The Growing Discontent among the Negroes Its Probable Results What Has Caused It

September 14, 1866


Pointing fearfully to many examples of increased black agency across the state, the control that whites once had over blacks is in question. Diminished in part by the conventions of Philadelphia and the suggestions of greater equality, the fear of many southern whites as to their place in society is reflected.


The Growing Discontent among the Negroes Its Probable Results What has Caused It, Petersburg, September 13, 1866 The frequent disturbances which have recently taken place among us, between the whites and blacks, are ominous of evil. I have once or twice had occasion to speak of the good feeling which characterized their relations towards each other, but several interruptions have occurred; and it is to be feared that the negroes are encouraging a spirit which may lead to trouble. They band together to attack a white man engaged in his lawful business; they molest parties after night on the public streets; they go armed, and discharge their pieces, against all law, within the limits of the corporation; and even offer violent resistance to the police when an attempt is made to arrest them for infractions of the peace. A marked change has certainly taken place in their deportment; but whether it extends to the mass or is confined to the idle and vicious--a large class of themselves--it is difficult to say. What has produced this hostile and lawless feeling is perhaps a matter of speculation. When it is considered, however, that they are far from being ignorant of the progress of events, but are, on the contrary, more observant than ever, a plausible solution may be offered. The late "loyal" Convention in Philadelphia, which was gotten up tor the purpose of enfranchising the negro and dispossessing the white man of his rights and privileges, is calculated more than anything which has happened since the war to produce distrust, disaffection, and alienation between the two races. A seed has been sown which is destined to produce fruit of extreme bitterness, unless its growth should be nipped by a wise policy. It is even doubtful whether anything now can retard its development. It is an easy matter to excite baneful influences in the minds of an ignorant and impulsive population, but extremely difficult to allay them. Weeds grow luxuriantly, while cultivated plants require constant nurture. We may rest assured that the violent harangues of such disorganizers as Stevens,1 Brownlow, Hamilton, and others, will have a deep effect on these people; nor will it be long before being abundantly manifest. Strengthened by a great party movement, a few designing men like Hunnicutt and Wardwell in Richmond will be able to poison a whole community. Whether there are any such characters here, I am unable to say; but the immense gatherings every week at the African churches, and the fact that political parsons are in the ascendant, are of unfavorable augury. As an inevitable consequence of these continued agitations, we may expect to see the labor of the South, so far as the negro element is concerned, become more and more unsettled, until it will be almost worthless. For a few years, old habits of subordination may prevail more or less in the rural districts, but they will gradually yield to a spirit of idleness and self-sufficiency, ending beyond doubt in direct antagonism. The future of the African race in this country cannot be contemplated without a shudder. As the weaker party, they can never sustain themselves in their new condition. In the contingency which has happened, it was predicted thirty years ago by Tocqueville--the most philosophic of observers--that the race would become extinct. With the exception of several instances of the kind alluded to in the commencement of this letter, nothing has occurred worthy of special notice for several days. Snowden.
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Nat Berry




“The Growing Discontent among the Negroes Its Probable Results What Has Caused It,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed June 1, 2023,