When Bigots Become Reformers

The Progressive Era’s shameful record on race.

The Progressive Era and Race: Reform and Reaction, 1900-1977, by David W. Southern, Wheeling, W.V.: Harlan Davidson, 240 pages, $15.95

《进步时代与种族问题:改革与反动,1900-1977》,作者 David W. Southern

THE PROGRESSIVE movement swept America from roughly the early 1890s through the early 1920s, producing a broad popular consensus that government should be the primary agent of social change.


To that end, legions of idealistic young crusaders, operating at the local, state, and federal levels, seized and wielded sweeping new powers and enacted a mountain of new legislation, including minimum wage and maximum hour laws, antitrust statutes, restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol, appropriations for hundreds of miles of roads and highways, assistance to new immigrants and the poor, women’s suffrage, and electoral reform, among much else.


Today many on the liberal left would like to revive that movement and its aura of social justice. Journalist Bill Moyers, speaking at a conference sponsored by the left-wing Campaign for America’s Future, described Progressivism as “one of the country’s great traditions.” Progressives, he told the crowd, “exalted and extended the original American Revolution. They spelled out new terms of partnership between the people and their rulers. And they kindled a flame that lit some of the most prosperous decades in modern history.”

今天,许多自由左派人士希望复兴这一运动以及它带来的社会正义氛围。在一场由左翼团体“美国的未来运动”举办的会议上,记者Bill Moyers称进步主义是“美国的伟大传统之一”。他向与会者说,进步派“提升并拓展了原本的美国革命。他们阐明了人民与统治者之间合作关系的新条件。他们所点燃的火焰,照亮了现代历史上最为繁荣昌盛的年代之一。”

Yet the Progressive Era was also a time of vicious, state-sponsored racism. In fact, from the standpoint of African-American history, the Progressive Era qualifies as arguably the single worst period since Emancipation. The wholesale disfranchisement of Southern black voters occurred during these years, as did the rise and triumph of Jim Crow.

然而,进步时代也是一个种族主义得到国家支持、极为严重的时代。事实上,从非裔美国人历史的角度来看,进步时代可以说是自黑奴解放以来最为黑暗的一段时间。南方黑人选民的公民权遭到大规模剥夺,就发生于这段时间,Jim Crow法【译注:指南方各州通过的在公共设施使用上实行种族隔离的法律】也是在此期间出现并流行。

Furthermore, as the Westminster College historian David W. Southern notes in his recent book, The Progressive Era and Race: Reform and Reaction, 1900-1917, the very worst of it-disfranchisement, segregation, race baiting, lynching-“went hand-in-hand with the most advanced forms of southern progressivism.” Racism was the norm, not the exception, among the very crusaders romanticized by today’s activist left.

另外,正如威斯敏斯特学院的历史学家Daivd W. Southern在其新书《进步时代与种族问题:改革与反动,1900-1917》中所提到的那样,其中最糟糕的情形——剥夺选举权、种族隔离、种族羞辱和对黑人实施私刑——“与南方进步运动的最先进活动是携手并进的。”正是在那些被今天的左派活动家浪漫化的斗士中,种族主义是种常态,而非例外。

At the heart of Southern’s flawed but useful study is a deceptively simple question: How did reformers infused with lofty ideals embrace such abominable bigotry? His answer begins with the race-based pseudoscience that dominated educated opinion at the turn of the 20th century.


“At college,” Southern notes, “budding progressives not only read exposés of capitalistic barons and attacks on laissez-faire economics by muckraking journalists, they also read racist tracts that drew on the latest anthropology, biology, psychology, sociology, eugenics, and medical science.”


Popular titles included Charles Carroll’s The Negro a Beast (1900) and R.W. Shufeldt’s The Negro, a Menace to American Civilization (1907). One bestseller, Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race (1916), discussed the concept of “race suicide,” the theory that inferior races were outbreeding their betters.

当时流行的作品包括Charles Carroll的《黑人是野兽》(1900)和R. W. Shufeldt的《黑人对美国文明的威胁》(1907)。Madison Grant所写的畅销书,《伟大种族的消逝》,讨论了“种族自杀”这一概念,该理论认为卑贱种族已然比优等种族繁殖得更快。

President Theodore Roosevelt was one of many Progressives captivated by this notion: He opposed voting rights for African-American men, which were guaranteed by the 15th amendment, on the grounds that the black race was still in its adolescence.


Such thinking, which emphasized “expert” opinion and advocated sweeping governmental power, fit perfectly within the Progressive worldview, which favored a large, active government that engaged in technocratic, paternalistic planning. As for reconciling white supremacy with egalitarian democracy, keep in mind that when a racist Progressive championed “the working man,” “the common man,” or “the people,” he typically prefixed the silent adjective white.


For a good illustration, consider Carter Glass of Virginia. Glass was a Progressive state and U.S. senator and, as chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Currency, one of the major architects of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of his state’s massive effort to disfranchise black voters.

这里有个很好的例证,就是弗吉尼亚州的Carter Glass。Glass是个进步派,既是州参议员也是国会参议员,他曾任国会银行与货币委员会主席,是1913年《联邦储备法》的主要缔造者之一。他也是弗吉尼亚州大规模剥夺黑人选民公民权行动的热情支持者。

“Discrimination! Why that is exactly what we propose,” he declared to one journalist. “To remove every negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate.”


Then there was political scientist John R. Commons, an adviser to the Progressive Wisconsin governor and senator Robert M. LaFollette and a member of Theodore Roosevelt’s Immigration Commission. Commons, the author of Races and Immigrants in America (1907), criticized immigration on both protectionist grounds (he believed immigrants depressed wages and weakened labor unions) and racist ones (he wrote that the so-called tropical races were “indolent and fickle”).

然后还有政治科学家John R. Commons,他曾是威斯康辛州进步派州长和参议员Robert M. LaFollette的顾问,还曾是西奥多·罗斯福的“移民委员会”成员。Commons著有《美国的种族与移民》(1907),同时从贸易保护主义立场(他相信移民压低了工资、削弱了工会)和种族主义立场(他写道,所谓的热带种族都“懒惰而善变”)出发批评外来移民。

Woodrow Wilson, whose Progressive presidential legacy includes the Federal Reserve System, a federal loan program for farmers, and an eight-hour workday for railroad employees, segregated the federal bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. “I have recently spent several days in Washington,” the black leader Booker T. Washington wrote during Wilson’s first term, “and I have never seen the colored people so discouraged and bitter as they are at the present time.”

伍德罗·威尔逊,这位进步派总统的遗产包括联邦储备体系、一项针对农民的联邦贷款计划和铁路工人八小时工作日制度,对华盛顿的联邦机构实施了种族隔离。“最近我在华盛顿呆了几天”,黑人领袖Booker T. Washington在威尔逊的第一个任期写道,“我从没见过有色人种像今天这样气馁心酸。”

Perhaps the most notorious figure of the era was Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman, a leading Southern Progressive and inveterate white supremacist. As senator from South Carolina from 1895 to 1918, Tillman stumped for “Free Silver,” the economic panacea of the agrarian populist (and future secretary of state) William Jennings Bryan, whom Tillman repeatedly supported for president.

或许这一时代最为臭名昭著的人物应数“干草叉”Benjamin Tillman,南方进步派领袖,同时也是冥顽不灵的白人至上主义者。Tillman从1895年至1918年一直是南卡罗来纳州的参议员,一直为William Jennings Bryan这位土地民粹主义者(后曾出任国务卿)的经济万灵药——“自由银币”——而奔走鼓呼,并反复支持后者出任总统。

“Pitchfork” Tillman favored such Progressive staples as antitrust laws, railroad regulations, and public education, but felt the latter was fit only for whites. “When you educate a negro,” he brayed, “you educate a candidate for the penitentiary or spoil a good field hand.”


Nor did African Americans always fare better among those radicals situated entirely to the left of the Progressives. Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs, though personally sympathetic to blacks, declared during his 1912 campaign for the presidency, “We have nothing special to offer the Negro.”

在完全处于进步派最左端的激进分子面前,非裔美国人也并不总是能讨得了好。美国社会党领袖Eugene V. Debs尽管私底下同情黑人,但在1912年总统竞选活动中仍宣称:“我们不能向黑人提供什么特殊对待”。

Other leading radicals offered even less. Writing in the Socialist Democratic Herald, Victor Berger, the leader of the party’s right wing, declared that “there can be no doubt that the negroes and mulattoes constitute a lower race-that the Caucasian and even the Mongolian have the start on them in civilization by many years.”

其他激进分子领袖愿意付出的甚至比这还少。社会党右翼领袖Victor Berger在为社会主义刊物《民主先驱报》所写文章中宣称,“毫无疑问,黑人和黑白混血是一个低等种族,白人甚至蒙古人都在文明程度上领先他们许多年。”

The celebrated left-wing novelist Jack London, covering the 1908 heavyweight title bout between black challenger Jack Johnson and white boxing champ Tommy Burns, filled his New York Herald story with lurid ethnic caricatures and incessant race baiting. “Though he was a committed socialist,” observed Jack Johnson biographer Geoffrey C. Ward, London’s “solidarity with the working class did not extend to black people.”

著名左翼小说家杰克·伦敦曾报道过黑人挑战者Jack Johnson和白人拳击冠军Tommy Burns于1908年进行的重量级拳王争霸赛,在为《纽约先驱报》采编的故事中,他用尽了各种夸张的族裔讽刺和层出不穷的种族羞辱。“尽管伦敦是个坚定的社会主义者,”Jack Johnson的传记作家Geoffrey C. Ward说道,但他“并没有将其与劳动阶级的团结延伸到黑人身上。”

As Southern thoroughly documents, these examples just begin to scratch the surface. Progressivism was infested with the most repugnant strains of racism. But was there something more, something inherent in Progressivism itself that facilitated the era’s harsh treatment of blacks?


According to Southern, who repeatedly maintains that racism derailed “the great promise” of Progressivism, the answer is no. “The ideas of race and color were powerful, controlling elements in progressive social and political thinking,” he argues. “And this fixation on race explains how democratic reform and racism went hand-in-hand.”


That is surely correct, but is it the whole story? As the legal scholar Richard Epstein has noted, “the sad but simple truth is that the Jim Crow resegregation of America depended on a conception of constitutional law that gave property rights short shrift, and showed broad deference to state action under the police power.”

这当然是对的,但这就是事情的全部面目吗?正如法学家Richard Epstein所说,“真相虽然可悲,但很简单:美国的Jim Crow种族隔离法案奠基于一种宪法理念,这种理念漠视财产权,并对国家依据治安权实施的行动表现出最大程度的顺从。”

Progressivism itself, in other words, granted the state vast new authority to manage all walks of American life while at the same time weakening traditional checks on government power, including property rights and liberty of contract. Such a mixture was ripe for the racist abuse that occurred.


Take the Supreme Court’s notorious decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), a case that has rightly come to symbolize the South’s Jim Crow regime. In Plessy, the Court considered a Louisiana statute forbidding railroads from selling first-class tickets to blacks, a clear violation of economic liberty.


In its 7-1 ruling, the Court upheld segregation in public accommodations so long as “separate but equal” facilities were provided for each race, setting off an orgy of legislation throughout the old Confederacy. South Carolina, for example, segregated trains two years after Plessy. Streetcars followed in 1905, train depots and restaurants in 1906, textile plants in 1915-16, circuses in 1917, pool halls in 1924, and beaches in 1934.


No doubt many of those businesses would have excluded or mistreated black customers whatever the law. But in a market free from Jim Crow regulations, other businesses would have welcomed blacks, or at least black dollars, forcing racist enterprises to bear the full cost of excluding or mistreating all those potential paying customers. (This was one of the chief reasons the segregationists pushed for those laws in the first place.)


The state, in the eloquent words of the historian C. Vann Woodward, granted “free rein and the majesty of the law to mass aggressions that might otherwise have been curbed, blunted, or deflected.”

用历史学家C. Vann Woodward文辞华美的话来说,各州把“完全的自由和法律的庄严认可”赋予了“大规模的侵害行为,而这本来是可以有所限制、有所缓和或有所修正的。”

Furthermore, this tangled web of regulations, ordinances, codes, and controls was spun during the heyday of Progressivism, precisely when such official actions were least likely to receive any meaningful scrutiny. Southern, despite his otherwise close attention to the many permutations of race and racism, fails to recognize this major defect in the Progressive worldview.


A similar failure handicaps his treatment of one of the era’s rare victories for African Americans. In Buchanan v. Warley(1917), the Supreme Court unanimously overturned a Louisville ordinance segregating residential housing blocks by race. The case involved a voluntary contract between a white seller and a black buyer for a housing lot located in a majority-white neighborhood. Under the law, the new black owner could not live on the property he had just purchased.


Writing for the Court, Justice William Rufus Day held that “this attempt to prevent the alienation of the property in question to a person of color…is in direct violation of the fundamental law enacted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution preventing state interference with property rights except by due process of law.”

大法官William Rufus Day代表最高法院写道,“企图阻止涉案房产转让给有色人……这是对于宪法第十四修正案关于各州不经正当法律程序不得干涉财产权的基本法则的直接违反。”

Yet Southern dismisses this rare and important victory as “hollow” and incorrectly asserts that it “was decided not on the grounds of human rights, but on those of white property rights.” In fact, the judicial recognition of black rights stood at the very center of the decision. Justice Day’s opinion clearly states that the Fourteenth Amendment “operate[s] to qualify and entitle a colored man to acquire property without state legislation discriminating against him solely because of color.”


Nor should Southern’s characterization of this victory as “hollow” pass unchallenged. As the legal scholars David Bernstein and Ilya Somin have argued, the Buchanan ruling played a major though sadly underappreciated role in the burgeoning fight for civil rights.

Southern对这一胜利“意义不大”的描述也不应该轻轻揭过。正如法学家David Bernstein和Ilya Somin论证到的,布坎南案判决在风生水起的公民权斗争中发挥了重要作用,很遗憾没有获得应得的承认。

“Buchanan could not force whites to live in the same neighborhood as blacks,” Bernstein and Somin write, “but it did prevent cities from stifling black migration by creating de jure and inflexible boundaries for black neighborhoods, and may have prevented even more damaging legislation.” It is well worth noting, they continue, that the South did not adopt South African-style apartheid at this time, despite widespread white support for such measures.


In addition, Buchanan was the first major Supreme Court victory for the four-year-old National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a huge boon for the organization that would go on to win the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954), overturning Plessy. W.E.B Du Bois, an NAACP founder and longtime editor of its newsletter, The Crisis, gave Buchanan credit for “the breaking of the backbone of segregation.”

此外,布坎南案是当时成立仅4年的“全国有色人种协进会”在最高法院所取得的第一次重要胜利,这为该组织带来了极大的好处,此后它将赢得里程碑式的“布朗诉教育委员会案”(1954),从而推翻普莱西案。该组织的创始人之一、长期为会刊《危机》担任编辑的W. E. B. Du Bois赞扬布坎南案“打断了种族隔离制度的脊柱”。

Despite these significant shortcomings, The Progressive Era and Race deserves careful attention. The Progressive movement unleashed, aided, and abetted some of the most destructive forces in 20th-century America. The better we understand this history, the less likely we are to repeat it.


校对:Whig Zhou(@whigzhou)


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