Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/April 1893/Education of our Colored Citizens

1198756Popular Science Monthly Volume 42 April 1893 — Education of our Colored Citizens1893Maud Wilder Goodwin



What shall we do with the negro? This is not a question of philanthropy, but of self-interest and self-protection. The negro has come to stay. The race at present numbers some seven or eight millions, and actually holds the balance of power numerically in several of the Southern States.

The Black Belt, as it is to-day, is a menace to the country from Mississippi to Maine, because it is black with the darkness of idleness and ignorance and immorality. It must soon be decided whether it shall grow darker and darker, or shall come to shine, bright as the Belt of Orion, with the light of intelligence and industry. The problem touches all who believe that good government rests on good citizenship, and good citizenship on individual enlightenment, that education is the tortoise which supports Atlas in his task of holding up the world.

We are confronted by a solid mass of ignorant citizens, nominally if not actually in possession of the ballot, and potent to make or mar the fabric of the republic. This mass is not decreasing, but increasing. What is to be done about it? Whether we care for the negro or his welfare matters not. If we care for the nation, we must give this question earnest consideration. We are entitled to hold the most divergent opinions on the subject, but we are not entitled to indifference, that fatal policy of letting alone growing evils which has wrecked so many communities.

There can be no divided opinion on the desirability of educating citizens of any race or color. The problem, then, so far as the negro is concerned, resolves itself into three questions: Is he capable of being educated? What system of education best meets his temperament and condition? and How can such education be given him?

To put the last two questions is, of course, to assume an affirmative answer to the first. Assuredly the negro can be educated. We may assume so much of a horse or a dog. How far, is another story, as Rudyard Kipling would say. All speculation on the comparative intellectual capacity of the black race is idle. Any accurate estimate must be based on data which, in the nature of things, can not be available for some centuries to come.

To the closest observers at the South the progress of the negro appears, on the whole, remarkable, though statistics might be prepared to present a different view. It is a well-worn truth that civilization is classification, and so it is proving with the blacks. Some of them have progressed. Some have reverted almost to barbarism. Slavery itself was in its time a great school of civilzation. It held a semibarbarous race in close contact with their superiors. When that bond was loosened, those negroes who had the fiber of freedom in them stood erect in independent manhood; the others sank to earth in abject hopelessness.

Twenty-eight years have elapsed since the close of the war. Those years have solved many problems and harmonized many differences, but they have not solved the problem of lifting the mass of the blacks to the plane of intelligent citizenship. There is much secret sympathy at the North with the suppression of the negro vote, because it is believed that it is not so much the result of race prejudice as of the determination of an intelligent minority not to be ruled by an ignorant and degraded majority. To begin civilization with the ballot is like beginning the Bible with Revelations; it is reading backward. Let us not reopen the question of the wisdom of the Government when, hurried on by the passions of both North and South, it armed the negro with the ballot as his sole protection. That is done. Our problem is before us. As the Oriental proverb runs: "To-day is ours; yesterday and to-morrow belong to God."

The negro must be educated; but how? Education is a good word, but, unfortunately, vague. It may include everything from the alphabet to the whole sweep of arts and letters. It may be general or technical; physical, mental, or moral. Let us try to arrive at a more definite understanding of it. There is perhaps no better parallel for the education of a race than the education of a child, only for every five years we must take five hundred. Men fall into vice but they climb into virtue. Nothing could be more unreasonable than to expect to see any marked change from the conditions engendered by slavery in so brief a period as thirty years; yet we hear the accusation constantly made against the negro that he is still a lazy, idle vagabond. Perhaps he is, but it is only another illustration of Franklin's parable, wherein Abraham is represented as wishing to cast the wanderer out of his tent because he will not worship Jehovah. But the Lord rebuked Abraham, saying, "Have I not borne with thee these ninety and nine years, and couldst thou not bear with him one night? "

Scarcely a day, as history measures time, has elapsed since the negroes, trained for centuries to depend on others for the means of livelihood, found themselves flung rudely into the grim struggle for existence. Not a foot of land was given them by the Government. No one ever heard of a negro reservation. They were left naked to their enemies, not the white men round them, but those far more relentless foes, the accursed slave habits, the inheritance of generations. The fatal weakness of slavery to the enslaved lies in the fact that its teachings strike at the root of character by eliminating the idea of moral responsibility. No soul, no sin. If the marriage tie may be broken at the will of the master, assuredly it will be at the pleasure of the slave. If the servant is a chattel, there is force in his logic that in converting chicken into slave, he is only changing the form of property. The virtues of the slave are unquestioning obedience and passive resignation. The fundamental virtues of the freeman are self-assertion and active, unflinching resistance to any attack on his rights.

The close of the war saw millions of slaves suddenly enfranchised. How were they to be safely translated from one condition to another, to enjoy liberty without running into license, to defend themselves without offending others—in a word, to become good citizens? To the great good fortune of the negro the contraband camp at Hampton, Va., was placed under the control of General Samuel C. Armstrong—a man fitted for his position, not only by having served in the war as a leader of black troops, but by having passed his boyhood as the son of a missionary in the Hawaiian Islands. Through this early training he had an opportunity of studying close at hand the evolution from barbarism of a dark-skinned Polynesian people strongly resembling in many ways the negro in America.

Describing his early experiences, he wrote, years afterward: "On horseback and in canoe tours with my father and alone around those grandly picturesque volcanic islands, inspecting schools and living much among the natives (then generally Christianized), I noticed how easily the children learned from books, how universally the people attended church and had family prayers—always charmingly hospitable; and yet that they lived pretty much in the old ways, all in one room, including the stranger within their gates, who usually had, however, the benefit of the raised end and a curtain. They seemed to have accepted, but not to have fully adopted, Christianity; for they did not have the conditions of living which make high standards of morality possible."

While heartily in sympathy with the effort to Christianize these people, he was forced to see and deplore the process of pietizing without moralizing, which was repeated later under his eye in the camp-meetings of the South. No heathen is so difficult to deal with, as the negro who has run through the whole gamut of religious experience and still retains his original weakness for pilfering watermelons.

General Armstrong's scientific study of the negro led him early to the belief that the only hope for the black lay, not in being helped, but in being taught to help himself; not in being pauperized, but in being civilized. He made up his mind that any system of training, to be successful, must be symmetrical, and must take into account the equal development of heart, hand, and head. It was to work out this theory that he consented to take charge of the school for freedmen which was gradually evolved from the camp at Hampton. Here, on the spot rich in historical memories, where freedom first came to the slave through Benjamin F. Butler's famous order declaring him contraband of war, on the shores of the broad bay where the Monitor and the Merrimac closed in their deadly embrace, General Armstrong opened his educational campaign. It was not the first time he had thought of such a scheme.

"A day-dream of the Hampton School nearly as it is," he says, "had come to me during the war a few times; once in camp during the siege of Richmond, and once one beautiful evening on the Gulf of Mexico, while on the wheel-house of the transfer steamship Illinois, en route for Texas, with the Twenty-fifth Army (negro) Corps for frontier duty on the Rio Grande River, whither it had been ordered, under General Sheridan, to watch and if necessary defeat Maximilian in his attempted conquest of Mexico.

"The thing to be done was clear: to train selected negro youth who should go out and teach and lead their people, first by example, by getting land and homes; to give them not a dollar that they could earn for themselves; to teach respect for labor; to replace stupid drudgery with skilled hands; and, to these ends, to build up an industrial system, for the sake not only of self-support and intelligent labor, but also for the sake of character. And it seemed equally clear that the people of the country would support a wise work for the freedmen."

Time has more than justified his foresight. It has proved his plan not alone a wise way, but the only way out of the difficulty. This is the answer to the question, What kind of education is best for the negroes? First, such an industrial training as shall make them masters of their own faculties; then an economic training teaching them how to save and how to spend money; and afterward as high an intellectual education as they shall show capacity and desire for. That will take care of itself. The first essential in making the blacks independent is to make them home-owners and property-holders. This is not a difficult task, for the negroes have a land hunger. The difficulty lies in their improvident habits, which too often result in mortgaged houses and farms.

The emancipation of the slaves in America threatened to follow the same course as the emancipation of the serfs in Russia, where the boons of liberty turned to a calamity and a curse. Slavery, under masters made often considerate by habit, was exchanged for an industrial slavery far more bitter. The emancipated Russian serfs straightway fell into the toils of usurers, who first established and then foreclosed mortgages on the little farms granted to the newly enfranchised. At the South, too, the mortgaged farm has been a weapon of tyranny. Once let a negro own his ground and he is indeed free; once let him own a mortgage on a white man's farm and he is master of the situation. Such is the witness borne by Booker Washington, that eloquent young colored man who, coming to Hampton with fifty cents as his entire capital, worked his way through the school and went out to found a similar institution at Tuskegee, Alabama. He is in himself the best illustration of the progress of the race; and the best hope for the future was unintentionally expressed by a Southern white man, who, after seeing him pass on the street, exclaimed with an oath, "By ——! it's all I can do to help saying 'Mister' to him."

Booker Washington is firm in the faith that his brothers will never succeed until they learn to depend on themselves, and that self-dependence is best fostered by the ownership of land. A property-owning negro is not only secure of his rights, but he has a vital interest in the stability of government, and thus becomes a citizen in the fullest sense without distinction of race or color. No one man has done as much as General Armstrong to bring about this great industrial revolution. Here is the testimony of the Rev. S. J. Barrows:

"General Armstrong has built a new Uncle Tom's cabin, and it is very different from the old. You may see the difference in the Black Belt. There is the old one with its one door and perhaps no window; and then, not far away, is the new one built by the Hampton graduate, two stories high perhaps, nicely carpeted and furnished, neat spreads on the table, and something better than 'hog and hominy' to eat, a cabinet organ in the room, books on the shelf. Such a home is a beacon-light in the community to diffuse intelligence and the spirit of order and progress. That is what Hampton is doing. It is building homes and schools all through the South. What a cloud of witnesses we should have, could we summon those seven hundred graduates, each one bringing the implements of his trade—the carpenter with his saw, the blacksmith with his hammer, the harnessmaker with his knife, the farmer with his hoe! What a long line there would be of the graduates alone! And then add the one hundred and twenty-nine thousand pupils they have taught and the two thousand teachers again that have been drawn from this army of pupils! It would take two days for them all to march through the streets of Boston!"

A man once excused himself for begging from Dr. Johnson by explaining, "You see, my dear sir, I must live." "Really," replied the sturdy old doctor, "I don't see the necessity." Now, it is a cold fact in political economy that the killing off of one third of the black population at the South would probably prove a benefit to civilization. It would work like the thinning out of a forest jungle, leaving room for the sun and air to reach the survivors; but the law has not yet authorized this process of scientific weeding out of the unfittest. The question is not, Shall the negro poor live? but How shall they live? Pauperism does not stop procreation. The next generation will be called upon to solve our problem several times multiplied.

Pauperism not only breeds paupers: it kills thrift. Nothing is so extravagant as poverty. It is a universally acknowledged fact among shopkeepers at the South that the black customers are the best customers. None care so little what price is put upon an article, none inquire so little into intrinsic values, and none are so heedless of the adaptation of the purchase to the needs. Some wit has observed, on the difference between men and women as shoppers, that men will pay two dollars for a one-dollar article which they want, whereas women will pay one dollar for a two-dollar article which they don't want. The negro combines the weakness of both. Every traveler in the South smiles over the new buggy standing beside the shanty which owns neither stable nor horse; the gorgeous plush album, guiltless of pictures, but treasured in tissue paper by the poor woman who can scarcely make the rags meet across her breast. There is a humorous side to it, but there is a pathetic side, too, in that unquenchable thirst for beauty which is part of the Oriental nature. The negro really feels what the rest of us say in jest, "Give us the luxuries of life, and we'll do without the necessaries." Lazy, improvident, unpractical, the black man as a worker is brought into competition not only with the Southern whites, but with the Yankees—those Phœnicians of the "Western world who drive bargains as naturally as the negro drives a mule, who haggle over the price of a postage-stamp, who rise early and go to bed late out of breath from the pursuit of the nimble sixpence. The negro is a Rip Van Winkle who has suddenly waked into a dizzy world of prosperity and progress. He can not hope at present to compete for the prizes, but is he therefore to be counted out as a factor in the world's work? "Not so," says General Armstrong, and as a proof of it he points to the achievements of Hampton.

That school which first rose on his vision that summer night on the Mexican Gulf, now stretches its substantial arms of stone and brick and iron to the water's edge. Its smoking chimneys, its ringing forges, its whirr of wheels, all bespeak the busy life within. In each one of the forty buildings connected with the school some form of education is being carried on. At one angle stand the Huntington Industrial Works, where lumber passes from the felled log into finished carpentry under the hands of joiners and carpenters. The boys who have been trained in this school will never be at a loss to get work. They can put up their own houses and those of their neighbors, and teach by example and precept in their turn. Wheelwright and blacksmith shops stand close at hand. Dressmaking establishments and cooking schools meanwhile are training women to equal usefulness.

Hampton stands, above all, for industrial education. The institutions at Petersburg, Nashville, and Atlanta are all working for the education of the colored race. Some of them have technical schools, but it is at Hampton alone that industrial training and manual labor form the keystone of the educational arch. The students here are taught not only to work, but to be proud of working; and when the higher education is earned it is worth more because it is founded on the solid basis of hand work. Thoroughness and accuracy, the two great qualifications for scholarship, are taught at the carpenter's bench and the blacksmith's forge. But the artisans are not left untaught in other things. The night school is crowded every evening with eager learners of two races. Negroes and Indians study side by side, with benefit to both races. Their horizon is widened by the interchange of experiences from such diverse regions as the West and South, the prairie and the cotton field. The habits of the wandering tribes and the sons of the soil are full of interest to the observers, and, even as children learn from each other more readily than from grown people, so these child races are teaching and training one another.

When the Indians were introduced into the school, some fifteen years ago, while the Hon. Carl Schurz was Secretary of the Interior under Hayes, it was feared that the discipline and general morale of the institution would suffer. These, on the contrary, have steadily improved. General Armstrong was one of the first educators to adopt the principle of student-government. The boys, Negro and Indian, are formed into a battalion. Cases of insubordination are dealt with by a court martial detailed from among the officers, who report their sentence for the approval of the faculty of the school. The system is admirably adapted to its purpose. It develops both discipline and a sense of honor. To compel a boy, under ordinary circumstances, to report the conduct of his comrades is to make him a spy and informer, but when he acts as guard or sentinel he falls at once into the attitude of military obedience.

Nothing in the conduct of the school shows keener insight into the character of the negro than the establishment of this semi-military basis of organization. A uniform, gay with straps and brass buttons, is dear to his heart. His feet keep step instinctively to the tap of the drum, and the flag behind which he marches is a perpetual reminder to him that he is an integral part of a great nation which expects something from him in return for the freedom and citizenship which it has bestowed. This military drill has a still more far-reaching influence in stimulating that ability for organization which is one of the latest developments of civilization. Here the negro is manifestly deficient. He fights and works well under the command and oversight of his superior, just as the Sepoys have been found in India to need not only English officers but a few English regulars to supply the backbone as well as the brains—literally, the sinews of war. This mental and moral muscle is just what Hampton is supplying, teaching the negro first to help himself and then to lend a hand to others, to organize, to teach, and to command.

The normal school is the highest grade in the Hampton Institute. It has four classes—the intermediate, the junior, the middle, and the senior. At the end of the middle year the students who desire to make teaching their life work are sent away for a year of practice, from which they return with a more adequate notion of the needs of their people and the advantages open to them at Hampton. So much insisted on is this duty of missionary work of instruction in the Black Belt and other strongholds of ignorance in the South, that the teachers say that the graduates whom they meet in New York and other Northern cities occupying positions of ease and profit are so ashamed of shirking their duties that they cross the street and strive to avoid encountering their old instructors, whose just expectations they have thus disappointed.

Every institution, some one has said, is the shadow of one man, and Hampton is the shadow of General Armstrong. He has been not alone the founder, but the upbuilder. It is his eloquence which has drawn forth the gold from the pockets of the rich and transformed it into brick and mortar and books and models for the benefit of his experiment.

Phillips Brooks, whose great heart went out to all greatness, said of General Armstrong: "He has touched the fountains of generosity in stingy men. He has taught men the glory and the beauty and the happiness of being stewards of the Lord. He has made men feel as they never dreamed of feeling. Such has been the power of his speech that the frozen streams have melted and the currents have flowed joyously, singing as they went, and men have thanked him for teaching them to be generous." But no one man, however eloquent or however able, could have created that industrial village at Hampton. It is the product of organized enthusiasm. Individual enthusiasm is the old flint and spark of the savage, which struck fire only by direct contact and after much friction. Organized enthusiasm is the electric light with the whole energy of the battery behind it. It is this organized enthusiasm of many people in many places which has made Hampton what it is. General Armstrong's genius has lain in understanding how to utilize emotion to be sure that it turned a crank and did not escape in steam. For twenty-five years he has toiled and thought and fought for the school—now traveling hither and yon through the North to collect funds, and then flying back to inspire and direct the work at the South. No man could stand such a strain forever, and last year, in Boston, paralysis laid its warning hand on that tireless brain and said, "Be still!" But nothing short of death itself can enforce that command. The brain and voice are busy still, but not with their oldtime energy. Now he is calling for aid. "He has," as Mrs. Julia Ward Howe said, "been through two wars—the war of fire and bloodshed, and the war of faith and zeal." Now he is struck down, like Moses, at the entrance to the promised land of success, and asks only to see into it.

To each age its own problems. The men and women of General Armstrong's generation were carried above and beyond themselves by the impulse of a great, soul-stirring cause. The young people of to-day can never know the electric thrill of patriotism which ran through the country in successive shocks from the first gun echoing from Sumter to the solemn day of Lincoln's death. But there is a heroic work for them to do:

"New occasions teach new duties,

Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,

Who would keep abreast of truth."

"The Boys in Blue did a fearful but necessary work of destruction," said Lincoln of the heroes of Gettysburg. "It is for us to finish what they began. Their task was destruction; ours is construction. Theirs was the emancipation of the slave; ours the enlightenment of the citizen." So widespread has been the feeling of the dignity and worth of the work done in this great cause at Hampton, that it has taken form in an association bearing the name of the founder of the school, and known as the Armstrong Association. Its whole purpose is to support the industrial education of the negro and, incidentally, of the Indian. It aims to be national, not sectional, and should prove a strong bond between North and South. It does not propose to contribute a cent toward philanthropy or charity at the South. Hampton Institute is no more a charitable institution than Yale or Harvard. It is a noble educational plant insufficiently endowed. Its alumni are poor; they can give it only gratitude and sympathy, and, as some cynic has observed, the bonds of sympathy bear no coupons. This criticism, however, is only a surface truth, for no cause ever failed for lack of funds, if it had enough vital sympathy behind it.

There is a lake on a mountain-top in Missouri, without visible outlet or inlet, which yet rises and falls several feet. What is the explanation of the mystery? It is fed by an ebbing and flowing underground river. So it is with great enterprises. They are borne on the current of popular enthusiasm—unseen, it may be, but never unfelt. So it is with Hampton. Its success hangs on popular support, and on its success hangs the experiment of industrial education as a solution of the negro problem.

This is a great national question. It intimately ccmcerns the white population at the South, whose welfare, whether they will or not, is bound up with that of the blacks, so that the sarcastic advice, "Educate your masters!" becomes literal counsel of the truest and wisest kind. Nor are we of the North indifferent observers. So bound together is this nation by the iron bands of railroads and telegraph wires that the issue of affairs in the most distant South is of vital interest to us. Let it not be said of the thinkers of to-day as of those blind ones who watched the condition of France before the Revolution, that the philosophers were duller than the fribbles. Let us clearly recognize the difficulty and complexity of the problem with which we have to deal, and then let us address ourselves to its solution soberly, earnestly, and unremittingly.

A discussion has arisen concerning the manner in which the Egyptian tombs may have been lighted for the execution of the elaborate paintings that are found in them. Any light that would smoke appears to be ruled out, for it could not have failed to leave its mark, which is not there. Mr. Newman, an American artist, who has spent several winters on the Nile, studying and painting tombs and temples, has not been able to suggest any other solution of the problem than the use of the electric light. Mr. W. Flinders Petrie is not yet ready to invoke the electric light, but believes that sunlight was sent into the dark passages by the use of mirrors. He says: "A very small amount of reflected sunshine is enough to work by. I have taken photographs at Gizeh (which require far more light than is needed by a painter or sculptor) by means of four successive reflections of sunshine from common sheets of tin plate, such as biscuit-tin lids. These four reflections sent the light round corners, into what was absolutely dark space, a distance of over thirty feet, and the effect was brilliant to the eye. I feel certain, therefore, that with larger reflectors there would be no difficulty whatever in lighting any part of the Kings' Tombs more brightly than by small lamps." An American, Mr. Henry, in Longuyon, France, has constructed a clock entirely of paper, which has run regularly for two years, with no greater variation than a minute a month.