Chapter One: Place and Possibility
"Some would say that woman is good in her place. This reminds me of what some white people say of the Negro: that `He is good in his place.'" Sarah Dudley Pettey challenged the idea of "place," not simply through words such as these but also through her acts. She was an African American woman, the daughter of slaves, who lived in obscurity in a small North Carolina town. In 1896, when she wrote these words, Dudley Pettey thought she saw the day coming when a person's place would depend not on sex or color but on energy and ability.
Since historians enter a story at its end, they sometimes forget that what is past to them was future to their subjects. Too often, what they lose in the telling is what made their subjects' lives worth living: hope. This is a book about hope, about African American women such as Dudley Pettey whose alternative visions of the future included the equity in society they had learned to expect in their families, schools, and marriages. Their progressive visions, if realized, would have ended white supremacy. These were lives on the cusp of change.
With a less prosperous white elite than Virginia or South Carolina, a fast-growing, but ferociously struggling, middling group of people of all hues, and some chance for two-party government, North Carolina's people contested power--economic, social, and political--more openly and more heatedly than many other southerners. In the western mountains, this upper South state resembled its neighbor eastern Tennessee, with pockets of bitter Unionists, an entrenched Republican Party, and a sparse African American population. In the east, where plantations produced cotton and tobacco, black majorities voted in the 1880s and 1890s, and rough port cities could only aspire to the grandeur of Charleston or Savannah. Inhabitants of the crossroad Piedmont hamlets, where whites barely outnumbered a growing black urban population, struggled to turn their locations into a reason for existence and then, as now, looked toward Atlanta with a mixture of envy and disgust. North Carolina's geographical, economic, and historical diversity resulted in close gubernatorial and national elections and a legislature bristling with Republican representatives, not to mention the odd Prohibitionist or Silverite. Shared power among political parties meant that legal segregation came late to the state--not until 1899 did the state legislature demand that railroads provide Jim Crow cars--and that disfranchisement trailed the 1890 Mississippi law by a decade.
Black North Carolinians realized the precariousness of their position even as they imagined the future. North Carolinian Charles Chesnutt, a child genius whose precocity and fair complexion often led whites to draw him into conversation, learned, along with his daily lessons in German and Latin, the depths of southern white prejudice. In his teenage years in the 1870s, before whites perfected Jim Crow institutions, Chesnutt confided to his diary the absurdity of walking around in a place where the color line moved under his feet. Later, after he had left North Carolina and became a renowned novelist, Chesnutt borrowed from mythology to describe his memories of the limited social space assigned African Americans in his home state. He compared white North Carolinians to Procrustes, the innkeeper at Attica, who indulged his fetish that each guest be made to fit his bed perfectly. If one was too short, Procrustes stretched him to new dimensions. If another was too tall, Procrustes simply cut off his legs so that he fit just right. According to Chesnutt, African Americans in North Carolina slept each night in similarly circumscribed spots. "It was a veritable bed of Procrustes, this standard which the whites had set for the Negroes," Chesnutt commented. "Those who grew above it must have their heads cut off, figuratively speaking--must be forced back to the level assigned to their race." On the other side, the lynch rope swayed. "Those who fell beneath the standard set had their necks stretched, literally enough, as the ghastly record in the daily papers gave conclusive evidence." There would be little rest for African Americans as the century drew to a close.
Nonetheless, even as black North Carolinians saw repression creeping across the South in the 1890s, they hoped to turn the tide in their own state. Reading their story from beginning to end, rather than teleologically, we can see--as they did--that North Carolina could have been the pivot upon which national race relations turned. If people like Sarah Dudley Pettey and Charles Calvin Pettey had been able to hold their ground in the last decade of the nineteenth century, the trend toward disfranchisement and segregation might have been reversed and the history of the twentieth century rewritten. Certainly, black men and women in the state were equal to the task. Many enjoyed fine educations, economic success, and political power, and they saw clearly the danger that awaited them. They tried everything possible to save themselves. Their counterstrategies lay bare two lost worlds: one actual, the other woven from hope.
African Americans hoped that their success would offer testimony to convince whites to recognize class similarities across racial divides; they hoped to prove to whites that they could be Best Men and Best Women. Instead of undermining white supremacy, however, postbellum black progress shored it up. White men reordered southern society through segregation and disfranchisement in the 1890s because they realized that African American success not only meant competition in the marketplace and the sharing of political influence but also entailed a challenge to fundamental social hierarchies that depended nearly as much upon fixed gender roles as they did on the privileges of whiteness. Black progress threatened what southerners called "place."
Place assembled the current concepts of class and race into a stiff-sided box where southern whites expected African Americans to dwell. Southerners lived under a caste system in which skin color, class, and gender dictated the pattern of every daily interaction. For example, African Americans riding in carriages irritated white North Carolinians because such luxury challenged the connections of race, class, and place. How could whites maintain the idea that African Americans were lowly due to laziness if some African Americans worked hard enough to purchase carriages? By embracing a constellation of Victorian middle-class values--temperance, thrift, hard work, piety, learning--African Americans believed that they could carve out space for dignified and successful lives and that their examples would wear away prejudice. As African Americans moved to North Carolina's hamlets and cities to pursue professions and commerce, urban African Americans of the middling sort became increasingly visible at a time when most whites worked diligently to consign blacks to the preindustrial role of agrarian peasants. In one generation, African Americans moved from field hands to teachers, from carpenters to construction bosses. Freedpeople equipped themselves to compete with whites in business, the professions, and politics. Often education, buttressed by strong religious beliefs, made the difference. Black men and women embraced Christian ideals, filtered through Victorian sensibilities, as standards of equity and morality in an effort to break the southern caste system.
African American women helped make those accomplishments revolutionary. Women were integral components of economic gain, generational change, and ultimately civic participation. Educated black women believed progress would flow logically from predictions they had first heard from parents, black ministers, and northern missionary teachers. They expected advancement on three fronts: in living standards, in opportunities for women of both races, and in white attitudes toward African Americans. Raised by ex-slave mothers and grandmothers, the first and second generations of freedwomen saw racial progress as inclusive, not exclusive, of those less fortunate. In a racially charged atmosphere, black women knew that private acts and family-based decisions could be used against them. They carefully considered each move, since a fleeting whim, if acted upon, could furnish whites "proof" of the capability or deficiency of an entire race.
Charles and Sarah Pettey represent the extraordinary potential of ordinary African Americans in the first three decades of freedom. If we begin the story by adopting one family as a guide, we can trace hope's meaning as it beams through slavery's vicissitudes and Reconstruction's raw light to the moment of possibility before disfranchisement. The marriage of Sarah Dudley and Charles Calvin Pettey brought together two people convinced that race and gender discrimination were vestiges of the past, anachronistic feudalisms that would melt like snow under the rays of an upcoming age of reason. An examination of their lives reveals the ideals and hopes that made up their vision of a New South never to be born. Their story provides an opening wedge for understanding a group of men and women who saw themselves as the future of their race but who have virtually disappeared from the historical record.
Beginning with a close look at one family is bound to prompt questions concerning typicality. A historian can rescue a woman from oblivion, painstakingly reconstruct her life and her ancestors' lives, and finally make modest claims for her experience, only to face the charge that if the subject is that interesting or important, then she must be unrepresentative. However, a hierarchical presumption lurks in the typicality argument: average people are simply average; only their leaders are exceptional. Therefore, if the subject is interesting, she must be atypical. This study operates from a different premise: that every story would be interesting if we could recapture it and that each one has something to teach us. Writing history by grinding away the nuances of each person's experience produces the typical; in real life, we see individuality more readily. The world in these pages belonged to many women; here it is articulated by a few whose voices, by pluck or by chance, happened to survive.
Historians have used generational models to explain the dynamics of immigrant families, and the rage for genealogy testifies to the explanatory power of family narrative in many people's lives. Slavery, however, waged a war on the institution of the family, and the rupture between slavery and freedom cleft historical memory, often separating historians of African Americans from evidence of powerful family strategies over time. Yet what might be lost to documentation often loomed large in individual consciousness. Sarah Dudley Pettey is a case in point. The first member of her family to be born in freedom, her optimism and outspokenness sprang from the hopes and fortitude of three generations that came before her. To understand her, one must understand them.
Edmund Pasteur, Sarah Dudley Pettey's paternal great-grandfather, was born around the time of the American Revolution. John Carruthers Stanly of New Bern, North Carolina, the largest black slaveholder in the South, bought Pasteur sometime before the War of 1812. Stanly had himself been born a slave. His slave-trading father, a white man, had purchased his mother, an African Ibo woman, and impregnated her during the middle passage. The Stanly family later freed the son, who bore his father's name. Edmund Pasteur's African heritage remains unknown, but it may have been quite recent to him, given North Carolina's slave-trading patterns. His mother, or even Edmund Pasteur himself, might have been born in Africa, or his ancestors might have been enslaved in the Caribbean for a generation or more.
It is impossible to know what kind of master Stanly proved to be, but at least he allowed Edmund Pasteur to hire himself out in the busy port city of New Bern. By 1815, Pasteur had saved enough money to buy his freedom, an action Stanly supported. Then, after three years of freedom, Edmund Pasteur had saved $750 to purchase a mulatto woman and her thirteen-month-old baby--his wife, Dinah, and his daughter, Sarah--from his original owner. Dinah, who was thirty-nine at the time, may have been her owner's daughter and had been married to Edmund for at least fourteen years. Despite Edmund Pasteur's manumission, her owner had allowed her to continue their relationship. However, the slaveholder's decision to sell Dinah and Sarah clearly owed more to avarice than to kindness since the $750 bought only a middle-aged woman and a suckling baby, not Richard, Edmund and Dinah's fourteen-year-old son, who remained enslaved.
One word hints at Edmund Pasteur's thoughts on slavery and his family's condition. Pasteur later recounted that he had finally "ransomed" Richard, just as the boy was about to be sold into "slavery in remote countries." Edmund never thought of himself, Dinah, Richard, and Sarah as property or as members of a degraded class of people who belonged in slavery. They were people who had been kidnapped, had lived through it, and now had ransomed themselves. Through his incredible efforts, Edmund Pasteur came to own his entire family, but they remained his slaves. In 1827, he petitioned the court to manumit Dinah, now fifty years old, Richard, twenty-two, and Sarah, nine. In this last and crucial effort, it seems that Edmund Pasteur failed.
Thirteen years later, in 1840, Sarah Pasteur, by that time a young woman of twenty-two, gave birth to a baby boy, Edward Richard Dudley, Jr., named for his father, who was most likely a mixed-race free man. Although Edward Dudley is listed in the census as a white man, the large Dudley family included many light-skinned people of African descent who married whites. Roughly one of every four "blacks" in New Bern was free in 1860, and free people of color made up 12 percent of the total population. These astounding figures suggest a community teeming with complex racial interactions, a place where "black" and "white" were fluid, not frozen, categories. The port city on the Trent and Neuse rivers provided both wage labor and the opportunity to live off the fruits of the sea, advantages that attracted freed and runaway slaves and landless whites. Edward Dudley supported himself as a fisherman. Pasteur and Dudley may have lived together openly, or their relationship may have been more clandestine. Even though Sarah Pasteur belonged to her father, as a slave she could not marry. Three years later, in 1843, Sarah and Edward had a second son, James.
The curse of slavery under which Sarah Pasteur had lived for twenty-five years struck now with the death of her father, just when she was most vulnerable. In the years after the Pasteurs' manumission attempt failed, slavery's institutional shell had hardened as white southerners grew to fear abolitionism and insurrection. In the 1830s, those few slaveholders who chose to emancipate their slaves encountered greater difficulties, and it must have been nearly impossible for a black man to free his slave family. In 1843, after Dinah had died and Richard had vanished, Sarah, with a three-year-old and a baby, had cared for her father to the end in the small house that he owned. After her father's death, her lover Edward Dudley either could not or would not help but only watched as Sarah and his two children were sold as slaves.
Edmund Pasteur had paid dearly for his loved ones, but the white court-appointed executor of his estate sold Sarah and her two children cheaply, for $377 on credit, to Richard N. Taylor of New Bern, who owned a cotton mill and a fleet of schooners. Being appointed executor was literally a license to steal: the proceeds of Pasteur's "property"--the house, Sarah, and the two children--went to the executor since Pasteur had no legally free heirs. The oldest boy, Edward Richard Dudley, Jr., was three, the youngest, James Dudley, only a few months old. Six years later, it appears that the boys' free father married a white woman and had a son, to whom he gave the same name as one of his slave sons: James. To Sarah, this must have been the unkindest cut of all.
In the two decades of her family's enslavement, Sarah Pasteur secretly taught her children to read and write, and she must have provided great love and great hope. After secession, Sarah probably had a pipeline to the latest news by eavesdropping on meetings of the Confederate Soldiers Relief Society, over which her owner's wife presided during 1861. Confederate soldiers' relief in New Bern was short-lived, however, as whites scrambled to evacuate the city in January 1862 with the approach of Union troops. The Taylors fled with their slaves and spent the Civil War in Salisbury well to the west, where they put Edward to work in a tobacco factory. Salisbury stubbornly clung to the Confederacy even after Lee surrendered. A week later, General George Stoneman burned down the city. Finally, the period of the Pasteurs' captivity ended. Sarah Pasteur was forty-eight at the time, twenty-two years a slave. Her kidnapped boys emerged as free men, and they headed for home.
The oldest, Edward Dudley, was twenty-five. He could read and write and was soon practicing a lucrative trade in New Bern as a cooper, which he probably learned in the tobacco factory. Dudley quickly assumed a leadership role amid the chaos of the Federal-occupied town. He joined a Masonic lodge and served on the police force. A pillar of Saint Peters, the first African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion church in the South, Dudley headed the statewide Grand Lodge of Colored Good Templars, the first black branch of an international temperance order. Sometime between 1862 and 1868, Dudley married a biracial woman named Caroline, who, like him, had learned to read and write in slavery. She joined her husband as a Good Templar. The Dudleys taught their children to take pride in their African American roots and to take their places among the best people, regardless of race. Edward Dudley's place was in politics.
Dudley's experience as a black man serving as a lesser official in the Reconstruction South--a good citizen doing his duty--complements portraits of famous black Reconstruction leaders and counters white fictions about boisterous black swindlers taking over state legislatures. His daughter, Sarah, born in 1869, learned her political lessons at her father's knee. Members of Sarah's generation of African Americans were raised to expect full civil rights, a generational experience repeated only by those who came of age after the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
African Americans' continuous involvement after Reconstruction in eastern North Carolina local politics--through campaigning, voting, appointment, and election--meant that the violence and legal codification of segregation in the late 1890s represented cataclysmic ruptures in the fabric of black civil rights, not simply the institutionalization of repression. If historians later took Jim Crow's career to be strange, African Americans at the time found it unbelievable. They expected reverses, even pitched battles, but they never expected to be counted out of the electoral process completely. The careers of Dudley and his daughter illustrate the ebb and flow of black political life throughout the second half of the nineteenth century and prove that it was not over until it was over: that is, until the 1900 constitutional amendment disfranchising African Americans.
This is not to say that some times were not better than others. The period from 1888 to 1894 seemed particularly bleak, even though African Americans continued to serve in the state legislature throughout the period. In 1877 the legislature had seized the power to appoint local officials to counter black votes in the eastern part of the state. For two years, the legislators appointed justices of the peace, who in turn appointed other local officers; from 1879 until 1894, the justices of the peace appointed county commissioners, who then dished up the remaining slices of pie. Black and poor white officeholders persisted, however. After 1888, the state legislature tightened its control on local offices by forcing officials to post high bonds that might prevent poor men from serving. Raleigh's control proved onerous to both poor whites and African Americans, and "home rule" became an issue that crossed racial lines. As they attempted to prevent African Americans from holding local offices, legislators trailed the boundaries of the Second Congressional District around eastern North Carolina in an attempt to contain black voting strength in national elections. Craven County fell within the borders of the "Black Second," and the Dudleys' neighbor, African American George White, became their congressman.
In many of the state's cities and eastern rural areas, African Americans took an active part in local politics, despite the obstacles the legislature placed in their paths. Edward Dudley served on New Bern's common council and was a city marshal. He won election to the state house of representatives in 1870, when seventeen other African Americans gained seats in the house and three in the senate. Two years later, he returned for another term. Even more significant than Dudley's elections was his appointment as justice of the peace in New Bern from 1880 to 1884 since by appointing Dudley the legislature acknowledged his political power in state and national politics through the Republican Party. Dudley's tenure points up the system's flexibility and hints at a lack of resolve among all whites to exclude African Americans from politics. The white New Bern Weekly Journal acknowledged as much in 1886 when it pitched the Democratic Party to African Americans: "Drawing the color line is wrong in principle.... Why seek to array one race against another? The negroes are citizens, and have the right of suffrage." They might not have been happy about it, but white men had to reckon with black votes. Democratic appeals for African American votes resulted in few converts, however, and use of such a strategy abated in the early 1890s.
Tentative interracial alliances characterized politics in the century's last two decades. Dudley, for instance, forged a close alliance with white congressman Orlando Hubbs, and he maintained his loyalty to Hubbs when Hubbs battled African American James O'Hara for the nomination to the Second Congressional District seat in 1882. Dudley's opposition to O'Hara ran deeper than simply repaying any political debts to Hubbs. As statewide leader of the black Good Templars, Dudley despised O'Hara because he had attended an antiprohibition convention when the issue came up in the state in 1881. Hubbs lost his fight for the nomination, and O'Hara relieved Dudley of his post as deputy collector of federal revenues. Dudley cemented the breach forever by calling O'Hara a "creature of the mob, organized for the sole purpose of `sending a Negro to congress.'" "Thank God," Dudley concluded, his own principles counted for more than race and he had "never worshipped at the shrine of color." Dudley's hatred of O'Hara led him to support another white man, Furnifold Simmons, to replace him in Congress in 1886. When Simmons took the seat--he won Craven County by only forty-five votes--he recognized his debt to the district's African Americans.
African Americans also knew they had carried Simmons's election. As one put it, O'Hara "got bit by his own dog." Two years later, however, Simmons's own dog bit him, as white voters accused Simmons of being too responsive to black constituents. Simmons attributed his 1888 defeat to his failure to draw the color line, a lesson he would never forget. Ironically, Dudley, who "never worshipped at the shrine of color," helped launch the career of the man who at the century's end would disfranchise him on account of color. African American votes counted until then.
If politics was a part-time passion for Edward Dudley, his family was a full-time one. His brother James also lived in New Bern, and his mother lived with him and Caroline. When the couple had a daughter in 1869, they named her Sarah, for her grandmother. Baby Sarah was the first member of the Pasteur-Dudley family born in freedom, even though more than a half century had elapsed since Edmund Pasteur ransomed himself. The year after Sarah's birth, Edward Dudley was elected to the legislature, after which he returned home most months to farm and to teach school. Two boys and five girls followed Sarah. Edward Dudley's farm was worth $600 in 1870, and he approached farming as he did everything else, with high-spirited competition. He won prizes for his produce, including an eggplant two feet wide and pumpkins five feet tall.
Sarah Pasteur and Caroline Dudley taught Sarah Dudley to read and write before the little girl was six. Literacy was the most valuable gift Pasteur had to give, first to her sons in slavery, then to her granddaughter in freedom. The family certainly needed no coaxing to enter the schoolroom after American Missionary Association teachers flocked to New Bern in the late 1860s and established at least five private schools, which supplemented the short public school year. Education had given hope to the Dudleys in slavery, had provided them with an advantage in Reconstruction, and would propel them into the future. By the time Sarah Dudley entered the classroom, New Bern's black public schools were graded, a northern innovation still unknown in white southern schools, and the teaching force included local African Americans. Temperance societies dominated extracurricular life at each school. After she completed the six grades the school system offered, Sarah Dudley attended the coeducational New Bern State Colored Normal School, a state-funded teacher-training school that combined high school work with pedagogy courses.
One year later, thirteen-year-old Sarah left home for Scotia Seminary, a Presbyterian school for women in Concord, North Carolina, 200 miles to the west. There the biracial faculty oversaw a curriculum calculated to give students the knowledge, social consciousness, and sensibilities of New England ladies, with a strong dose of Boston egalitarianism sprinkled in. Mary McLeod, who followed Sarah Dudley to Scotia five years later, recalled that her northern white teachers there taught her that "the color of a person's skin has nothing to do with his brains, and that color, caste, or class distinctions are an evil thing." Scotia's white founder, Luke Dorland, modeled the school on Mount Holyoke. He intended it to be a place where students learned to do as well as to think. Dorland believed that "skilled hands must be directed by a sound mind in a sound body, motivated by a zeal to serve others." The cooking, music, and needlework that students learned along with their Latin was to be employed to their own ends, not in domestic service for white people. A Scotia woman would "make a good housewife as well as a good school teacher," and the cornerstone of Sarah's dormitory bore the words, "Head, Heart, and Hands." When Sarah arrived, she joined 139 other young women students, who ate, lived, and studied with a faculty of white and black women teachers. Her roommate was Lula Pickenpack, a slightly older girl from Charlotte who already had a serious suitor, Charles Calvin Pettey.
Sarah Dudley graduated with distinction from Scotia in 1883 and returned to New Bern as an assistant principal of the black graded public school. During her first teaching year, the average monthly salary of the state's 700 black teachers was $22, a little less than that of white teachers but the highest salary a black woman could earn anywhere. Each school term lasted only four months, and in the summer, Dudley attended a month-long teacher-training session at the New Bern State Colored Normal School. The next year, she moved up to vice principal in the public school system and associate principal of the summer normal school under George White, who would soon become her congressman.
Sarah Dudley kept in touch with Lula Pickenpack and Charles Pettey, who were now married. Pettey stood 5 feet 8 inches tall, "with short arms and legs, a long body, a prominent receding forehead, cheeks indicative of Indian descent, complexion of an Indian ... his black hair nearly straight." Pettey had a piercing, direct gaze, a dashing mustache, and a beautiful singing voice. Despite his probable biracial mix, Pettey's racial identity was always African American, and he had been born in slavery in Wilkes County in the northwestern section of the state in 1849. After the Civil War, Pettey farmed during the day and worked as a cobbler and basketmaker at night. He traded his handicrafts, along with ferry rides across the Yadkin River, to white people for reading lessons. After he could read, he hoarded every penny. Finally, in 1872, at age twenty-three, he put on a pair of shoes he had made, dressed himself in a suit sewn from fabric he had spun, pocketed $95 in savings, and walked ninety miles to Charlotte to enroll in college.
The college, Presbyterian-supported Biddle Memorial Institute, offered classical training for men who wanted to be teachers or ministers, and there Pettey learned to read Latin and Greek. The institute did not insist on denominational fealty, and Pettey remained a member of the AME Zion Church. On weekends, he began preaching in the countryside, making "appointments," first at one crossroad and then another. Starting out on a Friday night, he would walk more than fifty miles in forty-eight hours. Pettey worked barely four months after graduation as head of a black public school in Charlotte when he became an elder in the AME Zion Church and discovered he would have to move to South Carolina to assume his new post. From his South Carolina base, Pettey established a normal school, built a national name for himself in the church, and with John Dancy, a prominent churchman, contributed to the Star of Zion, a denominational newspaper that soon became one of the twelve most important black newspapers in the nation.
Sometime after 1881, Charles and Lula Pettey departed on a great adventure. Along with Alexander Walters, who would later help found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Pettey led a band of black colonists to California. They settled near San Francisco, founded a community named Petteyville, and spread out to establish AME Zion churches. Pettey became pastor of the downtown Stockton Street church. Lula and Charles had two daughters, the first of whom they named Sarah. Lula died in 1887, and Charles was left with the two young girls. He soon became bishop with responsibility for Texas, and in 1888 a conference brought him back to North Carolina and a reunion with Sarah Dudley. Within a year, they married and set up their home in New Bern.
The recovered bits of the Petteys' life together confound notions of the South as an isolated, parochial place where African Americans existed as shadows, bent wraiths who shuffled subserviently along wooden sidewalks. Like many other successful black families in North Carolina's urban areas, the Petteys lived a deliberately conspicuous life. "There are plenty of carriages in New Bern," noted the black-owned Raleigh Gazette, "owned principally" by African Americans. Sarah Dudley Pettey rode around town in a black carriage drawn by a high-stepping mare. Charles Pettey sported silk top hats. At her table, Dudley Pettey served roast bear, lobster cutlets, and Russian salad with sauce tartare and provided finger bowls. The trappings of the Petteys' lives particularly annoyed white New Bernians, who termed the Petteys' society "colored swelldom." But "colored swelldom" had room to exist in New Bern, to rent reception rooms at the town's best "white" hotel, to shop in the best stores, and to host white townspeople at special programs in Saint Peter's AME Zion Church.
The Petteys' group of affluent African Americans in New Bern contrasted with the population of James City, a virtually all-black town of 2,500 across the river. A comparison of the two reveals class differences, some of which can be traced back to the moment of freedom. James City represented the vestiges of a contraband encampment during the Civil War. African Americans who had fled there as slaves during the Federal occupation twenty-five years earlier had, of course, come with nothing. Across the river in New Bern, newly emancipated African Americans like Edward Dudley had advantages over them. Dudley knew the local people, he could read, and his barrels were in demand. John Stanly, the black slaveholder, had moved to Ohio, but his remaining New Bern relatives were even better off than Dudley. These initial differences carried over into the next generation: John's daughter, Sara, went to Oberlin College and Sarah Dudley went to Scotia Seminary, but in James City, young women went to work.
Black people, whether they lived in New Bern or James City, certainly recognized variations in economic and educational standing; the important question is what those differences meant to them. Was class position the result of heredity? Were such gradations permanent? Should those who had become successful close ranks in order to exclude others?
Many southern whites would have answered "yes" to all of the above questions. Within that group of mostly backward-looking heirs of southern planters, class position was a matter of breeding--blood would tell. To maintain one's standing, one simply chose a marriage partner wisely. Amid the poverty of the postbellum economy, some southern whites tried to engineer their class system to run on heredity rather than on the economy. They remained tied to the land, and some managed to retain a degree of political power--though in North Carolina fewer did so than in the lower South. Their constrictive family bonds grew thick and tangled as the century progressed, and a part of white society froze looking back over its shoulder at a mythical antebellum romance. By the end of the century, some influential southerners, for example, Thomas Dixon, Jr., grafted the vines of hereditary class privilege onto pseudo-Darwinism to produce a mutant class system dependent upon fixed racial and gender categories. Who you were, more than what you did, mattered to these white southerners.
But a growing group of white southerners would have answered "no" to each of these gatekeeping questions. This nucleus saw social position not as hereditary and inflexible but as broachable, if not exactly fluid. For the most part descendants of antebellum yeoman farmers and petty slaveholders who had emerged impoverished after the war, these young southerners grew restless as the Bourbons who "redeemed" the state in the 1870s held it in limbo for the next two decades by painting change as anathema to the southern way of life. Middle-class white men in the 1870s began to prepare for occupations that would lift them out of rural poverty and to lobby the state to educate its white citizens. To these men and women, merit mattered; the best men should lead, regardless of their birth.
As white men recast class by arguing for the capability of educated and industrious people, African Americans furnished living proof of their theories. Because education represented the key to class mobility, African Americans came to see it as nothing less than sacred, a spiritual duty that fell more heavily on women because of motherhood. Dudley Pettey connected class, gender, and education directly when she argued, "In the civilization and enlightenment of the Negro race its educated women must be the potent factors." Clearly "civilization" represented her version of manners and morals, those middle-class values that she learned from her family, church, and Reconstruction teachers. Yet she also foresaw class aspirations brokered by educational achievement as inclusive: "Ere long Ethiopia's sons and daughters, led by pious, educated women, will be elevated among the enlightened races of the world."
In Reconstruction schools, middle-class identity, then, was something to be learned and, in turn, taught. Girls like Sarah Dudley attended Scotia Seminary with girls who were dirt-poor orphans and with others who were simply dirt-poor, like Mary McLeod, the fifteenth child of slave parents. McLeod's home was so humble that when she arrived at Scotia, she had never climbed a flight of stairs or used a knife or fork. Yet she learned skills of self-presentation that ultimately gained her a federal post and Eleanor Roosevelt's friendship. Although Sarah had been born free to a prestigious black politician, her husband, her father, and her beloved grandmother, like her James City neighbors, had been born slaves. Only a very few "aristocrats of color" used heredity to signify class standing.
Differences in color might have mattered to some but not to most educated black North Carolinians setting out to prove their race's ability. Light-skinned people married darker people, politicians came in all hues, and the black press bragged most loudly about the intellectual achievements of very dark men such as Joseph Charles Price, the founder of the AME Zion Livingstone College. Sarah Dudley Pettey, obviously of black and white heritage, attributed her success to her family's love and her education, not to her light skin. Sarah and Elizabeth Delany, born to educators at Saint Augustine's College in Raleigh in the 1890s, described their light-skinned mother's choice of their brilliant dark-skinned father this way: "Some colored women who were as light as Mama would not have gotten involved with a dark-skinned man, but Mama didn't care. She said he was the cream of the crop, a man of the highest quality."
Upon the founding of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs in 1896, Sarah Dudley Pettey lauded the organization's mission while deploring its use of the word "colored." She attributed its origin to the "softening" of the word "nigger" to "you colored people" in the antebellum South. All people are colored, she argued, "from the fairest blonde to the darkest hue of humanity." Far better to use the term "Afro-American ... as it designates both the races and countries from whence we, the amalgamated race, came." It was typical of her to speak forthrightly of racial mixing; on another occasion, she argued that the word "Negro" was useless because it denoted "one type of the African race without mixture." By clinging to "Afro," she showed her pride in her African heritage; by linking it with "American," she held whites accountable for both slavery and miscegenation. When an African American writer proposed "affirming we are `Americans, pure and simple,'" Dudley Pettey retorted that if "we [were] Americans, pure and simple," there "would be no class legislation against us; there would be no need of separate schools and churches." To Dudley Pettey, race prejudice worked like class prejudice: it created false divisions among worthy human beings.
Black writers in the late nineteenth century regularly referred to racial segregation as "class legislation," and they saw race as one marker among many. Thus, to consider class among African Americans apart from the racial caste system in which they lived is to take too myopic a view. In real life, race, class, and gender never sorted themselves into convenient categories of analysis. Moreover, as Charles Chesnutt reminds us by invoking Procrustes, how African Americans viewed class differences among themselves mattered less in determining their wider opportunities than how whites saw those differences since it was whites who allotted the social space available.
Whites tried to order the world to prevent African Americans from rising. When some blacks nevertheless achieved success, whites set off alarms. Whites preferred the Uncle Remus of the farm to the "colored swelldom" of the cities, and it was in the state's cities that black success showed most. After 1879, the percentage of black-owned urban property in the state increased at a time when the value of farms decreased and town lots grew more valuable. Wilmington ranked second in the South in black property ownership among cities with populations of 10,000 to 25,000. Only 5.6 percent of North Carolina's African Americans owned homes in 1870; by 1910, the figure had risen to 26 percent. It must have seemed as if African Americans were cornering the real estate market in North Carolina's towns and cities. In Wilmington, for example, many African Americans lived in "fine" houses with "pianos and servants and lace curtains to their windows."
Because her husband served as bishop of the Texas, Alabama, and Louisiana district, Sarah Dudley Pettey spent little time looking through her lace curtains. Their honeymoon took them to Europe, California, and Mexico. In England, the archbishop of Canterbury received them and U.S. minister Robert Lincoln presented them at the Court of St. James. Their visit to rural Ireland prompted Charles to write an article comparing the South's racial situation to Ireland's ethnic strife caused by British home rule. After Pettey became bishop of the Allegheny-Ohio Conference in 1896, they spent several months each year in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and the District of Columbia.
Their five children--two boys and three girls--were born at two-year intervals, and Pettey's two daughters lived with them in New Bern as well. Traveling extensively, serving as her husband's secretary, and, beginning in August 1896, writing a bimonthly column for the Star of Zion, Sarah Dudley Pettey had to employ the organization of a field marshal. One of Sarah's sisters and one of Charles's cousins shared their household to help care for the children, and Sarah's brother, George, lived next door with his own growing family.
Charles and Sarah made each other happy, and their devotion to one another spilled over into public life. He was extraordinarily proud of her, saw her as his equal, and bragged about her to his colleagues. Once, in an editorial in which Charles was bowing out of a long theological debate with readers of the Star of Zion, he promised, "Madam Pettey, who has been reviewing ... the Greek testament scriptures ... will remain at my desk; ... I am quite confident that she will be able to keep off all intruders." She certainly was able, it turned out, since she subsequently accused a bumptious theological adversary of misrepresenting Charles's position just to vent "the great drops of gall escaping from the puncture in his swelling spleen." Sarah and Charles made a formidable team.
The Dudley-Pettey marriage suggests mutual cooperation and equal partnership. Sarah and her peers understood marriage as a duty, the site of "civil enterprise" for the post-Reconstruction black generation. Analyzing the domestic fiction of black women writers of the period, novels that Sarah Dudley Pettey most certainly read, Claudia Tate has argued that the ideal marriage for these black women was an "industrious partnership" rather than a passionate dive into abandon. The Dudley-Pettey union certainly qualified as an industrious partnership, even as it managed to convey, on occasion, just a hint of passionate abandon. Among African Americans, marriage itself was political, a testimony to capability as piercing white eyes peered through domesticity, searching for degeneracy.
Black male voters often saw themselves as representing their wives, not as patriarchs who assumed that their wives' interests coincided with their own but as family delegates to the electoral sphere. Although there is evidence of this delegate-husband model among some whites in the North, such as members of the Society of Friends, such evidence is rare in the nineteenth century, especially among white southern ladies and their patriarchal husbands. Eventually white women educated in the 1890s reshaped white marriage relationships, but southern black women were a generation ahead of them in forging companionate partnerships. The pervasive white gaze, contact with earnest northern white and black women missionaries, strong ex-slave grandmothers and mothers, and a keen sense of fairness forged in the fires of discrimination all contributed to black women's construction of the ideal marriage, as did their coeducational experiences.
The fact that they saw their husbands as familial delegates to the political world did not mean, however, that some women did not seek self-representation. Charles encouraged Sarah to go forward, even on his own ground. Sarah traveled with Charles to churches in his district, where they both gave remarkable performances. First the bishop would preach, then the bishop's wife would take the pulpit and deliver a speech on woman's rights, either "Woman the Equal of Man" or "Woman's Suffrage." One of her male listeners called her "a power with the pen, clearly demonstrating the possibilities of a woman." Dudley Pettey regularly reported in the Star of Zion on women's accomplishments that she believed would "be of historic interest a century from now." "What position is there," she asked rhetorically, "that woman cannot fill?"
Dudley Pettey's belief in woman's equality was not an aberration in her church, but it may have been a minority opinion. In 1867 church leaders deleted the word "male" in the description of church officers' qualifications, at a time when other denominations argued that women had no place "teaching or preaching." Thirty years later, Mary Small, a bishop's wife and recent deacon who had taught Sunday school in Fayetteville with Charles Chesnutt, sought ordination as an elder. Bishop Charles Pettey created a huge controversy when he ordained her in 1898. Sarah was delighted. She opined that before the word "male" was struck, AME Zion women's "usefulness was limited to a certain narrow and prescribed sentimental boundary." That was no longer the case, she gloated, since the church had kept "pace with the advanced ideas of to-day." "To-day, to the called female church-worker there is no majestic Shasta looming up before her, with sexual prejudicial peaks and impregnable sentimental buttes saying `thus far shalt thou come and no farther.'"
To Sarah Dudley Pettey and Mary Small, it was no longer enough for AME Zion women to experience spirituality individually. A woman who experienced a calling could not hold it within; she must follow where it led, even if the road seemed steep. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham has argued that in the African American tradition, personal testimony was seen as a political stand. In slavery, the body was indeed the body politic. If a slave witnessed, his or her thoughts escaped bondage and entered a free market of ideas, a potentially revolutionary act that could liberate or endanger not just the speaker but also other slaves. Thus, once given voice, personal belief both embodied and mandated public action. As a result, if God called on a woman and filled her with the spirit, she should speak it aloud; she was responsible not simply for saving her own soul but for saving others' as well.
Mary Small's ordination as an elder, which seems to have been the first ordination of a woman in any denominational body in the United States, set off a firestorm of controversy in the AME Zion Church. One minister devoted his column, "Red Hot Cannon Ball," to warnings of a "petticoat ministry," arguing that "women's work in the church from the earliest dawn till now has been in subordination to man." Since it could not have been God who turned this hierarchy upside down, women must be bearing false witness. The minister concluded, "I as much doubt a woman's call to the ministry as I do my ability to fly" Such nay-saying merely propelled Sarah Dudley Pettey to greater rhetorical heights. Small was an "eloquent, pathetic and forcible preacher," Dudley Pettey argued. If the clamor did not subside, she threatened, "I have almost gotten in the notion of being ordained myself."
Oppression, whether on account of race or on account of sex, was all of a piece to Sarah Dudley Pettey since it sprang from the same sin: a hierarchical mind-set that violated Christian teachings. She linked race and sex discrimination closely: "Those persons who are disposed to criticise the advanced woman reason from the same analogy as that class of Anglo-Saxons who believe Anglo-Africans should be educated only for manual labor." It was wrong to "put a limit to the capabilities and possibilities of certain classes of humanity," she wrote. Her feminism was not just a response to patriarchy but a response to racial oppression as well.
By contrast, a white woman's radicalizing experience generally came at the moment in which she found her "capabilities and possibilities" limited on account of her sex. Such an incident shaped self-identity because it sparked the recognition of exclusion and, therefore, of oppression. A black woman's radicalizing experience almost always occurred at the moment she realized that racial exclusion precluded possibility. By the time black female children first encountered sexism, they were armed with an ideological paradigm: racism is wrong; therefore sexism is wrong. The limitation of one's possibility might have mattered less if ambition represented self-indulgence, but God had given everyone work to do. Women, Sarah Dudley Pettey argued, stood poised to enter "every door of usefulness." Slamming those doors shut was simply wrong.
Together Charles and Sarah created a world in which, it seemed, anything could happen. Their own happiness surely colored their optimism, but as they looked around themselves prior to 1898, the Petteys saw racial and gender progress everywhere. Dudley Pettey wrote romantic, exhortatory, and relentlessly progressive columns in the Star of Zion. "This is ... an age of evolution, an age of development, an age of restlessness and commotion," she commented approvingly. "The day is past when the world will bow to any one man's theory." Although some took issue with her controversial columns on economics, politics, and woman's place, no one challenged Sarah Dudley Pettey's right to be heard, and some male readers stepped up to champion her. She even inspired poetry:
We've many brilliant women,From the remove of New Bern and the cocoon of their love, the Petteys put the best possible face on the ominous stirrings of segregation and federal abdication of their rights. They saw the 1890 Mississippi election reform laws and the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson as temporary setbacks. Despite "frowns in the highest courts of the land," Charles Pettey argued, "we as a race are enjoying the brightest rays of Christian civilization.... The evils we are enduring are more than compensated for through God's providence by placing us within the touch of the greatest intellectual battery the world has ever witnessed."
With intellectual life--
Just take for example,
Our Bishop Pettey's wife.
The Petteys could testify to the immediate dividends African Americans gained from investment in the great "intellectual battery." In the 1890s, educated African American professionals began to compete with whites for business and to earn more than many of their competitors in North Carolina. African Americans practiced medicine and law, taught and preached, and established mortuaries, pharmacies, and benevolent societies under the noses of, and in competition with, whites in the same professions. Leonard Medical School opened in 1881 at Shaw University in Raleigh to train black physicians, and Shaw inaugurated a pharmacy school nine years later. By 1890, forty-six African Americans practiced medicine in the state. Although this figure hardly constitutes a black takeover of the medical profession, the numbers grew each year. In a speech at Leonard's first commencement, graduating senior Lawson Andrew Scruggs linked racial uplift and professional training: "The colored man must go forward, he must harness himself for the battle, and we who stand before you tonight, are pioneers of the medical profession of our race." Black women as well threatened white doctors' monopoly. In 1894, Lucy Hughes Brown, an orphan who had attended Scotia Seminary with Sarah Dudley Pettey, returned to North Carolina after attending medical college in Philadelphia. Along with two white women, she passed the state medical exam and opened a practice in Wilmington.
Shaw University also pioneered black legal education in the state in 1888 after its white president determined that African Americans were being "taken advantage of" by white lawyers. The ranks of black lawyers grew rapidly; only fourteen practiced in the state in 1890, but by 1908 an additional forty-three had graduated from Shaw. Others read law with practicing attorneys, according to the custom of the day.
To whites, the important thing was not how many African Americans rose, but that any did. If, in the shambles of Reconstruction, some whites began to believe that merit and hard work mattered more than family background, old definitions of racial place might be changed. If accomplishments counted for something, African Americans could proceed accordingly. When John Leary, a black attorney in Charlotte, got thirsty, he drank from the dipper designated for bar members at the courthouse. As a living testament to capability, successful African Americans' lives provided a perpetual affront to whites. The black lawyer, doctor, preacher, or teacher represented someone out of his or her place. The danger lay not in their numbers, but in the aspirations they inspired in their fellow African Americans and the proof they gave to the white lie of inherent African inferiority. Warnings began to sound in North Carolina's towns. As one African American newspaper put it, "The Negro has not said one word about rule, but his steady move in the wake of wealth, education and thrift is telling its own tale and causing alarm."
Sarah Dudley Pettey knew that not all African Americans could be doctors and lawyers, and she believed that the future of the New South lay in an integrated industrial workforce. Traveling in Pennsylvania, she visited the Homestead steel mill and recalled with pride how black workers had come to be in the mills after a famous 1892 strike: "Hundreds of Afro-Americans ... were sent for and employed. Some of these men retain their positions until to-day and many of the strikers were never more employed in the mills of Carnegie." Her comments on black strikebreakers shed light on the agonizing problem of the relationship between African Americans and white unions. Dudley Pettey came from a place where blacks were rapidly being excluded from industry, she pointed with pride to the strikebreakers for the most basic reasons: to prove to southern whites that African Americans were equal to and ready for the most difficult industrial work. Her strategy--to secure a toehold for African Americans through strikebreaking and to use their subsequent performance as evidence of their capabilities--later became a method by which both the Urban League and the NAACP sought to counteract union segregation after their efforts to gain the cooperation of organized labor had failed. As she traveled in the North, Dudley Pettey noted that African Americans were losing jobs to "foreigners," who, she pointed out, "hardly lisp good English" before they seek to disfranchise black Americans. Working-class solidarity meant little to people excluded from working at all.
In the South, African Americans faced competition for industrial jobs not from immigrants but from native-born poor whites pushed off their farms by the crop-lien system. African Americans pondering the future of the workforce could point to precedents for black industry in skilled trades and rudimentary factories. In the late 1880s, over 2,000 African Americans participated in segregated Knights of Labor chapters in the state, and blacks and whites held joint conventions. Five and a half percent of North Carolina's African Americans worked in saw mills, in brick factories, as carpenters, or as stone and marble cutters. The largest factory in Wilmington, the Sprunt Cotton Compress, employed several hundred African American workers, virtually all male. The Ashley and Bailey silk factory in Fayetteville, a branch of a northern company, ran smoothly with a workforce of black women and children.
Since northern capitalists could scarcely overlook such a numerous and cheap workforce, Charles Pettey reasoned that the future of the South would depend upon whether the "manufactories growing up in the South by the help of Northern capital employ ... black labor." African American slaves had furnished the primary labor force in some antebellum mills, and some southern capitalists mixed the races and the sexes in the new industries that developed after the war. Black and white men and women worked in the tobacco industry before mechanization, and African Americans remained in lower-paying jobs after the move to factories. Black and white women worked side by side in commercial laundries. It was vital that African Americans follow their work as it moved indoors. As Charles Pettey put it, "The washerwoman would now like to enter the steam laundry. The blacksmith would like to enter the foundry, where they are now molding the plow shares he made with the hammer."
Much of the state's industrial growth, however, involved building cotton mills, and segregated cotton mills grew rapidly. By 1900, more than 30,000 white North Carolinians labored in cotton and knitting mills, more operatives than in any state except Massachusetts. Most workers were women, and 31 percent were under sixteen. White mill promoters argued that employing African Americans presented a peculiar problem for two reasons: white women and children comprised the bulk of the workforce and needed to be protected from race mixing, and owners located the mills in isolated areas where they had to provide segregated housing. The rising tide of racial segregation washed over this new industry as owners invented job categories and designated particular jobs as suitable for men or women, for whites or blacks. Only a few of the dirtiest outdoor jobs fell to African Americans.
But rigid segregation in the cotton mills did not merely reflect the status quo; it was also a tool promoters used to tap growing white supremacist feelings and to offer racial exclusion as an employee benefit. Cotton mill managers could dangle before poor white families something they lacked on the farm, giving them a glimpse of what increasingly defined white ladyhood: distance from all African Americans, with its implied protection from black men. A mill owners' apologist assured white workers: "The working of negroes, particularly negro men, beside white women within walls would not be tolerated.... The experience of the South with the `unspeakable crime' has been bitter." But, of course, integration was tolerated in many existing commercial and artisanal establishments. Moreover, poor white farm families neither worked within walls nor toiled in fields of racial purity. They often picked cotton, cured tobacco, and harvested squash side by side with African Americans and counted themselves lucky for the help. The cotton mill's promise of racial separation to poor white women represented new, pathetic bait in a Faustian bargain.
Once owners decided that only whites would work in southern cotton mills, they had to make the decision appear to be the only logical one. In order to suggest that the decision was natural, southern whites concocted notions that generally revolved around the idea that quick, crafty, Scotch-Irish mountaineers made good mill operatives whereas sluggish, crude African American cotton pickers did not. Anyone who gave a mill job to an African American jeopardized this fiction, and often during the late 1890s, reports cropped up of African Americans working in cotton mills. The manager of Vesta Mills, a Charleston, South Carolina, knitting factory, was frustrated by high turnover in his white female workforce and appealed to black ministers to recommend women to replace them. After recruiting this new workforce, he fired 300 white women and hired black women and a black male supervisor. The white women's male relatives subsequently demanded their jobs back in a widely published petition that condemned the black supervisor. The mill manager, they argued, "should preclude him from competing with our mothers, wives, sons, and daughters in light pursuits of the country." The petitioners worried "that he must be put in dangerous proximity with our maidens or they be deprived of opportunities for his benefit." By ignoring the black women mill workers and focusing on their male supervisor, the petitioners sexualized what was actually an economic threat. White men wanted to put their female relatives to work, and they wanted black women out of the way.
The Atlanta Constitution reflected white people's hopes that African Americans would prove biologically incapable of cotton mill work when it ran a story on Vesta Mills in 1900, replete with four screaming headlines. "Negro Labor in Cotton Mills," the lead warned. "Experiment at Charleston Is Being Watched," cautioned the second headline. "Not Such a Great Success," opined the next. "Black People Do Not Seem to Take to the Work--Takes Long Time to Instruct Them--Then Suddenly Leave Their Jobs," confided the last. The story failed to mention that the black women had been called in when white women's turnover rate became too high to run the mill.
If white-owned mills came under pressure for employing African Americans, then black-owned mills might prove that they made good workers and create competition to boot. Warren G. Coleman, a wealthy black man in Concord, set out to raise black capital, hire black overseers, train black operatives, and start a mill. The Dudleys and the Petteys had been friends of Coleman's for years--when Edward Dudley walked away with a ribbon for his five-foot-tall pumpkin, Warren Coleman claimed another for his thirty-five-pound cantaloupe. Sarah Dudley Pettey called Coleman Mill the best "monument yet erected to Negro thrift, industry and energy." To Dudley Pettey, the mill represented "the closing event of the nineteenth century, and the crowning effort of Negro aspirations, capabilities and manhood." Coleman sent salespeople like Lulu Jenkins, a Concord teacher, throughout the state to sell stock in his new venture. Jenkins visited the Petteys as she traveled in the eastern part of the state, initially taking pledges to buy stock and then returning to collect increments of 10 percent from subscribers. Among the mill's incorporators were many friends of the Petteys, including Lawson Andrew Scruggs, now a teacher at Leonard Medical School; E. A. Johnson, a Raleigh attorney whose sister married Sarah's brother Edward Richard Dudley III; and John Dancy, an AME Zion churchman who, with Charles Pettey, had built the Star of Zion. Even with such prestigious backing and strong sales efforts, the mill remained undercapitalized. Apparently $50,000 to $100,000 was pledged, but only $23,000 was actually collected.
Although Sarah Dudley Pettey believed that the industrialization she saw around her meant progress for blacks, it did not. She could not know at the time that automation and centralization of work in factories solidified economic differences between the races and built a new power structure that denied African Americans even the small chance a more agrarian economy had afforded them. After it took six years to build the Coleman Mill, it operated for only two years until Coleman's death in 1904. Coleman apparently spent his fortune and borrowed heavily from the Dukes of Durham to keep it afloat.
Given white attempts to exclude African Americans from participation in the South's industrial awakening, Booker T. Washington's speech at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta takes on new meaning. Washington took the stage in the midst of the commercial carnival. Through the exposition, the South, with slightly more than 10 percent of the nation's wealth, sought to shake off the recession of 1893, to trumpet its capabilities, and to prove to northern investors that the southern "Negro problem" would not be a bar to progress.
Whites and blacks heard Washington say two different things that day. Washington's white auditors emphasized his abdication of classical education for African Americans and his acceptance of a separate black place in the agrarian South. Yet blacks heard his argument for the inclusion, not the exclusion, of African Americans in the urban industrial order. Washington challenged his audience: "It is in the South that the Negro is given a man's chance in the commercial world." Speaking in Atlanta, one of the South's most unionized cities in 1895, Washington, like Sarah Dudley Pettey in Homestead, sought to remind whites that blacks had worked "without strikes and labor wars." Washington foresaw the impending industrialization of the region, but his solution--vocational education--replicated the world of the past instead of predicting that of the future. That day in Atlanta, Washington faced white captains of industry and asked for a job; blacks will "run your factories," he predicted. Unfortunately, when he gave up claims to a classical education, he relinquished a right upon which the growth of the black middle class depended. Certainly the Petteys had learned useful skills at Scotia Seminary and Biddle Memorial Institute--Sarah's dormitory's cornerstone read "Head, Heart, and Hands," after all--but they had also learned Latin. The grateful fervor with which whites embraced Washington's exposition speech soon made clear the one-sided nature of the Atlanta "Compromise."
Southern African Americans mounted vigorous opposition to the foreclosure of classical educations, the abdication of political power, and segregation. Although the Atlanta Exposition is remembered primarily for Washington's speech, several discordant African American voices arose there, including Charles Pettey's and, oddly enough, Margaret Murray Washington's. Pettey answered Washington at the Negro Exhibition Hall, where it is doubtful that many, if any, white people heard him. As he began, perhaps Pettey remembered the day thirteen years earlier when, at Washington's invitation, he had addressed Tuskegee Institute's first class. Now he would strain those ties.
The text of Pettey's Atlanta speech is lost, but another that reportedly echoed it that was given a short time later at Mobile, Alabama, has survived. It seems crafted as an answer to Washington. Pettey argued that full participation in economic progress required a complete education. "I would be the last one to discourage classical training," he said pointedly. Whereas Washington had recommended that African Americans narrow their horizons to succeed, Pettey exhorted his audience to "soar high, far beyond the cloudy pathway of all present astronomers and there blaze like the sun." Only by receiving higher educations comparable to those of whites could African Americans have the chance to enter scientific fields. "Gentlemen, let the lamp of twenty five years experience be our guide," Pettey cautioned. "God forbid my saying one word against the Negro going to the topmost round of intellectual manhood." Pettey held onto every shred of possibility and raised the stakes. He recommended no casting down of one's bucket where one stood, no settling for the right to work while bargaining away the right to vote. In exchange for Washington's clay-mired boots, Pettey offered wings.
Booker T. Washington's wife, Margaret Murray Washington, attended the Atlanta Exposition in her capacity as first vice president of the National Colored Woman's Congress, an event organized by the Woman's Auxiliary of the Negro Exhibition Hall. Lucy Hughes Brown, Sarah's old schoolmate, came as a delegate, as did many of the northern editors of the Woman's Era, the voice of the fledgling black club women's movement. The Woman's Congress issued a strongly worded set of resolutions on the state of southern race relations. Its resolves differ in principle from Washington's exposition address on at least one point. The women called "upon the Southern legislators, in the name of the common womanhood, to adopt a first and second class fare [on trains and streetcars], so that the womanhood of the race may be protected from every outrage and insult." Protesting Jim Crow cars by advocating that riders be separated on class lines rather than race lines runs counter to the image that the Wizard hoped to convey. Moreover, there is a striking difference in style between Washington's remarks and the women's resolutions. Whereas he was vague, they were specific. Whereas he seemed to accept subordination, they struck out at injustice.
Perhaps the Petteys and Booker T. Washington saw things differently because of the profound differences between North Carolina and Alabama. If Washington's homiletic concessions represented canny strategies in the deep South, that simply points up the absurdity of whites anointing him the only spokesperson for African Americans. A look around New Bern through the Petteys' eyes underscores the dramatic differences between the upper and lower South in the 1890s, differences that African Americans in North Carolina recognized and cherished. Shortly after Washington's speech, a black newspaperman found himself on a New Bern-bound train among several elderly black men and women who had just experienced six years of debt peonage in Mississippi. They had left North Carolina for the promise of a better life in the deep South, but they quickly discovered to their horror that "escape" was the only route out of sharecropping in "those bottoms." Even then "they will hunt you, catch you and bring you back and give you a good thrashing, just as they used to do in slavery times," said one sharecropper. One old woman, Mrs. P. E. Sutton, "looked real pitiful" and told of being whipped until her "back was as raw as a piece of raw beef." The returning emigrants concluded, "We had no rights, not even the right to vote." The dismayed correspondent, unlike Booker T. Washington, saw compelling connections between political, economic, and civil rights: "We colored people in North Carolina have a right to feel proud that we escaped at the last election such laws as the Democrats have in Mississippi." As the grizzled sharecroppers traveled by train to New Bern in 1895, no Jim Crow law assigned their seats after they crossed the North Carolina line.
Debt peonage, disfranchisement, and segregation laws enacted outside the state hung over black North Carolinians in the 1890s like the sword of Damocles, evoking relief at escaping disaster thus far. In the summer of 1893, black North Carolina college student William Fonvielle tossed a few clothes and a volume of Shakespeare into his valise and departed on a train trip through the lower South to experience these curiosities firsthand. Operating from the premise that there was "as much difference in North Carolina and her sisters south of her as there is in North Carolina and Massachusetts," he poked his head out of the window in the hopes of glimpsing a "native" when the train crossed the South Carolina line. Spotting a one-gallused white man plowing behind an ox, Fonvielle "sat there and wondered if this tiller of the soil, this specimen of South Carolina manhood, had ever helped lynch anybody." He encountered "colored" and "white" waiting rooms for the first time in Spartanburg and pronounced Atlanta "a mean hole ... chained down with prejudice." When he crossed the Georgia-Alabama line, he was forced to ride in his first Jim Crow car, which he dubbed a "pig-stye arrangement." As Fonvielle returned home through Tennessee, Jim Crow enforcement became spotty; some lines required it, but on others African Americans could "ride decently." Fonvielle's journey is like a snapshot from the eye of a hurricane: a calm view of segregation-in-progress. For William Fonvielle, at least, disfranchisement and Jim Crow represented anything but foregone conclusions in North Carolina.
Other black North Carolinians, including Fonvielle's friend Sarah Dudley Pettey, cast anxious glances southward toward the stain of repression creeping in their direction. Two years after Fonvielle's journey, she condemned the owners of Atlanta's streetcar company for their "indiscreet and ungentlemanly execution of the power vested in them by a biased and prejudiced legislature"-in other words, for segregating the cars. Dudley Pettey endorsed a protest among black Atlanta women and urged them to go even further and boycott the lines. Most black North Carolinians believed, however, that such repression could not happen in their state; they had progressed too far to turn back now. When the unfortunate Mississippi refugees finally walked freely along New Bern's streets, reassuring sights of black progress must have given them a feeling of relief akin to the relief Fonvielle experienced upon his homecoming. In the years just before and after Washington's speech, all eight barbers in New Bern were black, as were three butchers, two carpenters, and two general merchants. Three black lawyers practiced in the city, and eight black leaders organized the Mutual Aid Banking Company, the first black private bank in the state. School funds were distributed "pro rata per capita" to whites and blacks, and 4,293 black compared to 2,788 white children attended New Bern's public schools.
The Eastern North Carolina Industrial Stock and Fruit Fair, established in 1890 and staged annually by Craven County black leaders, prompted a white paper to comment, "It is to the credit of the colored citizens that the best of order was preserved everywhere," and the fair's secretary encouraged whites to attend in order to see members of the "colored race who are struggling to do something and be something." Besides watching the goat race and the alligator-wrestling competition, Sarah Dudley Pettey cheered as her children, sisters, and father took top honors for their paintings. Surely doing something and being something would count for something, and North Carolina would be the dam that held back the rising tide of white supremacy.
The week after the fair, through the agency of a white lawyer, the Petteys purchased a resort in rural Alexander County, North Carolina, across the mountain from the Wilkes County homeplace where Charles Pettey was born in slavery in 1849. Amid gently rolling hills, with springs and creeks lacing the land, sat a fine two-story hotel. On the other side of the road sprawled a gazebo and dining hall. The Petteys now owned All Healing Spring, one of the premier "Health Resort[s] and Pleasure Retreat[s]" in western North Carolina. The resort's patrons had always been and would remain white--always.
Photographs of All Healing Spring during the period capture the fairest flowers of white womanhood lounging on the hotel's veranda, and accounts of summer parties and dances abound in the oral tradition. The surrounding community discovered that the Petteys were the new owners in short order. A local white woman dutifully recorded each of the spring's proprietors in her scrapbook from 1892 until 1912. Next to Charles Pettey's name, she wrote "(Col.)." What was clear to contemporaries became shrouded in legend in subsequent years, and local folklore transformed Pettey from an African American into a white Confederate colonel. Now innkeepers themselves, Charles and Sarah Pettey had quite outgrown their assigned spots in Procrustes's bed. So had many of their peers, the women apace with the men.
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