Negro and the Nation - G. S. Merriam
It is difficult to write history, but it is impossible to write prophecy. We can no more tell what lies before us than the Fathers of the Republic could foresee the future a century ago. They little guessed that slavery, which seemed hastening to its end, would take new vigor from an increase of its profits,—that, stimulated by the material gain, a propaganda of religious and political defense would spring up,—that a passionate denunciation and a passionate defense would gradually inflame the whole country,—that meanwhile the absorption of the mass of citizens in private pursuits would blind them to the evil and peril, and prevent that disinterested, comprehensive statesmanship which ought to have assumed as a common burden the emancipation of the slaves,—that the situation would be exasperated by hostility of the sections and complicated by clashing theories of the national Union,—that only by the bitter and costly way of war would a settlement be reached,—and that emancipation, being wrought by force and not by persuasion, would leave the master class "convinced against its will," and a deep gulf between the races, whose spanning is still an uncertain matter,—all this was hidden from the eyes of the wisest, a century ago. So is hidden from our eyes the outworking of the century to come.
But the essential principles of the situation, the true ideals, the perils,—these were seen of old. Jefferson wrote, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is a God of justice." And Washington said, "I can already foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our Union, by consolidating it in a common bond of principle." Just so clearly can we read the basal principles on which depends our national safety. We look forward to-day, not to predict what will be, but to see what ought to be, and what we purpose shall be.
We, the people of the United States, are to face and deal with this matter. We are all in it together. Secession has failed, colonization is impossible. Southerner and Northerner, white man and black man, we must work out our common salvation. It is up to us,—it is up to us all!
The saving principle is as simple as the multiplication table or the Golden Rule. Each man must do his best, each must be allowed to do his best, and each must be helped to do his best. Opportunity for every one, according to his capacity and his merit,—that is democracy. Help for the weaker, as the strong is able to give it,—that is Christianity. Start from this center, and the way opens out through each special difficulty. The situation is less a puzzle for the intellect than a challenge to the will and heart.
First of all, it is up to the black man himself. His freedom, won at such cost, means only opportunity, and it is for him to improve the opportunity. As he shows himself laborious, honest, chaste, loyal to his family and to the community, so only can he win to his full manhood. The decisive settlement of the whole matter is being worked out in cotton fields and cabins, for the most part with an unconsciousness of the ultimate issues that is at once pathetic and sublime,—by the upward pressure of human need and aspiration, by family affection, by hunger for higher things.
On the leaders of the negroes rests a great responsibility. Their ordeal is severe, their possibilities are heroic. The hardship of a rigid race severance acts cruelly on those whose intelligence and refinement fit them for a companionship with the best of the whites, which they needs must crave, which would be for the good of both races, but which is withheld or yielded in scanty measure. Self-abnegation, patience, power alike to wait and to do,—these are the price they are called to pay. But the prize set before them is worth it all,—the deliverance of their people, and the harmonizing of the long alienated races. They need to beware of jealousies and rivalries of leadership such as have made shipwreck of many a good cause. There is room and need for various contributions. They have a common bond in that ideal which is the most precious possession of the American negro. It is the old simple idea of goodness, set in close relation to this age of productive activity. It requires that a man be not only good but good for something, and sets faithful and efficient service as the gateway to all advance.
But for the right adjustment of the working relations of the two races, the heavier responsibility rests with the whites, because theirs is the greater power. They can prescribe what the blacks can hardly do other than accept.
What we are now facing is not slavery,—an institution that may be abolished by statute—but its offspring, Caste—a spirit pervasive, subtle, sophistical, tyrannic. It can be overcome only by a spirit more pervasive, persistent and powerful—the spirit of brotherhood.
Puzzling as the situation is at some points, its essential elements are far simpler and easier to deal with than slavery presented. There is no longer a vast property interest at stake,—on the contrary, material interest points the same way with moral considerations. There are complexities of the social structure, but nothing half so formidable as the aristocratic system based on slavery. The gravest difficulty now is a race prejudice, deep-rooted and stubborn, yet at bottom so irrational that civilization and Christianity and human progress should be steadily wearing it away. Let us take heart of grace. If our wills are true, it should be no great puzzle for our heads to find the way in this business. Let us test the practical application of our principle—namely, that each man should do his best, each should be allowed to do his best, and helped to do his best—let us see how this should work in industry, education, politics, and social relations.
First in importance is the industrial situation. Broadly, the negro in this country shows himself able and willing to work. The sharp spur of necessity urges him, and his inherited habit carries him on. But he needs a training in youth that shall fit him to work more effectively. For that matter, his white brother needs it, too. But here is the inequality of their situations,—whatever the white worker is qualified to do he is allowed to do, but how is it with the black worker? Let the Northern reader of these pages see at his door the palpable instance of a limitation more cruel than can be found at the South. Let him note, as the children stream out from the public school, the dark-skinned boy, playing good-naturedly with his white mates, at marbles or ball or wrestling,—just as he has been studying on the same bench with them,—he is as clean, as well-dressed, as well-behaved, as they. Now, five years hence, to what occupation can that colored boy turn? He can be a bootblack, a servant, a barber, perhaps a teamster. He may be a locomotive fireman, but when he is fit to be an engineer, he is turned back. Carpentry, masonry, painting, plumbing, the hundred mechanical trades,—these, for the most part, are shut to him; so are clerkships; so are nineteen-twentieths of the ways by which the white boys he plays and studies with to-day can win competence and comfort and serve the community. It is a wrong to whose acuteness we are blunted by familiarity. It can be changed only as sentiment is changed; and for that there must be white laboring men who will bravely go ahead and break the cruel rule by welcoming the black laborer to their side.
In the South the negro as yet enjoys industrial freedom, in the choice of an occupation—or a near approach to it—because his labor is so necessary that he cannot be shut out. But the walls are beginning to narrow. White immigration is coming in. The industrial training of the old plantation is no longer given, and industrial schools are yet very imperfectly developed. Some trades are being lost to the negroes; they have fewer carpenters, masons, and the like; they find no employment in cotton mills, and are engaged only in the least skilful parts of iron manufacture. The trade unions, gradually spreading through the South, begin to draw back from their early professions of the equality and brotherhood of all toilers. An instance comes to hand as these pages are being written—one instance out of a plenty. "The convention at Detroit, Mich., of the amalgamated association of steel and iron workers has postponed for a year consideration of a proposition to organize the colored iron, steel and tin workers of the South. The white employes of the Southern mills led the opposition. They objected to seeing the negroes placed on an equality, and it was further argued that once a colored man obtained a standing in the association, there was nothing to prevent his coming North. President Shaffer urged that all men who are competent workers should be members of the association." Now for next year it is up to President Shaffer, and those of like mind! On this question, of comradeship between black and white laborers, there is a call to the leaders of labor organizations to lead right. These chiefs of labor hold a place of the highest possibilities and obligations. In their hands largely lies the advance or retrogression of the industrial community—and that means our entire community. It is one of the most hopeful signs of the times that stress of necessity is bringing to labor's front rank men of a higher type, men often of large brain, high purpose, and strong will. Brains, purpose, will,—all are needed by these unofficial statesmen. They must look many ways at once, but this way they ought not to fail to look,—to the industrial harmonizing and equality of the two races.
Exclude the colored men from the unions, and what can be expected but that they serve as a vast reserve for the employers when strikes arise between the capitalists and the employes? We read now and then of the introduction of negroes as "strike-breakers," and the bitterness it causes. But will not this be repeated on the largest scale if the millions of negroes are to be systematically excluded from the unions? There may be difficulties in including them,—difficulties partly running back into other injustices, such as the practice of different wage-rates for whites and blacks. But it would seem to be the larger wisdom, in point of strategy, to enroll the two great wings of the host of labor into a united army. And apart from strategy, that character of the labor movement which most deeply appeals to the conscience and judgment of mankind,—the uplift of the great multitude to better and happier things,—that should rise above the barrier of race-prejudice as above all other conventional and foolish divisions. Will the labor leaders see and seize their opportunity at once to strengthen and to ennoble their cause?
The education of the negroes presents a hundred special questions, but its basal principles are not difficult to discern. Here, fortunately, we have in the main an admirable loyalty and good-will on the part of the white South. It is proved by deeds more than by words. The sum spent by the Southern States in the last thirty years for the schooling of the blacks—it is reckoned at $132,000,000, most of it, of course, from white taxpayers—is the best evidence of its disposition. The occasional complaints and protests seem no more significant than the occasional grumbling at the North against its best-rooted institutions,—everywhere and always the children of light must keep up some warfare with the Philistines. The main difficulties at the South are two; limited means for so great a task,—three or four months of schooling burdens Mississippi more than ten months burdens Massachusetts; and the grave puzzle as to what kind of elementary education best fits the negro child.
This puzzle applies almost equally to the white child; throughout the country and the world a reconstruction of education is struggling forward, through great uncertainties but under strong pressure of necessity. It is felt that the old-time book-education, and even its modern revision—all as yet come vastly short of rightly fitting the child for manhood or womanhood. We have advanced, but we have still far to go. To rightly educate "the hand, head and heart," (the watchword of Tuskegee)—to develop strong, symmetrical character and intelligence, the sound mind in the sound body,—to train the bread-winner and the citizen, as well as to open the gates of intellectual freedom and spiritual power,—this is what we have not quite learned. Socrates and More and Rousseau and Pestalozzi and Froebel and Armstrong have done much, but they have left abundant room for their successors. The millionaire's child, as well as the field-hand's, must wait awhile yet. So it is small wonder if the Southern public school is still a challenge to the best wits.
The combined industrial and educational need of the South is excellently summed up by a sympathetic observer, Ernest Hamlin Abbott:
"The chief industrial problem of the South is, therefore, that of transforming an indolent peasantry accustomed to dependence into an active, independent people. This involves an educational problem. Industrial education is something very different from training a few hundred girls to cook and sew for others; it is something, even, very different from supplying a few hundreds of young men with a trade. Industrial training is this larger undertaking, namely, to train hundreds of thousands of young people in habits of industry, in alertness of mind, and in strength of will that shall enable them to turn to the nearest opportunity for gaining the self-respect that comes with being of use to the community."
One thing is clear. More than the system is the teacher. Now and always the first requisite must be instructors of devotion, intelligence, sympathy, inspiration. To train such, and train them in multitudes, there must be institutions, ample in intellectual resource and high in their standards. There can be no fit common schools for the blacks unless there are worthy normal schools and colleges. Atlanta and its class are necessary as well as Tuskegee and its class,—and Atlanta reinforces Tuskegee with a large proportion of its teachers. On broader grounds, too, the need of the higher education for the black man is imperative. It can hardly be better stated than in the words of Professor DuBois, in his book of irresistible appeal, The Souls of Black Folk:
"That the present social separation and acute race-sensitiveness must eventually yield to the influence of culture, as the South grows civilized, is clear. But such transformation calls for singular wisdom and patience. If, while the healing of this vast sore is progressing, the races are to live for many years side by side, united in economic effort, obeying a common government, sensitive to mutual thought and feeling, yet subtly and silently separate in many matters of deeper human intimacy,—if this unusual and dangerous development is to progress amid peace and order, mutual respect and growing intelligence, it will call for social surgery, at once the delicatest and nicest in modern history. It will demand broad-minded, upright men, both white and black, and in its final accomplishment American civilization will triumph. So far as white men are concerned, this fact is to-day being recognized in the South, and a happy renaissance of university education seems imminent. But the very voices that cry hail to this good work are, strange to relate, largely silent or antagonistic to the higher education of the negro."
It must be remembered that in the growth of a tree the upper boughs must have space and air and sunlight, as much as the roots must have earth and water,—and so with a race. There is need of scholars and idealists, as well as toilers; and for these there should be their natural atmosphere. Again let us hear the moving words of Professor DuBois: "I sit with Shakespeare, and he does not wince. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest, peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?"
Yet it is not for himself or the cultured few that he makes the strongest plea:
"Human education is not simply a matter of schools, it is much more a matter of family and group life, the training of one's home, of one's daily companions, of one's social class. Now the black boy of the South moves in a black world—a world with its own leaders, its own thoughts, its own ideals. His teachers here are the group leaders of the negro people—the physicians, clergymen, the trained fathers and mothers, the influential and forceful men about him of all kinds—here it is, if anywhere, that the culture of the surrounding world trickles through, and is handed on by the graduates of the higher schools. Can such culture training of group leaders be neglected? Can we afford to ignore it? Do you think that if the leaders of thought among negroes are not trained and educated themselves, they will have no leaders? On the contrary, a hundred half-trained demagogues will still hold the places they so largely occupy now, and hundreds of vociferous busy-bodies will multiply. We have no choice; either we must help furnish this race from within its own ranks with thoughtful men, of trained leadership, or suffer the consequences of a headless misguided rabble."
Turning now to the political status of the negro, it may be said that the most pressing need will be substantially met if the South will carry out in good faith the provisions of her statute-books. By some of those statute-books, suffrage is still equal and universal. In others, the negro in required to own $300 worth of property, or to be able to read and write, or to understand the Constitution when read to him. That the white man is practically exempt from these tests, by the "soldier" or "grandfather" clause, whatever be its theoretic injustice or unwisdom, would be no great practical grievance to the negro if only he were fairly allowed to cast his own vote when he can meet the statutory tests. At present, throughout the greater part of the South, the practical attitude of the election officials, and the social sentiment enforced in subtle, effectual ways, debars the negro vote almost as thoroughly as if it were disallowed by law. That this should be so may be satisfactory enough for those to whom the matter ends with "This is a white man's country," or "Damn the niggers anyhow." But will the intelligent, large-minded Southerners,—the men of light and leading—always allow the theory of their own statute-books to be nullified? Will they forever maintain a suffrage-test of race rather than of property and intelligence?
It is said, no doubt truly enough, that a large part of the negroes are indifferent to the suffrage, and do not care to vote. But is this a desirable state of things? Taking the class to whom the law awards the suffrage,—the men of some modest property qualification and intelligence,—is it well for the community that they should be indifferent to questions of taxation, of law-making, of courts and schools and roads and bridges? Is it not in every sense desirable that they should be encouraged to take an intelligent and active interest in such matters? John Graham Brooks tells of his recent observations in Gloucester county, Virginia, where whites and blacks have been co-operating for good local government, and the curse of liquor-selling has been restrained by the votes of a black majority. Surely we should all like to see that precedent widely followed. That is a very crude idea of politics which sees in it only a scramble for public offices. That is an obsolete idea which construes Southern politics as a struggle for power between whites and blacks. Politics, in a large sense, is the common housekeeping of the community. It is the administration of the broadest and highest common interests. The importance to the Southern negro of the political function was greatly overrated when he emerged from chattelhood. But is there any wiser course now than to educate and train and encourage him to a living membership in the body politic?
In this connection we naturally recur to the relation of the national government to the negro problem. In general, the let-alone policy of the last twenty-eight years is likely to continue, and there is every reason why it should. The termination of Federal interference in 1877 was not due to criminal indifference or lassitude on the part of the North, or to political accident. It was essentially the gravitation of the nation to its normal position, after the shock of war and the adjustment of the vital changes involved in the abolition of slavery. Those changes recognized in the national Constitution, and the new order set on its feet, it was natural, inevitable, and right, that the States should resume the control of their local affairs. The division of governmental functions between State and nation was one of the most fortunate circumstances of our birth-period; it was the ripening of our historical antecedents, felicitously grasped and molded by a group of great men. It rests on the fitness of each local community to handle its own affairs, while only the most general and fundamental interests are intrusted to the central authority. When the Southern States were left to themselves, they did some unwise and unjust things,—and there had been something of unwisdom and injustice in the time of Federal supervision—but on the whole it was the re-establishment of the normal order. The policy which naturally followed on the part of the general government was the avoidance of special legislation, especially of the restrictive kind.
But within its own sphere, the national government should follow those principles which are in the best sense American. Thus the executive, in its appointments to office, ought to recognize an equality of race, like that which the Constitution affirm as to civil rights and the suffrage. It is of vital moment that the American nation,—whatever local communities may do,—should not bar competent men from office because of race. Here as elsewhere,—the tools to him who can use them, the career open to the fit talent. This should hold good wherever the national executive acts, South as well as North. The principle should be applied with reasonable regard to the sentiments of the local community,—reasonable but not servile regard. In a city by character and tradition a stronghold of the white race, it seems unwise to give a principal office to a black man. But in a community where the black element is strong in numbers and in character, and where the dark race offers fit incumbents for office, there should be a fair number of such appointments. If it is said "This is offensive to the Southern people," the answer is, Who are the Southern people? Not the white people only, but the black people also.
As to legislation, a measure was recently proposed and somewhat discussed, which has perhaps passed like other bubbles, but the proposal of which caused natural agitation and apprehension at the South. This was a scheme for applying the Fourteenth Amendment to the reduction of Congressional representation in the South in proportion to the negroes excluded from suffrage by the new State Constitutions. Some such reduction may be permissible under the amendments,—for the later Fifteenth Amendment only forbids the States to limit suffrage by "color, race, or previous condition of servitude." Limitation by a property or educational test is not forbidden; but under the Fourteenth Amendment it might be made the ground for reducing a State's representation in Congress. But when it has been said that the proposed measure of reduction is permissible under the Constitution, there is nothing more in its favor. From the standpoint of its proposers, it would be only half-effective, for it could reach only those debarred by actual want of property or education; the larger exclusion by the unfair administration of election officers is an individual matter, beyond the cognizance of statute-books. But the weighty objection is that it would recognize, accept and confirm that very exclusion of the negro vote against which it professes to be aimed. It would only enforce a penalty, from which the gain would accrue solely to the Republican majority in Congress and the electoral college. The Republican party, it is safe to say, has too much virtue and intelligence in its rank and file to accept such a gain at such a cost. For the cost would be a bitter intensifying of race and sectional hostility. The Southern negro, his disfranchisement accepted and ratified by the North, would be freshly odious to his white neighbors on whom he had unconsciously brought this humiliation. The fast closing breach between the North and South would have a sharp and heavy wedge of division driven in. The peaceful forward movement of the nation—for forward it is, spite of some lurches and staggers—would be set back by a return to the old methods of sectional conflict. But indeed the proposal hardly merits so much space as has here been given it. It is a scheme of politicians and not of the people, unhopeful even as a political scheme, unsupported by the sober thought of the North, utterly unlikely to be realized or seriously attempted.
There is another kind of legislative action which may well be seriously considered. Would it not be wise, just, and statesmanlike, for the nation to give financial aid to the tremendous work of public education with which the South is struggling? The Blair bill for this purpose,—in a word, an appropriation of $100,000,000, running through ten years, on the basis of illiteracy,—came very near success in Congress. It was defeated by an ardent championship in the North of local independence and self-reliance. It is questionable whether that championship was not misdirected. Here are States burdening themselves beyond their Northern neighbors, to give schooling for only a third of a year, and necessarily sometimes of inferior quality. The deficiency, compared with the standards of wealthier States, results in a widespread ignorance detrimental not only to the community but to the nation. The interests at stake are common to us all. The backlying cause of the trouble,—slavery and its accompaniments—was in a sense our common responsibility; we all ought to have united to get rid of it peaceably, and the North ought to have paid its share. For the dereliction the South has paid a terrible price. The North, too, suffered wofully, yet in far less measure. Would it not be the part of patriotism and statesmanship—of wisdom and good-will—that all should now take some share in lifting the load which weighs heaviest on the South, but hurts us all?
We are spending a hundred millions a year for a navy. Would not some of that money be put to better use in training our own citizens, who will otherwise go untaught? Someone has said: "The cost of one battleship would endow the higher education of the Southern negro for half a century to come."
It is not the negro only, it is his white neighbor also, for whom we are to provide. So to plan the provision that the money be honestly and wisely spent; to do it with just consideration of local feeling, yet on firm lines of American democracy—this would take study and sagacity. But could study and sagacity be better applied than to make this idea practical? The project seems prompted by wise self-interest and by justice. The South is carrying more than its share of national expense, and without complaint. Our tariff system presses far heavier on the agricultural South than on the manufacturing North. Of our payment of pensions,—running up to $130,000,000 a year,—the South bears its proportion, though it is paid to men for fighting against her, and the South makes no remonstrance. Is it not simple justice, is it not a matter of national conscience and honor, that the whole nation should help her in educating the future citizens of the republic?
From this national aspect, we return to the more personal phases of our theme. Shall we touch on that subject whose very name seems to prohibit discussion?—what is called "social equality," or as others would prefer "social intimacy." Either phrase seems to evoke a phantom before which consideration and composure flee. But we may, as Epictetus suggests, say, "Appearances, wait for me a little; let me see who you are and what you are about, and put you to the test." Social equality—in what sense does it exist among white men? People find their associates according to fitness and congeniality. Clean people prefer the society of clean people, and the dirty must go by themselves or change their habits. Men and women of refinement and good manners welcome the company of the refined and well-mannered. They do so no less if these pleasing traits are found in a Japanese, a Chinese, or, a Hindu. This is the custom of the civilized world. At the North, as already in Christendom at large, the same usage is coming to extend to the African. A gentleman, a lady, by breeding and education and behavior, is admitted to the society of other ladies and gentlemen, whether in the business office, the committee-room, or the home. When the Grand Army of the Republic in Massachusetts this year chose their district commander, the almost unanimous choice fell on a soldier, a lawyer, and a gentleman, of African blood. When last fall the students of the Amherst agricultural college elected the captain of their football team, they took as their leader a young man of the dark race. A few years since a class in Harvard awarded their highest honor, the class oratorship, to Mr. Bruce of Mississippi, of negro blood. When a Springfield lawyer, meeting in Philadelphia an old classmate in the law school, accepted his invitation to dinner at his boarding-house, and there found himself among a score of ladies and gentlemen, all dark-skinned, elegant in dress and manners, agreeable in conversation, and meeting their guest with entire ease and composure,—he did not feel that the meeting had injured either him or them, or shaken the foundations of the social order. Such is the growing, if not the general, practice in the Northern States; such is the well-established custom of Christendom. If the white people of the Southern States, for reasons peculiar to their section, follow a different rule, they have still no occasion for wonder and dismay at the practice in other sections, or for indignation when the highest official in the American capital follows the general usage of the civilized world.
The reasons given by the Southern whites for their own course in the matter call no less for respectful consideration. They say: "We are encompassed and intermingled with a people of negro and mixed blood. If we associate with them familiarly, the natural result will be intermarriage. There is no drawing the line short of that. Meet at the dining-table and in the drawing-room,—visit, study, play, associate familiarly and intimately,—and the young people of the two races, in many instances, will pass through acquaintance and friendship to love and marriage. Then springs a mixed and degenerate race; then the white race, with its proud tradition, its high ideals, its grand power, shades off into an inferior, mongrel breed. Our inheritance, our civilization, our honor, bid us shut out and forbid that degeneracy at the very threshold."
Let it be assumed that for the present the white South resolutely maintains its attitude of social separation. But let its defenders consider some of the consequences it involves, and make account with them as best they may. Does not this social code strongly confirm, and indeed carry as a necessary implication, that industrial separation which must work injuriously not only to the negro but to the community? If the white gentleman will not associate with a black gentleman in a committee on school or public affairs, if he will not admit him to his pew or his drawing-room, is it not to be expected that the white carpenter or mill-hand will refuse to work side by side with the black? What that means where the black man is in a small minority, we see here at the North,—it shuts him out. Where he is in stronger force, as at the South, the refusal of industrial fellowship means growing bitterness, and the complication and aggravation of labor difficulties. It all goes along together,—the social separation and the industrial.
Further, this means that each race is to be ignorant and aloof from the other, on its best side. The best side of every civilized people is seen in its homes. The white and the black homes of the South are strangers to each other. Edgar Gardner Murphy in his admirable book, The Present South, while he does not for a moment question the necessity of the social barrier, laments that ignorance of each other's best which it involves. He dwells hopefully on that development of the family life which marks the negro's best advance,—but what, he asks, can the white people really see or know of it? Surely it is a very grave matter to keep two intermingled peoples thus mutually ignorant of each other's best.
If it be asked, "What course can reasonably be considered as a possible alternative to the jealous safeguarding of our race integrity?" the answer might suggest itself: "Simply deal with every man according to his fitness, his merits, and his needs, regardless of the color of his skin. Decide to-day's questions on the broad principles of justice and humanity. Leave the ultimate relation of the races to those sovereign powers working through Nature and mankind, which we dimly understand, but with which we best co-operate by doing the right deed here and now."
Some things we say—and think, too,—when we are in debate with our opponents, and some other things we think when we quietly commune with ourselves. Any social ordinance or usage finds its final test when we bring it into the companionship of our highest ideal. We may here borrow an apologue:
"The other night I fell asleep when soothed by vivid memories of a visit to Charleston soon after the war. The place was then new to me, and the warmth of old friends from whom I had long been parted and the cordial hospitality of those now first met seemed to blend with the delicious atmosphere which soothed and charmed my senses. The memory prompted a dream, in which I sat again at that hospitable board, where my host had summoned a company to meet a special guest. The stranger delighted us all, partly by his suggestive comments, but still more by some subtle sympathy which moved us all to free and even intimate speech. Gradually the company enlarged; presently entered a man, and my host whispered to me, 'That fellow tried to ruin me, but I can't shut him out now'—and place was made. Then came in one with marked Jewish features, and the company drew their chairs together and made room for him. More intimate and sympathetic grew the talk,—strangely we all felt ourselves in a region of thought and feeling above our wont, and brought close together in it. It dawned on me 'this Presence among us is the same that once walked in Jerusalem and Galilee.' At that moment there appeared at the door a newcomer of dark hue. A frost fell on the company; they seemed to stiffen and close their ranks; the host's face turned in trouble and uncertainty from the newcomer to the guest of honor. The Guest arose and spoke to the stranger,—'Take my place!' he said."
Each of us dreams his own dream, and thinks his own thought. Differ as we may, let us unite wherever we can in purpose and action. The perfect social ideal will be slow in realization, but it is to-day's straightforward step along some plain path that is bringing us nearer to it. The black workman who every day does his best work; the white workman who welcomes him to his side; the trade-union that opens its doors alike to both colors; the teacher spending heart and brain for her pupils; the statesman planning justice and opportunity for all; the sheriff setting his life between his prisoner and the mob; the dark-skinned guest cheerfully accepting a lower place than his due at life's feast; the white-skinned host saying, Friend, come up higher,—it is these who are solving the race problem.
Slowly but surely we are coming together. We confront our difficulties as a people, however we may differ among ourselves, with a oneness of spirit which is a help and pledge of final victory. We are one by our most sacred memories, by our dearest possessions, and by our most solemn tasks. Our discords are on the lower plane; when the rich, full voices speak, in whatever latitude and longitude, they chord with one another. When Uncle Remus tells Miss Sally's little boy about Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox, the children from the Gulf to the Lakes gather about his knees. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are claimed as comrades by all the boys between the Penobscot and the Rio Grande. Lanier's verse rests on the shelf with Longfellow's. The seer of Concord gives inspiration in Europe and India and Japan. Frances Willard stands for the womanhood of the continent. When Fitzhugh Lee died, it was not Virginia only but America that mourned a son. When Mary Livermore passed away, we all did honor to her heroic spirit. When Dunbar sings his songs, or DuBois speaks in the tones of scholar and poet, we all listen. The great emancipators of the successive generations,—Woolman, Lundy, Channing, Mrs. Stowe, Lincoln, Armstrong, Booker Washington—do we not all claim a share in them? Just as all Englishmen feel themselves heirs alike of the Puritan Hampden and the Royalist Falkland, so we Americans all pay our love and reverence to the heroes of our war,—Grant and Lee, Jackson and Sheridan, Johnston and Thomas, and all their peers.
And we are one by the common tasks that confront us. This problem of the races,—it is a challenge to do our best. "Impossible? What are we put into the world for, but to do the impossible in the strength of God?" The rich man and the poor man, the employer and the laborer, must find some common ground of justice and harmony. The nation must be steered away from commercial greed and military glory, toward international arbitration, toward peace, toward universal brotherhood. Knowledge and faith are to join hands, and the human spirit is to reach nobler heights. These are the tasks which we Americans are to meet and master—together.
The hope of Lincoln is finding its late fulfillment: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave"—Northern and Southern graves alike—"to every living heart and hearth-stone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." The pathetic melody of the negro spirituals, the brave and rollicking strains of "Dixie," and the triumphant harmony of "The Star Spangled Banner," blend and interweave in the Symphony of America.