Nineteenth Century black conservative William Hannibal Thomas was a Civil War veteran, Reconstruction era South Carolina politician, and U.S. counsel to Portuguese Southwest Africa (Angola). He is most famous however as the author of the 1901 book, The American Negro: What He Was, What He Is, and What He May Become: A Critical and Practical Discussion. The passages below excerpted from his book describe the positions Thomas stakes out on the problems and challenges facing African Americans at the dawn of the 20th century.
In the autumn of 1876 I was elected a member of the legislature of South Carolina, and when that body convened I was made chairman of its leading committees… During the stormy period…my services contributed in no slight measure to the settlement of the presidential issue of that year. About the same time that I was elected a state representative I was admitted to practice before the state Supreme Court, and also commissioned a colonel of the National Guard.
I have never regarded the political rights of the freedman as essential to his well-being, though I have no sympathy with the forcible methods which are employed to prevent his exercising them. When, therefore, the critical stage in reconstruction was reached, my conviction was confirmed by the ease with which the existing Republican governments of the South were overthrown, and it was then that I gave up the practice of law, and withdrew from active participation in politics, in order that I might devote my chief attention to the educational and social advancement of the freedmen. In pursuance of that purpose I built churches, established schoolhouses, and created facilities for primary instruction in localities where such were before unknown.
Nor did I cease endeavors…to observe and study the negro in every phase of his existence until I had visited every Southern state and community… I have slept in bare cabins, sat on earthen floors, and eaten corn pone, and witnessed as much genuine self-respect in log huts as I have ever beheld in