Martin R. Delany
The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States
With broken hopes — sad, devastation;
A race resigned to DEGREDATION!
We have said much to our young men and women, about their vocation and calling; we have dwelt much upon the menial position of our people in this county. Upon this point we cannot say too much, because there is a seeming satisfaction and seeking after such positions manifested on their part, unknown to any other people. There appears to be, a want of a sense of propriety or self-respect, altogether inexplicable because young men and women among us, many of whom have good trades and homes, adequate to their support, voluntarily leave them, and seek positions, such as servants, waiting maids, coachmen, nurses, cooks in gentlemens’ kitchen, or such like occupations, when they can gain a livelihood at something more respectable, or elevating in character. And the worst part of the whole matter is that they have become so accustomed to it, it has become so “fashionable” that it seems to have become second nature, and they really become offended, when it is spoken against.
Among the German, Irish, and other European peasantry who came to this country, it matters not what they were employed at before and after they come; just so soon as they can better their condition by keeping shops, cultivating the soil, the young men and women going to night schools, qualifying themselves for usefulness, and learning trades, they do so. Their first and last care, object and aim is to better their condition by raising themselves above the condition that necessity places them in. We do not say too much, when we say, as an evidence of the deep degradation of our race in the United States, that there are those among us, the wives and daughters, some of the first ladies, (and who dare say they are not the “first,” because they belong to the “first class” and associate where any body among us can?) whose husbands are industrious, able and willing to support them, who voluntarily leave home, and become chambermaids, and stewardesses, upon vessels and steamboats, in all probability, to enable them to obtain some more fine or costly article of dress or furniture. We have nothing to say against those whom necessity compels to do these things, those who can do no better; we have only to do with those who can, and will not, or do not do better. The whites are always in the advance, and we either standing still or retrograding; as that which does not go forward, must either stand in one place or go back. The father in all probability is a farmer, mechanic, or man of some independent business; and the wife, sons and daughters are chamber maids, on vessels, nurses and waiting maids, or coachmen and cooks in families. This is retrogradation. The wife, sons, and daughters should be elevated above this condition as a necessary consequence.
If we did not love our race superior to others, we would not concern ourself about their degradation; for the greatest desire of our heart is to see them stand on a level with the most elevated of mankind. No people are ever elevated above the condition of their females; hence the condition of the mother determines the condition of the child. To know the position of a people, it is only necessary to know the condition of their females; and despite themselves, they cannot rise above their level. Then what is our condition? Our best ladies being washerwomen, chamber maids, children’s traveling nurses, and common house servants, and menials, we are all a degraded miserable people, inferior to any other people as a whole, on the face of the globe.
These great truths, however unpleasant, must be brought before the minds of our people in its true and proper light, as we have been too delicate about them, and too long concealed them for fear of giving offence. It would have been infinitely better for our race if these facts had been presented before us half a century ago, we would have been now proportionably benefitted by it.
As an evidence of the degradation to which we have been reduced, we dare premise, that this chapter will give offence to many, very many, and why? Because they may say, “He dared to say that the occupation of a servant is a degradation.” It is not necessarily degrading; it would not be, to one or a few people of a kind; but a whole race of servantsare a degradation to that people.
Efforts made by men of qualifications for the toiling and degraded millions among the whites, neither gives offence to that class, nor is it taken unkindly by them; but received with manifestations of gratitude; to know that they are thought to be equally worthy of, and entitled to stand on a level with the elevated classes; and they have only got to be informed of the way to raise themselves to make the effort and do so as far as they can. But how different with us. Speak of our position in society, and it at once gives insult Though we are servants; among ourselves we claim to be ladies and gentlemen, equal in standing, and as the popular expression goes, “Just as good as any body” and so believing, we make no efforts to raise above the common level of menials, because the best being in that capacity, all are content with the position. We cannot at the same time, be domestic and lady; servant and gentleman. We must be the one of the other. Sad, sad indeed, is the thought, that hangs drooping in our mind, when contemplating the picture drawn before us. Young men and women, “We write these things unto you, because ye are strong,” because the writer, a few years ago, gave unpardonable offence to many of the young people of Philadelphia and other places, because he dared tell them, that he thought too much of them to be content with seeing them the servants of other people. Surely, she that could be the mistress would not be the maid; neither would he that could be the master, be content with being the servant; then why be offended, when we point out to you, the way that leads from the menial to the mistress or the master. All this we seem to reject with fixed determination, repelling with anger, every effort on the part ofour intelligent men and women to elevate us, with true Israelitish degradation, in reply to any suggestion or proposition that may be offered, “Who made thee a ruler and judge?”
The writer is no “Public Man,” in the sense in which this is understood among our people, but simply an humble individual endeavoring to seek a livlihood by a profession obtained entirely by his own efforts, without relatives as he gained by the merit of his course and conduct, which he here gratefully acknowledges; and whatever he has accomplished, other young men may, by making corresponding efforts, also accomplish.
We have advised an emigration to Central and South America, and even to Mexico and the West Indies to those who prefer to either of the last named places, all of which are free countries, Brazil being the only real slave holding State in South America, there being nominal slavery in Dutch Guiana, Peru, Buenos Ayres, Paraguay, and Uruguay, in all of which places colored people have equality in social, civil, political, and religious privileges; Brazil making it punishable with death to import slaves into the empire.
Our oppressors, when urging us to go to Africa, tell us that we are better adapted to the climate than they, that the physical condition of the constitution of colored people better endures the heart of warm climates than that of the whites; this we are willing to admit, without argument, without adducing the physiological reason why, that colored people can and do stand warm climates better than whites; and find an answer fully to the point in the fact that they also stand modified that white people can stand; therefore, according to our oppressors’s own showing, we are a superior race, being endowed with properties fitting us for all parts of the earth, while they are only adapted to certain parts. Of course, this proves our right and duty to live wherever we may choose; while the white race may only live where they can. We are content with the fact, and have ever claimed it. Upon this rock, they and we shall ever agree.
Of the West India Islands, Santa Cruz, belonging to Denmark; Porto Rico and Cuba with its little adjuncts, belonging to Spain, are the only slaveholding Islands among them, three fifths of the whole population of Cuba being colored people who cannot and will not much longer endure the burden and the yoke. They only want intelligent leaders of their own color, when they are ready at any moment to charge to the conflict to liberty or death. The remembrance of the noble mulatoo, Placido, the gentleman, scholar, poet and intended Chief Engineer of the Army of Liberty and Freedom in Cuba; and the equally noble black, Charles Blair, who was to have been Commander In Chief, who were shamefully put to death in 1844, by that living monster, Captain General O’Donnell is still fresh and indelible to the mind of every bondsman of Cuba.
In our own country, the United States, there are three millions five hundred thousand slaves; and we, the nominally free colored people, are six hundred thousand in number; estimating one sixth to be men, we have one hundred thousand able bodied freeman, which will make a powerful auxiliary in any country to which we may become adopted, an ally not to be despised by any power on earth. We love our country, dearly love her, but she don’t love us, she despises us and bids us begone, driving us from her embraces; but we do go, whatever love we have for her, we shall love the country none the less that receives us as her adopted children.
For the want of business habits and training, our energies have become paralyzed; our young men never think of business, anymore than if they were so many bondsmen, without the right to pursue any calling they may think most advisable. With our people in this country, dress and good appearances have been made the only test of gentleman and ladyship and that vocation which offers the best opportunity to dress and appear well has generally been preferred, however, menial and degrading by our young people, without even, in the majority of cases, an effort to do better; indeed, in many instances, refusing situations equally lucrative, and superior in position, but which would not allow as much display of dress and personal appearance. This, if we ever expect to rise, must be discarded from among us, and a high and respectable position assumed.
One of our great temporal curses is our consummate poverty. We are the poorest people as a class in the world of civilized mankind, abjectly, miserably poor, no one scarcely being able to assist the other. To this, of course, there are noble exceptions; but that which is common to, and the very process by which white men exist and succeed in life, is unknown to colored men in genera l. In any and every considerable community may be found, some one of our white fellow citizens, who is worth more than all the colored people in th at community put together. We consequently have little or no efficiency. We must have men to be practically efficient in all the undertakings of life; and to obtain them, it is necessary that we should be engaged in lucrative pursuits, trade and general business transactions. In order to be thus engaged, it is necessary that we should occupy positions that afford the facilities for such pursuits. To compete now with the mighty odds of wealth, social and religious preferences, and political influences of this country, at this advanced state of its national existence, we never may expect. A new country and new beginning is the only true rational, politic remedy for our disadvantageous position; and that country we have already pointed out, with triple golden advantages all things considered, to that of any country to which it has been the province of man to embark.
Every other than we have at various periods of necessity been a migratory people; and all when oppressed, shown a greater abhorrence of oppression, if not a greater love of liberty than we. We cling to our oppressors as the objects of our love. It is true that our enslaved brethren are here, and we have been led to believe that it is necessary for us to remain, on that account. Is it true, that all should remain in degradation, because a part are degraded? We believe no such thing. We believe it to be the duty of the Free to elevate themselves in the most speedy and effective manner possible; as the redemption of the bondman depends entirely upon the elevation of the freeman; therefore, to elevate the free colored people of America, anywhere upon this continent forebodes the speedy redemption of the slaves. We shall hope to hear no more of so fallacious a doctrine, the necessity of the free remaining in degradation for the sake of the oppressed. Let us apply, first, the lever to ourselves; and the force that elevates us to the position of manhood’s considerations and honors will cleft the manacle of every slave in the land.
When such great worth and talents, for want of a better sphere, of men like Rev. Jonathan Robinson, Robert Douglass, Frederick A. Hinton, and a hundred others that might be named, were permitted to expire in a barber shop; and such living men as may be found in Boston, New York Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond, Washington City, Charleston, (S.C.), New Orleans, Cincinnati, Lousiville, St. Louis, Pittsburg, Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, Utica, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Columbus, Zanesville, Wheeling, and a hundred other places, confining themselves to Barber shops and waiterships in Hotels; certainly the necessity of such a course as we have pointed out must be cordially acknowledged; appreciated by every brother and sister of oppression; and not rejected as heretofore, as though they preferred inferiority to equality. These minds must become “unfettered” and have “space to rise.” This cannot be in their present positions. A continuance in any position becomes what is termed. “Second Nature;” it begins an adaptation, and reconcilation of mind to such condition. It changes the whole physiological condition of the system, and adapts man and woman to a higher or lower sphere in the pursuits of life. The offsprings of slaves and peasantry have the general characteristics of their parents; and nothing but a different course of training and education will change this character.
The slave may become a lover of his master, and learn to forgive him for continual deeds of maltreatment and abuse; just as the Spaniel would couch and fondle at the feet that kick him; because he has been taught to reverence them; and consequently becomes adapted in body and mind to his condition. Even the shrubbery loving Canary, and lofty soaring Eagle may be tamed to the cage, and learn to love it from habit of confinement. It has been so with us in our position among our oppressors; we have learned to love them. When reflecting upon this all important, and to us, all absorbing subject; we feel in the agony and anxiety of the moment, as though we could cry out in the language of a Prophet of old: “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears that I might weep day and night for the” degradation “of my people! Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people and go from them”!
The Irishman and German in the United States are very different persons to what they were when in Ireland and Germany, the countries of their nativity. Their spirits were depressed and downcast; but the instant they set their foot upon unrestricted soil; free to act and untrammeled to move; their physical condition undergoes a change, which in time becomes physiological, which is transmitted to the offspring, who when born under the circumstances is a decidedly different being to what it would have been, had it been born under different circumstances.
A child born under oppression has all the elements of servility in its constitution; who when born under favorable circumstances, has to the contrary, all the elements of freedom and independence of feeling. Our children then may not be expected, to maintain that position and manly bearing; born under the unfavorable circumstances with which we are surrounded in this country; that we so much desire. To use the language of the talented Mr. Whipper, “they cannot be raised in this country without being stoop shouldered,” Heaven’s pathway stands unobstructed which will lead us into a Paradise of bliss. Let us go on and possess the land, and the God of Israel will be our God.
The lessons of every school book, the pages of every history, and columns of every newspaper are so replete with stimuli to nerve us on to manly aspirations that those of our young people, who will now refuse to enter upon this great theatre of Polynesian adventure, and take their position on the stage of Central and South America, where a brilliant engagement of certain and most triumphant success, in the drama of human equality awaits them; then with the blood of slaves, write upon the lintel of every door in sterling Capitals, to be gazed and hissed at by every passerby:
Doomed by the Creator, To servility and degradation; The SERVANT of the white man, And despised of every nation!