‘There’s a Dark Man Comin': Readex Introduces "African Americans and Jim Crow: Repression and Protest, 1883-1922"

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Curated from the Library Company of Philadelphia’s acclaimed African American history archive, African Americans and Jim Crow: Repression and Protest, 1883-1922, is a newly released digital collection of searchable books, pamphlets and speeches. Its coverage begins with an 1883 decision known as the “The Civil Rights Cases” in which the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the Civil Rights Act of 1875, declaring the federal government could not prevent discrimination on the basis of race.

This ruling paved the way for the codification of Jim Crow laws that reversed the hard-earned gains African Americans had made during Reconstruction. Public education, transportation, and accommodations were only a few of the areas of daily life in the U.S. in which segregation was legally allowed.


Using this new collection’s “Suggested Searches” feature, students and other researchers can easily explore revealing primary source materials that provide stark reminders of the fierce sense of separation that permeated American society during this divisive era.

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Starting a search by selecting “Portrayals of African Americans in the Arts,” and then quickly narrowing to “Songs and Music,” leads to results such as Jeannette Robinson Murphy’s “Southern Thoughts for Northern Thinkers and African Music in America.” Murphy includes not only a collection of slave spirituals complete with sheet music, but also a collection of lectures about post-Reconstruction society.

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Introducing her work Murphy writes:

By presenting the South’s view point of the Negro problem, by proving that we do love and appreciate the good (and even the bad) Negro far better than the North does; and also by correctly interpreting his genuine music, voodooism, and other folk-lore, I have earnestly endeavored to offset, in a measure, the insidious work of the reconstruction days.

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Later, under the heading “The Racial Gulf,” Murphy expands on this perspective:

Generous northerners seek in vain to catch our southern viewpoint of the vexed negro question.

The whole trouble and difficulty lie in just one thing and nothing else. We are willing to give the negro an all-round mental, moral, physical and spiritual education, but we insist upon the utter segregation and social isolation of the colored man. No proposed standing army can ever change the attitude of the whole South upon this question. No qualification or highest education of the negro could ever make the true Southern man welcome that negro into his family or hold out to him the tiniest tip of social recognition, for he believes that the mingling of a higher race with a lower one to be an abomination unto the Lord. Around this pitiful point future wars and causes of wars must lie. 

Another result found within “Songs and Music” is Bert Leighton’s “There’s a Dark Man Coming with a Bundle.” The song, as the chorus shows, presents African Americans as posing a threat more immediate than through miscegenation.

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There’s a dark man comin’ with a bundle.

He’s a sneakin’ along softly singin’ a song.

It’s a mighty heavy package for to trundle.

Seems like something must be wrong.

And there’s something suspicious in his actions.

He’s a hummin’ a tune by the light of the moon.

To your house, to your home, in the night he’s goin’ to roam.

There’s a dark man comin’ with a bundle soon.

 

This type of popular music was often found in another art form, the minstrel show.

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Searching on “Minstrel Shows and Satire” within “Portrayals of African Americans in the Arts” provides additional uncomfortable reminders of the outward societal racism of the period.  Results yielded from this search include instructions on the production of minstrel shows and often directions such as:

It is always advisable for the Director to see that the burnt-cork and cold-cream is furnished in sufficient quantity for the entire Company. Don’t let the members bring their individual burnt-cork or cold-cream. One pound of burnt-cork is plenty for twenty men and it is best to get it in two half-pound cans instead of a one-pound can as it is more easily handled by a number of men.

I would suggest a pound of cold-cream for each ten men as this is used both for putting on the burn-cork [sic] and in taking it off.

The Director should also furnish one stick of light flesh-colored grease-paint and one stick of carmine grease-paint. This is used for making the grotesque lips for the end-men.

The social and cultural differences normalized through entertainment, among many other areas, were reinforced by the science of the day. The search for “Theorizing the Origins of Race” within the broader topic of “Race” yields results that include Charles Carroll’s “The Negro a Beast.”

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Carroll spent fifteen years, $20,000, and 382 pages combining his understanding of science, reason, and revelation to argue his hypothesis. A related result is William Gallio Schell’s refutation of Carroll’s work, which Schell characterizes as:

…a desperate effort…to substantiate his theory that the Negro in not human, and possesses no immortal soul, but is simply a “black biped beast,” and therefore only intended for a slave.

Although Schell’s use of language and the scientific explanations he employs are products of the 19th century, he is prescient in writing the following on Carroll’s ideas:

A false theory based upon false premises and erroneous arguments is like so many poisonous snakes turned loose among the innocent and uniformed people. They and their progenitors will continue ever creeping around among the masses and occasionally, if not frequently, inflicting a poisonous bite in some unsuspecting soul. And should he who turned them loose become convinced that his theory is wrong, it will be impossible for him to ever catch all the poisonous reptiles and sack them up again. Though his theory should die—as such theories often do—with the generation in which it is born, the poisonous ideas connected with the same will follow some souls to the judgment of the great day to come.


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