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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)

The Aristocrat of the Old South

Southern planters wondered at how educated men and women of the North, former slaveholders and slave traders themselves, could believe that they would willingly injure black men and women under their care, or allow them to be beaten. The sheer cruelty of New England’s slave trade and its infamous middle passage could never be surpassed by the plantations of the Old South.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

The Aristocrat of the Old South

“It is true the aristocrat of the Old South did not go into his blacksmith shop to shoe his horse nor his wife into the kitchen to cook, or to the wash tub to wash, but it was not because they were ashamed or scorned to do it, but because there was no need for them to do these things.

History has greatly maligned the old aristocrat of the South. He was not “haughty,” he was not “purse proud,” and he did not consider himself “of finer clay” than any one else, as history has unfairly represented him.

Aristocracy was then gauged by manners and morals, and not by the size of the bank account, as I fear is too much the case today. Far more time was spent in cultivating the graces and charms of life than in amassing fortunes. They realized that “Manners are of more importance than money and laws” – for manners give form and color to our lives. They felt, as Tennyson said, “Manners are the fruit of lofty natures and noble minds.”

It will take us a long time to undo the falsehoods of history about the civilization of the Old South.

Who was the head of the plantation? Why, “ole Miss,”. . . Her life was a long life of devotion – devotion to her God, devotion to her church . . . devotion to her husband, to her children, to her kinfolks, to her neighbors and friends and to her servants. She could not be idle for she must ever be busy.

“Ole Marster” could delegate many of his duties to the overseer, while he entertained his guests. He would rise early in the morning, eat his breakfast . . . Broiled chicken, stuffed sausage, spareribs, broiled ham and eggs, egg bread, corn muffins, hot rolls, beaten biscuits, batter cakes or waffles with melted butter, syrup or honey, and the half not told.

Then, after smoking his Havana cigar, he would mount his saddle and ride over the plantation to see if the orders given the day before had been fully carried out. Then give the next day’s orders, ride to a neighboring plantation and return in time for an early dinner. Dinner was always midday on the old plantation. If it were summer . . . [he would] lie down on the wide verandah . . . while he took his noon-day nap. If it were winter, he would go into his library, and, before a large, open fireplace with whole logs of wood, he would discourse upon the topics of the day with visitors.

There was no subject with which “Ole Marster” was not at home – whether politics, philosophy, religion, literature, poetry or art. “Ole Marster’s” sons for generations had been well-educated and had a perfect familiarity with the classics – they could read Greek and Latin better than some of us can read English today. The best magazines of the day were upon his library table, and the latest books upon his library shelves.

Time [on the plantation] was measured to Christmas, and three weeks before Christmas Day the wagons would go to the nearest city or town to lay in the Christmas supplies. Every Negro man had to have a complete outfit, from hat to shoes; every Negro woman had to have the same from head handkerchief to shoes; each Negro child every article of clothing needed.; and warm shawls, and soft shoes, or some special gifts had to be bought for the old Negroes too feeble to work.

How happy all were, white and black, as the cry of “Christmas Gif” rang from one end to the other of the plantation, beginning early in the morning at the Big House and reaching every Negro cabin – Christmas can never be the same again.”

(The Civilization of the Old South, Mildred Lewis Rutherford; North Carolina Booklet, Vol. XVII, No. 3, January 1918, pp. 142-147)

America's Classical Catalyst

While in Paris Jefferson sent home his design for the Virginia capitol, a building to be “simple and sublime . . . copied from the most precious [mode of ancient] architecture remaining on earth.” He wrote that from “Lyons to Nismes I have been nourished with the remains of Roman grandeur . . . I am immersed in [antiquities from morning to night].” Understanding that modern man stood on the shoulders of giants, men like Jefferson looked to the foundations of Western Civilization for guidance in their experiment in government.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

America’s Classical Catalyst

“We no longer characteristically study the ancient tongues. Greek has disappeared from most public education; Latin has shrunk to a shadow of its importance in the days when the founding fathers read it fluently; and though the vogue of courses in translation and of general education has restored a certain pale of vitality to the Greeks, it has done less for the Romans. For these and other reasons the notion that the classical past has exerted an important influence on the culture of the United States seems to many absurd.

Yet evidence of that influence lies all around us. Many villages, towns and cities have either classical names such as Rome, Troy, Athens, Syracuse, Ithaca, Utica, Alexandria, or Augusta, or names compounded, sometimes uncouthly, out of one or more classical elements, as Thermopolis, Minneapolis, Itasca, or Spotsylvania.

Our streets are sometimes known as Euclid Avenue, Appian Way, Acadia Drive, or Phaeton Road. The names of the States occasionally reveal classicism, as in the cases of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Georgia.

The American college occupies something called a campus, a word that came into American English in this sense in 1774. Fraternities and sororities display Greek letters standing for words known only to the initiate, as if the Eleusinian mysteries were still operative. Certain categories of students in high school and college are sophomores, juniors and seniors; the first of these Latin derivatives dates (in this country) from 1726, the third to 1651, and the middle term from some period in between.

Constitutionally we are not a democracy but a republic; that is, res publica, a phrase referring to the commonweal, which in the sense of a government by elected representatives came into English in the seventeenth century. The congress meets not in a parliament house . . . but a capitol, a word originally designating a citadel or temple on a hilltop, like the Jupiter Optimus Maximus which stood on the Capitoline Hill in Rome.

The great seal of the United States bears an eagle, a bird suggested by the eagle of the legions, the difference being that the American eagle is a bald eagle and not a Roman one. It clasps and olive branch in one talon, a sheaf of arrows in the other, emblems of peace and war . . . having classical connotations. The figure is surrounded by an enigmatic Latin phrase, E pluribus unum.

Our coinage, largely created by Jefferson, is decimal coinage . . . it was early agreed that our hard money would not show the head of any living president, partly because Roman coins had displayed the heads of deified emperors. The goddess [Liberty] persists . . . she is known as Columbia, but she is always a goddess. She is clad in classical garment; and on her head, or near her on a pole or standard she sometimes clasps, is a Phyrgian cap, worn in Rome by liberated slaves.

That the young nation should have accepted a set of classical coordinates to particularize components of its government and its republican culture is less astonishing than its failure would have been. To western man between the fall of Constantinople (1453) and the fall of Napoleon (1815) the classical past was perpetually a catalytic agent, a dynamic force so wonderful and so elusive that generation after generation of thinkers recast Greece and Rome in their own images.

If the humanists did not literally rediscover antiquity, they remolded it, they energized it, they caused it to shine upon the horizon of European culture with a golden splendor. [This study revealed to them] a world at once timeless and flexible, elusive and permanent, a lost Utopia of the west inhabited by noble beings – Aspasia, Pericles, Marcus Aurelius, Horatius Cato, Cornelia, Caesar, Harmodius, Aristogeiton – men and women capable of creating republics and extending empires, writing tragedies and concocting satires, codifying wisdom and anticipating modernity. They were the wisest and most beautiful of mankind.”

(O Strange New World, Howard Mumford Jones, The Viking Press, 1964, pp. 227-234)

Nov 23, 2014 - Lost Cultures    No Comments

Southern Conception of the Good Life

Author Donald Davidson wrote of the decline of Northern cities committed to progress and the past resistance of Southern cities like Charleston and Savannah to the relentless march of industrial capitalism. But, he observed the ruins all around us, “the ruins of societies no less than the ruins of cities. Over the ruins stream mobs led by creatures no longer really human – creatures who, whether they make shift to pass as educators, planners, editors, commissars, or presidents . . .” lead the way on the path to destruction.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Southern Conception of the Good Life

“Continuity of family, of family life, and family position – irrespective of economic status – was in fact a great distinction of Charleston among old American cities; for elsewhere that continuity had been generally broken by one cause or another. With this continuity Charleston had a stability that expressed itself in the pattern of its streets and the conservatism of its architecture. The map of Charleston in 1948 was not substantially different from the map of Charleston two centuries before.

If John Stuart, whom George III in 1763 appointed superintendent of Indian affairs in the South, could have returned in 1948 to seek his home, he would have found it at 106 Tradd Street, just where he built it in 1772 – for a brief occupancy, as it happened, since the Revolution ejected him, as a Tory, rather speedily from his new house.

The secret of Charleston’s stability, if it was any secret, was only the old Southern principle that material considerations, however important, are means not ends, and should always be subdued to the ends they are supposed to serve, should never be allowed to dominate, never be mistaken for ends in themselves.

If they are mistaken for ends, they dominate everything, and then you get instability. You get the average modern city, you get New York and Detroit, you get industrial civilization, world wars, Marxist communism, the New Deal.

Historians, noting that the antebellum South was in a sense materialistic, in that it found ways of prospering from the sale of cotton and tobacco, and relied heavily upon slave labor, have had the problem of explaining why that same South developed a chivalrous, courteous, religious, conservative and stable society quite different from that which obtained in the also materialistic, but more industrialized, rational, idealistic, progressive North.

The planters’ “aristocratic” leadership was the result, not the cause, of a general diffusion of standards of judgment that all the South, even the Negro slaves, accepted a basic principle of life. Mr. Francis Butler Simkins, in his book The South Old and New, has taken securer than the average historian when he notes that the South at the outbreak of the Civil War was almost the only true religious society left in the Western world.

That old, religious South set the good life above any material means to life and consistently preferred the kind of material concerns that would least interfere with and best contribute to the good life. Its preferred occupations were agriculture, law, the church and politics – pursuits which develop the whole man rather than the specialist, the free-willed individual rather than the anonymous unit of the organized mass.

[With] reference to material means of existence, such as money, one could clinch the discourse by pointing out the traditional attitude of the Southern Negro toward work and wages. If you paid the Negro twice the normal wage for a day’s work, you did not get more work from him – that is to say, more devotion to work within a given period, with increased production as the result. Not at all.

The Negro simply and ingeniously worked only half as many days or hours as before – and spent the rest of the time in following his conception of the good life: in hunting, dancing, singing, social conversation, eating, religion, and love. This well-known habit of the Negro’s, disconcerting to employers and statisticians, was absolutely correct according to Southern principles.

The Negro, so far as he had not been corrupted into heresy by modern education, was the most traditional of Southerners, the mirror which faithfully and lovingly reflected the traits that Southerners once all but unanimously professed.

That had been the idea in Charleston too. It was what Mr. Simkins in his book, perhaps being misled by his historical predecessors, had called the “country gentleman” idea. But Charleston, which had always been urban, always a town or a city of counting-houses, warehouses, factors, bankers, financial agents, and the like, was not a city of country gentlemen, exactly.

It had agreed with the country gentleman and with others of every sort, including the Negro, on letting the relationship between work, wages and life be determined by the metaphysical judgment indicated above. That was what made Charleston Charleston and not “The Indigo City” or something of the kind.”

(Still Rebels, Still Yankees, and Other Essays, “Some Day in Old Charleston,” Donald Davidson, LSU Press, 1957, pp. 221-224)

 

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