Today is Martin Luther King Day, our newest national holiday. It seems a good day to share one of the most striking comments I’ve yet to read from the pen of a Confederate soldier. Stay with me on this one.
From Texas Confederate Captain Samuel Foster’s Diary.
Captain Foster was a company commander in the 18th Texas Dismounted Cavalry and had fought in a dozen major battles over 2 ½ years of war. This entry in his diary was written somewhere on his long walk home shortly after the final surrender of the Army of Tennessee in April 1865.
"May 19, 1865
I saw some Negro children going to school this morning, for the first time in my life. In fact, I never heard of such a thing before; nor had such a thing ever crossed my mind.
I stopped a little Negro girl about 12 years old dressed neat and clean, going to school with her books—
I asked her to let me see what she was studying—She pulled out a 4th Reader a Grammar Arithmetic and a Geography—I opened the Grammar about the middle of the book and asked her a few questions—which she answered very readily and correctly. Same with her Geography and Arithmetic.
I never was more surprised in my life! The idea was new to me.
I asked her who was her teacher. She said “a lady from the north.”
I returned to camp and think over what I have seen.
I can see that all the Negro children will be educated the same as the white children are. That the present generation will live and die in ignorance, as they have done heretofore.
I can see that our white children will have to study hard, and apply themselves closely, else they will have to ride behind, and let the Negro hold the reins—
I can see that the next generation will find lawyers doctors preachers, school teachers farmers merchants etc. divided some white and some black, and the smartest man will succeed without regard to his color.
If the Negro lawyer is more successful than the white one, the Negro will get the practice.
The color will not be so much as knowledge. The smartest man will win in every department in life.
Our (white) children will have to contend for the honors in life against the Negro in the future—
They will oppose each other as lawyers in the same case.
They will oppose each other as mechanics, carpenters, house builders, blacksmiths, silver and goldsmiths, shoemakers, saddle makers etc.
And the man that is the best mechanic lawyer, doctor or teacher will succeed."
I was blindsided by this utterly unexpected diary entry when I was researching for my first novel Whittled Away. I can’t add to Foster’s eloquence and perceptiveness.
But I will sadly note--then came Jim Crow laws and separate but equal schools, which were very separate for 100 years, and never equal.
Now 152 years after Texas Confederate Captain Foster sat on a log and wrote that diary entry on his 1,000 mile walk home after three years of a brutal war, a war in which the victory of his army would have kept black men enslaved, I so hope we are finally well down the road of the vision Captain Foster foresaw in 1865.