Short History of the American Negro - Benjamin Brawley

Recent History

110. Conflicting Opinion and New Ideals.—The program advanced by Dr. Washington at once commanded attention; and the South, in the first flush of a new era of industrial development, and the North, for the time being interested mainly in the security of its Southern investments, both approved the new leader, who along the lines of thrift and self-reliance certainly gave tremendous inspiration to thousands of his fellowmen in the South. From the very first, however, there was a distinct group of Negro men who honestly questioned the ultimate wisdom of the so-called Atlanta Compromise. They felt that in seeming to be willing temporarily to accept segregation and to waive political rights Dr. Washington had given up too much. As the opposition, however, they were not at first united and constructive, and in their utterances they sometimes offended by harshness of tone. Dr. Washington himself said of the extremists in this group that they frequently understood theories but not things; that in college they gave little thought to preparing for any definite task in the world, but started out with the idea of preparing themselves to solve the race problem; and that many of them made a business of keeping the troubles, wrongs, and hardships of the Negro race before the public. There was ample ground for his criticism. More and more, however, the opposition gained force. The Guardian, edited in Boston by Mr. Monroe Trotter, was particularly outspoken; the Voice of the Negro, a monthly magazine published for three years in Atlanta, helped toward the cultivation of racial ideals; and in 1905 twenty-nine men of the race launched what was known as the Niagara Movement. The aims of this organization were freedom of speech and criticism, an unlettered and unsubsidized press, manhood suffrage, the abolition of all caste distinctions based simply on race and color, the recognition of the principle of human brotherhood as a practical present creed, the recognition of the highest and best training as the monopoly of no class or race, a belief in the dignity of labor, and united effort to realize these ideals under wise and courageous leadership. The time was not yet quite ripe and the Niagara Movement as such died after three or four years. Its principles lived on, however; nor did it pass before it had definitely fixed attention upon a new leader, one who was more and more to prove himself a dear-voiced spokesman.

111. W. E. Burghardt DuBois.—William Edward Burghardt DuBois was born February 23, 1868, at Great Barrington, Mass. He received the degree of Bachelor of Arts at Fisk University in 1888, the same degree at Harvard in 1890, that of Master of Arts at Harvard in 1891, and, after a season of study at the University of Berlin, received also the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Harvard in 1895, his thesis being his exhaustive study, Suppression of the Slave Trade. Dr. DuBois taught for a brief period at Wilberforce University, and was also for a time an assistant and fellow in Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, producing in 1899 his study, The Philadelphia Negro. In 1896 he accepted the professorship of History and Economics at Atlanta University, the position which he left in 1899 to become the Director of Publicity and Research for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He has made various investigations, frequently for the national government, and has contributed many sociological studies to leading magazines. He has been the moving spirit in the Atlanta Conference and by the Studies of Negro Problems which he has edited at Atlanta University he has become recognized as one of the great sociologists of the day and as the man who more than anyone else has given scientific accuracy to studies relating to the Negro. Several books that he has written belong rather to our chapter on "Literature and Art." Just now we are concerned with his work in the larger life of the race and the nation.

112. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The organization with which Dr. DuBois became identified in 1910 was begun by a group of men and women, without distinction as to race, who were so interested in the welfare of the Negro and indeed in the principles on which the country itself was founded, that they felt that the time had come for a simple declaration of human rights. The Association aims "to make 11,000,000 Americans physically free from peonage, mentally free from ignorance, politically free from disfranchisement, and socially free from insult." It had early in 1919 a membership of 50,000, its organ being the Crisis, a monthly magazine published in New York, with Dr. DuBois as editor. It wages a constant fight for justice in every way, has been singularly successful in placing before the public the evils of lynching, and it has widened the door of hope not only for the college man or woman, but for the agricultural laborer as well.

113. Racial Co-operation.—The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is outstanding as an effort in co-operation between the races for the improvement of the condition of the Negro. Of special interest along the lines of economic betterment has been the work of the National League on Urban Conditions among Negroes, from whose headquarters in New York thousands of Negroes have been placed in honorable employment and the most cordial relations between these workers and their employers cultivated. Interesting also is the increasing concern of the young Southern college man about the problems at his very door. Special Phelps-Stokes fellowships for the study of problems relating to the Negro have been founded at the Universities of Virginia and Georgia, it is expected that similar fellowships will be founded in other institutions, and the new interest and activity are represented in a wider way by the annual meetings of the Southern Sociological Congress and the University Commission on Southern Race Questions. The Commission, organized in 1912, was established with the intention that it "should consult with leading men in both races, should endeavor to keep informed in regard to the relations existing between the races, and should aim especially to influence Southern college men to approach the subject with intelligent information and with sympathetic interest." The results of the first few years of such work have been noteworthy. Already seven or eight thousand young Southern men and women are regularly engaged in the study of the Negro, and from them work of increasing scholarship and social value may not unreasonably be expected.

114. Migration.—Very soon after the beginning of the great war in Europe in 1914 there began what will ultimately be known as the most remarkable migratory movement in the history of the Negro in America. The sudden ceasing of the stream of immigration from Europe created an unprecedented demand for labor in the great industrial centers of the North, and business men were not long in realizing the, possibilities of a source that had as yet been used in only the slightest degree. Special agents undoubtedly worked in some measure; but the outstanding feature of the new migration was that it was primarily a mass movement and not one organized or encouraged by any special group of leaders. Those who left their homes in the South to find new ones in the North worked first of all in response to a new economic demand. Prominent in their thought to urge them on, however, were the generally unsatisfactory conditions in the South from which they had so long suffered and from which all too often there had seemed to be no escape. It is a very conservative estimate to say that in the four years 1915-18 not less than 500,000 Negroes thus changed their place of abode. Naturally in such a number many ignorant and unskilled persons were to be found, but sometimes the most skilled artisans and the most thoughtful owners of homes in different communities sold their property and moved away. These people sometimes were employed by the thousands by great industrial organizations.

Not unnaturally, however, such a shifting of population did not take place without some inconvenience and hardship. In Pittsburgh and Philadelphia congestion in housing conditions became so great as to demand immediate attention. In more than one place moreover there were outbreaks in which lives were lost. The feeling in East St. Louis, Ill., accounted for one of the most depressing occurrences in the whole history of the race in America. For years this city had been an important industrial center. In the summer of 1915 a strike on the part of 4,500 white men in the packing plants led to the calling in of Negroes from the South, and by the spring of the next year perhaps as many as ten thousand had recently arrived in the city. Riots occurred in May. On July 2, however, there began a massacre in which hundreds of thousands of dollars of property were destroyed, six thousand Negroes driven from their homes, and about one hundred and fifty shot, burned, hanged, or maimed for life. Constituted officers of the law failed to do their duty, and the testimony of victims as to the torture inflicted upon them was such as to send a thrill of horror through the heart of the American people.

In various ways, however, different earnest and noble-spirited organizations labored in the work of the adjustment of the Negro to his new condition. Representative of such effort was that of the Detroit branch of the National League on Urban Conditions among Negroes. This agency was not content with merely finding vacant positions, but approached manufacturers of all kinds through distribution of literature and by personal visits, and within twelve months was successful in placing not less than one thousand Negroes in employment other than unskilled labor. It also established a bureau of investigation and information regarding housing conditions, and generally aimed at the proper moral and social care of those who needed its service. The whole problem of the Negro laborer was of such commanding importance after the United States entered the war as to lead to the creation of a special Division of Negro Economics in the office of the Secretary of Labor. To the directorship of this was called Dr. George E. Haynes, Professor of Sociology and Economics at Fisk University, his special duties being to advise the Secretary and the directors of the several divisions on matters relating to Negro wage-earners, and to outline and direct plans for the greater co-operation of Negro workers with employers and other workers in agriculture and industries.

115. The Great War and the Negro.—When the United States entered the war in Europe in April, 1917, the question of overwhelming importance to the Negro people of course became that of their relation to the great conflict in which their country had become engaged. Their response to the draft call set a noteworthy example of loyalty to all other elements in the country. In the summer of 1917 interest centered especially upon the training of Negro officers at Camp Dodge, near Des Moines, Iowa. As many as 1,200 men became commissioned officers. The race furnished altogether to the fighting forces of the United States very nearly 400,000 men, of whom a little more than half saw service in Europe. Negro men served in all branches of the military establishment, cavalry, infantry, artillery (field and coast), signal corps, medical corps, aviation corps (ground section), ambulance and hospital corps, sanitary and ammunition trains, stevedore regiments, labor battalions, depot brigades, etc., and also served as regimental clerks, surveyors, and draftsmen. For the handling of many of the questions relating to these men, Mr. Emmett J. Scott was on October 1, 1917, appointed Special Assistant to the Secretary of War. Mr. Scott had for a number of years assisted Dr. Booker T. Washington as secretary at Tuskegee Institute, and in 1909 he was one of the three members of the special commission appointed by President Taft for the investigation of Liberian affairs. His work in his new office was to keep the Negro people and the country at large fully informed as to the policies of the Government aimed to benefit the Negro soldiers, and to stimulate the patriotism of the Negro people and vitalize their efforts to aid in the winning of the war. Negro nurses were authorized by the War Department for service in base hospitals at six army camps Funston, Sherman, Grant, Dix, Zachary Taylor, and Dodge—and women served as canteen workers in France and in charge of hostess houses in the United States. Sixty Negro men served as chaplains; 350 as Y.M.C.A. secretaries; and others in special capacities. Service of exceptional value was rendered by Negro women in industries and on farms; very largely also they maintained production in mills and promoted the food supply through agriculture at the same time that they released men for service at the front.

Meanwhile the Negro people at large were investing millions of dollars in Liberty Bonds and War Savings Stamps and contributing most generously to the Red Cross, Y.M.C.A., Y.W.C.A., and other war relief agencies. In the summer of 1918 interest centered upon the actual performance of Negro soldiers in France and upon the establishment of units of the Students' Army Training Corps in twenty of the leading educational institutions of the race. When these units were demobilized in December, 1918, provision was made in a number of the schools for the formation of units of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. In the whole matter of the war the depressing incident was the court-martial of sixty-three members of the Twenty-fourth Infantry, U. S. A., on trial for rioting and the murder of seventeen people at Houston, Texas, August 23, 1917. The trial began November 1, 1917. As a result of it thirteen of the defendants were hanged December it, forty-one sentenced to imprisonment for life, four to imprisonment for shorter terms, and five were acquitted. Negro soldiers at the front lived up to their great tradition of valor, and when the armistice was signed they were the American troops that were nearest the Rhine. Further detail of their actual achievement will be found in our next chapter, "The Negro as a Soldier."

116. Africa and the New Age.—As soon as the war was over and the period of readjustment had begun, the Negro became the subject of unusual attention, great emphasis being placed upon movements and meetings for the cultivation of better relations between the races in the South. The Negro people themselves, however, while not less interested in their own problems at home, suddenly awakened to a very real concern for the future of the natives of Africa, especially those whose destiny depended most vitally upon the decisions of the Peace Conference in Paris. In February, 1919, largely through the personal effort of Dr. DuBois, a Pan-African Congress was held in Paris, the chief aims of which were the hearing of statements on the condition of Negroes throughout the world, the obtaining of authoritative statements of policy toward the Negro race from the Great Powers, the making of strong representations to the Peace Conference sitting in Paris in behalf of 250,000,000 Negroes throughout the world, and the laying down of principles upon which a future development of the race must take place. At the same time young Negro men in America began to realize as never before their obligation to Africa and the unparalleled opportunity for service offered by the great continent. Thus the consideration of the history of the Negro in America passes into that of the ultimate destiny of the Negro in Africa and the world.