Bishop Turner’s Views
Open Letter to Hon. B.K. Bruce
Christian Recorder: March 27, 1890
SIR: While passing through Washington, D. C., on the evening of the 28th ult., from my home in Atlanta, Ga., I chanced to purchase a copy of the Evening Star, and very soon my attention was arrested by the headline. “Bruce on the Race Issue.” Waiving all considerations of personal friendship which was existed between us for many years, and even admiration upon my part for your personal worth and exalted bearing, your past and present status as a high national functionary entitled your opinions and views to more than ordinary attention. But owing to the Episcopal duties and responsibilities which were then awaiting my presence in some of the Eastern States, I slipped the paper into my grip sack, and have just found time to read the sentiments expressed by you to the reporter.
I am sure you are too generous to regard a dissimilarity of views as an affront, though the writer be less distinguished than yourself. Nevertheless, you may remember telling me some years ago that Senators and Bishops were equals. Therefore, presuming upon your won postulations, I venture upon the quicksand of some meager adverse criticisms of a few of your assertions, as they were reported by the representative of the Evening Star, which I hope will be received as kindly as given by the writer.
You say, “What nonsense all this talk about sending all the blacks back to Africa is.” True, you are right, if such a nefarious scheme is in contemplation, for thousands and hundreds of thousands of us are no more fit to go back to Africa than we are fit to go to Paradise. Thousands of us would be a curse to the continent, especially that portion of us who have no faith in the Negro, or his possibilities or even his future possibilities, who worship white gods, who would rather be a white dog on earth than a black cherub in heaven, who are fools enough to believe the devil is black, and therefore that all who are black are consanguineously related to him; ignorant black preachers who will stand up in the pulpit and represent this and that species of crime and vice as being as black as sin; and still another portion of us, who will study for years in college and even graduate, to follow the high calling of a waiter or a bootblack, as though classic lore was a prerequisite to such an exalted occupation; who had rather be a white man’s scullion than a black man’s prince, who regard Africa as being next door to hades, while it is the richest continent under heaven. And still another class of us, who, will work as hard to dissuade young ministers from going with the gospel to the land of our progenitors as if they were going to leap over a fatal precipice; who pretend to be serving God, and have no aim higher than to get to heaven to be white; who profess faith in a bodily resurrection from the dead, and yet expect that resurrected and glorified body to be white; that class of us who would rather go forty miles to hear a white ass bray than a hundred yards to hear a black seraph sing; that portion of our race who will sit in the presence of their beautiful daughters and babble about the solution of the Negro problem being the admixture and intermixture of the races, while Senator Ingalls thunders from the Senate of the nation that there never can be any assimilation and proclaims it blood poison, a term never dreamed of by the pro-slavery advocates, but which, coming from that source, clinches every law now existing which forbids intermarriage between the two races, and will be the product of others not yet enacted. I take no issue with Mr. Ingalls, however; he simply voices the white sentiment of the nation, be they democrats, republicans, prohibitionists, or any other party. The issue I am taking is against the folly of too many of our own race.
Now, sir, if these are the kind of Negroes you refer to, I say, with double emphasis, it would be “nonsense” to talk of their returning to Africa. Such prattle would be but the jargon of folly. Every colored man in this country who is not proud of himself, his color, his hair and his general make-up is a monstrosity. He is a curse to himself and will be to his children. He is lower than a brute and does not deserve the breath he breathes, much less the bread he eats. Any man, though he be as black as midnight, who regards himself inferior to any other man that God ever made, is simply a walking ghoul and ought to join his invisible companions at the first opportunity, unless he does it to the extent of his natural or acquired ability.
But who is it, Senator, that has been nonsensical enough to talk about all the colored people returning to Africa? I had not heard of any one worth notice speaking about it prior to reading your interview. The man who is guilty of setting afloat such senseless pratings should be arrested, adjudged insane and sent to the asylum.
Senator Butler indicates nothing of the kind in his $5,000,000 bill, which should have been five hundred million or five billion as a start, for billions will have to come sooner or later. It will take billions of dollars to solve that problem, which the Supreme Court of the United States imposed when it decitizened the Negro in the later part of 1883, for civil rights and citizenship are one and inseparable, as you told me out of your mouth. Nor does the bill of Senator Butler say one word about going to Africa. True, other senators, such as Morgan, Vance, Hampton and other individuals have brought Africa before the country in their speeches, but not as a part of any definite programme. The gist of every speech that has been delivered upon the Butler bill has been upon the theory that if the Negro went anywhere it must be at his own option.
Possibly no Negro in the nation has spoken more vociferously in favor of the Butler bill than myself, but I have kept in harmony with the spirit of the bill. Let the Negro go if he desires or remain here if he prefers. Let him exercise his own intellect and these would be censors of his manhood—hands off, unless they are asked for advice. The country is full of toadstool or fungus leaders, giving free advice to the Southern Negro, who know no more about his real condition than they do about Siberia.
The colored men in Charleston, Columbia, Savannah, Chattanooga, Mobile, Natchez, Vicksburg and Montgomery, do not fully realize the condition of the Southern Negro—I mean in the aggregate. How much less those at a greater distance. The Southern Negro is in the country, not in the cities, and to know their wants, wishes, desires and needs you must go among them, mingle with them, and hear and see for yourself. And when you say they have no desire to go to Africa, I who know the real condition of our race as well as any man who lives, say a million at least of them desire to go somewhere. They want freedom, manhood, liberty, protection or the right to protect themselves. At least a million of us have found out that this nation is a failure; that it cannot or has no disposition to protect the rights of a man who is not white. Not a court in the nation has given a decision in favor of the black man in twelve years. The Supreme Court is an organized mob against the Negro, and every subordinate court in the land has caught its spirit. Buy a railroad ticket in Washington for the Rio Grande, and I will give you a hundred dollars for every meal of victuals you purchase, unless you go around the back way and enter the kitchen and eat amid filth and smoke, and then pay as much for it as the Queen of England would have to pay. Take your own State, Mississippi. A few weeks ago, I walked up to the ticket window to purchase a ticket for Atlanta, and the agent told me to go out and come around to the back window and I could but a ticket. I remonstrated against such proscription, and he replied by saying, “We make Senator Bruce go round there, and you will have to do the same, and all other niggers.” This occurred in Jackson, Mississippi. As to the railroad cars, I will say nothing. You know too well. I happen to be used to them, however, and did not get frightened when I saw them.
Much has been said about the politics of Senator Butler, and how for his democratic proclivities, his bill of five millions should be odious to every black man. I grant that the presumption is that Senator Butler has no special love for the Negro; I shall therefore join in with the presumption and suppose him to be a Negro-hater, for argument’s sake, at all events. And who cares if he is? I have the same right to hate him that he has to hate me; the same civil and divine right. I do not seek or want his love. I ask no white man’s love the odds of a finger snap, nor black man’s either, but if I am hungry or thirsty and my enemy brings me bread or water I shall satisfy my anxiety. If I knew that heaven was so full of democrats that only one seat remained I should seek that seat. If I knew that John Brown, Lincoln, Sumner, Stevens, Chase, Grant, and all the heroes of freedom were in perdition, it would be no temptation for me to go there.
I care not what animus prompted Senator Butler. Immortality enthroned his brow from the moment he offered that bill. He will go down in history as the pioneer of a movement that heaven and earth will endorse in less than fifty years. Heaven indorses it now. Not a bill has been offered in Congress in fifteen years that even contemplated any relief for the Negro as a race. Mobs have broken open jails by scores and by hundreds, and the lynch-law victims could be counted by thousands, and other things too numerous to mention; but beyond a little thunder during Presidential campaigns nothing has been done or said about it. But Senator Butler comes forth with a bill, which, if it passes—grant, O my God, that it may—will enable at least a hundred thousand self-reliant black men to go where they can work out their own destiny, and lay the foundation of a future arena for useful activity; for unless we can find a field for our educated sons and daughters we may burn our colleges in a few years to the ground, for higher education in a few years will be a nuisance unless we can put it to work, and we cannot do it here, shut out, as we are, from every educated business employment by reason of our color. And a race who cannot hew out conditions and manufacture possibilities is a failure. If our inadequacy to such a result is too self-evident to even make the experiment, then the doom of the Negro is sealed, and slavery is his normal sphere.
But while I accept the doctrine of the unity of the human race, I believe the Negro division of it is the junior race of the world, and that this boy race has a long and mighty future before it, and that an enslavement here, while actuated by the cupidity of the whites, is intended to be in the order of Providence the culmination of glorious results. What we will be, no earthly creature can divine; but one thing is sure, we must be put in full possession of every right and privilege here, or this nation must pay us $40,000,000, for our 200 years’ service, and let us go where we can have unconditional manhood. I have calculated how much this nation owes the Negro, and it figures out just $40,000,000,000,000. We must have it and will have it, or full manhood here, and we are not going to receive full manhood recognition here. The whites will not concede it. Therefore, as soon as these old slave dwarfs, slave manikins, and slave tools die out, our children and their children will play a new deal in the programme of the future.
I have not space here to describe the infinite resources of Africa, and show its special fitness to be the future theatre of the elevated and cultured Negro. Let it suffice to say that it is the giant continent of the world. It is the Eden of earth, and will in time be the heart of the globe, sanitarily, commercially and evangelically. No stronger evidence need by produced of a person’s idiocy than the presumption that Africa is to remain dormant forever. Such a surmise even is charging the God of nature with folly. Mightier gods than ever graced Olympian thrones will again vacate them, to feast at the banquet tables of Ethiopian Africa, and grander Homers will weave it into song. The land that gave the infant Jesus protection and sent a representative with him to the crimsoned summit of Golgotha, can never be cursed or remain under the shadow of a curse.
Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini; and He will put the civilized world under contribution for the enlightenment of that continent, be the agents and actors Republicans, Democrats, Prohibitionists, Negro-lovers, monarchies, churches, explorers, diamond-hunters, gold-diggers, ship-sailors, wise men, fanatics, cranks, enthusiasts, or slave-catchers. If I could believe that God simply made the Negro to remain here and play the scullion for the whites forever, as he is doing to-day, and will do until he gets a flag, founds a nation or does something besides grumble, find fault, and catch a few official scraps (and precious few at that), I would be tempted to waver in my faith that God is just.
Do you not see that race prejudice is on the increase? Instance the case of Hon. Madison Davis, of Athens, Ga., my own State: Mr. Davis was postmaster in Athens before, for eight years, I think, and when myself and all the colored members of the legislature were expelled upon the ground that we were colored, Mr. Davis was allowed to retain his seat by the vote of every white Democrat and Republican in the house, upon the ground that his colored blood was too small to constitute him a Negro. Therefore, the State of Georgia declared him white, or accepted him as white. But just look at the terrible excitement which his recent appointment to the same post office has provoked, simply because that white gentleman by the laws of Georgia, has one-sixteenth of Negro blood in his arteries.
Senator Ingalls would possibly pronounce him a hybrid (mule), but he has a house full of children I am not anathematizing the whites about these things. I am not denouncing the South any more than the North, for the decision of a Northern supreme court is the author of it all. I find a white man is a white man and a black man is a black man, be he Northerner or Southerner, and the great question that confronts us is, What will the black man do? You, Senator Bruce, say all of you stay here and wait for better times. I say, let us pray God and man to pass the bill of Senator Butler, and let a line of steamships be started between here and Africa, and let such of us as believe we are not monkeys, and can do something without the white man’s domination, go and try the experiment. Give me five millions of dollars, and let the several States turn over to me all the colored penitentiary convicts, and I will carry them to Africa and inaugurate a republic that your son, Roscoe Conkling Bruce, can be president of someday.
The Roman Empire began with such material, and the sequel you know. Surely Senator Bruce would not object to the penitentiary convicts going, and they will go, too, if you will give them a chance.
Pardon the length of this letter. I have just noticed its space, yet it scarcely touches the points I would like to discuss in your interview. I will conclude, however, by saying that Senator Butler may fail in getting his bill through Congress, but, sooner or later, God will raise up a thousand Butlers, black and white, and hundreds of millions will be appropriated for that purpose, and you, Senator Bruce, great though you be, will be left standing as a harmless speck of a writhing negativity.
Let me say, however, what future any man can see here for the Negro, with a head as cool as you possess, and a brain as well balanced as yours, I cannot imagine, especially with every United States court armed to the teeth to crush him out of existence, and in the face of decisions that will run and last as long as the nation shall exist, that simply means his perpetual degradation or ultimate re-enslavement. What could Congress or the President do for us if they had the will to better our condition? What can all the people of the United States do for us when the court, as a last resort, declares that the Negro is a dog, and when no power in the nation can overrule their decision. You may rest your hopes upon the….times getting better, but I shall regard the evils complained of above as the voice of God and nature calling upon the Negro to arise and do something for himself, and Senator Butler and his bill as a heaven-send to our race.
H. M. Turner
Atlanta, Ga., March 12