Waste of Population

January 18, 1867


After the Northerners helped the black population of the south, they did not expect the sudden influx of disappointed African Americans to the North looking for more help. "Waste" comes from the Southerners mad that the workforce is leaving and being "wasted" by the north.


Our northern brethren, who undertook to make the southern negroes happy, are beginning to affect surprise and disappointment that their patients arc not happy yet. In the first place, theirs is already a most startling decrease in their numbers. In nearly every southern State the negro population is melting off somehow, disappearing rapidly in some direction or other. This is a very serious fact for all the parties concerned ; for the negroes themselves, who throve and multiplied and replenished the earth until the hour when philanthropy fairly got hold of them-for the employers of labor-and, indeed, for the whole community of these States, who lose so many valuable hands-and Tor the people of the North who won insist upon turning them loose. Naturally, these latter do not like to admit the whole extent of the havoc which is unhappily thinning off the population which they undertook to elevate in the scale of humanity; and it is in vain that we look for any trustworthy statistics on the subject coming from that quarter. General Howard, of the Freedmen's Bureau, in a late letter to Secretary Stanton, estimates (that is, conjectures,) the decrease, doubtless according to the best information which he has been able to procure ; but his estimates are a long way below the mark. For example, he supposes the diminution of colored people in Virginia to be 49,000, in Georgia 66,000, in South Carolina 37,000, and so on. Now, on Monday last we published an estimate, founded upon the returns of the commissioners of the revenue, showing a loss of 190,000 in the numbers of blacks in Virginia alone from 1860 until the 1st of February, 1865-a year ago. At the same rate of decrease, if it has continued since that date (and we fear the rate has been larger), there cannot now be much over 300,000 in Virginia, against 531,000 in tho year 1860. If General Howard's conjectures as to the other States err in a like proportion, as we suppose they do, tho true account of the matter would be truly appalling. If the northern people, on dissolving the old connection between the two races, had been content to let them both alone, so that they might adapt themselves to the now order of things as they best could, those who best know the South know that the now relation would have established itself amicably and smoothly in the great majority of cases; and the great suffering and waste of human life would have been spared. But this would not suit the political views of tho dominant faction; it was necessary that they should represent the southern planters as filled with vindictive animosity against their emancipated servants, and malignantly resolved to do them no justice in contracts; this gave the needful pretext for occupying the country with troops, and giving to officers the power of coming between the freedmen and those who needed their labor ; a pretext, also, for representing the southern country as still in a state of dangerous disturbance, thus giving Congress occasion for exceptional and unconstitutional interference- for keeping up " the war," in short, during profound peace, until those who controlled tho Government should reap what they call "the fruits of the war." They have been bitter fruits for the negro. He has been tho first and heaviest sufferer by this meddling philanthropy. We read of a perfect exodus of colored people now moving off from every district of South Carolina. The Tribune, which does not reveal these ugly facts when it can help it, mentions that "they are collected in camps along the line of the " railroad waiting for trains which are to "bear them away." It appears that these people are bound for Florida, the Government finding them transportation, and giving them six months' rations. The negroes of South Carolina wore made the special object of the experiments of the Government since the war ended; and we see the result. The correspondent of the Tribune thus accounts for the migration : "The contract system of the past "year was productive of every species of "fraud, injustice, and wrong; and after a "year of toil and endurance, the freedman "found himself at its close without money, "provisions, blankets, or shoes, and with, "out a home." Of course the writer charges all theses frauds and wrongs upon the wicked planters-for that is his cuebut whatever be the cause, the result is sad. A year or two of " freedom," with Government spoon-feeding, and all the zeal of the Bureau gentlemen, leaves such multitudes of negroes homeless and naked that they fly, in their misery, so fast and multitudinously that largo districts of that State are threatened with a total deprivation of labor. Those who can believe that the planters and farmers, who have need of that labor, are the persons who thus drive the poor people to despair, must be the same who hold that the war is still raging in South Carolina, and will rage until Mr. Stevens and his friends have reaped all the fruits of it. In the same number of the Tribune we find an editorial appeal on behalf of many thousands of negroes now in the District of Columbia who "remain on hand," says the Tribune, "and have greatly overstock. " ed the local market for such labor as " they can perform. Hence, idleness, pri- " vation, suffering; hence, in some cases, " thriftlessness, demoralization, and crime." Just so. What else could be expected--especially when Congress tempts negroes to the District by making it a model republic of black and white? Suffrages they have, but not work and bread; and the desirable point seems to be to get rid of them somehow. Employers of labor are there, fore earnestly conjured to come into Washington and take some of them away, to relieve the pressure of starving and loafing citizens of the District. But employers are cautions, and do not come. Such is the general condition of the Mack race on or about the second anniversary of its glorious emancipation.
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Walker Black




“Waste of Population,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed May 17, 2022, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/500.