A Social History of the American Negro eBook

Benjamin Griffith Brawley
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 546 pages of information about A Social History of the American Negro.
her husband.  In 1841 the first Negro magazine began to appear, this being issued by the A.M.E.  Church.  There were numerous autobiographies, that of Frederick Douglass, first appearing in 1845, running through edition after edition.  On the stage there was the astonishing success of Ira Aldridge, a tragedian who in his earlier years went to Europe, where he had the advantage of association with Edmund Kean.  About 1857 he was commonly regarded as one of the two or three greatest actors in the world.  He became a member of several of the continental academies of arts and science, and received many decorations of crosses and medals, the Emperors of Russia and Austria and the King of Prussia being among those who honored him.  In the great field of music there was much excellent work both in composition and in the performance on different instruments.  Among the free people of color in Louisiana there were several distinguished musicians, some of whom removed to Europe for the sake of greater freedom.[2] The highest individual achievement was that of Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, of Philadelphia.  This singer was of the very first rank.  Her voice was of remarkable sweetness and had a compass of twenty-seven notes.  She sang before many distinguished audiences in both Europe and America and was frequently compared with Jenny Lind, then at the height of her fame.

[Footnote 1:  See “George Moses Horton:  Slave Poet,” by Stephen B. Weeks, Southern Workman, October, 1914.]

[Footnote 2:  See Washington:  The Story of the Negro, II, 276-7.]

It is thus evident that honorable achievement on the part of Negroes and general advance in social welfare by no means began with the Emancipation Proclamation.  In 1860 eight-ninths of the members of the race were still slaves, but in the face of every possible handicap the one-ninth that was free had entered practically every great field of human endeavor.  Many were respected citizens in their communities, and a few had even laid the foundations of wealth.  While there was as yet no book of unquestioned genius or scholarship, there was considerable intellectual activity, and only time and a little more freedom from economic pressure were needed for the production of works of the first order of merit.



At the outbreak of the Civil War two great questions affecting the Negro overshadowed all others—­his freedom and his employment as a soldier.  The North as a whole had no special enthusiasm about the Negro and responded only to Lincoln’s call to the duty of saving the Union.  Among both officers and men moreover there was great prejudice against the use of the Negro as a soldier, the feeling being that he was disqualified by slavery and ignorance.  Privates objected to meeting black men on the same footing as themselves and also felt that the arming of slaves to fight for their former masters would increase the bitterness of the conflict.  If many men in the North felt thus, the South was furious at the thought of the Negro as a possible opponent in arms.

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