Skip to main content

The Southern White Man and the Negro

ISSUE:  Spring 1933

The world, just now, is so full of a number of problems, that our old familiar, the average man, is hard put to enumerate them, much less to assess them. Out of the huddles of depression, “reflation,” inflation, farm relief, monetary vagaries, international debts and intrigues, rank politics and crank nostrums, he can draw few conclusions and fewer comforts. So it is unlikely, in his bewilderment, that he should switch his thoughts from the emergent job of grub-staking the family long enough to take note of the following prosaic sentences, contained in the survey of “Recent Social Trends,” which Mr. Hoover’s million-dollar research committee issued last January, concerning the Negroes of the nation:

New questions have arisen over their entrance into industry and politics, questions which may become more widespread in the future. Their elevation in the cultural scale will mean a more effective group consciousness. . . . The relationship of whites and Negroes will raise continuing problems.

There is nothing novel or unfamiliar in those findings, but the eminence and responsibility of the authors lift them above their obvious triteness. They are of peculiar significance to the South.

Other problems arise from time to time and bask in the spotlight. One way or another we solve them and they fade out. This one abides our answer still. Thus far our pleadings have been, so to speak, either general denials or dilatory demurrers. Some day we must serve a more certain and definite answer to the Negro’s bill of complaints and join the issues, regardless of our dispositions. The longer we postpone our action, the more is our case likely to be prejudiced.

It should not be necessary—though evidently it is, now as always in former situations—to point out that the Negro problem is essentially different from the problems posed by the passing upheaval, and cannot be comprehended in any solutions of them. Unlike them, it is a problem made up almost entirely of vital human and racial relationships—some of them in sharp antipathy with the attitudes of the great majority of the white race; some, it appears, equally distasteful to the Negroes. Unlike them, its prime factors, firmly rooted in a past that began aeons before the first black men set their ever-marching feet on Virginia’s tobacco fields, are forever unalterable. To paraphrase slightly, age cannot wither them, nor custom stale their infinite variety. After more than three centuries of luxuriant efflorescence on our soil, the hoary problem still flourishes as our hardiest perennial. It has lost none of its kinetic or potential energies; it retains unimpaired its Protean faculty to assume new forms, or, to mix the metaphor, to sprout new horns with which to prod us periodically.

And whether we enjoy the thought or not, it will continue with us as long as our existing social, civil, and political institutions survive in approximately the same fashions as now. It is not a question of our volition, but of the exactions of our habitudes and racial inheritances.

Because its constitution enfolds among its other parts a substantive ethnological factor, some manifestations of which are repugnant to the white people almost as a whole, it is futile to speculate on the prospect of solution. In relation to the white race, the problem is distinctively a dissimilar whole, most of the parts of which are adjustable to the white man’s social and political organization; but others of which are not so adjustable to it without destroying the race’s existing integrity. To solve the problem in any sense in which solution signifies an explicit, inclusive, and conclusive settlement and disposal of all the issues involved in it, would entail a subversion of our organization. All talk of solution, therefore, implies a misconception of the terms of the proposition.

I know there is still a Pollyanna school that subscribes to the simple creed of “a great colored leader,” one of whose dogmas was: “When the white man will observe the Golden Rule, and the colored race keep the Ten Commandments, there will be no Negro problem.” But, alas! let the white man observe the Golden Rule as indulgently as he can, and the colored race keep the Ten Commandments unbroken, that would not eliminate the distinctions nature has made between the races. The sooner we quit chasing the fox-fire of solution, get down to cases, and clearly define the sphere within the bounds of which the two races can get together for a composition of their adjustable differences, the more fortunate our posterity will be in the long run. Naturally, the bounds should be as generous and inclusive as it may be possible to make them, consistent with the white man’s necessary racial reservations. To constrict these bounds unduly, to refuse stubbornly to enlarge them beyond their present limits, will be abortive.

On the other hand, the white race cannot acquiesce safely in any compromises that would vitiate its age-long hereditary attitudes and convictions with regard to the ethnological factor inherent in the problem. To do that, as Thomas Jef-ferson apprehended a hundred and fifty years ago, in discussing the possible emancipation and enfranchisement of slaves, would surely produce convulsions “which would probably never end but in the extermination of one or the other race.”

To be sure, Mr. Jefferson’s lurid prophesy has not been fulfilled, though it seemed fairly on the way to partial fulfillment about seventy years ago. Still, a hundred and fifty years is not a long span in the history of human races, and the Negro has been free and enfranchised less than half the elapsed time. Mr. Jefferson was a wise and far-seeing statesman, a scholar well versed in history, and time has yet some distance to run. It is noteworthy that a century after his death, another shrewd observer and profound student of history, Viscount James Bryce, after completing his second study of our bi-racial civilization, wrote:

Already it is a thing without precedent in the world’s annals, that two races, enjoying equal civil, and to some extent equal political, rights, should live side by side in close juxtaposition, yet never mingling, one of them stronger than the other and under constant temptation to abuse its strength. The more completely the weaker race absorbs the civilization of the stronger race and rises to its level, the more extraordinary the situation will be. Can anything but trouble be expected?

His final conclusions concur with the statements of the Hoover research committee. No man without the gift of clairvoyance can answer his question, in so far as it refers to the final outcome,—if such an improbable culmination as a final outcome and permanent stabilization of bi-racial relations is conceivable. Whether or not these relations will continue to be a source of constant irritation and danger, many existing maladjustments can be reconciled in the near prospect by conciliatory methods, without prejudice to the rights and rational sensibilities of either race; and more serious trouble can be averted by wise and careful procedures of responsible white and Negro leaders. Such procedures must necessarily contemplate the suppression of the turbulent and radical elements of both races, for these are the active agents that retard the accommodations essential to bi-racial harmony. They might as well learn now as later that the road to bi-racial harmony does not lead in the direction of their desires.


Nothing is farther from my purpose than to seek to dramatize this situation, or “view with alarm” its present trends. There is no occasion for that. There is, however, occasion for prudent men, solicitous of the welfare and improvement of the races, to take stock of the present, in order that provision may be made against the hazards of the future. The South, especially, cannot abandon itself to policies of laissez-faire or drift, with any hope that they will enable it to thread the mazes of the Negro problem safely or creditably. For such are not the policies of advanced radical Negroes and their sympathizers, some of whose well-defined objectives are not compatible with any attitudes the South will entertain, or tolerate in practice within its confines, while it can prevent them.

For the reasons I have stated, and in the light of our past experiences, I think the possibility of a solution may be excluded from our purview of the case. Remains then the alternative that we must continue to worry along indefinitely with our complex, hair-trigger problem.

Thus far, for some sixty years, we have muddled through, though at the tragic cost of thousands of lynchings, numerous race riots, and many acts of glaring injustice and inhumanity to the Negro, which have indelibly stained the annals of the South. It has been our luck, and the Negro’s poverty, plus his economic and political impotence, rather than our wisdom or statesmanship, that have enabled us to pull along as well as we have. Aside from the invaluable work of the progressive members of both races composing the Commission for Interracial Co-operation, and similar groups, the newly formed Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, and some of the churches, I know of no Southern programs of general scope for constructive working, planning, or even thinking, in relation to the problem. By and large, the public is apathetic. Liberal newspapers, of course, carry on as usual, and get freely “cussed” by cheap politicians.

These latter gentlemen have been our most notable performers, in their role of anti-Negro rabble-rousers. Racial prejudices and hates are sure-fire vote getters, and the politicians have not failed to capitalize human weaknesses to purchase the spoils of office. To them we can ascribe the lag in Negro education, maladministration of justice, most of the lynching sentiment, immunity of lynchers, and many other vicious practices that have retarded the Southern Negro, and, by their inevitable flare-backs, debauched the Southern white mass-man. The “proud Southerner” can only bow his head in shame that there is a chapter in his history about which an impartial British historian could write: “In some parts of the South a white man would run very little more chance of being hung for the murder of a Negro than a Mussulman in Turkey for the murder of a Christian.” Happily, the tribe of Vardamans, Heflins, and Bleases is not numerous or so popular as it was a few years ago. The 1928 election was a bitter pill for the South, but it helped to purge the body politic of some of its infections.

In contrast with our lack of positive programs—for they have been almost exclusively negative—the Negro, on the higher levels of the race, especially in the North, is well organized for advancement. He has assumed the offensive en bloc, and is no longer content with the crumbs that drop from the white man’s table. He is assertive, and demands the recognition and equality of opportunity promised by the law of the land. As his leading organization puts it: “We have political power and we can use it. We have one member of Congress and after reapportionment we are going to have more members.” The more able members of the race have permeated every field of activity, and will do so more numerously as they rise in the cultural scale. Some of them are avid for privileges hitherto denied, or only tacitly and grudgingly permitted, by white people. They are not abashed; they do not bow their heads in the house of Rimmon.

And the white man—though he chafe—so long as the Negro does not invade his racial preserves, cannot deny the Negro the right to undertake everything the white man undertakes, and to climb to any height he may be able to scale. The theory of limited rights does not jibe with our Democratic slogan of “equal rights for all, special privileges for none,” which we take out of cold storage every four years for the embellishment of party platforms.


Right here is a convenient place for me to interpolate a little personalia. Nothing approaching a candid treatment of the Negro problem will ever be applauded by extremists of either race. Whichever side of the fence one stands on, he is certain in advance that he will be razzed by one group as a Negrophobe, and hissed as an apostate Negrophile by the other. I don’t concede that I am either of those things. Nothing is gained by hiding the family skeleton in a dark closet, and few problems are advanced by spraying them with the perfume of euphemisms.

It is generally assumed, when one undertakes to discuss a subject publicly, that he at least thinks he knows something about it. Still, a few credentials help sometimes. I am no trained sociologist. For me, the Negro is not a laboratory specimen nor a biological exhibit. He is a human being. That bedrock truth will arouse indignant thoughts in some quarters. But it is my conclusion, after many years of observation and contacts. I was born, reared, and have lived more years than I like to acknowledge, in the lower South. I know the Southern white man, up and down, and I know the Negro as well as it is possible for a white man to know him. Robert Moton, of Tuskeegee, says that in the old days “Negroes told whites what they thought it was safe for them to know.” They have not shed the skin of secretiveness to any great extent. But I have found that they expand appreciably under the light of friendly interest.

My people owned a few slaves. My paternal grandfather, a Methodist minister, probably vindicated his right to hold slaves by divine sanctions, or by reference to the patriarchs of Holy Writ. In boyhood I lived in villages and small towns, surrounded by Negroes, played, fished, fought, and foraged the woods with them. There was no animosity for them in my home. In maturity I have employed and worked Negroes in many capacities—in railway service, and for eighteen years on my daily newspaper in South Carolina. There, as an editor, it was my lot, as it is the lot of most Southern editors, to have many contacts with Negroes — lawyers, teachers, ministers, editors, business men, and the common garden variety of plain Negro. Their problems and troubles, community affairs and activities, consume no little part of a Southern editor’s time. My relations with the race have been uniformly friendly. I respected them as they respected themselves and I think they respected me, notwithstanding the fact that some of them called me “Colonel,” which is a title they mostly reserve for leading politicians. I am dubious whether it is a title of respect or not.

I am not conscious of having a “black mammy” complex. Maybe I have and don’t know it. More to my purpose is the fact that I did not inherit, and never felt, the consuming hatred that on so many occasions has transformed the “poor white” elements and lawless rabble of the South into raging, blood-lusting savages.

Nothing of this, of course, authorizes me to dogmatize; but it should exculpate me from the imputation of congenital bias. Let no one cheer when I say I am not prejudiced. Prejudice is prejudgment. My statements are not prejudgments. They are conclusions derived from investigation and study. I have racial antipathies, which are quite distinct from prejudices, animosity, and hate. My racial antipathies express themselves in hostility to any and all approaches towards intermixtures of the races. In that hostility my position is approved by all the race-respecting whites of the South—notwithstanding the interracial promiscuousness of their ancestors that peopled the land with parti-colored exhibits of licentiousness. I think it is approved also by the consensus of white opinion everywhere—save perhaps in Latin America and Mediterranean Europe. In the latter regions there is, and has been for centuries, an ancient Negroid strain underlying some of the populations, which may explain their partial lack of inhibitions against such intermixtures.


Without further debate, I think it can be accepted as a categorical declaration, that whatever agenda may be proposed, affecting the relations of the races in the South, they must exclude anything savoring of “social equality” and race amalgamation. Those are the ghosts that darken the Southern white man’s thoughts on the problem; they are the factors that influence him in his emotional reactions to the question; they are the sources of the fears that have dominated him, though perhaps in some instances subconsciously, in the elaboration of his various laws and devices to deprive the Negro of the exercise of his suffrage rights, in order to maintain “white supremacy.” Economic factors have been influential, but only secondarily.

White supremacy is no longer in danger in the South. Even if he were permitted the full exercise of his rights under the federal constitution, the Negro could not dominate in any State of the South. He played a sinister and dangerous role, protected by the guns and bayonets of the United States government, during reconstruction days; but even then it was not the Negro who dominated. Without the backing of guns he would never have aspired to political place and power. The fanatics of the Freedman’s Bureau, the horde of carpetbaggers and low-lived alien politicians from the North, abetted by the equally low-lived renegades of the South, who took the freed Negro into camp and corrupted him, did the dominating. Politically, they debauched the Negro, and in after years the conditions they engendered debauched many of the whites of the South, because of the necessity imposed on them of regaining the control of their governments, a necessity which caused them to resort to violence and fraud. Their justification was that they had to fight the devil with fire. But they have paid the cost in relative political futility.

Conditions have greatly changed. The Negro population has been somewhat diffused. Though in a few counties in a few States of the South they are still in the majority, I believe, they do not threaten white rule. Their leadership in the South has largely shifted from the hands of illiterate preachers to those of conservative, educated men. Even in alliance with Republican whites, or in the unlikely event of the Negro’s collusion with disaffected Democrats, he could not assemble enough strength to dominate any part of the South. The complete flop of Republican plans to consolidate the fruits of their 1928 victories in this region betrayed the hollowness of Negro domination fears. The waving of the “black shirt” will not be so effective from now on as it used to be.

The idea was implanted in the Negro sixty-odd years ago that he would be re-enslaved, or cruelly dealt with, by the Southern whites should they regain control of their governments. He was told that the ballot was his sure defense; that to safeguard his freedom he must use the ballot to support the federal government, which was symbolized to him by the Republican party. This idea still survives among many Negroes. Such exploitation of their ex-slaves by alien politicians, to degrade them and add insult to injury, naturally enraged Southern whites, and led to race troubles and reprisals that fortified in the Negro’s mind the indoctrinations of his new teachers. Allured by gaudy pictures of unrestrained liberty; infatuated by visions of dominion and power over his former masters; seduced and corrupted by promises of rich loot, he succumbed to the wiles of his corruptors and cast in his political lot with them.

Every act and policy of the South, since then, disfranchising him in effect, if not in specific terms, has kept him jim-crowed out of the South’s political party and confirmed in Republican bourbonism. By the same tokens, the Southern whites fashioned for themselves a beautiful political strait-jacket. The net result is that, to a large extent, the two races are in political peonage, each to the other.

Whatever may be said, pro or con, of the Negro’s present situation, his enfranchisement, initially, was an act of madness or hate, perpetrated by men inflamed against a conquered people, and bent on their humiliation. It was an act of war superimposed upon a status quo of peace. The ballot is the white man’s greatest heritage, his supreme boon, from long centuries of struggle and self-discipline. Yet, with a pious gesture of magnanimity, it was handed like a child’s bauble to a horde of illiterate, irresponsible Negroes, newly freed from bondage, and mentally and morally retarded three to four thousand years behind the whites. Such a measure of enfranchisement was not extended to the people of England until some years later. Politically it was one of the most absurd acts of stupidity ever committed by civilized men.

The Negro slave was loyal to his Southern master, during a war on the result of which hung the alternatives of his freedom or continued bondage. In the absence of most of the adult male white population he was exposed to terrible temptations. He had it in his power to make a holocaust of thousands of helpless women and children. He remained faithful to his trust and gave to history its finest example of the loyalty of a subject race. It is my belief that the majority of Southern Negroes would not have swerved from their loyalty after the war, had it not been for the alien rapscallions who swarmed South to drain the blood of a people already bled white. In the light of the historic facts, it has never been conclusive to me that the intelligent Negroes of the South, whose interests lie among its white people, could not be brought back into political alignment with them.

In 1879, General Wade Hampton of South Carolina said: “I realized in 1867 that when a man had been made a citizen of the United States, he could not be debarred from voting, on account of his color. Such exclusion would be opposed to the entire theory of republican institutions.” The South, of course, does not debar the Negro “on account of his color.” But that it debars him from the same free exercise of his political rights that it permits to whites no better qualified than he is to exercise them, because of his color, is not open to debate. There are thousands of such whites not so [ well qualified for citizenship as numerous Negroes of my acquaintance.

This angle of the problem is still substantially what it was twenty years ago when Edgar Gardiner Murphy wrote of it: “There is no question as to the unrestricted admission [to the ballot] of the great masses of our ignorant and semi-ignorant people. . . . But the question is as to whether individuals of the race, upon conditions of restriction legally imposed and fairly administered, shall be admitted to an adequate and increasing representation in the electorate.”

It is notorious that the Negro is becoming educated. He is acquiring property. He is developing in race and group consciousness. Every year he approaches more nearly to the standards that will enable him to meet every suffrage test imposed by the South. Forward thinking Southern men are asking themselves what will happen when that time arrives. What will the South do? It has exhausted every legitimate expedient to bar the race from its politics. Foresight suggests it would be wise for us to be forearmed against the event; that it would profit us to endeavor to make a political ally of the Negro and divorce him from our political adversaries.

Judged by surface indications, which, however, are not always trustworthy, the Southern Negro is characteristically submissive under his disabilities. No such attitude prevails among Northern Negro leaders, as was disclosed by the following resolution adopted in 1930 by the National Association for Advancement of Colored People: It seems certain that the [association] can launch during the next year in the courts of the nation a widespread battle against disfranchisement laws and customs in the eight Southern states where disfranchisement laws were passed between 1890 and 1910.

No rational man can protest against such action by the colored association. It is clearly within its rights. But its cause will not be advanced in the South by its parallel campaign against laws forbidding interracial marriage.

I venture no predictions with regard to the future of the franchise question in the South. Our politicians will no doubt continue to oppose any liberalization of the prevailing laws and customs, so far as Negroes are concerned, while preserving to the half-literate whites all their rights. I will, however, commit myself to the proposition that it would be sound statesmanship, and that it would result in eliminating much discord from bi-racial relations and allay much sectional prejudice, for the South to take liberalizing action before it is faced with the alternative of having to back down before the situation that will certainly result from the Negro’s advance in property and educational qualifications.


It cannot be doubted seriously that the Negro’s educational retardation in the South is ascribable to the complication of this franchise question. The Fifteenth Amendment could not be openly flouted. It was possible, however, to circumvent it and nullify it in effect, by property, educational, and other tests, which, while entirely excluding a vast body of illiterate, half-literate Negroes, would affect only a relatively small number of inferior whites.

Inasmuch as the Negro’s education would obviously defeat the object of such restrictive devices, his continuance in ignorance was essential to their effectiveness. This necessity to retard the Negro’s educational advancement was translated into a central dogma in the philosophy of many Southern politicians. Upon it (though they predicated their objections publicly on worthier grounds) was based their prolonged opposition to compulsory education and to adequate provisions for the Negro’s education. It did not disturb their dreams, apparently, that their opposition to compulsory education militated also against the white child. He was sacrificed on the altar of the major objective—to exclude the Negro from political activities. And thus the retardation of the Negro’s educational advancement had repercussions that injured the whites. Still, many of our notable politicians have not been distinguished by their zeal for an enlightened electorate or for intelligent jurors.

Through the coordination of many forces and agencies, a distinct change has come over the liberal thought of the South concerning the Negro’s education. It is unfortunately true that, per educable child, there is woeful disparity between expenditures for whites and Negroes. But with the certain spread of liberal sentiment, and with increase of means, expenditures will be more equitably apportioned. We still boast reactionaries who maintain that expenditures for the Negro’s education, by the States, should be ratable to his contributions through taxation. These are far too blinded by their racial prejudices and hates to comprehend that a prime objective of the Negro’s education is not only to qualify him for citizenship (what else can we do with him?), but to eliminate from society the menace of his illiteracy, degradation, disease, and criminal impulses (which is not, by any means, to imply that these evils are peculiar to the Negro race). For, aside from its humanitarian motivation, it is a protective policy, highly necessary to the welfare of the whites. Many of these whites, more’s the pity, are as great a menace as the Negro.

About twenty-five years ago, when it was written, very few Southern whites would have subscribed to the opinion of Sir Harry Johnston, the eminent British anthropologist, that “we should indeed be living in a fool’s paradise if we continued to assume that a Negro could never attain to the high mentality of the white, or equal him as an inventor, an artist, a strategist, a writer.” They would not unanimously subscribe to it now, because it has not been fulfilled completely in any instance. But, when they reflect upon the race’s remarkable progress within the past fifty years, they are not so cocksure as once they were concerning the mental power of occasional individual Negroes. As a whole, nevertheless, the race must travel a long way to overtake the whites.

The decade in which Sir Harry’s opinion was blazoned was not only signalized by scepticism regarding the Negro’s ability to assimilate the white man’s civilization; it was also disturbed about what sort of education he should have, in so far as it could be regulated by expenditures of public funds. There was hot debate on the wisdom of providing him more than an elementary education. Ardent opponents of his higher education argued that it would unfit him for the labors which they asserted were his natural heritage; that it would make him “biggity” and dangerous to the whites. A curious reflection of this attitude is contained in a magazine article of twenty-five years ago, from the pen of a well known Baptist seminary president in Kentucky, from which I quote:

As things are now, it is practically a contest between two civilizations, that is to say, so long as the Negro seeks equality in all respects with the whites. It is immoral and wrong to demand that Negro civilization should be placed on a par with white. This is fundamentally the issue.

It is fundamentally the issue now, in so far as it is involved with any aspirations by the Negro for “equality in all respects with the whites,” because that estate is unattainable. Otherwise it is not an issue among intelligent whites, though it is still a burning issue up at “the forks of the creek.” The long debate as to whether or not the Negro can assimilate the white man’s civilization has been settled in the affirmative by intelligent whites. Political tirades against the “educated nigger” are not so frequent as they once were.

The archaic view that it would be “immoral and wrong” for the Negro to place his civilization on a par with that of the whites is not tenable. Nor is it tenable that education and advancement of the Negro necessarily connote a “contest between two civilizations.”


As a matter of fact, the Negro’s civilization is essentially the white man’s. There can be no divorcement, no partition 1 of our bi-racial civilization. We cannot parcel it out and say to the Negro: “This is your share.” Having set his feet on the road to knowledge, we cannot say, if we wanted to: “Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.” On the contrary, the economic and cultural undertakings and ambitions of the * two races are, and must continue to be, corollary and complementary, each contributing to the common purpose of lifting the national plane of civilization. But it will not be lifted to the highest levels attainable un-til the white man recognizes that the Negro is a vital and in- / tegral element in it, and must continue so. As such an element he necessarily conditions it more importantly than a superficial survey of the situation discloses. Not only does he condition it positively, through his contributions to the common fund of achievement; he conditions it negatively through the impact upon him of every attitude of the white man that withholds from him the exact measure of justice to which he is entitled, or the concession of which does not violate necessary racial separateness.

So long, for example, as we lynch him; permit him to be unjustly discriminated against in our courts; do not provide him with proper housing, sanitary, water, sewerage, and similar improvements; do not defend him against outrages and persecutions by officers of the law, especially in prison camps; deprive him of his right, when competent, to serve on juries; lump all sorts and conditions of Negroes together . into one common herd of “niggers”—so long as these are our attitudes we contribute to his debasement, make him a drag on our civilization, and the reaction is against us in proportion as the direct action is against the Negro.

Another reality that the white man must also recognize is that this Negro problem is not exclusively the white man’s problem; it is likewise the Negro’s. Its questions will not yield to the white man’s comfortable dream that his dispensations have settled them, or can settle them. Neither will they conform themselves to the ordinations by which he blandly imagines he can continue to temporize with them. Whatever dispositions are made of the divergent issues, the Negro will have a voice in the determinations. This is not a palatable morsel for stiff-necked brethren to chew on, but it is clearly deducible from the facts of the case, as any sensible man can see who will doff his racial blinders.

The time was, even after emancipation and reconstruction, when the Negro (excepting a few radicals and “intellectuals”) left definitions of his status, by and large, to the “white folks.” For the one thing, his slave-heritage of docile submission constrained him to this. For another, he was pretty much like a helpless child, in the strange new world of freedom into which destiny had projected him, without guide or counselor — except in the evil days when the Freedman’s Bureau grafters took him into camp and corrupted him to his great disadvantage. But a vast change has taken place in the plot of the drama, and the further industrialization of the South will make that change yet vaster and more complex. If the white man still believes his race, alone, can impose inequitable ex parte judgments, without reference to the Negro’s interests, he is kidding himself.


I believe the lynching vogue is on the road to virtual extinction. Contrary to much non-resident opinion, respectable and responsible Southern whites — certainly since the subsidence of reconstruction and “anti-nigger rule” hysterias —have not indulged in this barbarous practice. It is undeniable that, until late years, they were not generally aggressive in fighting it. Their apparent indifference palpably prolonged the evil, by failing to set up a countervailing force of public opinion against the natural proclivities of rural mobs, whose favor and suffrage are the main dependence of a familiar type of politicians and officials, especially sheriffs and grand jurors. Many a Southern “nigger” has been hung, shot, or burned as a sacrificial offering on the altars of official cowardice and political ambition. The life of a poor “nigger”—the substitute for the “bread and circuses” of the Roman tyrants—was a small thing, if its destruction kept the rural savages content with their political overlords.

As one of the many Southern newspaper men who have fought this form of savagery for many years, in defiance of kluxery, red ink skull-and-cross-bones threats, and taunts of “nigger-loving,” I know whereof I speak. Now that many Southern women are banded together for a definite offensive against this favorite out-door sport of the noble one hundred per cent rural Caucasian of the hinterlands, the slimy politicians will duck and lynching will be on the wane.

It has been the most active and virulent cause of interracial bitterness. With its cessation almost assured, and conditioned on the abandonment by radical Negroes of their advocacy of interracial relations antipathetic to general white sentiment in this country, we may hope for adjustments and accommodations, acceptable to conservative Negroes and liberal whites, of all other questions constituting the Negro problem. Reasonable concessions by the whites, unconditional surrender by radical Negroes, are the indispensable prerequisites to any modus vivendi for effective, harmonious relations between the races. To secure and prolong such relations—to perpetuate them would be unparalleled in human history—is a consummation for which liberal whites should be willing to make some sacrifices, political, economic, and sentimental. If the way be blocked by extremists and reactionaries, it will be necessary, sooner or later, to remove them from the road by some means or other. The vital interest of the two races cannot be subordinated to the ambitions or prejudices of irreconcilables, and will not be, permanently.

No good purpose is served by being mealy-mouthed about the matter. It lies in the very nature of things, where two distinctly dissimilar races live in close juxtaposition, with equal civil and theoretically equal political rights, one of those races being practically unabsorbable, that one of them must and will be the dominant race. This is not a mere biological theorem based on the fact of substantive racial distinctions—it is a positive law, vindicated by universal history. The white race is now, and will continue to be, the dominant race in the United States. The Negro’s only chance for escape from this fact, since emigration is out of the question, is through absorption by, and amalgamation with, the white race. That alternative is repugnant to the whites. The fact of political and social dominance does not necessarily imply racial superiority or inferiority. As somebody has wisely suggested, the “color line” should be perpendicular, and should separate the races for their own well-being; not horizontal, to imply a caste system. Each individual can form his own opinions with regard to racial superiority and inferiority. In the nation as a whole, caste distinctions are not admissible, and completely preclude effective adjustments. Nor need there be question of subjection by one race to the other. The only thing involved is recognition of an unalterable, inescapable racial fact.

All the diplomacy, all the patience which they can bring to bear will be required of the liberal whites and the conservative Negro leaders not only of the South, but of the nation, to institute amicable relations between the races. I cannot conceive of attaining conditions so millennial that discords will not arise out of the racial distinctions and antipathies that have existed since homo sapiens first diverged into his four or five varieties. Whether or not the utmost best they can accomplish will, in the long last, avail to forestall catastrophe; whether or not the question will have finally to be settled by amalgamation of the races (with regard to which I think I have sufficiently emphasized the aversion of my race), is for the ages to determine.

I cannot more appropriately conclude than by quoting the sentiments of Henry W. Grady, one of the truest friends the Negro race of the South ever had:

The problem of the South is to carry within her body politic two separate races, equal in civil and political rights, nearly equal in numbers. She must carry these races in peace, for discord means ruin. She must carry them separately, for assimilation means debasement. She must carry them in equal justice, for to this she is pledged in honor and gratitude. She must carry them even unto the end, for in human probability she will never be quit of either.


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading