Primary Source: Opposition to the Knights of Labor

The editorial below appeared The Tobacco Plant, a Durham newspaper in February 1887. In the editorial, the author expressed concern about the Knights of Labor, a labor organization founfed in Philadelphia in 1869. Read the excerpts printed here to understand the author’s concerns and how these concerns reflected attitudes among some whites of the time.

The "Pauper Labor" of the South

Some of the Northern newspapers are devoting more space than brains to an alleged "discussion" of the "pauper labor of the South." As a rule, the men who indite these editorials are as ignorant of Southern institutions, the people of this section and the relations existing in Dixie between employer and employed as a razor-back hog is of artillery practice; but, like the meddling abolitionists of a quarter century ago, these Northern pencil-pushers are very sure that we are not capable of regulating our own affairs, and they are equally certain that we should accept the teachings and obey the instructions which proceed from the omniscience of their infinite minds and pens...

Now, the writer has seen a good deal of the North and its "institutions" of late years. It is a great country -- a very great country, in many respects. There are a great many things, animate and inanimate, to be seen there which we do not have in North Carolina or in the South. Their cities are larger and their business buildings are bigger than ours. Their hotels are conducted on a more "extensive" scale -- we stopped at one in Ohio where whites and blacks occupied adjoining rooms, sometimes the same room, and ate at the same table. At another hotel in the same State, the proprietor was found to be a very black man and his wife a very white woman, and the "guests" of both races were waited on by tolerably white servant girls. That is one of the "animate" things which we do not have here, to the chagrin of District Assembly 49A local chapter of the Knights of Labor., be it said. It is a matter of taste. But our "guardians" of the North are slow to concede that we have a right to taste as we do. Indeed, some of them tell us we have no business to taste at all unless taste as they taste. Social equality has a bitter taste to us, although it is a sweet morsel to some people of the North, and because it is not palatable to our social stomachs they want to force it down our throats...

We dispute the right of no man to join any labor organization, and it is clearly his privilege to say what he will and what and who he will not work for, and to exercise himself in any honorable and lawful way to obtain the maximum price for his labor. But we do say, and we say emphatically, that it is not his right to set a price on the labor of other men, and it is not his privilege to decree whether or no his neighbor -- who does not happen to be a member of, and is unwilling to join his order -- shall work for an employer for wages which and the members of his organization decline to accept. On the same principle we submit that no employer or other representative of capital has a right to say what wages his competitors in business shall pay or whom they shall employ.

Source Citation: 

"The 'Pauper Labor' of the South." The Tobacco Plant. February 2, 1887. 


Credit text

"The 'Pauper Labor of the South,'" in The Tobacco Plant, Feb. 2, 1887, and Feb. 16, 1887.