Bishop Turner Talks: July 14, 1890

Bishop Turner Talks
Atlanta Constitution: July 14, 1890

Bishop H. M. Turner, of the A. M. E. church is a strong advocate of Senator Butler’s bill providing for the removal of the Negro to Africa. The bishop has given the Negro problems a careful study. He has just returned from an extensive tour of the north, east, and west, and during his absence delivered several addresses supporting the measure. Since his return, he has been talking the same way freely. Yesterday he said:

“My official duties carry me in every direction almost, and I have been quite glib with my tongue, not, however, because I desire notoriety, but because I am so often pressed to speak. And frequently there is a little money in it, which makes it a double inducement. When one has an empty pocket, and a little talk will replenish it, it becomes almost an irresistible temptation.”

Is it true that you favor the bill offered in Congress by Hon. M. C. Butler, of South Carolina, appropriating $5,000,000 to aid such colored persons as may desire to leave the United States?”

“Yes, I do favor it with all my heart, provided the conditions remain the same as now—leaving it optional to go or remain, and provided, too, that any colored persons who may see fit to emigrate may have Africa for their destination. I am opposed to any measure of emigration that does not have Africa as a first consideration.

“I belong to the prohibition party, as you know. I used to be a red-hot republican until a republican the supreme court, I mean the supreme court of the United States, by its abominable decisions opened the floodgates of all the trouble the negro is having in this country, entailing upon the nation what is now called the negro problem for no such negro problem as we are now having would have been dreamed of had it now been for that ungodly tribunal. We might have had providential a negro problem, but not a problem of sectional strife and hate, which has culminated incrimination, and recrimination, and is many instances, I am sorry to say, in bloodshed and manslaughter.”

Senator Butler, is a regular dyed in the wool democrat, and according to the opinion of the colored people, is the natural enemy of you and their race?”

“I do not care if he is a Democrat, or what his past record has been. Being a Democrat does not necessarily imply that a man is a misanthropist, for some of our best friends are Democrats. One thing is certain, Senator Butler, Democrat or what not, has demonstrated the fact that he is the greatest statesman in America. He not only has the courage of his convictions but a sagacity that will weave his name into prose and song for ages to come. When everybody else was abusing, berating and trying to show the worthlessness of the Negro and to stamp him out of existence, except a little sweet palaver during presidential elections or campaigns, Senator Butler came forth with a bill which, if adopted, will serve the purposes of God and man. Not a solitary measure has been proposed in Congress which contemplated any relief to the Negro. Since the death of Massachusetts greatest statesman, Senator Charles Sumner, not a solitary decision in favor of the negro has been given in any United States court since the death of Chief Justice Chase. I know that most of the leading men of my race look upon Senator Butler as a hydra-headed monster, but their children and children’s children will bless God that he ever lived.”

“If your people were to emigrate could they provide for themselves and perpetuate their existence?”

“Of course. Why not? We have a far higher civilization than you white people had a thousand years ago. Yes, 500 years ago—in many respects 200 years ago—for we would not burn our old ugly women as witches. We have too much ancestral veneration. The Negro, in the aggregate, will work and loves to work. Why even in slave times I can remember well in South Carolina and in Georgia both, hundreds of masters who would not have a white overseer on their place, and they would not put their foot on their plantations for two or three months at a time. Yet their colored people, without the sight of a white face, raised the finest crops for their masters in the world. Now, if the negro, as a slave, without any hope of a reward, would remain by hundreds on the old plantation and work, take care of the horses, mules, cows, raise hogs and sheep and chickens, geese and ducks, and collect the eggs by thousands and send them to the big house as it was called, with milk and butter, and all the necessaries of life, without the presence of a white face, how can anyone presume that he would not take care of himself? Besides, look how he has lived and thrived since the war, without a foot of land in many instances, of a cent. The truth is, the negro can live anywhere—for that matter, he can beat the world living. Put the white people in the same condition, under which the Negro has lived and thrived and he will die ten to one.”

“Do you favor all the colored people leaving this country?”

“Oh, no; not by any means. Thousands of us are not prepared to go anywhere. There are millions of Congo Negroes in this country, who are the most inferior of all African tribes. They ought to remain here for a hundred years to come. It will take about that long to enable them to fully appreciate the forms of civilization, but they could have never reached that evolutionary plane as slaves. God knew whom that portion of us was freed in common with the higher type of the negro that it was necessary for him to pass through the crucible incident to freedom. You, while people generally believe that all Negroes are alike, but there is as much difference between them as there is between the Caucasian and Chinaman. I believe that slavery was a providential institution; that the Negro was allowed to become your slave, and to be thrown in contact with the whites of this progressive nation for the purpose of imbibing its civilization and Christianity and ultimately return in such sufficient numbers as to rescue the millions of our race in our fatherland from heathen darkness. And to accomplish this gigantic work through a few missionary agents would delay the grand results for a thousand years. Those who are familiar with the characteristics of the Negro will readily understand that he needs an example, and that is God’s mode of giving it to him. Now, if Senator Butler will Africanize his bill a little more and increase the amount to be appropriated to a billion or so of dollars, God’s plans will be in practical operation, for this is God’s work and not the work of man, and Senator Butler is God’s spokesman, whether he designs to be or not.”

"Would it be right to take the people’s money and pay the passage of the discontented Negro back to Africa?”

“Yes. The Negro helped to get it there. It is our money as much so as it is yours. But for the Negro, you would not have had so much money. The powers of the nation have declared that the Negro shall not be a full-fledged man; therefore it should pay the Negro off for 265 years labor, and let him go and build up a civilized nation of his own, where there will be no wrangling about his vote, his civil rights, what he does or what he says. This nation will have to disgorge billions of dollars anyway, either in helping the Negro away or fighting to keep him down. There are three conditions before this country. Either to concede unquestioned manhood to the Negro or help him to go to himself, or exterminate him. Which one the nation will finally resolve upon is left for the future to determine.”

“How would the colored people like territories set apart for their special use?”
“I have heard many speak favorably of such a proposition. I have no faith, however, in the ultimate goal which would result from such a procedure, for the white people would be sure to follow us in countless number and provoke a conflict. Then the next thing they would be dispatched all over the country fabricated statements, which would call out the United States army to shoot down Negroes for nothing, and intensify a race bitterness far more horrible than exists today. Such a measure would be abortive of any good results. The truth is, Africa is the richest continent upon the face of the globe. Asia, with its giant size, does not begin to compare with Africa in its giant resources, while as for Europe and America, both together do not equal Africa. Now, if this country was wise, it would claim or purchase a large territorial domain in Africa, and hoist the stars and stripes there, and let the president of the United States appoint a black governor, black judges, and all the territorial officers necessary, put a line of steamers between here and Africa, build a few railroads far into the interior, utilize a few hundred thousand of my race in this country in establishing commerce and throw some of the millions of wealth shipped to Europe every year into our country. If Europe can keep two hundred and forty vessels running backward and forward to Africa the year round; if England alone can keep forty-eight steamships plying between Liverpool and Africa all the time, what might this country do with the assistance of the civilized negro? Why, if our white people were wise to their own interests, through the agency of the black man they could build up a business between here and Africa in twenty years that would astonish the world. They could make Charleston or Savannah a business mart equal to Philadelphia. The Negro would pay better by far as a freeman than he did when a slave. Color prejudice keeps billions of wealth out of the south today. If our white friends would stop berating the Negro and study how to utilize him, they could make this southland the Garden of Eden number two.

“I am sure you purchased Louisiana, and virtually Texas and New Mexico, and with some modifications might include Utah and California, but as for Alaska, you have a direct precedent. Everybody knows that Secretary W. H. Seward purchased Alaska on the precise conditions that a territory could be procured in Africa. The only difference is that you would not have to pay half as much for that amount in Africa. And then, as for the policy of our government; it has none. Our nation has a less governmental policy than any country upon the face of the globe. If I must tell the truth about it, it has no principle, much less policy. But it will have a policy, and a principle, too, before it gets done with the Negro unless it turns over a new leaf. If this nation can spend millions upon millions of dollars in purchasing the ice and rocks of Alaska, which can never amount to very much, except for mining purposes, I can see no reason why it may not purchase a part of the garden spot of the earth. Ships can leave New York and go to Africa and return almost as quickly as they could sail from New York to Alaska if Alaska is a part of the American continent.”

“Who do you regard as the best friends of the Negro, the northern white people or the southern?”

“Well, we have white friends and some enemies in both sections. I would not attempt a comparison. If I did I might say politically we have more friends in the north, but in the point of business, giving employment in every phase of the industry, and encouragement in procuring a substance, I should say the south. I mean, in plain language, that I know of no occupation that the Negro in the south is capable of performing that he cannot find employment at, except to drive a railroad locomotive and a few things of that sort. But I am no great admirer of white friends anyway unless that friendship is founded squarely upon general philanthropy. I want no white man to love me or my race any more than he does the Indian, the Chinaman, or the Laplander. There is a kind of sympathetic love hundreds of white people express for the Negro in a whisper, but the moment they begin to mingle with other white people they talk another way. All I want is the respect of a man, and I think that is all my race wants.”

“Don’t you believe that the blacks and the whites can live peaceably here together?”

“Oh, yes; they could do it, but they are not going to do it. You white people will not live with any race unless you are, in every particular, master of the situation. I see that it is a foregone conclusion that you propose to treat the Negro, north, and south, as an alien race, and I know, from my personal knowledge, that the negro does not intend to be satisfied with such a condition. He feels that he has shed his blood in every war for the establishment and maintenance of this country from its inception and that he is entitled to a full citizenship. As long as he does not receive it he is going to be irritated, and will keep the country stirred up; so the sooner this nation provides an asylum for the ambitious Negro, the better for the peace of the future. I have studied this question for years, and I have analyzed the qualities and characteristics of both races for years, and I am satisfied the black man is too much like the white man to be treated as an alien and be at peace himself or let the white man be at peace in such a condition; and then I believe that the hand of God is in it. These antagonisms are destined to work out grand and glorious results, provided the blacks and whites will both put themselves in harmony with the plans of the Almighty.”

“The colored people regard Africa as the most sickly country in the world?”

“Yes, the fool negro does. He thinks its certain death to set foot upon Africa; whereas, in fact, the people there in many sections live longer than anywhere else upon the face of the globe. There is no section of Africa more sickly than the bottom lands of Mississippi. The acclimating fevers of the African coast are not as severe often as the country fevers in the low lands of South Carolina and along the sea coast of Georgia. But after you got back into the interior, Dr. Blyden tells me, there are vast regions of territory, where it is so healthy that it is no uncommon thing to see men and women from a hundred and ten to a hundred and thirty years. White people are rushing to Africa by hundreds every day right now, and are living. I am sure that a Negro can live any place they can. I mean in any tropical clime. True, people die there, but they die everywhere. But suppose we should die a little fast for a while. Look how the early settlers died in this country at first. Let anyone read Bancroft’s history and not the death rate. Why, it frightened me, after three hundred years. No such fatality has ever been heard of in Africa. But, then, look at the wealth of Africa. Everything is in Africa that the human mind can conceive of. It is the only continent under heaven in which you could find all the necessary materials to build the New Jerusalem described in the book of Revelations.”

“Do you expect to go to Africa?”

“Yes, I am going on a visit next year, if I am spared, and can make financial ends meet. I hope to make some observations which I trust will be of much practical benefit touching the variety of the African tribes or races. I want to show the people that the Negro tribes are as different in their make-up as the white tribes, even if all Negroes are black. In other words, that the Mandingo, Crew, Vey, Gaulish, Bama, Hones, Guines, Ebo, Ioloff and Congo tribes, from which the black people of the United States came, are as distinct in their characteristics and mechanism as the Englishmen and Swedes. I have heard white men say; when you see one Negro you see all. Such language is the jargon of nonsense and advertises the ignorance of the man using it. The race distinction between the blacks are as manifest as they ever were among the whites, the Mandingo, Crew and Vey negro is as far above the thick-lipped Ebo and broad oval mouth Congo as the Frenchman is above the Polander.”

“Many good people believe that if the Negroes were to return to Africa they would relapse into barbarism.”

“Yes, I know they say so. But where is the evidence upon which they found such a supposition? History furnishes no precedent of the kind, I am sure; at least it does not in the case of the Negro. The Negro is a progressive race, even the lowest type—the Congo—is progressive. I am prepared to show that the Negro has more elements of progress in him than any race upon the earth. I know he is a superstitious race, but I had a hundred times rather that he is a superstitious race than a pagan race. A superstitious race is a believing race, and God can much more easily reach a believing race than a race given to material forms and full of doubts. But coming back to his return to barbarism, let me say, the wheels of progress never were backward. The Negro, though black, approaches the white race nearer than any other race upon the globe. He adores books, newspapers and all kinds of learning, and instead of dying out before the white man’s civilization, he imbibes it and grows and fattens under it. I know more about the Negro than any white man in the nation. I have been a Negro myself for fifty-six years, and have mingled with them in every form from the Atlantic to the Pacific. I can meet any man upon the Negro question in the land, and as such can assure you there is no more danger of the Negro relapsing into barbarism than there is of the moon leaving its orbit.”