Means of Elevation

Martin R. Delany

The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States

1852

Moral theories have long been resorted to by us, as a means of effecting the redemption of our brethren in bonds, and the elevation of the free colored people in this country. Experience has taught us, that speculations are not enough; that the practical application of principles are not enough; that the thing carried out, is the only true and proper course to pursue.

We have speculated and moralised much about equality, claiming to be as good as our neighbors and everybody else, all of which, may do very well in ethics, but not in politics. We live in society among men, conducted by men, governed by rules and regulations. However arbitrary, there are certain policies that regulate all well organized institutions and corporate bodies. We do not intend here to speak of the legal political relations of society, for those are treated on elsewhere. The business and social, or voluntary and mutual policies are those that now claim our attention. Society regulates itself, being governed by mind, which like water, finds its own level. “Like seeks like,” is a principle in the laws of matter, as well as of mind. There is such a thing as inferiority of things, and positions; at least society has made them so, and while we continue to live among men, we must agree to all just measures, all those we mean that do not necessarily infringe on the rights of others. By the regulations of society, there is no equality of persons, where there is not an equality of attainments. By this, we do not wish to be understood as advocating the actual equal attainments of every individual; but we mean to say that, if these attainments be necessary for the elevation of the white man, they are necessary for the elevation of the colored man. That some colored men and women, in a like proportion to the whites, should be qualified in all the attainments possessed by them. It is one of the regulations of society the world over, and we shall have to conform to it, or be discarded as unworthy of the association of our fellows.

Cast our eyes about us and reflect for a moment, and what do we behold! Every thing that presents to view gives evidence of the skill of the white man. Should we purchase a pound of groceries, a yard of linens, a vessel of crockeryware, a piece of furniture, the very provisions that we eat, all, all are the products of the white man, purchased by us from the white man. Consequently, our earnings and means are all given to the white man.

Pass along the avenues of any city or town in which you live, behold the trading shops, the manufactories, see the operations of the various machinery, see the stage coaches coming in, bringing the mails of intelligence, look at the railroads interlining every section, bearing upon them their mighty trains, flying with the velocity of the swallow, ushering in the hundreds of industrious, enterprising travelers. Cast again your eyes, widespread over the ocean, see the vessels in every direction, with their white sheets spread to the winds of heaven, freighted with the commerce, merchandise and wealth of many nations. Look as you pass along through the cities at the great and massive buildings, the beautiful and extensive structures of architecture, behold the ten thousand cupolas with their spires all reared up towards heaven, intersecting the territory of the clouds, all standing as mighty living monuments, of the industry, enterprise, and intelligence of the white man. And yet, with all these living truths, rebuking us with scorn, we strut about, place our hands akimbo, straighten up ourselves to our greatest height, and talk loudly about being “as good as any body.” How do we compare with them? Our fathers are their coachmen, our brothers their cookmen, and ourselves their waiting men. Our mothers their nurse women, our sisters their scrub women, our daughters their maid women, and our wives their washer women. Until colored men attain to a position above permitting their mothers, sisters, and wives and daughters, to do the drudgery and menial offices of other men’s wives and daughters, it is useless, it is nonsense, it is pitiable mockery to talk about equality and elevation in society. The world is looking upon us with feelings of commiseration, sorrow, and contempt. We scarcely deserve sympathy, if we peremptorily refuse advice, bearing upon our elevation.

We will suppose a case for argument: In this city resides two colored families of three sons and three daughters each. At the head of each family, there is an old father and mother. The opportunities of these families, may or may not be the same for educational advantages, be that as it may, the children of the one go to school, and become qualified for the duties of life. One daughter becomes a school teacher, another a mantua-maker, and a third a fancy shop keeper; while one son becomes a farmer, another a merchant, and a third a mechanic. All enter into business with fine prospects, marry respectably, and settle in domestic comfort, while the six sons and daughters of the other family grow up without educational business qualifications and the highest aim they have is to apply to the sons and daughters of the first named family to hire for domestics! Would there be an equality here between the children of these two families? Certainly not. This, then is precisely the position of the colored people generally in the United States, compared with the whites. What is necessary to be done in order to attain an equality, is to change the condition, and the person is at once changed. If, as before stated, a knowledge of all the various business enterprises, trades, professions, and sciences, is necessary for the elevation of the white, a knowledge of them also is necessary for the elevation of the colored man; and he cannot be elevated without them.

White men are producers; we are consumers. They build houses and we rent them. They raise produce, and we consume it. They manufacture clothes and wares, and we garnish ourselves with them. They build coaches, vessels, cars, hotels, saloons, and other vehicles and places of accommodation, and we deliberately wait until they have got them in readiness, then walk in, and contend with as much assurance for a “right,” as though the whole thing was bought by, paid for , and belonged to us. By their literary attainments, they are the contributors to, authors of, and teachers of literature, science, religion, law, medicine, and all other useful attainments that the world now makes use of. We have no reference to ancient times, we speak of modern things.

These are the means by which God intended man to succeed: and this discloses the secret of the white man’s success with all of his wickedness, over the head of the colored man with all of his religion. We have been pointed and plain on this part of the subject, because we desire our readers to see persons and things in their true position. Until we are determined to change the condition of things, and raise ourselves above the position in which we are now prostrated, we must hang our heads in sorrow, and hide our faces in shame. It is enough to know that these things are so; the causes we care little about and moralising over all our life time. This we are weary of. What we desire to learn now is, how to effect a remedy; this we have endeavored to point out. Our elevation must be the results of self efforts, and work of our own hands. No other human power can accomplish it. If we but determine it shall be so, it will be so. Let each one make the case his own and endeavor to rival his neighbor in honorable competition.

These are the proper and only means of elevating ourselves and attaining equality in this country or any other, and it is useless, utterly futile, to think about going anywhere, except we are determined to use these as the necessary means of developing our manhood. The means are at hand, within our reach. Are we willing to try them? Are we willing to raise ourselves superior to the condition of slaves, or continue the meanest underlings, subject to the beck and call of every creature, bearing a pale complexion? If we are, we had as well remained in the South, as to have to come to the North in search of more freedom. What was the object of our parents in leaving the South, if it were not for the purpose of attaining equality in common with others of their fellow citizens by giving their children access to all the advantages enjoyed by others? Surely this was their object. They heard of liberty and equality here, and they hastened on to enjoy it, and no people are more astonished and disappointed than they who for the first time on beholding the position we occupy here in the free North, what is called, and what they expect to find, the free States. They at once tell us that they have as much liberty in the South as we have in the North, that there as free people, they are protected in their rights, that we have nothing more than, in other respects, they have the same opportunity, indeed, the preferred opportunity of being their maids, servants, cooks, waiters and menials in general there, as we have here, that had they known for a moment before leaving that such was to be the only position they occupied here, they would have remained where they were and never left. Indeed, such is the disappointment in many cases that they immediately return back again, completely insulted at the idea, of having superiors. Indeed, if our superior advantages of the free States, do not induce and stimulate us to the higher attainments in life, what in the name of degraded humanity will do it? Nothing, surely nothing. If, in fine, the advantages of free schools in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and wherever else we may have them, do not give us advantages and pursuits superior to our slave brethren, then are the unjust assertions of Mssrs. Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Theodore Frelinghuysen, late governor Poindexter of Mississippi, George McDuffy, Governor Hammond of South Carolina, Extra Billy (present Governor) Smith of Virginia and the host of our oppressors, slave holders and others true that we are insusceptible and incapable of elevation to the more respectable, honorable, and higher attainments among white men. But this we do not believe. Neither do you, although our whole life and course of policy in this country are such that it would seem to prove otherwise. The degradation of the slave parent has been entailed upon the child, induced by the subtle policy of the oppressor, in regular succession handed down from father to son, a system of regular submission and servitude, menialism and dependence, until it has become almost a physiological function of our system, an actual condition of our nature. Let this no longer be so, but let us determine to equal the whites among whom we live, not by declarations and unexpressed self opinion, for we have always had enough of that, but by actual prof in acting, doing and carrying out practically the measures of equality. Here is our nativity and here have we the natural right to abide and be elevated through the measures of our own efforts.

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