Testimony of John H. Johnson regarding the Negro Exodus

Citation Information:  “Testimony of John H. Johnson regarding the Negro Exodus.” From Herbert Aptheker, editor, A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States (New York, 1951), p. 722.

John H. Johnson was a 34 year old Negro attorney of St. Louis who was Secretary of the Colored Refugee Board of that city.

Question: What did the Negroes give as their reasons for migrating?

John H. Johnson: They stated that they had no security for life, limb, or property; that they worked year in and year out, and, notwithstanding they raised good crops, they were at the end of the year in debt; that they were charged exorbitant prices for provisions, and all these things kept them down and in debt. The high prices charged them for lands and the denial of their rights as citizens induced them to leave and seek a genial spot where they could have an opportunity to build up themselves and their families. Some of them stated that they had been on plantations alongside of theirs where men were shot down for political purposes, and the women stated all the impositions practiced on colored women in the South … . We tried to get some of them to return, and consulted with them on the subject, and they said they would rather go into the open prairie and starve there than go to the South to stand the impositions that were put on them down there … . If they were treated as human beings, to say nothing of their citizenship they would remain. The South is the home of the colored man … He has improved that part of the country, and done more to advance the material interests of the South than any other race or nation can do … If he had his rights under the Constitution he would remain. If he were allowed the opportunity of purchasing a homestead in the South he would remain. If he were encouraged in his efforts to get along he would remain.

Senate Report 693, 46th Cong., 2nd Sess., part 2, pp. 290-94.