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Pessimism of the Freedmen's Teachers at the War's End
"I Am Confident that the Negro Will Suffer More
The veto fell with a disheartening, but by no means crushing, effect upon the freed-people. The evening it was announced in the school was one of the saddest I have experienced with them since the death of President Lincoln.
A few evenings before, a nephew of Senator Trumbull had visited the school, and, on being asked to address them, said he had no speech to make, but would say to them, "Congress is doing all it can for you." That they warmly applauded, pronouncing it "the best speech" they had ever heard in a long tme. Their faith in the powers that be is as astonishing as it is beautiful. How cruel to abuse it!
I receive the "Commonswealth," and circulate it among my young politicians. Many thanks for it. I send you the "Examiner" occasionally, although I hardly like to encourage such wickedness. James, my representative boy, came to me with a doleful face, when it was rumored that the "Examiner" was to go on again, to ask if President Johnson could revoke General Grant's order. "Oh, yes!" I replied. After a moment, he looked up, more hopefully, with the question, "Can't somebody revoke President Johnson?" I sent him to the Constitution for an anser, but hadly think he found one that satisfied him.
Our night school is particularly interesting. Although in my own room, I have not more than one or two who can read enough tor ead a paper, they have as clear an understanding of political matters as half of the voters at home, and could be trusted to vote with greater safety.
After the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, I asked my evening class if they knew any thing about it, and there was not one who had not a pretty good idea of it. One said, "It is to give us our rights;" another, "to give us our voice;" another, "to let us speak in court." One said, "What is Johnson going to do now?"He had, somehow, got it into his head that the President was not one of his "best friends." Some of them asked me to tell them all about it; and after I had explained it, as fully as I could, one old woman clapped her hands, and shouted, "Glory to God!" She told me, the next night, that "all day while she was about her work, 'peared like she 'couldn't help saying all the time, "Glory!" I wish I could repeat to you all she said. I never heard greater eloquence.
And with such a magnificent president to stand our friend, I greatly fear that this is the last winter we shall have to work. Oh, Fuller, how much faith one needs in Supreme wisdom and power to bear such things with equanimity as we have to bear in these miserable days! What a man to be Abraham Lincoln's successor! What a spectacle for the world to laugh at--the Chief Magistrate of such a nation as ours going about making speeches in such a style! As if it were not enough for him to act the enemy of the public good, he must make the whole country ridiculous.
Mr. Whittemore has been spending his Sunday with us, and is going to form a Union League among our people today. Do you know what that is? I am sure I don't only that no women are to have anything to do with it, and that I have been engaged for the last week incessantly in getting it up. The people who are to join are rather stuck up to find that after all is done I am not to be its president or even a member. They think there must be something wrong somewhere, and are almost ready to back out. Mr. Whittenmore laughingly threatens all manner of diabolical punishments if they disclose to me any of the proceedings, which I tell him they will be sure to do if I ask them. . . .
Oh, isn't it funny that after all they are forced to admit me to the Loyal League because there is nobody in it who can write, and not likely to be, as the whites here are not favorable to the movement--any expect Mr. Fleming, who is not here, nor likely to be for some weeks. So I am an enviable [?] exception to the entire feminine world. The distinction is likely to be greater than the enjoyment of it, I think.
I have tonight learned that our glorious President has finally fired his biggest gun and issued his "Amnesty Proclamation." Language is powerless to express one's feelings in view of such an outrageous villain as his accidency proves himself. I trust he can do us no lasting injury, but these things must greatly retard reconstruction. I wonder what will turn up next. I long for Mr. Wittemore to get back. It seems as if South Carolina was safe only when he is here. It is good for me that Sumter has such a very large majority of colored people, not one of whom would see a hair of my head injured. Let the rebels get as rampant as they may, they dare not touch me. But you don't know what a state of things this will create. Is A. J. possessed with a demon or is he the very father of mischief himself? I wonder he did not reinstate slavery while he was about it.
Election is over and we still live. Such a quiet election was never known in "Slavery times"--no whiskey was allowed, and there was no drunken man to be seen and "nary row"--much to the disappointment of the Rebel prophets. Except at the po0lls the streets were as quiet as on any other day, and at night-fall everyone had gone home. This may not seem strange in orderly New England, but it is strange here, and even our enemies acknowledge it. Four colored men, only, voted the Democratic ticket.
I heard an incident the other day, which seemed to me interesting. A freedman went to his owner and said "Now massa. you always gave me good advice when I asked for it, and I want you to now. What ticket shall I vote?" The master replied, "John, I'll think of it, and tell you." A few days after, he called the man and said to him, "John, I have been thinking of what you asked me the other day; I have made it a subject of prayer, and this is what I have to say. I wish you would not vote at all, but if you must vote I cannot conscientiously advise you to vote any but the Radical ticket." That was Gen. Preston, one of the Confederate officers and now a leading Democrat. I wish they were all as high-minded and honorable. They might well call themselves the "best friends" of the freedmen.
Because African-Americans were not readily accepted as freemasons at that point, they established their own tradition of Prince Hall Freemasonry. The invitation above was sent to Lucy Chase, inviting her and the other freedmen's teachers in Norfolk to join with the African-American freemasons to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their organization. It is interesting to note that the festivities were to be held on January 1, 1864, suggesting that the Rising Sun Lodge No. 8 had been initiated on January 1, 1863, the day when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect.
Prince Hall is recognized as the father of African-American freemasonry. Born sometime around 1735, Hall worked as the slave of a Boston leather-dresser until 1770. Afterwards he opened a successful leather shop.. In 1775 Hall petitioned to become a member of Boston's St. John's Lodge and was rejected. Despite the fact that he would soon fight against the British at Bunker Hill, Prince Hall applied along with fourteen other free black men to become members of a lodge operated by the 38th Foot Regiment of the British army. They was accepted, and when the regiment withdrew from the Boston area, they were granted limited authority to establish his own lodge. On July 3, 1775, this group founded the first lodge of black Free and Accepted Masons anywhere in the world: the African Lodge No. 1. Prince Hall was named master. He is also remembered today for the leadership he provided in his community, for example, petitioning the Massachusetts legislature in 1777 to call for the abolition of slavery and in 1878 to call for education for black children.
|You know how public our situation is. Gray coats and rebel ladies gather at our windows, during the exercises, all curious and interested; thqugh some sneer, and laugh, and top their heads, and say. “The idea of a darkey’s going to school!" S — heard one lady fighting with the fact that negroes go to school; and she heard her companion say, “Well, I would not mInd their going to school so much if they had nigger teachers; but to see white folks teaching ‘em, that’s awful !" ***Many of our children have been driven from their homes because they came to school; and, in some instances, whole families have been turned into the streets because they were represented in the schoolroom. One of our loveliest girls, gen¬tle, fair, and beautiful, came to us the second morning of school, and, with tears in her eyes, said, “My master said if I came to school this morning I should never go into his house again. He would not have any of his niggers going to school; pretty soon they’d know more than he did: but I wanted to get a book and so I came.” |
--Lucy Chase, Townfield, E. Va., April 10, 1865
Every day, our fourteen windows are crowded with a promiscuous throng of spectators; and I can see that some of the secessionists are surprised to see how easily the children are controlled and how mnch they have progressed in so short a time; and in not a few cases have I seen faces, at first hard and sour, soften and sweeten with real interest. I think a good deal of this outside class, and indulge the hope that it gets some valuable lessons from the colored children. The spectacle of such a multitude of little darkies, keeping perfect order, and, in concert, going through a series of graceful gymnastics, singing the multiplication table, or the national airs, and intelligently answering questions in arithmetic and geography, is so novel that they forget that they have run at “America,” “Yankee Doodle,” or “ Red, White, and Blue;” and, allowing themselves to hear them once, some of the old feeling I think must be awakened in their hearts. I must tell you how we quite unwittingly horrified the neighborhood a few days ago. Sister and I were at the head of the steps, just going into school; our arms full of beautiful boquets and a pile at our feet from the children, who were swarming the yard; when a body of cavalry appeared over the hill. “Yankee Doodle, children!” I cried; and immediately all the boys were whistling, and all the girls singing that as a welcome (clapping their hands in time) to the Yankees; who were “coming to town” and “a ridin’ on their ponies.” The tune never sounded so well to me before: their whistling is certainly very musical, and I wish you could have seen how pleased every soldier looked at this unexpected greeting. Every face was eagerly and anxiously looking round as they entered the captured city; not knowing what unwelcome welcome some rash Southron might have planned for them; but how quickly their expression changed! Off went the hats, and most heartily they seemed to enjoy it; and I venture to say, not a man of them will ever forget his welcome to Richmond. But the neighbors, how they frowned upon the scene ! ‘Tis many a day since you had the privilege of hearing that good old tune, thought I; and but a few days ago, to hum it, would have led to the whipping-post. Where are your whipping-posts now? Gone for ever, thank God!
--Sarah E. Chase, Richmond, Virginia, "Extracts from Teachers' Letters," The Freedmen's Record, June, 1865, 98-99
The following letter is from Peter Woolfolk, who was a slave previous to the surrender of Richmond: —
Richmond, Va., April 22, 1865.
To Miss Stevenson:
...On Wednesday morning, I received instruction to attend at the Methodist Church, to assist Miss Haskell, and have remained there. I am pleased with my work, and shall try to make it beneficial as well as acceptable to the Society. There is a deep-rooted bitter hatred in the hearts of some of the most influential citizens of this place, against the schools; and efforts are being made to prevent parents from sending their children to school. Some have been turned out of doors, and others are told if they send their children to school, they shall leave their homes instantly. Leaving their homes at this time would be very troublesome if not serious, there are so many houseless by reason of the conflagration; and so many have been turned away, and others running away, from their former masters in the surrounding country.
SLAVERY NOT DEAD.
A little girl escaped from her so-called mistress the other day, and succeeded in getting to Natchez. She said she came away on account of harsh treatment. A kind aunty, who had no child to care for, took her in, took care of her, and brought her to school. At recess, singular to relate, her mistress came along in her carriage, stopped, had the child put into the carriage, again taken back, and to the remonstrances of the colored people who gathered around she only answered that she would show them that slavery was not played out with her, and if the Yankees thought they were going to set all the niggers free they were mistaken. I knew nothing of the matter till it was all over. If the little girl comes in again she will stay, as arrangements are already made to that end.
Since the return of so many rebel soldiers there are evidently more manifestations of displeasure at the colored schools. They often stop to stare into the schoolroom to see what is going on. I don't think they take the proceeding kindly at all. It is very sad, no doubt, to see the little slave children that were competing with their own, and perhaps carrying off the laurels in the race. However, we do not see as there is any remedy for it. "What must be, must be."
The white rowdies are doing what they can to put down the schools. They commenced taking what they could find in our schoolrooms; we had locks put on the desks and doors; they pressed off the locks, and took books and slates. We were startled on Saturday morning by the cry of fire Concert Hall had been set on fire in four places It was burned inside of the building: the outside was saved. They say they are determined to put down these schools, and I suppose think they have done it now; but we hope to commence to-morrow morning in our old home, the "Bell Church," where we taught over two years. We were startled from sleep about twelve last night. Some one threw a piece of coal through the window, smashing one pane of glass. Mr. Coan says we are very imprudent to stay here without a guard. For my part, I am not trouble about their touching us.
From Orangeburg, S. C.
This is one of the towns which were laid in ruins by General Sherman's army in the march through South Carolina. There is a small military force stationed here, under command of Colonel E. A. Kozlay, Fifty-fourth New-York Volunteers. It would not be safe for teachers to remain at this place, if the people were not held in check by the presence of the United-States troops. There is much bitterness of feeling toward any person at all interested in the colored race. There is not a family who can yet speak a friendly word to a teacher of colored persons. Were it not for the wife of Colonel Kozlay, we should be without a female acquaintance. . . .
The citizens were very much opposed to the establishment of the school, and have threatened to burn the house. A guard is kept there at night, --also one in sight of our own little house. We hope to be able to stay several months. This the first opportunity the majority have had of learning, and they are here, as we find them in all places, eager to improve.
We trust that all may learn to know the letters, and many to read and write, during our stay; and that the seed which we sow may spring to a rich harvest in coming days.
Wishing to work where there was the most need (there being so many places where nothing has been done for the Freedmen, and where they are sorely persecuted), we came here, where a school house, built by the soldiers, had just been destroyed by the citizens and the feeling is intensely bitter against anything Northern. The affairs of the Bureau have been rightfully mismanaged here; and our Govt has been disgraced by the troops who were stationed here. Now the troops are withdrawn, and the people are chafing at the presence of the Bureau and "a few pious and enthusiastic N.E. school marms:" "both must be cleared out of the place," says the daily press.
We have never seen any discourtesy in any of the citizens, but we know that we are generally discussed in circles; and many plans are proposed for "getting rid" of us.
Think how much the South is behind the North in civilization, and how much worse the feeling is between the whites and the blacks! Wishing well to all mankind, I have much desired to see a movement for the elevation of the Southern whites: (though I feel it no duty to take part in the work, their being plenty of people for it) and have had this matter on my mind throughout my Southern life and have talked Education and Industry to them whenever I have met them; and on my own responsibility urged them to go to the "Yankee Schools," knowing what a benefit it would be to the blacks, to be thus associated with the whites they are to have dealings with in future. But though the parents were "wishing their children had the advantages the Niggers were enjoying" they usually "would rather they'd die than go to school with the Niggers" or they said : "I never will get so low as to have my children learnin with nigs."
No matter how strict the rules, and wise and kind the teachers plans, for the comfort, and rights of the black scholar; the feeling of the whites expressed or not—will keep the sensitive African away; though he would willingly bear cold, hunger, and whippings if need be—to "get a little larnin." I know L. agrees with me, for she made no dissent, when I was talking on the subject last eve.
You can hardly conceive the change which six months has wrought in making possible such an incident as that. The negro is a power in the land; the government is not quite effete; the teachers have an acknowledged position. Yet some barbarisms of prejudice remain to be overcome, particularly among the women. Mrs. Solomons has been heard to remark that "we could not be ladies; no ladies would come down here and associate with niggers as we do." And Mrs. M'Coy says she wishes a clap of thunder would come and kill those two Yankees.
Our friend, Mr. Tamblyn boards in the family of a Southerner--Mr. Wilson. By taking in Mr. Tamblyn to board Mr. Wilson has lost his business almost wholly, & everyone looks coldly upon him. None of the ladies of L. call upon Mrs. Wilson, or recognize her in the street. Yet Mr. Wilson was a soldier in the Confederate army nearly four years. It is so noble of him to take Mr. Tamblyn & to stand up for him so manfully as he does. That is being persecuted for righteousness' sake if there is any such thing.
The people of L[ynchburg]. are very different from the Sumter people. You can feel the difference in a moment. They are much more outspoken & offensive in their hatred of the Yankees. Oh, they looked at us so insolently as we walked along the streets with Messrs. Tamblyn & Whittemore. Sunday evening there was no meeting at the colored church, so Mr. Whittemore proposed that we all go to the white Methodist church. In almost all the churches in this country it is the custom for the ladies to occupy one side of the church & the gentlemen the other. So, though we greatly dreaded being separated from our protectors, we complied with the custom, & went on the ladies' side. There was one lady (?) sitting in the slip we entered. As soon as we were seated she turned and whispered a moment with a lady behind her, & then rose hastily & bounced out into another slip. Such a cross-fire of eyes, shooting, angry, insulting glances as we had to undergo then! I was glad when the gentlemen sent for us before the service was out, for I don't know but some of them would have come to violence.
In regard to other freedmen's education in the city and county I can only repeat what has already been said. It is where all would be throughout the the South, if the influence of the General Government should be withdrawn--drooping, discouraged; teachers with blasted hopes, working hard, desperately, but pulling only against the current. Here at the capital, our schools are certainly among the most flourishing of the State; but even these are running with weary pace and clogged wheels. I regret to be obliged to write thus. It makes the heart ache to see the late flourishing system of this State so suddenly overturned. At Christmas vacation teachers in Nashville were told by the school board that "no time could be fixed for commencing the schools, and perhaps they would not commence at all." It was thought this would induce these devoted Northern ladies to leave, but with admirable courage they determined to remain; consequently about half were employed, and still have in all about five hundred pupils, showing how high had been the standard. Five hundred similar children, equally advanced and promising, and whose parents pay full taxes, have been turned loose upon the streets. The city, it is true, has but little school money, yet makes less effort to obtain it. There seems to be no heart in the work.
Freedmen versus Southern Whites
In natural tact and the faculty of getting a livelihood the contrabands are inferior to the Yankees, but quite equal to the mass of the Southern population. It is not easy to see why they would be less industrious, if free, than the whites, particularly as they would have the encouragement of wages. There would be transient difficulties at the outset, but no more than a bad system lasting for ages might be expected to leave behind. The first generation might be unfitted for the active duties and responsibilities of citizenship; but this difficulty, under generous provisions for education, would not pass to the next. Even now they are not so much behind the masses of the whites. Of the Virginians who took the oath of allegiance at Hampton, not more than one in fifteen could write his name, and the rolls captured at Hatteras disclose an equally deplorable ignorance. The contrabands might be less addicted than the now dominant race to bowie-knives and duels, think less of the value of bludgeons as forensic arguments, be less inhospitable to innocent sojourners from Free States, and have far inferior skill in robbing forts and arsenals, plundering the Treasury, and betraying the country at whose crib they had fattened; but mankind would forgive them for not acquiring these accomplishments of modern treason. As a race, they may be less vigorous and thrifty than the Saxon, but they are more social, docile, and affectionate, fulfilling the theory which Channing held in relation to them, if advanced to freedom and civilization.
THE thrift, industry, and general prosperity exhibited by the colored freedmen in many-quarters of the South, during the last three or four years, have surprised many. It is beginning to be seen that it is not the poor blacks but the poor whites whose disinclination to labor, whose ignorance and degradation, bid fair to unfit them for universal freedom.
All well and flourishing at the Laboratory, where the Stars and Stripes are now thrown to the breeze every morning at sunrise. The little "secesh" who left "the white school" in disgust when the flag first went up, has not yet been reconstructed, and so remains at home in his ignorance, " a true son of Virginia."
Because they were living alongside the freedmen, teachers were able to provide first-hand reports of the actual living and working conditions of the former slaves. The testimony they provided contrasted sharply with some of the reports offered in the North, as in the case of the following item that appeared in the New York Times:
The Planters' Banner, a paper well informed in regard to affairs in the State, says the negroes are returning to the old plantations all over St. Mary's parish, and that they have been flocking in for the whole of the past year. Once back in their former cabins, they acknowledge, after their weary pilgrimage among strangers and conniving friends, that there's no place like home. The kindly feelings of past years are fast returning. Rid the South of the Freedmen's Bureau, the schoolmarms and the peripatetic newsmongers from the East, and Sambo will reoccupy his normal position as a cultivator of the soil and a confiding dependent of his former friend and master.
This is the Richmond we have taken; this the peace we have conquered; this the emancipation for which Abraham Lincoln died.
"There Will Be Much Suffering"
There will be much suffering among the people this winter. Government stopped their rations early in September, when they were obliged to commence living upon their crops, which will soon be exhausted, as many came here too late to plant large ones. Near the Bay, they are self-supporting; but all about us, and on the upper part of the Island, they will suffer much. New ones are constantly arriving, who are destitute of every thing, having made contracts with the former land-owners on the "main" for the summer, and are now turned off, without any thing, and the contracts broken by the whites. The people are all much troubled with the fear of the return of their former masters, and Gen. Howard's visit has left them very sad. Fifteen thousand acres had been issued to them, in parcels of forty acres each, when the order was given to stop the allotment; and we all feel that the Government has broken faith with them. They make no reproaches upon it, but express themselves as "torn in mind," and "so distressful," and say that they cannot trust the men who have treated them so cruelly as their old masters have. Many spent the night after Gen. Howard's visit here, in going from one plantation to another, holding meetings, and bewailing their fate. We attended the meeting in the church, and it made our hearts ache to see the mournful expression upon the faces of all. It is a grievous disappointment to them, and they say they would rather own a small piece of land, and work it for themselves, than serve for large wages under such hard task-masters as they used to have. Two of the former land-owners here accompanied Gen. Howard; and one of them—Mr. Whaley—addressed the people, and evinced much emotion. But we heard, afterwards, that he had been most cruel to them, — shooting them down on their refusing to follow him, when he was forced to leave. He also burned his finest house here, rather than have it fall into the hands of the Yankees. One old man,—his former slave,— whom we know very well, refused to speak to him, and said to us "I talk no word with him." He was a spirited and rebellious slave, and has often given us accounts of his battles and punishments because he "would not take lick." They all express a determination never to make any contracts with, or work for, their former owners, and are so jealous of their interests, that, if a white man appears here, they guard him with their guns until they are sure he is a Yankee, and not in the interest of the rebels." Some men came here, the other day, to trade goods for cotton; and, as all are obliged to report to the superintendent, they came up here for the purpose; but the blacks would not allow them to set foot upon the piazza until he appeared. Even then, they made such demonstrations, that the men went away without transacting any business with them. One man among them was a Charleston man,—which excited their anger. Mr. Tollis, superintendent of Wadmelow Island, just opposite Edisto, arrived here after nightfall, one day last week; and, until they were satisfied of his identity, they would not allow him to pass. He was followed by several, who inquired if he was a United-States man.
Richmond, May 27, 1865.
I've just been listening to the story of a slave-mother; she, with her five daughters, is staying at her former owner's, and working hard, "without a bit of pay." Hearing that she was free, and consequently entitled to wages, she has modestly asked to be paid a "little something" for her own and eldest daughter's labors, that she might be able to clothe and send the younger ones to school. She was put off from week to week; but finally "a Union officer was called in, " and told her and her fellow-chattels not to let him hear of their asking for wages again: if he does, he will "have them all sent to Libby Prison " I shall watch this case; and another, of a mother who is trying to get possession of a child still held by the former owner of both. The mother ran away while yet a slave; and the plea of the person still holding possession of the child is, that "it was deserted by its mother, and she is now unable to support it." So General Patrick has decided (so says the mother), that "the owner will keep the child " In this case, the mother is supporting herself; and the pretended owner is being fed by Government. Daily and hourly, instances of this sort are coming to our notice.
Children come to school for a few days, and then disappear. On inquiry, I learn they are “working to pay for staying where they used to be 'fore you all come here;" which, being interpreted, means, that, not knowing what else to do with themselves here, where rents are so high, they remain, when allowed to do so, with their old masters, and "suffer " as one told me she had more than she ever did by being whipped, in hearing the masters "abuse you Yankees."
This is the Richmond we have taken; this the peace we have conquered; this the emancipation for which Abraham Lincoln died.
B. L. C.
We print below an extract from a lately published report of the American; Missionary Association, showing the alarming destitution, now almost universal, among the Freedmen: —
The restoration of abandoned and confiscated lands is fast rendering houseless and homeless and helpless thousands of these families. In one district in Virginia, the present superintendent says that probably fifteen thousand of these people will be turned away from their homes, and left with no means of support. On one plantation or farm called Acretown, because each family, had one acre assigned it, were three hundred families, many of them wives and children or widows and orphans of colored soldiers. This farm is ordered to be cleared.
In another district of Virginia, it is estimated, by those best qualified to know, that not less than twenty thousand persons will be thus made homeless; and the superintendent of schools in that State, under the Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau, says, that in Eastern Virginia, at a low estimate, the number who are thus being ejected from the farms, which are being repossessed by late rebel owners, cannot be less than seventy thousand, and that the great majority of them will be left not only utterly homeless, but without any possible means of support, just at the beginning of winter. Disease and death have already commenced their work, and we dare not trust ourselves to state the number of those who, it is estimated, must perish before the opening of the spring, unless the kindness of government or an abounding charity bring swift relief.
We spent yesterday on a Plantation in Ala. assembling the 75 "hands" and teaching and talking to them, giving them books and slates and showing them how to help themselves and each other. The overseer on the adjoining plantation shot a slave for saying, "Please massa, do not whip my son so—he is a man—and will work better without it." The Overseer escaped punishment because "the nigger gave him sarse."
If these teachers desert their posts just now, what shall we have in evidence of Atrocities which will multiply? What avenue to the public ear will be open for the wrongs of the deceived and deserted black?
"Let Them Stay to Suffer and to Record the Horrors"
REV. MR. FISKE, recently chaplain in the United-States service, and superintendent of freedmen in Tennessee, sends us the following. The letter comes from one who has rendered most valuable services to the Government and to the freedmen, and breathes, it seems to us, the true spirit: —
... Last spring, when the Bureau was fairly afoot, and the war evidently closing, it seemed to me that the negro was in open seas with fair sailing ahead; and so, contrary to the urgency of many, I left the field, thinking I had seen the rough work through. The weather seems now changed to very foul. The Bureau officers, barely shielded by the reputation of their chief, are getting to be called " nigger" officers, and the teachers "nigger" folks, again, after the old sort. Troops are being withdrawn from the "reconstructed" States, all the machinery of civil life put again into the hands of "reconstructed' rebels; but all that you know. I do not know what is to come of it; but this I do know, that at the Hands of these rebels, as bitter to-day as ever, there is no chance for justice to the black man, —not the shadow. But the particular thing I wanted to say is this, that I am distressed to see in the prints, that, in some parts, the Aid Societies are withdrawing their laborers from points where troops are not to be retained, and are hesitating about sending out more, and that the laborers are themselves consenting to be withdrawn. Energy, determination, self-sacrifice, seem again to be necessary. Push in teachers everywhere, brave, true men and women, who fear nothing and trust God. Withdraw nobody but the white-livered. Let them wait to be driven out, if out they must come, — absolutely driven. That may very likely be. Let them dare even to give life itself if need be. A single life of a devoted humble Christian teacher of blacks in Mississippi, given to the rage of these reconstructed sovereigns, might turn the whole tide of maudlin sentiment for good fellowship with red-handed traitors, and save black and white a world of suffering and shame. If these teachers desert their posts just now, what shall we have in evidence of Atrocities which will multiply? what avenue to the public ear will be open for the wrongs of the deceived and deserted black? Unutterable cruelty will be practised, in the midst of an unbroken silence and secrecy, as before. I urge it as of first importance, that you leave no point till driven from it; that you keep and send such as have bone and muscle for real sacrifice, to their posts. Let them stay to suffer and to record the horrors which I am sure will follow the withdrawal of troops, and the committal of the affairs of the blacks to the tender mercies of their former owners. I think it a shame to our philanthropy to shake so quickly. Suffer a little. Run risks even with life. It is worth while. There is need of courage now on all hands, if we would save the worth of our four years' sacrifices.
I bid you God speed in your great work, which is yet, as I hoped it would not at this stage be, a great fight; and beg you to fight it bravely, and give no inch of territory, till you can show all comers that you were driven from it by physical force, and so can appeal to public opinion, with that proof of the folly of over-sentimental faith in the moral virtues of treason and traitors.
You will pardon my writing warmly. I write in a hurry, and in the midst of the cares of a thousand preparations.
Yours, very sincerely,
Attacks on Schools, Churches. and Freedmen
The general progress of the school has been better this month than any preceeding one. Many of my puoils are learning very rapidly, and about thirty-five who began coming to school late in the Fall, have learned to read so well that reading will be a pleasure to them.
As yet (and I have not the least fear for the future), we have escaped any thing more serious than tongue-lashing, and insults that annoy without injuring, from our enemies. Only last week, a colored lady, teaching at Vienna, in this county,--sent out from Philadelphia,--was met on the street by two men, one of whom struck her a blow in the face so violent that it prostrated her, and she lay on the ground for some time before she recovered sufficiently to seek her house. I wrote to her immediately on learning of her misfortune, assuring her of my sympathy &c. Some of the friends of the cause are going to write to Gen. Howard; and, as the actors are well known, they may get--what I am sure they never had--justice. It would really be amusing, if it were not so despicable, to see the petty meannesses the people here will descend to, to show their abhorrence to a "colored teacher." I get hissed, whistled, crowed, groanesd, squealed, and sneered at, and run from. But, blessed as I am with excellent spirits and good health, I am (in my own estimation, and "as a man thinketh, so is he,") the happiest person in the little village of Chuch Creek. Pupils come to my night school on horseback and in carriages, from four to eight miles. Attentive, orderly, cleanly, and enthusiastic, their tgeacher is prouder of them than she was ever conscious of being of a white school.
--Mary S. Osborne, "From Church Creek, Maryland," The Freedmen's Record, April, 1866, 74.
Last night I had more than a hundred at my night school. Of course, I could do nothing with so many alone; but Lieutenant McNulty kindly volunteered his services until another teacher was sent to me. After his tedious duties in his office all day, I think nothing woul dhave induced him to undertake the task but the unselfish interest he takes in these poor, persecuted people; and he also felt it was not sae for me to be there with no other protection than these colored people. Subsequent events have proved him to be right, although I did not anticipate such violence as has been shown to us. Last night, soon after we entered upon the evening, our schoolroom was attacked by a party of rowdies, and we were surprised by a volley of rocks and stones being hurled into the room, dashing the window into gfragments. One large rock, the weight and force of which would have killed me instantly, fell a few inches on one side. It seemed profvidential that neigther of us was hurt. Several of the stones came near Lieutenant McNulty, but were intercepted by two colored men who stepped between him and the window. It seems that one young white man, while I was seated in the schoolroom, calling the roll-list, came up to the head of the stairs to go down to the street and resent the insults; but the lieutenant at once prevented that, as it would have been called a "nigger riot," by the people. He then addressed them calmly, telling them to go quietly to their homes, to be patient yet a little longer amid the persecutions, and in time they would be rewarded for their forbearance.
Lieutenant McNulty has had notes put under his office-door for some time, with threats of various kind, if the "nigger school" was not stopped; and a note was placed under the door of Mrs. Cox (the lady in whose house I have a room), containing the most violent threats addressed to me. I know I shall not be safe here, unless forces are sent. Major Johnson promsed to send some two weeks ago, but they have not come. To-day we are to make another appeal. I suppose I shall be obliged to discontinue the school until the soldiers come, as it is very likely the building might be fired while we were in it. I am so sad about it, for you can have no idea of the interest of our evening school. We see men and women about the streets, at their work, with books peeping from their pockets, stealing a moment now and then to study. The facts of this interst and our perseveerance have enraged the white people. They cannot bear to see the people they have treated like rutes,--incapable of any higher attainments than the brute, as they csay,--having equal advantages with themselves. What cruelty! I think we have a most excellent populatio of colored people here. I feel more determined than ever to remain in spite of the obstacles.
--S. Fannie Wood, "From Warrenton, Virginia," The Freedmen's Record, April, 1866
At the request of the Agent of the Bureau, Lieut. McNulty, we sent a teacher to Warrenton. Soon after her arrival, the hostility of the whites manifested itself in a brutal attack upon her night school. Miss Wood maintained her post with the utmost courage and calmness, only leaving it when imperatively commanded to do so by Lieut. McNulty, who has made every effort to sustain and protect her.
The civil authorities came forward to express their condemnation of the outrage, and offered a small reward for the arrest of the offenders. We regret to say that their measures were not sufficiently energetic to accomplish the object; and the lawless mob, taking advantage of Lieut. McNulty's temporary absence, repeated their attack. Fortunately, Mr. Chase, an agent of the Commission, was on the spot. He appealed at once to the mayor, and, finding him not disposed to be very active in the case, he has applied to the commanding general for ample protection for the school.
--Excerpt from "Report of Committee on Teachers," The Freedmen's Record, May, 1866
"Where were you just one year ago?: I asked of my pupils, this morning, to test their memory of the "course of human events." "Were you in school?"--"No, ma'am" (with tremendous emphasis).--"Where were you, then?"--"In bonds!" exclaimed one bright little girl, while those not so bright were "studyin'" for the right answer. But the fact they will all remember without the aid of "Yankee interference." That they were in bonds on the 2d of April, 1865, and were made free on the 3d, and should, therefore, make a business of rejoicing on the coming anniversary of that day of days, has been the all-absorbing thought of the freed-people for weeks. The young men have held their mass-meetings "to adopt measures for celebrating the Third," and the older ones have counselled "quiet." The white citizens, in their malignity, hatred, and fear, have threatened and protested, and even burned the church (Second African Baptist) where the preparatory meetings have been held. The church was also used for schools. That fact probably helped the fire which levelled the walls of the only place that a large and highly congregation had for their Sunday services. It was burned, in broad daylight, on Saturday. Sunday morning, returning from my class, I walked around to see the ruins, and comfort, if possible, any of the afflicted worshippers who might be lingering there. I soon met a woman in tears. She had started for a "good meeting," and found only smoking ruins. "Ah, honey!" she said, "They'll find out there's a diff'rence 'tween spite to God and spite to men. God won't allow 'tis no'count to burn his house." Another woman, filled with a rihteous indignation, was going to "begin to-morrow, and work her fingers to the bone, and have the church up again!"
The most touching sight was the crowd of neatly dressed Sunday-school children clustering in sad groups around the roofless walls. I told them, if they would go with me away from the smoke, we could have a Sunmday school without a church. I had some of your cards with me, and a package of the little books. They only needed to see them to follow me; and I led them out a little way on to "the plain" in the suburbs, and opened my school by offering a card with the fourth commandment on it to the boy who would first repeat it. I kept my eye on a boy with a top in his hand, and he won the card. I then distributed three packages, cautioned the chiildren to let the white boys alone (they were feeling the wrong done them, and were not looking to the same high source to avenge it as was the good old auntie), and dismissed them. Just then, two of "the chivalrous sons of the South" passed, and one of them said (for my benefit), "I'm only sorry it hadn't been burned to-day, when 'twould have been fullof the --- niggers." You are shocked; but here one hears wishes and threats that would bring a blush of shame to the cheek of a Nero or a Herod. God forgive Andrew Johnson for making such a state of things possible!
--Excerpt from Bessie L. Canedy, "Richmond," The Freedmen's Record, June, 1866
"The Memphis Riots,"
It would be a mistake to assume that Southerners were the only ones who harbored biases against African-Americans. In the years leading up to the war, most northerners regarded abolitionists as trouble-makers, and not even all Union soldiers who fought in the war supported the elimination of slavery and the establishment of equal rights for Blacks. An article on the "Alarming Evidence of Demoralization in the Army in February 1863 cites a soldier who writes that thousands of his comrades
openly swear that they will not be led into another slaughter pen for the glory of negroes. The whole truth is that the President’s emancipation message has driven the conviction into a large portion of the amy that henceforth we are fighting only for negroes. Unless there is some change for the better this army is pretty near done fighting. . There is a man of company B in this regiment now in the lock-up for saying that he wished he could get South and do a little fighting against the abolitionists and negro Cs, for he was tired of fighting for them.
--"Alarming Evidence of Demoralization in the Army,"The Old Guard, February 1863
Another soldier is quoted in the same article as saying: "If I was a negro I could go wherever I asked; but I am a white man and must be left to die without pity. It serves me right, for a white man has no business here, stealing, burning houses and fighting for niggers.”
The author concludes that "Mr. Lincoln has demoralized the very best portion of the army with his tender concern for negroes."
|In a letter written from Richmond and dated July 17, 1865, Sarah reported: |
The article by Lucy to which Sarah refers appears below.
"The Reign of Terror in Norfolk," A Report of Mob Violence
Norfolk, Va., June 25, 1865
"The days of bayonets are passed!" is the bullying street-cry of the returned rebel soldiers in Norfolk and Portsmouth, as they fearlessly assume the once-familiar knife and pistol. At the corners, and in the market-place, many have been heard to say, "We'll kill every nigger, or drive 'em all out of town." Civil power is established here, and the military command is restricted. But Gen. Howard, commandant of the small military force retained here, has said, "There is one thing I will do; I will protect the colored people."
On Thursday last, two or three Southern gentlemen succeeded in infusing Southern sentiments into the hearts of some of the New York 13th Artillery by dosing them with drugged whiskey; and, leading themselves, they encouraged the soldiers to destroy the wares on the stand of a colored man. On from the stand, crying, "Clear out all the niggers," they passed to a ball-room, through which they dashed, driving all before them, and destroying whatever came in their way. On Friday night, a body of colored men, wishing to see a circus performance, deemed it prudent to go in a body, and, protecting themselves with canes, they went forth quietly, but were fired upon as they drew near the circus. Two or three were shot; and all withdrew without offering resistance. Colored men were attacked, that night, in various parts of the city. One man was hung upon a lamp-post. Another, going home from a mission house with a letter which had been written for him there, was seized and put into prison, where he remained until the next day, when his kind amanuensis obtained his release. A worthy exhorter was knocked down, and severely injured, on his way home from church. Another was woefully bruised, while crossing the street from the house of a sick sister to his own home. On Saturday night, the wood-wharf men were attacked, and the stores of two Union white men were broken into, and much of the property destroyed. Finding the declaration, "I am a Union man," no defence against the attack of New York soldiers, one man resorted to his pistol, and, after wounding two of his assailants, succeeded in making his escape. Last night many shots were fired in Portsmouth. The demonstrations there are more violent than here.
On Sunday, two colored men were found hanging dead upon trees, this side of Suffolk. And a young man leaving a church in this city, was shot through the side, and robbed. He still lies, a panting sufferer, on an attic floor; bare of every comfort, save the inestimable one of a devoted mother, who leaves him neither night nor day. "He might have gone to the hospital," his mother said; "but I want him where I can be with him, and do for him all the time." My sister and I well remember when the mother and son came from their master to Norfolk. "We won't stay upon government one moment," the mother said. "Uncle Sam is very good, but he has too much to do; and we don't want to trouble any one. I'll get a little room, and I reckon we can scrub along." And from that little room, for months, they have gone out to their little work, coming back at night to peace and independence; never dreaming of one to molest or make them afraid.
I have just come from the bedsides of two wounded men. One of them was quietly passing to his home, when three soldiers run after him and fired three shots, neither of which took effect. They then cried "Halt!" but, as the man knew their order was not to be respected, he walked on. Another shot fired, and the ball passed through his month. "Finish him, finish him," some one cried. Two men overtook him, and each pointed a revolver at his breast; he turned their hands aside, and said, "You don't shoot me again." "Very well," they said, "come into the guardhouse." There he was received without investigation. In the morning, when the officer of the guard came, he inquired what brought him there, and after hearing the man's story, he said : "Pity they did not kill you." The other man is badly wounded in the leg. He was hobbling home from his day's work at the government commissary when he was overtaken by a howling crowd. His co-laborers were with him, and eleven shots were fired at them. Only one took effect. "You must fight it out, I can do nothing for you," the Mayor of Norfolk said to a committee of colored men who sought his protection. The rioters are taking advantage of the divided, and somewhat obscurely defined, responsibilities resting upon the associated military and civil authorities; responsibilities which the civil authorities shirk, when the interests of the colored man or of Union citizens are at stake. The Mayor of Portsmouth, whose city is more disturbed than our own, requests Col. Howard to "relieve Portsmouth of its military guard!" Col. Howard is abroad, with the will of an army in his breast, and we are confident he will speedily restore quiet again. The disturbance is maintained through the day-time.
A man who just passed my window told me this story :—"Two New York soldiers came up to me, fifteen minutes ago, rolling up their shirt-sleeves, and saying, 'We are going to kill every one of you.' 'You'll have a heap to do, then,' I said. `But I shan't run away from you. I'll meet you, but I shan't run.' Then one of the soldiers drew back, and begged the other off." I heard one of the soldiers say, yesterday, in the presence of several citizens, "The citizens got us to do this. They told us to clean out all the men, and then they could take care of the women and children. I've painted here for twenty-five years, and everybody has thought a heap of me; and I've never been beaten and bruised about in this manner, and I ain't going to stand it, either. I'm one that's always quiet, and ain't meddling with nobody, and I don't want nobody to meddle with me. They think they've got all out of us they can, and now they want to get rid of us. I've always been ready to do anything for the soldiers. Many a time they've asked me for a quid of tobacco, and I have not had any, and I've gone into a store and spent the last cent I had for some, and gladly given it to them." One man said to me, "I heard some soldiers say, this whole thing was got up on New York, and was to run all through the Southern cities."
Day and night, men, boys and soldiers cry "Nig !" " Nig !" at sight of a colored man, and hasten to molest him. Several have said to me, "We're having again what we suffered when the Union forces first came into Norfolk." One man said : " We rejoiced to see the Northern soldiers; there was nothing we would not do for them; and they knew it, too. We were humble, grateful and respectful. But the New York 99th destroyed our property, shot us down, and injured us in every possible way. They got men from their beds at night, saying, 'The general has important work for you to do,' and then took the men so willing to work for the government, and sent them over the lines, and sold them as slaves. It seems, now, as if we had no one to protect us, and there's nothing left us but to protect ourselves."
The colored people are grieved, but not cowed. "We are a nation that loves the white people," one man said, "and we would never attack them, but if we are driven to exasperation we know our duty."
A Letter to the Chase Sisters from the South About the "Kue Klucks"
I regret to learn to-day of recent atrocious outrages in some of the counties by organized bands, generally in the night time. Their attacks are invariably upon innocent and loyal men. The recent bold assumptions of certain political leaders, who expect to gain control of the State, have given countenance to these outlaws; though it should be said the better class of citizens in their declarations utterly condemn them; yet the laws seem powerless in their punishment. A colored member elect of the Georgia Legislature was lately taken from his house and beaten nearly to death. One of our teachers was driven away from Greensborough, and the man with whom he boarded (white) was taken out of his house at night and whipped unmercifully. When will such inhumanity cease? ***
Nashville, Tenn., January 26, 1870. Dear General: Impressions at Chattanooga are somewhat modified here. This city is the centre of culture and political influence in Tennessee, and is now quite astir with the State convention and Legislature. Both bodies indicate within the last few days some advance in the right direction, as seen in the discussion of further educational provisions and enactments against that nuisance now beginning to be universally felt--the Ku-Klux," or, as they are here called, "masked marauders." ***
Lexington, Ky., January 31, 1870.
Dear General: The past twenty-four hours have been in the midst of "ku-klux." They were out in force on the road as we returned from Berea to Richmond. Three colored men were taken from their beds, cruelly whipped, dragged over the flinty road, until, with bodies lacerated and torn, it is doubtful if they can recover. These were leading men, and the outrage evidently was to deter them and friends from any attempt at political effort or influence.
The news, as we drove into Richmond, was: "Berea has been attacked, a number of its citizens badly beaten, and nine houses burned." This story we, of course could contradict, but excitement was on every face--evidently mischief was brewing. The driver of our carraige out on Saturday, came to us much agitated, saying, "If that had been true I know you'd think I had set them on." Perhaps we should, for we knew him to have been in a previous mob at Berea. He, however, took us to his so-called "hotel" and gave the best it afforded.
But bad men prowled about the premises. They crowded inside to scrutinize and question; we, still obliged to hold them in mystery as to our mission. However, we very distinctly intimated that "the General Government would be obliged to suppress these atrocities;" "life, person, and property must be held sacred;" "it would be much better to have this done by their own laws and influence than by United States soldiers." At this moment a fierce yell, directly in my ear, wheeled me half round with its stunning force. I had before heard the same (multitudinous) on rebel battle-fields. Recovering, I looked the fellow quietly in the face and continued my conversation with bystanders. If this was a "signal" it had no effect. Some power held restraint over the crowd, and soon I had numerous apologies for such rudeness.
The night wore away, and at early dawn, still environed by suspicious men, we entered the stage for Lexington. I may say our courage rose by a number of degrees as we drove rapidly out of this Kentucky "Richmond."
-- J. W. Alvord, Letters from the South, Relating to the Condition of Freedmen, Addressed to Major General O. O. Howard, Commissioner Bureau R., F., and A. L. by J. W. Alvord, Gen. Sup't Education, Bureau R., F., & A. L., 1870
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Curated by Lucia Z. Knoles, Professor of English, Assumption College