A regional interpretation of Black Nationalism.
In 1884 black journalist and civil rights activist T. Thomas Fortune wrote this statement describing the aspirations and reasoning of black southerners during the precarious years following the official end of Reconstruction and the onset of Redeemer governments. Fortune would go on to become the editor of several influential newspapers in New York, a position he used to document and protest discrimination and violence against blacks. Although earning success and national recognition in the North, Fortune's roots were southern. He was born a slave in the Florida Panhandle and witnessed firsthand the hopes brought in by the promise of Reconstruction and their eventual demise hastened by the horrific violence that accompanied the return of white supremacy. (2) During the Nadir, Fortune was one of the few black leaders, most of who were from the South, who understood the plight of the masses of ex-slaves and accurately assessed the meaning behind their actions and objectives. The majority of blacks living in the South before the Civil War had worked in agriculture and one of their foremost priorities after emancipation was land ownership. Their desire was incessant as they equated it with both economic and political self-determination. Many of them also advocated territorial separatism as a means of achieving these goals and in doing so were early forerunners of Black Nationalist and separatist movements of the 20th century.
Black Nationalism can loosely be defined as "a general template of ideologies, programs, and political visions geared toward encouraging racial pride, collective action, and group autonomy among people of African descent." (3) Generally, it also entails an economic, social, political, or cultural separation from whites. (4) Territorial separatism is a subset of Black Nationalism whereby blacks seek to relocate to a distinct area free from the immediate vicinity of whites. In the vast majority of cases southern blacks advocating these ideals in the 19th century did not refer to themselves as Black Nationalists or separatists. This absence does not negate their support, rather it is the result of their inability to articulate their objectives using the contemporary vernacular. While unable to eloquently communicate their nationalist leanings, black southerners' actions speak for themselves. After the Civil War thousands left the South for homes in the all-black Republic of Liberia or left in the hopes of achieving dreams of economic and political autonomy by forming all-black towns in West.
Surrounded by an environment of heightened racial angst, extreme poverty, and a long legal history of racial caste, the post-Civil War South presents an unlikely environment for a burgeoning black social movement. However, during this time of turmoil and displacement, anomie and vulnerability, black southerners for the first time had the political space and opportunity to independently organize and act upon their own ideologies of nationalism and philosophy territorial separatism.
While intellectual histories tracing the black northern --and usually upper class - development of a Black Nationalist rhetoric have abounded in the academic discourse, far less attention has been paid to the intellectual, political, or economic maturation of Black Nationalist thought among ex-slaves. Likewise, studies of Black Nationalism have tended to be analyzed chronologically without regard to regional diversity. By emphasizing the development of Black Nationalism in the antebellum period, a time during which the majority of blacks living in the United States were enslaved, scholarship has provided an incomplete analysis of Black Nationalism. (5) Scholars such as Wilson J. Moses, Adeleke Tunde, and William McAdoo have largely located the apex of 19th century Black Nationalism in the North, a movement initiated by black elites, and have argued that it possessed a contradictory nature in that it was a reaction to exclusive white American nationalism, yet simultaneously embraced elements of Euro-American centrism. With terms such as Anglo-African Nationalism, Black American Nationalism, and Reactionary Nationalism, these scholars have argued that 19th century Black Nationalism in the United States ultimately reinforced already established views of racial and cultural hierarchies.
The opinions of upper class blacks expressed in Northern did not necessarily reflect the views of lower class blacks, especially those of black southerners. In the North black supporters of Black Nationalism most readily championed racial uplift and the civilizing mission, two major tenants of 19th century Black Nationalism. However, these values reflected northern middle class culture and not the southern lower class roots held by the majority of separatist supporters. (6) Racial uplift implied a deviancy among black people and culture, while civilizing missions most commonly referred to African evangelism and modernization. While such issues may have been viewed with urgency among the black northern intelligentsia, they were not major concerns for slaves or freedmen in the South. Their motivations for participating in separatist movements were far more practical.
When compared to the Black Nationalism that characterized the North, southern Black Nationalism is unique in at least five areas: popularity, class, philosophy, destination and strategy. Essentially territorial separatism and by extension Black Nationalism were vastly more popular among black southerners as evidenced by the thousands of letters that they wrote to white politicians and colonizationists inquiring about emigration. Unlike the North, most social movement participants were from the lower classes, comprised of skilled and unskilled laborers with very few belonging to professional occupations. Southern blacks were also much more inclined to advocate territorial separatism as a philosophy in order to achieve land ownership and their goals of economic and political self-determination, while northerners generally resented such movements. Southern Black Nationalists are further distinguished by their flexibility regarding settlement location and investigated removal to various locations both inside and outside of the African continent. They were also not averse to working with whites or predominately white organizations when seeking to emigrate and an interracial cooperative strategy was employed within all successful black separatist movements in the South. These distinctions reveal an alternative development for Black Nationalism in the United States and recognize the voices of a subaltern people largely left out of its intellectual history.
Some black northerners understood the practical economic motivations of black separatists. In October 1851 over thirty black men signed a resolution of the newly formed Liberian Emigration and Agricultural Association in New York. Lewis H. Putnam, a leader in the group, did not wish to become an emigrant himself, but rather called for "aid in establishing a character for our people and the promotion of civilization by the introduction of agriculture on an extended scale, and thereby open a field for the reception of all who may require its support." Putman understood the reasons motivating blacks to support territorial separatism and desired for each family of emigrants to be supplied with a farm, tools, and provisions for six months upon arrival in Liberia. He plainly stated that the Association was to in "no manner, be connected with the American Colonization Society," the national organization comprised of both proslavery and antislavery supporters, and instead would be sponsored entirely by blacks. This fact, however, brought little reassurance black New Yorkers opposing the movement.
The day following the meeting an anti-colonization meeting was also held, where attendees advised Putnam to "discontinue associating himself with Negroes of New York, because of association with the American Colonization Society our enemy villifier." Putnam remained unmoved by the intense disdain for him and the ACS. He vowed to "aid in developing the resources of the country and although we commenced to establish ourselves, yet we are pledged to give equal facilities to others by dividing the means, which have been placed at our disposal." Putnam also explained how, "Liberia owes her existence to the Colonization Society and although the prejudice against it is a serious drawback to the emigration of those who would otherwise go to that country, yet our actions must harmonize with it until we can dispense with its aid." (7) Although not supporting emigration for themselves or the masses of black people, Liberian Emigration and Agricultural Association in New York understood the importance of obtaining a sustainable economic livelihood for their southern brethren. Putnam acknowledged the need for a practical plan to ensure economic independence for the masses of potential black emigrants to Liberia and advocated agricultural pursuits as the most viable option. In general however, the way in which northern black leaders presented black separatism did not offer great appeal to the average black southerner.
In the nineteenth century support for territorial separatism was never widespread in the North and most black leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Samuel Cornish, and Prince Saunders condemned the idea. Scholar Dean Robinson has observed how, "Black Nationalists criticized the American Colonization Society, but offered an identical solution--resettlement--to the problem of black inequality." (8) Indeed, convention meetings of black residents of New York and Chicago seconded their adverse sentiments and passed respective resolutions to "... express continued abhorrence of the colonization scheme in all its phases, where promulgated by the American Colonization Society or by renegade colored, men made under the guise of an emigration society" and to remain "opposed to the Colonization, deposition, concentration, either in or out of the United States, and the we pledge our support to the delegation, in putting down any movement of the kind." (9) While the vast majority of black Americans lived in the South, recent scholarship that continues to argue the widespread opposition to Black Nationalism in the 19th century is disproportionately focused on the North. (10)
Robinson posits that "Black Nationalism as a political strategy trace back to a number of literate, mostly male and mostly northern Afro-Americans in the 19th century individuals who left a record of specific proposals to establish an 'African nationality.' (11) This theory admittedly so, does not take into account the black lower class southern perspective. T. Thomas Fortune was one of the few black intellectuals who comprehended concept of freedom through political and economic independence that the masses of ex-slaves sought to achieve. He and other black leaders who were born or raised in the South such as Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, Martin Delany and Booker T. Washington crafted an ideology of uplift centering on economic and/or political achievement through separatism. (12) Scholars such as Adeleke Tunde argue that their support of European and American middle class culture such as Christian evangelization was an indication of their racial bias against Africans, however such views form only a minor portion of their Black Nationalist ideology. While not immune to Euro-American centrism, they overwhelmingly acknowledged the legitimacy of poor blacks' support for separatism and relatively higher esteem for indigenous African culture.
Recent scholarship has begun to challenge the view that black Americans were wholeheartedly committed to territorial separatism by comparing the influence of perceived grievances, class differences, and distinct cultural, economic, or political goals had on support for territorial separatism. (13) Although freed by the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, black southerners understood these guarantees of freedom to be precarious at best. For them, freedom could only be secured if accompanied first by economic rights and secondly by political ones. During the Senate hearing investigating the Exoduster Movement of the late 1870s in which thousands of black southerners immigrated to the western states, Senator Vance of North Carolina questioned two men from the Goldsboro area about "what inducement was held out for them to leave North Carolina?" Both interviewees gave strikingly similar answers. Hilliard Ellis replied, "Some, I think, were going for better wages, and some were complaining that they could not get their rights under the law." When asked his opinion of "why they left," Ellis Dickenson replied, "I have heard them say they were going because they heard they could get better wages." (14) The southern interpretation of Black Nationalism emphasized these class centered economic and political goals and in the context of the South, territorial separatism was the most effective means of acquiring them.
Bishop Henry McNeal Turner of the A. M. E. Church, for instance, related to the distress of poor southern blacks when encouraging emigration to Africa: "If the black man ever rises to wealth, he will either do it in Africa, or as he operates in connection with Africa. He will never do it trying to be white, or snubbing his native country." (15) Although Turner showed a cultural affinity towards Africa and strongly supported emigration to Liberia, he also supported the Exoduster Movement and alternative settlement destinations other than Africa. (16) Turner comprehended the fundamental necessity of land ownership in order to secure livelihoods for a freed people who had for generations been largely employed as agriculturalists. Responding to a criticism of his recent election to the office of Vice President of the American Colonization Society, Turner penned,
I have been reflecting on the status of the negro in this country for many years, and the more I reflect, the more I am convinced that his days are few and evil, on the soil he is now trying to eke out an existence. I believe that extermination or re-enslavement is only a question of time, if we in spite of what ought to be our better sense attempt to remain here; our salvation as a race depends upon a negro nationality, either to Africa or to South America, ... (17)
The strategies of black southern leaders reflected the larger goals and predicaments of the ex-slaves masses trying to survive and thrive in the South. It was by reading their letters, listening to their concerns, attending their meetings, and witnessing their trials, that southern black leadership was able to articulate the motivations and needs of a largely voiceless people.
The definitions of political activity continue to be redefined and broadened, including for the first time the subaltern voices of slaves, indentured servants, sailors, the urban poor, and other marginal groups in the contemporary body politic of their day. (18) In doing so, researchers are opening the door for future scholarship that will complicate such narratives and identify the unofficial political activities that served to prepare subaltern groups for participation in various social movements to justify equal rights and representation. Emigration and territorial separatism has increasingly been viewed in this capacity of unofficial political activity, one of the few political tactics available to a largely subjugated population. The old cliche of "voting by one's feet" refers to the act of relocating, in lieu of voting, in order to improve one's present condition and opportunity, and black southerners readily employed this method of political activism as other official activity such as voting, office holding, and judiciary participation became increasingly limited and effectively nonexistent.
Black support for territorial separatism was most popular in the South. While this fact should seem obvious as most blacks during the entire 19th century were rural southern inhabitants, for decades Black Nationalism scholarship primarily focused on black urban residents in the North. Support for separatism was never as widespread in the North mainly because of the presence of political opportunities which allowed for protest alternatives other than separatism. (19) Throughout the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries the majority of participants in movements of territorial separatism came from the South. (20) These include black loyalist and black refugee migrations, colonization and emigration movements to Liberia before and after the Civil War respectively, and the Exoduster movement to Kansas. Of the four thousand blacks who immigrated to Liberia during the late 19th century an astounding 98% were residents of southern states. The propensity of black southerners to participate in this type of protest is quite evident, therefore scholarship on Black Nationalism should reflect more analysis of southern interpretations and populations.
Black northerners, though faced with racial discrimination, were able to protest their condition and work towards improvement in a variety of formats including the use of public media, exercising the franchise, holding political office, and forming political clubs, thus lessening the appeal of territorial separatism. * (21) Such alternatives were unavailable to southern blacks, who for most of the 19th century either enslaved, hindered by Jim Crow, or terrorized by racialized violence, conditions that successfully dissuaded many southern blacks from using these types of tactics. In the antebellum period slave codes hindered blacks from entering the profession of journalism, restricted their ability to hold meetings, and curtailed their ability to use the judicial system to seek redress - three activities crucial to collective action and protest. After the Civil War though initially granted de jure civil rights, ex-slaves were faced monumental struggles against political oppression, economic subordination, and acts of violence so depraved that as one black resident of Selma, Alabama recounted "the terror of their so torment my pen hardly can work now." (22) Through the American Colonization Society, black territorial separatism had a long and successful history in the South, and was a protest option for blacks that even proslavery white southerners in the past had either supported or at least tolerated. Memory of this type of successful protest undoubtedly influenced freedmen's decision to continue to advocate separatism as the most practical and safest means of achieving goals of uplift and autonomy. Hailing from states throughout the South, the characteristics of these emigrants show remarkable similarities.
Black Nationalists in the South did not possess the same demographic characteristics as those in the North. The most striking difference is the socio-economic status and listed occupations of the two groups. In the North the separatist call was supported by members of the upper class such as Lott Carey, Daniel Coker, and John Brown Russwurm. They expressed middle class ideals of Christian evangelism and the merits of European social mores, and thus separatist movements in the North attracted predominately middle to upper class participants. However, the majority of black southerners made their living by farming and so too were the majority of emigrants employed in agriculture. Other occupations included carpentry, coppering, blacksmiths, along with other skilled and unskilled positions. At most, southern emigrants possessed varying degrees of literacy and companies may have included a few professionals usually employed as teachers or preachers. A ship manifest from the baroque Thomas Pope provides a useful demographic snapshot of separatist participants. The ACS ship sailed from New York on October 31, 1874 with 27 emigrants. Of that number, 26 were from the southern states of North Carolina, South Carolina or Tennessee, while one individual was from Philadelphia. Listed occupations included farmer, shoemaker, blacksmith, shingle maker and one teacher. Over ninety percent of the emigrants were members of the lower class and from the South. (23) Though income level varied, southern black separatists were members of lower class and not part of the elite.
Researchers of twentieth century social movements have documented how movements composed predominantly of one social class, generally reflect class centered goals. (24) This phenomenon is true of the southern black movements for territorial separatism in the nineteenth century as well, as black southerners clearly prioritized land ownership in conjunction with political rights as movement goals. In Mississippi Rev. H. Ryan, pastor of Wesley Chapel, wrote the ACS about economic problems affecting blacks in Columbus. Ryan organized emigration meetings in Lowndes County and was familiar with numerous black residents in the area. The group openly petitioned the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate for support in immigrating to Liberia. These writings indicate that for black emigrants, economic justice was as important as political aspirations:
We want to go because we see no prospect of success here. The white people have too much the advantage of us. They have all the land, all the money, and all the education. These things might soon be remedied if there was plenty of work for us to do, and the people were disposed to favor us, but there are so many of us that we cannot all get work to do unless we will work for almost nothing ... These things being so, how can we hope to secure homes of our own, or even to provide for our children? Much less can we hope to give them that education which is necessary to fit them for usefulness in life. (25)
Participants emphasized issues of economic progress, security and educational opportunity. This group also expressed hopelessness over the prospects of obtaining any political power in the United States. Rev. Ryan articulated this resolve, held by many Lowndes County blacks, when he wrote Secretary McClain about white southerners; "It is said by the rebel this is a white man government if so we are willing as a colored emegrant to leave it to them and seek a government of our own." (26) Black southerners fashioned a Black Nationalist ideology championing economic and political self-determination through territorial separatism. Both goals were inseparable as black southerners reasoned that one could not be secured without the other.
On antebellum plantations black southerners learned to equate land ownership with attaining wealth and thus southern Black Nationalism has always been associated with the acquisition of land. Immediately after the Civil War the black southern population formed a proto or reconstituted peasantry in that they gained their livelihoods through agriculture, but were uncommitted to commercialized farming and large profits. (27) As sharecropping and crop lien systems began to dominate ex-slave labor in the South, for black separatists renting land was not enough as it invited the possibility in their eyes of economic enslavement through debt. M. F. Striger, a white Republican living in Kentucky, commented about the widespread exploitation of blacks as the cause for the Exoduster Movement taking place in the state, that they "have been unfairly dealt with really robbed year after year of their earnings and also only deprived of their political rights, but year after year insecure in both life and property." (28) Black southern separatists insisted on land ownership to secure meaningful freedom for themselves and their progeny.
Exodusters began leaving the South in the late 1860s, however the large scale emigration of blacks that took place during the "Kansas Fever" occurred in response to the economic crisis of the 1870s. In the mid-1870s, under the leadership of Pap Singleton and the organization of the Edgefield Real Estate Association, black Tennesseans began emigrating in ever increasing numbers because of economic concerns. Although many participants stated frustrations over the legal hindrance to black political and civil rights, most emigrants voiced economic motivations as their reason for leaving the state. (29) Singleton's foremost concerns focused on securing economic self-sufficiency for the freedmen, specifically in the form of available land for farming. He told a reporter that in Tennessee, "the whites had the lands and the sense, and de blacks had nothing but their freedom." Singleton believed that blacks "ought to be trying to get homes of their own, lands of their own, instead of depending on renting from their former masters or subsisting." (30)
Letters from separatists during this period also reflect the growing economic turmoil. In 1879 the Colored People Cooperative Land and Emigrant Association in Clarksville, Tennessee asked the Governor John St. John of Kansas about the work demands in the state and lamented that although there were many people in the area who wanted to emigrate, most "had neither means," to do so. (31) In Texas in 1880, the majority of Marshall's black residents were small scale farmers and their foremost concerns were practical matters pertaining to work. Potential emigrants wrote to Kansas Governor St. John wanting to know if they could make a living in the new state, "how they [other emigrants] were getting along," and what were the conditions for land, mules, cows, and horses. (32) These separatists did not espouse a philosophy of racial uplift or any other rhetoric emphasizing racial progress beyond the parameters of their immediate situation.
Rev. Henry Smith preached to Marshall residents in Harrison County as well as for blacks living in Marion, Titus, Cass, Upgy, Gregg, Smith, Wood, and Rusa counties. While he travelled to neighboring areas advocating for territorial separatism, he documented the similar experiences of black locals who began to support emigration movements. Smith believed, "the reason the people quit their farms and come to town and there is not work for them to do, because of mistreatment of the whites." He wrote to Governor St. John mostly about the economic injustices faced by locals: "We make large crops of cotton in Texas but we never realize a nickel from our cotton. The white folks take all of our com we make here. Men women and children after farming goes nearly naked." (33) The abrupt strain in economic conditions and racial tensions after the Crisis of 1873 coincided with the rise in movement participation in the mid-1870s and pushed many black southerners toward emigration to Kansas, while others continued to be attracted by the promise of self-determination in Liberia.
Black southerners nationalists considered a variety of possible regions for emigration, however support for the Exoduster movement to Kansas demonstrates how they were not Pan-Africanists and thus did not express a global commitment to racial uplift. Indeed most letters from potential emigrants made no mention of native Africans or only superficial calls for evangelization in Africa. An article published in the African Repository claimed to have over three thousand names enrolled for passage to Liberia in 1872 and of these three thousand, five were licensed ministers. It goes on to state that "Many of their church members wish to accompany them, and locating in a body, plant organized Christian civilization in the midst of heathenism. Some are desirous of the means of settlement simply to better their condition and others because they yearn for an honorable nationality for their race in Africa." (34) While ACS primarily reported that members of the ministers' congregations wished to emigrate in order to "plant organized Christian civilization in the midst of heathenism," the groups' motivations ultimately "simply to better their condition" could not be disregarded. This de-emphasis on African uplift and shared cultural identity is representative of the deprioritizing of African development and modernization among black southern emigrants once they disembarked. These early black nationalists were primarily concerned with a more exclusive form of Black Nationalism, which privileged black American economic and political achievement above that of Africans and others of African ancestry in the Diaspora.
While some Black Nationalists in the nineteenth century did make disparaging comments regarding the culture of native Africans and voice middle class Eurocentric cultural norms, these leaders were usually not from the South or from the lower class. They were more often than not members of the black northern middle class or elite, who generally reflected middle to upper class social values and goals. Northern Black Nationalism can also be characterized as Pan-Africanist in nature emphasizing a global racial uplift through the dissemination of middle class social norms and Christian evangelization. Leaders such as Alexander Crummell fashioned a Black Nationalism, which at times could be viewed as hypocritical, as it condemned elements of African culture abroad and its relics domestically, creating an atmosphere of dysfunction, pathology, and unworthiness regarding native Africans and lower class black Americans. (35) However, such ideas and objectives were a distant cry from the practical goals of southern Black Nationalists seeking to immigrate to all black towns or nations. Rather they reflect the ideas of black "representative men" or those able to acquire an upper class status, education, and professional occupation. (36) Northern elitist views were not the same as those expressed by the masses of black southerner separatists and researchers would be hard pressed to find significant mention of the need to modernize Africa or spread American culture in writings of southern black nationalists.
The Southern separatists' willingness to consider multiple locations other than Africa for settlement is further evidence of their wavering commitment to the racial uplift supported by Black Nationalists in the North. For potential black emigrants, settlement location was not dependent on cultural affinity towards or commitment to improve Africa, but rather dependent on the given geopolitical and economic opportunities of a potential locale.
Unlike black northerners, black southerners were also generally less cynical of and not averse to working with white supporters. The altruistic intentions of the ACS to hasten slave manumissions by providing an avenue for relocation were highly contested by northern blacks during the antebellum era, however, southern blacks generally were less dubious. ACS membership was comprised of both antislavery and pro-slavery factions, who wanted to remove the threat of insubordination that a large free black presence could inspire. The African Repository, the organ of the ACS, regularly published articles criticizing American blacks in order to gamer support from such readers. In 1850 an ACS member and resident of Loudoun, Virginia argued that the free black population, "in any considerable numbers, was not only injurious to all classes, but experience, if this indeed were wanting, had fully demonstrated that in every part of the country, from the operations causes beyond our control, they were destined to be an incubus, a nuisance, wherever they might find refuge." (37) The journal published articles not only targeting the free black population in the United States, but all peoples of African descent. It commonly gave credence to racial stereotypes of blacks being "timid, weak, and ignorant." At a meeting of the Kentucky Colonization Society Robert J. Breckenridge compared free blacks to a "feeble parasite," that clung to the United States and white Americans for survival and that blacks in general were "a race doomed through far the greater part of recorded time, to general degradation and personal servitude, long outcast from the family of man and from the great common brotherhood." (38) Before and after the Civil War undoubtedly southern blacks would have disagreed with such assertions, however they also reasoned the white run organization as being the most effective and practical means of achieving economic and political autonomy through territorial separatism.
In response to the history of racial prejudice, northerners continued their aversion to the ACS in the late nineteenth century, while black southerners on the other hand continued to work with the organization. And as late as 1884 The New York Globe advised that the question, "how can the ignorant Negroes be protected against swindlers of their own race and color," should no longer be asked and that instead declared "The storekeepers and planters of the South--these are the harpies who [indiscernible] by swindling ignorant Negroes. But we are opposed to these schemes for the betterment of the condition of the masses which always result in failure." (39) Contrary to the opinions of some black northerners, southern blacks were not "swindled" by white colonizationists or black emigrationists, however southern voices were routinely silenced by northern black editors and opponents of territorial separatism.
In some aspects interracial cooperation in postwar separatist movements took on a paternalistic form with black southerners framing their arguments for emigration with themes of oppression, African heritage and/or religion in order to elicit sympathy and toleration from white gatekeepers. This strategy is a condition of the racist structure of southern society and a product of the extensive history of interracial cooperation in separatist movements in the South. Regarding interracial political cooperation in the south after the Civil War historian C. Van Woodard writes,
While there was a certain amount of fawning Uncle-Tomism among the Negroes, there is little doubt that the prouder of them secretly despised the patronizing pose and self-flattering paternalism of the whites with whom they found refuge. It was not sentimentality for 'ole Marstar that inspired the freedmen, but the hot breadth of cracker fanaticism they felt on the backs of their necks. (40)
While the writings of black separatists in the South do not indicate an intense resentment to white supporters, letters do reveal black utilization of paternalist rhetoric. W. H. Harrison, the President of the Mutual Aid Emigration Society of New Orleans, used a strategic humility and paternalistic appeal when seeking the aid of Governor St. John in migrating to Kansas. In a letter dated May 1879 he wrote,
I will send you a copy of the Regulation of Mississippi threatening to kill all white persons who aid the colored people in obtaining their rights, and in assisting them to leave oppression, your communications are of great value to our people at all times, and will be appreciated, we know for a fact that all white people are not our oppressors therefore you may not assume that we are led to believe from your instruction and editorials published in news-papers that you are truly our friend, please send a list of the officers of the R. R. of Kansas And if possible please send me a state map of Kansas. (41)
In the hopes of inciting sympathy from the reader, Harrison refers to the Governor as "truly our friend" and does not lump him together with oppressive whites.
However, at other times black nationalists' letters take a tone of resistance, using themes of justice and restitution as their motives for choosing to emigrate. S. H. B. Schoomaker used a justice frame when he wrote Governor St. John and outlined four inquiries on behalf of his group: land procurement, employment opportunity, aid given, and protection of rights. Schoomaker wrote Governor St. John about the conditions of blacks in the area of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and detailed, "They feel and reasonably justly that the future here holds out no hope, no encouragement, no light of comfort to the [ineligible], that to suffer and die with privation, exposure, and want under the caring influence of freedom and justice? That to remain here slaves in all but name." (42) While the ideology of freedom and specifically land is shown through the four concerns of the group, Schoomaker uses the justice frame to connect with concepts of patriotism and liberty internalized by both whites and blacks.
This interracial cooperation occurred on an institutional level, but also showed itself in personal encounters. Where the potential for separatist movement suppression was highest, black southerners sought the help of sympathetic white acquaintances to initiate correspondence, advocate on their behalf, or even to help secure safe passage through unfriendly towns and communities. By working with the Freedmen's Bureau, blacks countered many of the repressive tactics used by unsympathetic whites and were at times even given assistance with travel arrangements to the coast. Fleming Crump was the leader of the separatist movement in Stewart County, Tennessee. Crump initially sought the help of J. F. Flood, a white Captain living in the area, in leading an emigration party from Tennessee. Flood was directed by General Oliver Howard of the Freedmen's Bureau to write Secretary William Coppinger on behalf of the 54 members of their party. (43)
The type of trust displayed by black southerners towards supportive whites is not indicative of naivety or a lack of sophistication on the their part, but an indication of the restrictions in southern society which made it difficult and dangerous for blacks to carry out this type of social movement without the assistance of white sponsors. The practices of working with white assistance or without it in the southern and northern parts of the country respectively, developed because of the restrictions or lack thereof for blacks in the region's sociopolitical environment.
Southern blacks distinguished themselves from their northern counterparts through their interpretation of Black Nationalism and strategy of territorial separatism. Most black emigrants to Liberia or Kansas were from the South, a fact attesting to separatism's popularity among lower class black southerners and unpopularity with middle class blacks in the urban North. Southern black emigration movement participants also chiefly comprised members from the lower social classes and not upper class and professional occupations. These socio-economic differences reflect the class-centered interpretation of Black Nationalist goals of independence and the advocacy of a philosophy of territorial separatism to achieve land ownership and political autonomy among black southerners. Unlike black northerners, Black Nationalists in the South were not Pan-Africanist and did not exclusively support emigration only to Africa. If their land and liberty could be obtained in at a place within the US, they were perfectly happy with remaining, but if not, they were also perfectly fine with leaving. Lastly, black southerners found it most beneficial to work with whites who also shared to goal of relocating them to areas outside the South or the United States.
Scholars must continue to complicate the discourse moving beyond chronological analysis and the limitations of black print culture. Viewing Black Nationalism as a continuous movement affected by, but existing outside the parameters of the American experiences of revolution, civil war, and expansion will further this academic endeavor. Although the number of black New York immigrants to Liberia pales in to the number of those leaving the South, New York yet holds a crucial place in the history of Black Nationalism as thousands left New York harbor destined for Monrovia, Cape Palmas, or Grand Bassa, in Liberia. And while denounced in the press, perhaps Lewis Putnam and the other members of the New York Liberian Emigration and Agricultural Association witnessed the need of emigrants firsthand and were thus inspired to form an organization to aid them in their journey.
Because of the paternalist tradition in the South, southern Black Nationalism always was imbued with an interracial component and only semi-separatist in practice. Though largely not condoned by upper class blacks, the activities and social movements of the southern black lower class offers a new and multifaceted view of political activism as experienced by the masses. While acknowledging Northern contributions, unraveling southern blacks' interpretation, objectives, foci, and beliefs in regard to Black Nationalism will undoubtedly add to a more lucid explanation of their political and intellectual development.
Selena Sanderfer, An early version of the essay was presented to the Conference on the Legacy of 1968, Chestnut Hill College, April 4-5, 2008. The author thanks commentators at the session, the members of the Henderson State University writers' group, and Helen Webb for their helpful suggestions.
(1) T. Thomas Fortune, Black and White: Land, Labor, and Politics in the South (New York: Fords, Howard, and Hulbert, 1884), 207.
(2) Fortune was born in Jackson County, Florida, where in 1871 a guerrilla war took place targeting Republicans and blacks in order to restore white Democratic government. Seth Weitz, "Defending the Old South: The Myth of the Lost Cause and Political Immorality in Florida, 1885-1968" The Historian vol. 71 no. 1 (Spring 2009): 83.
(3) Claude Andrew Clegg, "Africa and the African American imagination," (Ann Arbor, Michigan: ProQuest Information and Learning, 2006): 24.
(4) Michael C. Dawson, Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 21.
(5) Dean Robinson, Black Nationalism in American Politics and Thought (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Wilson Jeremiah Moses, The Golden Age of Black Nationalism 1850-1925 (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1978); Wilson Jeremiah Moses, ed., Classical Black Nationalism: From the American Revolution to Marcus Garvey (New York: New York University Press, 1996); William L. Van Deburg, ed., Modern Black Nationalism: From Marcus Garvey to Louis Farrakhan. (New York: New York University Press, 1997); Patrick Rael, Black Identity & Black Protest in the Antebellum North (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993); James Oliver Horton, Lois E. Horton, In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community and Protest Among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); William McAdoo, Pre Civil War Black Nationalism (New York: D. Walker Press, 1983); E. U. Essien-Udom, Black Nationalism: The Search for an Identity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).
(6) Rael, 5; Wilson, Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 23.
(7) "Meetings of the Colored People," The New York Tribune, 21 October 1851, 4; "Meeting of colored citizens of NY, discusses blacks against L. H. Putnam," Frederick Douglass Paper Nov. 13 1851.
(8) Robinson, Black Nationalism in American Politics and Thought, 15.
(9) "Meeting of Colored Citizens in New York" Frederick Douglass Paper 13 November 1851; R. F. Myers, "Public Meeting of Colored Citizens of Chicago" The Christian Recorder 10 March 1866.
(10) Ousmane K. Power-Greene, Against Wind and Tide: The African American Struggle against the Colonization Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2014).
(11) Robinson, 17.
(12) Booker T, Washington, Up from Slavery: An Autobiography (New York: Dover Publications, 1995); Stephen Angeli and Stephen Ward, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and African-American Religion in the South. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 127140; Andre Johnson, The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition (Lantham, MA: Lexington Books, 2012), 93-107.
(13) Tommie Shelby, "Two Conceptions of Black Nationalism: Martin Delany on the Meaning of Black political Solidarity" Political Theory vol. 31 no. 5 (October 2003), 667, 676. Shelby differentiates between classical or strong Black Nationalism, which contains philosophies of emigration, black cultural identity and Pan-Africanism, and weak or practical Black Nationalism, which emphasizes the achievement of economic and political goals possibly through emigration. Practical Black Nationalism supports my interpretation of southern Black Nationalism in that it is largely absent of any cultural rhetoric, however Shelby's critique differs from my interpretation in that southerners were not incidentally committed to emigrationism, but rather always championed achieving these goals through a physical separation and not solely by racial solidarity; T. Shaw and R. Brown, "Separate Nations: Two Attitudinal Dimensions of Black Nationalism," Journal of Politics vol. 64 no. 1 (2002): 22-44; Roy Block Jr., "What about Disillusionment: Exploring Pathways to Black Nationalism," Political Behavior vol. 33 no. 1 (2011):27-51.
(14) Senator Zebulon Vance, Ellis Dickenson, and Hilliard Ellis. United States. Senate. Report and Testimony of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880).
(15) Henry McNeil Turner, African Letters (Nashville: Publishing House A. M. E. Church Sunday School Union, 1893), 58-59.
(16) Stephen Ward Angeli, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and African-American Religion in the South (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 134-138.
(17) H. M. Turner, "The American Colonization Society--Letter from Dr. H. M. Turner" Savannah Tribune February 17, 1876, 2.
(18) Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003) and Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001).
(19) Doug McAdam, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency 1930-1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982). Political process theory maintains that social movements occur in response to broad, economic, social, and political changes such as a decline in repression and the division of elites. It also incorporates elements of resource mobilization theory, which emphasizes the collective resources of social movement participants such as political connections, economic capital, or informational knowledge and deprivation theory, which posits that an insurgent consciousness must also be achieved based upon a perceived substantial grievance.
(20) Eric Burin, "If the rest stay, then I will stay; if they go, then I will go: How Slaves Familial Bonds Affected American Colonization Society Manumissions," in Paths to Freedom: Manumission in the Atlantic World, edited by Rosemary Brana-Shute and Randy J. Sparks, pgs: 291-308, (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2009), 302-303; Tom W. Schick, Emigrants to Liberia, 1820 to 1843, an Alphabetical Listing. (Newark, Delaware: Newark Department of Anthropology, University of Delaware Press, 1971); Robert Brown, Immigrants to Liberia, 1843 to 1865: an Alphabetical Listing. (Philadelphia: Institute for Liberian Studies, 1980); Peter J. Murdza, Immigrants to Liberia, 1865 to 1904: an Alphabetical Listing. (Newark, Delaware: Liberian Studies Association in America, 1975); Of the more than 11, 000 blacks who emigrated to Liberia between 1822 and 1862 approximately 55% were manumitted slaves with the majority of free black participants, around 75%, were from southern states.
(21) Horton and Horton, In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community, and Protest among Northern Free Blacks.
(22) John B. Blevins to William Coppinger, East Selma, Selma, Alabama, 24 February 1880, Records of the American Colonization Society, Library of Congress. (ACS, LOC).
(23) "Role of Emigrants to Liberia" The African repository and Colonial Journal 50 (1874): 350.
(24) H. Svi Shapiro, "Radical Movements, Ideology, and the Sociology of Educational Ideas," Social Praxis 6 (1979): 193-194; W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1935,) 145-148, 248.
(25) "Petitions From Mississippi," The African Repository 46 (August 1868): 237.
(26) Rev. H. Ryan, Columbus, Mississippi, 7 January 1868, ACS, LOC, Rev. H. Ryan, Columbus, Mississippi, 19 January 1868, ACS, LOC, Rev. H. Ryan, Columbus, Mississippi, 11 February 1868, ACS, LOC.
(27) Reconstituted peasants became peasants not by birth but by seeking land ownership through their resistance of slavery or exploitation. Sidney Mintz, Caribbean Transformations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), 132-133.
(28) M. F. Striger to Gov. John St. John, Kenton Kentucky, 18 May 1879, Negro Exodus Papers, Kansas State Historical Society. (NEP, KSHS).
(29) Walter L. Fleming, "Pap Singleton, the Moses of the Colored Exodus," The American Journal of Sociology 15 (July 1909):61 -82.
(30) "The Origin of the Exodus," The Chicago Tribune p.38, NEP, KSHS.
(31) A. Aray to Governor John St. John, Clarksville, Tennessee, 25 June 1879, NEP, KSHS.
(32) Jno. F. Anderson to Governor John St. John, Marshall, Texas, 6 July 1879, NEP, KSHS
(33) Reverend Henry Smith to Governor John St. John, Marshall, Harrison County, Texas, 19 May 1879, NEP, KSHS; Reverend Henry Smith to Governor John P. St. John, 7 May 1879, Marshall, Harrison County, Texas, NEP, KSHS; Reverend Henry Smith to Governor John St. John, Marshall, Harrison County, Texas, 7 May 1879, NEP, KSHS.
(34) "Another Application," African Repository 48 (June 1872): 16.
(35) Adeleke, Un African Americans: Nineteenth-Century Black Nationalists and the Civilizing Mission', Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).
(36) Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Creative Conflict in African American Thought: Frederick Douglass, Alexander Crummell, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 47-48.
(37) A Citizen of Loudoun, "Colonization of the free colored people on the coast of Africa" The African Repository vol. 26 no. 6 (June 1850): 181.
(38) Robert J. Breckinridge, "The Black Race: Some reflections on its position and destiny" The African Repository vol. 27 iss. 5 (May 1851): 133-134.
(39) Unknown, "Atlanta," The New York Globe 25 August 1883: 2.
(40) C. Vann Woodard, The Strange Career of Jim Crow 2nd edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 51.
(41) W. H. Harrison to Governor John P. St. John, New Orleans, Louisiana, 27 May 1879, NEP, KSHS.
(42) S. H. B. Shoomaker to Governor John P. St. John, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 12 May 1879, NEP, KSHS.
(43) J. Flood to Secretary William Coppinger, Dover, Tennessee, 13 August 1867, ACS, LOC; J. P. Flood to Secretary William Coppinger, Dover, Tennessee, 19 July 1867, ACS, LOC.
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|Publication:||Afro-Americans in New York Life and History|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2015|
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