The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South: A Study in Social Control

By Bertram Wilbur Doyle | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE ETIQUETTE OF GREETING, SALUTATION AND CONVERSATION

PERSONS visiting in the South, before the war, frequently observed that the slaves whom they met were a courteous set of people. 1 In fact, courtesy seemed to be an innate disposition of Negroes. The forms which Negroes customarily used toward whites had, indeed, become so general that it was easy to assume an instinctive basis for them. Negroes, for example, usually agreed with any statement made by a white person, so that, in many instances, they were accused of evasion, if not of deceit.

"'Tom,' said his master, pointing to Y., 'this is my brother.'

"'Ah, massa, him berry like you.'

"'You did not know that I had a brother, did you, Tom?'

"'No, massa, him berry good brother.'

"'And, Tom,' pointing to us, 'these are my cousins."

"'All your family, massa?'

"'Yes, Tom.'

"'All berry like you, massa. What a family you have, massa.' I need hardly remark that four persons more unlike could hardly have been brought together." 2

These forms of behavior were, perhaps, a defense against penetration of the reserves of personality. Moton records an interesting anecdote of two Negro deacons who had been called upon to pray for the success of the Confederacy, during the war between the states. One deacon responded by asking simply that "the Lord's will be done" and left the responsibility on the shoulders of the Lord as to which of the two should win. The second deacon, however, met the issue squarely and prayed fervently for the success of the Confederate cause. Some time

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