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by: James B. Runnion
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

"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

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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