Tunis Campbell

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Tunis Campbell History

Tunis Campbell Biography

Tunis Campbell.jpg
Tunis Campbell, ca. 1848

Campbell, Tunis Gulic

(1 April 1812 - 4 December 1891)


Tunis Campbell: A Biography

Tunis Gulic Campbell was one of ten children born to John Campbell, a blacksmith, and his wife (name unknown) in Middlebrook, New Jersey. In 1817, when Campbell was five, a white friend of the free black family helped place Campbell in an all-white Episcopal school in Babylon, New York on Long Island. Though he trained to be a missionary to Liberia under the auspices of the American Colonization Society, he grew to oppose the ACS, and at age eighteen became an anti-colonization and abolitionist lecturer. He converted to Methodism and began shuttling between New Jersey and New York preaching against slavery, colonization, alcohol, and prostitution. By his own account, the young moral reformer was often physically threatened, but he was unfazed, and, in time, joined Frederick Douglass on speaking tours.


During this period, from 1832 until 1845, Campbell earned a living as a hotel steward in New York City, the last three years as the principal waiter at the Howard Hotel. It was here that Campbell perfected his drill for waiters: a method by which the staff in a large hotel dining room could perform its duties most efficiently and elegantly. In 1848, Campbell published his method and other hotel management tips in Hotel Keepers, Head Waiters, and Housekeepers' Guide, the first book of its kind published in America. His talent for organization is quite evident in the guide. He devised a system of signals to be used throughout the dinner meal to tell the waiters when to clear, when to bring the next course, when to line-up behind the diners' chairs, when to raise the covers on the dishes, how to march out of the room together, etc. Each server should be responsible for a designated number of diners, " . . . and when his part was done, all was done." The book includes thoughtful diagrams to illustrate the system. His method first met with derision; he writes: "At the commencement of this drill system, which was recommended by me to Mr. Foott, in Cortland Street, New York, in the latter part of August, 1837, in a small house, which would accommodate one hundred and thirty persons, I was laughed at." But by 1848, Campbell would append testimonial recommendations of his method to the end of his book. Daniel D. Howard of the Howard Hotel writes a telling line when he says Campbell is "an unusually intelligent, dignified, attentive, and obliging man. He is, withal, a man of unblemished moral character, with a disposition to elevate the condition and character of persons of his color." Campbell would go on, in fact, to carry out much more dangerous and trying tasks than those involved in hotel management. He would be instrumental in elevating the living conditions and hopes of freedmen in Georgia during the violent, turbulent era of reconstruction that followed the Civil War.

Campbell published his book while working at the Adams House in Boston. During his years in Boston, he married Harriet (maiden name unknown), had two children and adopted another. In 1861, the Campbell family moved back to New York City where Campbell managed a bakery. After the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, Campbell received a commission to help resettle black refugees in South Carolina. By March 1865, he was an agent with the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, and was assigned to supervise the resettlement of approximately one thousand newly freed people on five Georgia islands. He encouraged blacks in southeastern Georgia to register and vote, and was elected to the state constitutional convention, the Georgia Senate and to the position of justice of the peace. During his years in office, he tried to promote laws that the Civil Rights movement one hundred years later would still be fighting for: equal education, fair juror selection procedures, voter protection at polling places, and an end to discrimination on public conveyances. He personally appealed to President Grant and two key Senators for the need for the Fifteenth Amendment, which insured that voting rights shall not be denied on the basis of race or former servitude. As violence against blacks increased in the South in these years, he testified against the Ku Klux Klan to a congressional committee. He was stripped of his seat in 1868, reinstated in 1870 with the backing of Federal troops, and held political office until conservative white Georgians seized power in 1872. In the ensuing five years, he would again be unjustly expelled from political office, barred from assuming a duly elected house seat, and indicted and jailed on dubious charges. He spent nine months in a Savannah jail and a year as a state convict. After his release in 1877, the sixty-five year-old Campbell left the state for Washington D.C., where he wrote a brief autobiography entitled Sufferings of the Rev. T. G. Campbell and his Family in Georgia. He returned briefly in 1882 to rally political opposition against an old rival in the state legislature, and was immediately jailed for a few days. He left again, never to return. Campbell died in Boston in 1891.


From the moment five-year old Tunis Campbell was chosen to receive an education far surpassing that of most blacks of his time, he was destined to stand out. As one biographer writes, "Campbell is important because his vision and efforts gave the just-freed blacks time to cope with the realities and terms of freedom and his actions gave them confidence to resist oppression." Like many black reformers such as Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, Tunis Campbell's varied career was a mixture of practical labor, political struggle, and idealism. His contribution to culinary service and hotel management, Hotel Keepers, Head Waiters, and Housekeepers' Guide, transformed table service from a mere occupation of low status into an organized, efficient system. Similar to the transformation Catherine Beecher and other reformers sought to bring to the work of women in the home, it was also a ready demonstration that African Americans could thrive and take up the managerial spirit of a free society.

(Sources and related reading listed below.)

Recommended Reading: Freedom's Shore: Tunis Campbell and the Georgia Freedmen. Description: For the first time since the early years of the American republic, the period following emancipation held out the promise of a true colorblind democracy. The freed slaves hoped for forty acres and a mule by which they could work as small farmers, erect houses, establish families, and live free from the gaze of planter and overseer. In this first light of freedom, blacks needed help to learn how to function in a democracy and how to protect themselves from whites eager to find a new way to exploit their labor. Continued below…

In Freedom's Shore, Russell Duncan tells of the efforts of Tunis Campbell, a black carpetbagger and fellow abolitionist and friend of Frederick Douglass, to lift his race to equal participation in American society. Duncan focuses on Campbell's determined work to push radical reforms, draft a new constitution for Georgia, and pass laws designed to ensure equality for all citizens of the state. Campbell made significant contributions at the state level, but his true importance was in his home district of Liberty and McIntosh counties on the Georgia coast. There he forged the black majority into a powerful political machine that controlled county elections for years. He successfully protected black rights, always promoting freedom-in-fact, not merely freedom-by-law. Yet, as many black politicians throughout the South were discovering, radical strength at the local level was insufficient to stop the growing strength of reactionary white politics at the state level. After years of struggle, Campbell was finally defeated by the white Democrats. Charged with political corruption, he was removed from his state and local political offices; at the age of sixty-four, over the protests of President Grant among others, Campbell was sentenced to Georgia's hire-out convict labor program. The black machine in McIntosh County, however, was not destroyed in Campbell's defeat, but instead remained an active force in county politics for forty years, returning a black legislator to the General Assembly in every election, except for the decade of the 1890s, until 1907. Presenting the beginnings of the battle for civil rights in the South, Freedom's Shore tells of the tenacity and achievements of one black political figure, of the hopes and dreams of a legally free people amid the political and social realities of Reconstruction Georgia. Author Russell Duncan is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of Georgia.

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Related Reading:

Recommended Reading: Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. Review: This "masterful treatment of one of the most complex periods of American history" (New Republic) made history when it was originally published in 1988. It redefined how Reconstruction was viewed by historians and people everywhere in its chronicling of how Americans -- black and white -- responded to the unprecedented changes unleashed by the war and the end of slavery. This "smart book of enormous strengths" (Boston Globe) has since gone on to become the classic work on the wrenching post-Civil War period -- an era whose legacy reverberates still today in the United States. Continued below...

About the Author: Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University, is the author of numerous works on American history, including Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War; Tom Paine and Revolutionary America; and The Story of American Freedom. He has served as president of both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association, and has been named Scholar of the Year by the New York Council for the Humanities.


Recommended Viewing: American Experience - Reconstruction: The Second Civil War (DVD) (175 minutes). Description: Spanning the years from 1863 to 1877, this dramatic mini-series recounts the tumultuous post-Civil War years. America was grappling with rebuilding itself, with bringing the South back into the Union, and with how best to offer citizenship to former slaves. Stories of key political players in Washington are interwoven with those of ordinary people caught up in the turbulent social and political struggles of Reconstruction.


Recommended Reading: Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Description: In Forever Free, Eric Foner, the leading historian of America's Reconstruction Era, reexamines one of the most misunderstood periods of American history: the struggle to overthrow slavery and establish freedom for African Americans in the years before, during, and after the Civil War. Forever Free is extensively illustrated, with visual essays by scholar Joshua Brown discussing the images of the period alongside Foner's text. (From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review.) Probably no period in American history is as controversial, as distorted by myth and as "essentially unknown" as the era of emancipation and Reconstruction, award-winning historian Foner (The Story of American Freedom; Reconstruction; etc.) argues in this dense, rectifying but highly readable account. Continued below…

His analysis of "that turbulent era, its successes and failures, and its long-term consequences up until this very day" addresses the debates among historians, corrects the misrepresentations and separates myth from fact with persuasive data. Foner opens his work with an overview of slavery and the Civil War and concludes with a consideration of the Civil Rights movement and the continuing impact of Reconstruction upon the current political scene, a framework that adds to the clarity of his history of that era, its aftermath and its legacy. Joshua Brown's six interspersed "visual essays," with his fresh commentary on images from slavery through Reconstruction to Jim Crow, buttress Foner's text and contribute to its accessibility. In his mission to illuminate Reconstruction's critical repercussions for contemporary American culture, Foner balances his passion for racial equality and social justice with disciplined scholarship. His book is a valuable, fluid introduction to a complex period.


Recommended Reading: A Short History of Reconstruction. Review: In an attempt to document the important issues of reconstruction, Eric Foner compiled his book Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. Foner addresses all the major issues leading up reconstruction, and then finishing his book shortly after the end of reconstruction and the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876.  In the preface of his book, Foner discusses the historiography of Reconstruction. He notes that during the early part of the twentieth century many historians considered Reconstruction as one of the darkest periods of American history. Foner notes that this viewpoint changed during the 1960s as revisionists shed new "light" on reconstruction. The revisionists saw Andrew Johnson as a stubborn racist, and viewed the Radical Republicans as "idealistic reformers genuinely committed to black rights." The author notes that recent studies of reconstruction argue that the Radicals were actually quite conservative, and most Radicals held on to their racist views and put up very little fight as the whites once again began to govern the south. Continued below...

Foner initially describes the African-American experience during the Civil War and Reconstruction. He argues that African-Americans were not simply figures that took little or no action in the events of the day, and notes the enlistment of thousands of African-Americans in the Union army during the war. Foner also notes that many of the African-Americans that eventually became civil leaders had at one time served in the Union Army. He states, "For men of talent and ambition, the army flung open a door to advancement and respectability." He notes that as reconstruction progressed, African-Americans were the targets of violence and racism. Foner believes that the transition of slaves into free laborers and equal citizens was the most drastic example of change following the end of the war. He notes how African-Americans were eventually forced to return to the plantations, not as slaves but as share croppers, and were thus introduced to a new form of slavery. He argues that this arrangement introduced a new class structure to the South, and states "It was an economic transformation that would culminate, long after the end of Reconstruction, in the consolidation of a rural proletariat composed of a new owning class of planters and merchants, itself subordinate to Northern financiers and industrialists.” The author illustrates how both blacks and whites struggled to use the state and local governments to develop their own interests and establish their respective place in the evolving social orders. Another theme that he addresses in this excellent study is racism itself and the interconnection of race and class in the South.

Another subject he addresses is the expanded presence of federal authority, as well as a growing idea and commitment to the idea that equal rights belonged to all citizens, regardless of race. Foner shows how both Northern and Southern blacks embraced the power to vote, and, as Reconstruction ended, many blacks saw the loss of suffrage and the loss of freedom. Foner illustrates that because the presence of blacks at the poll threatened the established traditions, corruption increased, which helped to undermine the support for Reconstruction. The former leaders of the Confederacy were barred from political office, who were the regions "natural leaders," a reversal of sympathies took place which portrayed the Southern whites as victims, and blacks unfit to exercise suffrage.

Reconstruction affected the North as well, but argues that it was obviously less revolutionary than it was in the South. Foner notes that a new group of elites surfaced after the war, industrialists and railroad entrepreneurs emerged as powerful and influential leaders alongside the former commercial elite. The Republicans in the North did attempt to improve the lives of Northern blacks. However, there were far fewer blacks in the North, so it was more difficult for blacks to have their agendas and needs addressed in the local legislatures. He states, "Most Northern blacks remained trapped in inferior housing and menial and unskilled jobs." Foner adds that the few jobs blacks were able to acquire were constantly being challenged by the huge influx of European immigrants.

Foner's subject is definitely worthy of his original volume. Reconstruction is a subject that can still be interpreted in several ways, including the revisionist school of thought. Foner, however, seems to be as objective as possible on this subject, and has fairly addressed all major issues that apply.


Sources: Campbell, Tunis Gulic, Hotel Keepers, Head Waiters, and Housekeepers' Guide. Boston: Coolidge and Wiley, 1848; Sufferings of the Rev. T. G. Campbell and Family in Georgia. Washington: Enterprise Publishing Co., 1877; Duncan, Russell, American National Biography. Vol. 3. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford, 1999; Freedom's Shore: Tunis Campbell and the Georgia Freedmen. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1986; Schlesinger Jr., Arthur M., The Almanac of American History. New York, New York: Putnam Publishing Group, 1983.

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