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Scripto | Transcribe Page
Proceedings of the National Conference of Colored Men of the United States, Held in the State Capitol at Nashville Tennessee, May 6, 7, 8 and 9, 1879.
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At this grave juncture not a few adherents to the doctrine of emancipation felt well satisfied that if the ballot could only be given to the freedman, he would be well able to take care of himself against all odds. Accordingly the fifteenth amendment was passed, and the ballot came.
This boon was regarded as the top stone to the fabric, and a complete solving of the Negro problem.
He is henceforth expected naturally to vote right in a body for the party who conferred this boon upon him, notwithstanding his want of knowledge and his peculiar surroundings.
In the midst of this unsettled attitude, in order to encourage his aspirations and incite in him habits of economy, with a view of enabling him to buy property and to begin the world more independently, the Freedmen's Savings and Trust Company was organized. Doubtless this enterprise had its origin in the minds of men with the best intentions. And at first some men widely known for their worth and devotion to the cause of freedom were among its patrons and managers. But soon afterward unscrupulous men, under fair and insidious professions, by scheming, effected a radical change in the charter, and thus got the control out of the original hands into their own, when they had matters much as they desired them. How very sadly the freedmen had to pay for this operation is too well known.
However, in this bold undertaking the most signal fact verified was to the effect that even under very great poverty and ignorance more than 70,000 freedmen could be found ready and willing, on simple faith, to intrust their hard earnings to the amount of some $57,000,000 to the custody of this concern, under the delusion that the Government was fully obligated for every dollar of its liabilities, when, in fact, the Government was not liable for a single dollar.
In recalling the fiery trials and great hardships which the freedmen have had to undergo from without and within, my sole motive is only to intensify the fact which has unwaveringly been paramount in my mind, namely : under any circumstances, even the most favorable that could be expected, there are great suffering and very hard work for the Negro to undergo, in whatever light his condition may be regarded. But under no circumstances is his elevation to be accomplished and his rights respected, except through the medium of education.
And now I will endeavor to show how the Negro's opportunities and capacities may be made available in remedying his own ills, and in bringing deliverance, not only to himself, but in largely adding his quota toward helping to bring about peace, order and prosperity to the entire South :
1. He is about the only laborer in the South; he has been fully inured to hardships all his life ; he need apprehend no greater danger of having to compete with any other class of laborers. In a sense, therefore, he is in an attitude, with the aid of some book knowledge, to understand the value of his labor—capital. With education, when he works he will know how much he earns. Many ignorant laborers cannot tell. When he spends he will know how much he spends; an ignorant man cannot keep his account. When he buys a piece of land or undertakes to build, he will first sit down and count the cost, to see if he is able to finish; or whether some one is going to palm off upon him a bogus deed or a fraudulent agreement. When he works on shares, or deals at stores on credit until the crop is harvested, he will know how to keep his store book, and the importance of having his agreement and receipts, &c., carefully witnessed and safely preserved against the time of settlement. In thousands of instances an ignorant man is imposed upon simply because he can be imposed upon by impunity, by men who would not fancy being caught acting thus toward an intelligent one. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred this rule would be likely to hold good.
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