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- Turner Scores His Critics: September 11, 1897
Turner Scores His Critics
Atlanta Constitution: September 11, 1897; pg. 4
Editor Constitution – I find in your issue of August 9th my position on African emigration is severely, yet, by some, very respectfully assailed by a cluster of lights whom you are pleased to entitle ‘leading and representative negroes.’ Some of these shimmering fulgurations, at least, I am sure were more than delighted with the information for they had certainty never heard of their own exaltedness before.
Leadership among the colored people has greatly waned. If all the persons whose names appear in the issue mentioned have attained to that position. I have been living in Georgia and visiting Georgia for more than forty years and I had not even known of the existence of some of them until I saw their names in The Constitution. If billingsgate spouters, and aspersive mudslingers who can do or say nothing more than ‘I object’ have bound at once into leadership and if the colored people are going to recognize them as such, then our doom as a race is fixed. I have always understood leadership to consist of men or women taking some logical position and standing by and contending for it by the presentation of such arguments as would convince intelligent thinkers and command a respectable following.
Some weeks ago I snatched a little time from my pressing and ever increasing engagements and duties (with about a thousand unanswered communications lying upon my office table) and wrote what was possibly a somewhat disconnected reply to a number of calumnious criticisms and invectives which had been made upon me by The Boston Globe. These criticisms and invectives had done me great injustice, to say the least, and downright violence to the International Migration Society, located at Birmingham, Ala. The Globe had at the same time opened its columns to the ignorant mouthings and garrulity of a few returned emigrants from Liberia, who, judging from the…..misrepresentation of facts, were totally destitute of honor and intelligence.
But the editorial staff of that famous and widely circulated journal were by a cluster of colored divines and politicians of Atlanta adjudged to be unequal to the task intellectually of taking care of themselves, and moved by sympathy for the mental and literary imbecility of the said editorial staff and pitying their discomfited plight, this galaxy of learned, able and distinguished, colored dignitaries had to rush to the defense and rescue the vanquished staff of the great Boston Globe. ‘How art the mighty fallen!’ Shades of Horace Greeley, James Gordon Bennett and Henry W. Grady defend us. But let us not be alarmed, the proud profession so neatly maintained and illustriously advanced by these great men still survives, for has not Atlanta marshaled four invulnerable Achilles to the defense, while even renowned old Greece could not muster one? The sun do move.’
Aroused from Their Lethargy
We have never favored or advocated the wholesale emigration of our race in Africa. We only wanted two or three million to go, but if we are still heathen savages, as Rev. Harvey represents, the sooner we move somewhere and procure civilization the better for us. The white people have has us under training for virtually 300 years, and as they have failed to civilize us we had better seek other quarters. I have been in the habit of congratulating myself upon not getting mad. I frequently preach against Christians flying into mad fits and condemn it as sinful and even wicked. But when I read in The Constitution where Rev. Harvey declared me uncivilized and practically proclaimed me a heathen savage, in common with the rest of my race, I was fired with indignation. It is the most fearful insult offered the negro in the aggregate by any man, white or black, in this country in a generation of years, and I pity his associates in the symposium, as they all agree. Consonsus tauit legem. I have always maintained that if the negro could not force his way into respectable recognition in this country, he should go where he could. This is just what all other races which have proven themselves fit to survive have done when pushed to the wall, or when strong enough have risen in revolt and overthrown the powers that degraded them, but when not strong enough to do this they have followed the natural law of self-preservation and emigrated. And right here we discover a great fact in ethnological research, to wit: Whenever a people have had the spirit to emigrate from overshadowing influence, they have always possessed the courage and endurance necessary to overcome all the hardships encountered in reducing a country from a state of nature to the requirements of civilization and this is just what I have contended that the negro should do. The white race has done so and the negro must do so, too, or be a byword for all time to come. The negro must demonstrate his fitness by his means to survive, amid the clashing elements of racial force, by going somewhere for himself and taking hold of the natural obstructions in the way of an enlightened civilization and hurl them aside. For until the negro goes somewhere and exterminates the wild beasts levels the forests, bridges the streams, plants the fields, erects houses, builds railroads and telegraph lines, founds his schools and colleges, enacts his laws, maintains government and challenges the respect of mankind he will never command the respect of the world. And all the schoolbook scholars, who think they know so much while the bulk of them practically know nothing, will never succeed in giving our race prestige, nor otherwise. For if the negro cannot do this, he need never hope to enjoy the blessings of race manhood, for he is a failure, and if he can but will not, he does not deserve to enjoy them.
These blab mouthed whiners, whoever and anon are trying to berate and run down the little republic of Liberia because many of the emigrants pass through a little acclimating fever and some die, are simply advertising their ignorance: they are telling the world that they are no scholars beyond schoolboy training and they know nothing of the history of nations and peoples. I would be ashamed to let the enlightened and thoughtful world know how little I knew about matters and things if I were expending so must loquacity.
For the information of this distinguished quartet of African emigration sponsors, most of whom are my personal friends, let me give them a little history, which may be of some service to them and their conferrees. And they would do well to read a little more history anyway.
In speaking of the early settlement of Plymouth, Mass., Palfrey in the ‘History of New England,’ says: “The labor of preparing habitations had scarcely begun when sickness set in; within four months it carried off nearly half of the company. Of the 102 who had arrived six died in December, eight in January, seventeen in February and Thirteen in March. At one time there were only six or seven who had strength enough left to nurse the dying and bury the dead. The sick lay crowded in unwholesome, half-built cabins heaped around with snowdrifts. The dead were interred in a bluff by the waterside, the marks of burial being carefully effaced lest the natives (Indians) should discover how safe would be an attack. But through all this sorrow the lesson rehearsed at Leyden was not forgotten, that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties and must be enterprised and overcome with unanswerable courage.’
Has the distinguished gentlemen heard of any such calamity in connection with the Liberian emigrants? Again Palfrey says: “The Mayflower returned to England sailing April 1 1621. About that time Carver, one of the colonials who had been chosen governor, died and was greatly lamented. His wife followed him in a few weeks. Bradford was put in Carver’s place. Isaac Allerton was chosen to be his assistant. Forty-six of the Mayflower passengers were now dead, including twenty-eight of the forty-eight adult men. Before the next arrival of emigrants in autumn fifty-one, just half of the first emigrants, were dead.’
Well may the white man exult in the glories of his nation and call it the ‘home of the brave.’
In 1630 a number of vessels arrived, bringing 1,000 passengers. But says Mr. Palfrey: “The reception of the newcomers was discouraging. More than a quarter part of their predecessors at Salem had died during the previous winter and many of the survivors were ill or feeble. The faithful Higginson was wasting with a hectic fever which soon proved fatal. There was a scarcity of all sorts of provisions and not corn enough for a fortnight’s supply after the arrival of the fleet. The remainder of 180 servants, who in the tow preceding years had been conveyed over at a heavy cost, were discharged from their indentures to escape the expense of their maintenance. Sickness soon began to spread and before the close of autumn had carried off 200 of that year’s emigration.’
“Distinguished bloods and dignitaries, have you ever heard of any such appalling instances in connection with the emigrants to Liberia? No, no, you have heard of nothing that indexed it.
Will the four distinguished gentlemen name an instance when the southern white people have called their ancestors fools for coming to this country and enduring these hardships to make a virtual paradise for their children and children’s children? As I have heard colored men and women call those who went to Liberia.
But again, the venerable Chief Justice Marshall gives the conclusion of the matter as it stood in 1624 and says more than 9,000 persons had been sent from Europe to people Jamestown and yet, at the end of seventeen years, the population was reduced to 1,800 persons.’
Do the four gentlemen desire any more history in connection with the early settlement of this country? If they do I am prepared to furnish it. But possibly I had better allow them time to digest this first.
Drs. Alexander and Carter who reference upon the ground that I wanted the educated negro alone to emigrate to Africa. Many thanks, but I beg their pardon. I want some educated men and women as a natural consequence, but history shows no instance where the educated masses have ever pioneered the civilization of any country. I want the common people, the industrious, the rustic, the hardworking and as many illiterates as wish to go. Did educated men pave the way for the development and civilization of South America?
Was not Australia developed and civilized by penal colonies? By convicts, cut throats, murderers and scoundrels of every kind, which ‘under the law’ should have been put to death or imprisoned for life. Have not thousands and thousands of their children and grandchildren changed their names to get rid of the disgraceful taint of their fathers and mothers? And yet Australia has not only given the world doctors, lawyers, statesmen, divines, bishops, lords and dignitaries, but a few years ago when her banks suspended she shook the financial world. And if this country will turn over to me the penitentiary convicts and a million or two dollars to transport them to Africa I will do the same.
“Much is said about the little sickness and few deaths which have visited the emigrants in Liberia. Many of the colored people of this country have put on a face as long as a horse and mourned dolorously over a few deaths of which they have heard, yet two years ago 1,000 white men entered the Klondike region and all have died except 200 and not a sigh has been heard from no white man or woman upon earth for the 800 men who sacrificed their lives in trying to do something for themselves, their families and their race. But had they been black men there would have been a wail and a howl throughout the country and Klondike would have been denounced as the hell of hells. But thank God I am prepared to say that negroes are not alike: at least 2,000,000 are ready to leave the very moment a line of steamers are placed between the United States and Africa. Rev. Harvey has labored hard in his invectives to prove that I am financially connected with the International Migration Society, and the only reply I have to make is that the only reason I am not is because I am too poor. If I had $6,000,000 I would invest every cent in emigrational ships to Africa and thank God for the opportunity.
There is a certain class of negroes in this country who think it pleases the white people to shoot down and jeer at every proposition made concerning African emigration. Poor, deluded, nondescript, they do not seem to know that they thereby render themselves intolerably disgusting in the sight of the very class around whose slop troughs they exploit their groveling and shameless degradation. They cannot get it into their little pates that the great and noble among the Anglo-Saxon and other races are ever attracted to the weak and unfortunate, especially when they see exhibited among them the splendid elements of character which signalize the noble and the brave. This is the basic—the fundamental truth which underlies the ethics of heroism and sustains the ennobling qualities of human life.
“But the Atlanta quartet, with the mouthy Rev. Harvey in the lead, could never dream of this. They go bounding about with nimble suppliant dexterity eager to attract the approving smiles of a few white men, north and south, who despise the negro on general principles. At the first sound of the conflict brought on by the great Boston Globe they rush into print, emptying their little slings at me and African emigration.
“Well, gentlemen, I was not bothering you. You shot at me first and you must allow me to return the fire.
“Rev. Harvey in an apparent effort to out-do himself and overtopple all others in a crowning slander of his race, says; ‘This country was colonized by the best people of the old world. They brought civilized life with them, led by the chivalrous cavaliers and indomitable Puritans. We cannot now send such colonies to Liberia, for the reason that our race in the United States is not yet civilized.’ Hear it, ye teachers, principals, deans and presidents of institutions, colleges and universities. Hear it, ye lawyers and doctors and artisans and painters and poets and preachers and mechanics and farmers and dressmakers and typewriters and stenographers and telegraphers and musicians and photographers and authors and postmasters and revenue collectors and government clerks and foreign diplomats and merchants and bankers and printers and colored men, worth three, four and five hundred thousand dollars and thousands upon tens of thousands of intelligent and loving wives and mothers of this maligned race.
But, let us look at these chivalrous cavaliers and indomitable Puritans,’ represented as the best people of the old world and brought ‘civilized life’ with them. Brave and courageous and indomitable I grant. But who were the cavaliers? Were they the freebooters who robbed, pillaged and put to death by all the horrors of perdition innocent and unsuspecting aborigines who came to them like angels of mercy and succored them from the pitiless rigor and blast of New England winter? And who were these civilized Puritans? Were they the fanatic who burned their old mothers and aunts and sisters for witches in Salem? Were they the men who put children to death for disobedience to parents? Did they fine and flog children for walking on the grass by the roadside on Sunday? Were these the men “who tried a chicken rooster by a jury for crowing on the Sabbath and convicted and put him to death as an emissary of the devil? Were these the best people of the old world? And shall we admit and proclaim to the world that these witch burners at Salem were superior in civilization and intelligence to the best and most enlightened negroes in this country? Has any of the emigrants who ever went to Liberia perpetrated such appealing acts? Could any one believe that a colony composed of such people was superior to such an honest and intelligent yeomanry body as could be miscellaneously collected from the colored people in any part of the United States even on the rice plantations of South Carolina and Georgia? Does any one believe that such would be the result if such men as William Still, B. F. Lee, Robert Purvis, W. H. Connell, Booker T. Washington, W. B. Derrick, B. W. Arnett, C.L. Bradwell, J.B. Flipper, H. A. Rucker, William Flagg, Alexander Hamilton, R. R. Wright and even Carter Alexander and Proctor themselves were governors, presidents or kings and thousands of others who might be named?
All of the arguments I have heard against African emigration are about alike. They simply sneer at and belittle the negro by contrasting him with the giant white race and seek to discourage the measure by comparing the naked and barren conditions of the African (which will only last for a short time), with the ‘glorious and great blessings of Christian civilization in this country.’ And the motive underlying all of these arguments may always be found either in the stupid fawning and sycophancy of a class of imbecile negroes or in the alert and far-reaching designs of a class of white people, most generally in both. But in closing this communication which I have had to write in haste, as I have just reached home, and have a vast mail before me, I beg to say that the thoughtful, scholarly, statemanic and higher type of the whites indorse my African emigration policy as well as countless numbers of sober, thoughtful black people. Not more than one-third of the children of Israel came out of Egypt; the others were exterminated or swallowed up in the waters of mankind, and such will be the case with the American negro. A third or a fourth will leave sooner or later and the remainder will stay here and be exterminated. Or, like the Israelites of old, be re-enslaved. At all events, the negro is an outside factor and will never be given social recognition, and as Senator Morgan, of Alabama, says, “He had better be a slave than a free man without social recognition if he intends to remain here,’ and that he will never receive social recognition. And Hon. John Temple Graves, orator, scholar, philosopher and statesman, says that ‘We know that the negro will never be allowed to control in this country, even where he has a majority; that the price of his peace is his subordination that his vote is no longer suppressed, simply because it is no longer dangerous; that never, never in a thousand years will he be recognized as a social or political equal, and that under the ban of social and political – inferiority he can never, never in this country attain to the full stature of a citizen or a man.’
Again he says the prejudices of the white people are eternal and indestructible.
Now, I ask what negro that treads the American soil would call in question or tell Mr. Graves that he does not voice the sentiment of the whites?
It is useless to say that’s Mr. Graves is speaking through his personal prejudices, for he has plead the cause of the back man as no other white man in the south with whom public remarks I am familiar.
“Nature itself is invoking the American negro to return home as well as every postulate of reason or verdict of philosophy. The trade winds which formerly blew from three to four hundred miles out at sea, from the west coast of Africa, have mysteriously changed their course and are now fanning the shores, moderating the equatorial climate, diminishing the heat and humidity, driving away the fevers and fatal malaria. While the astronomers, mathematicians and scientists of the world stand dumb before this freak of nature, for none can account for it or advance a decent theory. But I believe I can account for it. It is nothing more nor less than God preparing Africa, for the reception of her long absent children.
“If these gentlemen would call a meeting and have a series of resolutions adopted thanking our generous governor and The Daily Constitution for services rendered in behalf of the convicts of the state, they would be better employed in berating Liberia and Africa.
‘I reluctantly conclude by saying to my race, two conditions confront extermination or emigration.