What the national government is doing for our colored boys.: The new system of slavery in the South. Two sermons delivered at the Israel C.M.E. church, Washington, D.C.,: by its pastor, Rev. S.B. Wallace, M.D. August 19 and September 9, 1894
Samuel B. Wallace was pastor of the Israel Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.
In this excerpt from the sermon, "The New System of Slavery," Wallace shows how African-Americans have entered a new form of bondage in the South, one which both government and the church should feel called to resist.
The doorways to this new system of slavery are far more numerous than those which led into the old. African transportation ships and negro procreation did not advance the number of slaves half so rapidly in the two hundred and fifty years of actual servitude as the courts and the penal processes of the South do the new system. The sheriff is in league with the white farmer and every negro hand must sign a contract filled with obstruse legal terms which the boss himself does not understand, but, are so arranged as to protect his interests and give him every advantage over his hired man. This is a regular enlistment system-- the negro must work a full year, or, if from any cause he quits and goes off in search of work no one else can hire him, and if he is caught he goes to jail. This door is always thronged; the colored man signs his name in January and he is a slave until December, unless he is discharged, which his employer may do at will.
The lien law is another doorway to this iniquitous system. Not one half of one per cent of the colored farmers of the South who run their own farms or work for themselves pay as they go; the shark gets the cotton before it is well baled and pockets the money for the inferior meat he has dealt out to the poor colored farmer during the year at double the cash price with interest added. Any breach of this ironclad rule, and such is bound to occur, lands a negro in jail and in the penitentiary. This phase of the causes leading to litigation against the negro will be more horrible when it is remembered that the negro keeps no account--he must abide by the books at the end of the year and they always tell of a fabulous consumption of commodities. A poor old man once kept his account upon a stick which he notched with his knife in the presence of the storekeeper whenever he procured an article, and at the end of the year the books were ahead of him by over a hundred dollars. An ingenious lawyer went into court in behalf of the old man who was always known to be a good boy around white men, and by the aid of the notches on the stick and the testimony of his old master as to his veracity for truthfulness, secured a verdict against the merchant. If he had peremptorily refused to pay this trumpt-up account a capias ad satisfacicadum would have given him a term of years at hard labor in the penitentiary.
Stealing constitutes a great door to the new system of servitude. If all the stories told in the South of Negro dishonesty be true then the slave owners must have instructed in the matter of stealing more thoroughly than in any thing else which they taught the Negro while he was in bondage. All that the Negro knows he learned it from his master, and what he does not know his master would not teach him and this is the cause. In slavery the master would not teach the slave to read, and when the emancipation came he was totally ignorant; in slavery the master kept from the Negro every incentive to manhood and when the emancipation came he had none: in slavery the Negro was not allowed to make money and when liberty was declared he was poor, without a dollar and without a shelter for his head. Now, by inverting the terms in this process of reasoning we say, that as the negro knew how well to steal at the close of the war he must have had some instruction while he was in slavery. But can it be imagined that all, or even half of the instances of theft reported and tried in the South, are genuine? Can it be supposed that a people debarred from every privilege except that of serving God, for so long a time, could be so universally dishonest! Could be so naturally given to the habit of stealing? It does not stand to reason that with two masters to fear, a heavenly and an earthly master, such a habit could have become so uncommon and so universal among the colored people as to make it a maxim that the negro will steal. No conscientious historian believes it; no man who is acquainted with human nature, and with the forces which conspire to produce individual, or national evil could be induced to credit the monstrosities urged against the Southern negro along the line of dishonesty. A poor woman was arrested for having picked some cotton from the field of a white neighbor. The cotton was a product of the Dixon cotton seed so popular with the Southern farmer. By this point of fact the cotton was identified and a constable took from the poor woman's cotton house two hundred and fifty pounds which he said contained the Dixon seed. In the trial the woman proved that she planted the Dixon seed and that her cotton house was full of cotton containing the same seed. She proved by the man who brought the suit and for whom she had cooked for more than three years that she was strictly honest. The man, whose name was Singleton, declared that she had never deceived him in all his acquaintance with her, and yet he had trusted her with money and other valuables, but he believed she stole his cotton. On the day of trial a humble woman appeared in court and took the prisoner's stand. When she arose to testify the jury could not understand her well on account of her peculiar accent. She pleaded with out stretched arms for her release; the court was completely silenced by her pitiable protestations, and finally the judge ordered the jury to render a verdict of not guilty from their seats; but when an order was made to reclaim the cotton which Singleton had taken from her, the court refused to grant it and thus the woman whom the jury acquitted was robbed of her earnings to satisfy her white accuser. Granting that there are colored people who steal as there are white people who do the same, we submit with assurance that more than half of the cases of stealing against the colored man in the South originate as did the case against the old woman referred to.
Insults to the chastity of Anglo-Saxon women is another door to this new system of slavery. There is little here to be said: the negro is held to be a coward, it is not a wonder that it is true; but how will it be made to appear that such is the case when in the face of the lynching that is of almost every day occurrence the colored man is said to go right on in his attacks: upon innocent Saxon womanhood. I am in favor of visiting the extreme penalty of the law upon any man who brutally violates the honor of poorest and most despised woman in the land. No lover of character, no believer in the sound dictates of reason and religion can feel otherwise; but the Anglo Saxons themselves do not credit the enormous record of negro disregard for honor reported in Southern newspapers. The last door to be mentioned and the one that is the most painful to us as a people, is the trouble which arises among the colored people themselves. A large per cent of the criminal proceedings against colored persons in the South comes from internal strife and internal accusation. The negro has learned that the Southern white man wants him in trouble and therefore when moved by the spirit and impulse of revenge which is so common among the ignorant masses, he runs to the courts and the swearing he does is enough to send a blush to the cheeks of the twelve apostles. The same spirit which moved the negro to restore the cane with which Brooks felled to the floor the lamented Sumner, may still be found here and there; and wherever there is a door opened for the destruction of a negro some one of the race can easily be found to do the pushing. Every little plantation broil or domestic squabble must go to the courts, and the end is a prolific harvest for the new servitude.
Full text (Library of Congress/Daniel A.P. Murray Pamphlet Collection).