With respect to racism in American literature during the Reconstruction Era, the instances wherein African Americans are not depicted as heavily discriminated and prejudiced, utterly dehumanized, and made to be mentally inadequate are quite rare. Some authors did not even attempt to veil racism as how the former slaves were constantly being reduced to a husk of their selves – far from their true mental and physical capabilities – had been present in their works during that time. Different from the others discussing racism is Atticus Haygood’s Our Brother in Black: His Freedom and His Future. This essay will further discuss how Haygood’s book is set apart from the rest.
Atticus Haygood was a Methodist minister, served as a chaplain for the Confederacy during the Civil War, an author and educator, and was a president of Emory College for a few years. He was truly an advocate of education for in his years of presidency in Emory College he succeeded to reform the school’s curriculum. He added law and business courses along modern language in the school’s system. Haygood also added vocational courses like bookkeeping and telegraphy.
Haygood became nationally acknowledged after his sermon “The New South: Gratitude, Amendment, Hope – A Thanksgiving Sermon” in Oxford Methodist Episcopal Church South. In the sermon he reminded the Christians about acceptance and pushed the people to reconcile with the North. This sermon along with his book Our Brother in Black: His Freedom and His Future is about the freed slaves’ role in the Reconstruction Era of the South. It was clear how against he was on the cruelty being inflicted on their African American brothers in both his sermon and book.
Surprisingly, early in his career, Haygood supported slavery. Although, he quickly changed his stance on account of his eyes being opened to slavery’s atrocities which he saw as offensive and hypocritical to his personal and Christian sensibilities. The turnaround of his belief was indeed breathtaking and, for lack of a better analogy, was as if Haygood was roused to action by an epiphany. Since then, Haygood had been advocating for both racial and national reconciliation.
Haygood had stunning enthusiasm as he was supported by his being a leader in a church and being an educator. And so with intense determination, he clung and fought for his ideation that all white Americans in the United States were under the moral obligation to improve the blacks’ situation in the South, with a particular emphasis on their immediate education.
Haygood’s acknowledgement that the freed slaves are in dire need of education even 15 years after the emancipation of slavery is a just a small part of the author’s overflowing sense of humanity. While many parts of the book may still be considered as racist in 21st century discourse, every part that exhibits a generous dash of humanity decidedly removed Haygood and his Our Brother in Black: His Freedom and His Future from a totally dishonorable association with Anton Chekhov’s Aborigines and James Shepherd Pike’s The Prostrate State: South Carolina Under Negro Government which reeks of subtle racism.
Our Brother in Black: His Freedom and His Future
Our Brother in Black: His Freedom and His Future discusses in detail the role of the freed slaves in the Reconstruction Era in the South. Haygood pointed out that during that time, there were 6 million clacks in the South, some of which occupying most or almost half of the population of a state. He did not fail to mention the mulattoes, their poverty, lack of education, and moral shortcomings, which was perceived of them.
Haygood pointed out that the South was the best place for blacks to live as they had been residing there for a long time that stretches prior to the emancipation of slavery. Furthermore, he mentions that some blacks have become owners of businesses, farms, and humble houses while most still rely on being hired laborers. This is as opposed to the popular opinion of the time that all freed slaves should be sent back to Africa immediately as they are of no help to the economy.
Haygood’s Our Brother in Black: His Freedom and His Future is a mixture of both moral and morally ambiguous positions on the welfare of blacks, which ranges from mundane and benevolent to plain dubious. Haygood wrote his book with an air of magnanimity and sincere concern for the blacks. The book did not dare, as others did, to place racism, prejudice, violent subjugations, and all the other evils of slavery under the guise of subtlety or any other form of racism.
Our Brother in Black: His Freedom and His Future did not attempt nor does it possess the power of provoking its detestable contemporaries in producing more works that proliferates feelings of racism towards blacks. Instead, Haygood used his work to fight for their human rights. Nevertheless, it somehow reinforced the already existing notions that contributed to the end of a particularly fruitful “mini-period” for African Americans between Reconstruction Era and the enactment of Jim Crow laws.
Because the book seems to be rid of racism, one is now tempted to ask, “where is the racism in this piece of literature?” Our Brother in Black: His Freedom and His Future details the fragrant promise of the restoration of humanity that awaits the blacks post-slavery. Yet it avoids condemning the act of slavery perpetrated by the whites over the course of two hundred years.
One cannot help but wonder: is the absence of any word condemning Southern white slaveholders, slave traders, and their ancestors a deliberate omission or an inadvertent slip? A question no one except Haywood himself can answer at the time. Fortunately, an answer can now be deduced from a thorough study of Haygood himself, a part of Our Brother in Black: His Freedom and His Future, and the author’s Christian faith, with the latter perverting an otherwise noble perspective.
Haygood’s change of heart from being a typical Southerner to a socially progressive religious and civil rights leader has failed to penetrate some of the biases he once held. For one, Haygood remained loyal to his Southern roots throughout his life. This is demonstrated by his vehement opposition to the popular proposal of the period to send all former slaves back to Africa. In addition, the way Haygood describes Southern folk, former slaveholders included, is evidently in a tone close to the point of embellishment and flattery.
In hindsight, his stubbornly sentimental ties with the Southern life may have played a part in his refusal to condemn both former slaveholders and slave traders, owing to foresight that in doing so, he would have to undermine the very foundation not only of his profession and religious faith, but of his person. Condemnation of former slaveholders and traders would have meant demeaning the entire Southern culture and people, himself included.
As he was a church leader, Haygood’s faith is known to be unshakable. This zeal, in turn, may have caused the dulling of his senses that over time he is blind to the unspeakable atrocities the system of slavery is built upon. As a result, Haygood perfunctorily chose to leave to his faith in search for the reason behind slavery. He failed to rely on his critical faculties for a more plausible conclusion instead.
Haygood, with unmistakable conviction, professed belief that slavery was part of God’s plan for African Americans, so as to establish their Christian faith and carry the gospel with them should they ever be sent back to the African homeland of their ancestors. This proclamation, without a doubt, easily translates to plain and simple scarcity of regard for an oppressed people.
Anyone possessing a good, rational mind can easily argue that Haygood’s words and work, in general, would have been radically different if it had been Southern whites who were forcibly enslaved and subjugated by blacks. His refusal to seek out fundamental and moral answers to an otherwise basic question exposed his concealed, maybe even from himself, racism.
However, Haygood’s refusal to take sides can also be seen as rooted to his faith and his eagerness to reunite both the races and the nation. He chooses to focus instead on how best to move forward 15 years after the emancipation of slavery. His supposed racism is, again, cancelled out by his desire to fully include the freed slaves in the Southern community. He pointed out that the inclusion’s purpose is not simply to allow the blacks to vote, but also to give them proper education and even build colleges meant for them.
Racism runs aplenty in Reconstruction Era literature, but Our Brother in Black: His Freedom and His Future is an exception in the strictest sense. This is a reflection of the morals of Haygood alone at a time rife with racism and racial tension. Haygood sincerely sought the betterment of the former slaves’ lives and the restoration of their dignity that had been mercilessly pillaged by the slave trade for more than two centuries.
However, due to what the reader can deduce as the author’s inner conundrums, an otherwise benevolent work may expose fundamental flaws in judgment and morality, resulting in the manifestation of covert racism. Haygood's determination to have all men share common rights and responsibilities, regardless of their skin color and religion, is a testament to his act of defending the liberties of the freed slaves.
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Haywood, Atticus. Our Brother in Black: His Freedom and His Future. New York, Phillips & Hunt, 1881.
Mills, Frederick. “Atticus G. Haygood.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 3 Feb. 2006, www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/atticus-g-haygood-1839-1896.