« PreviousContinue »
plantation, or if he took a notion to sell the this, too, not by reason of dullness but for lack
weeps its bitter tears, and looks in vague and The ignorance of the ex-slaves is far deeper awful longing at the grim horizon of its life than crude estimates indicate. It is igno —all this, even as you and I. These black rance of the world and its meaning, of modern thousands are not lazy ; they are improvident economic organization, of the function of and careless, they insist on breaking the mongovernment, of individual worth and possi- otony of toil with a glimpse at the great townbility-indeed, of all those things as to which world on Saturday, they have their loafers and it was for the interest of the slave system to ne'er-do-weels, but the great mass of them keep the laboring class in profound darkness. work continuously and faithfully for a return Those very things then which a white boy and under circumstances that would call forth absorbs from his earliest social atmosphere— equal voluntary effort from few, if any, other starts with, so to speak, are the puzzling prob- modern laboring class.
modern laboring class. Over 88 per cent. of lems of the black boy's maturer years.
And them, men, women and children, are farmers.
ignorance and stunting physical development.
Among this people there is no leisure class; ninety-six per cent of them are toiling—no one with leisure to turn the bare and cheerless cabin into a home, no old folks to sit beside the fire and hand down traditions of the past, little of careless, happy childhood and dreaming youth. The dull monotony of daily life is broken only by the Saturday trips to town.
The land is still fertile, despite long abuse. For nine and ten months in succession the crops will come if asked; garden vegetables in April, grain in May, melons in June and
The rest are laborers on railroads, in the turpentine forests and elsewhere, teamsters and porters, artisans and servants. There are ten merchants, four teachers, and twenty-one who preach and farm.
Most of the children get their schooling after the “ crops are laid by” and very few there are that stay in school after the spring work has commenced. Child-labor is found here in some of its worst phases, as fostering
WOMEN “SOWING" GUANO.
July, hay in August, sweet potatoes in September, and cotton from then to Christmas. And yet over two-thirds of the land there is but one crop and that leaves the toilers in debt. Why is this?
The merchant of the Black Belt is a curious institution-part banker, part landlord, part contractor, and part despot. His store which used most frequently to stand at the crossroads and become the centre of a weekly village, has now moved to town and thither the Negro tenant follows him. The merchant keeps everything-clothes and shoes, coffee and sugar, pork and meal, canned and dried
A FRIEND OF GEORGE WASHINGTON He believes that he was with Washington when the cherry tree was cut down and allowed his photograph to be taken only on condition that a copy would be sent to his old friend
goods, wagons and plows, seed and fertilizer over to the black serf for his Christmas cele—and what he has not in stock he can give bration. you an order for at the store across the way. The direct result of this system is an allHere, then, comes the tenant, Sam Scott, after cotton scheme of agriculture and the continued he has contracted with some absent landlord's bankruptcy of the tenant.
bankruptcy of the tenant. The currency of agent for hiring forty acres of land; he fingers the Black Belt is cotton.
the Black Belt is cotton. It is a crop always his hat nervously until the merchant finishes salable for ready money, not usually subject to his morning chat with Colonel Sanders, when great yearly fluctuations in price, and one he calls out “Well, Sam, what do you want?" which the Negroes know how to raise. The Sam wants him to "furnish” him—i.e., to landlord therefore demands his rent in cotton, advance him food and clothing for the year, and the merchant will accept mortgages on no and perhaps seed and tools, until his crop is
There is no use asking the raised and sold. If Sam seems a favorable black tenant then to diversify his crops—he subject he and the merchant go to a lawyer cannot under this system. Moreover, the and Sam executes a chattel mortgage on his system is bound to bankrupt the tenant. I mule and wagon in return for seed and a remember once meeting a little one-mule week's rations. As soon as the green cotton wagon on the River road. A young black leaves appear above the ground another mort fellow sat in it driving listlessly, his elbows gage is given on the "crop.” Every Satur on his knees. His dark-faced wife sat beside day or at longer intervals Sam calls upon the him stolid, silent. merchant for his “rations;" a family of five “Hello !” cried my driver—he has a most usually gets about thirty pounds of fat side- impudent way of addressing these people, pork and a couple of bushels of corn-meal a though they seem used to it—"what have you month. Beside this, clothing and shoes must
got there? be furnished; if Sam or his family is sick “Meat and meal,” answered the man, stopthere are orders on the druggist and doctor; ping. The meat lay uncovered in the bottom if the mule wants shoeing, an order on the of the wagon, a great thin side of fat pork blacksmith, etc. If Sam is a hard worker and covered with salt; the meal was in a white crops promise well, he is often encouraged to
bushel bag. buy more—sugar, extra clothes, perhaps a “What did you pay for that meat ?" buggy. But he is seldom encouraged to save. “Ten cents a pound.” It could have been When cotton rose to ten cents last fall the bought for six or seven cents cash. shrewd merchants sold a thousand buggies in “ And the meal ?" one season, mostly to black men.
“ Two dollars.” One dollar and ten cents The security offered for such transactions is the cash price in town. So here was a -a crop and chattel mortgage—may at first man paying $5 for goods which he could have seem slight. And indeed, the merchants tell bought for $3 cash, and raised for $1 or $1.50. many a true tale of shiftlessness and cheating; Yet it is not wholly his fault. The Negro of cotton picked at night, mules disappearing farmer started behind-started in debt. This and tenants absconding. But on the whole was not his choosing, but the crime of this the merchant of the Black Belt is the most happy-go-lucky nation which goes blundering prosperous man in the section. So skilfully along with its Reconstruction tragedies, its and so closely has he drawn the bonds of the Spanish war interludes and Philippine matlaw about the tenant that the black man has inees, just as though God really were dead. often simply to choose between pauperism and Once in debt it is no easy matter for a whole crime; he "waives" all homestead exemptions race to emerge. in his contract; he cannot touch his own The other underlying causes of this situation mortgaged crop, which the laws put almost in are complicated but discernible. And one of the full control of the landowner and of the the chief, outside the carelessness of the nation merchant. When the crop is growing the in letting the slave start with nothing, is the merchant watches it like a hawk; as soon as widespread opinion among the merchants and it is ready for market he takes possession of employers of the Black Belt that only by the it, sells it, pays the landowner his rent, sub- slavery of debt can the Negro be kept at tracts his bill for supplies and if, as sometimes work. Behind this honest and widespread happens, there is anything left he hands it opinion, dishonesty and cheating of the igno