Skip to main content

Ethiop [William J. Wilson] to Frederick Douglass, March 19, 1853


From our Brooklyn Correspondent.

DEAR DOUGLASS:—Late in the afternoon, I
was cold, faint and weary, and far remote from
home, surrounded by the din and confusion
of Sodom—"where," inquired I, of a man of
color, who stood near, "where shall I find
warmth and refreshment?" "Over there,"
said he, pointing across the way to a restorant, to which I repaired immediate-
ly. Warmth! exclaimed I, as I hugged a
stove that was as cold as an icicle of Russia,
or an iceburgh of Zembla—my teeth chatter-
ing fearfully meanwhile. So, finding no
warmth, my mind next returned to something
to stay the inner-man. It was late in
the afternoon—still it was with some difficulty
that something was provided; well enough
in its way when it did come; with some few
exceptions which I beg to state; this
establishment, being, I believe, one of the
chief feeding places for respectable men of
color, in and about this part of Sodom, and
hence, it demands, at least, some notice.

1. It consists of two departments: one for
blacks and one for whites. The one for
blacks, adjoining the kitchen, out of which
issues volumes of etlluvia from fat Irish
Bridget's frying pans, bake-pans, stew-pans,
and all sorts of pans, together, with sundry
pots and kettles, to the detriment of even
the keenest appetites; a mere screen being
between, through which, may continually be
seen, both Bridget's and Judy's eyes, noses,
mouths, and profusions of scraggy hair; cer-
tainly not very much to the edification of
colored gentlemen in the act of feeding;
while the apartment for the whites is suffi-
ciently removed and partitioned from the
cook's kitchen for practical comfort.

2. The tables for the blacks are covered
with dingy oil-cloth, and bedecked with still
more dingy, old and battered pewter water-
pitchers, rough, open basins for sugar; and,
of course, that staple well saturated with the
fumes of said kitchen, while ricketty apolo-
gies for castors and bottles to match
adorn these sombre tables; those for the
whites, on the other hand, are covered with
clean white cloths, neat china sugar-bowls,
covered, clean castors, &c., all invitingly
spread. The room for the blacks, owing to
its contiguity to the kitchen, wore an aspect,
somewhat between a dirty brown and a smut-
ty white, while that of the whites was clean
and white as chalk; whether all this was in
imitation of occupants of each, I know
not; but such was the fact. Much more
might be said, but this simple contrast, which
has been staring colored men fuller and full-
er in the face, since the commencement and
forcing itself upon me, while waiting will
suffice for the present. But the best part of
the story is yet to be told. The proprietor
of this establishment, some years since, open-
ed this place expressly for the accommoda-
tion of men of color; retaining a mere side
place for some chance a white stranger who
might happen in; and such is the sustenance
he has received from the blacks, that he has
become wealthy, residing in his own brick


mansion. Even to this day, but a fraction
of his daily receipts comes from white men.
It is on colored men he still fattens, while
for the former, he has provided such accom-
modations as they and the progress of things
demand; for the latter, mere feeding stalls
behind his kitchen screen, pocketing their
cash without the slightest regard to their
comforts or aught else of them. To this, let
me add, some of the most respectable men
in Sodom feed here, and have done so for
years, silently witnessing the whole process
of what tends to the degradation. And
now, let me put to these gentlemen of color,
and all whom it may concern, a few candid

1. Are you thus willing to allow any
white man to make such palpable distinctions
between you and white men, while at the
some time you are his main support? I be-
lieve it to be one of the ways to beget greater
disrespect. Nor do I believe any white man
would have other than utter contempt for a
class of men who would tamely submit to
such treatment, though it come from his own

2. Having made this house, and a few sim-
ilar ones, your daily feeding places, thereby
proving the business to be lucrative, is it pos-
sible that in all Sodom no black man with
sufficient business tact and executiveness
has been found to enter the field with his
tent for a share of the patronage?

3. If said black man had entered the
list, would he, or not, have accommodated you
as well as the whites have done?

4. Would you, in turn, have supported
him as well as you have the house in ques-
tion, and similar ones?

A wonderful deficiency is implied some-
where. At least, Ethiop thinks so. You,
gentlemen, make loud clamor about stage,
steamboat, railroad, and many other rights
and privileges withheld, yet justly yours,
though often remote; do you seize and vig-
orously hold those immediately within your
grasp, and use them to your advantage? You
mourn, and fret, and agonize over our want of
business men, and lack of fair opportunities
for the prosecution of some independent, yet
easily accessible business; have you earnestly
sought, either to support the one or to en-
gage the other? Come, gentlemen, who will


So Uncle Tom-good old Uncle Tom-
ever going about doing good, and no harm, is
in Washington. While in Congress, the
other day, he very kindly stepped in be-
tween the Hon. Judge Douglas, and the Hon.
Judge Butler, of that very grave and august
body called the Senate, just as these two glad-
iators, stripped and belted, entered the ring
for an awful death struggle. He deserves a
much higher niche in the Temple of Fame
than even Telemachus, for this kind inter-

The most remarkable feature in the black
world is the holding of a convention, of a
most novel character-the "Waiters' Con-
vention." The primary object of this Con-
vention is to strike for wages, in imitation, I
suppose, of their paler brothers, artisans,
&c., of Sodom. I doubt if they have discov-
ered the great disparity existing between
them; if the movement does not make many
of them breadless ere next winter ends, I
shall be most happy. With the particulars of
this curious affair, I trust some of the scrib-
blers in Sodom will furnish you. I have in-
advertently denominated that doomed city
across the way from the Heights, Sodom; but
no matter, since ancient Sodom, or even
Gomorrah, were queen cities to it. John P.
Hale shook this modern Sodom to its very
centre the other night. N. Y. Herald, after
trembling and wriggling all night in his boots,
attempted to give some account of it next
day, but it was a most curious and funny

Yours truly,


BROOKLYN HEIGHTS, March 19, 1853.


Ethiop (William J. Wilson)




Ethiop [William J. Wilson] to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick DouglassP, 1 April 1853. Describes an experience at a New York restaurant; argues the establishment of black-owned businesses is as important as gaining equal treatment aboard public conveyances.


This document was calendared in the published volume and has not been published in full before.


Frederick Douglass' Paper



Publication Status



Frederick Douglass' Paper