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Proceedings of the Colored National Labor convention : held in Washington, D.C., on December 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th, 1869.
1869-WASHGINGTON DC-Colored national Labor Convention 17.pdf
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capacity, native and acquired. All over the South and among the colored people of the North, workmen in gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, brick, mortar and the arts, are found doing skillfully and at usual wages the most difficult tasks in their several departments of labor. Nor are these workmen generally engaged by white men who, superintending their work, can claim, upon any just ground, that the genius and art displayed belong to the employers. As illustrating this statement, it may be appropriately mentioned that perhaps the most accomplished gunsmith among the Americans is a black man, an ex-slave of North Carolina, who not long since received special notice from the Prince of Wales, to whom he presented a pistol of his own make, and received in return, as a token of consideration from the heir apparent of the English throne, a magnificent medal of rare value. It is perhaps true, too, that the most finished cabinet-maker and blacksmith of our country is of the same class. And it is said to be the fact that the most valuable invention given us by the South, the cotton plough, (the patentee of which formerly resided in Mississippi,) was the creature of a slave's genius.
Here, too, it may be mentioned, with no inconsiderable pride, that one of the finest landscape painters of our country, and one of the finest sculptoresses is of African descent ; the former distinguished especially as giving life and utterance from canvas to several of Milton's matchless poetical creations in the "Paradise Lost," and the other as making the spirit of the noble Andrew of Massachusetts to breathe and speak through the life-like lips and features of plaster. Individual instances of colored persons engaged in commerce as a wholesale and retail dealers in many of the larger cities of the North and South might be mentioned New Orleans, Mobile, Charleston, Savannah, Raleigh, Richmond, Nashville, Austin, Helena, Louisville, St. Louis, Leavenworth, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, several of the largest cities of New England, and the capital of the United States furnish illustrations in proof of this statement.
But it may be claimed that these are isolated and exceptional cases. Let us, therefore, consider this matter from a broader standpoint. Let us take the case of the freedmen in one of the States as presenting a fair average of their condition in this regard—and we name North Carolina. We offer to the words of the general inspector of the schools for freedmen, under the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, as especially significant in their bearing on this point. In one of his reports for 1868, in speaking of the freed people of North Carolina, he says:
"More than one-third of the entire colored population of North Carolina are mechanics. They are nearly six to one as compared with white mechanics. The census gives less than 20,000 of the latter, while there are more than 60,000 of the former. All the mechanical occupations are represented by them ; blacksmiths, gunsmiths, wheelwrights, millwrights, machinists, carpenters, cabinet makers, plasterers, painters, shipbuilders, stonemasons, and bricklayers are found among them in large numbers. There are also among them many pilots and engineers. Nor are they behind any class of workmen in the skill, taste and ability which are usually exhibited in their several trades. Of the pilots and engineers running steamboats on the different rivers of this State, many of the very best are colored men. It is said that the two most trustworthy pilots in North Carolina are freedmen ; one of whom is running a steamboat on Cape Fear river, and the other across Albermarle sound, and on the Chowan and Blackwater rivers. The former is paid $15 per month more than any other pilot on the river, because of his superior ability. The engineer on the boat run by this pilot, is also a freedman, and is said to be one of the best in the State.
"The colored mechanics, when employed, command the usual wages paid others of like calling, and are now constantly taking work upon their own responsibility, and doing it to the satisfaction of their employers. One of the most interesting sights which it was my good fortune to witness while in the State, was the building of a steamboat on Cape Fear river by a colored shipbuilder, with his gang of colored workmen."
What is thus said of the freed people of North Carolina is in greater or less degree true of the same class in the various States of the South ; for in the general degradation of labor, produced and fostered by slavery as it formerly existed, the slave was made to do all kind of work, mechanical as well as agricultural, and so became the artisan as well as field-hand of that region.
The consideration that the freedman is the field-hand, the agricultural laborer of the South, is one of no small significance, since the two great staples which distinguish
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