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An Open Letter To The Educational League Of Georgia





BY JOSEPHINE ST. PIERRE RUFFIN, of Boston, Mass.

Founder of the National Association of Negro Women

[Note 19: June, 1889.]


Ladies of the Georgia Educational League:

The telegram which you sent to Governor Northern to read to his
audience, informing the people of the North of your willingness to
undertake the moral training of the colored children of Georgia, merits
more than a passing notice. It is the first time, we believe, in the
history of the South where a body of representative Southern white women
have shown such interest in the moral welfare of the children of their
former slaves as to be willing to undertake to make them more worthy the
duties and responsibilities of citizenship. True, there have been
individual cases where courageous women have felt their moral
responsibility, and have nobly met it, but one of the saddest things
about the sad condition of affairs in the South has been the utter
indifference which Southern women, who were guarded with unheard of
fidelity during the war, have manifested to the mental and moral welfare
of the children of their faithful slaves, who, in the language of Henry
Grady, placed a black mass of loyalty between them and dishonor. This
was a rare opportunity for you to have shown your gratitude to your
slaves and your interest in their future welfare.

The children would have grown up in utter ignorance had not the North
sent thousands of her noblest daughters to the South on this mission of
heroic love and mercy; and it is worthy of remark of those fair
daughters of the North, that, often eating with Negroes, and in the
earlier days sleeping in their humble cabins, and always surrounded by
thousands of them, there is not one recorded instance where one has been
the victim of violence or insult. If because of the bitterness of your
feelings, of your deep poverty at the close of the war, conditions were
such that you could not do this work yourselves, you might have give a
Christian's welcome to the women who came a thousand miles to do the
work, that, in all gratitude and obligation belonged to you,--but
instead, these women were often persecuted, always they have been
ruthlessly ostracised, even until this day; often they were lonely,
often longed for a word of sympathy, often craved association with their
own race, but for thirty years they have been treated by the Christian
white women of the South,--simply because they were doing your
work,--the work committed to you by your Saviour, when he said,
"Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you
did it unto me,"--with a contempt that would serve to justify a
suspicion that instead of being the most cultured women, the purest,
bravest missionaries in America, they were outcasts and lepers.

But at last a change has come. And so you have "decided to take up the
work of moral and industrial training of the Negroes," as you "have been
doing this work among the whites with splendid results." This is one of
the most hopeful stars that have shot through the darkness of the
Southern sky. What untold blessings might not the educated Christian
women of the South prove to the Negro groping blindly in the darkness of
the swamps and bogs of prejudice for a highway out of servitude,
oppression, ignorance, and immorality!

* * * * *

The leading women of Georgia should not ask Northern charity to do what
they certainly must have the means for making a beginning of themselves.
If your heart is really in this work--and we do not question it--the
very best way for you to atone for your negligence in the past is to
make a start yourselves. Surely if the conditions are as serious as you
represent them to be, your husbands, who are men of large means, who are
able to run great expositions and big peace celebrations, will be
willing to provide you with the means to protect your virtue and that of
your daughters by the moral training you propose to give in the
kindergartens.

There is much you might do without the contribution of a dollar from any
pocket, Northern or Southern. On every plantation there are scores, if
not hundreds, of little colored children who could be gathered about
you on a Sabbath afternoon and given many helpful inspiring lessons in
morals and good conduct.

* * * * *

It is a good augury of better days, let us hope, when the intelligent,
broad-minded women of Georgia, spurning the incendiary advice of that
human firebrand who would lynch a thousand Negroes a month, are willing
to join in this great altruistic movement of the age and endeavor to
lift up the degraded and ignorant, rather than to exterminate them. Your
proposition implies that they may be uplifted and further, imports a
tacit confession that if you had done your duty to them at the close of
the war, which both gratitude and prudence should have prompted you to
do, you would not now be confronted with a condition which you feel it
necessary to check, in obedience to the great first law of
nature--self-protection. If you enter upon this work you will doubtless
be criticised by a class of your own people who think you are lowering
your own dignity, but the South has suffered too much already from that
kind of false pride to let it longer keep her recreant to the spirit of
the age.

If, when you have entered upon it, you need the co-operation, either by
advice or other assistance, of the colored women of the North, we beg to
assure you that they will not be lacking,--until then, the earnest hope
goes out that you will bravely face and sternly conquer your former
prejudices and quickly undertake this missionary work which belongs to
you.





Next: In The Wake Of The Coming Ages

Previous: The Black Woman Of The South: Her Neglects And Her Needs



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