Brothers, Come North (1920)

Brothers, Come North (1920)

The migration of Negroes from South to North continues and ought to continue. The North is no paradise—as East St. Louis, Washington, Chicago, and Omaha prove; but the South is at best a system of caste and insult and at worst a Hell. With ghastly and persistent regularity, the lynching of Negroes in the South continues—every year, every month, every day; wholesale murders and riots have taken place at Norfolk, Longview, Arkansas, Knoxville, and 24 other places in a single year. The outbreaks in the North have been fiercer, but they have quickly been curbed; no attempt has been made to saddle the whole blame on Negroes; and the cities where riots have taken place are today safer and better for Negroes than ever before.

In the South, on the other hand, the outbreaks occurring daily but reveal the seething cauldron beneath—the unbending determination of the whites to subject and rule the blacks, to yield no single inch of their determination to keep Negroes as near slavery as possible.

There are, to be sure, Voices in the South—wise Voices and_ troubled Consciences; souls that see the utter futility and impossibility of the southern program of race relations in work and travel and human intercourse. But these voices are impotent. Behold, Brough of Arkansas. He was an original leader of the most nromising recent group which sought Sense and Justice in the race problem—“The University Commission on Southern Race Questions.” He said, as chairman:

As an American citizen the Negro is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the equal protection of our laws for the safeguarding of these inalienable rights. … None but the most prejudiced Negro-hater, who oftentimes goes to the extreme of denying that any black man can have a white soul, would controvert the proposition that in the administration of quasi-public utilities and courts of justice the Negro is entitled to the fair and equal protection of the law. … The meanest Negro on a southern plantation is entitled to the same consideration in the administration of justice as the proudest scion of a cultured cavalier.

Yet when he ran for Governor of Arkansas, he vehemently denied and explained away his liberal Negro sentiments,—and when the “uprising” occurred in Phillips. County, he let the slave barons make their own investigation, murder the innocent, and railroad ignorant, honest laborers to imprisonment and death in droves; contrast this with the actions of Governor Lowden of Illinois and Mayor Smith of Omaha!

On the other hand, we win through the ballot. We can vote in the North. We can hold office in the North. As workers in northern establishments, we are getting good wages, decent treatment, healthful homes and schools for our children. Can we hesitate? Come North! Not in a rush—not as aimless wanderers, but after quiet investigation and careful location. The demand for Negro labor is endless. Immigration is still cut off and a despicable and indefensible drive against all foreigners is shutting the gates of opportunity to the outcasts and victims of Europe. Very good. We will make America pay for her Injustice to us and to the poor foreigner by pouring into the open doors of mine and factory in increasing numbers.

Troubles will ensue with white unions and householders, but remember that the chief source of these troubles is rooted in the South; a million Southerners live in the North. These are the ones who by open and secret propaganda fomented trouble in these northern centers and are still at it. They have tried desperately to make trouble in Indianapolis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York City.

This is a danger, but we have learned how to meet it by unwavering self-defense and by the ballot.

Meantime, if the South really wants the Negro and wants him at his best, it can have him permanently, on these terms and no others:

  1. The right to vote.

  2. The abolition of lynching.

  3. Justice in the courts.

  4. The abolition of “Jim-Crow” cars.

  5. A complete system of education, free and compulsory.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1920. “Brothers, Come North.” The Crisis. 19(3):105–106.