Story type: Literature
When Bertram Halliday left the institution which, in the particular part of the middle west where he was born, was called the state university, he did not believe, as young graduates are reputed to, that he had conquered the world and had only to come into his kingdom. He knew that the battle of life was, in reality, just beginning and, with a common sense unusual to his twenty-three years but born out of the exigencies of a none-too-easy life, he recognized that for him the battle would be harder than for his white comrades.
Looking at his own position, he saw himself the member of a race dragged from complacent savagery into the very heat and turmoil of a civilization for which it was in nowise prepared; bowed beneath a yoke to which its shoulders were not fitted, and then, without warning, thrust forth into a freedom as absurd as it was startling and overwhelming. And yet, he felt, as most young men must feel, an individual strength that would exempt him from the workings of the general law. His outlook on life was calm and unfrightened. Because he knew the dangers that beset his way, he feared them less. He felt assured because with so clear an eye he saw the weak places in his armor which the world he was going to meet would attack, and these he was prepared to strengthen. Was it not the fault of youth and self-confessed weakness, he thought, to go into the world always thinking of it as a foe? Was not this great Cosmopolis, this dragon of a thousand talons kind as well as cruel? Had it not friends as well as enemies? Yes. That was it: the outlook of young men, of colored young men in particular, was all wrong,–they had gone at the world in the wrong spirit. They had looked upon it as a terrible foeman and forced it to be one. He would do it, oh, so differently. He would take the world as a friend. He would even take the old, old world under his wing.
They sat in the room talking that night, he and Webb Davis and Charlie McLean. It was the last night they were to be together in so close a relation. The commencement was over. They had their sheepskins. They were pitched there on the bed very carelessly to be the important things they were,–the reward of four years digging in Greek and Mathematics.
They had stayed after the exercises of the day just where they had first stopped. This was at McLean’s rooms, dismantled and topsy-turvy with the business of packing. The pipes were going and the talk kept pace. Old men smoke slowly and in great whiffs with long intervals of silence between their observations. Young men draw fast and say many and bright things, for young men are wise,–while they are young.
“Now, it’s just like this,” Davis was saying to McLean, “Here we are, all three of us turned out into the world like a lot of little sparrows pitched out of the nest, and what are we going to do? Of course it’s easy enough for you, McLean, but what are my grave friend with the nasty black briar, and I, your humble servant, to do? In what wilderness are we to pitch our tents and where is our manna coming from?”
“Oh, well, the world owes us all a living,” said McLean.
“Hackneyed, but true. Of course it does; but every time a colored man goes around to collect, the world throws up its hands and yells ‘insolvent’–eh, Halliday?”
Halliday took his pipe from his mouth as if he were going to say something. Then he put it back without speaking and looked meditatively through the blue smoke.
“I’m right,” Davis went on, “to begin with, we colored people haven’t any show here. Now, if we could go to Central or South America, or some place like that,–but hang it all, who wants to go thousands of miles away from home to earn a little bread and butter?”
“There’s India and the young Englishmen, if I remember rightly,” said McLean.
“Oh, yes, that’s all right, with the Cabots and Drake and Sir John Franklin behind them. Their traditions, their blood, all that they know makes them willing to go ‘where there ain’t no ten commandments and a man can raise a thirst,’ but for me, home, if I can call it home.”
“Well, then, stick it out.”
“That’s easy enough to say, McLean; but ten to one you’ve got some snap picked out for you already, now ‘fess up, ain’t you?”
“Well, of course I’m going in with my father, I can’t help that, but I’ve got–“
“To be sure,” broke in Davis, “you go in with your father. Well, if all I had to do was to step right out of college into my father’s business with an assured salary, however small, I shouldn’t be falling on my own neck and weeping to-night. But that’s just the trouble with us; we haven’t got fathers before us or behind us, if you’d rather.”
“More luck to you, you’ll be a father before or behind some one else; you’ll be an ancestor.”
“It’s more profitable being a descendant, I find.”
A glow came into McLean’s face and his eyes sparkled as he replied: “Why, man, if I could, I’d change places with you. You don’t deserve your fate. What is before you? Hardships, perhaps, and long waiting. But then, you have the zest of the fight, the joy of the action and the chance of conquering. Now what is before me,–me, whom you are envying? I go out of here into a dull counting-room. The way is prepared for me. Perhaps I shall have no hardships, but neither have I the joy that comes from pains endured. Perhaps I shall have no battle, but even so, I lose the pleasure of the fight and the glory of winning. Your fate is infinitely to be preferred to mine.”
“Ah, now you talk with the voluminous voice of the centuries,” bantered Davis. “You are but echoing the breath of your Nelsons, your Cabots, your Drakes and your Franklins. Why, can’t you see, you sentimental idiot, that it’s all different and has to be different with us? The Anglo-Saxon race has been producing that fine frenzy in you for seven centuries and more. You come, with the blood of merchants, pioneers and heroes in your veins, to a normal battle. But for me, my forebears were savages two hundred years ago. My people learn to know civilization by the lowest and most degrading contact with it, and thus equipped or unequipped I tempt, an abnormal contest. Can’t you see the disproportion?”
“If I do, I can also see the advantage of it.”
“For the sake of common sense, Halliday,” said Davis, turning to his companion, “don’t sit there like a clam; open up and say something to convince this Don Quixote who, because he himself, sees only windmills, cannot be persuaded that we have real dragons to fight.”
“Do you fellows know Henley?” asked Halliday, with apparent irrelevance.
“I know him as a critic,” said McLean.
“I know him as a name,” echoed the worldly Davis, “but–“
“I mean his poems,” resumed Halliday, “he is the most virile of the present-day poets. Kipling is virile, but he gives you the man in hot blood with the brute in him to the fore; but the strong masculinity of Henley is essentially intellectual. It is the mind that is conquering always.”
“Well, now that you have settled the relative place in English letters of Kipling and Henley, might I be allowed humbly to ask what in the name of all that is good has that to do with the question before the house?”
“I don’t know your man’s poetry,” said McLean, “but I do believe that I can see what you are driving at.”
“Wonderful perspicacity, oh, youth!”
“If Webb will agree not to run, I’ll spring on you the poem that seems to me to strike the keynote of the matter in hand.”
“Oh, well, curiosity will keep me. I want to get your position, and I want to see McLean annihilated.”
In a low, even tone, but without attempt at dramatic effect, Halliday began to recite:
“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods there be
For my unconquerable soul!
“In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
“Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me unafraid.
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”
“That’s it,” exclaimed McLean, leaping to his feet, “that’s what I mean. That’s the sort of a stand for a man to take.”
Davis rose and knocked the ashes from his pipe against the window-sill. “Well, for two poetry-spouting, poetry-consuming, sentimental idiots, commend me to you fellows. Master of my fate, captain of my soul, be dashed! Old Jujube, with his bone-pointed hunting spear, began determining a couple of hundred years ago what I should be in this year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety-four. J. Webb Davis, senior, added another brick to this structure, when he was picking cotton on his master’s plantation forty years ago.”
“And now,” said Halliday, also rising, “don’t you think it fair that you should start out with the idea of adding a few bricks of your own, and all of a better make than those of your remote ancestor, Jujube, or that nearer one, your father?”
“Spoken like a man,” said McLean.
“Oh, you two are so hopelessly young,” laughed Davis.
After the two weeks’ rest which he thought he needed, and consequently promised himself, Halliday began to look about him for some means of making a start for that success in life which he felt so sure of winning.
With this end in view he returned to the town where he was born. He had settled upon the law as a profession, and had studied it for a year or two while at college. He would go back to Broughton now to pursue his studies, but of course, he needed money. No difficulty, however, presented itself in the getting of this for he knew several fellows who had been able to go into offices, and by collecting and similar duties make something while they studied. Webb Davis would have said, “but they were white,” but Halliday knew what his own reply would have been: “What a white man can do, I can do.”
Even if he could not go to studying at once, he could go to work and save enough money to go on with his course in a year or two. He had lots of time before him, and he only needed a little start. What better place then, to go to than Broughton, where he had first seen the light? Broughton, that had known him, boy and man. Broughton that had watched him through the common school and the high school, and had seen him go off to college with some pride and a good deal of curiosity. For even in middle west towns of such a size, that is, between seventy and eighty thousand souls, a “smart negro” was still a freak.
So Halliday went back home because the people knew him there and would respect his struggles and encourage his ambitions.
He had been home two days, and the old town had begun to take on its remembered aspect as he wandered through the streets and along the river banks. On this second day he was going up Main street deep in a brown study when he heard his name called by a young man who was approaching him, and saw an outstretched hand.
“Why, how de do, Bert, how are you? Glad to see you back. I hear you have been astonishing them up at college.”
Halliday’s reverie had been so suddenly broken into that for a moment, the young fellow’s identity wavered elusively before his mind and then it materialized, and his consciousness took hold of it. He remembered him, not as an intimate, but as an acquaintance whom he had often met upon the football and baseball fields.
“How do you do? It’s Bob Dickson,” he said, shaking the proffered hand, which at the mention of the name, had grown unaccountably cold in his grasp.
“Yes, I’m Mr. Dickson,” said the young man, patronizingly. “You seem to have developed wonderfully, you hardly seem like the same Bert Halliday I used to know.”
“Yes, but I’m the same Mr. Halliday.”
“Oh–ah–yes,” said the young man, “well, I’m glad to have seen you. Ah–good-bye, Bert.”
“Presumptuous darky!” murmured Mr. Dickson.
“Insolent puppy!” said Mr. Halliday to himself.
But the incident made no impression on his mind as bearing upon his status in the public eye. He only thought the fellow a cad, and went hopefully on. He was rather amused than otherwise. In this frame of mind, he turned into one of the large office-buildings that lined the street and made his way to a business suite over whose door was the inscription, “H.G. Featherton, Counsellor and Attorney-at-Law.” Mr. Featherton had shown considerable interest in Bert in his school days, and he hoped much from him.
As he entered the public office, a man sitting at the large desk in the centre of the room turned and faced him. He was a fair man of an indeterminate age, for you could not tell whether those were streaks of grey shining in his light hair, or only the glint which it took on in the sun. His face was dry, lean and intellectual. He smiled now and then, and his smile was like a flash of winter lightning, so cold and quick it was. It went as suddenly as it came, leaving the face as marbly cold and impassive as ever. He rose and extended his hand, “Why–why–ah–Bert, how de do, how are you?”
“Very well, I thank you, Mr. Featherton.”
“Hum, I’m glad to see you back, sit down. Going to stay with us, you think?”
“I’m not sure, Mr. Featherton; it all depends upon my getting something to do.”
“You want to go to work, do you? Hum, well, that’s right. It’s work makes the man. What do you propose to do, now since you’ve graduated?”
Bert warmed at the evident interest of his old friend. “Well, in the first place, Mr. Featherton,” he replied, “I must get to work and make some money. I have heard of fellows studying and supporting themselves at the same time, but I musn’t expect too much. I’m going to study law.”
The attorney had schooled his face into hiding any emotion he might feel, and it did not betray him now. He only flashed one of his quick cold smiles and asked,
“Don’t you think you’ve taken rather a hard profession to get on in?”
“No doubt. But anything I should take would be hard. It’s just like this, Mr. Featherton,” he went on, “I am willing to work and to work hard, and I am not looking for any snap.”
Mr. Featherton was so unresponsive to this outburst that Bert was ashamed of it the minute it left his lips. He wished this man would not be so cold and polite and he wished he would stop putting the ends of his white fingers together as carefully as if something depended upon it.
“I say the law is a hard profession to get on in, and as a friend I say that it will be harder for you. Your people have not the money to spend in litigation of any kind.”
“I should not cater for the patronage of my own people alone.”
“Yes, but the time has not come when a white person will employ a colored attorney.”
“Do you mean to say that the prejudice here at home is such that if I were as competent as a white lawyer a white person would not employ me?”
“I say nothing about prejudice at all. It’s nature. They have their own lawyers; why should they go outside of their own to employ a colored man?”
“But I am of their own. I am an American citizen, there should be no thought of color about it.”
“Oh, my boy, that theory is very nice, but State University democracy doesn’t obtain in real life.”
“More’s the pity, then, for real life.”
“Perhaps, but we must take things as we find them, not as we think they ought to be. You people are having and will have for the next ten or a dozen years the hardest fight of your lives. The sentiment of remorse and the desire for atoning which actuated so many white men to help negroes right after the war has passed off without being replaced by that sense of plain justice which gives a black man his due, not because of, nor in spite of, but without consideration of his color.”
“I wonder if it can be true, as my friend Davis says, that a colored man must do twice as much and twice as well as a white man before he can hope for even equal chances with him? That white mediocrity demands black genius to cope with it?”
“I am afraid your friend has philosophized the situation about right.”
“Well, we have dealt in generalities,” said Bert, smiling, “let us take up the particular and personal part of this matter. Is there any way you could help me to a situation?”
“Well,–I should be glad to see you get on, Bert, but as you see, I have nothing in my office that you could do. Now, if you don’t mind beginning at the bottom–“
“That’s just what I expected to do.”
“–Why I could speak to the head-waiter of the hotel where I stay. He’s a very nice colored man and I have some influence with him. No doubt Charlie could give you a place.”
“But that’s a work I abhor.”
“Yes, but you must begin at the bottom, you know. All young men must.”
“To be sure, but would you have recommended the same thing to your nephew on his leaving college?”
“Yes,” said Halliday, rising, “it is different. There’s a different bottom at which black and white young men should begin, and by a logical sequence, a different top to which they should aspire. However, Mr. Featherton, I’ll ask you to hold your offer in abeyance. If I can find nothing else, I’ll ask you to speak to the head-waiter. Good-morning.”
“I’ll do so with pleasure,” said Mr. Featherton, “and good-morning.”
As the young man went up the street, an announcement card in the window of a publishing house caught his eye. It was the announcement of the next Sunday’s number in a series of addresses which the local business men were giving before the Y.M.C.A. It read, “‘How a Christian young man can get on in the law’–an address by a Christian lawyer–H.G. Featherton.”
Bert laughed. “I should like to hear that address,” he said. “I wonder if he’ll recommend them to his head-waiter. No, ‘that’s different.’ All the addresses and all the books written on how to get on, are written for white men. We blacks must solve the question for ourselves.”
He had lost some of the ardor with which he had started out but he was still full of hope. He refused to accept Mr. Featherton’s point of view as general or final. So he hailed a passing car that in the course of a half hour set him down at the door of the great factory which, with its improvements, its army of clerks and employees, had built up one whole section of the town. He felt especially hopeful in attacking this citadel, because they were constantly advertising for clerks and their placards plainly stated that preference would be given to graduates of the local high school. The owners were philanthropists in their way. Well, what better chance could there be before him? He had graduated there and stood well in his classes, and besides, he knew that a number of his classmates were holding good positions in the factory. So his voice was cheerful as he asked to see Mr. Stockard, who had charge of the clerical department.
Mr. Stockard was a fat, wheezy young man, with a reputation for humor based entirely upon his size and his rubicund face, for he had really never said anything humorous in his life. He came panting into the room now with a “Well, what can I do for you?”
“I wanted to see you about a situation”–began Halliday.
“Oh, no, no, you don’t want to see me,” broke in Stockard, “you want to see the head janitor.”
“But I don’t want to see the head janitor. I want to see the head of the clerical department.”
“You want to see the head of the clerical department!”
“Yes, sir, I see you are advertising for clerks with preference given to the high school boys. Well, I am an old high school boy, but have been away for a few years at college.”
Mr. Stockard opened his eyes to their widest extent, and his jaw dropped. Evidently he had never come across such presumption before.
“We have nothing for you,” he wheezed after awhile.
“Very well, I should be glad to drop in again and see you,” said Halliday, moving to the door. “I hope you will remember me if anything opens.”
Mr. Stockard did not reply to this or to Bert’s good-bye. He stood in the middle of the floor and stared at the door through which the colored man had gone, then he dropped into a chair with a gasp.
“Well, I’m dumbed!” he said.
A doubt had begun to arise in Bertram Halliday’s mind that turned him cold and then hot with a burning indignation. He could try nothing more that morning. It had brought him nothing but rebuffs. He hastened home and threw himself down on the sofa to try and think out his situation.
“Do they still require of us bricks without straw? I thought all that was over. Well, I suspect that I will have to ask Mr. Featherton to speak to his head-waiter in my behalf. I wonder if the head-waiter will demand my diploma. Webb Davis, you were nearer right than I thought.”
He spent the day in the house thinking and planning.
Halliday was not a man to be discouraged easily, and for the next few weeks he kept up an unflagging search for work. He found that there were more Feathertons and Stockards than he had ever looked to find. Everywhere that he turned his face, anything but the most menial work was denied him. He thought once of going away from Broughton, but would he find it any better anywhere else, he asked himself? He determined to stay and fight it out there for two reasons. First, because he held that it would be cowardice to run away, and secondly, because he felt that he was not fighting a local disease, but was bringing the force of his life to bear upon a national evil. Broughton was as good a place to begin curative measures as elsewhere.
There was one refuge which was open to him, and which he fought against with all his might. For years now, from as far back as he could remember, the colored graduates had “gone South to teach.” This course was now recommended to him. Indeed, his own family quite approved of it, and when he still stood out against the scheme, people began to say that Bertram Halliday did not want work; he wanted to be a gentleman.
But Halliday knew that the South had plenty of material, and year by year was raising and training her own teachers. He knew that the time would come, if it were not present when it would be impossible to go South to teach, and he felt it to be essential that the North should be trained in a manner looking to the employment of her own negroes. So he stayed. But he was only human, and when the tide of talk anent his indolence began to ebb and flow about him, he availed himself of the only expedient that could arrest it.
When he went back to the great factory where he had seen and talked with Mr. Stockard, he went around to another door and this time asked for the head janitor. This individual, a genial Irishman, took stock of Halliday at a glance.
“But what do ye want to be doin’ sich wurruk for, whin ye’ve been through school?” he asked.
“I am doing the only thing I can get to do,” was the answer.
“Well,” said the Irishman, “ye’ve got sinse, anyhow.”
Bert found himself employed as an under janitor at the factory at a wage of nine dollars a week. At this, he could pay his share to keep the house going, and save a little for the period of study he still looked forward to. The people who had accused him of laziness now made a martyr of him, and said what a pity it was for a man with such an education and with so much talent to be so employed menially.
He did not neglect his studies, but read at night, whenever the day’s work had not made both brain and body too weary for the task.
In this way his life went along for over a year when one morning a note from Mr. Featherton summoned him to that gentleman’s office. It is true that Halliday read the note with some trepidation. His bitter experience had not yet taught him how not to dream. He was not yet old enough for that. “Maybe,” he thought, “Mr. Featherton has relented, and is going to give me a chance anyway. Or perhaps he wanted me to prove my metal before he consented to take me up. Well, I’ve tried to do it, and if that’s what he wanted, I hope he’s satisfied.” The note which seemed written all over with joyful tidings shook in his hand.
The genial manner with which Mr. Featherton met him reaffirmed in his mind the belief that at last the lawyer had determined to give him a chance. He was almost deferential as he asked Bert into his private office, and shoved a chair forward for him.
“Well, you’ve been getting on, I see,” he began.
“Oh, yes,” replied Bert, “I have been getting on by hook and crook.”
“Hum, done any studying lately?”
“Yes, but not as much as I wish to. Coke and Wharton aren’t any clearer to a head grown dizzy with bending over mops, brooms and heavy trucks all day.”
“No, I should think not. Ah–oh–well, Bert, how should you like to come into my office and help around, do such errands as I need and help copy my papers?”
“I should be delighted.”
“It would only pay you five dollars a week, less than what you are getting now, I suppose, but it will be more genteel.”
“Oh, now, that I have had to do it, I don’t care so much about the lack of gentility of my present work, but I prefer what you offer because I shall have a greater chance to study.”
“Well, then, you may as well come in on Monday. The office will be often in your charge, as I am going to be away a great deal in the next few months. You know I am going to make the fight for nomination to the seat on the bench which is vacant this fall.”
“Indeed. I have not so far taken much interest in politics, but I will do all in my power to help you with both nomination and election.”
“Thank you,” said Mr. Featherton, “I am sure you can be of great service to me as the vote of your people is pretty heavy in Broughton. I have always been a friend to them, and I believe I can depend upon their support. I shall be glad of any good you can do me with them.”
Bert laughed when he was out on the street again. “For value received,” he said. He thought less of Mr. Featherton’s generosity since he saw it was actuated by self-interest alone, but that in no wise destroyed the real worth of the opportunity that was now given into his hands. Featherton, he believed, would make an excellent judge, and he was glad that in working for his nomination his convictions so aptly fell in with his inclinations.
His work at the factory had put him in touch with a larger number of his people than he could have possibly met had he gone into the office at once. Over them, his naturally bright mind exerted some influence. As a simple laborer he had fellowshipped with them but they acknowledged and availed themselves of his leadership, because they felt instinctively in him a power which they did not have. Among them now he worked sedulously. He held that the greater part of the battle would be in the primaries, and on the night when they convened, he had his friends out in force in every ward which went to make up the third judicial district. Men who had never seen the inside of a primary meeting before were there actively engaged in this.
The Diurnal said next morning that the active interest of the hard-working, church-going colored voters, who wanted to see a Christian judge on the bench had had much to do with the nomination of Mr. Featherton.
The success at the primaries did not tempt Halliday to relinquish his efforts on his employer’s behalf. He was indefatigable in his cause. On the west side where the colored population had largely colonized, he made speeches and held meetings clear up to election day. The fight had been between two factions of the party and after the nomination it was feared that the defection of the part defeated in the primaries might prevent the ratification of the nominee at the polls. But before the contest was half over all fears for him were laid. What he had lost in the districts where the skulking faction was strong, he made up in the wards where the colored vote was large. He was overwhelmingly elected.
Halliday smiled as he sat in the office and heard the congratulations poured in upon Judge Featherton.
“Well, it’s wonderful,” said one of his visitors, “how the colored boys stood by you.”
“Yes, I have been a friend to the colored people, and they know it,” said Featherton.
It would be some months before His Honor would take his seat on the bench, and during that time, Halliday hoped to finish his office course.
He was surprised when Featherton came to him a couple of weeks after the election and said, “Well, Bert, I guess I can get along now. I’ll be shutting up this office pretty soon. Here are your wages and here is a little gift I wish to add out of respect to you for your kindness during my run for office.”
Bert took the wages, but the added ten dollar note he waved aside. “No, I thank you, Mr. Featherton,” he said, “what I did, I did from a belief in your fitness for the place, and out of loyalty to my employer. I don’t want any money for it.”
“Then let us say that I have raised your wages to this amount.”
“No, that would only be evasion. I want no more than you promised to give me.”
“Very well, then accept my thanks, anyway.”
What things he had at the office Halliday took away that night. A couple of days later he remembered a book which he had failed to get and returned for it. The office was as usual. Mr. Featherton was a little embarrassed and nervous. At Halliday’s desk sat a young white man about his own age. He was copying a deed for Mr. Featherton.
Bertram Halliday went home, burning with indignation at the treatment he had received at the hands of the Christian judge.
“He has used me as a housemaid would use a lemon,” he said, “squeezed all out of me he could get, and then flung me into the street. Well, Webb was nearer right than I thought.”
He was now out of everything. His place at the factory had been filled, and no new door opened to him. He knew what reward a search for work brought a man of his color in Broughton so he did not bestir himself to go over the old track again. He thanked his stars that he, at least, had money enough to carry him away from the place and he determined to go. His spirit was quelled, but not broken.
Just before leaving, he wrote to Davis.
“My dear Webb!” the letter ran, “you, after all, were right. We have little or no show in the fight for life among these people. I have struggled for two years here at Broughton, and now find myself back where I was when I first stepped out of school with a foolish faith in being equipped for something. One thing, my eyes have been opened anyway, and I no longer judge so harshly the shiftless and unambitious among my people. I hardly see how a people, who have so much to contend with and so little to hope for, can go on striving and aspiring. But the very fact that they do, breeds in me a respect for them. I now see why so many promising young men, class orators, valedictorians and the like fall by the wayside and are never heard from after commencement day. I now see why the sleeping and dining-car companies are supplied by men with better educations than half the passengers whom they serve. They get tired of swimming always against the tide, as who would not? and are content to drift.
“I know that a good many of my friends would say that I am whining. Well, suppose I am, that’s the business of a whipped cur. The dog on top can bark, but the under dog must howl.
“Nothing so breaks a man’s spirit as defeat, constant, unaltering, hopeless defeat. That’s what I’ve experienced. I am still studying law in a half-hearted way for I don’t know what I am going to do with it when I have been admitted. Diplomas don’t draw clients. We have been taught that merit wins. But I have learned that the adages, as well as the books and the formulas were made by and for others than us of the black race.
“They say, too, that our brother Americans sympathize with us, and will help us when we help ourselves. Bah! The only sympathy that I have ever seen on the part of the white man was not for the negro himself, but for some portion of white blood that the colored man had got tangled up in his veins.
“But there, perhaps my disappointment has made me sour, so think no more of what I have said. I am going now to do what I abhor. Going South to try to find a school. It’s awful. But I don’t want any one to pity me. There are several thousands of us in the same position.
“I am glad you are prospering. You were better equipped than I was with a deal of materialism and a dearth of ideals. Give us a line when you are in good heart.
“P.S.–Just as I finished writing I had a note from Judge Featherton offering me the court messengership at five dollars a week. I am twenty-five. The place was held before by a white boy of fifteen. I declined. ‘Southward Ho!’”
Davis was not without sympathy as he read his friend’s letter in a city some distance away. He had worked in a hotel, saved money enough to start a barber-shop and was prospering. His white customers joked with him and patted him on the back, and he was already known to have political influence. Yes, he sympathized with Bert, but he laughed over the letter and jingled the coins in his pockets.
“Thank heaven,” he said, “that I have no ideals to be knocked into a cocked hat. A colored man has no business with ideals–not in this nineteenth century!”