. Solution will then be hopeless.
Second, Show how coercion injures the Commonwealth, and to do this compare the nine Cis Mississippi Southern States with the five States of Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas and the Dakotas, beginning with 1880 when coercion was fully developed. Both groups are agricultural with the advantage in 1880 on the side of the South, which by reason of great abundance of cheap lands, virgin and improved, presented the advantages of new States and by reason of long settlement, the advantage of old States. If therefore coercion has been good, the South should at least compare favorably with the five Western States in growth of population, cities, productions and political weight. Show from the fourteenth number of the United States Statistical Abstract their growth in these respects.
GROWTH OF POPULATION FROM 1880 TO 1890.
Southern growth from 1800 to 1860 averaged about thirty per cent each decade. Losing thus in ten years under coercion forty per cent of its natural increase, is strong condemnation of coercion.
GROWTH OF CITIES OF TEN THOUSAND AND UPWARD, 1880 TO 1890.
Growth of cities is best indication of growth of wealth. Under non-coercion wealth has increased faster by five-fold than under coercion—a heavy verdict against coercion.
GROWTH OF LIVE-STOCK AND CEREALS. 1880 TO 1890.
A mere nominal increase; a large relative decrease. This is not because the South needed little of such things, for she imports yearly millions of dollars worth of meats, lard, butter, cheese, bread and forage, but because coercion, as will be shown later, necessarily diverts attention and energies from the profitable pursuit of agriculture to the barren pursuit of politics.
GROWTH OF REPRESENTATION. 1880 TO 1890.
GROWTH OF OTHER SOUTHERN PRODUCTS. 1880 TO 1890.
Now why this pitiful increase of crops distinctively Southern, even its boasted crop, cotton, increasing only twenty-three per cent. Is it not for lack of natural advantages, because the South, with its fine climate, fertile soil and unlimited virgin acres, yields with little effort earth’s choicest fruits. It is not because of people, for they are pure English, partially crossed with best Scotch and Huguenot blood, are hospitable, generous and chivalrous, and are equal on occasion, to great deeds and noble thoughts. Lacking then, neither conditions nor people, why her nominal growth but relative decay?
The reason is plain, Coercion or denial of natural and constitutional rights has done the damaging work. For to coerce successfully as the South has done absorbs the energies and faculties and leaves neither leisure nor inclination for beneficent industry. The South, therefore, having devoted herself to political instead of material ends, to suppress and
repress six of its fifteen million citizens instead of to create values, it was inevitable that the South should fail to prosper and progress, and should suffer political decay. On the other hand the five Western States have flourished wonderfully and gained political weight because they had no political orthodoxy, no arbitrary standard to which all, under heavy penalty, must conform; because men were permitted and encouraged to view social and political matters from every standpoint and to speak their minds accordingly. Not what one believed but what one did was their touchstone, and consideration came not from opinions but works show also that if the people had been compelled to occupy one identical standpoint and to inherit their opinions as rigidly as their names, there could have been no progress, and their fertile prairies would still have been wilds cropped by buffaloes, with trappers and Indians their sole inhabitants. Show the South that if she wishes to prosper she must imitate; must uncage thought and free the tongue, and must urge her sons to discard prescription and intolerance. Freedom of opinion and discussion has never yet injured any good cause, and it will not injure but promote the best interests of the South.
COERCION INJURES MORALLY, INTELLECTUALLY AND MATERIALLY.
Show that coercion injures morally—because coercion is tyranny or trampling upon rights, and neither individual nor state can deliberately and persistently do this without degrading the sense of right; because trampling on negroes’ rights inevitably leads to trampling on whites’ rights, and despising negroes’ lives to despising negroes’ lives to despising whites’ lives—leads to the reign of the murderous revolver when differences though trivial, are settled not by right or reason, but by the quickest shooter—leads to frequent murders, homicides and assassinations among the whites themselves. Show that from disregard of life and rights in their humblest form, to disregard in their highest forms, the path is direct, and that soon
no life is sacred but is sacrificed without justification, compunction, or redress.
Intellectually—Because coercion requires the South to be on constant guard lest the coerced successfully assert their rights, and to devote time, thought and energy to making the coereced stay coerced. The South has therefore neither taste nor leisure for intellectual pursuits, for little except for ignoble politics or the art, right or wrong, of keeping atop and enjoying the honors, emoluments and immunities of the State. The stump becomes the intellectual school of the South.
Materially—Because coercion, demanding and engrossing attention, leaves little time or energy for industrial pursuits; because coercion, trampling upon the rights of negroes destroys their hope and ambition, and having no stimulus to exertion and improvement they naturally remain unprofitable, impairing instead of promoting public welfare. Press points like these and show in addition that the deplorable degradation of the negroes reacts fearfully upon the lower ranks of whites, making and keeping them also degraded and unprofitable. Many think that degrading negroes elevates whites and that elevating negroes degrades whites; but show that this is a fatal error because whites and negroes are in the same boat, not separate, and because their fortunes are inextricably linked, rising and falling together, not alternately.
Show the South that her interest lies in enfranchising not coercing the negroes, in inviting, not repelling their co-operation; in encouraging them to vote and participate in public affairs; in making them feel that they have a country and are not despised aliens in their native land, and that they have rights inalienable and not with a string to them and the string in our hands. Show that ten per cent increase in earning capacity of our 6 118,592 negroes, now as a body non-self-supporting, would make its happy influence felt in our own households from Potomac to Rio Grand: that an increase of twenty-five per cent would mean general prosperity and happiness, and that an increase to the normal earning capacity of whites elsewhere would mean the South’s complete restoration,
moral, material, intellectual and political—all sacrificed to coercion.
EXPATRIATION OF THE FLOWER OF HER YOUTH.
Show that coercion expatriates the flower of the youth, first, because coercion is intolerance, and coercion can be successfully sustained only by rigid suppression of independence, and ambitious youth, rather than submit, seeks other regions where speech and action are untrammeled, and where sentiment and intellect find free expression and full expansion. Such youth, the flower of any community, wither in an atmosphere of repression, and they must expatriate themselves or perish, and they have expatriated themselves by thousands, to enduring loss of native and lasting gain of adopted states. Law, medicine and politics excepted, eminent Southerners are not found in land of birth, reflecting luster thereon, but North, East, West, where independence is encouraged and honored, and intolerance dishonored and discouraged. Coercion, expatriation, ruin on the one hand; liberty, non-expatriation, prosperity on the other show the South that it must choose one or the other.
Second, because coercion, as will be seen, restricts the growth of manufactures. Consequently there is little home employment for skilled and educated youth, and they must seek occupation elsewhere or starve. The Southerner who educates a son for manufacturing, mechanical or scientific pursuits soon finds that son, if half worth the cost of his education, as effectively expatriated as if sentence of banishment had been decreed against him. Its inevitable fruit, expatriation of the flower of the youth, is strongest condemnation of coercion.
Manufactures are power: the secret of Great Britain’s universal and of New England’s and Pennsylvania’s national supremacy, is manufactures. Manufactures are wealth: the enormous wealth of England and the scarcely less enormous wealth of Massachusetts and the Middle States is due to man-
ufactures. Show the South, however, that she can enjoy neither wealth nor power under coercion, because coercion requires time, thought and energy to be devoted to suppression instead of expansion, and to be diverted from industrial to political pursuits; coercion is therefore fatal to manufactures. With mind, heart and soul engrossed in suppressing the natural, and in invalidating the legal, rights of forty per cent of its population, manufactures have little show. Hence it is not surprising that according to census of 1890 the manufactures of eight principal southern cities with a population of 586,292 amounted to only $111,605,000. Cincinnati, with half their population (296,908) manufactured sixty per cent more, or $178,650,000. Coercion is fatal to manufactures, and if the South wishes to enjoy manufactures with their attendant wealth, power and happiness, she must sacrifice coercion.
The South longs for immigration with an eager but mortifying longing. Show, however, that immigrants will not come so long as Coercion stands like a lion to repel; that while fleeing the coercion of an old, immigration will shun the coercion of a new country. Show that immigration demands freedom and quiet, and that neither cheap and fertile soil nor fine climate will attract if coupled with intolerance, intimidation and violence, the South can never enjoy the stimulating and life-giving influences of immigration. Plead she never so earnestly, and offer she never so great advantages, all will be neutralized so long as the South worships at the Shrine of Coercion.
DEEDS OF VIOLENCE.
Show that Coercion is the parent of the deeds of violence that damage and discredit the South. Coercion is trampling upon rights, and because the South ignores the rights and despises the lives of negroes, general disregard of rights and lives is begotten, and hence, impatient of the restraints of
law and reason, wrongs, real or imaginary, are redressed off-hand, and the press bristles with accounts not only of lynchings and slayings of negroes, but of affrays, homicides murders and assassinations among the whites. Hence, also, the carrying of revolvers, one never knowing when for some trivial difference he may be called upon to defend his own or seek his neighbor’s life. That this is not fancy nor misrepresentation but truth, may be abundantly proved by such summaries as the following from two issues of the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, and by editorial of Charleston News and Courier:
“Richmond Dispatch, July 7, 1892. Two men slain; one badly shot by brother-in-law; one assassination; one on trial for assassination; one negro lynched and another negro sought for lynching. This in Virginia, supposed to be law-abiding. Two negroes lynched in Vicksburg, one in Clay County, Ala., and one Benson slain in Birmingham.
“July 21, 1892. Chief of Police, Montgomery, W. Virginia, slain; one Wyatt, single-handed hangs a negro; one, Talt Hall, to be returned to Wise C. H., Va., for resentence to death; one, Taylor, murderer of whole Mullins family captured; one, Smith, tried in Roanoke, Va., for aggravated murder; Governor of Virginia offers reward for capture of three murderers; three affrays in one day in Windsor, N.C.”
“Charleston News and Courier, June 16th, 1892. A Murderous Record. The killing of Alderman Gilreath of Greenville, by J. M. Sullivan, adds another to the rapidly-lengthening roll of murders in our blood-drenched State, and, according to report, was committed without a shadow of justification. The circumstances as narrated by our correspondent, show that Sullivan deliberately shot an unarmed man, who was standing still and making no demonstration or even threat of violence, and thus after inflicting a mortal wound on him shot him in the back, inflicting another.
“We do not mention these circumstances for the purpose of commenting on this particular crime. Deplorable as it is, it is one of hundreds of similar recent occurrences, and comment on them appears to be wasted. We do not refrain,
however, from influencing the jury. We take for granted that Mr. Sullivan will be acquitted as hundreds of men of his position in the State have been acquitted before him, and as many men no doubt will be acquitted after him, this year and next and thereafter. The slaughter is going on steadily, and there appears to be little or no hope of stopping it.
“What we wish to direct the attention of the people to particularly is one feature of most of these crimes which is so sharply emphasized by the murder of Mr. Gilreath. That feature is their unprovoked and cowardly character.
“Week after week, and sometimes day by day, reports are published of the death or deadly wounding of men who have committed no offense that would warrant even an angry blow from their slayers. It was so in this Greenville case; it is so in more than half the cases reported; we believe it is safe to say that the assertion holds true of nine cases of homicide in the state in ten. The men who are killed among us now are killed without cause.
“And not only are the killings unprovoked and unjustifiable in the greater number of instances. They are as cowardly in character as they are unprovoked. It is rarely—so rarely that out of all the number of killings reported in recent years we cannot recall a single instance—that we hear of a man being killed in a fair fight or in a fight of any kind. The slayer usually comes off without a scratch. The rule is that he shoots his victim without warning, without giving him a chance to defend himself, and excuses his crime in the courthouse to a jury of his ‘peers’—save the mark!—by the plea that his victim ‘made a motion as if to draw a pistol.’
“It is a familiar pretext and a successful one, the only drawback to its merit being, indeed, that the victim is usually found not to have had a pistol and it is to be assumed that he would not have pretended to have had one in his circumstances. The dead are dumb, however, and the murderer tells the story for both—he acted strictly on the defensive. There have not been, we believe, a dozen homicides in South Carolina since the war, in which the slayer was a white man, that the plea was not made and allowed that the unarmed man
who was killed was acting on the offensive, and the man with the revolver was protecting himself from violence.
“These things tell their own story—and it is told in blood. The number of killings is multiplying instead of diminishing, and as we have pointed out, they are becoming more murderous, more cold-blooded in character. Men kill whom they please with as little compunction as they would kill a dog, and with but little more risk to themselves. It is a hard saying, but it is true.
“We need not shut our eyes or our mouths to our condition; it is known of all men, and they avoid our soil as they would a desert. We must work a change somehow and soon, or it will be worse than a desert.”
The editor, however, misses the point of these deeds of blood among the whites, which is this: Negroes’ lives are thoroughly despised in South Carolina and the South, and it is as already stated, but a step from despising and sacrificing black to despising and sacrificing white life. Respect for black life must be inspired before deeds of blood among the whites will cease. Show that until violence, no matter by whom or against whom committed, is sternly punished, that until law is respected and life safe, growth, prosperity, civilization itself, are impossible.
Show that of all forms of violence engendered by coercion the most damaging and demoralizing, because the most unnecessary and indefensible, are the constant lynchings of negroes.
Show that lynching negroes is doubly inexcusable because there is no danger of guilty negroes’ escape, for the reason that the superior the world over, however tender of his blood when arraigned, is as prodigal of inferior’s blood, as when, for instance, at Laurens, S. C., in September, 1891, ten negroes were sentenced to death for shedding, not superior’s but inferior’s blood, which at best is valued so lightly. Show that negroes are lynched not only for alleged assault, but on any and every pretext, even for petty theft. Thus the Charleston
News and Courier of June 10th, 1892, editorially commenting on the official report of the prosecuting attorney “that Dave Shaw was brutally murdered” says, “It is to be hoped that its discovery will soon relieve the State of the shame and reproach of the latest crime charged to the account of its citizens—the lynching of a (negro) man for petty theft.” Also in summary already given from Richmond Dispatch, July 7th, 1892, two negroes were lynched at Vicksburg for alleged homicide: in summary of July 21st, one man, single-handed swung up a negro for alleged theft, and the same paper of August 21st 1891, reports two women lynched near Montgomery, Ala., for alleged arson. These are only samples of what the press constantly reports. Show also by extracts like this from editorial of Louisville Christian Observer of March 1st, 1893, the frightful increase of these frightful deeds of violence:
“In the year 1883 there were thirty-nine cases of lynchings and none of punishment. Accordingly in 1884 there was an increase to fifty-three cases. Still no punishment. In 1888, seventy-two; in 1889, ninety-five; in 1890, one hundred; in 1891, one hundred and sixty-nine; in 1892, two hundred and thirty-six cases. If we let this evil continue growing and at such a ratio, how long before the security of life will be destroyed?”
But so long as coercion is popular, lynchings, horrible and injurious as they are, will be popular.
OTHERS MUST ASSIST.
Though the South must solve its own problem, yet others, as already said, must assist, and the others are the North. They must not only preach equity for the blacks, they must also act equity. An ounce of acted equity is worth a pound of preached equity, or an hundred-weight of denounced iniquity. Its many negroes make the race problem a difficult one for the South under the most favorable circumstances. The South, therefore, is not wholly blamable for displaying towards the negro much of the dark side of human nature. The small number of negroes North, however, reduces its
race problem to zero, and makes their discrimination against them wholly inexcusable. Yet notwithstanding its slight temptation, the North treats its few negroes with much injustice. Thus in great, cosmopolitan New York, where if anywhere, impartiality might be expected, the negro may not satisfy hunger at the best hotel, may not quench thirst at leading saloon, may not gratify taste at select opera, may not even bind up broken heart at fashionable church. He may join neither lodge, union, post, club, guild nor exchange; may follow neither trades nor mechanic arts, may drive neither public cab nor public truck; may not even dig the public streets, may follow only degrading, menial and ill-paid pursuits—his welfare hindered and his manhood affronted everywhere, or with rare exceptions. He is never safe from insult and even violence, and his wrongs generally await redress till the great assize where all wrongs are supposed to be righted and all wrong-doers punished. The mob too, sometimes (Port Jarvis, N. Y., June 1st, 1892, and other instances) seizes him for sacrifice and outraged justice folds her hands in her helplessness or indifference.
Now if the North desires the Southern Problem solved, it must clear its skirts of the stain of injustice towards its helpless blacks. Injustice is excusable nowhere and to nobody, but if the South is inexcusable the North is triply inexcusable, because the natural temptation to oppress the inferior race is ever-present and ever strong with the South, while with the North such natural temptation scarcely exists. So long, therefore, as injustice to negroes, whether positive, such as violence, or negative, such as denial or curtail of natural rights, prevails North, solution is well-nigh impossible, because one wrong North will be made to justify thousands South, one act of violence North be made to justify thousands South and one lynching North to justify innumerable lynchings South. A heavy responsibility, therefore, rests upon the North whose temptations are few, to treat the negro not only justly but generously, not only to place no impediments in, but to take them out of his path; not only coldly to
leave him to work out his own salvation but to extend a fraternal, helping, sympathetic hand.
When the North thus acts, it may then, because its hands will be clean, with hope appeal to the South to do likewise, but until the North does so act, the most eloquent, fervent, pathetic appeals will be regarded as impertinence, and will be met by the old but still effective reply, “Physician, heal thyself.”
This is not the solution of the Southern Problem. It is only a slight contribution tending to solution: a few suggestions showing how the question should be approached and handled. I merely design to strike the key-note: its thousands of variations may be applied and supplied, each for himself. Solution must be the combined result of innumerable efforts, each insignificant perhaps in itself, and of indefinite time—fifty, sixty years, perhaps never.
But the only likely method of solution is by appeal to intelligent self-interest.
Lewis H. Blair,
Ex-Confederate, Richmond, Va. Author of “The Prosperity of the South Dependent upon the Elevation of the Negro.”