The New York Times
30 March 1877


  Any person who wishes to have his heart bleed for the poor colored person has only to note the way in which the aggressive white race, with slow, persistent pressure, gradually thrusts the black man out of professions which at one period the latter monopolized. We can all remember the time when the mysteries of whitewashing were solely in the possession of the colored race. If we wished to have the spare bedroom and the back fence whitewashed, we knew that a certain quantity of colored person was as indispensable as a pailful of lime, water, and glue. In those days the black man constantly carried a whitewash brush in his hand, and his garments were always ornamented with patches of lime, whether he was sharing in the wild pleasures of a cake walk or taking up a collection in a colored church. White coachmen and white waiters were even then occasionally found, but no American citizen of miscellaneous descent ever thought of the possibility of engaging in active whitewashing.

  The barber’s profession was another of the branches of science in which the black man reigned supreme. Those were the days when "tonic" was as yet unknown, and when the demoralizing theory that a barber’s first duty is conversation, and that shaving is a merely secondary matter, had not been invented. The barber would occasionally relate a dusky anecdote of real humor, and would chuckle in a respectful and colored way when his patron made a mild joke upon the weather, but he never insisted upon discussing political and philosophical questions, and upon forcing his victim to express decided views upon the drama and the race-course of the period. Above all, he was devoid of that wild thirst for "shampooing" the public, which is, perhaps, the worst feature of the modern barber’s character. But, alas! the colored barber exists no longer. He was too bright and beautiful to last, and he is now among the dreams of our early and vanished youth.

  The colored whitewasher has been succeeded by the Caucasian kalsominer, who, with a pretentious air of vast scientific knowledge, divides his whitewash equally between the wall and the carpet, and who holds views in regard to tints which no argument can overthrow, and nothing save a heavy club can prevent him from carrying out, and thereby totally vulgarizing the most tastefully furnished room. As for the white barber, with his endless chatter; his inevitable "tonic," and his grim determination to forcibly "shampoo" mankind, to merely glance at him is to know his character, and to know his character is to want to kill him. It will hardly be credited, but it is nevertheless true, that the modern barber has recently invented what he calls "a dry shampoo," for the purpose of frustrating the plea of the customer who claims immunity from "shampooing" on the ground that he has a bad cold, and does not wish to have his hair wet. The only difference between the "dry shampoo" and the usual form of torture is, that that sufferer sits in his chair and has water poured down the back of his neck, instead of being dragged to the faucet and there operated upon with a hose. The old-time colored barber lacked both the inventive power and the malignant treachery which this detestable device implies, and yet we have quietly seen him driven out of the profession by the white brigands of the brush, with their detestable tone and their maddening conversation.

  Thrust out from his hereditary professions, the colored man has been forced to adopt others of precarious and temporary value. When first forced to lay aside their whitewashing brushes, numbers of colored men became the body-servants of GEORGE WASHINGTON, and encouraged their wives to become WASHINGTON'S nurses. For a time these twin purposes were very lucrative. Of course, every body-servant of WASHINGTON insisted that every other body servants was an imposter, but the lively competition which ensued was a benefit rather than an injury to the business. After a time, however, the inexorable years rendered the continued existence of Washingtonian body-servants and nurses so obviously impossible that the business was abandoned, and hundreds of venerable colored persons were thrown out of employment. Some of them subsequently resumed business as the coachmen of JEFFERSON DAVIS; but there was very little demand for that variety of African, and probably not more than ten or twelve men made any profit out of their coachmanship.

  Still later the original slave who furnished the model for Mrs. STOWE’'S Uncle Tom became almost as numerous as the entire male colored population of the Southern States. The business required little capital beyond white hair and effusive piety, and with this inexpensive stock, multitudes of aged Africans rapidly acquired what, to them, was a comfortable fortune. For nearly twenty years the original Uncle Tom was to be found all over the Northern and Middle States. People who did not like one kind of Uncle tom on the ground that he was too obviously addicted to whisky, or too prone to forget his exact age, and to mention having met Mrs. STOWE some years before her birth, could search among the other Uncle Toms until they found the exact kind of Tom that their imagination had painted. It is now, however, more than twenty-five years since Mrs. STOWE'S great romance appeared, and as she then represented uncle Tom as a man of at least 75 years of age, he must, in case he still survives, be a full century old. A perception of this fact dawned upon the colored man several years since, and there is now not a single Uncle Tom in actual business in this country. There is, however, one solitary representative of this once flourishing trade now in London, where he is apparently meeting with brilliant success. He was recently presented to the Queen, and subsequently gave a sort of lecture describing his interview with that excellent lady. Of course, this particular Uncle Tom is very far from pretending that he is a hundred years old, and relies for success upon the assumption that the British aristocracy is too indolent and effete to trouble itself with chronology. He must, nevertheless, be aware that his business is a hazardous one, and that at any moment his failure to be sufficiently old may be pointed out, and his downfall thereby secured. In any event, he is the last of the Uncle Toms, and when he retires there will be no one to carry on the business at the old stand or elsewhere.

   Thus the colored man has been successively compelled to abandon the whitewashing, shaving, Washingtonian body-servant, Davisian coachman, and Uncle Tom professions. The alleged superior race is steadily driving him to the wall, and he will soon be restricted to leaning on a hoe, or to gazing at a spade as his sole means of livelihood. If this is not enough to induce any humane heart to bleed, it is at any rate enough to make the Thoughtful Patriot ask profound conundrums as to the future of the colored race.