American History as It Happened

MODULE THREE: 1900-1919


Carefully re-read Document Two, “The Negro Problem in Foreign Eyes,” then answer the questions below about the article.

1. The excerpt refers to two events that happened over the course of a year in Abraham Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois. What types of events were they, and how did they differ?

The document talks about a recent celebration in Springfield, then immediately goes on to reference a racially motivated slaughter: “No one who took part in the celebration at Springfield, Illinois, last week can forget that but a year ago innocent Negroes were butchered in the streets there because they were Negroes.”
Since the article was published in February 1909—which was the centenary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth—and since the piece focuses on Lincoln, the celebration probably was related to that event. The violence refers to an infamous race riot that took place in Springfield in 1908.

2. Explain the author’s use of the term “iron caste.”

The writer asserts that,“For Lincoln to see these fellow-citizens now set apart in trains, street cars, and all public places, by an iron caste, would appall the greatest apostle of democracy.” By using the term “iron caste,” the author emphasizes the firm and inescapable nature of the legally codified biases against African- Americans.

3. What is being referred to in the following sentence: “The world, the educated world outside of the eleven Southern States, has had about enough of this bogey.” What argument does the author of that quote use to refute the “bogey”?

A “Bogey” is defined as a source of fear; the term often refers to false or exaggerated fears. In this case, Sir Harry Johnston is speaking about the claim/fear that black men are rapists and present an immense danger to white women’s safety and purity. The author refutes that claim by noting statistics that show white men were guilty of a far higher number of attacks on women in Southern states than black men.

4. How would you characterize the overall tone of the excerpt—optimistic, pessimistic, both, neither? Provide examples to support your position.

The excerpt draws both optimistic and pessimistic conclusions. The author talks about “the extraordinary progress of the American Negro” since liberation, and notes the great increase in black literacy and land ownership. But the writer also admits to being deeply discouraged about the national attitude towards blacks, 44 years after the end of the Civil War. Among the dismaying evidence the author cites are the murder of “innocent Negroes” in the streets of Springfield just one year prior, and the oppressive Jim Crow laws that relegate black citizens to second-class status. Despite the writer’s “amazement” at the advances of American blacks, the essay leaves one feeling that the prospects for the nation moving forward are mixed, at best.