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THE NEGRO PROBLEM

 

By Frederick Douglass

August 1886

Allow me to say that what is called the “Negro problem” seems to me a misnomer. The real problem which this nation has to solve, and the solution of which it will have to answer for in history, were better described as the white man’s problem. Here, as elsewhere, the greater includes the less. What is called the “Negro problem” is swallowed up by the Caucasian problem. The question is whether the white man can ever be elevated to that plane of justice, humanity, and Christian civilization which will permit Negroes, Indians and Chinamen, and other darker colored races to enjoy an equal chance in the race of life.

It is not so much whether these races can be made Christians as whether white people can be made Christians. The Negro is few, the white man is many. The Negro is weak, the white man is strong. In the problem of the Negro’s future, the white man is therefore the chief factor. He is the potter; the Negro is the clay. It is for him to say whether the Negroes become a well rounded, symmetrical man, or be cramped, deformed and dwarfed. A plant deprived of warmth, moisture and sunlight cannot live and grow. And a people deprived of the means of an honest livelihood, must wither and die. All I ask for the Negro is fair play. Give him this, and I have no fear for his future. The great mass of colored people in this country are now, and must continue to be, in the South; and there, if anywhere, they must survive or perish.

            It is idle to suppose these people can make any large degree of progress in morals, religion and material conditions, while their persons are unprotected, their rights unsecured, their labor defrauded, and they are kept only a little beyond the starving point.

            Of course, I rejoice that efforts are being made by benevolent and Christian people in the North in the interest of religion and education; but I cannot conceal from myself that much of this must seem a mockery and a delusion to the colored people there, while they are left at the mercy of anarchy and lawless violence. It is something to give the Negro religion (he could have that in time of slavery); it is more to give him justice. It is something to give him the Bible; it is more to give him the ballot. It is something to tell him that there is a place for him in the Christian’s heaven. It is more to allow him a peaceful dwelling place in this Christian country.

 

 

 

 

 

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