Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Abolitionist’s Observations in the South 1878:

"Suspicions of the South’s intentions toward the freedmen after the withdrawal of federal troops were naturally rife in the North. In 1878, Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson went South to investigate for himself. The report of his findings, published in the Atlantic Monthly, is of particular interest in view of the Colonel’s background…(as) one of the most militant abolitionists.

In Virginia, South Carolina and Florida, the States he visited in 1878, he found “a condition of outward peace” and wondered immediately if there did not lurk beneath it “some covert plan for crushing and re-enslaving the colored race.” If so, he decided, it would “show itself in some personal ill usage of the blacks, in the withdrawal of privileges, in legislation endangering their rights.” But, he reported, “I can assert that carrying with me the eyes of a tolerably suspicious abolitionist, I saw none of these indications.”

He had expected to be affronted by contemptuous or abusive treatment of Negroes. “During this trip,” however, he wrote, “I had absolutely no occasion for any such attitude.” Nor was this due to “any cringing demeanor on the part of the blacks, for they show much more manhood than they once did.” He compared the tolerance and acceptance of the Negro in the South on trains and streetcars, at the polls, in the courts and legislatures, in the police force and militia, with attitudes in his native New England and decided that the South came off rather better in the comparison.

“How can we ask more of the States formerly in rebellion,” he demanded, “than that they should be abreast of New England in granting rights and privileges to the colored race?” Six years later (1884), in a review of the situation in the South, Higginson found no reason to change his estimate of 1878."

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