THE NEGRO AND THE CHURCH.
ELLA WHEELER WILCOX
[From the New York Journal. Copyright, 1902, by W.R. Hearst]
Those who are studying the Negro Problem ought to go and look over the situation in Jamaica.
It would give them great light upon the pathway.
The Jamaica slaves received their freedom in 1838.
Today, many, if not most, of the leading merchants, tradesmen, postoffice and minor railroad officials, conductors, brakemen, trolley conductors and motormen, engineers and civil engineers, and teachers in graded schools are men in whose veins run colored blood.
They are in the main agreeable and well-informed, and many of them are educated and refined. The tradesmen and conductors are more courteous and considerate than the majority of those of white skin occupying similar positions in America.
A few weeks in Jamaica will convince the most skeptical that the colored man is capable of development through educational methods.
Meantime, there are thousands of the ignorant, the undeveloped and consequently the immoral, in Jamaica, owing to the lack of perception of the English Government which after granting the colored race its freedom, established "The Church of England" with its moss-grown creeds and habits, there and a few schools and gave itself no further trouble regarding the mental or moral development of the freedman.
There is no compulsory education in Jamaica, because England feels she cannot afford to endow schools and pay reasonable salaries to teachers, and at the same time pay the English governor of the island $30,000 a year, and other high officials in the same ratio. It is the same old story of the Court and the people which exists wherever monarchy exists.
The progress already made by the colored people in Jamaica is due to the evangelists--missionaries of various denominations--mainly Methodist and Presbyterian who have established schools and worked personally among the long suffering people to lead them into habits of right thinking and right living. Individuals have contributed to the good work, and slow but certain progress is being made.
There has been much written by tourists of the unsanitary habits of the poor slaves in Jamaica. "Whole families are found living in huts of only one room without a floor," has been truthfully said. But when we learn that everything in the way of improvements or "luxuries" including a floor, is subjected to a tax in Jamaica, we can more readily understand the absence of those "luxuries" among the poor peasants.
Again, the old story of unjust and cruel taxation in the path of progress, while the selfish, blind and cruel authorities who impose the taxes cry out: "Look at these people--they can't be made to improve; they will stay behind in the world's march."
And the equally stupid, blind and selfish observer says: "That is so--mere cattle--no use trying to better their condition."
There is a complaint in Jamaica, as in the States, that the colored race is immoral. But the crime for which the Northern negro is most frequently lynched here is unknown there. A white woman can walk the length and breadth of the land unmolested and respected and protected.
But the Jamaica natives of the lower classes--for there are classes among the colored people there--object to marriage and prefer to live together and rear families without the ties of law or church.
Again, when this fact is analyzed, an explanation is found which mitigates the idea of innate immorality.
The expense of a marriage license, and a marriage ceremony, is one reason why the colored man is slow to legalize his amatory relations; and the horror of anything which savors of being bound and suggests a form of slavery is strong in the minds of the women--descendants of the downtrodden and fettered.
Still again, can any reasonable human being wonder if the people of mixed blood should not display the highest ideals of marriage and love? How came they by their mixed color? Was it not of the white man? Does it seem strange if, together with the paler color they inherit also their white ancestors' indifference to law and morality?
And plainly it is the white man's duty to be long suffering and patient in his effort to lead up this victim of his own branding to a higher understanding of life. Schools of manual training, schools and colleges of all kinds and sensible and humane church influences for these highly emotional and religious people will solve this problem which agitates our world to-day. Never did it seem so encouraging to me as since my sojourn in Jamaica.
The white man brought the negro from his life of savage freedom in Africa
and put him into slavery. The white man freed him after keeping him in
darkness and ignorance for centuries. Now let the white man work with patience,
faith and love until the problem is solved--the problem of his own making.