What the Southern Negro Is Doing for Himself
by Samuel J. Barrows
For twenty-six years the Negro has had his freedom, and now the question is, What use has he made of it? I have just returned from an extended trip through the South, arranged and made solely for the purpose of getting an answer to the question, What is the colored man doing for himself? I have traveled through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, returning through Tennessee, the District of Columbia, and Maryland. In the course of this journey, covering 3500 miles, I have visited schools, colleges, and industrial institutions in most of the large centres of the South, from Baltimore to New Orleans. I have gone through the Black Belt, inspected the agricultural districts, visited farms and cabins, and have seen every phase of Negro life, from the destitution of the one-room cabin to the homes of the comfortable and prosperous, and every degree of social standing, from the convicts in the chain gang in the New Orleans Parish prison and the Birmingham mines to ministers, lawyers, doctors, and bankers on the top round of the social ladder. As a result of this observation and experience, I have some interesting evidence as to what the Negro is doing for himself.
Under slavery the Negro was mainly a plantation laborer. Freedom found him where slavery left him. While there has been some transmigration to the South and North, the shifting of population since the war has not been great. The Negro and his descendants remain pretty much in the places where they lived when the war closed. Three courses were open to him as a free man: first, to rent his own labor; secondly, to rent and work the land of his former master; thirdly, to buy and work a farm for himself. All these courses have in turn been accepted. As a simple farm laborer the Negro has small opportunity to accumulate. His wages do not average over fifty or sixty cents a day. Two tendencies are observable in the agricultural districts of the South: one is the exceptional aggregation of immense farms under white ownership, worked by Negro laborers; the other is the segmentation of the old plantations into small farms let out to Negro tenants. In Georgia, for example, one white farmer owns 20,000 acres of land, and employs a vast number of Negroes. But in the districts I have visited the breaking up of the old plantations into small farms has been the more common process. All through the Black Belt and the adjacent country, plantations have been cut up and rented to Negroes in "one-mule farms" of from twenty-five to thirty acres each. Other things being equal, the step from the position of a man who simply lets out his own labor to the position of one who hires a field for its exercise is a step in advance. It furnishes conditions which stimulate intelligence, self-interest, and power of self-help; it is the roadway towards earning a farm and a home. Great numbers of Negroes have taken this initiative. But the transition is not easily made. Farms are not to be had for the asking. The Negro was not a capitalist. He was without credit, and his capacity for managing his own affairs was distrusted. He has had to contend, and is still contending, with an onerous system of commercial oppression which keeps him down. This is the mortgage system, or the lien on the crop, which prevails very extensively in the Black Belt. The colored man who hires twenty-five or thirty acres of land pays at the lowest one bale of cotton, worth about $50; or sometimes he pays as much as two or two and a half bales, equivalent to $100 or $125 rent. When we know that land can be bought at from five to seven dollars an acre, we see that the rent in some cases equals half the value of the farm. If the Negro raised all his own corn, meat, and vegetables, he would still be able to make progress, but he is dependent for clothes and much of his provisions upon the storekeeper. As he cannot buy with ready money, he mortgages his crop, paying twenty and twenty-five per cent, and in exceptional cases one hundred per cent, interest on the amount of his bill. It matters not that he does not begin to draw his goods for three months after the contract is made; he pays interest just the same on the whole amount from the beginning. Add to this that the Negro is charged in the first instance three or four prices for what he buys, and it can easily be seen that when the crop is all gathered little or nothing of it belongs to him. "I go to Pennsylvania," said a colored farmer, "and can buy sugar for six and a half cents a pound, but in North Carolina it is eleven cents. The merchant is making a vast profit." The colored race has emerged from civil bondage. The next step will be to come out of a bondage which is financial.
To know, therefore, what the colored man is doing for himself we must know the conditions from which he has to rise. These are hard enough, but not beyond the capacity of the Negro to break through them, as is shown in thousands of instances. Thus in Virginia and Kentucky and Tennessee the condition of things is much better than further south, and the colored man, in spite of these obstacles, is rapidly becoming a farmowner and householder. "In North Carolina," said Bishop Moore, "our people are buying land wherever they can get it." Land ranges from ten to fifteen dollars an acre, in some places running as low as eight dollars. The bishop himself has a little farm of thirty-three acres, near Salisbury, that cost thirty-four dollars an acre. "I am so anxious to see my race improve," he said, "that I should like to have a great deal more done, but in view of the small wages we get for labor we are doing pretty well." In Tennessee, experts assured me that the colored people are buying land throughout the country, and the mortgage system does not prevail extensively. As we go south and enter the Black Belt, the conditions vary with the fertility of the soil, the intelligence of the people, and the degree of education. A great difference is sometimes apparent in different counties in the same State. Thus in Lee County, Georgia, the people are largely laborers, working for wages. But in Marion County fifty per cent of the people own homes, and some of them have large plantations. In Sumter and Terrell counties, they likewise live mostly on farms. In the latter county, I was told that in a small city of 10,000 nearly all the colored people own their homes, and live in cabins or houses varying in size from one room to eight. The same difference is seen in Alabama. In Russell County the blacks are much behind those of Pike County, where there are better schools and more freedom from the mortgage system. In Bullock County, much government land has been preempted by the Negroes. In one section of that county the colored people are prosperous, one man of exceptional thrift owning 300 acres, twelve good mules, and four horses, and raising his own meat and potatoes. In Coffee County, the people are just beginning to rent their homes. In Elmore County, many have farms of fifty acres. In Macon County, not much land is owned. In Barbour County, land is mainly rented, but there are many who have stock. In the southern part of Randolph County, about half of the blacks own their land. In one township of Lee County, nearly all the colored people own their homes. At Notasulga, about half the people have farms ranging from twenty-five to one hundred and fifty acres. Here I learned of one prosperous woman farmer, who raises three or four bales of cotton, as well as potatoes, chickens, and cows. In the vicinity of Birmingham, farms are owned ranging from fifty to two hundred acres.
The home-buying that is going on in the agricultural districts is going on also in the cities. In Montgomery, street after street is owned by colored people. In Chattanooga, one third of the colored people own their homes. Suburban lots range in cost from $350 to $400. A cottage costs in the neighborhood of $600 to $650. In Birmingham, colored people pay $10 or $12 a month rent. A number of householders have gardens with two or three acres of land. Some were fortunate enough to purchase land before the prices went up, and have profited by the rise.
The Negro is also venturing as a tradesman. In all the large cities, and even in the smaller towns, in the South, he is hanging out his sign. Two young men have engaged in the grocery business at Tuskegee, Alabama. Their credit is good at the bank, and I was told that they were doing more for their race by their industry and thrift than could be done by any amount of talk. The colored grocers in Birmingham are sharing the prosperity of this thriving city. Near a little place which I visited in the Black Belt, a colored school-teacher, who got his education with hand and brain at Tuskegee, had bought for $225 a lot of land, and established a grocery store. At Tuscaloosa, the livery stable man who drove me owns several horses and carriages, and is doing well. Thus, in whatever direction one goes, he can find Negroes who are rising by force of education and of character. The influence of such schools as Hampton, Atlanta, and Tuskegee is felt all through the South in the stimulus given to industrial occupations. Tuskegee has turned out a number of printers, who have made themselves independent, and get patronage from both white and colored customers. One has a printing office in Montgomery. Another has opened an office in Texas. The growth of journalism and the gradual reduction of illiteracy among the colored people will make a way for many printers. In all the mechanical trades, colored men are finding places as blacksmiths, wheelwrights, masons, bricklayers, carpenters, tinsmiths, harnessmakers, shoemakers, and machinists. In Washington, colored brickmakers are earning from four to five dollars a day. Hod-carriers receive $1.50. A boy trained in the industrial department of Atlanta University has built a schoolhouse in Alabama on contract. This boy can earn $2.50 a day with his hands and tools, and is besides a college graduate.
In slavery times there was no stimulus to Negro inventiveness. Before the war, an application made at the United States Patent Office for a patent for a Negro inventor was denied, on the ground that he was a slave. With industrial education and diversified mechanical pursuits, the Negro brain is becoming adaptive and creative. The records of the United States Patent Office make no distinction between white and colored inventors. It is impossible to furnish statistics, therefore, showing how much the colored man has done in this direction. The chief of the issue division surmises that there may be between five and ten thousand colored patentees, but this estimate has no reliable basis, being derived simply from the casual reports of attorneys in paying their fees. A colored assistant examiner in the Patent Office department has, however, placed at my service a list of some fifty patents taken out by colored people, which show the scope of their inventive genius. In the list of things represented are an improved gridiron, a locomotive smokestack, a cornstalk harvester, a shield for infantry and artillery, a fire extinguisher, a dough kneader, a cotton cultivator, life-preserving apparatus, a furniture caster, a biscuit cutter, a rotary engine, a printing press, a file holder, a window ventilator for railroad cars, an automatic switch for railroads, and a telephone transmitter. The electric inventions are said to have a good deal of merit, and have been assigned to a prominent company. In Birmingham, a colored inventor is making money out of his patent.
With the purchase of homes and the accumulation of property, the colored people are gradually changing their condition of living. It is seen at its worst in the miserable one-room cabins of the country districts, and in the alley population of such cities as Washington and Baltimore. In the Black Belt, the typical home is a rude log cabin, without windows, and with one door and a stick chimney. The door is usually kept open during the day, in fair weather, to admit light, which at night is furnished by a pine knot. Into such cabins a whole family is frequently crowded. In Alabama, I heard of twenty-five persons living in three rooms. The genial climate permits a good deal of outdoor living, and the babies need no sand yards to be made for their benefit. The mother sets them out on the ground, and lets them roll. Bad as the one-room cabin is, it is not so bad as the tenement house in the slums of the great cities. The Negro, too, can rival the Chinaman in practicing economy. Sixty cents a week, spent in pork, meal, and syrup, will keep him well alive. At Athens, Georgia, a colored man testified in court that "a man can live mighty good on thirty-five cents a week."
The social evolution of the Negro can be seen even by the casual observer. A house with a window, even if closed with a shutter, is an improvement over one which has only a door, and a double-room house is an improvement over one with a single room. The influence of new ambition is seen later in the growth of the cabin into a two-story house, and at the dinner table in a more varied bill of fare. At Pensacola, where the wages received for loading vessels are unusually good, the laborer is prosperous, and a colored censor said, deprecatingly: "The live 'most too high as far as eating is concerned; some of them eat as fine food as millionaires." A Methodist bishop told me that in Montgomery $24,000 was spent annually on excursions. The Negro is surely learning how to earn his dollar, but he has not learned how to spend it. He is buying his experience dear. The patent-medicine vender and the sewing-machine peddler draw no distinctions in regard to color, and the black often insists on spending his money as foolishly as his white brother. In one little country cabin stood a wooden clock worth about $1.25, for which a woman had paid $10, giving new sarcasm to the proverb that "time is money." Yet the Negro's knowledge of what a dollar will buy is growing.
New social ambitions are manifest even in the humblest cabins. The illustrated newspaper furnishes decoration for the walls. The old people can admire the pictures, and the younger ones can read the text. The cheap chromo follows, until by and by the evolution of taste produces a house such as one I visited in Washington, in which three beautiful copies of celebrated Madonnas were hanging on the walls. In the cities social development is going on more rapidly, though here we also find greater social degradation. With all their destitution, the people in the country cabins are not tempted by the liquor saloons.
The social progress of the Negro is well illustrated by two historic cities, -- the federal capital at Washington and the former capital of the Confederacy at Montgomery. The casual traveler, who sees the alley districts and the settlements around the railroads, forms no better idea of the social development of the Negro than he does of Northern whites, if he confines his inspection to similar localities. In Montgomery, under the guidance of Dr. Dorsette, a colored physician and a respected citizen, I had an opportunity to see the homes of the colored people at their best. In some of the streets, the whites occupy one side, and the blacks the other. Occasionally the colors alternate, like the squares on a checkerboard. It is not easy externally to tell one from the other. The interiors of these homes, especially of the younger and more progressive people, are comfortably and tastefully furnished. The rooms are as high as those of their white neighbors, well carpeted and papered, while the piano or the cabinet organ suggests loftier musical tastes than that of the plantation banjo. While in most respects the movement or development of the white and colored races runs on parallel lines, in music they seem to be going in opposite directions. Though I traveled all through the South, in urban, suburban, and agricultural districts, from Baltimore to New Orleans, the only banjo I heard was played in Atlanta by a white man. Returning to Boston, one of the first sights which met my eyes was that of a fashionable young lady carrying the instrument the Negro is discarding. I was twice serenaded at Tuskegee, once by a brass band, once by a string band, and I slept well after both performances. In New Orleans, I was astounded at the strange phenomenon of a colored hand-organ grinder. Whether this represents a state of musical development or degeneracy, as compared with the banjo, I will not undertake, in the present state of Northern fascination, to decide. It is estimated that there are from 250 to 300 pianos and cabinet organs in the homes of colored people in Montgomery.
The pride of the colored people in buying these homes and furnishing them is a healthful form of domestic ambition, requiring sacrifice and resolute concentration of purpose. A fine house on a corner lot was shown me which had been bought with the savings of a hackman. Even in the poorer districts it is interesting to note the ambition to improve. "I have seen these houses grow," said the doctor. "There is one in which lives an old woman. She began with one room, then built on another; then finished off one, and now has just finished off the other. It has taken her some time, but she has done it."
Immediately after the war I lived at the national capital. Thousands of destitute blacks from Virginia and further south had settled in the barracks around the city. They owned little more than the clothes on their backs, and most of these had been given to them. The change in these districts is remarkable. Large numbers of people live in their own homes. There is not much squalor outside of the alley population. Even the poorest houses have some comforts and show some endeavor to improve. A similar story may be told of Baltimore.
Standards among the negroes are becoming as varied as among the whites. In some districts I was informed that a colored man had very little standing with his own people unless he had a trade or profession. It is inevitable, too, that cliques and affiliations should be formed, with the advantage and disadvantage which come from such social differentiation. Two aristocracies are appearing in the colored race, -- the aristocracy of culture and the aristocracy of wealth. Fortunately, at present, in the younger generation culture and prosperity are moving together. The colored man's standard of wealth is relatively much smaller than that of the white man. There are no Negro millionaires that I know of; but there is growing up a class of men with fortunes ranging from $15,000 to $100,000. This accumulation has been going on in recent years with increasing rapidity. The colored people in North Carolina are said to have amassed more in the last five years than they did in the twenty years preceding. In most of the States, there are no data from which the amount of taxes paid by the Negroes can be separated from that paid by the whites, or the valuation of their property ascertained. It is one good result of the Fourteenth Amendment that no distinction is made in law between property owned by whites and that owned by blacks. Georgia is the only State in which the comptroller is able to furnish the figures for 1890. The amount of taxes paid by the whites in that State was $1,599,977.75; by the colored people, $48,795.13. The property of whites was assessed at a valuation of $404,287,311; the property of blacks, at a valuation of $12,332,003. The Census Bureau at Washington has the material for making these comparisons in the different States, and as the question is now one of sociology, and not of politics, it is to be hoped that the figures which illustrate the progress of the Negro may be published. The total valuation of Negro property in the South has been given as $150,000,000 or $200,000,000. There are those who maintain that the colored man does not receive full credit for what he is paying. In North Carolina, a daily Democratic paper claimed, about two months ago, that the colored people are paying about three times the tax they are credited with by actual statistics.
There are conspicuous cases of individual prosperity in nearly all the large centres and in the agricultural districts. Thus, in Montgomery, Alabama, a colored barber, originally a slave, has accumulated property amounting to $75,000 or $100,000. An ex-slave in Mississippi has bought one of the plantations that formerly belonged to Jefferson Davis. The colored people of Maryland are said to possess property to the amount of $9,000,000. In Baltimore, there are several colored men worth $15,000 each, three or four worth from $40,000 to $60,000, and the estate of a Negro recently deceased was appraised at $100,000. In Washington, also, colored men have profited by the rise of real estate, and a few are possessed of ample fortunes. These instances might be greatly multiplied from my notes.
The subject of Negro education is vast and absorbing. Among its varied aspects two are of special and correlative interest: first, What is education doing for the Negro; secondly, What is the Negro doing for education? In this paper I can refer only to the latter topic. But these questions cannot be absolutely separated. No man "receives an education" who does not get a good deal of it himself. The student is not so much inert material; he reacts on the forces which impress him. The Negroes are showing their awakened and eager interest in education by the zeal with which they are embracing their opportunities. Everywhere I found in colleges, normal institutes, and district schools fresh, live interest. In some sections, the eagerness of the colored people for knowledge amounts to an absolute thirst. In Alabama, the state superintendent of education, a former Confederate major, assured me that the colored people in that State are more interested in education than the whites are. Nothing shows better this zeal for education than the sacrifices made to secure it. President Bumstead, of Atlanta University, asks, "Where in the history of the world have so large a mass of equally poor and unlettered people done so much to help themselves in educational work?" This challenge will long remain unanswered. The students of Atlanta University pay thirty-four per cent of the expenses of that institution. A letter from the treasurer of Harvard College informs me that about the same proportion of its expenses is paid from tuition fees. If we compare the wealth represented by the students of Harvard with that represented by the colored students of Atlanta, we shall find how large a sacrifice the latter are making in order to do so much. It must be remembered, also, that at Harvard tuition fees and other expenses are mostly paid by parents and guardians; at Atlanta they are paid by the students themselves, and to a large degree by personal labor. President Bumstead calculates that for every million dollars contributed by the North at least a half million is contributed by the colored people for educational purposes. Though it is difficult to get the material for such large and general totals, it is easy to furnish a vast number of facts illustrating the truth that in the very process of getting his education the Negro is learning the lesson of self-help. Among the denominational colleges, the Livingston Institute at Salisbury, North Carolina, is a good illustration of this capacity for self-help. It receives no state aid. The colored people of the Zion Methodist Episcopal church give $8000 towards the support of this school. The students give towards their own support not less than $6000 more. The president, Dr. Price, one of the ablest colored orators of the South, is a conspicuous example of what the colored man can do for himself.
Another remarkable illustration is furnished by the Tuskegee Normal School. This institution was started in 1881 by a Hampton graduate, Mr. Booker T. Washington, on a state appropriation of $2000. It has grown from 30 pupils to 450, with 31 teachers. During the last year 200 applicants had to be turned away for want of room. Fourteen hundred acres of land and fourteen school buildings form a part of the equipment. While friends of education, North and South, have generously helped its growth, the success of the school is due largely to the executive ability of Mr. Washington and his officers. General Armstrong says, "I think it is the noblest and grandest work of any colored man in the land." All the teachers are colored. Of the fourteen school buildings, eight have been erected, in whole or in part, by the students. The school is broadly unsectarian. It is teaching the colored people the dignity of labor and how to get out of debt. It is an agricultural and industrial school combined. Its stimulating and renovating influence is felt all through the Black Belt.
One of the most important results of the excellent work done by Hampton, Atlanta, and Tuskegee is seen in the radiating influence they exert through the country in stimulating primary education. In most of the communities of the lower Southern States, the money derived from local taxation is not sufficient to keep the school more than three months in the year, and the pay of teachers is poor. The interest of these communities is so quickened by a good teacher that the people raise money to extend the school time and supplement the pay of the teacher. A few examples taken from many will illustrate. In one district in Alabama, the school time was thus extended by private subscription from three months to seven. In Coffee County, the teacher's salary was increased from ten to twenty-five dollars a month. In many cases the raising of this extra sum means a good deal of self-denial. As the State makes no appropriation for school-houses, most of the schools in the Black Belt are held in churches, which gives rise to sectarian jealousy and disturbance. To overcome these difficulties and build school-houses, additional sacrifice is required. In a district of Butler County, Alabama, the children formed a "one cent society." They brought to the teacher a penny a day. About thirty dollars was raised to buy land, and the school-teacher, a colored girl, helped to clear it and burn the brush. In one township, where the school fund is sufficient for seven or nine months, the teachers are paid thirty-five dollars a month. In Lee County, the people "supplement" for an assistant teacher. One district school which I visited, eighteen miles from Tuskegee, taught by a graduate of its institute, well illustrated the advantage of industrial education. Having learned the carpenter's trade at the normal school, he was able, with the help of his pupils, to build a fine new school-house. The girls often do better than the men. One, who teaches about twenty-five miles from Tuskegee, has now a good two-story school building with four rooms. She has two assistant teachers, who live with her in the building. She has revolutionized that section of the country. A Hampton student whom I met once applied for a school in his district, as he wished to learn to read and write. He was told that there was not a sufficient number of children. Then he offered to give a school building, if the town would furnish a teacher. With the aid of his father he carried out the plan, and established a good school. Samuel Smiles might easily make a library of books on Self-Help out of thousands of individual examples furnished by the colored people.
The interest in education is seen also in the self-denial and sacrifice which parents make to keep their children at school. This sacrifice falls chiefly on the mothers. A student told me that two thirds of the younger scholars at Tuskegee were sent by their mothers. Very often the mother is a widow. She may get twenty dollars a month, or eight, or only four, for her labor. Out of this small sum she sends to college and clothes her boy or girl. "I know mothers," said a student, "who get three dollars a month, and out of that pay one dollar for the rent, and yet send their children to school." To do this they will wash all day and half the night. Said a colored clergyman in Chattanooga: "Sometimes, when I go about and see how hard many of these mothers work, I feel almost inclined to say, 'You ought to keep your child at home;' but they hold on with wonderful persistence. Two girls graduated from Atlanta University. Their mother had been washing several years to keep them in school. She came up to see them graduate. She was one of the happiest mothers I ever saw." At Selma University, some of the students walk from ten to fifteen miles a day in going to and from the university.
There is one education which the children get; there is another which they give to their parents. The influence of the normal school reacts on the home life. The boys and girls at Hampton and Tuskegee are taught to keep house. They are not satisfied to live in the old way, when they go home. "I have seen," says Professor Washington, "the influence of the daughter so potent, when she got home, that the father has torn down the old house, and built another and better one."
The result of higher education is seen in the rise of a professional class. I remember the time when a colored doctor was a curiosity even in Washington; but colored physicians, lawyers, journalists, college professors, dentists, educated clergymen, and teachers are now to be found in all the large cities of the South. In Montgomery, Dr. Dorsette has built up a thriving practice. He has erected a three-story brick building, on the lower floor of which are two stores, one of them a large and well-equipped drug store. A hall above is used for the accommodation of colored societies. In Birmingham, there are two practicing physicians, one dentist, and one lawyer. At Selma, the practicing physician is a graduate of the university. There is also a pharmacist, owning his drug store, who studied at Howard University. There are six colored lawyers and seven colored physicians in Baltimore. The professional men command the confidence and support of their own people.
Journalism is growing slowly. There are now about fifty-five well established Negro newspapers and journals. Thirty-seven are in the Southern States; seven are monthlies and two are semi-monthlies. The aggregate weekly circulation of all is about 805,000 copies. There are other ephemeral journals, not included in this list. The largest circulation, 15,000, is claimed for the Indianapolis Freeman.
The colored people are determined to have their churches, and they subscribe, in proportion to their means, large sums to sustain them. Last year the Zion Methodist Episcopal church in North Carolina raised $84,000 to support its religious institutions. This amount represents but one State and but one denomination. The churches built reflect fairly the social standard of the people. In the comparatively new city of Birmingham, there are seven comfortable colored churches, ranging in cost from $2000 to $15,000. In Washington, two churches cost nearly $30,000 each, and the money has been raised almost exclusively by the colored people. In Baltimore, there are forty-four colored churches, holding a large amount of property. The old-time preacher still fills the pulpit in many communities, and the old slaves are loath to give up the hysteric emotionalism of revival preaching. The younger and progressive Negroes are breaking away from it, and demanding preachers whose intelligence and education secure respect. They are giving up, too, the old slave melodies. Modern Protestant hymnology is substituted. The universities and theological schools are meeting the demand for better preachers. The colored people are also ambitious to pay their preachers as much as the whites pay theirs. In Montgomery, one colored preacher has a salary of $1200 a year with a parsonage. In another city in Alabama, $1800 is paid.
The standard of morality is rising, also. There is more respect for property now that the Negro is learning what mine and thine mean. An eminent judge of Louisiana assured me that intoxication among the colored people is the principal cause of crime, but that crime does not exist to the same extent that it formerly did. Marriage, he said, had changed largely the condition of their society. The Negroes are seeking to make this a matter of importance, so that their rights of property may be respected. The temperance movement makes headway. In Methodist conferences in North Carolina, and possibly elsewhere, no one is admitted to the ministry who uses liquor or tobacco.
The colored people do more towards taking care of their unfortunate classes than is generally realized. With all the destitution that exists, there is almost no mendicancy. When one considers how much is done in the North for hospitals, homes, and institutions of every sort, and how little in the South, it is apparent that aid must come from some other quarter. The colored orphan asylum established by Mrs. Steele in Chattanooga is, I am told, the only Protestant colored orphan asylum south of Washington. What, then, becomes of orphan children? They are adopted. I have met such children in many homes, and their love and respect for their foster parents refute the charge that the Negro is incapable of gratitude. Thus the colored people have instinctively and of necessity adopted the placing-out system for orphans, which, other things being equal, is the best disposition that can be made of them.
In other respects the colored people have developed a laudable disposition to take care of their own poor. In addition to the Odd Fellows, Masons, and Knights of Pythias, benevolent and fraternal organizations are multiplying. The city churches are feeling a new impulse to such work. Brotherhoods, Good Samaritan societies, and mutual benefit organizations are established. Members of these organizations are allowed a regular stipend when sick. In New Orleans, the colored people have started a widows' home, and have collected enough money to buy a piece of ground and to put up a respectable building. In Montgomery, I visited the Hale Infirmary, founded by the late Joseph Hale and his wife, leading colored citizens. It is a large two-story building, especially designed by the son-in-law of the founder for hospital purposes. Such gifts and such organizations show that there is a disposition among the colored people to adopt the practices of a higher order of society. It is charged that the Negro imitates the vices of the white; it is often overlooked that he also imitates his virtues. A good illustration of practical Christianity was given by the Young Men's Christian Association at Tuskegee, in building, last year, a little house for an old colored woman. A colored teacher paid the cost of the lumber, and the young men gave the labor. They are planning more work of this kind. One interesting case of Negro generosity shows the reverses of fortune which followed emancipation. An ex-slave in Louisiana bought a farm, paid for it, and became prosperous. Not long after his old master came to him in a state of destitution. The Negro took him in, kept him for a week, and gave him a suit of clothes on his departure.
Under slavery the Negroes were not organized, except in churches. The organic spirit must have time for growth. Cooperation has made no great headway. In various States and counties the Farmers' Alliance is attracting attention, many of the Negroes hoping to find relief through it from the bondage of the mortgage system. Small stock companies for various purposes exist in a number of cities. A little has been done in the way of building associations. There is one at Atlanta, with branches and local boards elsewhere; others at Tuskegee, Montgomery, Selma, Baltimore, and Washington. In Baltimore there are three or four such associations, but the German organizations, managed by white people, have had much more of their patronage. A daily paper of Charlotte, North Carolina, in speaking of the loan associations there, said that the colored shareholders were outstripping the white. It was noticeable that they paid more promptly. A penny savings bank, chartered under state law, was organized at Chattanooga about ten months ago. It has already one thousand depositors, the amounts ranging from two cents to one thousand dollars. The white as well as the colored children are being educated to save by this bank. In Birmingham, a similar institution was opened last October, and has about three thousand depositors. A school savings bank or postal savings bank system, as recommended by the Mohonk Negro conference, would be of great benefit to the colored people.
A full report of what the colored man is doing for himself within the old slave States can be given only when the census reports are elaborated, or when such a thorough record of his progress is made in every State as Dr. Jeffrey A. Brackett has made for the State of Maryland. All that has been attempted in this article is to give such indications and evidence as can readily be obtained by one who travels through the South, on this mission, with his eyes and ears open.
To sum up, then, the facts which show what the Negro is doing for himself, it is clear that the new generation of Afric-Americans is animated by a progressive spirit. They are raising and following their own leaders. They are rapidly copying the organic, industrial, and administrative features of white society. They have discovered that industrial redemption is not to be found in legislative and political measures. In spite of oppressive usury and extortion, the colored man is buying farms, building homes, accumulating property, establishing himself in trade, learning the mechanic arts, devising inventions, and entering the professions. Education he sees to be the pathway to prosperity, and is making immense sacrifices to secure it. He is passing into the higher stages of social evolution. In religion the "old-timer" is giving way to the educated preacher. Religion is becoming more ethical. The colored people are doing much to take care of their own unfortunate classes. The cooperative spirit is slowly spreading through trades unions, building associations, and benevolent guilds. In no way is the colored man doing more for himself than by silently and steadily developing a sense of self-respect, new capacity for self-support, and a pride in his race, which more than anything else secure for him the respect and fraternal feeling of his white neighbors.