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LOUISIANA AND MISSISSIPPI

The States of Louisiana and Mississippi have furnished the larger portion of the migration to Kansas, and as the conditions which caused the exodus are the same in both of these States, we may speak of them together. No single act of wrong has inspired this movement, but a long series of oppression, injustice, and violence, extending over a period of fifteen years. These people have been long-suffering and wonderfully patient, but the time came when they could endure it no longer and they resolved to go.

We can convey no adequate idea of what they endured before adopting this desperate resolve, but will mention a few facts drawn from well authenticated history, from sworn public doc.u.ments, and from the evidence taken by the Exodus Investigating Committee. Writing under date of January 10, 1875, General P. H. Sheridan, then in command at New Orleans, says:

Since the year 1866 nearly thirty-five hundred persons, a great majority of whom were colored men, have been killed and wounded in this State. In 1868 the official records show that eighteen hundred and eighty-five were killed and wounded. From 1868 to the present time no official investigation has been made, and the civil authorities in all but a few cases have been unable to arrest, convict or punish the perpetrators. Consequently there are no correct records to be consulted for information. There is ample evidence, however, to show that more than twelve hundred persons have been killed and wounded during this time on account of their political sentiments. Frightful ma.s.sacres have occurred in the parishes of Bossier, Caddo, Catahoula, Saint Bernard, Saint Landry, Grant, and Orleans.

He then proceeds to enumerate the political murders of colored men in the various parishes, and says:

“Human life in this State is held so cheaply that when men are killed on account of political opinions, the murderers are regarded rather as heroes than criminals in the localities where they reside.”

This brief summary is not by a politician, but by a distinguished soldier, who recounts the events which have occurred within his own military jurisdiction. Volumes of testimony have since been taken confirming, in all respects, General Sheridan’s statement, and giving in detail the facts relating to such murders, and the times and circ.u.mstances of their occurrence. The results of the elections which immediately followed them disclose the motives and purposes of their perpetrators. These reports show that in the year 1868 a reign of terror prevailed over almost the entire State. In the parish of Saint Landry there was a ma.s.sacre from three to six days, during which between two and three hundred colored men were killed. “Thirteen captives were taken from the jail and shot, and a pile of twenty-five dead bodies were found burned in the woods.” The result of this Democratic campaign in the parish was that the registered Republican majority of 1,071 was wholly obliterated, and at the election which followed a few weeks later not a vote was cast for General Grant, while Seymour and Blair received 4,787.

In the parish of Bossier a similar ma.s.sacre occurred between the 20th and 30th of September, 1868, which lasted from three to four days, during which two hundred colored people were killed. By the official registry of that year the Republican voters in Bossier parish numbered 1,938, but at the ensuing election only _one_ Republican vote was cast.

In the parish of Caddo during the month of October, 1868, over forty colored people were killed. The result of that ma.s.sacre was that out of a Republican registered vote of 2,894 only one was cast for General Grant. Similar scenes were enacted throughout the State, varying in extent and atrocity according to the magnitude of the Republican majority to be overcome.

The total summing-up of murders, maimings, and whippings which took place for political reasons in the months of September, October and November, 1868, as shown by official sources, is over one thousand. The net political results achieved thereby may be succinctly stated as follows: The official registration for that year in twenty-eight parishes contained 47,923 names of Republican voters, but at the Presidential election, held a few weeks after the occurrence of these events but 5,360 Republican votes were cast, making the net Democratic gain from said transactions 42,563.

In nine of these parishes where the reign of terror was most prevalent out of 11,604 registered Republican votes only 19 were cast for General Grant. In seven of said parishes there were 7,253 registered Republican votes, but not one was cast at the ensuing election for the Republican ticket.

In the years succeeding 1868, when some restraint was imposed upon political lawlessness and a comparatively peaceful election was held, these same Republican parishes cast from 33,000 to 37,000 Republican votes, thus demonstrating the purpose and the effects of the reign of murder in 1868. In 1876 the spirit of violence and persecution, which in parts of the State had been partially restrained for a time, broke forth again with renewed fury. It was deemed necessary to carry that State for Tilden and Hendricks, and the policy which had proved so successful in 1868 was again invoked and with like results. On the day of general election in 1876 there were in the State of Louisiana 92,996 registered white voters and 115,310 colored, making a Republican majority of the latter of 22,314. The number of white Republicans was far in excess of the number of colored Democrats. It was, therefore, well known that if a fair election should be made the State would go Republican by from twenty-five to forty thousand majority. The policy adopted this time was to select a few of the largest Republican parishes and by terrorism and violence not only obliterate their Republican majorities, but also intimidate the Negroes in the other parishes. The testimony found in our public doc.u.ments, and records shows that the same system of a.s.sa.s.sinations, whippings, burnings, and other acts of political persecution of colored citizens which had occurred in 1868 was again repeated in 1876 and with like results.

In fifteen parishes where 17,726 Republicans were registered in 1876 only 5,758 votes were cast for Hayes and Wheeler, and in one of them (East Feliciana), where there were 2,127 Republicans registered, but one Republican vote was cast. By such methods the Republican majority of the State was supposed to have been effectually suppressed and a Democratic victory a.s.sured. And because the legally const.i.tuted authorities of Louisiana, acting in conformity with law and justice, declined to count some of the parishes thus carried by violence and blood, the Democratic party, both North and South, has ever since complained that it was fraudulently deprived of the fruits of victory, and it now proposes to make this grievance the princ.i.p.al plank in the party platform.

On the 6th of December, 1876, President Grant in a message to Congress transmitted the evidence of these horrible crimes against the colored race, committed in the name and in the interest of the Democracy. They are not mere estimates nor conjectures, but the names of the persons murdered, maimed and whipped, and of the perpetrators of the crimes, the places where they occurred, and the revolting circ.u.mstances under which they were committed, are all set forth in detail. This shocking record embraces a period of eight years, from 1868 to 1876, inclusive, and covers ninety-eight pages of fine type, giving an average of about one victim to each line. We have not counted the list, but it is safe to say that it numbers over four thousand.

These crimes did not end in 1876 with the accession of the Democracy to control of the State administration. The witnesses examined by your committee gave numerous instances of like character which occurred in 1878. Madison Parish may serve as an ill.u.s.tration. This parish, which furnished perhaps the largest number of refugees to Kansas, had been exceptionally free from bull-dozing in former years. William Murrell, one of the witnesses called by the committee, states the reasons for the exodus from that parish as follows:

You have not read of any exodus yet as there will be from that section this summer, and the reason for it is that, for the first time since the war in Madison Parish last December, we had bull-dozing there. Armed bodies of men came into the parish–not people who lived in the parish, but men from Ouachita Parish and Richland Parish; and I can name the leader who commanded them. He was a gentleman by the name of Captain Tibbals, of Ouachita Parish, who lives in Monroe, who was noted in the celebrated ma.s.sacre there in other times. His very name among the colored people is sufficient to intimidate them almost. He came with a crowd of men on the 28th of December into Madison Parish, when all was quiet and peaceable. There was no quarrel, no excitement.

We had always elected our tickets in the parish, and we had put Democrats on the ticket in many cases to satisfy them. There were only 238 white voters and about 2,700 colored registered voters.

Mr. Murrell says that David Armstrong, who was president of third ward Republican club, a man who stood high in the community, and against whom no charge was made except that of being a Republican, made the remark:

“What right have these white men to come here from Morehouse Parish, and Richland Parish, and Franklin Parish to interfere with our election?” And some white men heard of it and got a squad by themselves and said, “We’ll go down and give that n.i.g.g.e.r a whipping.” So Sunday night, about ten o’clock, they went to his house to take him out and whip him. They saw him run out the back way and fired on him. One in the crowd cried out, “Don’t kill him!” “It is too late, now,” they said, “he’s dead.” The Carroll Conservative, a Democratic newspaper, published the whole thing; but the reason they did it was because we had one of their men on our ticket as judge, and they got sore about it, and we beat him.

They killed Armstrong and took him three hundred yards to the river, in a sheet, threw him in the river, and left the sheet in the bushes.

Proceeding with the account of that transaction, Mr. Murrell swears that the colored people had heard that the bulldozers were coming from the surrounding parishes, and that he and others called on some of the leading Democrats in order to prevent it, but all in vain. He says:

We waited on Mr. Holmes, the clerk of the court, and we said to him, “Mr. Holmes, it is not necessary to do any bulldozing here; you have the counting machinery all in your hands, and we would rather be counted out than bulldozed; can’t we arrange this thing? I made a proposition to him and said, “You know I am renominated on the Republican ticket, but I will get out of the way for any moderate Democrat you may name to save the State and district ticket. We will not vote for your State ticket; you cannot make the colored people vote the State ticket; but if you will let us have our State ticket we will give you the local offices.” We offered them the clerk of the court, not the sheriff, and the two representatives. We told him we would not give them the senator, but the district judge and attorney. After this interview Holmes sent us to Dr. Askew, ex-chairman of the Democratic committee, and he said to me, “Now, Murrell, there is no use talking, I advise you to stand from under. When these men get in here we can’t control them. We like you well enough and would not like to see you hurt. I will see you to-night at Mr.

Holmes.” We had an interview with Mr. Holmes and made this proposition, and Holmes asked me this question: “Murrell, you know d.a.m.ned well the n.i.g.g.e.rs in this parish won’t vote the Democratic ticket–there is no use to tell me you will give us the clerk of the court, you know the n.i.g.g.e.rs won’t do it. You can’t trust the n.i.g.g.e.rs in politics; all your eloquence and all the speeches you can make won’t make these n.i.g.g.e.rs vote this ticket or what you suggest, even if we was to accept it. _No, by G.o.d, we are going to carry it._ Why,” said he, “_there is more eloquence in double-barreled shot-guns to convince n.i.g.g.e.rs than there is in forty Ciceros_.” I said to him, “Well, do you suppose the merchants and planters will back you up,” and he said, “O, by G.o.d, they have got nothing to do with it. We have charge of it.

_We three men, the Democratic committee, have full power to work._”

The result of this “work” was, as stated by the witness, and not disputed by any one before the committee, that in this parish, containing 2,700 registered Republican voters, and only 238 Democrats, the Democrats returned a majority of 2,300. The witness, who was a candidate on the Republican ticket, swears that not more than 360 votes were cast. Democratic shot-gun eloquence did its “work,” as prophesied by Mr. Askew, ex-chairman of the Democratic committee, but it also served as a wonderful stimulus to migration from Madison Parish.

We cite this case for two reasons: First, because it has been said that the Negroes have not emigrated from bulldozed parishes; and, secondly, because it serves as an ill.u.s.tration of the many similar cases which were given to the committee.

We desire also to invite attention to the evidence of Henry Adams, a colored witness from Shreveport, La. Adams is a man of very remarkable energy and native ability. Scores of witnesses were summoned by the majority of the committee from Shreveport but none of them ventured to question his integrity or truthfulness. Though a common laborer, he has devoted much of his time in traveling through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, working his way and taking notes of the crimes committed against his race. His notes, written in terse and simple language, embraced the names of six hundred and eighty-three colored men who have been whipped, maimed or murdered within the last eight years, and his statement of these crimes covers thirty-five pages of closely printed matter in the report. We are sure no one can read it without a conviction of its truthfulness, and a feeling of horror at the barbarous details he relates. Adams is the man who has organized a colonization council, composed of laboring colored people, and rigidly excluding politicians, which numbers ninety-eight thousand who have enrolled themselves with a view to emigration from that country as early as possible. He details the character and the purpose of the organization and the efforts it has made to obtain relief and protection for its members.

“First,” he says, “we appealed to the President of the United States to help us out of our distress, to protect us in our rights and privileges. Next, we appealed to Congress for a territory to which we might go and live with our families.

Failing in that,” says he, “our other object was to ask for help to ship us all to Liberia, Africa, somewhere where we could live in peace and quiet. If that could not be done,” he adds, “_our idea was to appeal to other governments outside of the United States to help us to get away from the United States and go and live there under their flag_.” What a commentary upon our own boasted equality and freedom! Finding no relief in any direction, they finally resolved to emigrate to some of the Northern States.

He says they had some hope of securing better treatment at home until 1877, when “we lost all hopes and determined to go anywhere on G.o.d’s earth, we didn’t care where; we said we was going if we had to run away and go into the woods.” Perhaps we can best summarize the condition of affairs in Louisiana and the causes of the exodus from that State, as the Negroes themselves regarded them, by quoting a brief extract from the report of the business committee to the colored State convention held in New Orleans on the 21st of April, 1879:

NEW ORLEANS, April 21, 1879.

_Mr. President_: Your committee on business have the honor to submit this their final report. Discussing the general and widespread alarm among the colored people of Louisiana, including so potent a fear that in many parishes, and in others perhaps largely to follow, there is an exodus of agricultural labor which indicates the prostration and destruction of the productive, and therefore essentially vital, interests of the State. _The Committee find that the primary cause of this lies in the absence of a republican form of government to the people of Louisiana.

Crime and lawlessness existing to an extent that laughs at all restraint, and the misgovernment naturally induced from a State administration itself the product of violence, have created an absorbing and constantly increasing distrust and alarm among our people throughout the State. All rights of freemen denied and all claims to a just recompense for labor rendered or honorable dealings between planter and laborer disallowed, justice a mockery, and the laws a cheat, the very officers of the courts being themselves the mobocrats and violators of the law, the only remedy left the colored citizens in many of parishes of our State today is to emigrate. The fiat to go forth is irresistible. The constantly recurring, nay, ever-present, fear which haunts the minds of these our people in the turbulent parishes of the State is that slavery in the horrible form of peonage is approaching; that the avowed disposition of men in power to reduce the laborer and his interest to the minimum of advantages as freemen and to absolutely none as citizens has produced so absolute a feat that in many cases it has become a panic. It is flight from present sufferings and from wrongs to come._

Here are the reasons for the exodus as stated by the colored people themselves. In view of the facts which we have stated, and of the terrible history which we cannot here repeat, does any one believe their statement of grievances is overdrawn? Is there any other race of freemen on the face of the earth who would have endured and patiently suffered as they have? Is there any other government among civilized nations which would have permitted such acts to be perpetrated against its citizens?

We will not dwell upon the conditions which have driven these people from Mississippi. It would be but a repet.i.tion of the intolerance, persecutions, and violence which have prevailed in Louisiana. The same Democratic “shot-gun eloquence” which was so potent for the conversion of colored Republicans in the one has proven equally powerful in the other. The same “eloquence” which wrested Louisiana from Republicans also converted Mississippi.

And in both the same results are visible in the determination of the colored people to get away.

Nearly all the witnesses who were asked as to the causes of the exodus answered that it was because of a feeling of insecurity for life and property; a denial of their political rights as citizens; long-continued persecutions for political reasons; a system of cheating by landlords and storekeepers which rendered it impossible for them to make a living no matter how hard they might work; the inadequacy of school advantages, and a fear that they would be eventually reduced to a system of peonage even worse than slavery itself.

On the latter point they quoted the laws of Mississippi, which authorize the sheriff to hire the convicts to planters and others for twenty-five cents a day to work out the fine and cost, and which provide that for every day lost from sickness he shall work another to pay for his board while sick. Under these laws they allege that a colored man may be fined $500 for some trifling misdemeanor, and be compelled to work five or six years to pay the fine; and that it is not uncommon for colored men thus hired out to be worked in a chain gang upon the plantations under overseers, with whip in hand, precisely as in the days of slavery. And some of the witnesses declared that if an attempt be made to escape they are pursued by blood-hounds, as before the war.

Henry Ruby, a witness summoned by the majority of the committee, swore that in Texas, under a law similar to that in Mississippi, a colored man had been arrested for carrying a “six-shooter” and fined $65, including costs, and that he had been at work nearly three years to pay it. The laws of that State do not fix the rate for hiring, but “county convicts” may be hired at any price the county judge may determine. He mentioned the case of a colored woman who was hired out for a quarter of a cent a day. Describing this process of hiring, he says:

They call these people county convicts, and if you have got a farm you can hire them out of the jail. They have got that system, and the colored men object to it. I know some of these men who have State convicts that they hire and they work them under shotguns. A farmer hires so many of the State, and they are under the supervision of a sergeant with a gun and n.i.g.g.e.r-hounds to run them with if they get away. They hire them and put them in the same gang with the striped suit on, and, if they want, the guard can bring them down with his shotgun! Then they have these n.i.g.g.e.r-hounds, and if one of them gets off and they can’t find him they take the hounds, and from a shoe or anything of the kind belonging to the convict they trail him down.

Q. Are these the same sort of blood-hounds they used to have to run the Negroes with?–A. Yes, sir.

These things need no comment. To the Negro they are painfully suggestive of slavery. Is it a wonder that he has resolved to go where peonage and blood-hounds are unknown?

Several witnesses were called from Saint Louis and Kansas, who had conversed with thousands of the refugees, and who swore that they all told the same story of injustice, oppression and wrong.

Upon the arrival of the first boat-loads at Saint Louis, in the early spring of 1879, the people of that city were deeply moved by the evident dest.i.tution and distress which they presented, and thousands of them were interviewed as to the causes which impelled them to leave their homes at that inclement season of the year. In the presence of these people, and with a full knowledge of their condition and of the flight, a memorial to Congress was prepared, and signed by a large number of the most prominent and most respectable citizens of Saint Louis, embracing such names as Mayor Overholtz (a Democrat), Hon. John F. Dillon, judge of the United States circuit court, ex-United States Senator J.B. Henderson and nearly a hundred other leading citizens, in which the condition and grievances of the refugees are stated as follows:

The undersigned, your memorialists, respectfully represent that within the last two weeks there have come by steamboats up the Mississippi River, from chiefly the States of Louisiana and Mississippi, and landed at Saint Louis, Mo., a great number of colored citizens of the United States, not less than twenty hundred and composed of men and women, old and young, and with them many of their children.

This mult.i.tude is eager to proceed to Kansas, and without exception, so far as we have learned, refuse all overtures or inducements to return South, even if their pa.s.sage back is paid for them.

The condition of the great majority is absolute poverty; they are clothed in thin and ragged garments for the most part, and while here have been supported to some extent by public, but mostly by private charity.

The older ones are the former slaves of the South; all now ent.i.tled to life and liberty.

The weather from the first advent of these people in this Northern city has been unusually cold, attended with ice and snow, so that their sufferings have been greatly increased, and if there was in their hearts a single kind remembrance of their sunny Southern homes they would naturally give it expression now.

We have taken occasion to examine into the causes they themselves a.s.sign for their extraordinary and unexpected transit, and beg leave to submit herewith the written statements of a number of individuals of the refugees, which were taken without any effort to have one thing said more than another, and to express the sense of the witness in his own language as nearly as possible.

The story is about the same in each instance: a great privation and want from excessive rent exacted for land, connected with murder of colored neighbors and threats of personal violence to themselves. The tone of each statement is that of suffering and terror. Election days and Christmas, by the concurrent testimony, seem to have been appropriated to killing the smart men, while robbery and personal violence in one form and another seem to have run the year round.

We submit that the great migration of Negroes from the South is itself a fact that overbears all contradiction and proves conclusively that great causes must exist at the South to account for it.

Here they are in mult.i.tudes, not men alone, but women and children, old, middle-aged, and young, with common consent leaving their old homes in a natural climate and facing storms and unknown dangers to go to Northern Kansas. Why? Among them all there is little said of hope in the future; it is all of fear in the past. They are not drawn by the attractions of Kansas; they are driven by the terrors of Mississippi and Louisiana. Whatever becomes of them, they are unanimous in their unalterable determination not to return.

There are others coming. Those who have come and gone on to Kansas must suffer even unto death, we fear; at all events more than any body of people ent.i.tled to liberty and law, the possession of property, the right to vote, and the pursuit of happiness, should be compelled to suffer under a free government from terror inspired by robbery, threats, a.s.saults, and murders.

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Published inThe Journal of Negro History