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An Appeal To Our Brother In White





BY W. J. GAINES, D. D.

Bishop of the A.M.E. Church in Georgia

[Note 31: From "The Negro and the White Man," 1897.]


Providence, in wisdom, has decreed that the lot of the Negro should be
cast with the white people of America. Condemn as we may the means
through which we were brought here, recount as we may the suffering
through which, as a race, we passed in the years of slavery, yet the
fact remains that today our condition is far in advance of that of the
Negroes who have never left their native Africa. We are planted in the
midst of the highest civilization mankind has ever known, and are
rapidly advancing in knowledge, property, and moral enlightenment. We
might, with all reason, thank God even for slavery, if this were the
only means through which we could arrive at our present progress and
development.

We should indeed count ourselves blest if our white brethren would
always extend to us that kindness, justice, and sympathy which our
services to them in the past should inspire, and our dependence upon
them as the more enlightened and wealthy race should prompt them to
bestow.

Why should there be prejudice and dislike on the part of the white man
to his colored brother? Is it because he was once a slave, and a slave
must forever wear the marks of degradation? Is there no effacement for
the stigma of slavery--no erasement for this blot of shame? Will our
white brother not remember that it was his hand that forged the links of
that chain and that riveted them around the necks of the people who had
roved for thousands of years in the unrestrained liberty of the
boundless forests in far-away Africa? As well might the seducer blacken
the name and reputation of the fair and spotless maiden he has cruelly
and wantonly seduced. Go far enough back and it is more than probable
that you will find the taint of slavery in your line and its blot upon
your escutcheon. The proud Saxon became the slave to the Norman, and yet
to-day millions are proud to be called Anglo-Saxons.

Will our white brother refuse us his cordial fellowship because of our
ignorance? Ignorance is indeed a great evil and hindrance. The
enlightened and refined cannot find fellowship with the ignorant, the
benighted, the untutored. If this be the line of demarkation, we can and
will remove it. No people ever made more heroic efforts to rise from
ignorance to enlightenment. Forty-three per cent. of the Negro race can
read and write, and with time we can bring our race up to a high degree
of civilization. We are determined, by the help of Providence, and the
strength of our own right arms, to educate our people until the reproach
of ignorance can no longer be brought against us. When we do, will our
white brothers accord that respect which is the due of intelligence and
culture?

Does our white brother look with disdain upon us because we are not
cleanly and neat? It is true that the masses of our race have not shown
that regard for personal cleanliness and nicety of dress, which a
wealthy and educated people have the means and the time for. Our people
by the exigencies of their lot, have had to toil and toil in menial
places, the places where drudgery was demanded and where contact with
dust and filth was necessary to the accomplishment of their work. But
even this can be remedied, and cleanliness and neatness can be made a
part of the Negro's education until he can present, as thousands of his
race are now doing, a creditable appearance. Will improvement along
these lines help us to gain the esteem and respectful consideration of
our white brothers? If so, the time is not far distant when this barrier
will be removed. Education will help solve this difficulty as it does
all others, and give to our race that touch of refinement which insures
physical as well as mental soundness.--mens sana in corpore sano.

But is our moral condition the true reason of our ostracism? Are we
remanded to the back seats and ever held in social dishonor because we
are morally unclean? Would that we could reply by a denial of the
allegation and rightly claim that purity which would be at the
foundation of all respectable social life. But here we ask the
charitable judgment of our white brethren, and point them to the heroic
efforts we have made and are making for the moral elevation of our race.
Even a superficial glance at the social side of the Negro's life will
convince the unprejudiced that progress is being made among the better
classes of our people toward virtuous living. Chastity is being urged
everywhere in the school house, and the church, and the home, for our
women, and honesty and integrity for our men. We can and will lift the
shadow of immorality from the great masses of our race, and demonstrate
to the whole world what religion and education can do for a people. We
are doing it. Among the thoroughly cultured and rightly trained of our
women, virtue is as sacred as life, and among our men of similar
advantages, honor and integrity are prized as highly as among any people
on the globe.

Is our poverty the barrier that divides us from a closer fellowship with
our white brethren? Would wealth cure all the evils of our condition,
and give us the cordial recognition we ask from them? If so, we can
remove even this barrier. Our labor has already created much of the
wealth of the South, and it only needs intelligence to turn it into our
own coffers and make it the possession of our own people. Among the
whites money seems to be the sesame that opens the doors to social
recognition, and converts the shoddy into a man of influence and rank.
Barney Barnato, a London Jew, who began life with a trained donkey,
became at length the "South African diamond king," and then all London
paid homage to this despised son of a hated race. Would money thus
convert our despised people into honorable citizens, give them kindly
recognition at the hands of our white neighbors, and take from them the
stigma which has so long marked them with dishonor and shame? If so, we
can hope to secure even this coveted prize, and claim like Barney
Barnato the respect of mankind.

But if it is none of these things that doom us to ostracism and
degradation, as a people, I ask finally is it our color? Alas, if it
be this, we can do nothing to remove the line of separation, unless it
be to wait the slow process of amalgamation which despite our efforts,
the white people of this country seem bound to consummate. If we knew of
any chemical preparation by which we could change the color of our skins
and straighten our hair we might hope to bring about the desired
consummation at once, but alas, there is no catholicon for this ill, no
mystic concoction in all the pharmacies of earth to work this miracle of
color. We must fold our hands in despair and submit to our fate with
heavy hearts.

To be serious, however, I would plead with our white brothers not to
despise us on account of our color. It is the inheritance we received
from God, and it could be no mark of shame or dishonor. "Can the leopard
change his spots or the Ethiopian his skin?" No disgrace can be attached
to physical characteristics which are the result of heredity, and cannot
be removed by any volition or effort. How cruel it is to visit upon the
colored man contempt and dishonor because of the hue of his skin, or the
curling peculiarity of his hair. Let him stand or fall upon his merit.
Let him be respected if he is worthy. Let him be despised if he is
unworthy.

We appeal to our white brothers to accord us simple justice. If we
deserve good treatment give it to us, and do not consider the question
of color any more than you would refuse kindness to a man because he is
blind.

All we ask is a fair show in the struggle of life. We have nothing but
the sentiment of kindness for our white brethren. Take us into your
confidence, trust us with responsibility, and above all, show us cordial
kindness. Thus will you link our people to you by the chains of love
which nothing can break, and we will march hand in hand up the steep
pathway of progress.





Next: The Political Outlook For Africa

Previous: A Plea For Industrial Opportunity



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