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Chapter Eight

Jim Crow  and The Defeat of Populism  

Dr. Dan L. Morrill

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

E-mail comments to N4JFJ@aol.com 

This photo was taken in the Baumgarten Studio presumably on June 6, 1881---the date of the marriage of John Rattley to Sarah Butler.  Stephen Mattoon of Biddle Univ performed the ceremony in Clinton Chapel.   

     The 1890s and the first decade of the twentieth century were tragic years for African Americans and for working class whites in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County and throughout the entire South. Events occurred during those years that intensified racial and class antipathies that persist until the present day.  There are some who think that the sad story of the rise of Jim Crow  or racial segregation laws and the defeat of Populism should be left untold.  This writer does not agree.  The truth is the truth, however disturbing and troubling it might be. 

     "If the psychologists are correct in their hypothesis that aggression is always the result of frustration, then the South toward the end of the 'nineties was the perfect cultural seedbed for aggression against the minority race," asserts historian C. Vann Woodward.  Woodward contends that prejudice, hatred, and fanaticism have always existed in America, as they have in practically any human society.  What allowed feelings of  “extreme racism” to become dominant in the South at the end of the nineteenth century, he argues, “was not so much cleverness or ingenuity as it was a general weakening and discrediting of the numerous forces that had hitherto kept them in check.” 

According to Woodward, Northern liberals became more interested in the late 1800s in fostering sectional reconciliation than in continuing to champion the civil rights of African Americans.  “Just as the Negro gained his emancipation and new rights through a falling out between white men, he now stood to lose his rights through the reconciliation of white men,” explains Woodward.  The most obvious example of this shift in Northern attitudes about civil rights was the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson  (1896). This seminal judgment allowed states to establish “separate but equal” facilities for whites and blacks and opened the floodgates for legal racial segregation in the South.

     Furthering weakening the North’s opposition to racial equality was the country’s adoption of imperialistic ambitions during and after the Spanish American War of 1898, especially in the Philippines.  How could the Yankees defend the rights of the minority race in the South when they were at the same time exploiting people of color on far distant islands?   “The North had a bloody shirt of its own,” says Woodward.  Finally, and most importantly, moderate, wealthy Southerners abandoned their accommodating stance on race when they came to believe that fanning the flames of racial bigotry  once more would be useful in holding onto white support for a continuation of the elite’s political dominance of the South and for the New South agenda of unending economic growth.   

     Many educated African Americans were still hopeful about the future in the 1870s and 1880s. It was certainly not a golden age of racial harmony.  Fraud was rampant in elections, and registrars were often capricious in performing their official duties.  But affluent whites did not hold a monopoly on political power in North Carolina in those years.  "It is perfectly true that Negroes were often coerced, defrauded, or intimidated," writes Woodward, "but they continued to vote in large numbers in most parts of the South for more than two decades after Reconstruction."  Tar Heel voters, for example, elected 52 African Americans to the North Carolina House of Representatives between 1876 and 1894. 

Sarah Hutson Butler (1860-1895) belonged to Charlotte's "finer" African American community.

      It is true that Charlotte, like most Southern cities, was largely segregated along racial lines except for housing, but blacks and whites commingled during the routine acts of daily living in much the same way as people did in the North.  Nobody can deny that there were blatant examples of discrimination, such as at the Charlotte Opera House, where African Americans had to sit in the balcony.   But whites routinely attended concerts in black churches and listened to guest lecturers at Biddle Institute.  Black camp meetings in Dilworth ’s Latta Park  attracted “the best white and colored people.” Visitors from outside the region often commented on the convivial atmosphere of race relations in the South.  "I think the whites of the South are really less afraid to have contact with colored people than the whites of the North," commented one African American traveler in 1885.  "I feel about as safe here as in Providence, R.I.," he said while riding on a train in South Carolina.  "I can ride in first-class cars on the railroads and in the streets.  I can go into saloons and get refreshments even as in New York." 

These are the sons of a prominent white family posing with their "Mammy," who had been born into slavery.  The former brick slave house was behind the main house on South Tryon St.

William C. Smith , editor of Charlotte’s first African American newspaper, the Charlotte Messenger , shared the belief of many citizens that blacks could gain acceptance by the majority community if they demonstrated their commitment to such values as good manners, self-discipline, hard work, and financial responsibility.  African Americans, he declared, must “stop smoking cigars, drinking whiskey, pleasure riding” and joining in other ungentlemanly activities.  Henry Clinton , an A.M.E. Zion preacher and bishop, expressed similar sentiments.  “Be quiet, gentlemanly, attentive to your own business and you will find that you will get along much better than if you laugh loud, swagger, smoke cheap cigars and drink cheap whiskey,” he told his congregation.  “Colored people must remember that this is a white man’s country.”

W. C. Smith, editor of the Charlotte Messenger.

 In her engrossing book Bittersweet Legacy, Janette Greenwood describes how affluent whites and upper class blacks in Charlotte did cooperate in the 1880s in a concerted effort to close saloons and other venues for obtaining alcoholic beverages.  It was a formidable task. According to some residents, Charlotte was "awash in booze."   A.M.E. Zion Bishop Henry Lomax  reported that in 1881 “Charlotte was haunted with more drunken men, in proportion of the population, than he had ever seen and he had traveled in every State of the Union except three.” A town of only some 7000 residents in 1880, Charlotte had seventeen saloons and a beer garden, and drug stores also sold liquor.  On Christmas Day 1880 groups of young men roamed through the town like participants in a “carnival of intemperance.”   Charlotte was “filled with reeling, drunken youth,” complained one outraged observer.

These are the students in 1887 at Myers Street School, the first public school for blacks in Charlotte.

     Prohibition was particularly well suited as a political issue that could bridge the racial divide in New South Charlotte.  Wealthy whites, who were becoming increasingly disgusted with the reckless and flagrant disregard for common decency exhibited by many drunks, were willing to form alliances with supporters wherever they could find them, even if they were black.  African Americans, especially those who had been educated in freedmen’s schools or taught by Northern missionaries, were likewise eager to join hands with the majority community.  C. C. Pettey , a minister and graduate of Biddle Institute, described liquor as “the accursed brutalizer and destroyer of humanity.” 

       In 1881, white prohibitionists in Charlotte established the Prohibition Association  to lobby the State legislature to pass a law outlawing whiskey anywhere and everywhere.  Women, including Jane Renwick Smedburg Wilkes , were the backbone of the organization.  During anti-whiskey municipal election campaigns in Apri1, and again in State-wide elections held later that year and in 1886 and 1888, the Prohibition Association invited blacks to share the rostrum and platform with whites at public rallies.  Not to be outdone, the pro-liquor crowd was also biracial.

      Although the “wets” eventually succeeded in keeping the saloons open, prohibitionists like W. C. Smith and white lawyer E. K. P. Osborne  had demonstrated that both sides of the color line could cooperate politically in Charlotte during the 1880s.  “Exploitation there was in that period,” says Woodward.  “Subordination there was also, unmistakable subordination; but it was not yet an accepted corollary that the subordinates had to be totally segregated and needlessly humiliated by a thousand daily reminders of their subordination.”

      It was in the 1890s that extreme racism gained the upper hand again in Charlotte and throughout the South.  New South boosters like D. A. Tompkins  and Edward Dilworth  Latta  became deeply concerned about the course of political events and feared that their influence over governmental affairs in Mecklenburg County  and North Carolina might diminish or even end.  They and their compatriots therefore decided to marshal their considerable resources and destroy this threat to their privileged positions, thereby setting into motion a series of reforms that would transform the nature of  public affairs in this community and in the South as a whole  for more than 60 years.

     There were three groups involved in attacking the political status quo in the 1890s -- impoverished farmers, disgruntled mill workers, and unhappy blacks.  They formed a political alliance that sought to topple the political dominance of the Democrat Party and its affluent leaders.  The issues were essentially power and money.   “Small farmers felt themselves losing power to the upstart railroad towns,” says historian Thomas Hanchett.  Factory workers, mostly tenant farmers who had been forced off the land, grieved over their loss of  status and the diminution of their sense of personal independence. Blacks, explains Hanchett, “looked for a way to finally attain the respect and influence due them as free citizens.”

John Edward Rattley (1855-1946) was a graduate of Biddle Institute and the first principal of Myers Street School.

The impetus for this bold political initiative of the 1890s arose in the countryside.  Times were hard for farmers.  Cotton prices plummeted in the 1870s and 1880s, putting many Mecklenburg County farmers in dire economic straits. By 1880, 43 percent of the agriculturists in Mecklenburg County were tenant farmers.  Country people were angry and felt impotent.  They blamed townspeople, especially bankers, storekeepers, and industrialists like D. A. Tompkins  and Edward Dilworth  Latta ,  for their plight.  “ . . . when we farmers are in the fields working hard in the summer, with the drops of sweat falling from our brow,” complained  one rural resident, “the merchants are sitting around the store doors with their linen shirts and black neckties on, waiting for us to bring in our first bale of cotton.”   Rural residents insisted that railroads were getting wealthy by charging exorbitant shipping fees and banks were prospering by levying excessive interest rates. “Owing to legislation in favor of monopolies our lands are gradually slipping from the hands of the wealth-producing classes and going into the hands of the few,” lamented J. A. Wilson , a Mecklenburg County farmer.

White children stand atop a "Joggling Board," a favorite toy of the day.  Two black servants watch the children.  This picture was made in Charlotte.

Believing that collective action was their only means for relief, Mecklenburg farmers established a local branch of the Farmers’ Alliance  in 1888.  The Alliance sponsored picnics where rural families gathered to eat such "rural delicacies" as collard greens, cornbread, black-eyed peas, and pork chops while listening to speakers who would rail against the “enemies of the countryside.”  One “suspender-popping” orator warned his audience that time for resolute action was at hand, “for if we fail this time, the farmer’s doom is fixed, the merchants will have us where they will hold us forever.”  One wonders whether the children playing in the barnyards paid any attention to what the impassioned speakers were saying.  Their mothers and fathers certainly did.

    In 1892, disgruntled farmers gave up on their efforts to gain control of the Democrat Party and decided to establish a separate People’s or Populist Party  to advance their agenda.  Country folks were further embittered by the Panic of 1893, the most severe economic downturn the country had experienced up until that time.  Determined to sweep the Democrats aside and take command in North Carolina and other agricultural states, the Populists  set out to unite rank-and-file whites, including those who worked in the factories and the mills of the cities, with the Republican Party, which was overwhelmingly black, to achieve a majority coalition in upcoming elections.

     The prospects that the Populists  could win broad support among industrial workers looked promising, because they too were dissatisfied with their station in life.  Textile mills were dangerous places.  Accidents at D. A. Tompkins ’s Atherton Mills  were frequent, such as the mangling of a worker's hands in June 1893, or the death of an overseer who became entangled in a belting apparatus in October 1902. Having come to town in hopes of finding steady work, the millhands soon learned that they could be let go at the whim of the owners.  “Last week night work shut down at the mill on account of a dullness in the market,” reported the Charlotte Observer  in March 1896.  “It throws about 15 families out of work.” 

     The Knights of Labor did organize a local union in 1886, but it was largely ineffectual in its efforts to protect blue-collar workers from the actions of their employers.  According to historian Thomas Hanchett, skilled millhands in Charlotte earned between $1.00 and $1.40 per day in 1890, while unskilled men made between 65 cents and 75 cents.  Women and children made even less – 40 cents to 65 cents per day.  Usually having no relatives in Charlotte who could provide emergency relief, families often had no choice but to walk the streets looking for jobs at other textile mills or in the local construction industry.  Laborers would frequently resort to begging if no work was to be had.  In October 1896, the Charlotte Democrat  complained about “the unusually large number of beggars and tramps investing this place.”

        As already noted, the 1870s and 1880s had been a time of “tremendous hope” for African Americans in Charlotte, but by the early 1890s blacks were becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of on-going progress in race relations.  J. C. Price , president of Livingstone College in Salisbury, spoke to a biracial audience at the Charlotte City Hall in April 1893.  He described “the Southern race problem from the Negro’s point of view.”  African Americans, said Price, were “denied equal accommodation for the money on the railroad trains; he cannot get justice in the courts; he is lynched on slight provocation; he is denied equal participation with the white man in the affairs of government.”  

Some of Charlotte "finest" African Americans belonged to Grace A.M.E. Zion Church, which is in the background.

A particularly unsettling event occurred at the Richmond and Danville Railroad Station  on West Trade Street in October 1893.  A group of students from Biddle Institute went there to assist  some young black female friends in gathering their luggage and getting on the train.  Even though they broke no laws and were not arrested, several of the young men were boisterous and exuberant in their behavior.  Whites at the station became upset and angry.  “There is a disposition among them,” said the Charlotte Observer  about blacks in general, “when they are superfluous numbers in public places – as railroad stations and cars, streetcars, etc. – particularly on gala occasions, to make themselves offensive to the whites about them by loud talking and such characters of misbehaving – good natured as it may be.”  The newspaper went on to suggest that the railroad provide “separate accommodations for whites and blacks at the depot.”  It was not long before the Richmond and Danville Railroad complied.  Although alarmed, Charlotte’s African American community did not openly oppose this move.  The Star of Zion , the newspaper of the A.M.E. Zion Church, did express its “regret . . . of the proposed action of the Richmond and Danville Railroad authorities.”

     “The pent-up frustrations of farmers, blacks, and ordinary North Carolinans whose interests had been ignored by the Democrat party exploded in the 1894 state elections,” writes historian Paul Escott.    The so-called “Fusionists” elected 74 members to the North Carolina legislature and sent two of their backers to the United States Senate.   The insurgents controlled 62 percent of the seats in the General Assembly in 1894 and 78 percent in 1896.

      It did not take long for the defenders of the status quo to realize that the Populists  and their Republican allies represented a grave threat to the economic and political hegemony traditionally held by the New South elite.  The Fusionists passed legislation that put elected county commissions back in charge of local government.   They capped the interest rate banks and merchants could charge at 6 percent.  They increased funding for public schools in hopes that education would improve the economic standing of the masses.  They made it easier for rank-and-file citizens to vote by reducing the discretionary power of local registrars to exclude them from the polls.  They distributed ballots that even the illiterate could understand.  Most ominously for the likes of D. A. Tompkins  and his pro-business cohorts, the Fusionists elected Daniel L. Russell  as governor in 1896 and backed his attacks against corporate privilege.  The first Republican governor since Reconstruction, Russell lashed out at the “railroad kings, bank barons, and money princes” and called for much higher taxes on business.   The people were not “the serfs and slaves of the bond-holding and gold hoarding classes,” the governor proclaimed.

      The New South elite decided it had to fight back and regain control of the State legislature in 1898.  What they needed to succeed was a way to convince rank-and-file whites, mainly tenant farmers and mill workers,  to quit cooperating with the Republicans, the majority of whom were black.  The answer was for wealthy whites to “play the race card”  again just as they had in the late 1860s and early 1870s.  “They persuaded themselves that the crisis of the ‘nineties was as desperate as that of the ‘seventies had been,” explains C. Vann Woodward.  “The South must be redeemed again, and the political ethics of redemption – which justified any means to achieve the end – were pressed into service against the Populists  as they had been against the carpetbaggers.”  Woodward continues:  “The same means of fraud, intimidation, bribery, violence, and terror were used against the one that had been used against the other.”

     Most of the local leaders of the campaign to intimidate and disenfranchise African Americans were members of the  Young Democrats Club .  Composed mainly of middle class professionals in their thirties or early forties, such as attorneys Heriot Clarkson  and Charles W. Tillett , the “Young Democrats” organized torchlight parades and held mass rallies to demonstrate their “bare-knuckle style” of determination to subdue the Populists  and terrorize black voters.  As many as 1500 “Young Democrats,” bedecked in flamboyant red shirts, rode periodically down Tryon Street at night on horseback, brandishing their weapons, thrusting their chests defiantly toward onlookers, and proclaiming the superiority of the white race.        

           The Charlotte Observer  enthusiastically endorsed the campaign to wrest the vote away from blacks and accordingly called upon the people of Charlotte-Mecklenburg to cast their ballots for the Democrats.  "No Northern State or community would permit itself to be governed by its ignorance and poverty and no more can Southern states or communities afford this," the newspaper declared on January 14, 1898.  The ballot, wrote a reporter several days later,  "becomes in the hands of the ignorant and the vicious classes a most destructive and dangerous element."   The Charlotte Observer claimed that the Populists  and their Republican allies had established a regime in Raleigh "as corrupt as the crypt of Hades" and predicted that on Election Day, November 8, 1898, the people would "bury its corrupters beneath an avalanche of ballots."  Click here to see racial illustrations from D. A. Tompkins's History of Mecklenburg County.

    The Democrats understood that the support of factory workers would be crucial in the upcoming election.   Consequently, they established the Workingmen's Democratic Club  and dispatched speakers to preach the mantra of white racial unity.  John D. Bellamy , a Democrat candidate for Congress, spoke to the laborers at Highland Park Manufacturing Plant No. 1  on September 27th.  He told the mill hands that the election would determine whether the affairs of North Carolina would “be controlled by the vicious, or whether they shall be put in the hands of the intelligent people of the State – the white people.”  The Republicans, Bellamy proclaimed, had “put the counties and towns of eastern North Carolina in the hands of the Negroes, who compose 95 percent of the Republican Party.”

Textile works would become supporters of Jim Crow Laws.

The Populists  and the Republicans attempted in vain to stem the tidal wave of white racial antipathy that was running against African Americans.   On March 31, 1898, a lecturer at Biddle Institute told his audience that politicians  “should guard and protect” the interests of black citizens.  “Negro colonization, expatriation and similar schemes should be repudiated,” he insisted, “and the issues confronting the race should be met in a manly way.”  Oliver H. Dockery , a Republican candidate for Congress, speaking at a political meeting at the old courthouse on West Trade Street, was even more direct in his denunciation of what he believed the Democrats were attempting to accomplish.  According to a newspaper reporter who covered the event, Dockery insisted that his opponents “tried to narrow the issues down to one – the miserable cry of  n…..! n…..!”

     It is important to emphasize that the leaders of the Democratic Party did not consider themselves to be enemies of African Americans.  Indeed, to their way of thinking, all citizens, including blacks, would benefit from orderly government.  What historian Paul Escott derisively calls the privileged “better half” claimed that it alone was fit to rule.  “Be it our work, the work of all of us, to hasten the day when the dream of Southern supremacy through Southern prosperity shall be realized in all its fullness,” declared the Charlotte Observer  on March 6, 1898.

      Heriot Clarkson  discussed the issue of race while addressing a large Democratic rally held in Dilworth's Latta Park on October 14th.  According to the local press, Clarkson contended that the “white people had done much for the Negroes.” They had built schools for African Americans.  They had founded hospitals for African Americans.  They had established charitable institutions for African Americans.   But African Americans, Clarkson reportedly said,  “had always allied themselves most solidly against the whites, and hence the white voters were bound, in self defense, to stand together.”

       The Charlotte Observer   appealed  ever more directly to the racial prejudices of white voters as Election Day neared.  On October 22, 1898, the newspaper claimed that “the eyes of the nation” were upon North Carolina.  “ . . . unless the State rights itself at the coming election we are likely to fall under that contempt which is always visited upon cravens,”  the editors proclaimed.  “These lines are being printed just a little more than forty-eight hours before the opening of the polls," the Charlotte Observer declared on November 6th.  Calling Governor Russell "vicious and vindictive beyond any man in the State, the newspaperwent on to assert that the governor had “appointed rascals to office, knowing them to be rascals.”  “No one has written or told what momentous consequences are involved in the result of the balloting of Tuesday,” the editor wrote, “because no one can.” 

     The Democratic Party emerged victorious from the balloting on November 8th.  Predictably, the Charlotte Observer was overjoyed by the outcome.  "Tkhe people of North Carolina were true to themselves yesterday," the newspaper declared on November 9th. "The white people got together and won the election."  The shift in votes by precinct was actually relatively small, but Democrat totals did rise in every box in Charlotte Township, including the two mill boxes and the three rural boxes.   Just enough whites had abandoned the Populists  and the Republicans to produce a Democrat victory.  Statewide, the balloting put 134 Democrats in the General Assembly and only 36 Fusionists.  "Being in power again," said the Charlotte Observer about the Democrats, "the real people of North Carolina will proceed to enact laws which will be for the well being of all of our people, and we know that hereafter there will be peace and good government in our borders."

     The consequences of putting Democrats in control of both houses of the General Assembly were not long in coming.  Beholden to its elitist, anti-democratic constituencies, the majority party moved quickly to change the election laws so that most African Americans, hence Republicans, would not be able to continue to cast ballots.  Specifically, on February 18, 1899, the General Assembly proposed a constitutional amendment, modeled on a Louisiana statute, that would establish literacy requirements for voting except for those whites whose grandfathers had been able to vote.  Clearly, if approved by a referendum of the people, these new requirements for exercising the franchise would render the Republican Party politically impotent.  Charles B. Aycock , who would become the Democrat candidate for governor in 1900, knew exactly what was going on.  The amendment, he maintained, would be "the final settlement of the Negro problem as related to the politics of the state."

     The Democratic Party mounted another aggressive White Supremacy  campaign during the months preceding August 2, 1900, which was the day set aside for the referendum on the disenfranchisement amendment.  Red Shirts  rode the streets again, and huge rallies were held to embolden whites and to intimidate blacks.    Thousands of Democrats gathered on July 31st to witness a parade that wound through the streets of Charlotte and eventually ended at Latta Park , where "leaders of the community" addressed the crowd.  Charlotte lawyer Hamilton C. Jones  was the first speaker.  "Another and the last great crisis to the State is reached," he proclaimed.  "North Carolina proposes to lift up the cloud that has rested upon her for 30 years, and it is determined that North Carolinians shall take their rightful place in the world -- freemen among freemen, Anglo-Saxon among Anglo-Saxon."  The Charlotte Observer  understood  what the referendum was about.  "The white man or the Negro -- that is the proposition that will be settled rightfully by night," said the newspaper on Election Day.  The constitutional amendment was approved by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent Statewide.

     The future electoral impact of the disenfranchisement amendment of August 1900 was profound.   "North Carolina had returned to an undemocratic political system that guaranteed the powerful in society effective means of protecting their power," writes Paul Escott.  "The state's elite minority was secure against democratic challenges once more."  The Republican Party was divested of its largest group of supporters, and the Populists  faded into obscurity.  With African Americans no longer able to win seats on elected bodies, the Democrats were able to superintend a one-party political system in the South. Indeed, despite substantial growth and development over the next sixty years, Charlotte did not fundamentally change in the years from 1900 until the mid-1950s, at least in terms of the locale of political authority.  Rich white men and their minions were in charge.   An early consequence of this circumstance, especially since racial prejudice against blacks had been a fundamental component of elite's campaign to regain power, was the enactment by the Democrats  of so-called "Jim Crow  Laws."  

     The origin of the term "Jim Crow " is obscure.  It most likely appeared in 1832, when Thomas D. Rice composed a song and dance routine called "Jim Crow" for a minstrel show.  Regardless, by 1900 it had become a derogatory nickname for African Americans.  Mostly enacted by city ordinances and other local regulations, Jim Crow laws appeared across the South in the early 1900s as a principal means to guarantee racial separation.  "The extremes to which caste penalties and separation were carried in parts of the South could hardly find a counterpart short of the latitudes of India and South African," writes C. Vann Woodward.

   Charlotte was no exception.  Imagine how the black citizens felt when the all-white Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance in 1907 instituting racial segregation on Charlotte's streetcars.  Fancy how they reacted emotionally to the announcement that the owners of Lakewood Park , a popular amusement complex, would not extend the fall season for a week in 1910, so the black residents of Charlotte could visit the facility, because the "fear existed that such a course might injure the resort in some manner, or might lesson the prestige."

Bishop George Wiley Clinton of Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church would host leading members of his congregation at an annual Christmas celebration.

At almost every turn, the black men and black women of Charlotte encountered developments that threatened their sense of self-esteem. In November 1911, the Board of School Commissioners announced that it was abandoning plans to construct a black school in Third Ward because of the "objections  which have been forthcoming from the citizens." In April 1911, black Sunday School teachers were invited to the Mecklenburg County Sunday School Association, but they had to sit in the balcony.   Even a play entitled "The N…." was performed on the stage of the elegant Academy of Music on South Tryon Street.  Within this cultural milieu, the black church served as a haven from the white man; there black men could exhort their congregations to persevere in the face of adversity and scorn.

     Clearly, the  behavior of elite whites toward the black citizens of Charlotte at the turn of the last century was in direct opposition to today's sense of equity and fairness. Nothing can mitigate the essential wrongness of White Supremacy .  However, just as in the case of apologists for slavery, the defenders of "Jim Crow " laws believed that disenfranchisement and racial segregation  would work ultimately for the benefit of society as a whole.  Fundamental to the thinking of New South leaders like D. A. Tompkins  and Heriot Clarkson  was the belief that blacks should focus their attention upon educational and economic advancement, not the attainment of political prerogatives.

Carnegie Library at Biddle Memorial Institute, now Johnson C. Smith University.

On November 15, 1911, Tompkins and  Clarkson attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the new Carnegie Library at Biddle Memorial Institute .  Happily the building still stands.  Dr. Henry L. McCrorey , the college president, was master of ceremonies.  McCrorey lauded Tompkins for the latter's unselfish interest in the prosperity of  Biddle Institute.  Tompkins thanked McCrorey and  told the crowd that Biddle was a "model school"  that  contributed mightily to "the solution of the race questions existing throughout the world" by promulgating "conservative influences."    Heriot Clarkson  also praised the school and its graduates.

   The message of the White Supremacists was unmistakable.  They contended that what they called Anglo Saxon values must rein supreme because in their minds such beliefs alone would assure the advancement of all Southerners.  Tompkins maintained that any man, black or white, could succeed in achieving the American Dream if he worked hard enough.  By practicing self-discipline and becoming educated, African Americans might one day demonstrate their worthiness to participate on an equal footing with whites in the political realm; but for now they must be subservient to whites in governmental affairs. 

       A.M.E. Zion Bishop Henry Lomax , who died on March 31, 1908, was the type of individual whom the New South leaders thought African Americans should aspire to become. Lomax invested heavily in real estate in Charlotte, especially in Second Ward, and possessed an estate of approximately $70,000 at the time of his death. "He had remarkable business talent," the Charlotte News  proclaimed, "and set an example to his people of how power and respect come to a man from thrift and industry."  The Charlotte Observer  also commented editorially upon Lomax's death. "In the death of T. H. Lomax of this city, the colored race and the community lose a valuable member and the A.M.E. Zion Church a shining light," the newspaper asserted. "His example and counsels always made for good and by all colors and classes his death is to be regretted."

     Factory workers also suffered discrimination at the hands of the New South leaders in the opening decades of the twentieth century. Unlike most of Charlotte's earlier manufacturing establishments, which had had relatively few workers, factories like Latta's Charlotte Trouser Company  (1883) and the Alpha , Ada , and Victor  Cotton Mills (1889) attracted hundreds of laborers to town. Most were newcomers who had little, if any, loyalties to local elites. It became increasingly difficult within this cultural milieu to maintain the feelings of cordiality that had characterized social relationships between classes in pre-industrial Charlotte. For the first time residential enclaves filled exclusively with cottages for mill workers began to appear on the outskirts of Charlotte. To quote Hanchett, "The close-knit relationships of the small workplace were giving way to less personal interactions between the factory owner and his numerous and interchangeable employees."

     The disenfranchisement amendment approved in 1900 stipulated that the infamous "Grandfather Clause" would last for only seven years and that thereafter illiterate whites would also be prevented from voting unless they had already registered.    This provision resulted from the elite's skepticism concerning the likelihood that industrial workers would remain loyal to the Democrat Party.   Strikes reinforced these feelings of distrust.  In 1905, typographical workers struck the local newspapers, machinists walked off their jobs at D. A. Tompkins  Company,  and messengers vacated Western Union. It was not uncommon for prosperous Charlotteans to refer to millhands and their families as "white trash" or the "ignorant factory set," says Hanchett.

    The most dramatic incident of labor unrest in Charlotte at the turn of the last century occurred in 1903.   Serious trouble began on December 2nd. On that day forty-eight streetcar conductors and motormen who worked for the Charlotte Street Railway Company  walked off the job and marched from the car barn on South Boulevard in Dilworth  to the Square, where they milled about, explained their grievances, and sought public support.

     The ostensible reason for the walkout was a dispute regarding the company's refusal to turn on electric heaters in the trolleys. The strikers generally received public support for their refusal to continue to operate unheated streetcars. "The people here in Charlotte are with the strikers and they are sure to win if they are orderly and well behaved," the Charlotte Observer  predicted. The Charlotte News  also supported the action of the motormen and conductors, insisting that the citizens were "overwhelmingly with the men on the main question that the cars ought to be heated." Edward Dilworth  Latta , who was in New York City when the strike broke out, arrived in Charlotte on December 3rd to find many townspeople wearing buttons that boldly proclaimed, "I walk."

      Latta responded to the labor crisis with characteristic firmness and dispatch. Indeed, he had already sent a telegram to his elder son, Nisbet Latta , who was becoming increasingly active in his father's businesses, instructing him to announce that the conductors and motormen no longer worked for the Charlotte Street Railway Company  and that replacements for the entire work force would be hired immediately. In response, the mood of the strikers turned ugly as they gathered at the Square and hurled insults at the "scabs" who were taking their jobs. A rally was held on the night of December 3rd in Typographical Hall, where the leaders of the labor unions in Charlotte pledged their support for the employees of the trolley  system and contributed funds for their struggle. Cheers erupted when the audience learned that the majority of the businessmen of the city had signed a petition requesting that the Four Cs turn on the electric heaters and reinstate the men. F. C. Abbott , an influential realtor, headed a citizens' committee that met with Latta and attempted to resolve the dispute. The motormen and conductors agreed to return to work when the company activated the heaters.

     Latta, however, remained adamant in a letter to the Charlotte News  published on December 5, 1903:

I regret, beyond expression, the exigency of the situation, causing me to part with a body of men for many of whom I hold a personal attachment; but it could scarcely be expected by any thoughtful fair-minded person that on my return I would dismiss those who had graciously rallied to our interests and reinstate others who, without provocation during my absence, elected to abandon their position with no other expectation than that the company and the public would be without service.

The situation worsened on December 8th, when Latta announced that the Four Cs was turning on the heaters in the cars but that the former motormen and conductors would not be reinstated. The Charlotte News  proclaimed in a blistering editorial that the "only honest and manly thing to do under God's heaven" was for the company to admit that it was wrong and restore the men to their jobs. The newspaper challenged Latta directly, questioning the status of the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company  as a reputable corporate citizen and suggesting that the Charlotte Board of Aldermen might want to review carefully the gas, electric, and trolley  franchises it had awarded in the 1890s to the Four Cs. The editorial writer minced no words in his conclusion: "The company has already given the strongest impetus to municipal ownership of the public utilities of this city that could have been given. And if the company wins, it will be a dear victory in the end."

     Violence exploded on December 10, 1903, when a rowdy mob gathered on South Boulevard in Dilworth  after dark and fired pistols in the air as the streetcars passed. That same night rocks pummeled through the windshield of a trolley  in Piedmont Park , a streetcar suburb bordering Central Avenue,. one hitting the conductor's ankle. Although strikers were not implicated, their public support began to evaporate. The Charlotte News , attempting to reverse the tide, sponsored a benefit performance on December 21st featuring Gilbert Warren, a humorist. But the situation was irredeemable. Edward Dilworth Latta  and the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company  triumphed, and the former motormen and conductors were forced to seek other employment.

      In his refusal to negotiate with or reinstate the striking streetcar workers, Latta behaved with the traditional hostility to labor organization that was characteristic of most capitalists who came to the forefront in the New South.   Such men, for the most part, were committed to laissez-faire capitalism; they viewed actions on the part of workers to organize or to strike or to bargain collectively as a conspiracy to restrain natural and productive economic activity. Latta's approach to labor relations was at worst self-serving and at best only paternalistic.

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