Hopkins, Pauline E.
|CHAPTER XII. -- A COLORED POLITICIAN.|
O, that estates, degrees and offices
Were not derived corruptly, and that clear honor
Were purchased by the merit of the wearer!
How many then should cover that stand bare!
How many be commanded that command!
--Merchant of Venice
John Langley occupied an office in the business portion of the city among the most reliable lawyers in the profession. He held that association with success would in the end bring the desired quality to any one. He had never been moved by a generous heart-impulse in his whole life. Actual need found no pity dwelling in his breast. The comfortable home which the thrift of Smith had founded and the industry of the family had fostered to prosperity, influenced his devotion to Dora to an extent which if realized by her would have led to his instant dismissal by that impetuous young lady. According to his way of thinking, the wife ought to contribute as much to the expenses of the household, by having a comfortable nest-egg before marriage, as the husband. He listened to the romantic story of the Montfort family with eagerness, and while
Langley's nature was the natural product of such an institution as slavery. Natural instinct for good had been perverted by a mixture of "cracker" blood of the lowest type on his father's side with whatever God-saving quality that might have been loaned the Negro by pitying nature. This blood, while it gave him the pleasant features of the Caucasian race, vitiated his moral nature and left it stranded high and dry on the shore of blind ignorance, and there he seemed content to dwell, supinely self-satisfied with the narrow boundary of the horizon of his mental vision.
He remembered little of his parentage, but what had most impressed him was that somewhere in the dim past a woman, presumably his mother, had boasted that through her he was a direct descendant of the North Carolina
If taken in his first state, fresh from the woods and streams of his nativity, the Negro be subjected to the saving influences of the Christian home where freedom and happiness, education and morality abound, the Anglo-Saxon would lose the main arguments which he uses against the black brother; rather would he bow humbly in recognition of the ebony-hued miniature of God. Subject the Anglo-Saxon to the whip and scourge, grind the iron heel of oppression in his face until all resemblance to the human family is lost in the degradation of the brute, take from wives and mothers and sacredness and protection of home in the time before birth, when moral and intellectual development are most dependent upon pre-natal influences for the advancement of generations to come; join to all this the uncontrolled bestial passions of humanity, and what have you? classic features and a godlike mind? No! rather the lineaments of hideous despair, fearful and hopeless as the angel forms that fell from heaven to the black gulf of impenetrable hell.
Up from the South there came one morning early in March the report of another lynching. The skies were heavy with gray, storm-laden clouds, not darker nor more threatening than the dire and bloody news the daylight ushered in. For a month or two peace had seemingly reigned in southern latitudes, but it was the slumbering of passion, not its subsidence. At table, in the cars, at the office, in the workshop, men read with sick hearts the description of another illegal act of distorted justice, wherein the sufferings of the poor wretches were depicted only too truthfully for the peace of the community:
Jim Jones, a burly black Negro accused of the crime of rape against the person of a beautiful white woman, was taken from his home by a number of our leading citizens, and after being identified by his victim, was carried into the woods, where, before an immense concourse of people, he was bound to a tree, pieces of his flesh were stripped from his body, his eyes were gouged out, his ears cut off, his nose split open, and his legs broken at the knees. After this the young woman stepped forward and poured oil upon the wretch, and the wood being piled about him, she applied the torch to light the fire which was to consume the black monster. Leaving some of the party to watch the funereal pile, a posse went into the city and brought to the scene of vengeance Sam Smith, Bill Sykes and Manuel Jackson, who were accused of hiding the guilty wretch from the justice of the populace. These three men were hanged to the nearest trees in full sight of the burning wretch, who made the day hideous with his
The American Colored League was made up of leading colored men all over New England. These men were in communication with the colored people in every section of the country, for there is no community of colored people so remote that a branch of the great National League of American Colored Men cannot be found within easy reach of all. To the Boston branch of this society the people of all sections of the country look for aid and comfort, not because of any acknowledged superiority of its members, but solely on account of the advantages which they are supposed to enjoy under the beneficent rulings of the grand old Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We do not claim for Massachusetts, in her policy toward the Negroes within her gates, freedom from prejudice or error. There is prejudice enough, heaven knows, prejudice which is fed every day by fresh arrivals from the South and by inter-marriage between Southern women and the sons of Massachusetts. But Massachusetts is noted for being willing to see fair play: she hears the complaints of the Negro, and listens with attention to the accusations of the Southern whites, weighs the one against the other, and, naturally enough, the scales tip in favor
News of the latest horrible event had just reached the officers of the American Colored League. A call had been issued through the church and press for a public indignation meeting at the church on X Street, and John, as one of the executive committee of the League, was turning over in his mind ways and means of making it a success. With pencil in hand and paper before him he sat thinking. Outside, the sound of the typewriter clicking away for dear life came to his ears, mingled with the whistle of the office boy as he shuffled in and out, attending to his morning chores. John hired a white office boy and a white stenographer, not because he would not have liked to patronize his own people, but because he thought that it would be pleasanter for his patrons to meet their own race when business compelled them to visit him, and because he wished everyone to realize that he , at least, had no prejudice in his heart toward anyone. This was what he told the committee from the League
Usually John had no difficulty in fixing his attention on the humdrum routine of the office, but today his thoughts wandered. Sappho Clark had touched a vein in his nature which was a revelation to himself. Sensuality was prominent in the phrenological development of his head, although no one of his associates would have called him a libertine. Nevertheless, there it lurked ready to assert itself when conditions were ripe to call it into action. Sappho represented the necessary conditions. Her beauty intoxicated him; her friendlessness did not appeal to his manliness, because, as we have intimated, that was an unknown quality in the makeup of this man. Her coldness urged him on; and Jealousy, the argus-eyed attendant of Love, and its counterfeit--Infatuation--
"Gentleman to see you, sir," announced the office boy, laying a card on the table before him. Langley glanced at the card and then said: "Show the gentleman in, and remember I'm 'engaged' to anyone who calls while he is here." As the boy left the room he thought
Langley arose to receive his visitor with an easy grace which was a distinguishing point in his personality. Men would tell you privately--keen, far-sighted politicians--that they believed Langley to be "tricky," but that he had such a pleasant way with him that you would give in to him when you knew, within your own mind, that he would "do" you out of a case in court or a hundred dollars with the suavity of a Lord Chesterfield; or, as one politician expressed it: "He has such a d--oily way with him hat a man forgets to 'fire' him until it is too late." He received his guest with empressement , bade him good-morning in a cordial voice, seated him in the easiest chair which the cozy office contained, and, before his hat had fairly reached a resting-place, had produced a box of fine cigars, and made him comfortable.
"Deuced pleasant office you have here, Langley," remarked the visitor as he lit a fragrant Havana and proceeded to enjoy himself man-fashion.
"Oh, it isn't bad," replied Langley, "though if my practice allowed it I would be glad to take more commodious quarters." John had helped himself to a cigar, and was now contemplating
"Horrible thing, this latest case of lynching," Mr. Clapp remarked after an interval of silent enjoyment.
"Yes," replied John, "pretty bad. Isn't it most time for the Administration to take it up? You can't expect us to stand this sort of thing always, and not strike back."
"What'd you gain by doing that?" questioned Mr. Clapp.
"I'll tell you," replied John, looking earnestly at his visitor, "there are thirty-five thousand of us in this state alone. We can be organized, if the work is done by the right ones and in the right way. We can help start a new party, if nothing more."
"That won't do any good, John, we can down you. Colored people won't stick together; and then where'd you be?"
"We'd stick all right if once we got started," returned John doggedly.
"No you wouldn't; you're so confoundedly jealous of honors. Each one of you wants all there is for himself, and you never know when to get off, individually. We white men know this, and it is easy to upset your plans."
"I know that there is a great deal of truth in what you say, but that won't always be the case with us; we are growing away from it more and more every day; and with the missionary work that the League is doing, we expect to fight you one of these days, and knock the party clear over the ropes."
"You'll never do it!" declared Mr. Clapp.
"Time will tell. You don't expect to succeed in keeping us out of employment, shoved in a corner to starve and to be burnt alive, without getting square sometime, do you? There would be some satisfaction in throwing you fellows out and putting others in, if a new party is the outcome of the issue, and seeing some of you, who have your pockets filled with the salaries which the Government has heaped upon you, shoved out of a job and your vast schemes for growing richer, at the expense of the lives of just such poor unfortunates as the Negroes you are allowing the South to burn in order to keep in power, blown to the devil. We can at least do that much."
"I didn't expect such talk from you, Langley,
"I suppose not. I've always been pliable, like the rest of the race. Things are changing."
"The dollar will fetch you every time, John."
"Not this time, anyhow," was the dogged reply.
"Pshaw! You people are standing in your own light."
"Yes, I think we are. Been doing the same old thing for the last thirty-five years."
"What do you mean?" demanded Mr. Clapp, growing white with suppressed passion. "Is that a reflection?"
"Don't lose your temper, Colonel; the man who gets mad always gets the worst of it," replied John blandly. "I want to ask you a question: Did you ever hear of such a thing as a man being robbed and murdered in the house of his friends?" He looked Mr. Clapp squarely to the eye. The latter shifted uneasily in his seat.
"That's what's been done to my people."
"Well, you can't complain; you've had all you're worth."
"Had all we're worth! Yes, you give us a bootblack stand in the corridor of the State House, and think we are placated."
"You can't expect anything more until you
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed John, as he lay back in his chair and winked at the Colonel, "that's a good one! What do you think I've been doing since I've been in the law business in this city? Why, the greenest ward-heeler knows that neither a white nor black man is competent to fill an office if the heads of the department where he is employed wish to get rid of him. The civil service is a good thing, but even that can't save a man from becoming incompetent when his resignation is desired by any one in authority. That's no argument at all. And as for our earning our rights--we didn't earn them at Wagner and Fort Fisher and at Fort Pillow; we haven't held the casting vote, and floated you from poverty into affluence."
"But the South, man!" exclaimed the Colonel, pounding the table before him with his fists until the dust sprang from the covers of the volumes lying there, "the South has rights as well as you. They are white men , man; you can't expect us to leave them out.
"Then what I have heard so often is true, that the South is in the saddle."
"Eh?" said the Colonel, subsiding limply into his chair and wiping his heated face on his handkerchief. "Well, I might as well own it, to you; I know it will go no farther. It is so in great measure, Langley. That is the reason we want your people to go slow. This is a great country. Each man is for the good of his own section. Can't blame 'em, can you?"
"No; and neither can you blame us for trying to get the best we can for the good of our race. You'll find we mean to do it."
"You mean to do it--yes, but the white man rules in this country every time, John, because he's born for the business, and it's just as well for you to keep the few friends you've got, and not drive them away because you're sore over your disappointments. You know nothing about business, you've no capital, no money, and we've got you every time."
"Threats do not frighten me, Colonel; nearly nineteen hundred years ago Christ sat at supper with his friends, and one of them, with a kiss still warm on his lips, betrayed him to crucifixion. What have we to expect from our friends?"
"Now, look here, Langley, don't say hard things, and don't get mad. I will admit every word that you say. It is all true, d--it!" he exclaimed as he arose to his feet and began walking up and down the floor with rapid strides. "I imagine I should feel even worse than you do if I were one of your race, but you see things are as they are, and why not make the best of a bad matter? Your people can't help themselves. If you rose in the South and appealed to arms you would soon be exterminated; for of course the South is our brother, and in an uprising of that sort, the National arms would necessarily be directed against the 'rioters,' as they would be termed. Individually, I might feel the justice of your cause; others might feel with me; but expediency would make me fight against you. And that brings me to my errand here today. It is the duty of every one of us to wait for justice, and not to countenance excitement and bloodshed. I assure you upon my honor as a man, that if the colored people are only patient for a while
"Talk's cheap. I've heard that old gag so many times that it's grown stale."
"But we intend to do the square thing this time."
"It ain't in you to do the square thing by us. It is as natural for you to cheat us and maltreat us as it is for boys to pull out the wings and legs of flies. You say now you've got no power to stop lynching. If you haven't the power before election, where will you get it after the votes are in? No, sir; it's votes you want, and after you get them, and all the subsidies, corporations, and trusts are riding easily on the front seat of the coach for another year, you won't know us; and robbing and killing the black man can go right on."
"You talk like a fool, John Langley. You're jeopardizing the best chance you ever had since Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation."
"That's all right. Promises are like pie-crust, made to be broken. You may be the best we can do, and the best is d--poor. Colonel,
"I tell you, Langley, we have a hard fight to give your people even the little that they do get. It's your duty to listen to reason in this matter. What do you want, anyhow?"
"We want our men given something beside boot-blacking in the employment of the state. We want our girls given a chance as clerks; that's what we want. Anything unreasonable in that?"
"No; that isn't unreasonable, but d--it all, man, other employees would 'kick.'"
"Let 'em 'kick.' Turn 'em out and get others; the civil service lists are always full." John faced the angry man with grim determination on every feature. He thought to himself: "The Colonel wants something done, and he might as well know that it's going to take a good thing to get me on his side."
"All right! I see what's the matter with you; you want to fight!" exclaimed the angry Colonel. "All right! be pig-headed; don't listen to reason; plunge the country into a race war in spite of all we've done for you, especially for your leaders; and when your race is exterminated, put the blame where it belongs. I wash my hands of the whole business!"
"Oh," replied John, with a conciliatory air, "I don't want to see bloodshed any more than you do, and I am just as ready to accept amicable terms for my race as you are to offer them. I only want to convince you that we can do something if conditions are right."
"You're all right, John, my boy," returned Clapp, as he slapped Langley on the back, apparently very ready to grasp the olive-branch of peace; "you stick to the party and the party 'll stick to you. We don't want to quarrel, do we?"
"No, that won't pay," said John.
Each man now resumed the seat which he had vacated under the excitement of the moment, helped himself to another cigar, and again contemplated the ceiling through rings of smoke. John noticed that the fly had made the circuit of the ceiling, and was moving toward him from the opposite side of the room. After a moment's silence the Colonel said:
"Your folks are going to have a meeting about this last atrocious affair, aren't they?"
"Yes; I was just looking over the list of speakers as you came in."
"I suppose they're pretty mad?"
"Yes; pretty hot."
"By the way, Langley, your name is up for the place of City Solicitor, to fill the vacancy
This was the first that John had heard about any such place being offered to him, but he took it as a matter of course, and his eyes sparkled as he replied: "That would suit me to a T."
"That settles it, then; it's a go. Now I tell you what you do," he continued between the puffs of fragrant smoke; "you hold that meeting down among your people to a calm level. Don't let your fire-eaters like Judge Watson raise the devil of a row, and throw dirt on the party. You keep that end down and I'll work the papers."
"Just so," replied John.
"How's the city election going down your way, anyhow?" asked the Colonel, after a few more explicit directions to Langley concerning the work he would have him do.
"Pretty fair. Some of the voters want to take their own heads, but they can be managed."
"Well, here's an order on the committee for money waiting to be used in your district in an emergency. Draw when you need it." Then he arose from his chair to take his leave..
"Mighty good cigars you keep, John."
"Help yourself, Colonel, help yourself."
The Hon. Herbert Clapp graciously took a