Browsing "Aftermath: Racial Conundrums"

Controlling Elections in a Businesslike Manner

The political campaign of 1872 saw Grant win the presidency again though the corruption and scandals of his administration like Credit Mobilier would not surface until after his reelection. His opponent, Northern newspaperman Horace Greeley, was outspoken against the black vote being manipulated by Grant’s party, stating that “they are an easy, worthless race, taking no thought of the morrow.” He thought the freedmen no longer deserved government support, his harsh injunction being “root, hog, or die.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Controlling Elections in a Businesslike Manner

“In the summer of 1872 . . . my immediate recreation was the heated political campaign which was then in full swing . . . the Republicans had put forward their contention along the most radical lines. A black Negro man had practically dictated the platform, claiming complete civil and social rights; endorsing [scalawag Governor W.W.] Holden, who had been removed by impeachment from his governorship; and injecting various “isms” which had been imported by the carpet-bag elements.

The most distinguished of the deserters from Democracy, Samuel L. Phillips, had begun the campaign with the opening sentence, “Hitherto, I have not been a Republican.”

The Democrats . . . had named for governor Judge Merrimon, from the mountain country and a life-long rival of Governor [Zebulon] Vance, a representative of the Union and war sentiment. In those days there was no place for a Democrat on the Democratic ticket.

Judge Merrimon was a ponderous person, addicted to the Websterian style of garment and the Websterian habit of four-hour speeches. Vance had declined the nomination.

The national features of this election were historically and dramatically set. As North Carolina voted in August, it led the procession . . . The Negroes voted for the first time for a president and were drilled [by Republicans] to vote early and often. The presidential contest was between the regular Republican party, supporting Grant, and the Liberal Republicans, whose candidate, Horace Greeley, had been endorsed by the Democrats.

Fred Douglas, the Negro orator, was sent into the denser populations of colored people in the eastern counties. He spoke before a multitude in Warrenton. His racial instinct to magnify himself and display his superiority made him speak along lines that were so much metaphysics to the audience. They had come to hear paeans of praise for [Republican] officeholders and denunciation of the old masters, with jests broad enough to get over the platform.

John Hyman, a colored barkeeper and later successful candidate for Congress, had placed on the speaker’s table a glass of sherry for Fred Douglas’s refreshment. Douglas sipped it between perorations, explaining it to his audience that it was not liquor, but sherry wine; and that while it might have been worse, it puzzled him to see how.

This gave great offense. His hearers did not believe him; and John Hyman, who had donated the wine, remarked that “Mr. Douglas’s manners – what he has – may be good enough for his northern friends but they don’t set well with folks who know what manners is.”

The regular Republicans followed the military tactics of Grant, their leader, and they sat down to the task of carrying the State in a thoroughly businesslike manner. The Federal courts were prostituted to their purpose and issues thousands of orders for arrest for Democrats who were accused of belonging to the Ku Klux.

A quarter of a million dollars was spent on tipstaffs and underlings connected with the courts. Every branch of the Government was called upon to furnish its quota of force. The Congress had passed bills promising social equality to the black; every State had a garrison of [Northern] troops placed conveniently to suppress any outbreak which should be kindled by political provocation.

The idea of allowing the possession of the Government to pass out of the [Grant Republican] party’s hands was not tolerated [and] . . . The result of the election was foregone.”

(Southern Exposure, Peter Mitchel Wilson, UNC Press, 1927, pp. 83-87)

 

Blackout of Honest Government

Even Northerners saw the ill-effects of a vindictive postwar Reconstruction which reduced a free people to bondage and political despotism. It appears that Northern army commanders also felt remorse at what they had wrought in the destruction of the American South. A minority report of a Congressional committee declared that “History, till now, gives no account of a conqueror so cruel as to place his vanquished foes under the domination of their former slaves. That was reserved for the radical [Republican] rulers in this great Republic.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Blackout of Honest Government

“Psychologically and in every other respect the Negroes were fearfully unprepared to occupy positions of ruler-ship. Race and color came to mean more to them than any other consideration, whether of honest government, of justice to the individual, or even of ultimate protection of their own rights.

Negroes on juries let color blind them, and the rejected the wisest counsel, Northern and Southern, against banding together politically, instead of dividing on issues and policies of government . . . but Negroes proscribed their own race if any voted Democratic — their preachers excommunicating them, their womenfolk bringing all their feminine powers to play against them, and Loyal Leagues intimidating and doing violence to them.

Their idea of the new order was “De bottom rail’s on de top, An we’s gwine to keep it dar.”

Carpetbaggers were as little desirous of promoting Negroes into high office in the South as their Northern colleagues were in their States; and Scalawags, actuated by racial antipathies more than Carpetbaggers, objected to Negroes holding any offices. Both were quite desirous that Negroes vote – but not for Negroes.

A Georgia Negro wrote [Massachusetts Senator] Charles Sumner [in 1869] that there was no other place in the Union where there were so “many miserable hungry unscrupulous politicians . . . and if they could prevent it no colored man would ever occupy any office of profit or trust.” Even so, Negroes frequently held offices far beyond their capacity to administer them.

Radical leaders imposed their views on the Negroes . . . [the Dalton Georgia Citizen wrote on 10 September 1868 that] ”every man knows that the Republican party, under the lead of God, President Lincoln and General Grant, freed the whole colored race from slavery; and every man knows anything, believes that the Democratic party will, if they can, make them slaves again.”

A Carpetbagger characterized Henry M. Turner, preacher, politician and [who] presided at many Negro conventions, as a “licentious robber and counterfeiter, a vulgar blackguard, a sacreligous profaner of God’s name, and a most consummate hypocrite. Yet the Negroes elected him to the Georgia legislature — if he had received his deserts, he would have gone to the penitentiary; he was a thief and a scoundrel, and yet they voted for him.”

“If the colored people have not the elements of morality among them sufficiently to cry down on such shameless characters, they should not expect to command the respect of decent people anywhere.”

General William S. Rosecrans, amidst a [postwar] Confederate atmosphere at White Sulphur Springs, asked General Lee, in writing, whether he thought the South must in reality be ruled by “the poor, simple, uneducated, landless freedmen” under the corrupt leadership of whites still worse. Lee and thirty-one other prominent Southerners signed an answer declaring their opposition, basing it on no enmity toward the freedmen, “but from a deep-seated conviction that at present the Negroes have neither the intelligence nor other qualifications which are necessary to make them depositories of political power.”

As for Federal commanders, Rosecrans, Sherman, George H. Thomas, George G. Meade, Winfield S. Hancock, George B. McClellan, Don Carlos Buell, Henry W. Slocum, John A. McClernand, William S. Franklin and others either were silently ashamed or expressed their abhorrence of what was going on. The editor of Scribner’s Monthly saw Southerners in despair and he blamed the Federal government: “They feel that they were wronged, that they have no future, and they cannot protect themselves, and that nothing but death or voluntary exile will give them relief.”

The editor of The Nation by 1870 had come to view the South with a different light from that of 1865. In the South the people had forgotten “that in free countries men live for more objects than the simple one of keeping robbers’ hands off the earnings of the citizen.” There people were worse off than they were in any South American republic; for in the latter place tyrants could be turned out through the right of revolution, but the South with the army on its back could no longer resort to this ancient remedy.

Southerners must continue to suffer enormities “which the Czar would not venture toward Poland, or the British Empire toward the Sautals of the Indian jungle.” The North with all its charities had done less good than the Carpetbaggers had done harm.

[Carl] Schurz had learned much since his first visit to the South in 1865. He saw fearful acts perpetrated against the South, all in the name of patriotism, and particularly in Louisiana, “a usurpation such as this country has never seen, and probably no citizen of the United States has ever dreamed of.”

(History of the South, Volume VIII: The South During Reconstruction, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1947, (142-146; 160-161)

Scarcity of Black Democrats in North Carolina

New York’s Tammany Hall was notorious for herding recent immigrants to the polls to vote for selected candidates and the selected party. Northern Republicans saw the future of their political hegemony in the South in the freedmen, who were informed that their white neighbors would re-enslave them should blacks vote Democratic. The Klan was formed to counter the infamous Union League of the Republicans, whish taught Southern blacks to hate Sothern whites.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Scarcity of Black Democrats in North Carolina

“Very few whites voted the Republican ticket [in North Carolina]. The notable exception was the Lewellen connection, a large clan of Welsh extraction, substantial farmers dwelling to the east of town. On election day they were apt to steal the show from the Negroes. They were not so loud and “biggetty,” but they were dangerous as fighters, especially when they had liquor aboard. They were known as clannish; anyone who got into a fight with one of them soon found the whole pack on his back.

In this election my father was defeated for justice of the peace, the only office he ever consented to run for, by a coal-black Negro shoemaker; let it be added, however, that this Negro had intelligence and character. I knew him in later years and always respected him. I was sorry for him when his thieving brother was convicted of burning our smokehouse, sent to the chain-gang, and later shot to death by a guard when he tried to escape.

There were only three Negro Democrats in this voting district. Any Negro who was for any reason inclined to vote the Democratic ticket was looked down upon by his race and often threatened with bodily harm. Henry Ward was one of these. In his pocket he carried an ugly knife, threatening to cut to pieces anybody who interfered with his voting. He belonged to the unterrified Democracy. Later he was hanged for burglary.

Another Negro Democrat was Lewis Merritt, a rather handsome buck who worked as a farm hand during the week and dressed up in good taste on Saturday and came to town. He did not drink. He was quiet, poised, and had an air about him. It was whispered around that he carried a revolver. The other Negroes talked darkly about him behind his back but never to his face.

The third man, Candy Parton, voted the Democratic ticket by suggestion. Tall, lanky, old and fragile, he was the body servant of Dr. Frank Smith, a colorful survivor of what the historical writers of today call the slaveholding aristocracy. When he appeared on election day, he was always dressed for the part: high hat, frock coat, flowered waistcoat, and gold-headed cane, chin whiskers like Uncle Sam’s.

He planted himself before the voting window, legs wide apart….”Candy, go up to that window and vote,” he said with emphasis, as he scowled at a group of Negroes who seemed inclined to crowd in on Candy. The old darkey shuffled up to the polls and voted, looking as if he were not quite sure he could go through with it, but Dr. Smith never had a doubt. There stood the Old South.”

(Son of Carolina, Augustus White Long, Duke University Press, 1939, pp. 30-32)

Emancipation the Work of a Monarch

Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation was not original and copied Lord Dunmore’s edict freeing slaves in 1775 Virginia for the purpose of arming slaves and inciting the murder of colonial Americans. British Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane did the same on April 2, 1814, proclaiming all slaves freed in order to cripple the American colonists war effort.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Emancipation the Work of a Monarch

“The Emancipation Proclamation, an incredible act, must be laid wholly to Lincoln and the small group of fanatical Abolitionists and radicals whose hatred of the South and of Southern people seems to have known no bounds. It disgusted the majority of Northern citizens and was out of favor even with the troops who were fighting Lincoln’s war at the hearthstones of the South.

It was characterized in Northern thought as the act of “an absolute, irresponsible monarch.” Justice Curtis of the United States Supreme Court, who had dissented in the Dred Scott case, publicly called it an unconstitutional act issued without legal right by the President. North and West it was denounced. In a speech against conscription and arbitrary arrests, Governor Horatio Seymour of New York declared it a “proposal for the butchery of women and children, for arson and murder, for lust and rapine.”

Truly it could not have emanated from a “great” man. Governor Seymour reminded Lincoln that the war was supposedly being fought solely to suppress “rebellion,” not to change the social system of the United States. [President] Jefferson Davis thought: “Our own detestation of those who have attempted the most execrable measure recorded in the history of guilty man, is tempered by profound contempt for the impotent rage it discloses.”

What Abraham Lincoln stood for, what Jefferson Davis stood for, culminated in a terrible civil war, an Emancipation, a “Reconstruction,” and three unconstitutional so-called amendments forced upon the Constitution and upon the American people along with an exasperating race problem – all be perversion of the form of government; by dictatorship and armed might, lawless and utterly ruthless, bringing ruin and desolation to half the country of that day, initiated by “reformers” and intermeddlers. These are blunt facts, some never before openly stated and faced, in our history.”

(The Constitutions of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, A Historical and Biographical Study in Contrasts, Russell Hoover Quynn, Exposition Press, 1959, page 21)

Civil Rights and States' Rights

Regarding the unfortunate 1954 Brown vs. BOE decision by the activist Supreme Court, Barry Goldwater saw the Court guided not by the ideas of the men who wrote the Constitution, “but engrafted its own views onto the established law of the land.” By legislating from the bench, they usurped the power of the Legislative branch and should have been impeached.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Civil Rights and States’ Rights

“An attempt has been made in recent years to disparage the principle of State’ Rights by equating it with defense of the South’s position on racial integration. I have already indicated that the reach of States’ Rights is much broader than that – that it affects Northerners as well as Southerners, and concerns many matters that have nothing to do with the race question.

[The] country is now in the grips of a spirited and sometimes ugly controversy over an imagined conflict between States’ Rights, on the one hand, and what are called “civil rights” on the other.

I say an imagined conflict because I deny that there can be a conflict between States’ Rights, properly defined – and civil rights, properly defined. If States’ “Rights” are so asserted as to encroach upon individual rights that are protected by valid federal laws, then the exercise of State power is a nullity. Conversely, if individual “rights” are so asserted as to infringe upon valid State power, then the assertion of those “rights” is a nullity.

The rights themselves do not clash. The conflict arises from a failure to define the two categories of rights correctly, and to assert them lawfully.

States’ Rights are easy enough to define. The Tenth Amendment does it succinctly: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Civil rights should be no harder. In fact, however – thanks to extravagant and shameless misuse by people who ought to know better – it is one of the most badly understood concepts in modern political usage. Civil rights is frequently used synonymously with “human rights” – or with “natural rights.”

As often as not, it is simply a name for describing an activity that someone deems politically or socially desirable. A sociologist writes a paper proposing to abolish some inequity, or a politician makes a speech about it – and, behold, a new “civil right” is born! The Supreme Court has displayed the same creative powers.

A civil right is a right that is asserted and is therefore protected by some valid law. It may be asserted by the common law, or by local or federal statutes, or by the Constitution; but unless a right is incorporated in the law, it is not a civil right and is not enforceable by the instruments of the civil law.

There may be some rights – “natural,” “human,” or otherwise – that should also by civil rights. But if we desire to give such rights the protection of the law, our recourse is to a legislature or to the amendment procedures of the Constitution. We must not look to politicians, or sociologists – or the courts – to correct the deficiency.

[The] federal Constitution does not require the States to maintain racially mixed schools. Despite the recent holding of the Supreme Court, I am firmly convinced – not only that integrated schools are not required – but that the Constitution does not permit any interference whatsoever by the federal government in the field of education.

It may be wise or expedient for Negro children to attend the same schools as white children, but they do not have a civil right to do so which is protected by the federal Constitution, or which is enforceable by the federal government. The intentions of the founding fathers in this matter are beyond any doubt: no powers regarding education were given to the federal government.”

(The Conscience of a Conservative, Barry Goldwater, Victor Publishing Company, 1960, pp. 31-34)

The Postwar Radical Inquisition

To destroy President Andrew Johnson’s postwar program, the Joint Committee on Reconstruction was established by Congress in early December 1865, chaired by the sinister and vindictive Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania who made no secret of his aim to firmly plant Republican political control in the South, which he considered conquered territory. General Robert E. Lee was interrogated for two hours by the Committee on 17 February 1866.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

The Postwar Radical Inquisition:

“[Radical Republican] Senator Jacob M. Howard [of Michigan] resumed his questions . . . “While you were in command at Richmond, did you know of the cruelties practiced toward the union prisoners at Libby Prison and Belle Isle?”

[Lee answered] “I never knew that any cruelty was practiced, and I have no reason to believe that it was practiced. I can believe, and have reasons to believe, that privations may have been experienced among the prisoners. I know that provisions and shelter could not be provided for them.”

[Howard] “Were you not aware that men were dying from cold and starvation?”

Aware? Was I aware? The questions must have bitten like strong acid. In those vivid and unspoken images that crowded through Lee’s mind that moment and on other days, what did he see, what did he feel? The historian cannot rightly draw upon reverie; but to think that the real marrow of the hearing got into the stenographer’s notes is to be more naïve than one might want to be.

When the opportunity arose, Lee said quietly, “I had no control over the prisoners, once they had been sent to Richmond. I never gave an order about it . . . No report was ever made to me about them. There was no call for any to be made to me. Prisoners suffered from the want of ability on the part of the Confederate States to supply their wants. As far as I could, I did everything in my power to relieve them, and urged the formation of a cartel.

Pushed further, Lee told of specific proposals made to Grant, and of the work of his Christian Committee. “Orders were that the whole field should be treated alike . . . We took in Federal wounded as well as ours on every field.”

Weeks later the Joint Report of the Committee would lash out at the South . . . “The Rebels heaped every imaginable insult and injury upon our nation . . . They fought for four years with the most determined and malignant spirit . . . and are today unrepentant and unpardoned.” [The editor of the Lexington, Virginia Gazette wrote that the] “devilish iniquity and malignant wickedness” of the Committee’s report he found “so monstrous that no Southern man can read it without invoking the righteous indignation of heaven.” How long was the South to suffer from such wretched injustice and perfidy?

Signs of rebellion began to crop up again. Confederate flags were peddled openly in a dozen cities and were called “sacred souvenirs” by Alabama Governor Parsons. “Stonewall Jackson” soup” and “Confederate hash” appeared on hotel menus. In Richmond, a magazine called The Land We Love began to glorify the “Lost Cause.”

Open conflicts between racial groups spread. Three days of rioting in Memphis, beginning on April 30, left forty-six Negroes dead and scores of homes, churches and schools burned. Summer riots in New Orleans saw sensational and unsavory actions go unchecked. Murder degenerated into massacre. “The hands of the rebel are again red with loyal blood,” proclaimed the New York Tribune.”

(Lee After the War, The Greatest Period in the Life of a Great American, Marshall W. Fishwick, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1963, excerpts, pp. 122-126)

Northern Recruiting Efforts in Florida

The number of black troops in Northern forces numbered about 186,000 with many attracted by cash bonuses like many Canadian blacks were, conscripted, threatened with bodily harm should they refuse enlistment, or simply impressed. Disease caused the death of some 68,000 black troops; less than 2800 black soldiers died in combat.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Northern Recruiting Efforts in Florida

“[Confederate Brigadier-General Joseph] Finegan’s estimate of the emergency was made clear in a proclamation he circulated throughout East Florida informing the people that:

“ . . . our unscrupulous enemy has landed a large force of Negroes, under command of white officers, at Jacksonville, under cover of gunboats. He is attempting to fortify the place as to make it secure against attacks. The purpose of this movement is obvious and need not be mentioned in direct terms. I therefore call on such of the citizens as can possibly leave their homes to arm and organize themselves into companies without delay and to report to me. Ammunition, subsistence, and transportation will be furnished then while they remain in service.

With the blessing of the Almighty, the zealous support of the people and the government, I doubt not that the detestable foe will soon be driven from their cover.”

On March 16, after fighting an exhausting series of skirmishes with Yankee troops, [Winston] Stephens wrote to warn his wife of the black troops in Jacksonville, and of the grave danger that Yankee raiders might come upriver to Welaka. “Get the slaves ready to run to the woods on a moment’s notice,” he wrote his wife, adding that “the Negroes in arms will promise them fair prospects, but they will suffer the same fate those did in town that we killed, and the Yankees say they will hang them if they don’t fight.”

(Jacksonville’s Ordeal by Fire, Martin & Schafer, Florida Publishing Company, 1984, page 145)

New Masters from New England

The Northern abolitionists and the African slave met for the first time at Beaufort, South Carolina, and the former came face to face with what Jefferson Davis earlier pondered regarding what to do with the emancipated slave. The planters warned their hands “that the Yankees would treat them as slaves and sell them to Cuba,” a prediction that nearly became true.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

New Masters from New England

“The revolution began with considerable destruction of property. The Negroes on many plantations . . . broke the cotton gins [and] in other cases they began looting their master’s houses and furniture, and activity which the federal soldiers took up enthusiastically . . .

The [Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase’s] correspondence during the months following the fall of Port Royal showed him that the government would gain the support of an ever-increasing segment of the public through sterner war measures: “Wagons, cattle, Horses, Provisions, Negroes not excepted, in short everything useful to our army ought to be appropriated . . . advised one correspondent, who sharply criticized the government for looking “more to a peace through compromise, than to a . . . . victory of arms.”

Certainly [President Lincoln’s] cautious treatment of the issue in his message to Congress offered little encouragement. He threw the problem of defining the new status of the Negroes at Port Royal and others in their situation into the lap of Congress, and then asked that provisions be made to colonize the liberated Negroes “in a climate congenial to them.” Small wonder it was that Chase turned his first attention to contraband cotton rather than to contraband Negroes.

The rapid change in their status was not working to the advantage of many Sea Island Negroes . . . as the [Northern] army had made free use of plantation food stores, leaving many in the slave communities with little to eat. Commodore DuPont reported than numbers of the nearly ten thousand Negroes on the islands were by late winter “almost starving and some naked or nearly so . . .

Having no place to turn, they flocked to the neighborhood of the army camps [where] they were as often treated badly as offered employment and help. The New York Tribune’s correspondent reported that one enterprising and unscrupulous [Northern] officer was caught in the act of assembling a cargo of Negroes for transportation and sale in Cuba, thus giving one example of to bolster the late slave-masters’ prediction.

Something had to be done. If the land should lie fallow and the Negroes idle for long past the middle of February, there would be no cotton in 1862, and the Negroes would have to be supported by the government or charity, thus giving the opponents of emancipation a very good argument.

[Some saw in the Northern oversight of continued cotton production] arrangements the outlines of a typical graft opportunity, to achieve its classic form in the “company store” of a later day . . . and it was “of the utmost importance” that [the Negroes] should be kept busy “at the work which they have been accustomed to do . . . “

[One Northern agent] reported that the Sea Island Negroes knew all the steps involved in the cotton culture and that the great majority of them were ready to work, “with proper inducements.” They needed the help and protection of white men, however, in [his] opinion, and a good system of management. The Negroes were no longer slaves . . . Although they were “as yet in large numbers unprepared for the full privileges of citizens . . . “

(Rehearsal for Reconstruction, The Port Royal Experiment, Willie Lee Rose, Vintage Books, 1964, excerpts, pp. 16; 18-25; 29)

 

Kindness Toward the Colored People of the South

Walter Clark rose from a sixteen year-old North Carolina soldier in Lee’s army who saw the fields of Second Manassas to Bentonville, where he ended the war as a major, to Chief Justice of North Carolina’s Supreme Court. His kind feelings toward those he found less fortunate than him were typical of the South’s leadership, and a high example for others to follow.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Kindness Toward the Colored People of the South:

“Born in a slave-owning home, Clark was taught always to treat the Negroes kindly and to care for them rather than abuse them, as unfortunately some masters did. This attitude he consistently maintained through life. When, in the army, Neverson, the Negro boy who faithfully attended him as a bodyguard, went with him to the line of battle, he would sent the boy back with their horse so that he would be personally out of danger; together they shared their scanty meals, and together they endured war’s hardships as true companions.

As late as 1919, Dr. James E. Shepard, a prominent North Carolina educator and president of the North Carolina College for Negroes at Durham, wrote Clark a letter of appreciation for the services he had rendered the Negroes and for his consistent justice in dealing with them. In reply Clark wrote:

“I have been the employer of colored labor ever since I became of age. I know them well and I have never received anything but kindness at their hands. I have the kindest feeling for the race and have seen the difficulties which surround their efforts to rise to better things. In my judgment, the best remedy for the situation the colored people find themselves is . . . extending the education as far as possible to all your people, impress upon them sobriety, self-control under what at times may be aggravating circumstances, the acquirement of property by industry and thrift, and the attainment, by their personal conduct, of the respect of white people.

Avoid giving this a setback by the intemperate utterances, especially by the young people of your race who are impatient at what they deem continued injustice. Most often this matter is due to the language used by office-seekers, who appeal to and excite race prejudice for their personal ends. I am sure that the vast majority of the white people of North Carolina wish to do equal and exact justice to the colored race, and their number is increasing with the proofs which the colored people are giving that they are better educated and are attaining a higher standard of morality and right living.”

(Walter Clark, Fighting Judge, Aubrey Lee Brooks, UNC Press, 1944, pp. 175-176)

Aristocrats of Color in the NAACP

Early NAACP organizer WEB DuBois was descended from African, Dutch and French ancestry, and an early example of affirmative action as Northern white liberals had paid for his education. Considering himself well-born and disdaining work, he said “I cordially despised the poor Irish and South Germans who slaved in the mills, and annexed the rich and well-to-do as my natural companions.” Booker T. Washington is remembered for encouraging black people to gain respect through work hard and earning it; DuBois counseled racial agitation and confrontation to demand respect from others.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Aristocrats of Color in the NAACP:

“The role of aristocrats of color in the affairs of the NAACP was sufficient to allow some critics, especially some identified with Washington . . . to characterize it as a self-serving, elitist organization. The Bookerite “Atlanta Independent” continually heaped ridicule on WEB DuBois and the NAACP, which it characterized as Dubois’s “exclusive bunch.”

Hubert H. Harrison, a Virgin Islander prominent in Harlem in the 1920’s, was credited with slurring the NAACP as the “National Association for the Advancement of Certain People”; but the idea was present much earlier in criticisms made by other blacks.

Calvin Chase’s “Washington Bee” was for a time a bitter critic of the NAACP and its District branch. “Any attempt,” the Bee warned the local branch in 1914, “to establish a Negro aristocracy to the disadvantage and embarrassment of the common people will be promptly exposed and condemned.” Later the newspaper cited the NAACP as proof of its oft-repeated charge that there was “as much color prejudice among certain classes of colored people” as there was “among certain classes of whites.”

According to the Bee, Negroes who flocked to organizations like the NAACP, whether because of “color prejudice” or “caste of color,” did so primarily because of a desire to remove barriers to their own personal advancement and comfort. Only when personally affected was the upper-“caste” black likely to lodge protests and leads crusades. At least some aristocrats of color viewed admission to the NAACP as by “invitation only,” in much the same way that one gained entry into the Booklovers [clubs].

[The] black leadership of the NAACP tended to be more representative of socially prominent “old families” who viewed themselves as heirs to the Abolitionist tradition and who opposed Washington’s accommodationist approach. [Pan-African Movement] Marcus Garvey, a native of Jamaica and popular leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association . . . characterized DuBois as a ‘white man Negro” who associated only with whites and “upper ten Negroes” while ignoring the black masses.

DuBois, he thundered, worshipped a “bastard aristocracy” . . . and asked, “where did he get his aristocracy from?” and then proceeded to explain that DuBois “just got it into his head that he should be an aristocrat and ever since that time has been keeping his beard as an aristocrat.” Thunderous applause greeted Garvey’s reference to DuBois as a Negro leader who tried to “be everything else but a Negro.”

(Aristocrats of Color, The Black Elite, Willard C. Gatewood, Indiana University Press, 1993, pp. 317-321)