« AnteriorContinuar »
It is difficult to write history, but it is impossible to write prophecy. We can no more tell what lies before us than the Fathers of the Republic could foresee the future a century ago. They little guessed that slavery, which seemed hastening to its end, would take new vigor from an increase of its profits,—that, stimulated by the material gain, a propaganda of religious and political defense would spring up,—that a passionate denunciation and a passionate defense would gradually inflame the whole country,—that meanwhile the absorption of the mass of citizens in private pursuits would blind them to the evil and peril, and prevent that disinterested, comprehensive statesmanship which ought to have assumed as a common burden the emancipation of the slaves,—that the situation would be exasperated by hostility of the sections and complicated by clashing theories of the national Union,—that only by the bitter and costly way of war would a settlement be reached, -and that emancipation, being wrought by force and not by persuasion, would leave the master class "convinced against its will," and a deep gulf between the races, whose spanning is still an uncertain matter,—all this was hidden from the eyes of the wisest, a century ago. So is hidden from our eyes the outworking of the century to come.
But the essential principles of the situation, the true ideals, the perils,—these were seen of old. Jefferson wrote, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is a God of justice.” And Washington said, “I can already foresee that
nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our Union, by consolidating it in a common bond of principle.” Just so clearly can we read the basal principles on which depends our national safety. We look forward to-day, not to predict what will be, but to see what ought to be, and what we purpose shall be.
We, the people of the United States, are to face and deal with this matter. We are all in it together. Secession has failed, colonization is impossible. Southerner and Northerner, white man and black man, we must work out our common salvation. It is up to us,—it is up to us all!
The saving principle is as simple as the multiplication table or the Golden Rule. Each man must do his best, each must be allowed to do his best, and each must be helped to do his best. Opportunity for every one, according to his capacity and his merit,—that is democracy. Help for the weaker, as the strong is able to give it,--that is Christianity. Start from this center, and the way opens out through each special difficulty. The situation is less a puzzle for the intellect than a challenge to the will and heart.
First of all, it is up to the black man himself. His freedom, won at such cost, means only opportunity, and it is for him to improve the opportunity. As he shows himself laborious, honest, chaste, loyal to his family and to the community, so only can he win to his full manhood. The decisive settlement of the whole matter is being worked out in cotton fields and cabins, for the most part with an unconsciousness of the ultimate issues that is at once pathetic and sublime,-by the upward pressure of human need and aspiration, by family affection, by hunger for higher things.
On the leaders of the negroes rests a great responsibility. Their ordeal is severe, their possibilities are heroic. The nardship of a rigid race severance acts cruelly on those whose intelligence and refinement fit them for a companion
ship with the best of the whites, which they needs must crave, which would be for the good of both races, but which is withheld or yielded in scanty measure. Self-abnegation, patience, power alike to wait and to do,—these are the price they are called to pay. But the prize set before them is worth it all,—the deliverance of their people, and the harmonizing of the long alienated races. They need to beware of jealousies and rivalries of leadership such as have made shipwreck of many a good cause. There is room and need for various contributions. They have a common bond in that ideal which is the most precious possession of the American negro. It is the old simple idea of goodness, set in close relation to this age of productive activity. It requires that a man be not only good but good for something, and sets faithful and efficient service as the gateway to all advance.
But for the right adjustment of the working relations of the two races, the heavier responsibility rests with the whites, because theirs is the greater power. They can prescribe what the blacks can hardly do other than accept.
What we are now facing is not slavery,-an institution that may be abolished by statute—but its offspring, Castea spirit pervasive, subtle, sophistical, tyrannic. It can be overcome only by a spirit more pervasive, persistent and powerful—the spirit of brotherhood.
Puzzling as the situation is at some points, its essential elements are far simpler and easier to deal with than slavery presented. There is no longer a vast property interest at stake, on the contrary, material interest points the same way with moral considerations. There are complexities of the social structure, but nothing half so formidable as the aristocratic system based on slavery. The gravest difficulty now is a race prejudice, deep-rooted and stubborn, yet at bottom so irrational that civilization and Christianity
and human progress should be steadily wearing it away. Let us take heart of grace. If our wills are true, it should be no great puzzle for our heads to find the way in this business. Let us test the practical application of our principle -namely, that each man should do his best, each should be allowed to do his best, and helped to do his best—let us see how this should work in industry, education, politics, and social relations.
First in importance is the industrial situation. Broadly, the negro in this country shows himself able and willing to work. The sharp spur of necessity urges him, and his inherited habit carries him on. But he needs a training in youth that shall fit him to work more effectively. For that matter, his white brother needs it, too. But here is the inequality of their situations, whatever the white worker is qualified to do he is allowed to do, but how is it with the black worker? Let the Northern reader of these pages see at his door the palpable instance of a limitation more cruel than can be found at the South. Let him note, as the children stream out from the public school, the darkskinned boy, playing good-naturedly with his white mates, at marbles or ball or wrestling,—just as he has been studying on the same bench with them,-he is as clean, as welldressed, as well-behaved, as they. Now, five years hence, to what occupation can that colored boy turn? He can be a bootblack, a servant, a barber, perhaps a teamster. He may be a locomotive fireman, but when he is fit to be an engineer, he is turned back. Carpentry, masonry, painting, plumbing, the hundred mechanical trades,—these, for the most part, are shut to him; so are clerkships ; so are nineteen-twentieths of the ways by which the white boys he plays and studies with to-day can win competence and comfort and serve the community. It is a wrong to whose acuteness we are blunted by familiarity. It can be changed
only as sentiment is changed; and for that there must be white laboring men who will bravely go ahead and break the cruel rule by welcoming the black laborer to their side.
In the South the negro as yet enjoys industrial freedom, in the choice of an occupation-or a near approach to itbecause his labor is so necessary that he cannot be shut out. But the walls are beginning to narrow. White immigration is coming in. The industrial training of the old plantation is no longer given, and industrial schools are yet very imperfectly developed. Some trades are being lost to the negroes; they have fewer carpenters, masons, and the like; they find no employment in cotton mills, and are engaged only in the least skilful parts of iron manufacture. The trade unions, gradually spreading through the South, begin to draw back from their early professions of the equality and brotherhood of all toilers. An instance comes to hand as these pages are being written—one instance out of a plenty. “The convention at Detroit, Mich., of the amalgamated association of steel and iron workers has postponed for a year consideration of a proposition to organize the colored iron, steel and tin workers of the South. The white employes of the Southern mills led the opposition. They objected to seeing the negroes placed on an equality, and it was further argued that once a colored man obtained a standing in the association, there was nothing to prevent his coming North. President Shaffer urged that all men who are competent workers should be members of the association.” Now for next year it is up to President Shaffer, and those of like mind! On this question, of comradeship between black and white laborers, there is a call to the leaders of labor organizations to lead right. These chiefs of labor hold a place of the highest possibilities and obligations. In their hands largely lies the advance or retrogression of the industrial community—and that means