Louisiana Negro Convention, 1879 (Selections)

Citation Information:  [Concerning the Negro Exodus], Louisiana Negro Convention, 1879. From Herbert Aptheker, editor, A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States (New York, 1951), p. 714.

The committee find that the primary cause of this [exodus] lies in the absence of a republican form of government to the people of Louisiana. Crime and lawlessness existing to an extent that laughs at all restraint and the misgovernment naturally induced from a State administration, itself the product of violence, have created an absorbing and constantly increasing distrust and alarm among our people throughout the State. All rights of freemen denied and all claims to a just recompense for labor rendered, or honorable dealings between planter and laborer disallowed, justice a mockery, and the law a cheat, the very officers of the courts being themselves the mobocrats and violators of law, the only remedy left the colored citizen in many parishes of our State today is to emigrate. The fiat to go forth is irresistible. The constantly recurring, nay, ever present, fear which haunts the minds of these our people in the turbulent parishes of the State is, that slavery in the horrid form of peonage is approaching; that the avowed disposition of the men now in power is to reduce the laborer and his interest to the minimum of advantages as freemen and to absolutely none as citizens, has produced so absolute a fear that in many cases it has become a panic. It is flight from present sufferings and from the wrongs to come. The committee finds that this exodus owes its effectiveness to society organizations among plantation laborers; that it began with the persecutions and political mobs of the years 1874 and 1875, and was organized as a colonization council in August, 1874, for emigration. This organization beginning in Caddo parish, spread rapidly from parish to parish until it has permeated the State, and in sections particularly known as the cotton belt, where lawlessness and outrages upon black citizens are most frequent, the society has been most active.

Today this organization, as your committee has definitely learned, numbers on its rolls 92,800 names of men, women and children over twelve years of age, in Louisiana, Northwestern Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama; 69,000 of these are represented in the different parishes of this State. The cohesiveness of this organization in its secrecy and management being entirely committed to plantation laborers and their direct representatives, has secured its potency. The representative political leader was neither intrusted with nor informed of its existence. Year by year since 1874 the organization, as encroachment after encroachment was made on the rights of the colored people, grew and strengthened, and now when reduced to virtual peonage and the threatened deprivation of all rights as freemen and citizens is imminent, the exodus has ensued and its consequences are manifest.

Your committee, had it the power in its recommendations or councils to stem the tide of this mighty movement, would not prove so delinquent to all ties of brotherhood and to every attribute of manliness as to impede or offer a single check to so righteously just an emigration. On the contrary, we would wisely and practically aid it.

Senate Report 693, 46th Cong., 2d Sess., part 2, p. 39.