I do think uncultivated white people are unapproachable in downright rudeness, and yet, alas! they are our superiors. Will prejudice ever be obliterated from the minds of the people? Will man ever cease to prejudge his fellow-being for color's sake alone? Grant, O merciful God, that he may!
But au fait! Anon a cadet, whose perfectly fitting uniform of matchless gray and immaculate white revealed the symmetry of his form in all its manly beauty, saunters leisurely by, his head erect, shoulders back, step quick and elastic, and those glorious buttons glittering at their brilliant points like so many orbs of a distant stellar world. Next a plebe strolls wearily along, his drooping shoulders, hanging head, and careless gait bespeaking the need of more squad drill. Then a dozen or more "picnicers," all females, laden with baskets, boxes, and other et ceteras, laughing and playing, unconscious of our proximity, draw near. The younger ones tripping playfully in front catch sight of us. Instantly they are hushed, and with hands over their mouths retrace their steps to disclose to those in rear their astounding discovery. In a few moments all appear, and silently and slowly pass by, eyeing us as if we were the greatest natural wonder in existence. They pass on till out of sight, face about and "continue the motion," passing back and forth as many as five times. Wearied at length of this performance, Smith rose and said, "Come, let's end this farce," or something to that effect. We arose, left the place, and were surprised to find a moment after that they were actually following us.
The "Picnicers," as they are called in the corps, begin their excursions early in May, and continue them till near the end of September. They manage to arrive at West Point at all possible hours of the day, and stay as late as they conveniently can. In May and September, when we have battalion drills, they are a great nuisance, a great annoyance to me especially. The vicinity of that flank of the battalion in which I was, was where they "most did congregate." It was always amusing, though most embarrassing, to see them pointing me out to each other, and to hear their verbal accompaniments, "There he is, the first"--or such --"man from the right"--"or left." "Who?" "The colored cadet." "Haven't you seen him? Here, I'll show him to you," and so on ad libitum.
All through this encampment being "--young; a novice in the trade," I seldom took advantage of Old Guard privileges, or any other, for the reason that I was not accustomed to such barbarous rudeness, and did not care to be the object of it.
It has always been a wonder to me why people visiting at West Point should gaze at me so persistently for no other reason than curiosity. What there was curious or uncommon about me I never knew. I was not better formed, nor more military in my bearing than all the other cadets. My uniform did not fit better, was not of better material, nor did it cost more than that of the others. Yet for four years, by each and every visitor at West Point who saw me, it was done. I know not why, unless it was because I was in it.
There is an old man at Highland Falls, N. Y., who is permitted to peddle newspapers at West Point. He comes up every Sabbath, and all are made aware of his presence by his familiar cry, "Sunday news! Sunday news!" Indeed, he is generally known and called by the soubriquet, "Sunday News."
He was approaching my tent one Sunday afternoon but was stopped by a cadet who called out to him from across the company street, "Don't sell your papers to them niggers!" This kind advice was not heeded.
This and subsequent acts of a totally different character lead me to believe that there is not so much prejudice in the corps as is at first apparent. A general dislike for the negro had doubtless grown up in this cadet's mind from causes which are known to everybody at all acquainted with affairs at West Point about that time, summer of 1873. On several occasions during my second and third years I was the grateful recipient of several kindnesses at the hands of this same cadet, thus proving most conclusively that it was rather a cringing disposition, a dread of what others might say, or this dislike of the negro which I have mentioned, that caused him to utter those words, and not a prejudiced dislike of "them niggers," for verily I had won his esteem.