Bishop Turner’s Letter
The Anderson Intelligencer (Anderson, South Carolina): August 2, 1893
ATLANTA, GA. July 22. – Mr. Bill Arp- Dear Sir: I am a regular reader of your Sunday articles to the Constitution when I am at home and even when I am absent the papers are saved so that I may peruse them if time permits. While I concur in a vast deal that you say, it sometimes happens that I am compelled to differ, although I regard you as an honest, bold writer. I fully recognize the fact that a white man in this section of the country must respect the popular prejudices that exist against my race, or forfeit his influence among the whites. No man dares to speak in defense of the Negro and command the respect of the whites. It matters not whether the Negro title is entitled to it or not. You, however, possess the courage to occasionally say a kind word on our behalf. But in the Sunday issue of the Constitution you innocently, and I believe conscientiously, but ignorantly, make use of a sentence that is not wholly true. Nevertheless, I am not surprised at your lack of better information, because you have never had the opportunity of informing yourself to the extent that would enable you to speak authoritatively.
You say: “Their inclination (the negroes) to steal is natural.” You doubtless intend to convey the idea, by using the term “natural,” that the African races are instinctively given to stealing; for if it is natural it is as much their nature to steal as it is to be black, to have curly hair, or to be a separate race in any particular. Please allow one who knows as much of the Negro as anyone who breathes the breath of life, and certainly knows more of him that it is possible for any white man to know-one who knew the Negro as a slave, knows him as a freeman, knows him in civilized Africa and knows him in heathen Africa and knows him in heathen Africa, to inform you that the negro races naturally are the most honest specimens of humanity that tread the globe, and the most virtuous. To find the natural inclinations or instincts of the African races you must go to heathen Africa; not upon the African coast, where civilization and heathenism commingle, but go back into the interior, as I have gone, and mingle with the heathen in their natural state and condition, and you will find no such thing as theft. You may lose your watch, coat, hat, or anything regardless of its value, and the first African who passes by will hang the thing of value upon the limb of a tree by the roadside and 10,000 will pass by it and no one will touch it, which can be said for no other part of the globe that I have ever visited or heard of, after forty-five years of reading. As for their virtue, I mean morals in general, telling the truth, chastity among the feminine sex, and the males as well, outside of polygamy, which is by no means universal, they excel any other uncivilized races upon the face of the globe. In regard to the petty larcenies which exist in this country among my race where their natural inclinations have been distorted by a series of circumstances, which I shall not at present attempt to enumerate, I shall say nothing.
If the wholesale charge you bring against the Negro in regard to petty larceny be true, which I contend has grown out of his abnormalized environments associated with the wants of civilization which his poverties condition prevented him from supplying, I am very grateful that you do us the justice of restricting it to petty larceny, for one white man will steal as much as a single grab as a thousand Negroes will steal in forty years. This has been verified within the last decade by a number of State Treasurers, who have pocketed over a million of dollars.
If the American Negro will steal from the white people it is some consolation to know that he will take a little and leave much. Comment upon this point is unnecessary. Justice and honor both compel me, however, to admit that much you say about the Negro is too true; but I cannot endorse your position in condoning the lynch mobs of the land; as every man is innocent, according to the theory and genius of civilized nations, until he is tried and found guilty by a jury of his peers, equals or associates.
Yours respectfully, H. M. TURNER.