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- The African Question: February 22, 1883
The African Question
Christian Recorder: February 22, 1883
Mr. Editor – The “Rejoinder” of Dr. Tanner, in your issue of January 25th, is not altogether devoid of interest, for the reason he says some things that betrays startling misconception of our condition as a race, or as Thaddeus Stevens said of General Grant, “he is trying to whitewash terrible facts.”
Before reviewing that port of his rejoinder, however, let us notice a few of what he may call incidental remarks. I think them more elliptical than incidental.
The learned Doctor reminds me of what the North did for our freedom, especially the Quaker City, and thinks I am not wise in pouring contempt upon the North, etc. I understand his language, conversely expressed, to say, you should thank the North, and your gratitude should be of such an overwhelming character, as to blind your eyes to all her faults. I have only to reply that the North did no more than her duty. If my recollection is not at fault, Bancroft says in the first volume of his History of the United States, that all the slave ships that brought negroes to this country were fitted out in the North, except for foreign slavers. Grant that the North did give her millions of sons and money to free the slave; grant that they died in countless numbers to furnish blood to cleanse the nation’s escutcheon, it was only the visitation of the sins of the fathers upon the children. The North was as guilty in every respect as the South for the crime of slavery, both in its origin and perpetuity, and had the South been quiet and not inaugurated the rebellion, the North would have been chasing and catching slaves today for their masters. Negatively speaking, the South deserves more credit, more gratitude, more consideration every way than the North. But I do not thank either of them. True, I am grateful for the services of a few individuals, but in the aggregate I have no thanks for either.
The Doctor says, “Philadelphia doubtless has as many colored men in honorable positions as the Gate City.” That may be very true. I am no defender of the Gate City. When I animadvert upon our treatment, I am not restricted to localities. I mean North, South, East and West. The Gate City is as repugnant to my conception of equity and right as any other place his satanic majesty has venomized. I cannot allow the Doctor, either, to make it appear that I am hurling slurs at Philadelphia. I only referred to the Quaker City as the home of the committee of those recognized leaders who went before the Pennsylvania Colonization Society, and represented our position as being so felicitous. I only desired them to look around their immediate doors, and see if facts did not repudiate their statements. I will say, however, if the Quaker City is in possession of the colored officials the Doctor exults over, they are of recent date, for I knew them all three years ago. I know the circumstances with the little increase also, but I will not, for what I think are good reasons, refer to them at present.
But the startling paragraph of the Doctor’s rejoinder is found in these words: “The picture the Bishop draws of our present condition is simply an exaggerated one, and awfully exaggerated at that.”
This is the first time in my life I have found a colored man who had the effrontery to deny, or even attempt, a partial negation, of the inhuman treatment we have suffered at the hands of the nation’s banditti. I employ the term nation’s because the country could have stopped it long since had there been a disposition to do so. Dr. Tanner was evidently unaware of the force of his words. Instead of an exaggeration the half has never been told, nor shall it ever be told till it shall be revealed at the great assize of all nations and the most vexatious fact in this connection is that neither the North nor the South wants it told. Thus they close up the great dailies of the country to all communication which essay to recite the deeds of death and horror perpetrated upon our people, unless it bears the rumor of rape or some hideous crime which, nineteen times out of twenty, is a blatant-face untruth. But in the pregnant and thunder-charged words of Mr. Sumner, “Beware of the groans of wounded souls since the inward sore will break out. Oppress not a single heart, for a solitary sigh has power to overthrow the world.”
The New Orleans Christian Advocate (M. E. Church) says there is not a night that some colored person is not lynched in the State of Louisiana. Grant that the remark may be a little hyperbolical, there are sufficient grounds beyond a doubt to found a reasonable presumption upon, otherwise a paper so respectable would not hazard its reputation for veracity. This much I do know, however, there is not a night, or a day either, the year round, that our people are not most brutally being murdered. The reign of blood and slaughter is but little less than it was ten years ago, if any. True, we do not hear so much of the Ku-Klux and White Leaguers as formerly, but it is because the vampires have changed their tactics and not because there has been any material reformation in the condition of things.
The Doctor says that my only interest in Africa is to make it a city of refuge. That is not so, by any means. But suppose it were, is not self-preservation the first law of nature? Does not our existence depend upon providing for self? Would the Doctor ask me to crack a joke while my feet were burning in the furnace? Yes, I would make Africa the place of refuge, because I see no other shelter from the stormy blast from the red tide of permeation, from the horrors of American prejudice. Self-interest, self-preservation and self in all aspects have been the germ thoughts of all emigrations, immigrations and colonizations which have gone on since men left the foot of Babel tower, nor do I recollect an instance to the contrary, except when the old Romans used to colonize by force to impart to the aborigines a knowledge of their language. Let all that the Doctor postulates be so, and what does he gain in the argument? Nothing at all but what has characterized all people in every age of the world. The Doctor, however, carries his assumptions too far when he says that if they will stop persecuting the negro, I will cease to plead for Africa. I am actuated by more lofty motives than any such sordid sentimentalities as he surmises. Before defining my position, however, I beg to say I recognize the fact of our Americanship as fully as he does. I know we are Americans to all intents and purposes. We are born here, raised here, fought, bled and died here and have a thousand time more right here than hundreds of thousands of those who help to snub, proscribe and persecute us, and that is one of the reasons I almost despise the land of my birth. I have been commissioned twice as a chaplain in the United States army, and have seen colored men die by the thousands on the field of battle, in defense of the country, yet their comrades in times of peace, who survived the war blast, I have also seen ignored on account of their color to such an extent that they could not procure a dinner….while the riff-raff….were treated as princes. But why recount these evils and a thousand others that might fill forty volumes, when men of our race, high in prominence, are virtually saying your statements are not true and if true what matters it. Hush prattling about the ill treatment of your race and let us discuss theories, deal in technicalities, brag on some big white man. Let us see whether the term negro should be spelled with a large or small N. Stop talking about the negro doing anything by his own strength, brain and merits. Wait till the whites go over and civilize Africa and homestead all the land and take us along to black their boots and groom their horses. Wait till the French or English find some great mines of gold, diamonds or some other precious metal or treasures, so we can raise a howl over it and charge the whites with endeavoring to take away our fathers’ inheritances, and lift a wall for the sympathy of the world.
So much for Dr. Tanner and his mistaken position. I will now define my African position. 1st, I do not believe any race will ever be respected, or ought to be respected, who do not show themselves capable of founding and manning a government of their own creation. This has not been done creditably yet by the civilized negro, and till it is done he will be a mere scullion in the eyes of the world. The Colonization Society proposes to aid him in accomplishing that grand result. They are our best friends and greatest benefactors, as the stern and inexorable logic of facts will soon show.
2nd, I do not believe that American slavery was a divine institution, but I do believe it was a providential institution and that God intends to make it the primal factor in the civilization and Christianization of that dark continent, and that any person whomsoever who opposes the return of sufficient number of her descendants to begin the grand work, which in the near future will be consummated, is fighting the God of the universe face to face.
3rd, The civilized world is turning its attention to Africa as never before, including all the Christian and semi-Christian nations under heaven except America, (for the Colonization Society gives the movement here no national character) and it seems to me as if the time had arrived when America, too, or the United States at least, should awake to her share of duty in this great movement, as she owes us 40 billions of dollars for actual services rendered, estimating one hundred dollars a year for two million of us for two hundred years.
4th, I am no advocate for wholesale emigration; I know we are not prepared for it. The best interest of the good cause is not prepared for it, nor is Africa herself prepared for it. Such a course would be madness in the extreme and folly unpardonable. Five or ten thousand a year would be enough. I would like to take yearly those who are sent to the penitentiary, hung and lynched for nothing. With them alone I could establish a government, build a country and raise a national symbol that would give character to our people everywhere. Empty me your jails and penitentiary and in ten years I will give you a country before which your theories will pale and disappear.
5th. To me the nonsensical jargon that the climate of Africa is against us, we can’t live there, the tropics are no place for moral and intellectual development, coming from the mouths of so-called intelligent men and would-be leaders, is simply ridiculous. If I were so ignorant, I would hold my tongue and pen and not let people know it. Such language not only charges God with folly, but contradicts the teachings of both science and philosophy. They have not even learned that man is cosmopolitan, that his home is everywhere upon the face of this globe. They have not read the history of this country that they pretend to love so well. They appear to be ignorant totally of the fearful mortality that visited the early settlers of this nation at Roanoke, Annapolis, Plymouth Rock, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Charleston, and there is nothing upon record, possibly, that equals the fatality of Louisville, KY. I read it with horror at this late day. Men seem to be ignorant of the philosophy of human existence, yet they plunge into the whirlpool of great questions with intoxicated impunity. God have mercy upon their little heads and smaller hearts is my prayer.
6th. The last thing I will say at present by way of defining my position is this: I can see through the dim future a grand hereafter for the negro. I know he is increasing South much more rapidly than the whites, and the ratio of increase, should it go on as it did from 1870 to 1880, will put the Southern states in the hands of the negro in 1900. I can see another thing. I can see that the Southern whites are apprehensive of such a contingency, and to avert it they are moving heaven and earth to procure white immigrations, but with all they can get and all they kill and starve to death in the penitentiaries the fecundity of the negro is gaining on them rapidly. Now what is to be the end of this race? Why the negro is going to beat, and the barriers to immigration are going to be widened. Thus white will continue to be white and black will continue to be black. All right; they are both God’s colors and the sensible man will object. Now for the sequel: War, efforts of extermination, anarchy, horror and a wall to heaven. This is a gloomy picture I know, but there is only one thing that will prevent its realization and that is marriage between whites and blacks; social contact that will divide blood; blood that will unify and centralize feelings, sympathy, interest and abrogate prejudice, race, caste, color barriers and hair texture, is the only hope of our future in this country. Now, let Dr. Tanner’s learned committee come forth with a plan…. (of) intermarriage between the two races and the problem of our future is solved, darkness is lifted……But unless (that) happens, there is no peaceable future here for the negro.
Lastly I have not been in love with self-improvised committees since 1872, when such an one waited upon the great Sumner and told him he had only to speak and the colored people of the nation would obey. Mr. Sumner in an hour of weakness did speak, and said, “Vote for Greeley.” What followed we too well know. I will not comment for the reason that gentlemen who were on the committee have lamented it ever since, if I am to credit their words to me. Another self-improvised committee waited upon Mr. Garbold when he was a candidate for the Presidency; we also well know the results of that one. Mr. Garbold made their wait an occasion to tell the country he was a white man. I favor delegations of my race when properly authorized, as much as anyone. I think it was a great mistake to abolish colored conventions, if it was done at the biding of Mr. Douglas, that prince of negroes. A national colored convention has been greatly needed for the last several years. If the Northern negro is satisfied with matters and things, we of the South are far from being. Indeed I have been thinking of calling one for the last twelve months; not political but a civil and moral convention. Gov. Pinchbeck said to me, a few years ago, that the colored people should hold a national convention every three or four years if they could to have grievances and complaints. –So says Lawyer C. A. Bidont, of Arkansas, and so may others. Such a convention is needed more, yes far more needed, than any mere self-improvised committees.
Pardon this long letter; I commenced scribbling up here on these Arkansas mountains and could not stop.