Interview with Senator James K. Vardaman, 6/29/1913

Interview with Senator James K. Vardaman, 6/29/1913

A policy latent with sensation and war has been brought to Washington by James Kimble Vardaman, the new Senator
from Mississippi It is being impatiently held back unti the Underwood tariff bill becomes law. Let loose six months hence,
it wil start 100,000 ready men to writing and speechifying. There will be roars of pretest in the name of freedom, property
rights, and the Constitution, but above the clash of words will be heard the mighty voice of Vardaman himself, while flashing through smoke and dust of battle will be seen the gleaming light of his ferocious eyes and countenance. The sale of liquor
and the giving away of liquor in the distriet of Columbia, so runs one item of the policy, is to be made unlawful by an act
of Congress. Furthermore, the cause of prohibition throughout the United States is to be promoted wherever possible
by National legislation. The rum power, as Petroleum V. Nasby used to say, is to be pulverized. ”Jim Crow” cars, is another
item of the policy goes into the statute books, are to be attached to all passenger trains on every interstate railroad. North
and South-on the Pennsylvania, or the New York Central, and on the lines to the Pacific Coast. Thirdly, the negro, no matter whether he lives in Boston or Tallahassee, is to be “eliminated” from politics. He is not to vote anywhere or for any purpose;
he is not to hold office, either as a justice of the peace, a constable, a letter carrier, or a policeman; he is not to sit on juries;
he is not to enter uninvited public places frequented by whites. Marriages between the races is to be declared a penitentiary offense. Such is the policy in the rough. The details of segregation are yet to he worked out. It can be said. however, that
the white man who eats with a negro.will become a social outcast. The Caucasian and the African are to stand apart. One is forever to be master; the other is forever to be in social servitude. The Vardaman policy links the negro to the saloon and seeks
to exterminate both-the saloon actually and the negro as a citizen with a citizen’s habits. The policy in its entirety has been accepted in Mississippi and elsewhere in the-South. Senator Vardaman has preached it and explained it all over the North.

He says his audiences in New England and the Middle West hear him in eagerness and cheer him when he is through.
The people, he is sure, are waiting to vote the saloon out of existence and the negro out of the equality now given him
with the whites by the Constitution of the United States. He sneers at politicians and vigorously asserts that most of them
are cowards and that many of them are faithless. in that they are principally looking out for themselves. “Come in,” he
shouted when I knocked at his door. His voice boomed like a bass horn, but in heartiness and not with any attempt to
overawe the Interviewer. He arose and stood 6 feet in his shoes and at a Summer weight. so he told me, of 193 pounds.
No soldier was ever more rigidly erect; no Indian ever carried his head more proudly or on a better pair of shoulders. I
had pictured a dark-skinned man with a hook In his nose. Instead, I saw a sandy-complexioned man with the short. straight
nose of a colonel of cavalry or a pugilist. The odor of perfume filled the room I may be wrong but I suspected that it emanated
from his hair-Buffalo Bill hair, black, brilliant, and carefully combed back from his brow, to which Socrates or Solomon might
have pointed with vanity. The eyes, oddly enough, were a friendly brown, that shade of brown which is supposed to dent
to a kind heart and a helpful hand :sod which unconsciously draws out the woes and confidences of mankind. No one has
ever said that James K. Vardaman was afraid of anybody, big or little, white or black. He killed a saloon keeper once in a
hand-to-hand flght. Hundreds of letter-writers have threatened his life, yet he purposely sits at an uncurtzined window at
night. Mobs have fallen back and leaked away into alleys and streets at his command. Though the Governor of his State,
he arrested a colored murderer on a rail-way train and kept a pistol at his head until a sheriff could be summoned by
telegraph. The first sound that broke on my infant ears,” he said to me, “was the male of musketry. The first sight that
came into my infant eyes was the flash of guns. I was born in Texas amid the noise of battle. Seemingly my whole life
since has been attuned to contradiction and sttife.

“Why, sir.” he went on to say, “if I were to attend a Sunday school convention and read the Sermon on the Mount or the Ten Commandments some infernal scoundrel would get up and deny my statements and question my authorities.” “And now
that you are in the Senate,” I remarked, “you mean to bring your war out of Mississippi and fight It hereafter in all parts of
the country?” “I am going to fight whisky and the negro,” he replied. “They are the twin evils of our civilization. I hope to see
whisky outlawed everywhere as a beverage. The best place for the opening of the conflict is right here in Washington. “Then
I shall work for a separation of the white and black races in this city-compartments in street cars for negroes and the segregation
of colored persons who have clerkships or executlve positions in the departments of the Government. White women and
white men are now subordinate to negroes in some offices. That infamy should not be tolerated. “So much for Washington.
The country as a whole, I believe, is ready to repeal the fifteenth and to modify the fourteenth amendments to the Constitution
of the United States. If the pusillanimous politicians are not ready. the people sooner or later will insist that they be given
an opportunity to vote on the proposition.” “But,” I asked, “will not the disfranchisement of the negroes by the repeal of
the fifteenth arnendment reduce the number of Southern members of the House of Representatives?” “No. Representation
in the lower House of Congress is based on population, and not on the number of voters in a district. Women and children
are now counted and so are unnaturalized foreigners. Personally, I should be very willing to have our representatives
reduced in number, provided the changes I have mentioned can be made in the Ccnstitution. “The negro of the South
does not vote at present.” I said. “Why go to the trouble of repealing the Fifteenth Amendment?” “While the negro in
most of our States ‘ is denied the privilege of voting,” Senator Vardaman answered, “he can qualify in many places
without much.difiiculty, and he will qualify in the future, and our State laws and constitutions will break down and be
ineffective thereafter. We want the negro disfranchised everywhere for all time to come.

He should be put away as a factor in our political life, North and South. East and West. “Once the negro were disposed of
as a citizen, the solid South would disintegrate. We should have two parties, at least, in place of one. As it is, all the white
men stand together. We cannot openly discuss the great questions of the age, “We do not agree on the tariff, but we put away
our opinions on that issue and on other issues, and all of us vote the same ticket at the polls. Such unnatural cohesiveness is neither good for us nor for the rest of the country. “But, why do we so tenaciously stick together, some one in Massachusetts
may ask. I answer that there are 55.000 more negro men in Mississippi than there are white men; that the negro Population
in my State is 1,100,000, and that the white population is but 770,000. “What is the tariff to us in the face of such a black flood? What do we care about gold, silver, or paper money if our cities, our counties, and even our Commonwealth are in danger of
negro government? “Would Massachusetts like to see a negro Governor in the State House at Boston? Would the people of
New York accept the laws of a negro legislature in-Albany? Would the inhabitants of Ohio feel well pleased were negroes to
fill the bench of its Supreme Court? “Would the business men, farmers, and home owners of Pennsylvania be willing to have
their property assessed, their taxes collected, and their public money spent by negro officials? Let me tell you something-and
I hope you will spread the fact from Maine to California: There are more negroes in one Mississippi county than there are in
18 States of New England and the Middle West. “All that we ask of the people of the North is to imagine themselves in our situation. If they can do so with a realizing and responsible sense of our problems then we shall hear no more of Southern
fraud and Southern force against the negroes right to vote under our common Constitution. “The negro has the right. We
admit the right and we admit that we have taken it away from him by devices of our own. Why compel us to shut our minds
to everything but the nigger issue and practically to divorce ourselves from the rest of civilization? Why drive us, the purest
type of the Anglo-Saxons in this Nation. to violate the organic law of our country? It is not fair; neither is it sensible.

“The negro has troubled us ever since New England dealers sold African savages to Southern planters. Dealers and
planters saw no further than their own profit. The question has not been settled. It is in more confusion and has become
more dangerous than ever before in our history. Moreover, it is not sectional, but national. The 4,000,000 slaves liberated
by the Civil War have become 10,000,000 free blacks scattered everywhere, but centered for the most part south of the
Potomac River. The center may shift, however. in the years to come. “I am the best friend the negroes have in the United
States, opinions to the contrary notwithstanding, but I deliberately say they are not competent for self-government, let
alone for participating in the government of whites. “Haiti is proof of my statement; so Is Africa, where the natives are
ruled by the same club, live in the. same huts, and worship the same voodoo as was the case with their ancestors 10
centuries ago. I want the negro, however. to enjoy life, liberty and the fruits of his toil, and to be protected against mobs
which .work to do him harm. How “I have prevented more lynchings than has the Governor of any State in this country.
I understand negro character. My playmates were colored boys. Negro youths worked with me at home h in the fields.
“Dinner was sent out to us in baskets. I ate mine under one tree: they ate a theirs under another tree close by. I brought
a negro to Washington the other day and got him a place in the Government. Lynchings have been stopped by me in
person. I have gone on horseback, in buggies, and on trains fur that purpose. “A man once called me to the door while
the Grand Lodge of Masons was meeting in Jackson. An assault had a been committed upon a young seamstress who
was on her way home thiough the principal residence street Iti of the city. We searched every negro house-in Jackson
that night, making several arrests, but doing no violence to anybody. “People in the North. when looking fur a negro criminal. usually make war on the whole race. They kill and burn indiscriminately-, as was dorle in Springfield, O; Springfield: Ill,
and Coatesville Penn.

When we in the South are hunting for a mad dog, let me say, figuratively, we don’t shoot all the good and healthy dogs
in the community. “I returned to the executive mansion at 6 o’clock in the morning,” Senator Vardaman said in continuing
his story, “and was just getting off my horse when a messenger notified me that a mob was breaking down the doors of
the jail bent on hanging one of the negro men whom we had locked up on suspicion. “I got there as quickly as I could,
running my horse at top speed. The mob had the negro and was dragging him into the street. I pulled him away from the
lynchers, pushed him back into the jail, drew my revolver, and I. said: “I’ll kill the first man who lays hands on that nigger.”
then I made a speech. The negro was tried and acquitted. though he ought to have been hanged on general principles,
because he was a bad and worthless fellow. But he was not guilty of the crime for which the mob was ri bound to lynch
him. “I saved the lives of many other negroes while I was Governor. I am not the violent man so often pictured in Northern newepapers. Abraham Lincoln, in his debates with Douglas, outlined my policy and my views with respect to the negro. I
have come to Washington purposely to take part in the settlement of the gravest and the greatest problem now before the
American people. “I could move out of Mississippi and away from the problem, but that would he shirking a plain duty. I am
going to put the negro question right up to Congress. If Southern’ Senators do not support me, they will have to settle with
their constituents. i Northern Senators belittle the issue they will hear mighty suddenly from home. I have traveled enough
to know that the people of this country, regardless of sections, want the negro eliminated from politics. “If ever I made a
speech in the past that was somewhat warm around the edges, I’ll make several in the future that will he hot enough to
burn something down.” “Will you tell me.” I asked. “about your personal encounter at Greenwood, during which you
killed a man?” “Yes; but it is not an agreeable subject.

Greenwood is a river town. It had nineteen saloons with which to satisfy the thirst of its 1,000 inhabitants! I was the owner
and editor of the Enterprise, a weekly newspaper. Some of my editorials pertaining to the whisky business were so heated
that they almost set fire to my office. “Three liquor men met me on the street. They attacked me simultaneously. I knocked one
of them down. He drew a large pistol from his pocket and put two bullets through my shirt. I had a small, unreliable instrument
in my pocket. Obviously. I had to be quick if I wanted to save my life. As the man arose, still tiring, I gave him every bullet I
had at close range. The six bullets made a circle on his breast-bone. There was nothing else to be done. It was my message.
after I became Governor, that brought State-wide prohibition in Mississippi. The liquor interest has alway fought me. I found the timber combine trying to steal the pubitc. domain, and thus raised up more enemies. I smashed the life out of a bill prioritizing
the merger of our rail-roads. I reformed the penitentiary. and that act brought all the professional politicians out in the open
against me. “Thus. the whisky men, the timber grabbers, the railway monopolists, and the machine bosses are leagued for
my downfall whenever I run for office or try to do something in the Legislature. It is fight, tight. tight all the time with James
K. Vardaman, but the people are with me. hill-billies, as they are called, and all other classes with few exceptions. “Money
has been spent in large sums to keep me out of the United States Senate. but here I am. Three candidates were in the field against me at the primaries of August. 1911. I was nominated, getting a plurality of 60,000 votes in a total vote of 133,000.
That was running some, wasn’t it? And all the while I have been a poor man, with only a pittance with which to meet honorable expenses. “Thank God, the men of Mississippi can’t be purchased. If a candidate should ride up to a one-room cabin, call
the farmer out into the road and offer money for his vote. the candidate would get a d—d good licking right on the spot
unless he leaped on his horse and made his escape on a run. “I have not been a financial success.”

Senator Vardaman went on to say. “In my best and most prosperous years I have never had more than 30 days’ rations ahead
at a time. That is my status now. By close economy and strict attention to business I hope to enjoy the mental tranquility which doubtless creeps into the soul of the man who can say. ‘Anyway, I have bread and butter enough for the next three months to come.” ” “Have you ahvays been poor?” “I’ll give the facts, Senator, Vardaman replied, “that you may judge for yourself. When
my father returned to texas after the Civil War, he found his 10 slaves liberated and his debts equal to the value of his farm. So
he moved back to Mississippi in a covered wagon. “He was a quiet conservative man and couldn’t adjust himself to the changed conditions. I lived at home until I was 20 years old, planting, hoeing, and picking cotton and reading two volumes of Blackstone. “Then I went to Carrollton and studied law. I had $100. which I had earned in cutting cross-ties for a railroad.I had never seen
a court in session. In 18 months I was admitted to the bar and moved to Winona, with a second-hand library, which I bought
on credit. “About the first person I saw In Winona got all the money I had, which was half a dollar. He was a poor little farner
who had lost his cabin and stable by fire and was taking up a collection among the inhabitants. So I was penniless in a strange community. “But a man came along and employed me to represent him in a case concerning a bob-tailed bull. Thus began
my practice in Winona, and thus I was enabled to pay my first week’s board. H.D. Money, my cousin, who was afterward a
Senator in Congress, owned the Winona Advance. I hired out to him as an editor. “I was both a journalist and a lawyer for
three years, more or less. My next adventure took me to Greenwood, where I bought the Enterprise. a weekly newspaper,
giving a promissory note for the price. “Greenwood was my home until I went to Jackson after my election as Governor.
The principles of law have always greatly interested me. but I was not happy as a practitioner. I wouldn’t prosecute
anybody. Nor could I take heroic measures in collecting money for my clients If the debtors were hard up I became
a country editor. therefore, and have been on a financial parity with Lazarus ever since.”

Last Updated on June 17, 2021 by Bill Arp

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