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The Economic Aspects of the Negro Problem.
I. The Negro Slave in Colonial Times.
The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line, the relation of the darker to the lighter races, says Professor Du Bois, a prominent member of the colored While his descent must naturally influence the writer quoted to somewhat exaggerate the importance of the problem, and while we socialists will never be disposed to admit that any problem may overshadow in importance the problem of labor, yet the fact that some ten millions, or one eighth of our population, are at least likely to take the point of view of Professor Du Bois, and that these ten millions are mostly proletarians, and that to them this would be a true statement of fact, no matter what we think of it, must force us socialists to admit that there is at least a great deal of truth in this assertion. Curiously enough, this general recognition of the acuteness of the negro problem dates from the beginning of the current century. Since the now famous luncheon of President Roosevelt with Mr. Booker Washington, in the latter part of 1901, an incident trivial enough in itself, but characteristic for the unanimous cry of protest throughout the entire South, from Maryland to Florida, and from the shores of the Atlantic to the farthest Texas,-animated discussions were started not only in the North, but even in Europe, as to the future of the Negro Race in America. It is no less curious, that while it is generally understood that the vast majority of the negroes in this country belong to the proletarian class, nevertheless the party which claims to represent the interest of this class has troubled itself very little about the negro problem. A few articles in the pages of the International Socialist Review, and other Socialist publications, some quite sensible and some otherwise, was all that the socialists have contributed to the discussion of this grave problem, as if their assertion, often heard, that the negro problem was only one aspect of the labor problem, relieved them of the necessity of studying it, instead of making it their especial duty. It is not at all surprising therefore, to find a universal lack of understanding of the complicated aspects of this prob lem among the working socialists, coupled with a wide spread lack of interest anywhere outside of the southern socialist organizations. Instead of a painstaking study, and some well formed convictions and policies, we find only antiquated pre
judices among some, and a purely platonic sympathy to the poor negroes among others. Do the Socialists of this country really expect to attract the ten million negro proletarians into their ranks with such a policy of indifference? Or do they really think they can succeed in this country with these ten millions of proletarians left on the outside? Or do they simply sit and wait, until the International Socialist congress will take up this momentous question, just as they were willing to leave the entire question of immigration alone to be discussed by the comrades from the countries of Europe?
The series of studies, of which this is the first installment, is not offered with the conceited notion, that it will entirely fill the existing gap. There is no pretense, that an absolutely correct answer will be given to the negro problem, which will be adopted as our plank by the time the next national convention meets for the selection of its candidates, and the formulation of its platform. Our purpose will be realized, if we shall succeed in showing some of the historical and economic aspects of this problem, and shall make the average socialist worker somewhat better acquainted with the nature of the problem, so as to give some solid foundation upon which to construct his theories and remedial proposals. Books there have been written many about the negro problem, but not only are the socialist writers conspicious by their absence in this literature, but very few efforts have ever been made, at least in this country, to apply the methods of economic interpretation to the past and the present of the negro's position in this country. For it is true, though scarcely flattering to our national conceit, that the few really scientific studies of the history of the negro race in this country have been contributed by German students, and I hope to do a useful service to the cause, if I do no more than acquaint the American socialists with the interesting results of these investigations.
I have stated above that the beginning of the twentieth century has brought with it a marked aggravation of the negro problem. Still, it was evident to any painstaking observer of American life, that no sudden change in the relation of the races has taken place and that the seeming aggravation of the conditions was but a manifestion of effects which were gathering for a very long time. For no matter what the future. may have in store for us, in the past the negro question, like the poor, we had with us always. And any serious discussion of the negro question is absolutely useless which does not take the historical conditions into thorough consideration.
What is the negro problem? In other words, what facts. of American life justify us in speaking of its existence? In brief, it is this: That ten millions of men and women of negro,
or semi-negro origin are forced, against their will, and much to their dissatisfaction, to live in exceptional legal as well as social conditions, that they are forced to suffer restrictions in their political and civil rights, as well as economic opportunities because of their racial origin. This is not intended as a criticism of the situation, but as a simple statement of facts, for at this stage we are only stating the problem which we intend to study. With the exception of one short period, where the legal, but not the actual standing of the negro was equalized with the rest of the population, the negro problem as defined above, has never ceased to exist since that fateful day when the first fourteen African negroes were brought to Virginia in a small Dutch vessel, in the year of our Lord 1619.
Not only has the negro problem existed in this country since that day, but the presence of the negro has made a deep impression upon the economic, political and social development of this country, and the history of the Negro Problem is no more and no less than the History of the United States, of its politic, economic and social institutions.
No effort will be made to embody the history of this great country in this short series of essays. Nevertheless, it cannot be stated too often, that without some historical study of the negro problem, its nature at the present cannot at all be understood.
The proclamation of emancipation divides this history into two well defined epochs, that of slavery and that of negro freedom. The present negro problem is the problem of the free negro; but an understanding of the free negro, and his problem may only be found in the conditions of slavery, and any discussion of the negro problem, which presumes to begin after the emancipation, is worse than useless, it is misleading.
It seems even strange that it should be necessary to emphasize this fact; but our young and energetic country lives. fast, makes its history in a great hurry and therefore forgets as easily. It must always be remembered, therefore, that scarcely more than 40 years have passed since the liberation of the slaves. It follows that almost all the living negroes over forty years of age were born of parents who had been slaves. On the other hand, the white population of the South is no further removed from the institution of slave owning, than the negro is from conditions of previous servitude. The system of slavery is vivid in memories, as an awful nightmare for some, and as a vision of the paradise lost for others. Social relations are even more enduring than personal memories. Much will be cleared up in this tremendous and com
plicated problem, if the present influences of the only too recent past be constantly kept in mind.
"Vice," says Horace Greeley, "is ever conceived in darkness and cradled in obscurity." This relieves me from the painful necessity of making an effort to contribute to the discussion of the exact date of the origin of negro slavery in the American colonies. In 1619, or 1620, it really makes very little difference which, there arrived in Jamestown, of the colony of Virginia, the Dutch vessel with its human cargo of 14 or 20 negroes, who were sold into slavery to some of the colonies simply followed the tradition of all colonies of the negro problem in this country. But it neither was the beginning of slavery in the American colonies, nor even of negro slavery on the new continent.
For on the one hand, there had existed by that time negro slavery for over one hundred years in the Spanish, Portugese and Dutch colonies of the American continent, directly transplanted from the African colonies of the same European powers, and on the other hand, the British colonies have also made use of enforced slave labor from the very first days of their existence. How much truth there is in the frequent assertions, that the development of the British colonies in North America would have been impossible without slave labor, it is not necessary to decide here. Nor it is necessary to presume the existence in the British colonies of any special psychological qualities, which have caused this introduction of slavery.
For in accepting the system of involuntary labor these colonies simply followed the tradition of all colonies of the European powers. The economic conditions of the American colonies were extremely favorable to the introduction of slavery or some other system of enforced labor. The enormous supply of free land made the pursuit of agriculture open to every one, as well as exceedingly profitable. Given a practically unlimited supply of free virgin land, the profits of farming was limited only by the scarcity of hired labor, for the new immigrant did not lose much time in turning into an independent farmer. The supply of free hired labor could therefore be but small, and wages of agricultural labor exceedingly high. Side by side with free labor there existed therefore the indentured labor of debtors, often as a means of paying for the cost of transportation to the promised land, and gradually slave labor of labor of the American aborigines. and finally of African negroes. Other colonies followed the example of Virginia, and in the early days the northern colonies did not lag much behind the southern settlements. In 1628 negro slavery was introduced in New York and New Jersey, about 1631 in Connecticut, in 1634 in Maryland,
1636 in Delaware, in 1637 in Massachusetts, in 1647 in the Rhode Island colony. In New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and in both Carolinas the exact date of introduction of slavery has not been determined, but it undoubtedly took place during the same period, 1621-1645. These dates leave no doubt, that there was no material difference between the attitude of the northern and southern colonies upon the problem of negro slavery in the beginning of XVII century.
How far the early liberty loving colonists were from any objections against chattel slavery, is well shown by their attitude towards slavery of the American Indians. For many years the number of available negro slaves remained a very limited one; while continuous warfare with the redskins caused a constant stream of war prisoners to flow into the colonial settlements. Since the Anglo-Saxon common law did not recognize the institution of permanent slavery, the helpful colonists, in an early effort at constructive legislation, made use of the Mosaic law, justifying the slavery of war prisoners; and thus early was the bible utilized in justification of this institution.
The system was found to be profitable, and soon systematic stealing of Indians increased the supply of slaves when the number of bona-fide war prisoners was not sufficient to meet the demand. In the beginning of the Eighteenth Century the legal position of the Negro and Indian slaves was identically the same.
But there were many reasons why the slavery of Indians did not reach any considerable dimensions. The wild and liberty loving nature of these prisoners made them little fit for work in the fields, as well as a constant source of danger to the life of the slave owner and his family. The escape of an Indian slave was much easier than the escape of a negro slave, because he was unrecognizable from the many redskinned friends and allies of the colonists, because of his knowledge of the local geography, and the willingness of the surrounding Indians to assist him in the escape. This made the purchase of an Indian slave a matter of great risk to the pocket of the colonists. And last, but not least, as an institution, Indian slavery greatly disturbed the friendly relations of the colonists with the surrounding Indian tribes. We there'fore find, that the importation of new slaves of red skin was prohibited by the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania in 1700, and all the New England colonies during 1712-1715; but traces of Indian slavery persisted in New England until the end of the Eighteenth Century, and still later in the South, though it never was of great importance economically, except that there