Asheville Archives: ‘An infusion of new blood’

YOUR HUDDLED MASSES: This illustration was featured in the Nov. 8, 1903, edition of The Daily Asheville Citizen. It accompanied a piece addressing the issues surrounding immigration.
YOUR HUDDLED MASSES: This illustration was featured in the Nov. 8, 1903, edition of The Daily Asheville Citizen. It accompanied a piece addressing the issues surrounding immigration.

On Oct. 11, 1899, The Asheville Citizen featured the full transcript of a speech delivered by one M.V. Richards of the Southern Railway. It took place during the Southern Industrial Convention in Huntsville, Ala. The purpose of the conference was to discuss potential ways of improving the South’s economic industries and outlook.

Richards’ address, titled “Immigration to the South,” centered on both the need for and benefit of appealing to immigrant labor. Richards declared: “Immigration means an infusion of new blood; a coming in of new ideas; an augmentation of the vital forces and a general advance all along the line of development, progress and prosperity.”

But not everyone agreed with Richards’ address. A rebuttal came in the following day’s paper. The unnamed writer argued that the majority of immigrants were “unassimilable” (excluding the Scottish, Irish, English, German, Austrian, Swiss and “a few Russians”). Because of this, the author maintained, “this country is far better off without immigrants, and would be far better off if 98 per cent. of the Poles, Italians, Hungarians, Slavs and Belgians would go somewhere else.”

Talk on the matter continued into the 20th century. In 1900, the latest census was underway. On May 30 of that year, The Asheville Daily Citizen addressed the importance of completing the form. The census included questions concerning place of birth, as well as naturalization status. “To the several foreign-born elements of our population it is a matter of pride and interest to know the number of persons of their nationality in the United States and their general economic condition,” the paper declared.

The article went on to spotlight information gathered from previous censuses. This included the decline of immigrants from the United Kingdom, as well as the increasing number of those arriving by way of Austria, Hungary, Russia, Poland and Italy. According to the paper, the latter grouping rose notably over the previous four decades: between 1861-70, the five countries made up only 1 percent of the total immigration population; between 1891-99, the number jumped to 64 percent.

As more immigrants continued to arrive in the country, the issue remained a hot topic. On Nov. 8, 1903, The Asheville Daily Citizen reported that the group’s annual total would reach more than 1 million. “No wonder the subject gathers new gravity with each stage of its discussion,” the paper declared.

Throughout the piece, the article’s unnamed writer offered a farrago of opinions. Some disparaged the new wave of immigrants: “It is particularly unfortunate that many thousands are swarming from Italy, from the Levant, and from countries which do not supply the material out of which the best American citizenship is made.”

Yet within the next paragraph, the writer reminded readers: “It is, of course, unjust to impute bad morals and criminal tendencies to even a large percentage of these immigrants. As a matter of fact the positively dangerous characters are comparatively few.”

Nevertheless, the author maintained that it was the responsibility of Congress to impose “a stricter guard over immigration and of a more complete watchfulness over the criminals of the world, in order that they may not be allowed to come to this country.”

But ultimately, the writer professed optimism for the country’s future:

“[I]t is foolish to become pessimistic. Our vast country has worked out its great problems safely thus far. It passed the crisis of a civil conflict with a success such as the world has never witnessed, and it will be able to handle the problem of immigration remembering that many of our best and most successful citizens came to us from across the seas and added wonderfully to the wealth, wisdom, business expansion and progress of the nation.”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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3 thoughts on “Asheville Archives: ‘An infusion of new blood’

  1. boatrocker

    Mark Twain claimed that history does not repeat itself, it merely rhymes.

    For all the law and order types who adhere to the strict letter of immigration law,
    ask yourself if the crime of hopping a border should result in
    allegations of the following human rights abuses in our immigrant concentration camps
    oops I mean ‘summer camps': and remember these are minors-
    sexual abuse
    torture- handcuffed to chairs with a bag over one’s head
    forced injections of ketamine (aka chemical straightjacket)
    ‘oops we don’t know where your kids are nor will we comment further’
    denial of basic needs hygiene/a bed/heat/air conditioning
    solitary confinement in the dark 23 of 24 hrs
    I don’t think that happened in 1903.

    Point being I anxiously await any posts saying this treatment is OK for the crime of
    illegal entry into the United States so I can brand them as amoral sociopaths.
    That cheesy Phil Collin song suddenly resonates-
    It’s no fun being an illegal alien.

  2. boatrocker

    Always go primary sources to make a point that 2018 kids in cages are wrong.
    On different threads, I have pointed out the BS of legal immigrants being deported under
    Eisenhower’s ‘Operation Wetback’ via primary sources- such a classy name.
    Like calling the 1845 Potato Famine the
    Micky McCannaGrownothin’ and calling them rapists
    when they hit our shores.
    For fun though, go 1983 MTV when they actually played music videos.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_61hzuGGJX0

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