Skip to content

Hill Country Living

Century Old Letter Reveals Same Battle, Different Day With Racism


This Wagner letter is long but I wanted to publish it in its entirety. George, who is off at school in Ithaca, New York at Cornell University, is John’s little brother. I originally decided to publish this letter because I thought the second paragraph was funny. But then I kept reading and, well, if you want to know what the complications of institutionalized racism looks like, then read what ol’ Benford here has to say. 


Be warned, the line about “cheques” is pretty eye-rolling at the end. Then Google  “James Vardaman” and “Indianola 1903 Minnie Cox.”  So, is what happened in Charlottesville last week really any surprise to any of us? Same battle, different day.


Feb. 4, 1903

Stone and Wilson Lawyers

Oxford, MS 


Mr. George Wagner,

Ithaca, NY


My dear old pal: 


The March winds have come already and in order to keep from blowing away, I have anchored myself to the typewriter, and hence this early reply. I say March winds, because they go under the name down here, — it makes no difference when they come.


I do wish you could be here next Friday week, such a fine dance. Old “Cross” with his melodies so sweet, and girls with deep shady eyes, deep as wells of wine, and picturing in them the fires of love. Then the heart does beat in exultation, the blood rushes swiftly to the brain, and one is enthralled in the passionate rhythm of the dance. Oh! Oh!


The same night on which we are going to have the dance, there is to be a Valentine “party” at my boarding place (Mrs. Collier’s) and my room-mate and I are to write some Valentine’s. What shall I do? Can’t you help me out? Write four or five for me, passages from your love letters will serve admirably my purpose. Do not hide your spark for genius under a bushel.


You ask me about the Indianola affair. Well to to tell you the truth, the people down here see that the President’s policy has hurt materially the interests of the negro, and I fear it is going to put in the Governor’s office, a man, Vardaman, who is at heart a “hater” of the negro, and who is now winning his race on the negro question. 


He wants to make the negro pay for his own schooling, etc…and his doctrines are antipodes of Roosevelt’s; thus you see is the President indirectly injuring the negro in Mississippi. Of course, the comment here in the South, where from our peculiar situation, we are best able to know and determine the status of the negro, but to cap the climax, when this closing of a post office came, we were all of the opinion that it was an act of tyrannical oppression, or better, the right to deprive all of the citizens of a place of their rights and privileges arising the government because of the injudicious act of some of the citizens of that place. All have caused great inconvenience, besides actual harm and loss of money, by the act of the President, based, as it was, on the report of a few. This, of course, is merely a common sense, a matter-of-right view and as to the legality of the act, I am not informed, but certainly, if legal, it is an oppressive and harmful legality. It is true that the people here were to blame a great deal for not interposing their objections to the woman when she was appointed as postmistress, but “things bad began make worse themselves by ill,” and “it is never too late to mend.” The “lady of color” resigned and saw fit to file no objections as to the cause of her resignation. Why should the President?


I, for one, am of the opinion that it only hastens to bring before us a question that sooner or later must come up for final and decisive determination. Of course, the head-strong policy has had the effect of alienating the affection of these Southern people from negro loving people of the North, (and surely we understand that every Northernor is not a negro loving one) and has caused a breach that will be hard to bridge. I am sorry that Roosevelt has done so much to arouse the anger of the Southenors, for otherwise he is a great man, but a fool will follow his natural bent. This destructive doctrine of his hurt the negro at Indianola more than it has the white man, for mail is being brought by the white people from Greenville by carriers hired for that purpose, but the negros are not able to hire carriers, and besides many of them have cheques for the amount of their wages for work down there, and a negro is too suspicious to allow another of his own race to have control of letters in which he has money.


If Alice comes to Mardi Gras, I hope she will not be so “sweetie” on the negro. Of course, that is her business, but when in Rome, one ought to do as Romans do, at least to some extent, and certainly the guest will not intentionally cause a breach of etiquette in the home of the hostess. I enclose you a poem by an “unchained poet” which will indicate to some extent the drift of our thoughts.


It is 2:30 o’clock, law meets at 3, the journey is long, and my yoke is heavy my burden great, so will wind up; that is, I will stop, not start.

Give my regard to Beckett and the South Carolina boy.


A preacher to a young kid, “You ought not to play marbles on Sunday for God will see you.” The Boy,”God ain’t here.” “Yes he is,” said the Preacher,”He is everywhere.” “Is he in my pocket?” “Yes.” The boy turning to his companion,” Oh yes Tom, I told you I’d catch him in a lie ’cause I ain’t got no pocket,:


Yours sincerely and truly, 

Benford

Leave a Comment