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The Teachings Of History Considered In Relation To Race Problems In America


Surgeon-in-Chief, Frederick Douglass Hospital, Philadelphia, Pa.

[Note 26: From Howard's American Magazine.]

Those who are familiar with history will testify that the blacks were a
fundamental element in the civilized races of antiquity, as also of the
primitive races of southern Europe. In fact, all history is pregnant
with traces of the Negro element. The world will ever look with wonder
and amazement upon the marks of ancient culture in the valley of the
Nile, and we may continue to look as far back as records and
inscriptions lend us light, only to find the black man, above all
others, leading in the ancient arts and sciences.

History places the earliest civilization in Egypt. The ruling tribes
among the people were called the Hamites, the "sunburnt race," according
to Dr. Winchell. Says Professor J. Boughton: "The wanderings of these
people since prehistoric history began has not been confined to the
American continent. In Paleolithic times the black man roamed all over
the fairer portions of the Old World; Europe, as well as Asia and
Africa, acknowledged his sway. No white man had, so far, appeared to
dispute his authority in the vine-clad valleys of France or Germany, or
upon the classic hills of Greece or Rome. The black man preceded all
others, and carried Paleolithic culture to its very height."

The history of all the lands has been but the history of succeeding
races; more often, however, by fusion of different racial types and by
the mingling of various tribes and peoples, have been evolved new races,
superior to any of the original types. Greece and Rome, the study of
history will tell you, had their race and social problems.
Inter-marriage at last settled the question. The ethnology of Spain
tells the same story. There is not a nation on the globe of pure ethnic
character. From the ethnic standpoint, the blood of the black race is
everywhere apparent. Ask the Frenchman, the Italian, the Spaniard,
whence comes his dark skin and hair; it surely does not come from the
Aryan blonde. Ethnology alone can give the answer. In considering the
future of our racial problems, it is fitting that we shall recall these
facts of history to know the Negro's past place in the world's annals.

* * * * *

American slavery, the most accursed institution the world has ever
known, did more to degrade the master than the slave, a truth most often
overlooked. It is here I take strong exception to the literal
interpretation of the injunction, "Whosoever will smite thee on the
right cheek, turn to him the other also," and "If any man take away thy
coat, let him have thy cloak also." Not so; but, on the contrary, we
should resist evil with our energy. The tyrant who smites you on one
cheek is only made more of a brute by permitting him to continue in the
practise by smiting you on the other. It is our moral duty, therefore,
to resist him, and not more for our own sake than for his. The
brutalizing influence of slavery upon the master class is the curse of
the Southern States to-day, and has much more to do with the
difficulties of solving the race problems than does the ignorance of the
blacks. The Government is not guiltless in this matter of interpretation
of the scriptural injunction. In the matter of State rights, Southern
election laws, and mob violence, our Government has turned the other
cheek also. What has been the result? Why the tyrants continue to become
more and more brutal, until they are not only running black men out, but
they have recently, at the muzzle of the shot gun, forced their own kith
and kin, men to the manor born, to leave the States. I have no hesitancy
in proclaiming that this brutality is a legacy left us by slavery,
against which we have to contend, making itself felt in the organized
mob and in disregard of constituted authority.

In these days of imperialism and territorial expansion, when there is,
likewise, much discussion on the subject of inferior races, it is
fitting that we should place ourselves aright upon the question of
suffrage and rights of franchise. William Lloyd Garrison, Jr., says:
"Whosoever laments the scope of suffrage, and talks of disfranchising
men on account of ignorance or poverty, has as little comprehension of
the meaning of self-government as a blind man has of the colors of the
rainbow. I declare my belief that we are suffering, not from a too
extended ballot, but from one too limited and unrepresentative. We
enunciate a principle of government, and then deny it in practise. If
experience has established anything, it is that the interest of one
class is never safe in the hands of another. There is no class so poor
or ignorant in a republic that it does not know its own suffering and
needs better than the wealthy or educated classes. By the rule of
justice, it has the same right precisely to give it legal expression.
That expression is bound to come, and it is wiser to have it come
through the ballot-box than through mobs and violence, born of a feeling
of despair and misery." Those States in the South which are passing laws
restricting suffrage, to promote the selfish ends of a class, are sowing
to the wind and will surely reap the whirlwind. In a republican
government, supposed to be ruled by the popular vote, a people's liberty
has practically been taken when the right to vote is denied them. In
such States, personal liberty, the right to testify in courts of law,
the right to hold, buy, and sell real estate, and, in fact, all other
rights, become mere privileges, held at the option of others. People are
no longer free when the rights of franchise have been annulled. Slavery
is truly re-enacted in those States which have succeeded in
disfranchising the Negro.

I have neither patience nor respect for those among us who are truckling
to the prejudice of our enemies by giving credence to the lie that the
ballot was placed in the black man's hand too soon. Lowell was right
when he said: "The right to vote makes a safety-valve of every voter,
and the best way to teach a man to vote is to give him a chance to
practise. It is cheaper in the long run to lift men up than to hold them
down; the ballot in their hands is less dangerous to society than a
sense of wrong in their heads." The so-called Negro domination of the
reconstruction period has no record of misrule such as exists in most of
the Southern States to-day. It is our privilege (an oppressed people,
who know by bitter experience whereof we speak) to give this government
timely warnings as to its duties toward the inhabitants of our newly
acquired territory.

I have no confidence in the Government's ability to ameliorate the race
conflicts of the South through the course recently outlined by the
President of this nation in speeches of flattery and encomiums upon the
dead and living heroes of the Southern Confederacy. This policy of
conciliation was repeatedly attempted before the war, with the results
that the slave influence continued to spread further north and west. It
was proved then, as it ever shall be, that no nation can succeed by
making a compact with the devil. One must tremble for this country's
future when they read upon the statute-books of the Southern States
these diabolical laws against social purity, against the civil and
political rights of our citizens. It is hoped that the coming Congress
will rise to a sense of our impending danger, and see to it that the
strong arm of the Government is brought forward to protect each and
every citizen in his civil and political rights. Until this is done, we
are by no means prepared to add nine millions more of a dark race to
those with which we now have to deal. There are those already high in
the nation's council who predict that the result of our present war
will be a curse instead of a blessing, that the nation's incapacity
to deal justly with our recently liberated slaves proves our inability
to deal with nine millions more of untutored and so-called inferior

[Note 27: War with Spain.]

* * * * *

The final conclusion of the whole matter may be forecasted thus: The
Negro element in this country is permanent and indestructible. So great
are the numbers of the Negroes, and so intimate their relations with the
white people, that it is safe to say without fear of contradiction that
the status of the Negro element will determine in a large degree the
future of the white. Let this truth once be learned. Let the thoughtful
people of the nation cease trying to deceive themselves. The inevitable
teachings of history will not be reversed. The blood of these varied
races will finally be mingled until race distinctions will ultimately be
obliterated. The docile nature of the Negro race, his intimate domestic
and other relations with the whites, make this conclusion inevitable.
The two races are complements of each other and cannot be separated.

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