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Alfred Holt Stone (1870-1955)
Planter, collector, tax commissioner.
1935 drawing by William Dresser. Courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Stone Collection, PI/1999.0001.

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The colonization of African Americans in Africa, primarily Liberia, is well represented in the Stone Collection and includes many publications from colonization societies. Courtesy The Stone Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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One of the arguments in favor of colonization of African Americans in Africa was the potential for their bringing Christianity to the “Dark Continent.” The sermon reproduced in this pamphlet used Acts 8:26-39 as its text, a text in which a eunuch asks Philip, “What doth hinder me to be baptized?” Philip replies, “If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest.” Courtesy The Stone Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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The writings of a young W.E.B. Du Bois are represented in the Stone Collection. In this pamphlet the author presents an unapologetic assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of African Americans. Stone’s penciled notations in Du Bois’ pamphlets provide insight in how a white supremacist perceives a black activist. Courtesy The Stone Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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Resistance to abolitionists

There was an organized resistance to abolitionists in the North as well as the South. This pamphlet was issued by one of the organizations in the North following the Emancipation Proclamation. Courtesy The Stone Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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A review of the progress made in education in North Carolina since the American Civil War for European Americans as well as African Americans. The speaker, who served under Robert E. Lee in the Army of Northern Virginia, bases his views on the belief that it was a blessing that the Confederacy lost the war and that slavery was abolished. Courtesy The Stone Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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Miscegenation

This satirical pamphlet gave us the word “miscegenation” from an irregular contraction of the Latin word miscere (mix) with genus (race), but it was a hoax. Two unidentified newspaper men attempted to influence the 1864 presidential election by disseminating this anonymous pamphlet supposedly written by a Republican with abolitionist views. Designed to embarrass Abraham Lincoln, the pamphlet was exposed as a hoax just before the election. Courtesy The Stone Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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Feature Story

Alfred Holt Stone (1870-1955): His Unique Collection of Reading Material About People of African Descent

Alfred Holt Stone was six months shy of his eightieth birthday when he was reappointed to an unprecedented fourth term as Mississippi’s tax commissioner in April 1950, making him one of the oldest officeholders in the history of the state.

Not surprisingly, Stone had another career before he became the tax commissioner. He was a cotton planter in the Mississippi Delta at Dunleith Plantation in Washington County. Stone was one of the founders of the Staple Cotton Cooperative Association. Staplcotn, as it became known, was organized in 1920 by cotton growers who wanted to sell their crops directly to buyers without having to go through a broker. Stone was a founding member of Staplcotn and was editor of its monthly newsletter for more than three decades.

People of African descent

Along with his success in two different careers, Stone enjoyed a third career that brought him even greater distinction. This career was relatively brief when compared to his tenure as tax commissioner and work with Staplcotn, and it occurred earlier in his life. Yet, it was this career that brought him national recognition. This career was based on Stone’s success as a self-taught racial theorist.

Beginning with a conference in 1900 on the United State’s race problem that he attended in Montgomery, Alabama, until the boll weevil arrived in Washington County in 1909, Stone threw himself into the study of people of African descent. His interests in black folk extended well beyond Mississippi and included not only the rest of the South, but also the northern states, the Caribbean, and Africa.

Racial theorist

Although Stone’s racial opinions would be held in disrepute today, he wrote extensively, gave lectures at professional meetings and universities across the country, and eventually became known as an expert on the subject. In 1908, Representative Benjamin G. Humphreys from Mississippi referred to Stone during a speech in the United States Congress as “perhaps the most profound student of the race question in this country to-day.”

As a tax commissioner and cotton planter, Alfred Holt Stone was an innovator. As a racial theorist, he was a traditionalist — Stone stuck to ideas about the black race that he had formed as a boy listening to his father and his father’s friends when they gathered under a giant sycamore in front of the family house on Deer Creek in the Mississippi Delta. People of African descent, Stone believed, were innately inferior to white people. He insisted that this inferiority was not the result of their experiences with slavery or segregation, but instead was part of their biological makeup. Consequently, Stone did not believe that social remedies, such as a good education, economic opportunity, or the right to vote, could change black Americans for the better.

“We have too long been guilty of the folly of trying to legislate the Negro into a white man,” Stone wrote in an article for a national magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, in 1903, “and a pyramid of failures has apparently not yet convinced us of the futility of the undertaking. We have ignored the scientific truth of the ethnic differences among the human family,” he asserted, “and have blindly disregarded the fact that the Negro, in common with all other races, possesses certain persistent, distinguishing characteristics.” Furthermore, Stone argued, these inherited characteristics could not be reversed or overridden “by constitutions and laws.” According to Alfred Holt Stone, people of African descent were destined forever to be low-paid workers on the bottom rung of the social ladder.

Stone became well-known for his racial views, possibly because a majority of white people in the United States at the turn of the 20th century shared his pessimistic assessment of the capacity for people of African descent to get ahead in the world. Nevertheless, he could not have achieved the status of an expert had he not accumulated a great deal of information about the topic.

The Stone Collection

An avid reader, Stone gathered all sorts of reading material for his library on people of African descent, including census reports, papers presented at professional meetings, speeches delivered by politicians and educators, economic assessments of countries with black populations, sermons by preachers either defending slavery or attacking it, published narratives written by slaves and freedmen, governmental reports, and a host of other sources spanning a period from the late 18th century through the first decade of the 20th century. By the time he was finished, Stone had assembled an extensive collection of reading material on “the Negro and Cognate subjects.” Some of the titles he collected were books, but most were articles and pamphlets, more than 3,000 of them, dating from 1690 to 1909. Fortunately for students and teachers today, his collection is still intact.

Usually, you can tell a lot about what a person believes by looking at his or her library. But you would never guess what Stone believed by looking at his library. Although Stone’s writings reflected the strong racial prejudices that were common in both the North and South at the time, he did not let his personal beliefs interfere with what he collected. He wanted it all. Consequently, Stone collected pamphlets written by abolitionists as readily as he collected pamphlets defending slavery. Speeches in Congress dealing with the extension of slavery before the American Civil War reflected arguments from both sides, and pamphlets that criticized the Southern states for disfranchising black voters during the early days of Jim Crow were balanced by pamphlets defending the practice.

Stone collected material for his library because he loved books. “While in no sense a recluse, books were his most constant companions, and his private library was filled with thousands of precious and well-thumbed masterpieces of all ages,” an editor wrote in the Jackson Daily News the day after Stone died in 1955. “He did not depend on memory alone for his learning. All that he read was well assimilated and stored away in an orderly brain. Learning was the greatest comfort of his old age — far more precious to him than any worldly wealth or personal ambition.”

Stone gave his library to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in the 1930s. His books were catalogued and put on the shelves with the department’s other holdings. The articles and pamphlets were kept separate from other collections and stored until a suitable finding aid could be developed, which was completed in 2005. The finding aid for the Alfred Holt Stone Collection (accessed October 2007) is now available to students and teachers online.

Newspaper Journalist Lil Kirkpatrick wrote an article about Alfred Holt Stone in 1981 for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger and described his collection of articles and pamphlets as follows: “Its value lies in its uniqueness. The encyclopedic compilation of research material covers broad areas of interest and points of view.”

Silas McCharen, a staff member at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History whom Kirkpatrick interviewed for the article, said, “The Stone Collection is an attempt to bring together in one place the best of the available knowledge of the time. It attempts to give a holistic vision of the place of black people in the world — their history, their problems, their struggles. Its value to the student of black studies cannot be overstated.”

There is a certain irony to the fact that a white cotton planter from the Mississippi Delta with strong racial prejudices would collect so much material that would open doors of understanding for people interested in issues involving race today. Nevertheless, Alfred Holt Stone opened those doors by assembling a large collection of material about people of African descent that lets us explore the tradition of racism in America. The Stone Collection at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History is an accomplishment that was solely his own, and a treasure for students and teachers of race relations today.

James G. Hollandsworth Jr., Ph.D., volunteered his time and expertise to index and annotate the Alfred Holt Stone Collection at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. He is former dean of the Graduate School at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Posted November 2007

References

Jackson Daily News editorial on Alfred Holt Stone, May 12, 1955.

Smith, John David. “Alfred Holt Stone: Mississippi Planter and Archivist/Historian of Slavery.” Journal of Mississippi History 45 (November 1983): 262-70.

Smith, John David. “High Authority or Failed Prophet? Alfred Holt Stone and Racial Thought in Jim Crow America.” Journal of Mississippi History 68 (Fall 2006): 195-211.

Stone, Alfred Holt. “The Mulatto Factor in the Race Problem.” Atlantic Monthly 91 (May 1903): 658-63.

Stone, Alfred Holt. Studies in the American Race Problem. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1908.

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