THE NEGRO EXODUS





A recent sojourn in the South for a few weeks, chiefly in

Louisiana and Mississippi, gave the writer an opportunity to

inquire into what has been so aptly called "the negro exodus."

The emigration of blacks to Kansas began early in the spring of

this year. For a time there was a stampede from two or three of

the river parishes in Louisiana and as many counties opposite in

Mississippi. Several thousand negroes (certainly not fewer than

five thousand, and variously estimated as high as ten thousand)

had left their cabins before the rush could be stayed or the

excitement lulled. Early in May most of the negroes who had quit

work for the purpose of emigrating, but had not succeeded in

getting off, were persuaded to return to the plantations, and from

that time on there have been only straggling families and groups

that have watched for and seized the first opportunity for

transportation to the North. There is no doubt, however, that

there is still a consuming desire among the negroes of the cotton

districts in these two States to seek new homes, and there are the

best reasons for believing that the exodus will take a new start

next spring, after the gathering and conversion of the growing

crop. Hundreds of negroes who returned from the river-banks for

lack of transportation, and thousands of others infected with the

ruling discontent, are working harder in the fields this summer,

and practicing more economy and self-denial than ever before, in

order to have the means next winter and spring to pay their way to

the "promised land."



"We've been working for fourteen long years," said an intelligent

negro, in reply to a question as to the cause of the prevailing

discontent, "and we ain't no better off than we was when we

commenced." This is the negro version of the trouble, which is

elaborated on occasion into a harrowing story of oppression and

plunder.



"I tell you it's all owing to the radical politicians at the

North," explained a representative of the type known as the

Bourbons; "they've had their emissaries down here, and deluded the

'niggers' into a very fever of emigration, with the purpose of

reducing our basis of representation in Congress and increasing

that of the Northern States."



These are the two extremes of opinion at the South. The first is

certainly the more reasonable and truthful, though it implies that

all the blame rests upon the whites, which is not the case; the

second, preposterous as it will appear to Northern readers, is

religiously believed by large numbers of the "unreconciled."

Between these two extremes there is an infinite variety of

theories, all more or less governed by the political faction to

which the various theorizers belong; there are at least a dozen of

these factions, such as the Bourbons, the conservatives, the

native white republicans, the carpet-bag republicans, the negro

republicans, etc. There is a political tinge in almost everything

in the extreme Southern States. The fact seems to be that the

emigration movement among the blacks was spontaneous to the extent

that they were ready and anxious to go. The immediate notion of

going may have been inculcated by such circulars, issued by

railroads and land companies, as are common enough at emigrant

centres in the North and West, and the exaggeration characteristic

of such literature may have stimulated the imagination of the

negroes far beyond anything they are likely to realize in their

new homes. Kansas was naturally the favorite goal of the negro

emigre, for it was associated in his mind with the names of Jim

Lane and John Brown, which are hallowed to him. The timid learned

that they could escape what they have come to regard as a second

bondage, and they flocked together to gain the moral support which

comes from numbers.



Diligent inquiry among representative men, of all classes and from

all parts of Louisiana, who were in attendance at the

constitutional convention in New Orleans, and careful observation

along the river among the land owners and field hands in both

Louisiana and Mississippi, left a vivid impression of some

material and political conditions which fully account for the

negro exodus. I have dropped the social conditions out of the

consideration, because I became convinced that the race troubles

at the South can be solved to the satisfaction of both whites and

blacks without cultivating any closer social relations than those

which now prevail. The material conditions which I have in mind

are less familiar than the political conditions; they are mainly

the land-tenure and credit systems, and mere modifications

(scarcely for the better) of the peculiar plantation system of

slavery days.



The cotton lands at the South are owned now, as they were before

the war, in large tracts. The land was about all that most of the

Southern whites had left to them after the war, and they kept it

when they could, at the first, in the hope that it would yield

them a living through the labor of the blacks; of late years they

have not been able to sell their plantations at any fair price, if

they desired to do so. The white men with capital who went to the

South from the North after the war seemed to acquire the true

Southern ambition to be large land owners and planters; and when

the ante-bellum owners lost their plantations the land usually

went in bulk to the city factors who had made them advances from

year to year, and had taken mortgages on their crops and broad

acres. As a consequence, the land has never been distributed

among the people who inhabit and cultivate it, and agricultural

labor in the Southern States approaches the condition of the

factory labor in England and the Eastern States more nearly than

it does the farm labor of the North and West. Nearly every

agricultural laborer north of Mason and Dixon's line, if not the

actual possessor of the land he plows, looks forward to owning a

farm some time; at the South such an ambition is rare, and small

ownership still more an exception. The practice of paying day

wages was first tried after the war; this practice is still in

vogue in the sugar and rice districts, where laborers are paid

from fifty to seventy cents per day, with quarters furnished and

living guaranteed them at nine or ten cents a day. In sections

where the wages system prevails, and where there have been no

political disturbances, the negroes seem to be perfectly

contented; at all events, the emigration fever has not spread

among them. But it was found impracticable to maintain the wage

system in the cotton districts. The negroes themselves fought

against it, because it reminded them too much of the slave-gang,

driven out at daybreak and home at sundown. In many cases the

planters were forced to abandon it, because they had not the means

to carry on such huge farming, and they could not secure the same

liberal advances from capitalists as when they were able to

mortgage a growing "crop of niggers." Then the system of working

on shares was tried. This was reasonably fair, and the negro

laborers were satisfied as long as it lasted. The owners of the

land, under this system, would furnish the indispensable mule and

the farming implements, and take one half the product. The

planters themselves relinquished this system. Some of them

contend that the laziness and indifference of the negro made the

partnership undesirable; many others admit that they were not able

to advance the negro tenant his supplies pending the growth of the

year's crop, as it was necessary they should do under the sharing

system. Now the renting system is almost universal. It yields

the land owner a certainty, endangered only by the death,

sickness, or desertion of the negro tenant; but it throws the

latter upon his own responsibility, and frequently makes him the

victim of his own ignorance and the rapacity of the white man.

The rent of land, on a money basis, varies from six to ten dollars

an acre per year, while the same land can be bought in large

quantities all the way from fifteen to thirty dollars per acre,

according to location, clearing, improvement, richness, etc. When

paid in product, the rent varies from eighty to one hundred pounds

of lint cotton per acre for land that produces from two hundred to

four hundred pounds of cotton per acre; the tenant undertakes to

pay from one quarter to one half--perhaps an average of one third--

of his crop for the use of the land, without stock, tools, or

assistance of any kind. The land owners usually claim that they

make no money even at these exorbitant figures. If they do not,

it is because only a portion of their vast possessions is under

cultivation, because they do no work themselves, and in some cases

because the negroes do not cultivate and gather as large a crop as

they could and ought to harvest. It is very certain that the

negro tenants, as a class, make no money; if they are out of debt

at the end of a season, they have reason to rejoice.



The credit system, which is as universal as the renting system, is

even more illogical and oppressive. The utter viciousness of both

systems in their mutual dependence is sufficiently illustrated by

the single fact that, after fourteen years of freedom and labor on

their own account, the great mass of the negroes depend for their

living on an advance of supplies (as they need food, clothing, or

tools during the year) upon the pledge of their growing crop.

This is a generic imitation of the white man's improvidence during

the slavery times; then the planters mortgaged their crops and

negroes, and where one used the advances to extend his plantation,

ten squandered the money. The negro's necessities have developed

an offensive race, called merchants by courtesy, who keep supply

stores at the cross-roads and steamboat landings, and live upon

extortion. These people would be called sharks, harpies, and

vampires in any Northwestern agricultural community, and they

would not survive more than one season. The country merchant

advances the negro tenant such supplies as the negro wants up to a

certain amount, previously fixed by contract, and charges the

negro at least double the value of every article sold to him.

There is no concealment about the extortion; every store-keeper

has his cash price and his credit price, and in nearly all cases

the latter is one hundred per cent. higher than the former. The

extortion is justified by those who practice it on the ground that

their losses by bad debts, though their advances are always

secured by mortgage on the growing crop, overbalance the profits;

this assertion is scarcely borne out by the comparative opulence

of the "merchant" and the pitiful poverty of the laborer. Some of

the largest and wealthiest planters have sought to protect their

tenants from the merciless clutches of the contrary merchant, who

is more frequently than not an Israelite, by advancing supplies of

necessary articles at reasonable prices. But the necessities of

the planter, if not his greed, often betray him into plundering

the negro. The planter himself is generally a victim to usury.

He still draws on the city factor to the extent of ten dollars a

bale upon his estimated crop. He pays this factor two and one

half per cent. commission for the advance, eight per cent.

interest for the money, two and one half per cent. more for

disposing of the crop when consigned to him, and sometimes still

another commission for the purchase of the supplies. The planter

who furnishes his tenants with supplies on credit is usually

paying an interest of fifteen to eighteen per cent. himself, and

necessarily takes some risk in advancing upon an uncertain crop

and to a laborer whom he believes to be neither scrupulous nor

industrious; these conditions necessitate more than the ordinary

profit, and in many cases suggest exorbitant and unreasonable

charges. But whether the negro deals with the merchant or the

land owner, his extravagance almost invariably exhausts his

credit, even if it be large. The negro is a sensuous creature,

and luxurious in his way. The male is an enormous consumer of

tobacco and whisky; the female has an inordinate love for

flummery; both are fond of sardines, potted meats, and canned

goods generally, and they indulge themselves without any other

restraint than the refusal of their merchant to sell to them. The

man who advances supplies watches his negro customers constantly;

if they are working well and their crop promises to be large, he

will permit and even encourage them to draw upon him liberally; it

is only a partial failure of the crop, or some intimation of the

negro's intention to shirk his obligations, that induces his

country factor to preach the virtue of self-restraint, or moralize

upon the advantages of economy.



The land owner's rent and the merchant's advances are both secured

by a chattel mortgage on the tenant's personal property, and by a

pledge of the growing crop. The hired laborer (for it is common

for negroes to work for wages for other negroes who rent lands)

has also a lien upon the growing crops second only to the land

owner's; but as the law requires that the liens shall be recorded,

which the ignorant laborer usually neglects and the shrewd

merchant never fails to do, the former is generally cheated of his

security. Among those who usually work for hire are the women,

who are expert cotton pickers, and the loss of wages which so many

of them have suffered by reason of the prior lien gained by

landlord and merchant has helped to make them earnest and

effective advocates of emigration. The Western farmer considers

it hard enough to struggle under one mortgage at a reasonable

interest; the negro tenant begins his season with three mortgages,

covering all he owns, his labor for the coming year, and all he

expects to acquire during that period. He pays one third his

product for the use of the land; he pays double the value of all

he consumes; he pays an exorbitant fee for recording the contract

by which he pledges his pound of flesh; he is charged two or three

times as much as he ought to pay for ginning his cotton; and,

finally, he turns over his crop to be eaten up in commissions, if

anything still be left to him. It is easy to understand why the

negro rarely gets ahead in the world. This mortgaging of future

services, which is practically what a pledge of the growing crop

amounts to, is in the nature of bondage. It has a tendency to

make the negro extravagant, reckless, and unscrupulous; he has

become convinced from previous experience that nothing will be

coming to him on the day of settlement, and he is frequently

actuated by the purpose of getting as much as possible and working

as little as possible. Cases are numerous in which the negro

abandons his own crop at picking time, because he knows that he

has already eaten up its full value; and so he goes to picking for

wages on some other plantation. In other cases, where negroes

have acquired mules and farming implements upon which a merchant

has secured a mortgage in the manner described, they are

practically bound to that merchant from year to year, in order to

retain their property; if he removes from one section to another,

they must follow him, and rent and cultivate lands in his

neighborhood. It is only the ignorance, the improvidence, and the

happy disposition of the negro, under the influence of the lazy,

drowsy climate, to which he is so well adapted physically, that

have enabled him to endure these hardships so long. And, though

the negro is the loser, the white man is not often the gainer,

from this false plantation and mercantile system. The incidental

risk may not be so large as the planter and merchant pretend, but

the condition of the people is an evidence that the extortion they

practice yields no better profit in the long run than would be

gained by competition in fair prices on a cash system; and in

leading up to a general emigration of the laboring population the

abuses described will eventually ruin and impoverish those who

have heretofore been the only beneficiaries thereof. The decay of

improvements inevitable under annual rentings, the lack of

sufficient labor to cultivate all the good land, and the universal

idleness of the rural whites have kept the land owners

comparatively poor; the partial failure of crops and the

unscrupulousness of the negro debtor, engendered by the infamous

exactions of his creditor, have prevented the merchants, as a

class, from prospering as much as might be supposed; and, finally,

the uniform injustice to the laborers induces them to fly to ills

they know not of, rather than bear those they have. It is a

blessing to the negro that the laws do not yet provide for a

detention of the person in the case of debt, or escape would be

shut off entirely; as it is, various influences and circumstances

appertaining to the system in vogue have been used to prevent the

easy flight of those who desire to go, and have detained thousands

of blacks for a time who are fretting to quit the country.



Political oppression has contributed largely to the discontent

which is the prime cause of the exodus. "Bulldozing" is the term

by which all forms of this oppression are known. The native

whites are generally indisposed to confess that the negroes are

quitting the country on account of political injustice and

persecution; even those who freely admit and fitly characterize

the abuses already described seek to deny, or at least belittle,

the political abuses. The fact that a large number of negroes

have emigrated from Madison Parish, Louisiana, where there has

never been any bulldozing, and where the negroes are in full and

undisputed political control, is cited as proof that political

disturbances cut no figure in the case. But the town of Delta, in

Madison Parish, is at once on the river and the terminus of a

railroad that runs back through the interior of the State; thus

Madison Parish would furnish the natural exit for the fugitives

from the adjoining counties, where there have been political

disturbances. It would be just as reasonable to contend that the

plundering of the negroes has had no influence in driving them

away, since many of those who have emigrated were among the most

prosperous of the blacks, as to deny the agency of political

persecution. Families that had been able to accumulate a certain

amount of personal property, in spite of the extortionate

practices, sold their mules, their implements, their cows, their

pigs, their sheep, and their household goods for anything they

would bring,--frequently as low as one sixth of their value,--in

order that they might improve an immediate opportunity to go away;

it is evident that there must have been some cause outside of

extortion in their case. There are candid native whites who do

not deny, but justify, the violent methods which have been

employed to disfranchise the negroes, or compel them to vote under

white dictation, in many parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, on

the ground that the men who pay the taxes should vote them and

control the disbursement of the public moneys. The gentlemen who

advance this argument seem to ignore the fact that the very

Northerner whom they are seeking to convert to "the Mississippi

plan" may himself be a taxpayer in some Northern city, where

public affairs are controlled by a class of voters in every way as

ignorant and irresponsible as the blacks, but where bulldozing has

never yet been suggested as a remedy. For the rest, the evidences

of political oppression are abundant and convincing. The

bulldozers as a class are more impecunious and irresponsible than

the negroes, and, unlike the negroes, they will not work. There

has been more of the "night-riding," the whippings, the mysterious

disappearances, the hangings, and the terrorism comprehended in

the term bulldozing than has been reported by those "abstracts and

brief chronicles of the time," the Southern newspapers, which are

now all of one party, and defer to the ruling sentiment among the

whites. The exodus has wrung from two or three of the more candid

and independent journals, however, a virtual confession of the

fiendish practices of bulldozing in their insistance that these

practices must be abandoned. The non-resident land owners and the

resident planters, the city factors and the country merchants of

means and respectability, have taken no personal part in the

terrorizing of the negro, but they have tolerated it, and

sometimes encouraged it, in order to gratify their preference for

"white government." The negroes have suffered the more because

they have not resisted and defended themselves; now they have

begun to convince those who have persecuted them that, if they

will not strike back, they can and will run away. No one who is

at all familiar with the freedman can doubt that the abridgment of

his political rights has been one of the main causes of the

exodus. Voting is widely regarded at the North as a disagreeable

duty, but the negro looks upon it as the highest privilege in

life; to be frightened out of the exercise of this privilege, or

compelled to exercise it in conflict with his convictions and

preferences, is to suffer from a cruel injustice, which the negro

will now try to escape, since he has learned that escape is

possible. The women, though free from personal assaults, suffer

from the terrorism that prevails in certain districts as much as

the men. "We might as well starve or freeze to death in Kansas,"

they say, "as to be shot-gunned here." If they talk to you in

confidence, they declare that the ruling purpose is to escape from

the "slaughter-pens" of the South. Political persecution, and

not the extortion they suffer, is the refrain of all the speakers

at negro meetings that are held in encouragement and aid of the

emigration. It is idle to deny that the varied injustice which

the negroes have suffered as voters is accountable for a large

part of their universal yearning for new homes, and it will be

folly for the responsible classes at the South to ignore this

fact.



As it is the negroes who are fleeing from the South, it is natural

to look among the dominant class for the injustice which is

driving them away; but it would be unfair to conclude that the

blame rests entirely upon the whites, and still more so to leave

the impression that there is no extenuation for the mistakes and

abuses for which the whites are responsible. Much of the

intimidation of the blacks has been tolerated, if not suggested,

by a fear of negro uprisings. The apprehension is a legacy from

the days of slavery, and is more unreasonable now than it was

then; but still it exists. This is not an excuse, but an

explanation. The Pharaohs of the time of Moses were in constant

dread lest the Hebrews under their rule should go over to their

enemies, and their dread doubtless increased the cruelty of the

Egyptians; but, while this dread was an extenuation in the eyes of

the persecutors, it did not prevent the Hebrews from fleeing the

persecution. So the blacks are going without regard to the

justification which the whites may set up for their treatment; the

only difference between the old and new exodus is that, as the

writer heard one negro speaker express it, "every black man is his

own Moses in this exodus." The negro may be lazy; it seems

impossible to be otherwise in the Southern climate. He may not be

willing to work on Saturdays, no matter how urgent the necessity;

the indulgence in holidays is said to be one of the chief

drawbacks to the advancement of the emancipated serfs of Russia.

The blacks are certainly extravagant in their way, though the word

seems to be almost misused in connection with a race who live

largely on pork and molasses, and rarely wear more than half a

dollar's worth of clothes at one time. They have not the instinct

of home as it prevails among the whites, but incline to a crude

and unsystematic communism; the negro quarters of the old

plantations are all huddled together in the centre, and, except

where the land owners have interfered to encourage a different

life, there is still too much promiscuousness in the relation of

the sexes. The negro, as a rule, has no ambition to become a land

owner; he prefers to invest his surplus money, when he has any, in

personal and movable property. In most cases where the blacks

have been given the opportunity of buying land on long time, and

paying yearly installments out of the proceeds of their annual

crops, they have tired of the bargain after a year or two, and

abandoned the contract. The negro politicians and preachers are

not all that reformers and moralists would have them; the

imitative faculty of the African has betrayed the black politician

into many of the vicious ways of the white politician, and the

colored preacher is frequently not above "the pomps and vanity of

this wicked world." All this is the more unfortunate, as the

blacks have a child-like confidence in their chosen leaders,

founded partly on their primitive character, and partly on their

distrust of the native whites. Both their politicians and their

preachers have given abundant evidence of their insincerity during

the excitement of emigration by blowing hot and blowing cold; by

talking to the negroes one way, and to the whites another; and

even to the extent, in some instances, of taking money to use

their influence for discouraging and impeding emigration. These

are some of the faults and misfortunes on the part of the blacks

which enter into the race troubles. The chief blame which

attaches to the whites is the failure to make a persistent effort,

by education and kind treatment, to overcome the distrust and cure

the faults of the negroes. The whites control, because they

constitute the "property and intelligence" of the South, to use

the words of a democratic statesman; this power should have been

used to gain the confidence of the blacks. Had such a course been

taken, there would not have been the fear of reenslavement, which

actually prevails to a considerable extent among the negroes. So

long as a portion of the whites entertain the conviction that the

war of the sections will be renewed within a few years, as is the

case, the negroes will suspect and dread the class who would treat

them as enemies in case the war should come, and will seek to

escape to a section of the country where they would not be so

treated. Perhaps, too, there would have been a voluntary

political division among the black voters, had the whites used

more pacific means to bring it about, and had they themselves set

the example. And last, but not least, in making up the sum of

blame that the whites must bear, is their own unwillingness to

labor, which gives the rural population too much time for mischief

and too little sympathy with the working classes.



As we have traced the causes that have led to the exodus, and

described the conditions which warrant the belief that there will

be a renewal of the emigration on a more extended scale next

spring, and endeavored to distribute the responsibility for the

troubles equitably among whites and blacks, remedies have

naturally suggested themselves to the reader; in fact, they are

more easily to be thought out than accomplished. A few general

reflections may be added, however, in order to indicate the

probable solution of the race troubles that have brought about the

exodus, if, indeed, the whites and blacks of the South are ever

going to live together in peace.



(1.) It is certain that negro labor is the best the South can

have, and equally certain that the climate and natural conditions

of the South are better suited to the negro than any others on

this continent. The alluvial lands, which many persons believe

the negroes alone can cultivate, on account of climatic

conditions, are so rich that it might literally be said it is only

necessary to tickle them with a hoe to make them laugh back a

harvest. The common prosperity of the country--the agricultural

interests of the South and the commercial interests of the North--

will be best served, therefore, by the continued residence and

labor of the blacks in the cotton States.



(2.) The fact stated in the foregoing paragraph is so well

understood at the North that the Southern people should dismiss

the idea that there is any scheming among the Northern people,

political or otherwise, to draw the black labor away from its

natural home. The same fact should also influence the people at

the North not to be misled by any professional philanthropists who

may have some self-interest in soliciting aid to facilitate negro

emigration from the South. The duty of the North in this matter

is simply to extend protection and assure safe-conduct to the

negroes, if the Southern whites attempt to impede voluntary

emigration by either law or violence. Any other course might be

cruel to the negro in encouraging him to enter on a new life in a

strange climate, as well as an injustice to the white land owners

of the South.



(3.) There is danger that the Southern whites will, as a rule,

misinterpret the meaning of the exodus. Many are inclined to

underrate its importance, and those who appreciate its

significance are apt to look for temporary and superficial

remedies. The vague promises made at the Vicksburg convention,

which was controlled by the whites, and called to consider the

emigration movement, have had no influence with the negroes,

because they have heard such promises before. Had the convention

adopted some definite plan of action, such as ex-Governor Foote,

of Mississippi, submitted, its session might not have been in

vain. This plan was to establish a committee in every county,

composed of men who have the confidence of both whites and blacks,

that should be auxiliary to the public authorities, listen to

complaints, and arbitrate, advise, conciliate, or prosecute, as

each case should demand. It is short-sighted for the Southern

people to make mere temporary concessions, such as have been made

in some cases this year, for that course would establish an annual

strike. It is folly for them to suppose they can stem the tide of

emigration by influencing the regular lines of steamboats not to

carry the refugees, for the people of the North will see that the

blacks shall not be detained in the South against their will. It

is unwise for them to devise schemes for importing Chinese, or

encouraging the immigration of white labor as a substitute for

negro labor, when they may much better bestir themselves to make

the present effective labor content.



(4.) Education will be the most useful agent to employ in the

permanent harmonizing of the two races, and the redemption of both

from the faults and follies which constitute their troubles. It

is not the education of the negro alone, whose ambition for

learning is increasing notably with every new generation, but the

education of the mass of the young whites, that is needed to

inculcate more tolerance of color and opinion, to give them an

aspiration beyond that of riding a horse and hanging a "nigger,"

and to enable them to set a better example to the imitative blacks

in the way of work and frugality. The blacks need the education

to protect them from designing white men; the whites need it to

teach them that their own interests will be best served by

abandoning bulldozing of all kinds.



(5.) Reform in the land tenure, by converting the plantation

monopolies into small holdings; abolition of the credit system, by

abandoning the laws which sustain it; a diversification of crops;

and attention to new manufacturing, maritime, and commercial

enterprises,--these are the material changes that are most needed.

They can be secured only through the active and earnest efforts of

the whites. The blacks will be found responsive.



(6.) The hope of the negro exodus at its present stage, or even

if it shall continue another season, is that the actual loss of

the valuable labor that has gone, and the prospective loss of more

labor that is anxious to go, will induce the intelligent and

responsible classes at the South to overcome their own prejudices,

and to compel the extremists, irreconcilables, and politicians

generally, of all parties, to abandon agitation, and give the

South equal peace and equal chance for black and white.





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