THE NEGRO PROBLEM FROM A
We hear much these days about the negro problem. I've never seen a problem. I know exactly what to do for the white man, for the black man, and for all humanity. God has given his children a guide book which makes the path of duty very plain. But I do not quite understand what different classes of His children say. The negro is often severely censured without a just cause.
The white man blames his black brother because he wants to be free. Yes, free, like other men, free to vote, to hold office, enter public places, stay in any hotel, eat at any lunch house, ride on any street cars, sit in waiting rooms, worship in any church; in short, be as free as any white man in the same position. And yet I have always found the black man very willing to observe the courtesy and restrictions that riches, honor, and intelligence recognize as due in political and social life. But he could not see how the simple color of his skin should make any more difference than the height or weight, color of hair or eyes, of white people made as respects their treatment of each other. If being born a slave and a black man was a sin, he was not responsible for that. He felt in his heart all the longings for freedom and equal rights that burned in the hearts of the heroes of Bunker Hill, and he could not see why one was praised and the other condemned. Besides this, he had been a slave so long that he was jealous for his liberty and afraid it might be lost. He was sore along this line, and his white brother picked at this sore and kept it inflamed by constantly reminding him that he had been a slave and was ignorant and could never know as much as white men. The black man seldom received the courtesy and respect that was given to white men as ignorant as he was. He could see this, and it hurt him. The poor black man was bewildered. It was hard to adjust himself to his new surroundings. Indeed, it is a wonder that he did not oftener act unwisely and wickedly. His strong white brother should have taken him by the hand in a loving, brotherly way, saying, "Yes, you are free, as free as I am, but you are only a child. Sit down and I will teach you the duties that belong to freedom, the restrictions that law throws around it. Freedom only means liberty to do right. Together we will study our Bibles and see what is right and learn to love and respect each other, and thus live in peace." That is what the guide book teaches?to quit talking about race, master, or slaves, bury the whole past and strive to help each other to be God's free men. But the white man's pride and greed of gain and the black man's impatience and lack of experience hindered God's sweet plan for settling this question. No, not entirely hindered, because it is being settled. There were from the first, there are to-day, a great many humble, generous white people in the South as well as in the North, and a great many patient, teachable black people, who are thus lovingly helping each other. The day is dawning. Let us all be of good cheer.
Allow me to refer to another phase of this subject. When freedom came the black man was very ignorant, and white people generally, as far as my experience goes, said he had not the ability to learn what white people learned. They said, "Perhaps he can learn to read and write and memorize a little, but he cannot master subjects that require reason and close thought." The black man soon proved that he could, but he had to fight at every step for recognition. I admire his perseverance. He would not stop till he had proven to the world that his brain was equal to that of any white man, his opportunity being the same. But this required many years of hard struggle. He was often misunderstood but he would not stop until he got to the top. Perhaps he should have thought of other things as he went on, but his uppermost thought was, "I will show the world that I can be and do all that is required of humanity." This is one reason why industrial education was not cherished in the first years of freedom. The black man resented every effort made to narrow the studies in colored schools to the common branches. He must have Greek and Latin and all other ologies and isms, even if he did not know the rudiments of the English language. I remember a meeting in 1877 in which Rev. Marsena Stone suggested that they give more time to the common branches, start some industrial work, and omit Greek and Latin. For this he was severely rebuked, because, they said, "You either belittle the ability of the negro or do not want him to be as wise as the white man." Brother Stone was a very successful educator and a good man. The negro never had a better friend, but he simply was ahead of his generation. Yet his words had influence with some.
Many others as well as Dr. Stone kept gradually teaching the industrial idea. Our good and wise General Armstrong, of Hampton, Va., long ago began industrial education, wisely saying nothing for or against other lines of work, but in a practical way showing the colored people the good results of educating heart, head, and hands all together. What he was doing on a large scale others were doing as they were able. In due time God raised up our wise Booker Washington to be the leader in this common-sense reform, which is needed for all races. Booker Washington does not condemn higher education for those who have time and money to obtain it. To every man his work. There is room for all in this big world. Don't crowd any one out.
The black man is criticised when he wants to have charge of his own schools, or business of any kind. They say, "He wants to get away from the white people because he dislikes them." That is not true. He simply wants to be free to manage something himself, to try his powers, and thereby grow strong, and partly, perhaps, to convince other races that he is their equal; but that is not his highest motive. He longs for recognition of his manhood. I know he often wants his liberty before he is ready for it, but let us in a kindly way help him as a father would a son. If he fails the first time, put him on his feet again. Some are doing this with very beneficial results, and the black man is learning to wisely manage his own affairs the same as other men do. God speed the time when there will be less time taken in criticising others and more time taking in correcting our own faults. There are so many ways of giving help that, at least, hurt our pride. Let us do kind things kindly. I learn from my guide book that God's way is to give "liberally and upbraid not." We who help have too much of the spirit of the father who said: "I did give you money, but you wasted it, you scoundrel; now I'll have to give you more, and likely you'll waste that too." The black man didn't choose to have separate schools or churches, but he now chooses to take them rather than to have his manhood insulted. As I said before, there is no problem before me. I know what to do. First, be good, loving, helpful, and cheerful myself. Then help my fallen brother rise; comfort others with the comfort with which God has comforted me; divide my last slice of bread with the hungry, cheer the faint-hearted, tell them God lives and God loves. Find something good to say for every individual. "Learn how to do well and suffer and take it patiently, for this is acceptable with God." All this and a thousand other little things that will keep me busy the rest of my life. Those who see a problem do not see God.
"When Jesus our Savior came down from above
From sin to redeem us, His mission was love.
If we are his children we all must forgive
And love one another as long as we live."
I might close these sketches here, but there remain, among many other things that I should like to write about if not restricted by the limits of this book, two subjects of very great importance, and I am constrained to add two more chapters to show how I have tried to teach the colored people to raise money for the Lord's work in the Lord's way, and how to keep their hearts and lives pure.
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