Joseph C. Price emerged in the 1880s as one of the most celebrated educators and orators in black America. Born free in North Carolina in 1854, Price attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he garnered numerous oratorical prizes and graduated as valedictorian in 1879. Two years later as a delegate of the A.M.E. Zion Church to the World’s Ecumenical Conference of Methodism, held in London, he delivered an unscheduled speech from the floor that created a sensation and soon afterwards was called “The World’s Orator” by the British press. One of Price’s most important orations was given at annual meeting of the National Education Association (NEA), held in Minneapolis July 10-12, 1890. That speech appears below.
If I had a thousand tongues and each tongue were a thousand thunderbolts and each thunderbolt had a thousand voices, I would use them all to help you understand a loyal and misrepresented and misjudged people. The real question implied in this subject, as I understand it, is, Will education solve the race problem? With such an idea in view it is but proper we have some conception of what the problem is, in order that we may select the best means for its solution; for it is evident that all remedies, whether for the removal of disorders in the body, or in the social state–whether in physianthropy or sociology–must be in proportion to their affected parts or abnormal conditions. It is further observable that the length of time a malady is allowed to grow, or an evil condition is permitted to exist and develop baneful results, has much to do with the nature of the forces that will neutralize the growth or destroy the evil. It is not infrequently the case that the age of a complaint or an undesirable state of affairs has to determine, to a very large degree, the means of resistance, or the remedies which will effect the cure. More is true. As it is admitted that time is a large element in the stubbornness of a condition or evil, so it is also true that time, coupled with the highest wisdom of administration, becomes an indispensable element in producing the healthier and more desirable conditions. It is further patent to every thoughtful mind that there are complex irregularities in the human system, as in the body politic, that no single remedy or manner of procedure can regulate. In such cases we have to proceed step by step, and take only one phase of the complaint at a time; and the remedies that are efficient in one stage are totally inadequate to the other. Each stage has its peculiar prescription–some requiring milder, and others severer antidotes; and whenever these antidotes are used substitutionally, we are thwarted in our desired end, and our purposes often miscarry. The negro problem is different from the Indian or Chinese question. In the negro, we find a commendable absence of all the stubborn and discordant characteristics which are peculiar to the Indian or the Chinaman; and the negro problem, together with its solution, is the all-absorbing topic of the country, and the negro, in the opinion of some, is the only destructive element, and least acceptable member of the body politic of America. The race problem, as now understood, had its beginning in 1620, when the negroes were forced to accept this country as their home. So, in one form or another, the negro question has been before the country for two hundred and seventy years, and this question, with its constant and incident date has been a source of anxiety and vexation, and rock of offense, during all those years. Now if the difficulties involved in the problem inhere in the negro race, it is but natural that we should seek to change, not his color, but character, under reasonable and fair encouragements to do so; and if they the results of preconceived opinions, or even conscientious convictions, produced by unfavorable and misleading environments, these opinions and convictions must change–all other things being equal–with a change of environments. The “peculiar institution” continued to grow, with all its attendant evils, until it threatened the very life of the republic; so much so, until it was declared by one of the wisest men the country ever produced, that nation could not live half free and half slave. Every means possible was called into requisition to solve this phase of the negro question in America, and it was only solved permanently and effectively by the bloody arbitrament of arms. Slavery is no more, and can never exist again in this country, simply because it was settled right. But this does not argue that every phase of the question must be settled in the same manner, or by the same means.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY THE SOLUTION OF THE PROBLEM?
The solution of the race problem means the satisfactory and harmonious adjustment of the racial relation in the South and in the country as well, on the principles of humanity and justice. In other words, it is the concession to the negro of all the inalienable rights that belong to him as a man and as a member of that family of which God is the common Father; and the granting to him all the civil immunities and political privileges guaranteed to every other citizen by the authority and power of the Constitution of the America Government. To do this solves the problem; not to do it is to leave it unsolved; and to leave it unsolved, in the face of the growing numbers and increasing intelligence of the negro, is to intensify the bitterness between the races, and to involve both in a conflict more destructive and widespread than the country has hitherto witnessed.
SLAVERY AT THE BOTTOM OF IT ALL.
Slavery, as a system, degraded the negro to the level of the brute, because denied him the untrammeled exercise of all the instincts of a higher and better manhood. It recognized no moral sensibility in ‘man or woman, regarded no sacred and inviolable relation between husband and wife, sundered at will or caprice the tenderest ties that the human heart is capable of forming or the mind is able to conceive. Such a system had the support of the highest tribunal of men, and even the representatives of the church of God came to its rescue and defense, with all the weight of its divine authority and power. From the maternal knee, the table, the family altar, the forum, and the pulpit was the lesson taught that the person of sable hue and curly hair was a doomed, and therefore an inferior, race–not entitled to a place in he brotherhood of men. This impression, made on childhood’s plastic nature, grew with his growth, and strengthened with the power of increasing years. To deepen the blot, and intensify the damning heresy, the law of the land wrote him down as a chattel, that is, cattle, and forbade the training of the mind and the culture of the heart, by making learning on his part, and teaching on the part of others, a crime. It is not surprising, then, that men brought up in the face of such a system for two hundred and fifty years should be skeptical as to the real manhood of the negro, and hesitate to give dim a place in the one-blood family. The feeling against the negro, which helps to make our race problem, is called prejudice, and is not without some grounds. For two hundred and fifty years the white man of the South saw only the animal, or mechanical, side of the negro. Wherever he looked, there was degradation, ignorance, superstition, darkness there, and nothing more, as he thought. The man was a shadowed and concealed by the debasing appetites and destructive and avaricious passions of the animal; therefore the race problem of today is not anomaly it is the natural and logical product of an environment of centuries. I am no pessimist. I do not believe we are approaching a race war in the South. I entertain an impression, which is rapidly deepening into a conviction, that the problem can and will be solved peaceably; but this can only be done by changing the character of the environment which has produced it. It is an unfavorable condition which has given the country a race problem and it will never be solved until we put at work the forces that will give us a changed condition. This does not argue nor imply the removal of the environment, as is suggested by colonization, deportation, or amalgamation, but it does mean a transformation of the same environment.
THE REAL ELEMENT OF POWER IN THE RACE PROBLEM.
What is the great element of power in the race problem? It is opposition to the claims of manhood and constitutional rights as made by the negro or his friends, because it is thought that he is not in all things a man like other men. It is an avowed determination to resist the full exercise of his inalienable and God given rights. It is a premeditated purpose not to give him justice. In some portions of the country this spirit is more violent than in others; but it manifests itself, in one form or another, the land over. Sometime it denies to the man of the negro race the exercise of his elective franchise; refuses to accord him first class accommodations in public highways of travel, on land or sea, when he pays for the same; denies him, however competent and qualified, an opportunity to earn an honest living, simply because he belongs to a different race; and seeks to organize a Southern Education Association, because it is said that the National Educational Association “has some ways that do not at all accord with the conditions of Southern society,” or “for obvious reasons”; and, as one has said, “to be out of smelling distance of the sable brother.” When it is asked, Why this opposition, this determination, and this premeditated purpose against the human and constitutional rights of a man and citizen? we are told, directly and indirectly, that while there are rare and commendable exceptions, the race, as such, is ignorant, poverty stricken, and degraded. Now if ignorance, poverty, and moral degradation are the grounds of objection against the negro, it is not difficult to discover that the knotty elements of the race problem are the intellectual, moral, and material conditions of the negro race. It is reasonable, therefore, to suppose that if we can find the means that will change these conditions, we have found a key to the problem, and gone a great distance toward its satisfactory solution. Of course none of us would argue that intelligence, or even education, is a panacea for all the ills of mankind; for, when educated, a Nero, a Robespierre, a Benedict Arnold, an absconding State treasurer, or a New York sneak-thief, would not necessarily be impossibilities. I do not argue that increased intelligence, or multiplied facilities for education, will, by some magic spell, transform the negro into the symmetry, grace, and beauty of a Grecian embodiment of excellence. It is certainly not my humble task to attempt to prove that education will, in a day or a decade, or a century, rid the black man of all the physical peculiarities and deformities, moral perversions and intellectual distortions which are the debasing and logical heritage of more than two and a half centuries enslavement. It is, nevertheless, reasonable to assume that, admitting the ordinary human capabilities of the race, which no sane and fair minded man will deny, it can be readily and justly predicated that if the same forces applied to other races are applied to the negro, and these forces are governed by the same eternal and incontrovertible principles, they will produce corresponding results and make the negro as acceptable to the brotherhood of as any other race laying claims to the instincts of our common humanity. I believe that education, in the full sense of the term, is the most efficient comprehensive means to this end, because in its results an answer is to be found to all the leading objections against the negro which enter into the make-up of the so called race problem. Let us examine more minutely these elements of the problem, in order to justify the reasonableness of our position. The Southern problem shows intense forms most in those sections and States where the negroes are in majority. This is because the whites, as they say, fear negro supremacy. This supremacy is feared on account of the ignorance of the negro voter. It is concluded that the majority of voters being ignorant, they would put ignorant or illiterate men in charge of the affairs of the county, State, or section and this would work to the bankruptcy or destruction of the county, or section thus governed or controlled. Hence, it is claimed that opposition to the exercise of negro franchise, by whatever means, is a patriotic duty–a matter of self preservation. Now it is evident that so far as this objection is concerned, education or increased intelligence among those representing the majority is the remedy. Ignorance being the ground of objection, if this cause is removed (and it can be by widespread intelligence), the objection must disappear as the darkness recedes at the approach of the light the sun. None of us, even negroes, desire to be officered by ignorant or incompetent men. It is the patriotic duty of every man to bring about such s as will put only the duly qualified in positions of responsibility and power. But this ought only to be done by lawful means and by forces that are acknowledged to be in every way legitimate and in harmony with the e spirit of our times. Dr. T. T. Eaton, writing on the Southern problem in the Christian Union, June 5, says: “It does seem a great outrage to practically deprive American citizens of the right to vote; but it is a greater outrage to destroy all the ends of government by putting an inferior and semi barbarous race in control of a superior race who own the property and have the intelligence.” It not only seems but is a great outrage to deprive American citizens of the right to vote, except on the conditions sustained by law, and not by mobs and the caprices of men. Such mob violence is the more reprehensible, when it is taken for granted that these outrages are only way of escape from the conditions confronting us.
WHAT OUGHT TO BE DONE?
If the voter is unprepared to exercise his franchise aright, then prepare him for its intelligent use, or deprive him of it by constitutional enactments. The latter cannot now be done, but the former can and ought to be done, and by doing so we will save the negro from unlawful oppression and outrage simply because he claims his rights, and save the nation from the disgrace and burning shame because it denies him these rights. Intelligence is universally admitted to be the prime requisite for good citizenship. Whenever this condition of things obtains there will be no necessity or fear of “destroying all the ends of government by putting a semi barbarous race in control of a superior race who own the property and have the intelligence.” For it is true and unalterable as expressed by Dr. A. G. Haygood, of Georgia in his “Pleas for Progress,” when he says: “Good government implies intelligence, and universal suffrage demands universal education.” It cannot be said, as it was stated fifty years ago, that a negro cannot be educated. The history of education among the colored people for a quarter of a century does not confirm the statement. The noble men and women who went into the South as missionaries, and felt their way through the smoke of battle and stepped over crimson battle fields and among the wounded and the dying to bring intelligence to the negroes, were taunted as going on a fool’s errand. But the tens of thousands of young men and women in the schools of high grade established by Northern service and philanthropy–a million negro children in the public schools of the South–are an imperishable monument to the wisdom of their action. I again quote from Dr. Haygood, who is an authority on this subject: “All told, fully fifty millions of dollars have gone into the work of their [negro] education since 1865. Of this fifty millions, more than half has been Southern money.” The negroes have made more progress in elementary and other education during these twenty three years than any other illiterate people in the world, and they have justified the philanthropy and public policy that made the expenditure.
WHITES MUST BE EDUCATED, AS WELL.
It must be remembered, however, that there is more to be done than education of the blacks, as a solution to the race problem; for much of the stubbornness of the question is involved in the ignorant, lawless and vicious whites of the South, who need education worse than many of the blacks. To educate one race and neglect the other, is to leave the problem half solved, for there is a class of whites in the South, to some extent, more and hopeless in their mental and moral condition than the negro. This is the to which many of the actual outrages are more attributable than to any other class. Educate these, as well as the blacks, and our problem is shorn of its strength. When we call to mind the fact that seventy per cent of the colored vote in the South is illiterate, and thirty per cent of the white vote in the same condition, it is not difficult for one to discern that education of blacks and whites, as well, is not only necessary for the solution of the race problem and for good government, but for the progress and prosperity of that section where such illiteracy obtains. For the safety of the republic, the perpetuity of its glory and the stability of its institutions are commensurate, with the intelligence and morality of its citizens, whether they be black men or white men.
THE POVERTY OF THE NEGRO
The poverty of the negro is another stubborn element of the problem. It is urged that the wealth and intelligence of the South must not suffer a man, if he is poor and black, to exercise the prerogatives of American citizenship. Strange doctrine this, in a republic which is a refuge for the oppressed from lands under the sun, and the so called land of the free! But will education help to remove this objectionable element in the negro? It is the object of all education to aid man in becoming a producer as well as a consumer. To enable men and women to make their way in life and contribute to the material wealth of their community or country, to develop the resources of their land, is the mainspring in the work of all our schools and public or private systems of training. From a material point of view we find that one of the great differences–in fact, contrasts–between the North and the South, is a difference of widespread intelligence. Labor, skilled or intelligent, coupled with the impetus arising from capital, will touch the South as with a magnetic hand, and that region with marvelous resources and immeasurable capabilities will blossom as the rose. It is a matter of observation and history that a section or country that seeks to keep its labor-producing class ignorant, keeps itself poor; and the nation or state that fails to provide for the education of its whole people, especially its industrial forces, is considered woefully lacking in statesmanship and devoid of the essential elements in material progress and prosperity. To this general rule the negro is no exception. To educate him, then, makes him an industrial factor of the state, and argues his own changed condition from repulsive property to more acceptable conditions of wealth. Whatever strengthens the negro of the South adds to the strength and wealth of that section; and nothing militates against the negro but militates against the South as well. Even in his present condition of illiteracy, the negro is evidently the backbone of the labor element of the South. He is, therefore, a wealth producer now. Whether he reaps any benefit of his labor or not, it is clear that he is the prime element in its growing and boasted prosperity. The late Henry W Grady said, just before his death, that the negroes in his State (Georgia) paid taxes on twenty million dollars’ worth of property, and that the negroes in the South contribute a billion dollars’ worth of products every year to the material prosperity of that section. The Atlanta Constitution, speaking of the negroes in Texas, said recently that they own a million acres of land and pay taxes on twenty million dollars’ worth of property, have two thousand churches, two thousand benevolent associations, ten high schools, three thousand teachers, twenty three doctors, fifteen lawyers, one hundred merchants, five mechanics, fifteen newspapers, hundreds of farmers and stockmen, and several inventors. Now these two States are but samples of the wealth-producing results of twenty five years of labor. If this has been their progress when it is admitted they have been under the hampering influence of ignorance, not to speak of other disadvantages, it is fair to assume that under the stimulus of intelligence they will do a hundred fold more, and year by year and decade by decade change their poverty stricken state, and thus remove another element in the problem, and thereby hasten its solution. But it is not necessary for me to stand in this intelligent and representative presence and argue the advantages of education to alter the condition of countries or races. Intelligence and industry have always demanded the respectful consideration of men, no matter how intense their opinions to the contrary; and it has been their universal opinion that these forces have been the leverage to lift their less fortunate fellows to their proper place on the plane of political and civil equality. These industrial forces are the things that must enter as a key into the solution of the problem. It will be as impossible to deny to a people thus gifted with intelligence and exercising it in wise and consistent efforts in the accumulation of wealth, their inalienable and constitutional rights, as it is to keep back the sweep of the cyclone with a wave of the hand, or hinder the swell of the sea by stamping on its shore.
THE MORAL CONDITION OF THE RACE.
But it is further argued that the negro is not entitled to his rights in the human brotherhood, and under the constitution of his country, because his standard of morality is low. Now the question that at once presents itself as this: Does education help to improve the moral condition of a people? If this be granted, it is not hard to conclude that such a means will be a long step toward the removal of this element of the problem. We will not assume, however, that education is a synonym for morality, for it is clear that many persons and some races claiming a superiority of intelligence are not always models of moral purity. But, while this is true, it is an unusual position for one to hold that intelligence is a hindrance to the development of virtuous tendencies. It is, rather, conceded that ignorance is a great source of immorality; and this is made emphatic when we take into consideration the fact that conscience, enlightened or unenlightened, determines to a large degree the moral acts of men. It cannot be denied that what may be termed an immoral consciousness is subject to education in order to make it a safe guide in the realm of moral obligation. I think it is Dr. Buchner, who says “Treatise on Man”: “It is a generally recognized fact, and moreover sufficiently proved by history, that the idea of morality in the general, as in the particular, becomes further and more strongly developed in proportion as culture, intelligence and knowledge of the necessary laws of the common weal increase.” The negro’s moral condition, against which objection is raised is the result of his training in the peculiar institution. It taught him no moral obligations of the home, for it recognized no home in the civilized of the term; it rather encouraged him to violate the sacred bonds of husband and wife, because, in so doing, he was taught the advancement of interest of his master in adding to the number and value of his human stock for the plantation or the market. He was prompted, under scanty provisions for physical sustenance, to appropriate his master’s hog or chicken to his own strength and comfort, on the principle and argument that he was simply improving his master’s property. When a woman was made to feel her honor, which is the glory of every true woman, was not her right, but subject to the carnal caprice of a master, it is not strange that an impression thus deepened by centuries of outrage should make her rather lightly regard this honor just after escape from such a school and from under such a system of instruction. It is certainly apparent, in the light of what has already been done for the moral improvement of the negro, that education will undo much of that which slavery has done to him. Hear what Dr. Haygood says: “No theory of universal education entertained by a rational people proposes knowledge as a substitute for virtue, or virtue as a substitute for knowledge. Both are necessary. Without virtue, knowledge is unreliable and dangerous; without knowledge, virtue is blind and impotent.” . . . “I must say a word in defense,” says this same authority, “of the negroes, particularly those living in the Southern States. Considering the antecedents of the race in Africa, in those States before the emancipation and their condition today, the real surprise is that there is so much virtue and purity among them.”… “Above all things,” says Dr. Haygood, “let the white people set them better examples.” Since progress has already been made in this direction, we are permitted to hope that education will continue its beneficent work in the moral reformation of the people. Education will certainly afford a better knowledge of the duties of the home, a better appreciation of the obligations of the marriage state, a more consistent regard for the rights and the property of others, and a clearer conception of what virtue in womanhood signifies, and, therefore, a more determined purpose and means of defending that honor from the assaults of any r even at the very risk of their lives.
THE GREAT WORK TO BE DONE.
The great work of education among negroes consists in leading them out of the errors which centuries of a debasing servitude fastened upon them, but even when this is done, the negro will not be an embodiment of every moral excellence, but he will at least stand on the same plane of morals with the other representatives of our common and fallen humanity, and whatever is the possibility and hope of one will be the possibility and hope other, so far as education is concerned; for under it, we believe that the negro can be and do what any other race can do, from the tickling of the soil with his hoe and plow, to make it burst forth into life giving fruitage, to the lifting of world upon world upon the lever of his thought, that they may instruct and entertain him as they pass his vision in grandeur in the heavens. But do we find in the negro exclusively all the immorality involved in the solution of the race problem? Not by any means. After the necessary evidence is given which entitles a man to the recognition of his rights, and these rights are still denied, then the one denying them becomes the moral law breaker; for morality, according to a scholarly authority (and he is not writing on the race problem in America), may be defined as a law of mutual respect for the general and private equal rights of man for the purpose securing general human happiness. Everything that injures or undermines this happiness and this respect, is evil; everything that advances them, is good. “The greatest sinners, therefore,” says this authority, “are egoist; those who place their own I higher than the interests and the lives of the common weal, and endeavor to satisfy it at the cost and to the injury of those possessing equal rights.”
We have said nothing of Christian education; but it is reasonable to conclude that white or black men, under the influence of Christian intelligence; are prepared to solve all the problems peculiar to our earthly state, for Christianity levels all the distinctions of race. It is this spirit that struck the conceit of the Jew and broke down the middle wall of cruel separation between him and the Gentile world. It taught the Greek that humanity was a term for the wide brotherhood of all races, which he did not realize before; for other races were regarded and despised as barbarians by him until Paul, from Mars Hill, thundered in the eager eyes and anxious ears of the Athenian the new doctrine that God had made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth. The Roman, according to Geike, considered all who did not belong to his own state, as enemies, and held that the only law between them and those who were not Romans was that of the strong to subjugate such races, if they could, plunder their possessions, and make the people slaves. “It was left to Christ,” says this authority, “to proclaim the brotherhood of all nations by revealing God as their common Fair Heaven.” If Christian education or a full knowledge of the principles of Christianity will not solve our relations with men, we are seriously at fault in our professed religion, and deplorable in our spiritual condition. For a people imbued with the spirit of the Christ idea cannot defraud a brother nor rob him of his labor, nor deny him the rights which he has with other men; for by these principles we are taught to “Evince your ardent love for God By the kind deeds ye do for men.” Dr. Chapman well says: “The great doctrine of human brotherhood, of the worth of a man, that he is not to be trod upon as a footstool or dashed in pieces as a worthless vessel, and the doctrines of popular liberty, education, and reform–all these have become active and every day truths under the influence of Christianity.” If Christian education is not to produce these results, the country and the race have a dark and uninviting future, for one has truly said, “There are mysteries which, if not solved by the truths of Christianity, darken the universe.” But I do not despair of the solution of the problem under Christian influence, as it radiates from the indiscriminating Cross of Calvary. For the principles of this grand system, both in the hearts and in the dominion of men are all-conquering, either sooner or later, in their onward sweep around the world. No error can forever withstand their power. It may be stubborn, even violent for awhile, but it must eventually give way to truth, for it is unalterable, as declared by Dr. Chapin, that “before the love which is in God, all things are sure to come around to His standard, and the most gigantic iniquity of earth strikes its head at last against the beam of God’s providence and goes down.”