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A DEFINITE STUDY OF ONE LOCALITY IN GEORGIA SHOW.
W. E. BURGHARDT DU BOIS
Photographically Wustrated by A. Radclyffe Dugmore
UT of the North the train thundered, but in many other respects this race question
and we woke to see the crimson soil has focused itself here. No other state can
of Georgia stretching away bare and count as many as 850,000 Negroes in its monotonous right and left. Here and there population, and no other state fought so long lay straggling unlovely villages; but we did and strenuously to gather this host of not nod and weary of the scene for this is Africans. historic ground. Right across our track On we rode. The bare red clay and pines DeSoto wandered 360 years ago; here lies of North Georgia began to disappear, and in busy Atlanta, the City of the Poor White, their place came rich rolling soil, here and and on to the southwest we passed into the there well tilled. Then the land and the land of Cherokees, the geographical centre of people grew darker, cotton fields and dethe Negro Problems—the centre of those lapidated buildings appeared, and we entered 9,000,000 men who are the dark legacy of the Black Belt. slavery. Georgia is not only thus in the Two hundred miles south of Atlanta, two middle of the black population of America, hundred miles west of the Atlantic, and one
hundred miles north of the great Gulf lies in the week the town looks decidedly too small Dougherty County. Its largest town, Albany, for itself, and takes frequent and prolonged lies in the heart of the Black Belt, and is to naps; but on Saturday suddenly the whole day a wide-stretched, placid, southern town, country disgorges itself upon this one spot, with a broad street of stores and saloons and a food of black peasantry passes through flanked by rows of homes—whites usually to the streets, fills the stores, blocks the sidethe north, and blacks to the south. Six days walks, chokes the thoroughfares, and takes
full possession of the town. They are un -of their daily lives and longings, of their couth country folk, good-natured and simple, homely joys and sorrows, of their real shorttalkative to a degree, yet far more silent and comings and the meaning of their crimes. brooding than the crowds of the Rhine-Pfalz, Dougherty county, Georgia, had, in 1890, Naples, or Cracow. They drink a good deal ten thousand black folks and two thousand of whiskey, but they do not get very drunk; whites. Its growth in population* may
thus they talk and laugh loudly at times, but they be pictured: seldom quarrel or fight. They walk up and down the streets, meet and gossip with friends, stare at the shop-windows, buy coffee, cheap candy and clothes, and at dusk drive home happy.
1830 Thus Albany is a real capital—a typical
1840 southern country town, the centre of the life
8,120 of ten thousand souls; their point of contact with the outer world, their centre of news and
1870 gossip, their market for buying and selling,
10,670 borrowing and lending, their fountain of justice
1890 and law.
1899 We seldom study the condition of the Negro to-day honestly and carefully. It is so much easier to assume that we know it all.
* The boundaries of the county have frequently changed.
It was a part of Early County first, then of Baker, and And yet, how little we know of these millions
finally was laid out as Dougherty in 1853.
This is the Cotton Kingdom, the shadow keeping; despite all this, the truth remains of a dream of slave empire which for a gen that half the cotton-growers of the south are eration intoxicated a people. Yonder is the nearly bankrupt and the black laborer in the
cotton fields is a serf.
The key-note of the Black Belt is debt. Not credit, in the commercial sense of the term, but debt in the sense of continued inability to make income cover expense. This is the direct heritage of the south from the wasteful economics of the slave regime, but it was emphasized and brought to a crisis by the emancipation of the slaves. In 1860 Dougherty County had 6,079 slaves worth probably $2,500,000; its farms were estimated at $2,995,923. Here was $5,500,000 of property, the value of which depended largely on the slave system, and on the speculative demand for land once marvellously rich, but already devitalized by careless and exhaustive culture. The war then meant a financial crash; in place of the $5,500,000 of 1860, there remained in 1870 only farms valued at $1,739,470. With this came increased competition in cotton culture from the rich lands of Texas, a steady fall in the price of cotton followed from about
fourteen cents a pound in NEGRO WOMAN PLOUGHING IN A COTTON FIELD
1860* until it reached four A field cultivated on the rent system
cents in 1893. Such a
financial revolution was it heir of its ruins—a black renter, fighting a that involved the owners of the cotton belt in failing battle with debt. A feeling of silent debt. And if things went ill with the master, depression falls on one as he gazes on this how fared it with the man ? scarred and stricken land, with its silent The plantations of Dougherty in slavery mansions, deserted cabins and fallen fences. days were not so imposing and aristocratic as Here is a land rich in natural resources, those of Virginia. The Big House was smaller yet poor; for despite the fact that few in- and usually one-storied, and set very near the dustries pay better dividends than cotton slave cabins. manufacture; despite the fact that the modern The form and disposition of the laborers' dry-goods store with its mass of cotton-fabrics cabins throughout the Black Belt, is to-day, represents the high-water mark of retail store
* Omitting famine prices during the war.