To paint only the bright and sunny side, however, would not give a complete picture of the feeling and thought among Negroes. There are shadows in the background. One of these is the Negro's increasing distrust and suspicion of white people. Negroes generally, from field hands to professors, from porters to preachers, have ceased to speak their inner feelings and thoughts to white people, except to the few who, they believe, listen with full sympathy. Certain Negro men and women when seeking favors or when terrorized by intimidation are led to share partially with white people their real feelings and attitude. This dissimulation is the sequel of the suppression of free speech and freedom of action. Daily commerce between the races has many of the outward marks of amity and peace because the Negro is not militant minded. He makes no direct attack upon those he distrusts or fears. At the first opportunity, however, "he folds his tent like the Arab" and as silently moves away.
Of late years, especially during the World War, the statements of white people in newspapers, periodicals, and patriotic addresses on the blessings of a safe democracy have been weighed by Negroes in the light of their effect upon the restricted conditions of daily life surrounding them. The result is a questioning of the sincerity of those professions and the professors. Educated Negro idealists are not the only ones who have been inclined to regard these pronouncements as "gestures." In the Negro world, such opinions and feelings travel rapidly by means of the "grape-vine telegraph." That informal, unorganized, wireless system by means of which ideas, facts, and feelings travel like electric currents from one Negro neighborhood to another, still functions to-day as in past generations. It carries from the most intelligent the essence of feelings and attitudes from both inside and outside the Negro world to the illiterate, even to the most remote Negro cabin and community. The Negro is a genius as a listener and a past master in the ancient and effective art of talking.
It is a step backward for America, by its pressure upon Negroes, to allow them to conclude that they should adopt the dying doctrine of settlement of race relations and interests by force, either the brutal force of physical power or the inhuman force of economic and political pressure. Such a step is a failure to embrace the new spirit which rises out of the hearts of men, which enters into economic relations, into political and legal relations, into intellectual relations, and which sets men free because it baptizes them with the consciousness that each man is his brother's helper. It is a challenge to Christians to show concretely that comity and cooperation are the methods by means of which the relations of men may be adjusted so that all in America may have "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." To this "new emancipation," as expressed by the author in another place,1 the Negro can make "a contribution of the heart, of emotion, of passion, of song, of music. Laughter and a light heart, patience and good cheer, enthusiasm and faith - these are the priceless things this old world has longed for and the new age will prize".
The Negro as a contributor to American social consciousness. America may create the mental atmosphere in which the Negro may go on growing in social and spiritual consciousness and thus retain his hold upon and develop such traits of mind and spirit as have been outlined above, or she may repress him until he loses much of them in the pain and sweat of a circumscribed, half-free, hunted life. If stimulated, he may develop the friendly feelings and attitudes which will contribute to the spirit of social responsibility being born anew into America and into the world.
1"The New Emancipation," Southern Workman, Oct., 1920.
The development of such social consciousness among Negroes may be easier than among other elements of our varied population. Negroes have no past history in America of social castes based upon birth or bank account. All classes of Negroes are yet closely bound together by the bonds of common sufferings. There are among them no wealthy capitalists. The professional classes are relatively small in proportion to the total Negro population. Ministers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and all others numbered less than seventy thousand in 1910 amid a population of nearly ten millions. They are, however, very influential with the entire people and keenly conscious of their obligations to serve and guide their people. There are no wide gulfs of education, wealth, or birth fixed between the lowliest laborer and the highest leader. And the descriptions of their mental achievement just recited show deep fellow-feeling, friendly attitudes, and cooperative ways of acting.
It seems very practicable, therefore, before any such fixed differences of class arise among Negroes, to save them from many of the shortcomings of other parts of our nation, and so to organize and to stimulate them that the business and professional classes may develop their present sense of responsibility to the wage-earning classes and spread a group solidarity, a feeling of social responsibility, throughout the whole people. If white America in city and country, North and South, shall catch a vision of the possible development through neighborliness and justice extended to these people and will cooperate with Negroes who for three centuries have shown themselves able to cooperate, such a development of community helpfulness among Negroes in local communities throughout many states will undoubtedly bring a distinct and rich contribution to the larger life of America. In addition to the overflow of their music, their poetry, their religious faith and fervor, their loyalty, their tolerance, and their cheerfulness and humor, what an enrichment to the higher thinking and feeling of the world may be brought to pass! The deep emotional and mental fervor of the Negro may show America and the world a new meaning of Christian brotherhood.