Jennie Carter on Equality

Jennie Carter, African American journalist in California, had some strong words when it came to issues of civil rights and equality. Her “Letter from Nevada County” in The Elevator on September 25, 1868 comes down hard on Southern Democrats, including those living in California, who objected to the Fourteenth Amendment, which declared “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” to be citizens thereof, with the same privileges and immunities and entitled to equal protection under the law. The amendment’s ratification had been certified on July 28, 1868.

The Elevator 25 September 1868

This did not sit well with former slave owners in the South. And their attitude did not sit well with Jennie Carter. The entire letter, filled with righteous indignation, is worth reading.

Mud Hill, Sept. 12, 1868. Mr. Editor : —There is in the present political campaign less bitterness than heretofore at the North, while at the South it is increased tenfold. A Democrat said the other day, that the feeling exhibited South was “caused by negroes seeking equality, and the people would not endure it and the despotism it brought them.” They can’t stand despotism. I think they ought to, for they have dealt largely in that material.

Until the rebellion, who dared to express an opinion adverse to human bondage south of Mason and Dixon’s line? who dared read the first clause of the Constitution—”All men are born free and equal”—and give it a literal interpretation? and who dared preach the whole gospel—that master and servant were equal? Who dared to be seen reading the New York Tribune. All must put a lock on their lips, or suffer imprisonment and death. I know what I write, having spent a great portion of my life there; and often have I been told if I were a man I would be hung: and for what? why, for saying slavery was wrong. 

I recollect one time, in B___ county, Kentucky, I sat up all night with a poor slave mother, who lay in spasms, caused by the selling to a negro trader of her little boy, not three years of age. When in the morning her master came to her cabin to see how she was, I began to plead with him in humanity’s name; and when that would not move him, I told him God was just, and would not suffer such things forever. He told me I had said enough to hang me.

They had better not talk of despotism and military rule now. I am sure they have more liberty than they ever allowed others. They can all speak their minds fully—even curse the Government that ought to have hung them; and now that we have the blood-bought right to speak of Christianity, humanity, morality and justice, and they cannot muzzle us, they cry “negro equality!”

We do not desire equality with them. I hope none of us are so low and so lost to all that is noble as to wish to change places with those slave owners (all Democrats), who before the war raised men and women for the market—selling their own flesh and blood, separating husband and wife, parent and child. No, we never expect to be bad enough to be their equals. As regards color, the slave-holders did all they could to produce equality. I know many of them whose daughters in the big house were not as light as their daughters in the cabin. And when I the Democrats say, “Want your daughter to marry a nigger?” I tell them many of your daughters have married negroes, and many more would have done it, but you choose to sell them to white men to become victims of their lust. Shame! I say, l am tired of listening to their falsehoods, and thankful that the Chinese can rest. Last year it was Chinese and Negro; this year not one word about the ” moon-eyed celestials”; and next year they will be patting you on the shoulder, saying, “Come friend, give us your vote.” Then should everyone have the courage to say, “Depart, I never knew you, ye workers of iniquity.”  SEMPER FIDELIS

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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