The white world of opinion in America still believes in the inferior capacity of the Negro and has a very limited knowledge of Negro progress. This estimate was made a generation or two ago. Probably the exhibitions of physical prowess by the Negro soldiers, Negro athletes, and Negro laborers, and the Negro's ability to sustain himself as a free man have dispelled some of the belief in physical inferiority so long avowed in books and newspapers. There still remains, however, the notion that the Negro is of a lower order of the human species, that in mental capacity and moral qualities he is inherently inferior, and that there is a chasm so fixed as to constitute a "fundamental and inescapable difference" which may prevent the Negro from achieving the highest in modern civilization.1 The theory prevails that such achievements in pure science, art, literature, social ideals, and the like are beyond the present capacity of the Negro. This view of Negro incapacity is usually buttressed by appeals to history to show that the Negro achieved nothing in Africa, by efforts at scientific proof of inferior physical features, skull form and brain structure, and recently by use of comparative mental tests. This question will be treated in later pages (Chapter V (The Trend Of The White World1) and Appendix). Here the purpose is only to state the prevailing opinion of the white world.
The white world as a whole has the view also that the Negro is predominantly criminal and in other ways inherently defective and delinquent to a greater degree than other elements of our population. This popular notion lies back of the usual setting of news by the greater part of the press, which presents its reports and stories in line with what some call the "conventional opinion".
1 Smith, William B., The Color Line, pp. 29-74. Page, Thomas Nelson, The Negro: The Southerner's Problem, pp. 277-280. Morse, John T., Jr., Thomas Jefferson, p. 53.
That there are criminal Negroes apprehended in probably larger proportions than white, is true. The point is not to argue these questions of fact, but to record the known current of opinion which generalizes wholesale on the few facts and regards a whole race as peculiarly delinquent.
Modifying to some extent the two preceding currents of opinion is the American use of free speech and response to the facts when disclosed. With increasing assurance, thoughtful Negroes and their friends have used the American tradition of free speech to put their case before the tribunal of the American public. As a rule, when the facts have been ably given publicity, the American people have responded with a measure of fair play. Abraham Lincoln knew this through all his work for the Union and the Negro. Every successful effort for Negro advancement and better race relations has consciously or unconsciously utilized this response of white public opinion.
Public opinion of the Negro world1 during the present generation has crystallized a belief among Negroes that the race has something to be proud of; that Negro culture and achievement are substantial and worth while. There is a growing Negro race pride. They have tried to make this known to the world. Probably another significant manifestation of this opinion is its interpretation of expressions from white newspapers. For example, reports in white newspapers of racial clashes are regarded by Negroes as prepared to excuse the white participants and to blame the black ones.
1The use of "Negro" as a race designation is to take both terms in their conventional, popular meaning. The terms are not used in an ethnological sense based upon complexions, hair forms, or head forms or upon cultural types, because all forms are found in the group and because in language, literature, art, religion, industry, and other items, Negroes have very largely appropriated and assimilated the culture around them. They have, however, developed a solidarity and race consciousness which make a group life and a Negro world of feeling, thought.
There may be discerned three shades or schools of opinion among Negroes with reference to achievement of their rights and with reference to their relations to their white neighbors. In European terms they may be called "the left wing," "the center," and "the right wing." The left wing is of recent development. It has two divisions. There is first a socialist group which is just beginning, since the World War, to secure recruits among Negroes.1 There is considerable evidence that it is being fostered by white socialists. The chief organ of propaganda is The Messenger, a monthly magazine published in New York and ably edited by two young, college-bred Negro men. They have utilized the dissatisfaction which Negroes have felt because of the evils of lynching, mob violence, disfranchisement, and other things about which the race has been restless. Probably from a fourth to a third of their magazine has been given to reports and editorials on such ills. Their propaganda has served to draw strength from such publicity about ills more than from the intellectual or emotional interest any considerable number of Negroes have in the more general matters of social and economic reconstruction.
Furthermore, a new division has sprung up in the "left wing." It is popularly known as the "Garvey Movement," from the name of Marcus Garvey, its West Indian founder. This is an organized movement, claiming in 1921 from two to three millions of dues-paying members in divisions, branches, and chapters of a "Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League." Such divisions are advertised in the United States, Canada, Central America, South America, the West Indies, and in Africa. The "Garveyites" have a newspaper, The Negro World, with substantial circulation in all these parts of the world. A traveler just returned from a year's extensive tour of Africa reported that Garvey and his propaganda were known to the natives wherever he went.