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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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integral factor in the race problem; but in the South, where he counts his forces by hundreds of thousands, and where he figures as conspicuously in the factory of the city as on the plantation of the country, the revolution which machinery is effecting brings this matter at once to our serious consideration. In the past, in the South, the colored mechanic not only held his own but in many places rivaled and surpassed his white brother, who either was kept down by a false public sentiment against honest toil, or pushed to the wall by a futile competition with slave labor.
'Today this public sentiment among the whites is giving away to the stern logic of want and necessity, while the colored mechanic, now his own free man, has not the moral support of the landed aristocracy which he once monopolized. Today white mechanics in the South are induced to labor by the offering of premiums and prizes. Can the colored mechanic, under these changed conditions, successfully compete with the white artisan? This is a question of the immediate future, to which a false prejudice on the part of our intelligent youth against learning trades, but slowly passing away, does not give a favorable answer. These inquiries are, therefore, both pertinent and suggestive.
"Rev. H. H. Garnett. in a lecture delivered last winter (1877-'78) before the colored people of Brooklyn, made the unwelcome statement that in the Northern cities, in the business of barbering, whitewashing, kalsomining, and catering, of which the colored people had a monopoly a generation past, they have not only not held their own but been practically pushed out of these employments in many localities. Is not the same tendency true in the South? Years ago who would have thought of the sight of a white barber, and yet he is upon us, and the white young man can be seen on the streets of our Southern cities, going to and from the tobacco-factory, where he is perfectly willing to work at what the Negro thought he alone would do.
"Can it be said that this falling off, this deficiency, is compensated by a corresponding increase in other and more honorable callings? No; for the marked absence of the colored man from the counting-room or behind the desk of the merchant is as conspicuous now as then. Certainly these additional obstacles which the Negro has to overcome advises us to seek out the policy by which the colored people can build up their industrial and artistic forces, hold their own in the lucrative employments circumstances gave them, and make for themselves places in others.
"One way of fostering the industrial and artistic element in our nature is by the establishment of industrial and training schools for the youth of both sexes, in which they can be taught various handicrafts—the boys, such as wood and metal work, carving, drawing, designing, draughting, printing, painting, and the- elements of mechanics; the girls, sewing, shirt and dress making, weaving, embroidering, designing, and wood-engraving. In this way a higher class of skilled laborers in our race will be produced than we have to-day—a class prepared to compete with the intelligent German or the ingenious French workman."
A sound policy would seem to dictate that the establishment of industrial and technical schools demands our earliest attention and our most persistent efforts. First, because in that section of country in which the majority of our people are found, and where they have been accustomed to labor in the different trades, the opportunities for learning trades in the past afforded through the self-interest of the slave-holder, do not now exist, owing to the increasing hostilities of trade unions, founded on caste. Second, because no institution exists today in the South which has ample facilities for giving that thorough and comprehensive technical instruction needed. There are institutions in which this instruction is incidental and subordinate, where a few—two or three
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