I have moved on to Volume Three of the Diary of George Templeton Strong and am struck by two consecutive entries that reflect a consistent viewpoint. He has no concern at all for African Americans; he refers to them always as “niggers.” But he sees the sins of capitalism and sympathizes greatly with the poor and oppressed. The question this raises is why human beings have such blind spots and biases – as perhaps all of us do. What we can see so blatantly in Strong remains invisible to us in ourselves. Future generations will look back and wonder.

January 10. House of Representatives not yet organized, no Speaker elected and government at a deadlock. Members spend their time during the interval between the ballotings in speech-making about John Brown, fugitive slaves . . . and the irrepressible nigger generally. That black but comely biped is becoming a bore to me. No doubt he is a man and a brother, but his monopoly of attention is detrimental to the rest of the family; and I don’t believe he cares much about having his wrongs redressed or his rights asserted.

January 11. News today of a fearful tragedy at Lawrence, Massachusetts, one of the wholesale murders commonly known in newspaper literature as accident or catastrophe. A huge factory, long notoriously insecure and ill-built, requiring to be patched and bandaged up with iron plates and braces to stand the introduction of its machinery, suddenly collapsed into a heap of ruins yesterday afternoon without the smallest provocation. Some five or six hundred operatives went down with it— young girls and women mostly. An hour or two later, while people were working frantically to dig out some two hundred still under the ruins, many of them alive and calling for help, some quite unhurt, fire caught in the great pile of debris, and these prisoners were roasted. It is too atrocious and horrible to think of.
Of course, nobody will be hanged. Somebody has murdered about two hundred people, many of them with hideous torture, in order to save money, but society has no avenging gibbet for the respectable millionaire and homicide. Of course not. He did not want to or mean to do this massacre; on the whole, he would have preferred to let these people live. His intent was not homicidal. He merely thought a great deal about making a large profit and very little about the security of human life. He did not compel these poor girls and children to enter his accursed mantrap. Very probably the wealthy and liberal proprietor will add (in deserving cases) a gratuity to defray funeral charges. It becomes us to prate about the horrors of slavery! What Southern capitalist trifles with the lives of his operatives as do our philanthropes of the North?

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