Bishop Turner Would Be Moses of his Race: August 1, 1897

Bishop Turner Would Be Moses of his Race
Atlanta Constitution: Aug 1, 1897; pg. A21

Editor the Globe – In year issue of June 22d I find an article assailing me, and to which you gave much prominence by glaring headlines as follows: “Liberia a Fraud” “Emigrants returning with Sad Hearts.” “Were Cheated by Promises of Plenty in Africa” “Money of Thirteen Who Got Back Less than Thirteen Cents,” “Promoter of Scheme Stole Their Provisions.” “Starvation and Fever Thinning Out Those Remaining.”

The above is a fair index to the article which followed, detailing the adventures of the thirteen colonists who returned on the steamship Liberia.

I find myself, The International Migration Society, which is located at Birmingham, Ala., and Mr. D. J. Plummer, its president, has been severely arraigned, criticized, and in fact, handled without gloves, and without any regard to truth. I trust you will, therefore, grant me space for a short defense.

I begin by saying that I am not a member of the African International Migration Society, nor have I any financial or advisory connection with it; but I am acquainted with the gentlemen who composed the organization, its directors and president, and they have my unqualified endorsement. And I would to God that such corporate bodies with the same objects and purposes in view were multiplied in this country tenfold.

Without any assumptions, I wish to say that I need no introduction to the colored people of this country, nor to the reading public among the whites, in this country and but little in Europe.

Experience has taught me to say nothing in public or private which I could not support with facts. I have visited Liberia several times, and the bishop of that republic, as far as my church is concerned; and have spent sufficient time there, and have roamed over its hills, valleys and plains, examined its forests, eaten of its fruits, inspected its minerals, and surveyed its landscapes to inquire information of the country; thus I know something of its geography, its geology, and its topography. With its political and religious history, I am familiar. That Liberia is rich in mineral resources there is no denying. Its agricultural resources are unbounded. In fact, there is no country on the globe its equal. The products indigenous to it are too numerous to mention. Coffee and ginger alone, as market crops for the farmers afford bountiful and endless resources of revenue, to say nothing of corn, potatoes, eddoes, cassava and an endless variety of the vegetable kingdom; varieties which grow, too, with such luxuriousness that little labor need be expended to produce a beautiful supply.

If Liberia is a fraud, will someone please tell me in what respect? Talk about starving there, is not only preposterous, but ridiculous: and none but lazy vagabonds would make such a charge. Some shiftless and no-account negroes, would have been accustomed to being fed and driven around by white men, may return and say Liberia is a fraud, to arouse temporary sympathy, as the thirteen to whom you refer evidently are.

But that republic offers the greatest asylum on earth to the self-reliant and industrious black man we affirm after inspecting the larger portions of three continents.

If you ever visit the British museum you would find an old book – I think it is nearly 300 years old – containing letters from the early emigrants to this country representing a state of horror surpassing anything that has been written from Liberia: and you will find a tale of woe recorded from the mouths of those who returned, describing the cruelty of the Indians, the deadly fever and the death of entire families, that will make your blood curdle in your arteries, after 200 years.

But look at this country now. So it will be with Liberia in a few years if men of industry and self reliance will go there and develop its infinite resources. For absolute and undeniable truths of the above facts and great possibilities, you have only to go to Liberia and visit the comfortable homes of the farmers, who once landed there without even the proverbial “thirteen cents” for which to start out in life.

They will tell you when they first landed the future looked dark, but that they did not starve, nor die at the African fever (which is nothing more than a malarial fever indigenous to all warm countries, yet hundreds of emigrants never contract it) as evidenced by the fact that they now live is not only comfortable, but elegant houses, surrounded by all the luxury of home and with a net and assured income from their coffee, ginger, and other products, which guarantees to them not only a comfortable living, but a fortune to them in their old age and to their posterity after them.

The article above referred says they were cheated by promises of plenty in Africa. In what were they cheated? They found Liberia all that it had been represented before they went. I made the last speech they heard in the United States, an hour and a half in duration, and I told them personally every inconvenience they would have to confront and the possibilities that awaited them. I even drew the pictures more gloomily than necessary and went so far as to say “any man or woman who was not willing to die, if need be, for the good of the race and country, had better remain here.

I am also willing to stake my reputation as a Christian gentleman that they got all the land promised them, provided they wanted it, and they only had to go to the courthouse in Monrovia, where they were, and get the deeds: and suppose it was thirty-five miles from town, or 100 miles, they had as much right to go to it as emigrants to this country. Also, that they received the provisions promised them by the society there is no doubt, for it is a positive fact that the Rev. A. L. Ridgel, one of my presiding elders, and Hon. R. T. Sherman, the Liberian government emigrant agent took charge of the provisions as soon as they were landed and gave them out under the instructions of Mr. Flummer, the president of the society who accompanied the emigrants there.....They state also that their provisions were stolen from them by the promoter of the scheme. They evidently refer to Mr. Flummer, as he was the only member of the society there.

Has not the United States government a representative there in the person of Dr. William H. Heard, of Philadelphia, Pa? Was he not sent there to protect the interests of all the Americans in that republic? I know he would have gladly done so. Did not Mr. Flummer remain in Liberia for a month after the emigrants landed, and was he not seen by them every day of his stay there? If they were robbed of their provisions by him, why did they not then and there make their complaints to the United States minister, and there demand of him reparation?

Are we to believe that these people were with Mr. Flummer day after day and within a few minutes walk of a court of justice, where an officer of the law could have been had at any moment to place him under arrest, or were they too ignorant to avail themselves of the opportunity?

The preposition is too absurd to think about. They are slanderous lies of the basest sort. It is quite plain to every thinking man with his better judgment that the slanders told and published about Liberia are told only to discourage emigrants. The editors of the public press could be far better employed if they would see their papers in getting the United States government or the philanthropists of this country to furnish the International Migration Society with sufficient funds to transport and colonize three million of my people in Liberia, instead of trying to stop the few honest, hard working, progressive pioneers who pay for their own transportation and go to pave the way to a higher civilization and maintain a flag for the protection of their sons and daughters; for certainly the flag of the United States cannot do it. It occurs to me that the stand taken by almost the entire press of the United States is somewhat paradoxical.

First, it will take advantage of misrepresentation, falsehood and lies against Liberia. They use every artifice to advertise Liberia as a hotbed of ignorance, burning up with scourging fevers, teeming with wild beasts and monstrous reptiles; as a marsh and jungle unfit for civilized people to inhabit. They tell the colored people of America that the United States is a paradise for them compared to Liberia; that it is certain death to go there. Why do this? Is it because they love the negro so well? Is it because they like to have him around them participating in the various avocations, political, civil, and industrial? Nay, verily, it cannot be this. For the black face in this country is the badge of infamy and the symbol of degradation. When he undertakes to enter into competition with the white man does he not meet with every opposition? Is he not prescribed and the victim of special decisions from the United States Supreme Court down? Since the above are facts, why do they want him to remain in this country? The restrictions thrown around the negro in his endeavors to climb higher is not confined to sentimentality. It is so far reaching that the Supreme Court of the United States has been called upon, and whatever civil liberties he may have enjoyed under the constitutional amendments in the past are now denied him forever.

Moreover, if the negro is the fearful female outrager that our lynchers say he is, it is not only paradoxical, but a mystery to me how any white man in the United States could want the negro to remain here. I do not deny that some terrible black monsters have perpetrated crimes of horror. That all who are charged are guilty, I do not believe. Indeed, I know they are not, for I have had too much evidence from white and colored who stand as high before God and man as Mr. Lyncher. But the very fact that the white ladies are supposed to be in danger where the black man is should be sufficient incentive to cause the nation to pour out money by the millions and put a line of steamers between here and Africa for the transportation of every negro who can be induced to go. And if the nation will not do it, it appears, to me that the states should do it through their legislatures, as the state of Maryland did for years.

And if the state will not, the rich men of the country should unite and put ships on the ocean as they formerly did when they brought annually 60,000 Africans to this country for fifty years – a fact which history records. For when you touch the honor, purity and happiness of the ladies of any people you touch that which they prize higher than their gold, silver, diamonds or their lives.

True, the white people tell us that the when the negro ceases to commit the crimes so frequently charged at his doors lynching will stop. They offer that as a prospective consolation, a kind of soothing syrup, as it were, to the law abiding negroes, as nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand are, when it comes to the crimes generally alleged. But we fear if every negro has to stop committing crimes before lynching does it will be a long time. For white people themselves, even in this enlightened age, with all of their history, experiences, and exaltedness, continue to commit crimes, and there seems to be but little hope that they are going to stop very soon. Therefore, it appears over-exacting to me to expect that all the negroes will at once become satisfied and so far civilized that crime will be impossible among them. Especially so, when the country is flooded with grogshops and liquor stalls to the extent it is, containing millions of gallons of a raging liquid, calculated to manufacture incarnate fiends enough to storm the battlements of hell itself. That the great bulk of the white people of the United States, both north and south, are kind, peaceable and respectful citizens in every sense of the word, every colored man knows, and for them they cherish the most tender regard. Still we are the victims of unlawful deaths, by the hundreds, yearly, and we only die no faster, no, not as rapidly in Africa, than we do in this country.

Had hundreds, if not thousands, who were executed without judge or jury, gone to Liberia, they would have been living today and contributing to the business and commerce of the world. I thank no newspaper to speak in the most depreciative and villainous terms of the negro in one column and in the next to be lamenting and bewailing his poverty and sufferings in Africa, because some vagabond and scullionized negro who is too lazy to work and too trifling to take care of himself, returns and spins a doleful yarn to get some deceived person to contribute something to sustain them in their worthlessness. Suppose the negro does emigrate, emigration has been the process of empire through all ages. The savages and barbarians of the world have been civilized and elevated by colonization, and in every instance the emigrants themselves, while elevating others, have reached wealth, polish and culture by that medium. Egypt was civilized by a colony from Mesopotamia; Greece by colonists from Egypt; Italy and Rome by colonists from Greece; Europe by colonists from Rome, and North and South America by colonists from Europe. And if Africa is ever civilized and Christianized it will have to be done by colonists from America who are of like color, like instincts and of a common sympathy.

For the European cannot civilize Africa. They may kill the African out with their guns and weapons of war, as they have exterminated the Indians in this country. But only the African can furnish a domain for the American African to play his part in the drama of civilization, Christianization and national events. And I pity the man, be he black or white, whose brain is so dwarfed and abnormalized that he cannot perceive it. The thirteen returned Liberian colonists that some of the papers of the country are trying to make martyrs of, and whose ignorant whines they are trying to magnify and attach such importance to, would receive no more attention than the bray of an ass, should they attempt to talk about anything else in history, science, geography, politics, mechanics or anything deserving attention, not a paper in the country would notice a word they uttered. They would simply be called a set of illiterate, ignorant, negroes who ought to be put to work.

The International Migration Society, of Birmingham, Ala., is a creature of circumstances. The condition of the two races in the United States makes it possible for that society to exist, and while I have nothing to do with it, notwithstanding I am assailed as a great factor in it, by your great paper, I do believe with all my heart that said society will make it possible for my race to exist. That it has opened up an avenue by which the exiled sons of Africa can and will return, there is no doubt, and especially so if they could have a little financial aid from some of the rich man of the country.

As I said before, I am personally acquainted with the promoters of the society. They all are white men, and I believe that the motives that prompt them to their good work comes from Christian hearts and they are actuated by a desire to benefit humanity. If they thought that Liberia was not a suitable place for the negro, they would abandon the project at once, for the president has been there himself. To sum up the white situation, it is only necessary to say that the International Migration Society has always dealt fairly with its patrons; for I have watched them both, in this country and in Liberia. That the majority of all the emigrants that they have carried, and, in feet, nearly all of them are now living in Liberia contested and satisfied and on the road to prosperity, freedom and happiness. They are now getting together thousands of others who will in the near future go to Liberia. In fact they have over 10,000 names on their books, with others pouring in daily.

Millions would go if they were able to pay their transportation. They do not wish, nor will they ever be able to accomplish, what is termed by some of our people wholesale emigration. A few hundred each year for the first few years will go; after that, a few thousands yearly, but that the United States will be greatly depopulated of its negro inhabitants there need be no doubt. I use the term inhabitant, because the United States Supreme Court has practically said that the negro is not a citizen. We believe that those who go, and possibly those who stay, as well as the whites of this country, will be immeasurably benefited , and that the negro will have built for himself a nation that will be recognized and respected by all the world. Senator Morgan of Alabama, and ex-Senator Butler of South Carolina, two of the most philosophical and broad statesmen, in my opinion, in the nation, both of whom are friendly to the negro, say that his future is indissolubly connected with Africa. Senator Morgan says that the white people in this country will never give the negro social recognition, and without it he will be a scullion; and a slave is better off than a free scullion. I may not quote his precise language, as I am writing in haste and drawing upon a somewhat doubtful recollection. But the senator believe that if the black man is not willing to make sacrifices, brace oppositions and lay his life upon the altar to build up a nation as the white people of all ages have had to do, he is not fit to be a free man, and I endorse every word of this great statesman and senator.

Thousands and tens of thousands of white people in this section of the country, who say comparatively nothing on this subject, as they all are afraid of each other, when any questions involving the negro is up, that they believe that the only solution on the existing troubles on the race question is the return of the negro to land of his ancestry. I am furthermore satisfied that American slavery was a providential superinduction or toleration at all events. That God saw that the shortest and quickest way to civilize the negro was to bring him in immediate contact with the indomitable and all-conquering white race, which would force him into civilization and teach him on the one hand, and dragoon him by persecution on the other into Christianity, and through him, when liberated, missionize Africa and bring her millions to the foot of the cross. Nor is this a new doctrine. I heard white ministers, nearly fifty years ago, in South Carolina, proclaim it. Such as the great Bishop Wightman, Rev. James Danily and others, when mighty and brave pulpit powers were common; a very scarce commodity in these days. And if Henry Clay was living he could bring in no omnibus bill that would compromise this result, it will, it must and shall terminate in that way. I conclude by saying that the present oppression of my people in this country, together with the indescribable opportunities in Liberia, makes a tremendous emigration in the near future a certainty.

Though the clouds look dark and foreboding, thank God, I see a rift in them. They have a silver lining that sends its bright rays across the ocean for thousands of miles, and like the magician’s wand, points out to my people a refuge, the flag of Liberia, with but a single star in the middle, still waves in the tropical breeze, over the sun kissed hills of a free and independent republic. And there, that same flag, with its single star, we believe, will continue to flaunt and gather strength and power as the negro shall learn sense and catch the spirit of manhood necessary for the building of a nation. And that flag will be the symbol of national protection to thousands of ships that will enter the harbors of Boston, New York, Savannah and New Orleans, laden with millions and millions of Commerce. Then the negro will be a man, and not before.

H.M. Turner