Appendix L. Speeches For Study And Practise. Part 3
The President of the United States, in his late message to Congress, discussing the plea that the South should be left to solve this problem, asks: "Are they at work upon it? What solution do they offer? When will the black man cast a free ballot? When will he have the civil rights that are his?" I shall not here protest against a partisanry that, for the first time in our history, in time of peace, has stamped with the great seal of our government a stigma upon the people of a great and loyal section; though I gratefully remember that the great dead soldier, who held the helm of State for the eight stormiest years of reconstruction, never found need for such a step; and though there is no personal sacrifice I would not make to remove this cruel and unjust imputation on my people from the archives of my country! But, sir, backed by a record, on every page of which is progress, I venture to make earnest and respectful answer to the questions that are asked. We give to the world this year a crop of 7,500,000 bales of cotton, worth $450,000,000, and its cash equivalent in grain, grasses and fruit. This enormous crop could not have come from the hands of sullen and discontented labor. It comes from peaceful fields, in which laughter and gossip rise above the hum of industry, and contentment runs with the singing plough. It is claimed that this ignorant labor is defrauded of its just hue. I present the tax books of Georgia, which show that the negro, twenty-five years ago a slave, has in Georgia alone $ 10,000,000 of assessed property, worth twice that much. Does not that record honor him and vindicate his neighbors?
What people, penniless, illiterate, has done so well? For every Afro-American agitator, stirring the strife in which alone he prospers, I can show you a thousand negroes, happy in their cabin homes, tilling their own land by day, and at night taking from the lips of their children the helpful message their State sends them from the schoolhouse door. And the schoolhouse itself bears testimony. In Georgia we added last year $250,000 to the school fund, making a total of more than $1,000,000 - and this in the face of prejudice not yet conquered - of the fact that the whites are assessed for $368,000,000, the blacks for $10,000,000, and yet forty-nine per cent of the beneficiaries are black children; and in the doubt of many wise men if education helps, or can help, our problem. Charleston, with her taxable values cut half in two since 1860, pays more in proportion for public schools than Boston. Although it is easier to give much out of much than little out of little, the South, with one-seventh of the taxable property of the country, with relatively larger debt, having received only one-twelfth as much of public lands, and having back of its tax books none of the $500,000,000 of bonds that enrich the North - and though it pays annually $26,000,000 to your section as pensions - yet gives nearly one-sixth to the public school fund. The South since 1865 has spent $122,000,000 in education, and this year is pledged to $32,000,000 more for State and city schools, although the blacks, paying one-thirtieth of the taxes, get nearly one-half of the fund. Go into our fields and see whites and blacks working side by side. On our buildings in the same squad. In our shops at the same forge. Often the blacks crowd the whites from work, or lower wages by their greater need and simpler habits, and yet are permitted, because we want to bar them from no avenue in which their feet are fitted to tread. They could not there be elected orators of white universities, as they have been here, but they do enter there a hundred useful trades that are closed against them here. We hold it better and wiser to tend the weeds in the garden than to water the exotic in the window.
In the South there are negro lawyers, teachers, editors, dentists, doctors, preachers, multiplying with the increasing ability of their race to support them. In villages and towns they have their military companies equipped from the armories of the State, their churches and societies built and supported largely by their neighbors. What is the testimony of the courts? In penal legislation we have steadily reduced felonies to misdemeanors, and have led the world in mitigating punishment for crime, that we might save, as far as possible, this dependent race from its own weakness. In our penitentiary record sixty per cent of the prosecutors are negroes, and in every court the negro criminal strikes the colored juror, that white men may judge his case.
In the North, one negro in every 186 is in jail - in the South, only one in 446. In the North the percentage of negro prisoners is six times as great as that of native whites; in the South, only four times as great. If prejudice wrongs him in Southern courts, the record shows it to be deeper in Northern courts. I assert here, and a bar as intelligent and upright as the bar of Massachusetts will solemnly indorse my assertion, that in the Southern courts, from highest to lowest, pleading for life, liberty or property, the negro has distinct advantage because he is a negro, apt to be overreached, oppressed - and that this advantage reaches from the juror in making his verdict to the judge in measuring his sentence.
Now, Mr. President, can it be seriously maintained that we are terrorizing the people from whose willing hands comes every year $1,000,000,000 of farm crops? Or have robbed a people who, twenty-five years from unrewarded slavery, have amassed in one State $20,000,000 of property? Or that we intend to oppress the people we are arming every day? Or deceive them, when we are educating them to the utmost limit of our ability? Or outlaw them, when We work side by side with them? Or re-enslave them under legal forms, when for their benefit we have even imprudently narrowed the limit of felonies and mitigated the severity of law? My fellow-countrymen, as you yourselves may sometimes have to appeal at the bar of human judgment for justice and for right, give to my people to-night the fair and unanswerable conclusion of these incontestable facts.