December 6, 2020
Dear Ms. Lunelle,
Herein lies the continuation of the letter sent by the Honorable Rev. R.L. Dabney to General Howard, head of the Freedmen’s bureau, marked part 2 of 4 continued.
To Major General Howard
Chief of the Freedmen’s Bureau, Washington
But more definitely, I wish to remind you that there is a minimum limit, which the circumstances of the case forbid you to touch. Common sense, common justice says: that the very least you can do for the African must be more than the South has accomplished, from whose tutelage they have been taken. To this measure, at least, if not to some higher, your country, posterity, fame, and the righteous heavens, will rigidly hold you.
The reason is almost too plain to be explained. If a change procured for the Africans at such a cost brings them no actual benefit, then the cost is uncompensated, and the expenditure of human weal which has been made was a blunder and a crime. Thus it becomes manifest that the measure for the task which you have before you, is the work which the South accomplished for the negro while he was a slave.
The question, how much was this, is a vital one for you; it gives you your starting point from which you must advance in your career of progressive philanthropy. Listen then. First, for the physical welfare of the negro, the South has done something. A rapid increase of population and longevity are a safe index of the prosperous and sane condition of the bodies of a people. The South has so provided for the wants of the negro that his numbers have doubled themselves as rapidly as those of the whites, with no accessions by immigration.
The census returns show that the South so cared for him that the percentage of congenital defects and disease, these unfailing revealers of a depressed physical condition, idiocy, blindness, deafness, dumbness, hereditary scrofula, and such like ills, was as small as among the most prosperous Northern states.
The South gave to her Negro men, on an average, a half-pound of bacon and three pounds of breadstuffs per day, besides his share in the products of his masters garden, dairy and orchard; and to the women and children at a rate equally liberal. If, in some neighborhoods, the supply was less bountiful than the above, there was a hundred fold more in which it was even more abundant.
The South gave to every negro, great and small, a pair of shoes every winter, and to the laboring men an additional pair at harvest. She clothed them all with a substantial suit of woolens every winter, an additional suit of cotton or flax each summer, and two shirts and two pairs of socks per year, while the adult drew their hat and blanket each.
She furnished each negro family with a separate cottage or cabin and, during the severe weather, with about one third of a cord of wood per day, to keep up those liberal fires on which his health and life so much depend. She provided, universally, such relief for his sickness that every case of serious disease was attended by a physician with nearly the same promptitude and frequency as the case of the planters’ own wives and daughters; and in all, the land never was a negro fastened to his bed by illness, but he received the personal, sympathizing visits of some intelligent white person besides; master, mistress, or their agent, who never went to his couch empty handed.
His dead universally received decent and Christian burial, where the bereaved survivors were soothed by the offices of Christianity. The South so shielded the negro against destitution that from the Potomac to the Gulf, not one negro pauper was ever seen, unless he were free, and not one African poorhouse existed or was needed. Her system secured for every slave, male or female, a legal claim upon the whole property, income, and personal labor of his master, for a comfortable maintenance during any season of infirmity brought upon him by old age, the visitation of God, or his own imprudence, however protracted that season might be: a claim so sure and definite that it could be pursued by an action at law upon the slave’s behalf; a claim so universally enforced and acquiesced in, that its neglect, or death, of a helpless slave through destitution, was as completely unknown among us as cannibalism.
The South met that claim, which the free laboring men of other lands have so often had sorrowful occasion to argue, amid pallid famine, and with the fearful logic of insurrections and bloodshed, the claim of “the right to labor,” and has met it so successfully that she has secured to every African slave capable of labor, without even one exception among all her millions, remunerative occupation, at all times, and amid all financial convulsions and depressions of business.
That is, she has found at all times such occupation for all of them has procured for them, without excessive toil, a decent maintenance during their active years, an adequate and unfailing provision for old age, a portion for their widows, and a rearing of their children. The South has so far performed these duties to the bodies of the Africans that no community of them have ever, in a single instance, amid any war, or blight, or drought, or dearth, felt the tooth of famine on its vitals, or so much as the wolf, destitution, at its doors.
For the culture of the negro’s mind and character, the South has done something. She has not, indeed, fallen into the hallucination that the only processes of education are those summed up in the arts of reading and writing — facts which were not prevalent among those literary dictators of the ancient world, the compatriots of Pericles and Plato — nor has she deemed it a likely mode to communicate these useful arts to the ebony youth, to gather three hundred of them into one pandemonium, under a single overtasked “school-marm” or bald-pated negro, and dub the seething cauldron of noise, confusion and negro-gen gas, “a primary school.”
But thousands and tens of thousands has she taught to read (and offered the art to ten fold more, who declined it from their own indolence), through the gentle and faithful agency of cultivated young masters and mistresses, a process prohibited, I boldly assert, quicunque vult by no law upon the statute book of my State, at least.
But this tuition, extensive as it has been, is the merest atom and mite, in the extensive culture which she has given to the African race. She received them at the hands of British and Yankee slave traders, besotted in their primeval jungles, for the spontaneous fruits of which they lived in common. She taught the whole of them some rudiments of civilization. She taught them all the English language, a gift which, had they been introduced into the Northern States as free men, in numbers so large, they would not have received in three centuries.
She taught all of them some arts of useful labor, and as large a portion of them as any other peasantry learned the mechanical arts. With the comparatively small exception of the negroes upon large estates, belonging to non-resident owners, the South has placed every negro boy and girl, during his or her growth, under the forming influence of white men and ladies, by who they have been taught some little tinctures of the cleanliness, the decencies, the chastity, the truthfulness, the self-respect, so utterly alien to their former savage condition, and a share of courtesy and good breeding which would not disgrace any civilized people.
Rev. Robert Lewis Dabney
God bless you!
Chairman, Board of Advisors Emeritus, Southern Legal Resource Center
Life Member, Save Southern Heritage Florida
Honorary Life Member, Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans
Honorary Life Member, Kentucky Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans
Honorary Life Member, James M. Keller Camp 648, Sons of Confederate Veterans
Honorary Life Member, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia Orders of the Confederate Rose
Recipient, United Daughters of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis Medal
President, Save Southern Heritage 411