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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 14, 1904.
THEY ARE ONLY "NIGGERS" IN THE SOUTH.
A Reminder of Inferiority—Other Such Reminders—The Bugbear of
Social Equality The President and the Southern Dogs.
Massachusetts and the Penitentiary for Blacks.
(Written by Clifton Johnson for the Springfield Republican.)
One of the oddest impressions that a northern person gets in the
South is that there are no colored people or Negroes there, but only
"niggers." The term is recognized as opprobrious. It is like calling
an Irishman a "paddy," an Italian a "dago," or a farmer a "hayseed."
It is equivalent to a kick, yet there is a superstition that it is not only
the Negroes' due, but that it is necessary to administer these verbal
kicks in order to avoid the possibility,of their forgetting their infer
iority. Besides, it is affirmed that the Negroes will not work unless one
is rough and vigorous with them. "If you want anything done, you
must say, 'Come here, nigger!" Why,, if you was to say, 'Come here,
Mr. Jones,' they wouldn't do nothin' for you."
"A nigger is all right in his place," the whites explain, but add
emphatically that his place is very lowly and that he must not step out
of it. If he fails to keep "his place" of his own volition, they will go
to any length of force or subterfuge to compel him to do so.
Almost the only time I have,heard a black person called "colored"
in the South, was at a private house where I lodged in Florida. A little
girl came in and said to her grandmother, "There's a colored lady out
on the porch wants to speak to you."
"Colored, lady!" commented the grandmother, derisively, "col-
ored lady! Say 'that nigger'!" , ; .
As she viewed things her granddaughter had been using fancy '
and inappropriate language. Probably the child had learned the non
sense from the northern people who frequented the region in winter.
The intolerance with which the Negro is regarded is a natural out
come of the former relations of master and slave; but it is depressing
to find that in all the years, since the war, so little progress has been
made. Men of intelligence will soberly argue with you that "niggers"
are not wholly human, that they are more akin to beasts and should
be dealt with accordingly. "If anything would make me kill my chil
dren," declared one woman, "it would be the possibility that niggers
might sometime eat at the same table and associate with them as equals.
That's the way we feel about it, and you might as well root up that big
tree in front of the house and stand it the other way up and expect it
to grow, as to think we can feel any different."
I was solemnly assured that for a southern white man to invite a
Negro, however accomplished, into his house as his guest, would mean
that white man's social ruin. "It's like this," one informant remarked
—"equality ain't safe. Now I've got a servant that was raised with
me. He loves me and I love him. He'd do anything for me, and I've
remembered him in my will. But if I was to take him into my family
and treat him like a white man, he'd murder me in three days. They
always do jus' thataway when you go to favoring 'em.
"And yet the president of the United States has had a nigger to
dine with him! The South never got a worse shock than that. Up to
then we'd thought a heap of Roosevelt down hyar. Why, we'd named
all our dogs after him and members of his family;' but we've changed
those dogs' names since that dinner."
In one town I heard a tale of a colored army officer who attempted
to attend a white folks' church and sit in a pew among his white
jikinned brethren. To them this was intolerable. They compelled him
to get. out, and '' he barely escaped the worst scouring he ever had in
In another town the old-time residents had been sadly shocked by
the indecorous way the northern people who frequented the place had
of consorting with certain educated Negroes of the vicinity. They
would ride together, and a white.man had been seen to sit in the car
riage and hold the horse while three "niggers" went into a store to
trade. More astounding still, a whke man and a Negro had even
walked under the same umbrella on a stormy day. This was thought
to be disgusting and disgraceful, and there was talk of passing a city
ordinance making such doings punishable by fine and imprisonment.
Whatever tends to lift the Negro out of a position of servility is
regarded with suspicion and irritation. At a certain Georgia village
where I stopped I found there had been a great commotion some time
before over a Negro named Richard Foster. The Negro wrote a polite
letter to a local merchant from whom he was in the habit of buying
supplies requesting the merchant to call him, "Mr. Foster" instead of
simply "Dick." Foster was a man of intelligence and education, and
he expressed himself with entire courtesy, but the merchant was vir-
THE SEATTLE REPUBLICAN
tuously indignant at "the nigger's" assumption that he or any other
man with a black skin had the right to the prefix of Mr. The letter
was passed around among the business men of the town, and heated
denunciation and swearing were general. Such impudence could not
be borne and they got ready their guns.
Meantime the colored man had learned that trouble was brewing,
and he wrote another letter "twice as long as the first," apologizing
for his indiscretion. "It was a beautiful letter," his persecutors ac
knowledged in relating the incident, but it did not avail, and they con
tinued 1 their martial preparations to teach "the nigger" the racial
proprieties. There is no knowing how serious the consequences might
have been had he not concluded it was wisest to slip away. Friends
sent his wife and goods after him and that region knew him no more,
and the threatened invasion of the white man's rights was squelched.
"I know," said my informant. "Dick was a smart nigger, but
he was no better than any other nigger. You northern people don't
understand this matter. If you would come down here and live six
months you'd see it just as we do."
Their view is that a Negro must constantly in word and action,ac
knowledge the whites' superiority. He must be respectful to ►them
on all occasions, while it is optional with them whether they shall be
respectful in return. Hence they have a decided preference for the
older Negroes who began life as slaves and have had the right sort of
training to make them humble. As a whole the servility the white man
lilies has become less > common. The Negro youth will no longer cheer
fully spend half a day doing a white man's small jobs for a ham bone
or a drink of whisky.
I have a vivid remembrance of the anger of a Virginian whom a
young colored woman did not accept with proper meekness some,ad
vice he gave her. She was at the back door of the hotel trying.jto
sharpen a stick with an ax, and was making ..an awkward job of t it.
"You blankety-blank nigger," said he, "that's no way to do! You'll
cut your cussed hand off!"
Of course a girl with any spirit would rather cut her hand off than
take advice so sulphurously flavored. But he could not comprehend'
her feeling, and he came in much perturbed. '' That flabbergasted, nig
ger'll cut her hand off, sure!" he declared, "and blamed if I don't hope
she will! You used to could tell a nigger something and. they'd listen
to you, but that time's gone by. She as.much as said she .knew more
than I did, and I'd rather be.called the meanest namethere is than have
a nigger tell me that."
The sentiments of the whites being such as they are and their pride
in their superiority so keen and belligerent, it is no wonder that the
lynch spirit is often aroused. Unquestionably there are Negroes who
are to be feared, and they are a good deal of a nightmare to the south
ern household. The whites all have guns in their houses ready, for
black depredators, and the fact that a man has no one at home but his
wife and children is promptly accepted as a sufficient excuse for his not
doing jury duty. Very little provocation is required from a Negro
to make a white man get out his gun, and bullets and lynch law are
not by any means reserved for the more serious crimes.
An incident which I heard from both the whites and blacks con
cerned, and which illuminates the possibilities of the situation quite
clearly, was this. A white evangelist was holding meetings at a colored
church, and was staying at the house of a Negro named Terry. He
talked very pointedly about his hearers' sins, and in doing so raised
the ire of one of the women whose relations with a prominent local white
man were a source of scandal. She reported the preacher's remarks
to this white man, who also took offense, and then the youthful aris
tocracy of the place united in charging that the evangelist was "stirring
the niggers all up." i
They felt they must put a stop to such doings, and they armed
themselves, hired hacks and went in impressive force and style to the
home of the Negro, Terry. He was absent, but the evangelist was
found, and they ordered him to leave the town within half an hour. He
tried to parley with them, whereat they became increasingly angry,
and compelled him to start at once. Next they marched for Terry,
and came across him talking with a white neighbor at the latter's gate.
They felt he needed to be taught a lesson, and with their bullets they
laid him low, and, incidentally, wounded the white neighbor.
While they were about it, they concluded they ought to give the
community a thorough housecleaning, and decided they would get rid
of Terry's son, who had a store in the town. That night they put a
notice on the door of young Terry's place of business warning him to
Set out of the region. YoYmg Terry was doing well with his store, and