Thayer's Note: The gentle reader is invited to bear in mind that I did not write the text on this page; I transcribed it from a book published in 1919. It does not reflect my opinions or language, but those of its author and its time.
A view of social conditions in North Carolina requires, of course, knowledge of the population, its elements and its distribution. The following table shows at a glance the more important facts.
It will be noted that the white population is increasing faster than the colored and that the number of foreigners in the state is negligible. The distribution of the negroes is interesting. No county has a larger percentage than seventy-five, but two, Warren and Halifax, have between 62½ and 75 per cent. Twelve, Anson, Bertie, Caswell, Chowan, Craven, Edgecombe, Hertford, Northampton, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Scotland and Vance have more than 50 per cent, twenty-five have more than 37½ per cent, seventeen more than 25 per cent, sixteen more and twenty-five less than 12½ per cent.
Per Cent of Negroes in Total Population of North Carolina by Counties, 1910
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Probably the most notable change taking place is the growth of urban population. This is the more significant when it is remembered that there is no large city in the state but that this population is diffused among many small places. In 1910 North Carolina had only two places, Charlotte and p406 Wilmington, with a population of 25,000, only five more, Asheville, Durham, Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston above 10,000, and only thirty-three more with a population above 2,500. The movement to the towns has meant leaving the farms but it has not meant the congestion of any community. The drain of other states upon North Carolina which was so great in the ante-bellum period continues. In 1910, 237,229 white North Carolinians were residing in other states and only 75,073 natives of other states had come to take their places. The balance was against North Carolina in all the states except Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
Throughout its history North Carolina has been an individualistic and, for a large part of the time, an unsocialized community, lacking in community consciousness and a sense of community responsibility. The state was marked by a sort of hereditary characteristic, derived from the facts of its origins and early development. Lying in an eddy between the currents which brought outside influence and stimulus to its neighbors immediately to the north and south, settled largely by people of small means and limited education, it remained, as far as the mass of the people were concerned, a sort of backwater. It was conservative because it was ignorant and poor and it remained poor because it was ignorant. From being conservative it became static and, retrograding in comparison with the other states, it began finally to look as though it was actually a decadent community. A vast throng of its more progressive citizens sought elsewhere the opportunities denied them at home. Some, usually those of means, turned to the Southwest where the rapid extension of cotton culture brought a vast and swift increase of wealth. Others, in the main the non-slaveholding poorer elements, went to the Northwest where, out of competition with slavery, free labor had a chance and where educational advantages were open even to the children of the poor.
Beginning, however, in the years immediately following 1835, progressive movements appeared which seemed to promise a social revolution. The development of systems of transportation and public schools, the removal of suffrage limitations, the movement for ad valorem taxation of slave property, p407 all gave promise for the future. But all these things were checked by the war and to a greater extent by Reconstruction, which imposed a new set of problems, the influence of one at least of which — the negro — was deadening and destined to check progress in the state in an alarming fashion for several decades.
In 1865 Huxley, in speaking of emancipation, said:
The question is settled, but even those who are most thoroughly convinced that the doom is just must see good grounds for repudiating half the arguments that have been employed by the winning side, and for doubting whether its ultimate results will embody the hopes of the victors, though they may more than realize the fears of the vanquished. It may be quite true that some negroes are better than some white men; but no rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior of the average white man.
But whatever the position of stable equilibrium into which the laws of social gravitation may bring the negro, all responsibility for the result will henceforth be between nature and him. The white man may wash his hands of it and the Caucasian conscience be void of reproach for evermore. And this, if we look to the bottom of the matter, is the real justification for the abolition policy.
True as was the first part of his analysis, the latter part shows a strange ignorance both of the necessities of the case and of Southern feeling. It was an impossibility for the to "wash his hands" of the negro, and to the credit of the people of North Carolina it must be added that in the main they have not desired to so, though politics, or rather a certain stripe of politicians, have often made them appear in that light. But the very sense of responsibility made the presence of the negro, so long as he was a political factor, one of the most retarding forces in the life of the state.
Slowly the two races, after the failure of the attempt at forced equality made by the careers during Reconstruction, worked out a fairly satisfactory modus vivendi. The fusion régime interrupted this but disfranchisement began a new day in the relations of the races. White men, with the negro out of politics, began to see clearly that North Carolina could make no rapid progress if the negroes remained what Charles Francis Adams aptly termed a "terrible inert mass of domesticated barbarism."
p408 The case was clear. If crime was to be lessened the negro must be trained in obedience to law. If public and private morals were to be elevated, the morals of the negro must be cared for. Before public health could be improved the negro must be taught sanitation and hygiene and prevented from endangering the welfare of the whole community. And so he must learn honesty, industry, thrift, and all the other qualities which go into the making of good citizens. In other words he must be educated.
Leaders of thought saw this, but naturally the masses are not always able to see the fundamental necessity to the white people of the uplift of the inferior race. A certain type of politician desired still to use the negro as a political argument. Most of this probably was unintentional; they had simply formed the habit and could not realize the changed conditions. For the others, John Charles McNeill wittily sang:
I cannot see, if you were dead, Mr. Nigger,
How orators could earn their bread, Mr. Nigger.
For they could never hold the crowd,
Save they abused you long and loud
As being a dark and threatening cloud, Mr. Nigger.
and told the whole story.
In 1901 as has been seen, a demand arose for the division of the school fund on the basis of what each race paid. This had two underlying motives. One was a feeling that the primary obligation of the state was to the white children; the other was a conscious purpose to restrict the opportunities for the negro to become educated and qualify as a voter. Aycock's splendid courage in his fight in behalf of justice checked the movement but the question arose again in 1902 and again Aycock threw himself into the fight. Never faltering, he opposed it as unjust to the negroes and injurious to the whites. As he said:
The amendment proposed is unjust, unwise, and unconstitutional. It would wrong both races, would bring our State into condemnation p409 of a just opinion elsewhere, and would mark us as a people who have turned backward. * * * Let us not seek to be the first State in the Union to make the weak man helpless. This would be a leadership that would bring us not honor but much shame. * * * Let us be done with this question, for while we discuss it the white children of the State are growing up in ignorance.
Aycock's opposition was effective and today no such proposition is ever considered.
The race problem is of course not settled in North Carolina, but the whole matter is on a new basis. There are undoubtedly many individual cases of injustice and oppression but steadily they grow fewer. The purpose of the white men to rule is none the less fixed, but more than ever he is determined to rule in righteousness. As Aycock phrased it:
If we fail to administer equal and exact justice to the negro whom we deprive of suffrage, we shall in the fulness of time lose power ourselves, for we must know that the God who is love, trusts no people with authority for the purpose of enabling them to injustice to the weak. We do well to rejoice in our strength and to take delight in our power, but we will do better still when we come fully to know that our right to rule has been transmitted to us by our fathers through centuries of toil and sacrifice, suffering and death, and their work through all these centuries has been a striving to execute judgment in righteousness. That must likewise be our aim, that our labor.
In the connection it is well to repeat his solution of the negro problem:
I am inclined to give you our solution of this problem. It is, first, as far as possible under the Fifteenth Amendment to disfranchise him; after that let him alone, quit writing about him; quit talking about him, quit making him "the white man's burden," let him "tote his own skillet;" quit coddling him, let him learn that no man, no race, ever got anything worth the having that he did not himself earn; that character is the outcome of sacrifice and worth is the result of toil; that whatever his future may be, the present has in it for him nothing that is not the product of industry, thrift, obedience to law, and uprightness; that he cannot, by resolution of council or league, accomplish anything; that he can do much by work; that violence may glorify his passions but it cannot accomplish his ambitions; that he may eat rarely of the cooking of equality, but he will always find when he does that "there is death in the pot." Let the negro learn once for all that there is unending separation of the races, that the two peoples may develop side by side to the fullest but that they cannot intermingle; let the white man determine that p410 no man shall by act or thought or speech cross this line, and the race problem will be at an end. * * *
But I would not have the white people forget their duty to the negro. We must seek the truth and pursue it. We owe an obligation to "the man in black;" we brought him here; he served us well; he is patient and teachable. We owe him gratitude; above all we owe him justice. We cannot forget his fidelity and we ought not to magnify his faults; we cannot change his color, neither can we ignore his service. No individual ever "rose on stepping stones of dead" others "to higher things," and no people can. We must rise by ourselves, we must execute judgment in righteousness; we must educate not only ourselves but see to it that the negro has an opportunity for education.
In North Carolina today the most hopeful sign is the increased interest in education, the growth and development of a real public sense of responsibility for it. It is, in a sense, only a beginning, but it is genuine. The people begin to feel the truth of Aycock's phrasing of a great truth: "The strength of every community is dependent upon the average of the intelligence of that community, and this intelligence is dependent upon the education of the entire mass and not of the few." But there remains a vast amount of work to be done and of difficulty to be overcome.
In 1910 there were 291,497 illiterates in the state, 18.5 per cent of the total population over ten years of age. The percentage was 31.9 among negroes; 12.3 among native whites, and 8.3 among foreign-born whites. Rural population showed a percentage of illiteracy of 19.6 compared with 12.5 for urban. Of the white males of voting age 49,619, or 14.1 per cent were illiterate, only Louisiana of all the states of the Union making a worse showing. Yet bad as this is there is in it ground for hope. In 1880 of the total population over ten years of age there were 463,975 illiterates, or 48.3 per cent; in 1890, 409,702 or 35.7 per cent; and in 1900, 386,251 or 28.7 per cent. Of the white population 31.5 per cent in 1880, 23.01 per cent in 1890, and 19.5 per cent in 1900 were illiterate. Of the negroes 77.4 per cent in 1880, 60.11 per cent in 1890, and 47.6 per cent in 1900 were illiterate. During the decade from 1900 to 1910 North Carolina reduced its white illiteracy more than did any other state except New Mexico. It really was a remarkable achievement when all things are considered and is full of p411 promise for the future. Without doubt the coming census will show even a greater gain. On the other hand, it must be noted that the decrease in illiteracy in North Carolina as well as in the South as a whole has been due to the decreases in negro illiteracy, white female illiteracy, and urban illiteracy. It is a startling fact that since 1850 in North Carolina illiteracy among adult white males has increased from 13.6 per cent to 14.1 per cent. The same fact is true in even larger measure in South Carolina, and will probably upon investigation be found to be true in the other southern states. These increases in white male illiteracy are mainly in the rural regions. The actual number of illiterates of course has decreased.
There is really no longer any valid reason, if indeed there was ever one, why public education should not remove illiteracy and in other ways promote progress. Poverty, the overworked excuse of all the years, is ceasing to exist for the great mass of the people and continues chiefly because of ignorance. It is true that the per capita wealth of the state as expressed upon the tax books is small. In 1912 it was $794 with only Mississippi of all the states having a lower amount. The estimated actual wealth of the state in 1912 was $1,800,000,000 and yet in 1914 only $807,000,000 was on the tax books. It is sometimes said that assessments in the state average 60 per cent of the true value of the property, but this is far from being the case. The habit of dodging taxes has prevailed in North Carolina from her earliest days and is probably at its worst today. Concealment of property, open and flagrant under-valuation and assessment, and every sort of wilful evasion of the tax laws are commonplaces in probably every county of the state. Nor are they confined to individuals. Counties and townships vie with each other in lowering the basis of assessment of land until in a comparison of census values with tax values, it appears that while Dare County assesses its farm lands at 188 per cent of their census value, New Hanover at 146 per cent, Graham at 139 percent, and Durham and Swain at 109 per cent, Ashe assesses at only 18 per cent, Yancey at 16 per cent and Alleghany at 13 per cent. p412It can not longer be said that land bears any universal relation to assessment in North Carolina.
Nor is this the whole story. In 1914 in thirty-three counties including Cleveland, Cumberland, and Sampson, no income tax was paid and in many others the returns were utterly and patently absurd. The facts were known and no action was taken.
The whole system is wrong. As it was recently phrased:
Our uniform ad valorem tax system today falls more heavily on the taxpayer whose mind is honest and whose conscience is tender than upon the dishonest tax-dodger. It bears heavily upon tangible properties like land, and lightly upon stocks, bonds, notes, mortgages, and other invisible properties. It is impossible to reach personal property and get solvent credits on the tax books wherever the uniform ad valorem rule prevails. This system allows gross irregularities. It works in favor of the cunning and against the honest taxpayer, in order to evade the law, fraud, trickery, and even perjury are commonly resorted to. As a result, it punishes good citizens, rebukes industry and thrift, and hinders industrial development.
Today the taxation situation is the gravest question before the people of the state. Upon the solution of the problem depends every forward movement — education, public health, social uplift, and relief work of all kinds. The continuance of the existing system means the progressive impairment of the public morals of the whole people and every day that it remains unchanged adds to the stain upon the State and its people.
The habit of poverty still is shown in the attitude of the people towards the cost of government, but fortunately this is slowly changing. In 1912 the per capita revenue was less than of any State in the Union. In the same year the per capita cost of the state government was $1.46, but in 1915 it had risen to $1.76 and is still rising as more liberally the state invests for the future. In the former years with South Carolina the state stood at the bottom of the list of states in this respect, but in the latter it had left South Carolina slightly behind. The items of expenditure make an interesting showing.
|Charities, Hospitals and Corrections||.490||.39|
|Interest and Outlay||.470||.25|
|Highways and Recreation||.005||.01|
|Conservation and Development||.11|
The general social influence of the industrial development of the state, has been described. Apart from better economic opportunity, the most significant effect is to be seen in the growth of numerous small, brisk, thriving towns which, with increasing modern improvements and with rapidly improving schools, serve as beacon lights to the rural communities which surround them. That is one of the best features of North Carolina industrial life. The large city undoubtedly has its advantages, but a large number of smaller centres is, socially speaking, far more uplifting.
Bright as the prospect is and hopeful as much of the agricultural situation is, there is one menacing feature of the rural life of the state. One million, one hundred and eighty thousand people in North Carolina are landless and homeless. Professor E. C. Branson thus strikingly describes the situation:
In North Carolina 52 per cent of all our dwellings, in town and country regions, are occupied by renters. Eleven hundred and eighty thousand of our people of both races are landless and homeless.
Twenty-eight states make a better showing than North Carolina in the ownership of homes and farms, and 17 a poorer showing. These 17 states are all in the densely populated areas of the North and East, and in the cotton belt states south of us, where farm tenancy is excessive.
It is well to keep clearly in mind the fact that even in the South, farm tenancy is a white man's problem mainly. Contrary to the popular notion, it is not a negro problem mainly. The white farm tenants of Virginia outnumber the negro farm tenants by nearly p41417,000, in North Carolina by 19,000, and in the South at large by nearly 156,000.
And the situation is particularly distressing where white and black farm tenants work side by side in nearly equal numbers, as in Halifax, Henry, Nansemond, Northampton, and Westmoreland counties, Virginia, and in 18 counties of North Carolina — mainly in our cotton and tobacco areas.
The tenants in our farm regions, are sojourners, strangers, and pilgrims on the earth. They have no stake in the land. They are tethered to no locality by the ties of ownership. They are forever seeking new fields and pastures green. They have little or no chance to develop an abiding interest in schools and churches, in good roads, in greater attention to public sanitation, in local law and order, in community organizations and enterprises for progress and prosperity, welfare and well-being. Upon an average a little more than half of our farm tenants in the South move every year. In some neighborhoods the rates of change are larger, in others smaller. Their children change schools and teachers so often that they soon drop out altogether.
As a result wherever we find excessive tenancy we fined undue illiteracy. Farm tenancy and illiteracy are twin-born social menaces. They are twins at birth and boon companions throughout life. And neither can be cured without curing the other. Tenancy breeds illiteracy, and illiteracy breeds tenancy among the native born whites of the South. As long as we have tenancy we shall have illiteracy. The increase of illiteracy among white men and women in our country regions since 1850 is due to steadily increasing tenancy among white farmers in fifty counties of the state. Other causes — like sparsity of population and raucous individualism — produce illiteracy, as in our mountain counties and in the Lower Cape Fear Region, but the constant accompaniment of farm tenancy is illiteracy.
Where slave population was densest — the cotton and tobacco counties — are now the regions where farm tenancy, absentee-landlordism, and the crop lien are firmly-established institutions. In the many-crop, livestock-raising counties, farm owners in the main cultivate their own farms and there is no such situation. But in the others, as Professor Branson points out, it is not the negro who suffers. In Warren County negroes own 52 per cent of all owned farms; in Halifax County, 49 per cent; in Vance and Richmond, 36 per cent; in Robeson, 35 per cent, and in Northampton, 30 per cent. All over the State the negro is steadily acquiring land and the number of negro farm owners has increased each year. In 1900 17,520 negroes owned 961,341 acres valued at $8,773,780. In 1910 21,443 negroes owned 1,197,496 acres valued at $22,810,089. p415There are some nineteen thousand more white than colored farm tenants in the State and the negroes own nearly one‑third of the farms they cultivate, an increase of twenty-two per cent in the last census period. The home-making instinct is a strong factor in negro uplift and in general it is true that the negro who owns a fair-sized farm is not only quite a good farmer, well above the average, but a good and responsible citizen as well.
The most transforming factor in the recent development of the state is state-wide prohibition. Before the rise of the dispensaries and of local option, conditions had become almost unbearable and prohibition came, not because anything like a majority of the people liked the remedy, but because the disease was becoming of a sort that made any remedy endurable. The dispensary gave the saloon its death blow and local option furnished expense of the beneficent workings of entire suppression of the liquor traffic and converted many who had been hitherto opposed to state-wide prohibition or to any kind of prohibition. Prohibition has many natural enemies in North Carolina. The people have always been highly individualistic and have been averse to the sort of interference with personal liberty that legislation of this sort means. There was also a widespread Scotch-Irish fondness for whiskey. But under the stress of desperate need the people passed the law and the question is a settled one. It has worked well and there is scarcely a community in the state that would favor a return to the old conditions. Of course, it has not stopped drinking; under the most favorable circumstances that could not be accomplished within this generation. But it has vastly reduced it and has practically eliminated public drunkenness, formerly a widespread evil. It has increased private industry and thrift and helped public morals immensely. Crime has decreased tremendously and the entire community is bettered in every way.
In spite of the general lessening of crime, the state has a pre-eminence not to be desired in respect to homicide. In 1913 it led the twenty-six states which compose the registration area in both urban and rural homicides, the figures for the year being 274 and 173, respectively. Seventy-nine per p416cent of the total were committed by negroes. It is a fact that human life is still far too cheap and the decided uncertainty of punishment has doubtless been a chief contributing cause. Latterly, resort to lynch law has been infrequent.
Within recent years a new movement in the state has gained momentum and has already accomplished a great deal. Certain progressive elements have begun to work in concert for social uplift and betterment. There is sustained and genuine interest in the unfortunate. Under the control of the state a school for the feeble-minded, a refuge for fallen women, an institution for cripples, a juvenile reformatory and a tuberculosis sanitarium have been established. More generous support has been given the hospitals for the insane and the schools for the deaf and dumb and the blind. Prison reform, in spite of crying need and open scandal, has still to come.
Along the same lines has been the advancement in the public health service. A law has at last been passed providing for the keeping of vital statistics. Sanitary campaigns and surveys have educated the people in the prevention of disease. Eleven of the counties now have health officers who give all their time to the duties of the position. Only a few years ago North Carolina had the largest death rate in the Union from typhoid fever. In many counties it is today almost unknown, thanks to health campaigns, the work of health officers and the activity of the state board of health. Smallpox no longer rages as it has done even since the opening of the century. The hookworm is a disappearing pest. The medical examination of school children, now becoming common, is another manifestation of growing interest in the subject.
All of these things reflect confidence in the future. A striking example of this was the action of the legislature of 1917 in providing for the issue of $3,000,000 in bonds as a permanent investment of the state in the physical development of its great institutions of learning and its institutions for the care of the unfortunate. This is practical democracy of a type and on a scale befitting the dignity of the state.
In the realm of the intellect changes are taking place outside p417school walls. Rural free delivery, the achievement of Senator Marion Butler, has increased newspaper and magazine reading. The mass of the people, more in contact with the world outside and with currents of thought, are better informed and are more alive than ever before. North Carolina is not yet a reading community, but there are at last some reasons to hope that it may in time become so. There has been a considerable increase in the number of public libraries, school libraries have grown in size and number, and the state supports a commission for library promotion. There is a wide and growing interest in state history, one of the best visible tokens of which is the creation and support of the State Historical Commission, which is splendidly equipped and installed in a home worthy of it. The activities of the commission, carried on by the secretary, are of the highest value, and a wealth of historical material is being accumulated and placed at the service of investigators. The work of the commission is regarded by experts as equaling the best done by any of the states. Similar work in the collection and preservation of historical material, but on a small scale, is being done by the libraries of the University and of Trinity College. At the University an unique collection of economic and sociological data is being made.
Women are rapidly coming to play a more important part in public affairs. Illiteracy among women has been decreased much more rapidly than among men, and the high schools show a much larger enrolment of girls than of boys. One hundred and thirty thousand white women and girls, — about 24 per cent, — in 1910 were earning a living outside home and home occupations and the number has since been vastly increased. So far there has not been a very active agitation for suffrage, but the movement is growing and in no very long period the change will be made. The movement has behind it no special platform of reform in behalf of women, since the laws of the state are exceedingly favorable to them, and it really seems so far, to a great extent, merely a reflex of the movement elsewhere, the indications being strong that the vast majority of the women of the state are indifferent. If suffrage is conferred while that remains the case, it will be p419a positive evil, since the state is already cursed with a large element of indifferent and ignorant male voters. If, on the other hand, interest is widely aroused, it is within the range of possibility that instead of making little or no difference, as has been the case in the suffrage states, it will prove of tremendous value to North Carolina.
Socially the state is moving forward, slowly and painfully in some respects, rapidly in others. Its conservatism of ignorance is a retrograding characteristic, and the people, always fundamentally more progressive than political leaders have thought them, and in too many cases wanted them to be, are increasingly ready to respond to liberal and progressive leadership. The time may not be far distant when they will demand and force that sort of leadership.
As one contrasts the state as it is with what, with its natural advantages, it should be, there is abundant room for pessimism of darkest hue. But when one contrasts the North Carolina of 1918 with the commonwealth emerging in 1876 from the horror of Reconstruction, or even with the North Carolina of 1900, there remains small excuse for anything but the most roseate optimism. The state has indeed come far since either date. It is a better place to live in. Its standards of life, thought and conduct, public and private, are higher. It is in the midst of an intellectual awakening. It abounds in opportunity. Its people have preserved in large measure their old simplicity and sound and unconscious democratic ideal which, vitalized by social responsibility, they are beginning to apply to the larger activities of government. There is increasing freedom of thought and respect for the right of difference of opinion. While North Carolina has never suffered to the same extent as the other Southern states from what Chancellor Hill called the "deadly paralysis of intellect due to the enforced unanimity of thought within the lines of one party," there has been too much of it, and it is good to see it steadily lessening. There are still many things to be done before North Carolina is abreast of the greatest commonwealths, but it would be flying in the face of history to fail to believe that in spite of the tremendous obstacles and p420heavy tasks before them, the people of the old commonwealth, now beginning to look forward, will continue to move forward toward the realization of democratic ideals in the new epoch which lies directly ahead.
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