“The Footballs of Slippery Politicians”: Fortune’s Black and White, Part One
“There are no ‘Liberators’ to‐day, and the William Lloyd Garrisons have nearly all of them gone the way of all the world.”
Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History
Timothy Thomas Fortune was born into slavery in the Florida panhandle on 3 October, 1856. As a young adult, he attended some of the first schools for African American children established during Reconstruction and soon followed his father into the world of print journalism. Emanuel Fortune was a printer and dabbled in Reconstruction politics in the murky period between emancipation and Jim Crow. Timothy Thomas attended Howard University for a few years before catching fire as America’s top black journalist. He moved to New York City in 1879 and contributed for a string of impressive papers, culminating in his time at the New York Age, the most influential and widely‐read black newspaper in the country. His storied and important life as a black intellectual, a militant activist for equal rights, and a classical liberal economist will be explored in much greater detail below, but for now we begin republishing what is probably his most important book, Black and White: Land, Labor, and Politics in the South.
Black and White combines political theory, economics, and sociology into a powerful critique of Civil War centralization, weak‐willed Reconstruction, and continuing efforts on the part of white Americans to maintain their ill‐gotten, unequal positions of wealth and power over their black brethren. As the preface declares, the purpose of Black and White was to show that Americans’ problems were unexceptional–behind the cursorily divisive factor of race lay the more deeply‐entrenched, more fundamental social conflict between rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless. As such, while the crisis facing the post‐war South may have been tremendous and daunting, it was far from insoluble.
By T. Thomas Fortune. New York: Fords, Howard, & Hulbert. 1884. iii‐16.
Black and White: Land, Labor, and Politics in the South
In discussing the political and industrial problems of the South, I base my conclusions upon a personal knowledge of the condition of classes in the South, as well as upon the ample data furnished by writers who have pursued, in their way, the question before me. That the colored people of the country will yet achieve an honorable status in the national industries of thought and activity, I believe, and try to make plain.
In the discussion of the land and labor problem I but pursue the theories advocated by more able and experienced men, in the attempt to show that the laboring classes of any country pay all the taxes, in the last analysis, and that they are systematically victimized by legislators, corporations and syndicates.
Wealth, unduly centralized, endangers the efficient workings of the machinery of government. Land monopoly–in the hands of individuals, corporations or syndicates–is at bottom the prime cause of the inequalities which obtain; which desolate fertile acres turned over to vast ranches and into bonanza farms of a thousand acres, where not one family finds a habitation, where muscle and brain are supplanted by machinery, and the small farmer is swallowed up and turned into a tenant or slave. While in large cities thousands upon thousands of human beings are crowded into narrow quarters where vice festers, where crime flourishes undeterred, and where death is the most welcome of all visitors.
The primal purpose in publishing this work is to show that the social problems in the South are, in the main, the same as those which afflict every civilized country on the globe; and that the future conflict in that section will not be racial or political in character, but between capital on the one hand and labor on the other, with the odds largely in favor of non‐productive wealth because of the undue advantage given the latter by the pernicious monopoly in land which limits production and forces population disastrously upon subsistence. My purpose is to show that poverty and misfortune make no invidious distinctions of “race, color, or previous condition,” but that wealth unduly centralized oppresses all alike; therefore, that the labor elements of the whole United States should sympathize with the same elements in the South, and in some favorable contingency effect some unity of organization and action, which shall subserve the common interest of the common class.
T. Thomas Fortune
New York City, July 20, 1884.
Chapter I: Black.
There is no question to‐day in American politics more unsettled than the negro question; nor has there been a time since the adoption of the Federal Constitution when this question has not, in one shape or another, been a disturbing element, a deep‐rooted cancer, upon the body of our society, frequently occupying public attention to the exclusion of all other questions. It appears to possess, as no other question, the elements of perennial vitality.
The introduction of African slaves into the colony of Virginia in August, 1619 was the beginning of an agitation, a problem, the solution of which no man, not even at this late date, can predict, although many wise men have prophesied.
History–the record of human error, cruelty and misdirected zeal–furnishes no more striking anomaly than the British Puritan fleeing from princely rule and tyranny, and dragging at his heels the African savage, bound in servile chains; praying to a just God for freedom, and at the same time riveting upon his fellow‐man the gyves of most unjust and cruel slavery. A parallel for such hypocrisy, such sacreligious invocation, is not matched in the various history of peoples.
It did not matter to the early settlers of the American colonies that, in the memorable struggle for the right to be represented if taxed, a black man–Crispus Attucks, a full‐blooded Negro–died upon the soil of Massachusetts, in the Boston massacre of 1770, in common with other loyal, earnest men, as the first armed protest against an odious tyranny; it did not matter that in the armies of the colonies, in rebellion against Great Britain, there were…755 regularly enlisted negro troops; it did not matter that in the second war with Great Britain, General Andrew Jackson, on the 21st day of September, 1814, appealed to the “free colored people of Louisiana” as “sons of freedom,” who were “called upon to defend our most inestimable blessing,” the right to be free and sovereign, and to “rally around the standard of the eagle, to defend all which is dear in existence;” it did not matter that in each of these memorable struggles the black man was called upon, and responded nobly, to call for volunteers to drive out the minions of the British tyrant. When the smoke of battle had dissolved into thin air; when the precious right to be free and sovereign had been stubbornly fought for and reluctantly conceded; when the bloody memories of Yorktown and New Orleans had passed into glorious history, the black man, who had assisted by his courage to establish the free and independent States of America, was doomed to sweat and groan that others might revel in idleness and luxury. Allured, in each instance, into the conflict for National independence by the hope held out of generous reward and an honest consideration of his manhood rights, he received as his portion chains and contempt. The spirit of injustice, inborn in the Caucasian nature, asserted itself in each instance. Selfishness and greed rode roughshod over the promptings of a generous, humane, Christian nature, as they have always done in this country, not only in the case of the African but of the Indian as well, each of whom has in turn felt the pernicious influence of that heartless greed which overleaps honesty and fair play, in the unmanly grasp after perishable gain.
The books which have been written in this country–the books which have molded and controlled intelligent public opinion–during the past one hundred and fifty years have been written by white men, in justification of the white man’s domineering selfishness, cruelty and tyranny. Beginning with Thomas Jefferson’s “Notes on Virginia,” down to the present time, the same key has been struck, the same song has been sung, with here and there a rare exception–as in the case of Mrs. Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Judge Tourgee’s “A Fool’s Errand,” Dr. Haygood’s “Our Brother in Black,” and some others of less note.–The white man’s story has been told over and over again, until the reader actually tires of the monotonous repetition, so like the ten‐cent novels in which the white hunter always triumphs over the red man. The honest reader has longed in van for a glimpse at the other side of the picture so studiously turned to the wall.
Even in books written expressly to picture the black man’s side of the story, the author has been compelled to palliate, by interjecting extenuating, often irrelevant circumstances, the ferocity and insatiate lust of greed of his race. He has been unable to tell the story as it was, because his nature, his love of race, his inborn, prejudices and narrowness made him a lurking coward.
And so it has been with the newspapers, which have ever been the obsequious reflex of distempered public opinion, siding always with the strong and powerful; so that in 1831, when the “Liberator” (published in Boston by the intrepid and patriotic Garrison) made its appearance, it was a lone David among a swarm of Goliaths, any one of which was willing and anxious to serve the cause of the devil by crushing the little angel in the service of the Lord. So it is to‐day. The great newspapers, which should plead the cause of the oppressed and the down‐trodden, which should be the palladiums of the people’s rights, are all on the side of the oppressor, or by silence preserve a dignified but ignominious neutrality. Day after day they weave a false picture of facts–facts which must measurably influence the future historian of the times in the composition of impartial history. The wrongs of the masses are referred to sneeringly or apologetically.
The vast army of laborers–men, women, and even tender children–find no favor in the eyes of these Knights of the Quill. The Negro and the Indian, the footballs of slippery politicians and the helpless victims of sharpers and thieves, are wantonly misrepresented–held up to the eyes of the world as beings incapable of imbibing the distorted civilization in the midst of which they live and have their being. They are placed in the attic, only to be aired when somebody wants an “issue” or an “appropriation.”
There are no “Liberators” to‐day, and the William Lloyd Garrisons have nearly all of them gone the way of all the world.
The part played by the ministry of Christ in the early conflict against human slavery in this country would be enigmatical in the extreme, utterly beyond apprehension, if it were not matter of history that the representatives of the Christian Church, in conflicts with every giant wrong, have always been the strongest supporters, the most obsequious tools of money power and the political sharpers who have imposed their vile tyrannies upon mankind. They have alternately supplicated and domineered, drawled in the dust or mounted the house‐top, as occasion served, from Gregory to the Smiths and Joneses of the present time. So that it has passed into a proverb, that the ministers of the, gospel may be always counted upon to take sides with the strongest party–always seeking to conciliate “King Cotton,” “King Corporation,” “King Monopoly,” and all the other “Kings” of modern growth–swaying, like the reed in the wind, to the powers that be, whether of tyranny reared upon a thousand years of usurpation, military despotism of a day’s growth, or presumptuous wealth accumulated by robbery hypocrisy and insidious assassination. Instead of leading in the reformation of leviathan wrongs, the ministry waits for the rabble to applaud before it commends. It was not in this manner that the great Christ set the world in motion, sowed broadcast the dynamite which uprooted long‐established infamies, and prepared the way for the ultimate redemption of the world from sin and error.
If the Christian ministry of the United States did at last recognize the demoralization and iniquity of slavery, it was because the heroic band, headed by William Lloyd Garrison, first fired the heart of the people and forced the ministry to take sides with the righteous cause. I speak not of the few heroic exceptions, but of the mass of the American clergy. If in the evangelization of the black man since the rebellion, the ministry have largely furthered the work, they have done so because there were hundreds and thousands of brave men and women ready to give their time and money to the upbuilding of outraged humanity and the cause of Christ. They have simply put in operation movements conceived and nurtured by the genius and philanthropy of others, and no one of them will claim that he has not reaped an abundant pecuniary harvest for his labors. Yet, I would accord to the ministry of the United States full meed [sic] of praise for all that they have done as the agents of the humane, intelligent and philanthropic opinions of the time; and, too, there have been good men who fought the good fight simply because the cause was just.