The Russian Jew and The American Negro

John D. Swain of Worcester, Massachussetts, a white relative of John Brown of Ouawatomie and Harpers Ferry fame, has written us a long letter which has so much truth in it, is such an accurate analysis of a certain situation that we think the public ought to have the opportunity to read that letter. Mr. Swain has drawn a parallel between the Russian Jew and the American Negro. He takes the view that in almost every respect the American white man's attitude towards the Negro is that of the Slav toward the Jew. In this letter he punctures one current American falsehood. The white people tell us, and many of our own people echo the lie, that if we as a race accumulate property, we shall render ourselves immune from the hateful race prejudice now rampant. We are told that this is the lesson of history. Mr. Swain shows that this is not the case with the Jews. It is their wealth and beautiful women that has made them the object of cruel race prejudice. In other words wealth is valuable in its place, but it is not going to solve the race problem. Mr. Swain's letter follows:

It is very interesting to note the parallels between the treatment of the Negro in America and the Jew in Russia.

In all Europe, the persecution of the Jew began, as it has in our persecution of the Negro, with segregation, and the curtailment of rights ordinarily regarded as inalienable.

The Jew was confined to a stipulated section of each city, usually too small for healthful growth. In these Ghettos the Jews lived and labored and died; and were at night locked by appointed  guardians. Their right to travel freely from place to place was taken from them. If rich, their houses were frequently sacked, and torture applied to extort from their wealthy merchants enormous sums. In our Jim Crow legislation, and our customs as to admittance of Negroes to places of public entertainment, theaters, hotels, etc., we are treading the same old worn path along which the Jew has passed for centuries.

That entire city districts of Negroes are not wiped out by the mob, houses and stores sacked, and outrages similar to the Russian outbreaks perpetrated is due solely to the fact that as yet the Negro has amassed no such wealth as the Jew, whose great racial characteristic is the accumulation of wealth.

There is not a shadow of doubt that if the Negro shall ultimately acquire riches, good houses, stores, and other material evidences which make worth the attention of the mob, then the mob will be found to rob and sack their districts, under pretences similar to those now found in our country and Russia.

In the United States, the Negro is lynched and tortured under the fetich—"The sanctity of our home must be preserved."

In Russia, the cry is—"The sanctity of our religion must be preserved."

In our country, the little children eagerly join, so far as they are permitted, in the orgies of cruelty; they play games in which lynching is enacted; they search for relics among the smoking ashes.

In Russia, our latest advices state that the little children gather about the pools of blood and speculate as to which of their neighbors and former playmates they have belonged.

In both cases, the children are reared in the superstitions of their parents; what their fathers have done, they will surely do; cruelty is taken into their hearts from the time they can toddle about and understand spoken words.

These are they who in future generations shall be our self‑appointed executioners and tormentors.

In our country, after two-thirds of the population of a village has participated in a lynching, the coroner returns his stereotyped verdict—"said party came to his death at the hands of persons unknown."

In Russia, soldiers, policemen and civilians, including prominent officials are freely seen urging on and even committing the deeds of horror,—seen by men who have grow up with them and lived with them all their lives; but the courts at law apply the usual coat of whitewash, and no arrests follow.

In our country the sluggish governors sometime furnish equally sluggish troops, time to arrive after everything has settled down into quietude.

In the Russian outbreaks, we see the same performance; the tardy arrival of the governor, who remains two hours, after which the atrocities recommence; the despatch of troops who arrive just too late to interfere, or perhaps in time to join in the atrocities themselves.

In our country, the Negro is pictured as the natural foe of woman; in Russia, the Jew is pictured as the cruel butcher of little children, whom he uses in his sinister rites. In both cases, the end sought after is the inflaming of the ignorant section of the mob, the section relied upon to apply the torch, drive nails in living bodies, loot, kill, and scatter.

In both countries the frightful acts are committed with the most lofty (ostensible) motives; than the honor of our women, and the holiness of our religion, what impulses are more praiseworthy?

In both countries, the participation or tacit approval of the wealthy, educated, and controlling elements of the population tenders the butchers immune, and the victims helpless.

In Russia the conditions arc worse, as I have said, because the wealth of the Jews is a spur to the cupidity of the mob; once let the Negro acquire similar wealth, position, affluence, and he will find ready trained a mob whose outbreak shall in a day wreck the accumulations of a decade, and turn the blacks into the fields to starve, as the Jews are turned.

The safety of the Negro consists at present, not in any tendency of the authorities to guard his rights, not in any sense of order existing among our people, not in the glories of a republican form of government, but solely in two facts; his comparative poverty, and his color; by which I mean that were his women white, they would suffer as horribly and unspeakably as have the pretty Jewesses of Russia during the outbreak of the last year.

Meanwhile, there is in neither country any hope of legal succor. It is believed in Russia that every racial riot is stirred up by the authorities and encouraged by the police; a belief that is expressed by the foreign correspondents who have been despatched to study affairs. It is claimed that St. Petersburg itself has provoked the last outbreak.

The Jews know this; they know that there is no hope for them, no recourse to the courts, or the sense of national justice. Therefore they are flocking by thousands into Anarchist circles; they are, we are told, arming; during the last riot, hundreds of them were found well armed, and only taken after a fatal struggle; bands of them have fallen upon squads of soldiers and solitary policemen, and murdered them; the bomb is appearing in the Ghettoes. The future is dark. The Jew, realizing that he is trapped and defenceless, will be stirred to frenzied acts of revenge and desperation. Resistance will in turn fire the mob to further atrocities if that be possible.

It is beyond the power of man to see how the Jew can ever dwell in Russia without being the cause of intermittent riots in which entire streets shall be sacked, and hundreds or thousands of innocent victims slain; with each riot party feeling will run higher, new grudges will arise, and as the Jews are too numerous to exterminate, imagination exhausts itself trying to foresee the outcome. Meanwhile, what of our own country? Act for act, we have matched the atrocities of the Slav; our attitude toward the Negro is the Russian attitude toward the Jew; we are treading in the same path, harshly drawing the social, political and racial lines, doing all we can to convince ourselves that the Negro is an inferior being; our slogans voiced by Watson and Dixon, read as smooth and decorous as a Russian ukase; our mob is trained to the hour; we lack but one feature. The Negro is still poor.

Upon him is thrust the sinister choice; will he remain poor, and in comparative safety, or will he yield to the desire for good homes, books, pictures, rugs, prosperous stores, and a bank account? Then his path shall be the path of the Russian Jew. Where he has been slain by tens, he shall he slain by hundreds; where he has been whipped with thongs, he shall be scourged with scorpions.  In the dim mirror of the Russian Jew, if he but look he may see his own features, contorted and stricken with grief; their fate is his.

Years ago an ancestor of mine, John Brown, thought of the same problem that worry me; his solution was wrong, I believe, but his courage unquestioned, and his sincerity unbounded.

I have no solution; many times it seems to me that the darkest hour for the Negro is coming. Among the numerous solutions we hear and read, not one convinces me. There is nothing so despotic as a democracy,—unless it be a monarchy! You cannot legislate evil out of the world, or cram charity down the throats of a populace.

SOURCE: Swain, John D. "The Russian Jew and The American Negro," with prefatorial comment by editor, The Voice of the Negro, September 1906, pp. 623-625.

William Pickens on Esperanto
in The Voice of the Negro (1906)

Esperanto, Vaŝingtono, & la Mondo / Esperanto, Washington, & the World — 1910
Centjara Jubileo / Centennial — 2010

Zamenhof & Zamenhofologio: Retgvidilo / Web Guide

Black Studies, Music, America vs Europe Study Guide

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