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Some Elements Necessary To Race Development?





BY ROBERT RUSSA MOTON

Commandant of Cadets, Hampton Institute, Virginia

[Note 42: An address delivered at the Tuskegee Commencement, May,
1912.]


Students, Friends:

Among the most highly developed races we observe certain dominant
characteristics, certain very essential elements of character, by which
they have so influenced mankind and helped the world that they were
enabled to write their names in history so indelibly as to withstand and
endure the test of time.

Your education, your observation, your occupation, have brought you into
close touch and into personal and vital relations with the fundamental
problems of life. We may call it the truth problem, the labor problem,
the Indian problem, or perhaps the Negro problem. I like to call it the
"Human Race Problem."

The dawn of history breaks upon a world at strife, a universal conflict
of man at war with his brother. The very face of the earth has been dyed
in blood and its surface whitened with human bones in an endeavor to
establish a harmonious and helpful adjustment between man and man. There
can be no interest more fundamental or of greater concern to the human
family than the proper adjustment of man's relations to his brother.

You and I belong to an undeveloped, backward race that is rarely for its
own sake taken into account in the adjustment of man's relation to man,
but is considered largely with reference to the impression which it
makes upon the dominant Anglo-Saxon. The Negro's very existence is
itself somewhat satellitious, and secondary only, to the great white orb
around which he revolves. If by chance any light does appear in the
black man's sphere of operations, it is usually assumed that it is
reflected from his association with his white brother. The black is
generally projected against the white and usually to the disadvantage
and embarrassment of the former. It becomes very easy, therefore, to see
in our minds and hearts what is so apparent in our faces, "Darkness
there and nothing more."

But you must keep in mind that the Negro is a tenth part of a great
cosmopolitan commonwealth; he is a part of a nation to which God has
given many very intricate problems to work out. Who knows but that this
nation is God's great laboratory which is being used by the Creator to
show the rest of the world, what it does not seem thoroughly to
understand, that it is possible for all God's people, even the two most
extreme types, the black and the white, to live together harmoniously
and helpfully?

The question that the American nation must face, and which the Negro as
a part of the nation should soberly and dispassionately consider, is the
mutual, social, civic, and industrial adjustment upon common ground of
two races, differing widely in characteristics and diverse in physical
peculiarities, but alike suspicious and alike jealous, and alike more or
less biased and prejudiced each toward the other. Without doubt the
physical peculiarities of the Negro, which are perhaps the most
superficial of all the distinctions, are nevertheless the most difficult
of adjustment. While I do not believe that a man's color is ever a
disadvantage to him, he is very likely to find it an inconvenience
sometimes, in some places.

We might as well be perfectly frank and perfectly honest with ourselves;
it is not an easy task to adjust the relations of ten millions of people
who, while they may be mature in passion and perhaps in prejudice, are
yet to a large extent children in judgment and in experience, to a race
of people not only mature in civilization, but the principles of whose
government were based upon more or less mature judgment and experience
at the beginning of this nation; and when we take into also account the
wide difference in ethnic types of the two races that are here brought
together, the problem becomes one of the gravest intricacy that has ever
taxed human wisdom and human patience for solution. This situation makes
it necessary for the Negro as a race to grasp firmly two or three
fundamental elements.

The first is race consciousness.

The Negro must play essentially the primary part in the solution of this
problem. Since his emancipation he has conclusively demonstrated to most
people that he possesses the same faculties and susceptibilities as the
rest of human mankind; this is the greatest victory the race has
achieved during its years of freedom. Having demonstrated that his
faculties and susceptibilities are capable of the highest development,
it must be true of the black race as it has been true of other races,
that it must go through the same process and work out the same problem
in about the same way as other races have done.

We can and we have profited very much by the examples of progressive
races. This is a wonderful advantage, and we have not been slow to grasp
it. But we must remember that we are subject to the same natural factor
in the solution of this problem, and that it cannot be solved without
considering this factor. The Negro must first of all have a
conscientious pride and absolute faith and belief in himself. He must
not unduly depreciate race distinctions and allow himself to think that,
because out of one blood God created all nations of the earth,
brotherhood is already an accomplished reality. Let us not deceive
ourselves, blighted as we are with a heritage of moral leprosy from our
past history and hard pressed as we are in the economic world by foreign
immigrants and by native prejudice; our one surest haven of refuge is in
ourselves; our one safest means of advance is our belief in and implicit
trust in our own ability and worth. No race that despises itself, that
laughs at and ridicules itself, that wishes to God it were anything else
but itself, can ever be a great people. There is no power under heaven
that can stop the onward march of ten millions of earnest, honest,
inspired, God-fearing, race-loving, and united people.

Secondly, we must have a high moral ideal.

With a strong race consciousness and reasonable prudence, a people with
a low, vacillating, and uncertain moral ideal may, for a time, be able
to stem the tide of outraged virtue, but this is merely transitory.
Ultimate destruction and ruin follow absolutely in the wake of moral
degeneracy; this, all history shows;--this, experience teaches. God
visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third
and fourth generations. "The judgments of the Lord are true and
righteous all together."

Not long ago I stood in the city of Rome amid its ruined fountains,
crumbling walls, falling aqueducts, ancient palaces, and amphitheatres,
to-day mere relics of ancient history. One is struck with wonder and
amazement at the magnificent civilization which that people was able to
evolve. It does not seem possible that the Roman people, who could so
perfect society in its organic and civic relations and leave to the
world the organic principles which must always lie at the base of all
subsequent social development,--it does not seem possible that such a
people should so decay as to leave hardly a vestige of its original
stock, and that such cities as the Romans erected should so fall as to
leave scarcely one stone upon another. Neither does it seem credible
that a people who could so work out in its philosophical aspect man's
relation to the eternal mystery, and come as near a perfect solution as
is perhaps possible for the human mind to reach, that a people who could
give to the world such literature, such art, such ideals of physical and
intellectual beauty, as did the Greeks, could so utterly perish from
the face of the earth; yet this is the case not only with Rome and
Greece, but with a score or more of nations which were once masters of
the world. The Greeks, Romans, Persians, Egyptians, and even God's
chosen people, allowed corruption and vice to so dwarf their moral sense
that there was, according to the universal law of civilization, nothing
left for them but death and destruction.

It is no reproach to the Negro to say that his history and environment
in this country have well-nigh placed him at the bottom of the moral
scale. This must be remedied, if the Negro is ever to reach his full
status of civilized manhood and womanhood. It must come through the
united efforts of the educated among us. We must be united to stop the
ravages of disease among our people; united to keep black boys from
idleness, vice, gambling, and crime; united to guard the purity of black
womanhood and, I might add, black manhood also. It is not enough to
simply protest that ninety-five out of every hundred Negroes are orderly
and law-abiding. The ninety-five must be banded together to restrain and
suppress the vicious five.

The people must be impressed with the idea that a high moral character
is absolutely essential to the highest development of every race, white
quite as much as black. There is no creature so low and contemptible as
he who does not seek first the approval of his own conscience and his
God; for, after all, how poor is human recognition when you and your God
are aware of your inward integrity of soul! If the Negro will keep
clean hands and a pure heart, he can stand up before all the world and
say, "Doubtless Thou, O Lord, art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant
of us and Israel acknowledge us not."

Thirdly, and lastly, the Negro needs intelligent industry.

Slavery taught the Negro many things for which he should be profoundly
thankful--the Christian religion, the English language, and, in a
measure, civilization, which in many aspects may be crude in form, but
these have placed him a thousand years ahead of his African ancestors.

Slavery taught the Negro to work by rule and rote but not by principle
and method. It did not and, perhaps, could not teach him to love and
respect labor, but left him, on the contrary, with the idea that manual
industry was a thing to be despised and gotten rid of, if possible; that
to work with one's hands was a badge of inferiority. A tropical climate
is not conducive to the development of practical energy. Add to the
Negro's natural tendency his unfortunate heritage from slavery, and we
see at once that the race needs especially to be rooted and grounded in
the underlying scientific principles of concrete things. The time when
the world bowed before merely abstract, impractical knowledge has
well-nigh passed; the demand of this age and hour is not so much what a
man knows,--though the world respects and reveres knowledge and always
will, I hope,--what the world wants to know is what a man can do and how
well he can do it.

We must not be misled by high-sounding phrases as to the kind of
education the race should receive, but we should remember that the
education of a people should be conditioned upon their capacity, social
environment, and the probable life which they will lead in the immediate
future. We fully realize that the ignorant must be taught, the poor must
have the gospel, and the vicious must be restrained, but we also realize
that these do not strike the "bed-rock" of a permanent, lasting
citizenship.

If the Negro will add his proportionate contribution to the economic
aspect of the world's civilization, it must be done through intelligent,
well-directed, conscientious, skilled industry. Indeed, the feasible
forms of civilization are nothing but the concrete actualization of
intelligent thought applied to what are sometimes called common things.

The primary sources of wealth are agriculture, mining, manufacturing,
and commerce. These are the lines along which the thoughtful energy of
the black race must be directed. I mean by agriculture, farming--the
raising of corn, cotton, peas, and potatoes, pigs, chickens, horses, and
cows.

Land may be bought practically anywhere in the South almost at our own
price. Twenty years hence, with the rapidly developing Southern country
and the strenuous efforts to fill it up with foreign immigrants, it will
be difficult, if not impossible, for us to buy land. God gave the
children of Israel the "Land of Canaan" but, Oh, what a life and death
struggle they had to take possession of it and hold on to it. God has
given to the Negro here in this Southern country two of the most
fundamental necessities in his development--land and labor. If you
don't possess this land and hold this labor, God will tell you as He has
often told other races--"to move on."

The Creator never meant that this beautiful land should be forever kept
as a great hunting-ground for the Indian to roam in savage bliss, but he
intended that it should be used. The Indian, having for scores of
generations failed to develop this land, God asked the Anglo-Saxon to
take possession and dig out the treasures of wheat, corn, cotton, gold
and silver, coal and iron, and the poor Indian was told "to move on."

The Negro in Africa sits listlessly in the sunshine of barbarous
idleness while the same progressive, indomitable, persevering, white man
is taking possession; the same edict has gone forth to the native
African--he is being told "to move on."

The same God will tell the white man in America and in Africa, if he
does not mete out absolute justice and absolute fairness to his weaker
and less-advantaged brother, black or red or brown, if he cannot do
justly and love mercy, just as he told the patricians of Rome, he will
tell the white man "to move on."

Whatever question there may be about the white man's part in this
situation, there is no doubt about ours. Don't let us delude ourselves
but keep in mind the fact that the man who owns his home and cultivates
his land and lives a decent, self-respecting, useful, and helpful life
is no problem anywhere. We talk about the "color line," but you know
and I know that the blackest Negro in Alabama or Mississippi or Africa
or anywhere else who puts the same amount of skill and energy into his
farming gets as large returns for his labor as the whitest Anglo-Saxon.
The earth yields up her increase as willingly to the skill and
persuasions of the black as of the white husbandman. Wind, wave, heat,
stream, and electricity are absolutely blind forces and see no race
distinction and draw no "color line." The world's market does not care
and it asks no question about the shade of the hand that produces the
commodity, but it does insist that it shall be up to the world's
requirements.

I thank God for the excellent chance to work that my race had in this
Southern country; the Negro in America has a real, good, healthy job,
and I hope he may always keep it. I am not particular what he does or
where he does it, so he is engaged in honest, useful work. Remember
always that building a house is quite as important as building a poem;
that the science of cooking is as useful to humanity as the science of
music; that the thing most to be desired is a harmonious and helpful
adaptation of all the arts and sciences to the glory of God and the good
of humanity; that whether we labor with muscle or with brain, both need
divine inspiration. Let us consecrate our brain and muscle to the
highest and noblest service, to God, and humanity.

* * * * *

There is no reason why any Negro should become discouraged or morbid. We
believe in God; His providence is mysterious and inscrutible; but his
ways are just and righteous altogether. Suffering and disappointment
have always found their place in divine economy. It took four hundred
years of slavery in Egypt and a sifting process of forty years in the
"Wilderness" to teach Israel to respect their race and to fit them for
entrance into the "Promised Land." The black man has not as yet
thoroughly learned to have the respect for his race that is so necessary
to the making of a great people. I believe the woes that God has sent
him are but the fiery furnace through which he is passing, that is
separating the dross from the pure gold, and is welding the Negroes
together as a great people for a great purpose.

There is every reason for optimism, hopefulness. The Negro never had
more the respect and confidence of his neighbors, black and white, than
he has to-day. Neither has he because of his real worth deserved that
respect more than he does to-day. Could anybody, amid the inspiration of
these grounds and buildings, be discouraged about the future of the
Negro? The race problem in this country, I repeat, is simply a part of
the problem of life. It is the adjustment of man's relation to his
brother, and this adjustment began when Cain slew Abel. Race prejudice
is as much a fact as the law of gravitation, and it is as foolish to
ignore the operation of one as of the other. Mournful complaint and
arrogant criticism are as useless as the crying of a baby against the
fury of a great wind. The path of moral progress, remember, has never
taken a straight line, but I believe that, unless democracy is a failure
and Christianity a mockery, it is entirely feasible and practicable for
the black and white races of America to develop side by side, in peace,
in harmony, and in mutual helpfulness each toward the other; living
together as "brothers in Christ without being brothers-in-law," each
making its contributions to the wealth and culture of our beloved
country.

* * * * *

I close with these lines, from an anonymous poet, on "The Water Lily":

"O star on the breast of the river,
O marvel of bloom and grace,
Did you fall straight down from heaven,
Out of the sweetest place?
You are white as the thought of the angel,
Your heart is steeped in the sun;
Did you grow in the golden city,
My pure and radiant one?

"Nay, nay, I fell not out of heaven;
None gave me my saintly white;
It slowly grew in the blackness,
Down in the dreary night,
From the ooze of the silent river
I won my glory and grace;
While souls fall not, O my poet,
They rise to the sweetest place."





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