A Plea for Separation

January 13, 1900


The Planet argues against The Richmond Daily Dispatch on “Separate Cars”, pointing out that black people are "humiliated."


A Plea for Separation
The Richmond, Va., Dispatch in its issue of the 9th inst., proceeds to discuss “Separate Cars.” It says:
“The plea is made that a separate car law would be humiliating to the Negroes. They say it would be, and they ought to know their own feelings.”
The above is a concession which is thrown as a “sop to the whale.” It continues:
“But why would they be any more humiliated in being compelled to go to themselves? As we view the matter, the real humiliation consists in their being willing and anxious to go where they must know they are not wanted.”
The above is a fair question and is entitled to a fair answer. They are no more humiliated than white men would feel under similar condition.
Pass a law debarring a certain class of white men from entering Pullman Palace Cars, simply because they could not trace a lineage to the “revolutionary fathers” and this class of white men would feel as much humiliated as does the Negro of to-day.
When you place a requirement which is based upon an alleged inferiority on the part of the persons discriminated against, you then humiliate them and awaken a spirit of antagonism which increases as the objectionable features of the requirement are enforced.
You will see therefore that the Negroes are no more humiliated than the whites would be under similar conditions.
The Dispatch continues:
“They must know the whites do not want them in the same railroad car with them, yet despite this knowledge the Negroes will insist upon going there.”
This is the enunciation of a very dangerous doctrine, that the wishes of only one class of the body politic are to be consulted without any regard for the wished of the other class.
The majority can force upon the minority any kind of oppressive legislation or policy without any regard for the inherent rights of the minority or the commands of the constitution, which is the compass of the government itself.
The rich have the right to discriminate against the poor and the trusts against the people.
It sacrifices the bed-rock principles of the Declaration of Independence and is a mild expression of the divine right of kings, the supremacy of the aristocracy over the decrees of the people.
By this declaration, the inherent rights of the humblest citizen are sacrificed upon the altar of prejudice. The argument is so absurd as to almost provoke ridicule. It is a declaration that our democratic form of government is a failure.
The Dispatch says:
“If there were any question as to the class of accommodations afforded them, the matter would assume a different aspect, but in all laws providing for separate cars for whites and blacks provision invariably is made forbidding discrimination in the quality of service.”
It is a promise “made to the car and broken to the hope.” There is not a state in the union which has provided separate cars for the citizens of color but what the services is inferior on the side of the blacks and superior on the side of the whites. It says:
“Again, it is said that in the interests of education we ought to be willing to allow the present condition of things to continue, so that the black man may profit by observing the habits and demeanor of the white man. The answer to that is, that we have been doing that very thing for thirty odd years and we cannot see where it has been productive of much good.”
Truly has it been said “that there are none so blind as those who will not see.”
That the citizen of color has improved is sustained by testimony and statistics. We violate no confidence when we say that the example set for us has in many cases been anything but creditable.
W.W. Watts at Newport News, Va., set an example which is in keeping with similar actions on the part of the white men elsewhere. We presume you know that he was charged with criminal assault upon a white woman.
We presume you remember the case of Tom Penn, who committed a similar crime upon Lina Hanna (colored) at Danville, Va., several years ago. It continues:
“In the judgment of most of the whites the colored people’s morals and manners are not improving.”
In this, they are mistaken. It is true that we have a large number of boorish, ill-behaved people, who were “brought up in the cornfield” so to speak without the influence of good training, but they do not embrace the intelligent, substantial element while he is now protesting against the discriminations on the railroads. It should not be forgotten too that the masses of our people do not travel upon the railroads and the laboring elements to which you refer, invariably gravitate to the smoking or second-class car. It says:
“So far from it, great numbers of them show positive deterioration as compared with the condition of their race in the days of slavery.”
We do not believe this to be true, expressive as it is of an opinion of one inherently opposed to the interests of the race.
During slavery, we owned nothing not even ourselves. Now, our wealth is estimated at four hundred million dollars, with our theologians, physicians, scientists, statemen, real estate agents, authors, editors, bankers, lawyers, and members of the race in all of the vocations of life. A man who cannot see progress is in the line with the man who will not see it. It continues:
“It seems that the masses of them are not profiting by the opportunities and advantages put before them, and we believe the time is rapidly approaching when every Southern State must consider very seriously, indeed, whether the money expended in Negro education is wisely spent or not.”
How can the masses prosper? You give their children about three or four months’ education opportunities to “unlearn,” all that they have learned.
You reduce them to the level of serfs, rob them of their crops, and withhold from them their money. You oppress them with onerous laws and inflict upon them vexatious burdens.
To say that the money devoted to education has not been wisely spent is to say that the education and not the Negro is a failure.
How else could he have made the progress cited? Whence came the “genteel Negro,” if not through the civilizing influences of education and the beneficent effects of a Christian training? The Dispatch says:
“We know of but one thing which can turn the tide of public opinion now setting in, and that is for the Negroes to show more appreciation of their responsibilities as citizens.”
That is just what they are doing. It is the low, the vicious, the prejudiced, who are calling for oppressive legislation against him.
It continues:
“Candor compels us to admit that the whites of the South have not as much patience with the Negroes as they used to have. The reason is plain to see. The two races are no longer brought together as formerly. It takes a vast stock of patience to offset the red-hot indignation which arises and spreads over the whole land whenever an assault is made upon one of our women. Then, too many Negro servants—female servants especially—lead nomadic lives. They are here to-day and gone to-morrow. This is an evil which is not lessening, but increasing. So, as a rule, strong attachments cannot be formed between master or mistress and servant. In most households there is a never ending procession of servants—some going, others coming.”
The above needs no answer. It is a confession of weakness on the part of this journal. It concludes:
“In hesitating so long about ordering separate cars— “Jim Crow cars,” they are popularly called—our patience has endured longer than that of most of our southern brethren. Down South the separate car law is the rule, and not the exception, and it has not been found to work injury, either to the blacks or to the railroad companies. Usually, the railroad company partitions off each car and assigns one compartment to the whites and one to the blacks and there’s an end of it.
“Is there any reason to suppose that a system which has worked so well in other States will not work well in Virginia? We think not.”
The conditions existing in Virginia do not call for any such restrictive measures. The discriminations made in the South on the railroads is ridiculous and is a disgrace to the states permitting it.
It creates friction, rather than avoid it, and causes colored men to regard with suspicion any professions of genuine friendship on the part of the white brother.
The humble elements of the white races cannot afford to discriminate against the humble elements of the colored race. Let us have no “Jim Crow Car” law in Virginia.
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Elizabeth Lopez-Lopez


“A Plea for Separation,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed December 9, 2023, https://blackvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/109.