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by: W. E. Burghardt Du Bois
From the shimmering swirl of waters where many, many thoughts ago
the slave-ship first saw the square tower of Jamestown have flowed
down to our day three streams of thinking: one from the larger
world here and over-seas, saying, the multiplying of human wants
in culture lands calls for the world-wide co-operation of men in
satisfying them. Hence arises a new human unity, pulling the ends
of earth nearer, and all men, black, yellow, and white. The
larger humanity strives to feel in this contact of living nations
and sleeping hordes a thrill of new life in the world, crying, If
the contact of Life and Sleep be Death, shame on such Life. To be
sure, behind this thought lurks the afterthought of force and
dominion,--the making of brown men to delve when the temptation of
beads and red calico cloys.

The second thought streaming from the death-ship and the curving
river is the thought of the older South: the sincere and
passionate belief that somewhere between men and cattle God
created a tertium quid, and called it a Negro,--a clownish, simple
creature, at times even lovable within its limitations, but
straitly foreordained to walk within the Veil. To be sure, behind
the thought lurks the afterthought,--some of them with favoring
chance might become men, but in sheer self-defense we dare not let
them, and build about them walls so high, and hang between them
and the light a veil so thick, that they shall not even think of
breaking through.

And last of all there trickles down that third and darker thought,
the thought of the things themselves, the confused half-conscious
mutter of men who are black and whitened, crying Liberty, Freedom,
Opportunity--vouchsafe to us, O boastful World, the chance of
living men! To be sure, behind the thought lurks the
afterthought: suppose, after all, the World is right and we are
less than men? Suppose this mad impulse within is all wrong, some
mock mirage from the untrue?

So here we stand among thoughts of human unity, even through
conquest and slavery; the inferiority of black men, even if forced
by fraud; a shriek in the night for the freedom of men who
themselves are not yet sure of their right to demand it. This is
the tangle of thought and afterthought wherein we are called to
solve the problem of training men for life.

Behind all its curiousness, so attractive alike to sage and
dilettante, lie its dim dangers, throwing across us shadows at
once grotesque and awful. Plain it is to us that what the world
seeks through desert and wild we have within our threshold;--a
stalwart laboring force, suited to the semi-tropics; if, deaf to
the voice of the Zeitgeist, we refuse to use and develop these
men, we risk poverty and loss. If, on the other hand, seized by
the brutal afterthought, we debauch the race thus caught in our
talons, selfishly sucking their blood and brains in the future as
in the past, what shall save us from national decadence? Only
that saner selfishness which, Education teaches men, can find the
rights of all in the whirl of work.

Again, we may decry the color prejudice of the South, yet it
remains a heavy fact. Such curious kinks of the human mind exist
and must be reckoned with soberly. They cannot be laughed away,
nor always successfully stormed at, nor easily abolished by act of
legislature. And yet they cannot be encouraged by being let
alone. They must be recognized as facts, but unpleasant facts;
things that stand in the way of civilization and religion and
common decency. They can be met in but one way: by the breadth
and broadening of human reason, by catholicity of taste and
culture. And so, too, the native ambition and aspiration of men,
even though they be black, backward, and ungraceful, must not
lightly be dealt with. To stimulate wildly weak and untrained
minds is to play with mighty fires; to flout their striving idly
is to welcome a harvest of brutish crime and shameless lethargy in
our very laps. The guiding of thought and the deft coordination
of deed is at once the path of honor and humanity.

And so, in this great question of reconciling three vast and
partially contradictory streams of thought, the one panacea of
Education leaps to the lips of all; such human training as will
best use the labor of all men without enslaving or brutalizing;
such training as will give us poise to encourage the prejudices
that bulwark society, and stamp out those that in sheer barbarity
deafen us to the wail of prisoned souls within the Veil, and the
mounting fury of shackled men.

But when we have vaguely said Education will set this tangle
straight, what have we uttered but a truism? Training for life
teaches living; but what training for the profitable living
together of black men and white? Two hundred years ago our task
would have seemed easier. Then Dr. Johnson blandly assured us
that education was needed solely for the embellishments of life,
and was useless for ordinary vermin. To-day we have climbed to
heights where we would open at least the outer courts of knowledge
to all, display its treasures to many, and select the few to whom
its mystery of Truth is revealed, not wholly by truth or the
accidents of the stock market, but at least in part according to
deftness and aim, talent and character. This programme, however,
we are sorely puzzled in carrying out through that part of the
land where the blight of slavery fell hardest, and where we are
dealing with two backward peoples. To make here in human
education that ever necessary combination of the permanent and the
contingent--of the ideal and the practical in workable
equilibrium--has been there, as it ever must be in every age and
place, a matter of infinite experiment and frequent mistakes.

In rough approximation we may point out four varying decades of
work in Southern education since the Civil War. From the close of
the war until 1876 was the period of uncertain groping and
temporary relief. There were army schools, mission schools, and
schools of the Freedmen's Bureau in chaotic disarrangement,
seeking system and cooperation. Then followed ten years of
constructive definite effort toward the building of complete
school systems in the South. Normal schools and colleges were
founded for the freedmen, and teachers trained there to man the
public schools. There was the inevitable tendency of war to
underestimate the prejudice of the master and the ignorance of the
slave, and all seemed clear sailing out of the wreckage of the
storm. Meantime, starting in this decade yet especially
developing from 1885 to 1895, began the industrial revolution of
the South. The land saw glimpses of a new destiny and the
stirring of new ideals. The educational system striving to
complete itself saw new obstacles and a field of work ever broader
and deeper. The Negro colleges, hurriedly founded, were
inadequately equipped, illogically distributed, and of varying
efficiency and grade; the normal and high schools were doing
little more than common school work, and the common schools were
training but a third of the children who ought to be in them, and
training these too often poorly. At the same time the white
South, by reason of its sudden conversion from the slavery ideal,
by so much the more became set and strengthened in its racial
prejudice, and crystallized it into harsh law and harsher custom;
while the marvelous pushing forward of the poor white daily
threatened to take even bread and butter from the mouths of the
heavily handicapped sons of the freedmen. In the midst, then, of
the larger problem of Negro education sprang up the more practical
question of work, the inevitable economic quandary that faces a
people in the transition from slavery to freedom, and especially
those who make that change amid hate and prejudice, lawlessness
and ruthless competition.

The industrial school springing to notice in this decade, but
coming to full recognition in the decade beginning with 1895, was
the proffered answer to this combined educational and economic
crisis, and an answer of singular wisdom and timeliness. From the
very first in nearly all the schools some attention had been given
to training in handiwork, but now was this training first raised
to a dignity that brought it in direct touch with the South's
magnificent industrial development, and given an emphasis which
reminded black folk that before the Temple of Knowledge swing the
Gates of Toil.

Yet after all they are but gates, and when turning our eyes from
the temporary and the contingent in the Negro problem to the
broader question of the permanent uplifting and civilization of
black men in America, we have a right to inquire, as this
enthusiasm for material advancement mounts to its height, if after
all the industrial school is the final and sufficient answer in
the training of the Negro race; and to ask gently, but in all
sincerity, the ever recurring query of the ages, Is not life more
than meat, and the body more than raiment? And men ask this to-
day all the more eagerly because of sinister signs in recent
educational movements. The tendency is here born of slavery and
quickened to renewed life by the crazy imperialism of the day, to
regard human beings as among the material resources of a land to
be trained with an eye single to future dividends. Race
prejudices, which keep brown and black men in their "places," we
are coming to regard as useful allies with such a theory, no
matter how much they may dull the ambition and sicken the hearts
of struggling human beings. And above all, we daily hear that an
education that encourages aspiration, that sets the loftiest of
ideals and seeks as an end culture and character than bread-
winning, is the privilege of white men and the danger and delusion
of black.

Especially has criticism been directed against the former
educational efforts to aid the Negro. In the four periods I have
mentioned, we find first boundless, planless enthusiasm and
sacrifice; then the preparation of teachers for a vast public
school system; then the launching and expansion of that school
system amid increasing difficulties; and finally the training of
workmen for the new and growing industries. This development has
been sharply ridiculed as a logical anomaly and flat reversal of
nature. Soothly we have been told that first industrial and
manual training should have taught the Negro to work, then simple
schools should have taught him to read and write, and finally,
after years, high and normal schools could have completed the
system, as intelligence and wealth demanded.

That a system logically so complete was historically impossible,
it needs but a little thought to prove. Progress in human affairs
is more often a pull than a push, surging forward of the
exceptional man, and the lifting of his duller brethren slowly and
painfully to his vantage ground. Thus it was no accident that
gave birth to universities centuries before the common schools,
that made fair Harvard the first flower of our wilderness. So in
the South: the mass of the freedmen at the end of the war lacked
the intelligence so necessary to modern workingmen. They must
first have the common school to teach them to read, write, and
cipher. The white teachers who flocked South went to establish
such a common school system. They had no idea of founding
colleges; they themselves at first would have laughed at the idea.
But they faced, as all men since them have faced, that central
paradox of the South, the social separation of the races. Then it
was the sudden volcanic rupture of nearly all relations between
black and white, in work and government and family life. Since
then a new adjustment of relations in economic and political
affairs has grown up,--an adjustment subtle and difficult to
grasp, yet singularly ingenious, which leaves still that frightful
chasm at the color line across which men pass at their peril.
Thus, then and now, there stand in the South two separate worlds;
and separate not simply in the higher realms of social
intercourse, but also in church and school, on railway and street
car, in hotels and theatres, in streets and city sections, in
books and newspapers, in asylums and jails, in hospitals and
graveyards. There is still enough of contact for large economic
and group cooperation, but the separation is so thorough and deep,
that it absolutely precludes for the present between the races
anything like that sympathetic and effective group training and
leadership of the one by the other, such as the American Negro and
all backward peoples must have for effectual progress.

This the missionaries of '68 soon saw; and if effective industrial
and trade schools were impractical before the establishment of a
common school system, just as certainly no adequate common schools
could be founded until there were teachers to teach them.
Southern whites would not teach them; Northern whites in
sufficient numbers could not be had. If the Negro was to learn,
he must teach himself, and the most effective help that could be
given him was the establishment of schools to train Negro
teachers. This conclusion was slowly but surely reached by every
student of the situation until simultaneously, in widely separated
regions, without consultation or systematic plan, there arose a
series of institutions designed to furnish teachers for the
untaught. Above the sneers of critics at the obvious defects of
this procedure must ever stand its one crushing rejoinder: in a
single generation they put thirty thousand black teachers in the
South; they wiped out the illiteracy of the majority of the black
people of the land, and they made Tuskegee possible.

Such higher training schools tended naturally to deepen broader
development: at first they were common and grammar schools, then
some became high schools. And finally, by 1900, some thirty-four
had one year or more of studies of college grade. This
development was reached with different degrees of speed in
different institutions: Hampton is still a high school, while Fisk
University started her college in 1871, and Spelman Seminary about
1896. In all cases the aim was identical: to maintain the
standards of the lower training by giving teachers and leaders the
best practicable training; and above all to furnish the black
world with adequate standards of human culture and lofty ideals of
life. It was not enough that the teachers of teachers should be
trained in technical normal methods; they must also, so far as
possible, be broad-minded, cultured men and women, to scatter
civilization among a people whose ignorance was not simply of
letters, but of life itself.

It can thus be seen that the work of education in the South began
with higher institutions of training, which threw off as their
foliage common schools, and later industrial schools, and at the
same time strove to shoot their roots ever deeper toward college
and university training. That this was an inevitable and
necessary development, sooner or later, goes without saying; but
there has been, and still is, a question in many minds if the
natural growth was not forced, and if the higher training was not
either overdone or done with cheap and unsound methods. Among
white Southerners this feeling is widespread and positive. A
prominent Southern journal voiced this in a recent editorial:

"The experiment that has been made to give the colored students
classical training has not been satisfactory. Even though many
were able to pursue the course, most of them did so in a parrot-
like way, learning what was taught, but not seeming to appropriate
the truth and import of their instruction, and graduating without
sensible aim or valuable occupation for their future. The whole
scheme has proved a waste of time, efforts, and the money of the

While most far-minded men would recognize this as extreme and
overdrawn, still without doubt many are asking, Are there a
sufficient number of Negroes ready for college training to warrant
the undertaking? Are not too many students prematurely forced
into this work? Does it not have the effect of dissatisfying the
young Negro with his environment? And do these graduates succeed
in real life? Such natural questions cannot be evaded, nor on the
other hand must a nation naturally skeptical as to Negro ability
assume an unfavorable answer without careful inquiry and patient
openness to conviction. We must not forget that most Americans
answer all queries regarding the Negro a priori, and that the
least that human courtesy can do is to listen to evidence.

The advocates of the higher education of the Negro would be the
last to deny the incompleteness and glaring defects of the present
system: too many institutions have attempted to do college work,
the work in some cases has not been thoroughly done, and quantity
rather than quality has sometimes been sought. But all this can
be said of higher education throughout the land: it is the almost
inevitable incident of educational growth, and leaves the deeper
question of the legitimate demand for the higher training of
Negroes untouched. And this latter question can be settled in but
one way--by a first-hand study of the facts. If we leave out of
view all institutions which have not actually graduated students
from a course higher than that of a New England high school, even
though they be called colleges; if then we take the thirty-four
remaining institutions, we may clear up many misapprehensions by
asking searchingly, What kind of institutions are they, what do
they teach, and what sort of men do they graduate?

And first we may say that this type of college, including Atlanta,
Fisk and Howard, Wilberforce and Lincoln, Biddle, Shaw, and the
rest, is peculiar, almost unique. Through the shining trees that
whisper before me as I write, I catch glimpses of a boulder of New
England granite, covering a grave, which graduates of Atlanta
University have placed there:--


This was the gift of New England to the freed Negro: not alms, but
a friend; not cash, but character. It was not and is not money
these seething millions want, but love and sympathy, the pulse of
hearts beating with red blood; a gift which to-day only their own
kindred and race can bring to the masses, but which once saintly
souls brought to their favored children in the crusade of the
sixties, that finest thing in American history, and one of the few
things untainted by sordid greed and cheap vainglory. The
teachers in these institutions came not to keep the Negroes in
their place, but to raise them out of their places where the filth
of slavery had wallowed them. The colleges they founded were
social settlements; homes where the best of the sons of the
freedmen came in close and sympathetic touch with the best
traditions of New England. They lived and ate together, studies
and worked, hoped and harkened in the dawning light. In actual
formal content their curriculum was doubtless old-fashioned, but
in educational power it was supreme, for it was the contact of
living souls.

From such schools about two thousand Negroes have gone forth with
the bachelor's degree. The number in itself is enough to put at
rest the argument that too large a proportion of Negroes are
receiving higher training. If the ratio to population of all
Negro students throughout the land, in both college and secondary
training, be counted, Commissioner Harris assures us "it must be
increased to five times its present average" to equal the average
of the land.

Fifty years ago the ability of Negro students in any appreciable
numbers to master a modern college course would have been
difficult to prove. To-day it is proved by the fact that four
hundred Negroes, many of whom have been reported as brilliant
students, have received the bachelor's degree from Harvard, Yale,
Oberlin, and seventy other leading colleges. Here we have, then,
nearly twenty-five hundred Negro graduates, of whom the crucial
query must be made. How far did their training fit them for life?
It is of course extremely difficult to collect satisfactory data
on such a point,--difficult to reach the men, to get trustworthy
testimony, and to gauge that testimony by any generally acceptable
criterion of success. In 1900, the Conference at Atlanta
University undertook to study these graduates, and published the
results. First they sought to know what these graduates were
doing, and succeeded in getting answers from nearly two thirds of
the living. The direct testimony was in almost all cases
corroborated by the reports of the colleges where they graduated,
so that in the main the reports were worthy of credence. Fifty-
three per cent of these graduates were teachers,--presidents of
institutions, heads of normal schools, principals of city school
systems, and the like. Seventeen per cent were clergymen; another
seventeen per cent were in the professions, chiefly as physicians.
Over six per cent were merchants, farmers, and artisans, and four
per cent were in the government civil service. Granting even that
a considerable proportion of the third unheard from are
unsuccessful, this is a record of usefulness. Personally I know
many hundreds of these graduates and have corresponded with more
than a thousand; through others I have followed carefully the
life-work of scores; I have taught some of them and some of the
pupils whom they have taught, lived in homes which they have
builded, and looked at life through their eyes. Comparing them as
a class with my fellow students in New England and in Europe, I
cannot hesitate in saying that nowhere have I met men and women
with a broader spirit of helpfulness, with deeper devotion to
their life-work, or with more consecrated determination to succeed
in the face of bitter difficulties than among Negro college-bred
men. They have, to be sure, their proportion of ne'er-do-weels,
their pedants and lettered fools, but they have a surprisingly
small proportion of them; they have not that culture of manner
which we instinctively associate with university men, forgetting
that in reality it is the heritage from cultured homes, and that
no people a generation removed from slavery can escape a certain
unpleasant rawness and gaucherie, despite the best of training.

With all their larger vision and deeper sensibility, these men
have usually been conservative, careful leaders. They have seldom
been agitators, have withstood the temptation to head the mob, and
have worked steadily and faithfully in a thousand communities in
the South. As teachers they have given the South a commendable
system of city schools and large numbers of private normal schools
and academies. Colored college-bred men have worked side by side
with white college graduates at Hampton; almost from the beginning
the backbone of Tuskegee's teaching force has been formed of
graduates from Fisk and Atlanta. And to-day the institute is
filled with college graduates, from the energetic wife of the
principal down to the teacher of agriculture, including nearly
half of the executive council and a majority of the heads of
departments. In the professions, college men are slowly but
surely leavening the Negro church, are healing and preventing the
devastations of disease, and beginning to furnish legal protection
for the liberty and property of the toiling masses. All this is
needful work. Who would do it if Negroes did not? How could
Negroes do it if they were not trained carefully for it? If white
people need colleges to furnish teachers, ministers, lawyers, and
doctors, do black people need nothing of the sort?

If it be true that there are an appreciable number of Negro youth
in the land capable by character and talent to receive that higher
training, the end of which is culture, and if the two and a half
thousand who have had something of this training in the past have
in the main proved themselves useful to their race and generation,
the question then comes, What place in the future development of
the South might the Negro college and college-bred man to occupy?
That the present social separation and acute race sensitiveness
must eventually yield to the influences of culture as the South
grows civilized is clear. But such transformation calls for
singular wisdom and patience. If, while the healing of this vast
sore is progressing, the races are to live for many years side by
side, united in economic effort, obeying a common government,
sensitive to mutual thought and feeling, yet subtly and silently
separate in many matters of deeper human intimacy--if this unusual
and dangerous development is to progress amid peace and order,
mutual respect and growing intelligence, it will call for social
surgery at once the delicatest and nicest in modern history. It
will demand broad-minded, upright men both white and black, and in
its final accomplishment American civilization will triumph. So
far as white men are concerned, this fact is to-day being
recognized in the South, and a happy renaissance of university
education seems imminent. But the very voices that cry Hail! to
this good work are, strange to relate, largely silent or
antagonistic to the higher education of the Negro.

Strange to relate! for this is certain, no secure civilization can
be built in the South with the Negro as an ignorant, turbulent
proletariat. Suppose we seek to remedy this by making them
laborers and nothing more: they are not fools, they have tasted of
the Tree of Life, and they will not cease to think, will not cease
attempting to read the riddle of the world. By taking away their
best equipped teachers and leaders, by slamming the door of
opportunity in the faces of their bolder and brighter minds, will
you make them satisfied with their lot? or will you not rather
transfer their leading from the hands of men taught to think to
the hands of untrained demagogues? We ought not to forget that
despite the pressure of poverty, and despite the active
discouragement and even ridicule of friends, the demand for higher
training steadily increases among Negro youth: there were, in the
years from 1875 to 1880, twenty-two Negro graduates from Northern
colleges; from 1885 to 1895 there were forty-three, and from 1895
to 1900, nearly 100 graduates. From Southern Negro colleges there
were, in the same three periods, 143, 413, and over 500 graduates.
Here, then, is the plain thirst for training; by refusing to give
this Talented Tenth the key to knowledge can any sane man imagine
that they will lightly lay aside their yearning and contentedly
become hewers of wood and drawers of water?

No. The dangerously clear logic of the Negro's position will more
and more loudly assert itself in that day when increasing wealth
and more intricate social organization preclude the South from
being, as it so largely is, simply an armed camp for intimidating
black folk. Such waste of energy cannot be spared if the South is
to catch up with civilization. And as the black third of the land
grows in thrift and skill, unless skillfully guided in its larger
philosophy, it must more and more brood over the red past and the
creeping, crooked present, until it grasps a gospel of revolt and
revenge and throws its new-found energies athwart the current of
advance. Even to-day the masses of the Negroes see all too
clearly the anomalies of their position and the moral crookedness
of yours. You may marshal strong indictments against them, but
their counter-cries, lacking though they be in formal logic, have
burning truths within them which you may not wholly ignore, O
Southern Gentlemen! If you deplore their presence here, they ask,
Who brought us? When you shriek, Deliver us from the vision of
intermarriage, they answer, that legal marriage is infinitely
better than systematic concubinage and prostitution. And if in
just fury you accuse their vagabonds of violating women, they also
in fury quite as just may wail: the rape which your gentlemen have
done against helpless black women in defiance of your own laws is
written on the foreheads of two millions of mulattoes, and written
in ineffaceable blood. And finally, when you fasten crime upon
this race as its peculiar trait, they answer that slavery was the
arch-crime, and lynching and lawlessness its twin abortion; that
color and race are not crimes, and yet they it is which in this
land receive most unceasing condemnation, North, East, South, and

I will not say such arguments are wholly justified--I will not
insist that there is no other side to the shield; but I do say
that of the nine millions of Negroes in this nation, there is
scarcely one out of the cradle to whom these arguments do not
daily present themselves in the guise of terrible truth. I insist
that the question of the future is how best to keep these millions
from brooding over the wrongs of the past and the difficulties of
the present, so that all their energies may be bent toward a
cheerful striving and cooperation with their white neighbors
toward a larger, juster, and fuller future. That one wise method
of doing this lies in the closer knitting of the Negro to the
great industrial possibilities of the South is a great truth. And
this the common schools and the manual training and trade schools
are working to accomplish. But these alone are not enough. The
foundations of knowledge in this race, as in others, must be sunk
deep in the college and university if we would build a solid,

permanent structure. Internal problems of social advance must
inevitably come,--problems of work and wages, of families and
homes, of morals and the true valuing of the things of life; and
all these and other inevitable problems of civilization the Negro
must meet and solve largely for himself, by reason of his
isolation; and can there be any possible solution other than by
study and thought and an appeal to the rich experience of the
past? Is there not, with such a group and in such a crisis,
infinitely more danger to be apprehended from half-trained minds
and shallow thinking than from over-education and over-refinement?
Surely we have wit enough to found a Negro college so manned and
equipped as to steer successfully between the dilettante and the
fool. We shall hardly induce black men to believe that if their
bellies be full it matters little about their brains. They
already dimly perceive that the paths of peace winding between
honest toil and dignified manhood call for the guidance of skilled
thinkers, the loving, reverent comradeship between the black lowly
and black men emancipated by training and culture.

The function of the Negro college then is clear: it must maintain
the standards of popular education, it must seek the social
regeneration of the Negro, and it must help in the solution of
problems of race contact and cooperation. And finally, beyond all
this, it must develop men. Above our modern socialism, and out of
the worship of the mass, must persist and evolve that higher
individualism which the centres of culture protect; there must
come a loftier respect for the sovereign human soul that seeks to
know itself and the world about it; that seeks a freedom for
expansion and self-development; that will love and hate and labor
in its own way, untrammeled alike by old and new. Such souls
aforetime have inspired and guided worlds, and if we be not wholly
bewitched by our Rhine-gold, they shall again. Herein the longing
of black men must have respect: the rich and bitter depth of their
experience, the unknown treasures of their inner life, the strange
rendings of nature they have seen, may give the world new points
of view and make their loving, living, and doing precious to all
human hearts. And to themselves in these the days that try their
souls the chance to soar in the dim blue air above the smoke is to
their finer spirits boon and guerdon for what they lose on earth
by being black.

I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I
move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and
welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out the caves of
Evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery
of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I
will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor
condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the Veil. Is
this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life
you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are
you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between
Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?



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