Dockery: The Life and Times of Oliver Hart Dockery—A Colored Narrative

This excerpt is from a quasi-biographical book about a white colonel and legislator from North Carolina in the 1800s. Colonel Dockery’s views on black people evolved during his lifetime, though this text demonstrates that he still held racist beliefs while he was seen as progressive.
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concept 8. 

Colonel Dockery did not begin his political career with the present campaign. Thirty years ago he was a prominent member of the Legislature, and upon the Journal of the House, of which he was a member, left a record that is not without interest now. The times indeed have changed since that day, and the valiant Colonel has changed with them. This was, perhaps, to have been expected. But whether to be expected or not, the change has come and is so striking that we invite especial attention to one part of his record that others also may take it in. To-day the doughty Colonel is Cheek by jowl with his beloved negroes, and unlike Judge Russell, who says the negroes are “savages,” and “no more fit to govern than are their brethren in African swamps or so many Mongolians dumped down from pagan Asia,” he thinks they make delightful citizens, and when met in convention constitute “as noble a body of men as ever assembled in our State.”

Then he could abide them only as slaves; then a poor free negro was a stench in his nostrils, so revolting and so repulsive to his instincts as a born slave-holder that he sought by act of Assembly to drive every one from the State or force him to become a slave. Well, perhaps, too, that was natural, for Dockery was born a slave-holder … and even now, after more than twenty years of freedom, the slave-holder feeling is so strong in him that he talks about the negro women as negro “wenches.” We venture to say that there are few men in the State beside Colonel Dockery who use the term. Of course we do not expect negroes to be affected by this change in their champion’s views in regard to people of their color and race; nor will it affect them to know that during the war he advised in a public meeting in Richmond county that it be proposed to Mr. Lincoln to end the war if he would allow negroes to be held as slaves for five years longer; nor will it affect them to know that even after the war, and while he was a member of Congress at Washington, he refused to vote for the Constitutional Amendment that conferred upon them the right of suffrage and the other rights of citizenship.

None of these things give them any concern. Like Gallio of old, they care for none of these things. Poor, simple minded creatures, savages though they be, as Judge Russell calls them, and utterly unfit for government, present affiliation and association will atone for the sins of a life-time. It matters not what Colonel Dockery thought in the past, it matters not what Judge Russell thinks to-day, the one may call them savages and the other talk to them to their very faces about their women as “negro wenches,” if an election was to hold to morrow there would not be one hundred negro voters in all the State (and there are near 110,000 of them) who would not vote for both Dockery and Russell for any position for which they were candidates. 

This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p249901coll37/id/17339/rec/117.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    What term did Dockery use to describe black women?
    He called them wenches.
  2. Question
    Using context clues, determine roughly when this book may have been published.
    Students may answer 1885. The text was actually published in 1888.
  3. Question
    Based on the author’s characterization of Dockery and African Americans, what biases do you notice?
    Answers will vary and may include bias toward African Americans in the use of “simple-minded creatures” to describe them.
Reveal Answers
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