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John C. Leftwich in Hawaii

John C. Leftwich in Hawaii

John C. Leftwich visited Hawaii in 1899 to investigate the possibility of Blacks working as laborers on Hawaii's plantations. Advocates of recruiting African Americans as laborers on Hawaii's plantations envisioned as many as 30,000 arriving from the American South to alleviate some of the labor problems faced by the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association(HSPA). Plans were to bring to Hawaii Black men who were well respected in their communities for tours of Hawaii's plantations. Planters hoped that after touring plantations, conferring with owners and enjoying Hawaii's comfortable climate, these men might return to their communities and tell others about the opportunities in Hawaii.The first Black invited was John C. Leftwich, then of Montgomery, Alabama;he was a successful businessman, farmer and minister. Leftwich was a friend of Booker T. Washington, the unofficial"chief patronage referee" who was often asked by the white establishment to recommend a "qualified Black"to fill a particular job.
Leftwich boarded the steamer, "Coptic" in San Francisco and arrived in Honolulu on December 13,1899. Hosted by the HSPA , Leftwich discussed the prospect of importing contract laborers from the South with plantation managers and with Sanford B. Dole, President of the Republic of Hawaii.
By the end of his tour of the islands, Leftwich was enthusiastic about the opportunities that awaited Blacks on Hawaii's sugar plantations. His enthusiasm for Hawaii would be short-lived, however. Within two years he would return to Hawaii to investigate the terrible working conditions on the plantations. What he learned at that time left him very discouraged about the future of Blacks on Hawaii's plantations.In 1901 approximately, 300 Blacks from Alabama, Tennessee Mississippi and Louisana arrived in Maui and the island of Hawaii to work.Some plantation managers wanted to bring white field supervisors from the South to oversee the work of the Black laborers. Leftwich was so alarmed about this that he wrote an article in the "Maui News" stating his dismay:

"If this is to be the intention of the planters, then I am
ready to throw my whole influence against the movement, and will do
everything to keep more colored people from going. The colored
people have had enough experience in the South of poor white
bosses without going thousands of miles to be under the same

The experiment to use Blacks on Hawaii's plantation in large numbers
failed because of the harshness of plantation work, plantation owners never kept their word about paying what they promised, and overcharging in the plantation stores. Also, the laborers
were not told that one of the main reasons they were being brought to the islands was to act as strike breakers.The Asian workers were having strikes because of the poor working conditions. By the end of 1903,according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor, none of the Blacks that were recruited in the South could be found employed on Hawaii's plantations. Most returned to the mainland and others found jobs in Honolulu.

John C.Leftwich lost the support of Booker T. Washington sometime in 1902 and by 1903 he had left Alabama and migrated to Oklahoma Territory where he made a new start educating Blacks and Freedmen of Oklahoma Territory and founded a newspaper.

Thanks for reading.

Miles M. Jackson

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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