Letter to Charles Sumner December 20, 1871

Letter to Charles Sumner

Congressional Globe and Appendix, Second Session Forty Second Congress in Six Parts, Rivers and Bailey, Washington, DC., 1872

Macon, Georgia, December 20, 1871

Sir: I am glad to see you are pressing your Civil Rights Bill still before the United States Senate. I have only a few moments to write you at this time, but I must relate a transaction which occurred day before yesterday morning.

Just as I was about to step on the Columbus train at Macon, I heard a white man say to a well-dressed, beautiful, modest-featured lady, "Ain't you colored?" "Yes," was her reply. "Well, "this is the white folks's car; that is the car for negroes." So she very politely turned away and took a seat in the car pointed out. I stepped in the same car after her, and noticed that her looks and general appearance had the mark of superior breeding and fine culture. But not being acquainted with her I did not dare to approach her even with "Good morning," but sat and read the morning news, and afterward folded up the paper and raising my hat, asked her it she would like to read this morning paper. She gracefully smiled, and accepted the same, and read till we arrived at the breakfast house, at Fort Valley.

The white passengers all went out to breakfast, and she politely arose from her seat and came in where I was sitting and said that she was from Boston, Massachusetts, had been traveling for some days and nights, was on her way to Alabama to take charge of a high school, and had nothing to eat since she crossed the Potomac river, and would I be so kind as to step out to the hotel and ask the keeper to send her some breakfast. I instantly replied, "Yes, yes," and hastily left the train for the boarding-house, and made the necessary request. But the landlord asked, "Is she white or colored?" I told him she was colored, but she was a very respectable colored lady. "Well," he said, "we have not got enough cooked this morning for the white folks ; so I can't let her have anything." "But," said I, "then send her a cup of tea and a biscuit." "I can't spare it," he said. "Well," said I, "let her come in, and fry her some eggs." Said he, "I have got nothing in my house for her.'' So I went back and stated, not only to her, but to all in the car, what was said. The incident so mortified some white Democrats on the train at the time that they even cursed about it, and, I believe, felt sorry for the colored lady. One white- man (a Democrat, too) said that kind of prejudice was damn foolishness; and he thought railroad eating-houses ought to have one white table and one colored table, or let all eat together.

I afterward found out that this colored lady was a graduate of a Boston high school, and then of a university. She had letters vouching for the highest and most spotless character. And in the face of it all she could get nothing to eat from Aquia creek to Montgomery,Alabama, notwithstanding she had left home, relatives, and friends to educate a people who are in the future to wield, in part, the destinies of the nation.

Let the facts speak for themselves; I shall say no (more)

Your humble servant, 


H.M.TURNER.