Life and Labors of H. W. Grady

Author: Henry Woodfin Grady  | Date: 1890

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The Negro Question (1888)


. . . THE future holds a problem, in solving which the South must stand alone; in dealing with which, she must come closer together than ambition or despair has driven her, and on the outcome of which her very existence depends. This problem is to carry within her body politic two separate races, equal in civil and political rights, and nearly equal in numbers. She must carry these races in peace; for discord means ruin. She must carry them separately; for assimilation means debasement. She must carry them in equal justice; for to this she is pledged in honor and in gratitude. She must carry them even unto the end; for in human probability she will never be quit of either. . . .

What of the negro? This of him. . . .

. . . As no race had ever lived in such unresisting bondage, none was ever hurried with such swiftness through freedom into power. Into hands still trembling from the blow that broke the shackles, was thrust the ballot. In less than twelve months from the day he walked down the furrow a slave, the negro dictated in legislative halls, from which Davis and Calhoun had gone forth, the policy of twelve commonwealths. When his late master protested against his misrule, the federal drum beat rolled around his strongholds, and from a hedge of federal bayonets he grinned in good-natured insolence. From the proven incapacity of that day has he far advanced? Simple, credulous, impulsive—easily led, and too often easily bought, is he a safer, more intelligent citizen now than then? Is this mass of votes, loosed from old restraints, inviting alliance or awaiting opportunity, less menacing than when its purpose was plain and its way direct?

My countrymen, right here the South must make a decision on which very much depends. Many wise men hold that the white vote of the

South should divide, the color line be beaten down, and the Southern States ranged on economic or moral questions as interest or belief demands. I am compelled to dissent from this view. The worst thing, in my opinion, that could happen is that the white people of the South should stand in opposing factions, with the vast mass of ignorant or purchasable negro votes between. Consider such a status. If the negroes were skilfully led, and leaders would not be lacking, it would give them the balance of power—a thing not to be considered. If their vote was not compacted, it would invite the debauching bid of factions, and drift surely to that which was the most corrupt and cunning. With the shiftless habit and irresolution of slavery days still possessing him, the negro voter will not in this generation, adrift from war issues, become a steadfast partisan through conscience or conviction. In every community there are colored men who redeem their race from this reproach, and who vote under reason. Perhaps in time the bulk of this race may thus adjust itself. But, through what long and monstrous periods of political debauchery this status would be reached, no tongue can tell.

The clear and unmistakable domination of the white race, dominating not through violence, not through party alliance, but through the integrity of its own vote and the largeness of its sympathy and justice, through which it shall compel the support of the better classes of the colored race, that is the hope and assurance of the South. . . .

One thing further should be said in perfect frankness. Up to this point we have dwelt with ignorance and corruption; but beyond this point a deeper issue confronts us. Ignorance may struggle to enlightenment; out of corruption may come the incorruptible. God speed the day when every true man will work and pray for its coming. The negro must be led to know and through sympathy to confess that his interests and the interests of the people of the South are identical. The men who coming from afar off view this subject through the cold eye of speculation or see it distorted through partisan glasses, insist that, directly or indirectly, the negro race shall be in control of the affairs of the South. We have no fears of this; already we are attaching to us the best elements of that race, and as we proceed our alliance will broaden. External pressure but irritates and impedes those who would put the negro race in supremacy, would work against infallible decree, for the white race can never submit to its domination, because the white race is the superior race. But the supremacy of the white race of the South must be maintained forever, and the domination of the negro race resisted at all points and at all hazards, because the white race is the superior race. This is the declaration of no new truth; it has abided forever in the marrow of our bones and shall run forever with the blood that feeds Anglo-Saxon hearts. . . .

. . . let us—giving the negro every right, civil and political, measured in that fulness the strong should always accord the weak—holding him in closer friendship and sympathy than he is held by those who would crucify us for his sake—realizing that on his prosperity ours depends—let us resolve that never by external pressure or internal division shall he establish domination, directly or indirectly, over that race that everywhere has maintained its supremacy. Let this resolution be cast on the lines of equity and justice. Let it be the pledge of honest, safe and impartial administration, and we shall command the support of the colored race itself, more dependent than any other on the bounty and protection of government. Let us be wise and patient, and we shall secure through its acquiescence what otherwise we should win through conflict, and hold in insecurity.

All this is no unkindness to the negro—but rather that he may be led in equal rights, and in peace to his uttermost good. . . . Then shall this problem have proved our blessing, and the race that threatened our ruin work our salvation as it fills our fields with the best peasantry the world has ever seen. . . .

Henry W. Grady, The South and her Problem, in (New York, 1890), 179–194 passim.

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Chicago: Henry Woodfin Grady, Life and Labors of H. W. Grady in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed May 23, 2022,

MLA: Grady, Henry Woodfin. Life and Labors of H. W. Grady, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 23 May. 2022.

Harvard: Grady, HW, Life and Labors of H. W. Grady. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 May 2022, from