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- To Colored People: January 13, 1895
To Colored People
The Atlanta Constitution: Jan. 13, 1895; pg. 3
Atlanta, GA., January 9.-To the Colored People of the United States: I am prompted, by what I conceive to be a high sense of duty, to address you with some remarks through the medium of the public press, and which I regard as inseparably connected with our present and future destiny and welfare as a race. Nor do I apologize or beg pardon for what may appear to some as an arbitrary presumption in consideration of the services I have endeavored to render our race variety since 1853, when I entered upon my twentieth year, and was licensed to preach by Dr. Boyd at Abbeville, S. C. From that time to the present I have been before the public as a preacher, school teacher, lecturer, editor, politician, stump speaker, member of the constitutional convention, member of the legislature, contributor to newspapers, monthly and quarterly magazines, white and colored, and have filled positions of honor and trust by appointments received from four presidents of the United States, as well as one from the chief executive of a foreign nation, and have traveled and spoken from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the farthest bounds of inhabited Canada, to the borders of Mexico, and before tens of thousands of all colors, and two other continents and the Isles of the sea besides. Nor does this tell half the story of my feeble, yet honest and conscientious labors. And in every instance, I challenge any mortal to say that I was not true to my race, though many might differ as to the wisdom of my policy and position. Therefore, whatever my shortcomings and failures may have been, I do not think the man lives who will attempt to brand me as a “white man’s nigger,” because of the position I am about to take in the remainder of this letter.
About four hundred newspapers (with a few dailies) weekly, monthly and quarterly are published by our people in this country, and some eighty-odd exchange with the Voice of Missions, a monthly periodical of which I am chief editor and publisher. And I find a large number of them denouncing the Cotton States and International exposition, which is to be held in the city of Atlanta this year, and are advising the colored people to have nothing to do with it—hands off and virtually treat the invitation that has been tendered our race by the managers and directors of the same with silent contempt; upon the ground that they will have to come here in what is generally denominated “Jim Crow cars,” and the color line will be set up, and our race will be discriminated against in this and that, and other respects. And some of the newspaper contributors have even gone so far as to denounce any colored man who would encourage it and declared him “despicable,” and the learned Professor W. S. Scarborough, LL. D., a member of the National Philological Society, composed of whites to the exception of himself, and whose Greek school books are used by white and colored students alike in many of the first institutions of learning in the land, has so far forgotten the honors he has been the recipient of as to indulge in the following language:
“Stay away from the concern, until we can have at least decent cars to ride in, and until we are in a measure respected as men.”
But it is useless to call names, and pick out this and that special remark which has been made or written by some editor or contributor, and in some instances the severe, uncharitable and unreasonable animadversions and Billingsgate which are being indulged in and hurled at those who favor and think it wise and timely for the colored people to accept the proffer made by the managers of the exposition.
I beg to say, however, that so far as the Jim Crow cars are concerned, no man in the country can have more contempt for them than myself or more disrespect for any legislation that would enact laws favoring such an institution, nor for the United States Supreme Court, whose revolting decision would authorize any such legislation. Especially after returning from foreign countries, where I am treated as a lord, and two-thirds of the time am called a lord, and then having to be discriminated against on the public highway when I come home, as a natural consequence, is nauseating. I believe we ought to have first and second-class cars, as they have in Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Missouri and other southern states, as well as in all the northern states. But we have not got them, and if we take the advice of some of these wiseacres, who would have us do nothing and spurn the hand that proffers us an opportunity to vindicate our honor, and set before the world our intelligence and skill, we never will get them. Merit wins, worth tells; endeavor, stir and activity achiever better results and not a surly, snarlish, morose inertness, as some of our self-constituted leaders would recommend.
If we are in a bad condition, in the name of high heaven let us accept any opportunity offered for our betterment and make the most of it, not the least of it. If we are down let us try to get up, not lie there and wallow in the mud. I do not believe that Georgia has any Jim Crow car law. If so, it is not enforced on all the railroads coming into Atlanta. I have never heard of any such law being enacted. I know most of the railroads have made some kind of rules to that effect and that the late Bishop Campbell, of Philadelphia; Dr. Sterritt, of Charleston, and some others have been interfered with because they did not observe these rules, but it was not the result of legislation, but the action of a mob, of which this country is full. Mobocracy is the rule now north and south and not the exception.
I do know this, however, that the only invitations that have ever been offered to the black man to join in with any great exposition and display the evidence of his industry, skill, art, inventive and mechanical genius and show the world what he can do in any and every particular has been offered by the South. The north has offered nothing on that line, nor has the nation as such given the colored man the recognition of an animal. Director General Burke at the New Orleans exposition in 1882, set apart buildings and invited the colored people from one end of the country to the other to come and show their skill, and many did so and it redounded to their honor and in common with states and foreign nationalities, he gave the colored people a whole day and paid the expenses of orators from a distance to come there and entertain the people with their eloquence and the whites turned out by tens of thousands to hear the black man plead his own cause and tell what the negro could do in addition to what he had there on exhibition. Now the managers of the Atlanta exposition extend a like invitation, and I believe we are idiots if we do not accept it.
At the national exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, I grant that one colored man had a painting in the art gallery, but it was not known that it was the work of a negro until it took the first premium and he came to get it and the surprise created a sensation. But the only position other than that, so far as I could learn, filled by a colored person was attending the toilet rooms and bringing water to scrub some of the floors at night. The statue of Cleopatra, which Miss Edmonia Lewis, the celebrated colored sculptress had on exhibition there, was brought from Rome, in Italy, and she did not appear in the character of an American colored woman. Therefore, we can claim no credit for the recognition given her at the national exposition in Chicago year before last the only recognition that was given to the negro was to take care of the toilet rooms, notwithstanding the managers and directors were besieged for months to set apart a place for colored exhibits and to appoint one colored man and one colored lady to collect the exhibits. I went three times in person and used every argument at my command and scores of others did the same, but no recognition was given the negro whatever, while $30,000,000 was expended, much of which consisted of taxes paid by the colored race. The magnificent painting by Professor H. O. Tanner, which was upon exhibition there, was painted in Paris, France, and sent to this country as a part of the French exhibits, and the American negro is entitled to no credit for the acceptance of that piece of fine art nor the premium that was given it.
True, I saw two mulatto clerks employed there, one from Savannah, Ga., but they were passing for white, and when their colored wives would come to bring them their lunches they had to pass off as servant girls for the purpose of creating no suspicion in regard to their racial status.
I grant that the negroes did not go to Chicago in Jim Crow cars, but those who did go, went there and got Jim Crowed or saw their race Jim Crowed, and Jim Crowed by the nation, too, and not a section of the nation. If I had to choose between the railroad degradation and the exposition degradation I would infinitely prefer the former, for the exposition allows me an opportunity to show to the world that I can be clean, mannerly, cultured and refined and deserve better treatment, and it is the surest way to get it.
It appears that everything proposed for the betterment of our race has to be fought by a class of men in our own ranks—men who never project a scheme or suggest a policy that proposes to do anything that will command respect for the negro. I believe that two or three millions of us ought to go to Africa and build up a civilized nation and show the world that we can be statesmen, generals, bankers, merchants, philosophers, inventors and everything that anybody else is. I further believe that if a half-million of us would ask Congress for an appropriation to assist us to return to the land of our ancestry so that we might increase the commerce of this nation and begin the civilization of Africa, as God intended for us to do, we would get it, but because I have dared to write and speak my sentiments, I am denounced by this do-nothing party in unmeasured terms. The same men who are fighting the exposition are fighting African emigration. Mexico invites the negro to come there in countless numbers if he chooses and pledges every manhood recognition and they denounce that Hon. John Temple Graves, a far-seeing statesman, philosopher, philanthropist and one of the most brilliant orators in the nation, has been advocating a separate state for the black man, where he can be his own governor, congressman, judge, legislator and everything that belongs to the sovereignty of a state and they fight that. Now the Atlanta exposition directors say to the negro: “Come and let us see what you can do? If you are intelligent men and women and are entitled to every right and privilege and immunity you complain about being denied you, here is an opportunity for you to show it,” and they are fighting that.
When will this laggardness and negativity stop? If our race proposes to do nothing, but sit down and eke out a miserable existence and play the role of chronic complainers, it would be more honorable to ask for the restoration of slavery. Then when we did nothing we could blame the white people. But now, there is no one to blame but ourselves, and we cannot be looked upon other than a miserable set of vagabonds if we continue this lethargic course.
I wish it to be distinctly understood, moreover, that I am not personally interested in the exposition. I am not one of the colored commissioners. I am in no manner, shape or form connected with the exposition. I could not have served had I been asked, as I leave for Africa next month to be gone until the latter part of June or July. Nor have I been a factor in anything that has accomplished, to the exception of a number of speeches I voluntarily delivered in the interest of the exposition, and a little lobbying among some senators and representatives in Washington in favor of the appropriation, which has already been made. So if anyone should presume that I am a paid agent of the exposition, they are sadly mistaken. I am simply uttering my convictions from what I regard to be a sense of duty, and because I love my race and wish their welfare next to wishing a home in heaven when I am done with life.
We are here in this country, and we are out of social touch with the whites. We do not know what they think and say about us, and they do not know what we think and say about them. For all our intercourse is either of a business or conventional character. Each one would be surprised if he could hear the other talk when we meet in our social circles; but we are here, and we are here evidently in the providence of God, and as the whites are not sitting down doing nothing because we are in their midst with all of our faults, we should not sit down and do nothing because they are in our midst with their faults, and the man or set of men who recommend such a course are entitled to no consideration, regardless of their book learning or high sounding titles. And I call upon our people, especially you who are here in the south, to accept of this providential opportunity and not let the magnificent building which is in process of erection at the exposition grounds be appropriated to other purposes through our neglect, or the non-sensical advice which is being given by a set of negative drones.
There is a wide-spread impression throughout the land that the negro is too intellectually impotent to do anything where taste, skill, art and mechanical genius are involved. Yet in the days of slavery when we had no education except the little that we stole, we were carpenters, blacksmiths, tailors, painters, brick masons, rock masons, plasterers, bridge builders, ship carpenters, carriage and buggy makers, boot and shoemakers, clock and watch repairers, station engineers and indeed we did nearly all the fine work, especially here in the south, that was done, except to run railroad locomotives. And very frequently in South Carolina, when engineers were scarce, the superintendents would turn the locomotive over to some colored fireman and put a white boy on the tender, under the pretext of watching the negro, and they would carry all kinds of trains for hundreds of miles, and return them safely, while the white boy would know no more about the locomotive than a man in Guinea. Bill Sisher, black as ebony, of Columbia, S. C., would draft his own plans and construct palatial residences for the wealthy and would display such gorgeous uniqueness that architects would come from New York City to inspect his work and add to their fund of information. Now for a colored man to display any mechanical or artistic genius is to make him a prodigy. It is regarded by many as something phenomenal. White men then imposed the responsibility of doing these things upon us, and we did them well and grandly. And now when an opportunity is offered to put our brain power to the test and quicken our slumbering energies we are to be confronted with this miserable herd of fossil drones. I pray God that you will pay no attention to them. If they are such great race benefactors, and are so much concerned about the honor, dignity, and respectability of our people, why in the name of high heaven do they not go to work and do something, or try to do something, to rid this land of the Jim Crow car and remove the objectionable features away from our civilization?
As one, if they will go to work on that line, I will pledge them my aid to the extent of my limited ability. Nor do I believe that while the exposition is in progress there will be any special color line on the railroads, which is being so frightfully magnified with the exception of three at all events. For I remember at the state fair, which was held in this city some years ago, which President Cleveland visited, that some colored gentlemen came here from Illinois and asked me personally where they could find a Jim Crow car, as they had been consigned none, for they rode where they pleased. Furthermore, the decision of the national interstate railroad commission entitles every person, white and colored, to the same class of cars they start from home in. So if you start from home in a car satisfactory to yourself, there is no law, rule or legislation, that can bar you from it until you reach Atlanta. Hence the death of that scarecrow. As a race, we should know no north or south. For we are inconsequential ciphers in either section, but I notice that the chief objectors, the bitterest opposers and the most flippant talkers and writers against our people participating in the exposition, are found chiefly among the so-called prominent men of the north. Now, as long as they are making the Jim Crow car, the test of our racial fidelity to efforts and endeavors to the betterment of our condition, I would like to ask these gentlemen where did the Jim Crow car come from, so far as it bears the stamp of legality, but from northern men? Prior to October 15, 1883, there was not a legislature in the nation that thought of enacting such a bill. Nor was there a governor in the land who would have signed such a bill had any legislature been misanthropic enough to have enacted it. But on that doleful day the Supreme Court of the United States forgot that a just God ruled this universe, and declared that the negro race had no civil rights under the general government, and that the several states could make any kind of law they chose, so far as the civil status of the negro is concerned. The Supreme Court practically declared that the negro was not a citizen of the United States and that the several states could decree whatever they pleased, so far as it related or bore upon or affected the civil rights of the negro, and under that revolting decision Georgia, Maryland, New York, Illinois, Texas or any other state can enact a law that negroes shall ride in cars in front of the locomotive instead of behind it, and we cannot help ourselves. Now, I ask who were the men upon the Supreme Court bench of the nation who decided and decreed such an unlawful verdict? Were they southern men? Let us see if they were.
Morrison R. Waite chief justice, born in Connecticut, and appointed from Ohio.
Samuel F. Miller associate justice born in Kentucky, but moved to the state of Iowa in 1850, forty-five years ago.
Stephen J. Field, associate justice, born in Connecticut, but appointed from California.
Joseph P. Bradley, born in New York and appointed from New Jersey. The famous Republican who wrote the Jim-crow car decision.
William B. Wood, associate justice, born in Ohio, and a general in the late war, from that state.
Stanley Matthews, associate justice, born in Ohio, and appointed from that state.
Horace Grey, associate justice, born in Boston, Mass. and appointed from that state.
Samuel Blatchford, associate justice, born in New York, and appointed from that state.
These are the eight Supreme Court judges who practically resurrected the decision of Chief Justice Taney, and declared that black men had no civil rights that white men were bound to respect, and you will notice that every one of them were northern born, northern raised and northern trained with the exception of Justice Miller, and he had been out of Kentucky so long that I presume he had no recollection that he was ever born anywhere.
The next (a southern man) and the only righteous judge out of the nine, who alone dissented from the decision, and made an argument against it, that will go into history and immortalize his name, as well as furnish the advocates of even-handed justice with arguments for generations to come, was John M. Harlan, born in Kentucky, reared, educated and appointed from Kentucky.
If our friends who live the other side of Mason and Dixon’s line will please clean out their own Augean stable they will find themselves so busy they will have no time to fight the Atlanta Exposition. The status of the negro, at best, in this entire nation is anomalous and so indefinable that it is regarded as a problem. He is proscribed from one end of the land to the other, more or less, while different sections have their different modes of prescription. The south has one form and the north another, and in a measure, the east has still another form from the west. But the colored race is made to feel that he is a menial from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and, without wasting time to sectionalize our degradation or to dwell upon this or that phase of it, the best thing we can do is to adjust ourselves to some remedial endeavors, and the sooner, the better. Those of my way of thinking, believe that African emigration is the remedy and I believe that it is the thought and purpose of God, and as such, we should take whatever we can get, and make the most of it till providence opens up a highway from here to the land of our ancestry. If Congress will pass the bill of Senator M. C. Butler, of South Carolina, now before it, appropriating $5,000,000 for negro emigration, and the several states, as well as the United States, will turn over to me their penitentiary convicts alone and let me use the money I will carry them to Africa and found a country that will astonish the world with its own exposition in ten years from today. Yet, if such a thing were possible, these anti-everything would muster their forces in opposition to it.
It is useless, however, to extend this argument. I call upon my people everywhere to listen to no babble, to no non-sensical and do-nothing prattle that would bar you from taking part in the great Cotton States and International exposition to be held in this city. We were respected and treated well in New Orleans and we returned from the great exposition without a complaint, without any cause for grumble and in every particular pleased with our visit. And as one who has been acquainted with both cities since 1856, and has lived in one for many years, and visited the other not less than forty times, I will pledge you that so far as the white people are concerned you will find them as generous in Atlanta as in New Orleans. Yours most respectfully,
H. M. TURNER.
P. S. - Will the papers, white and colored, have the kindness to copy this letter for the benefit of my people.
H. M. T.