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Education For Manhood


[Note 48: Reprinted from Kelly Miller's Monographic Magazine,
April, 1913.]

We must keep clearly in mind the proposition that the educational
process is always under domination of contemporary opinion. The
education prescribed for any class is likely to be conditioned upon the
presumed relationship of that class to the social body. When woman was
regarded as an inferior creature, whose destiny was to serve as a tool
and plaything of man, she was accorded only such education as would fit
her for this subsidiary function. Any other training was regarded as
unnecessary and mischievous. It is only within comparatively recent
times, when man began to realize the essential human quality and powers
of the female sex, and deemed it not mockery to place her on the same
footing with himself, that the comprehensive education of woman has
become a possibility.

The traditional relation of the American Negro to the society of which
he forms a part is too well known to need extensive treatment in this
connection. The African slave was introduced into this country as a pure
animal instrumentality to perform the rougher work under dominion of his
white lord and master. There was not the remotest thought of his human
personality. No more account was taken of his higher qualities than of
the higher susceptibilities of the lower animals. His mission was
considered to be as purely mechanical as that of the ox which pulls the
plow. Indeed, his human capabilities were emphatically denied. It was
stoutly contended that he did not possess a soul to be saved in the
world to come nor a mind to be enlightened in the world that now is.
Under the dominion of this dogma, education was absolutely forbidden
him. It became a crime even to attempt to educate this tertium quid
which was regarded as little more than brute and little less than human.
The white race, in its arrogant conceit, constituted the personalities
and the Negro the instrumentalities. Man may be defined as a
distinction-making animal. He is ever prone to set up barriers between
members of his own species and to deny one part of God's human creatures
the inalienable birthright vouchsafed to all alike. But the process was
entirely logical and consistent with the prevailing philosophy.

The anti-slavery struggle stimulated the moral energy of the American
people in a manner that perhaps has never had a parallel in the history
of vicarious endeavor. "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."
In dealing with fundamental principles of human rights and human wrongs
involved in the issue of slavery, these moral reformers found that the
Negro was a human being, endowed with heart and mind and conscience like
as themselves; albeit these powers of personality had long been
smothered and imbruted by centuries of suppression and harsh usage.
These philanthropists believed in the essential manhood of the Negro.
This belief was the chief dynamic of their endeavor. Upon this
foundation they not only broke the Negro's chain, but clothed him with
political and civic prerogative as an American citizen. They established
schools and colleges and universities for him because they believed in
his higher susceptibilities. To-day we are almost astounded at the
audacity of their faith. They projected a scheme of education comparable
with the standards set up for the choicest European youth for a race
which had hitherto been submerged below the zero point of intelligence.
These schools and colleges founded and fostered on this basis were the
beginnings of the best that there is in the race and the highest which
it can hope to be.

But, alas, as the passion engendered by the war grew weaker and weaker,
the corresponding belief in the Negro has also declined, and the old
dogma concerning his mission as a human tool has begun to reassert
itself. In certain sections the white race has always claimed that the
Negro should not be encouraged in the development of personality. The
denial of the designation "mister" is suggestive of this disposition.
With them the term "mister" is made to mean a direct designation of
personality. There is no objection to such titles as "doctor,"
"reverend" or "professor," as these connote professional rather than
personal quality.

Our whole educational activities are under the thrall of this retrograde
spirit. We are marking time rather than moving forward. The work is
being carried on rather than up. Our bepuzzled pedagogues are seriously
reflecting over the query, Cui bono?--Is it worth while? Few, indeed,
are left who have the intensity of belief and the intrepidity of spirit
to defend the higher pretentions of the Negro without apology or
equivocation. The old form of appeal has become insipid and uninspiring;
the ear has become dull to its dinging. The old blade has become blunt
and needs a new sharpness of point and keenness of edge. Where now is
heard the tocsin call whose key-note a generation ago resounded from the
highlands of Kentucky and Tennessee to the plains of the Carolinas
calling the black youths, whose hopes ran high within their bosoms, to
rise and make for higher things? This clarion note, though still for the
nonce, shall not become a lost chord. Its inspiring tones must again
appeal to the youth to arise to their higher assertion and exertion. If
you wish to reach and inspire the life of the people, the approach must
be made not to the intellectual, nor yet to the feelings, as the final
basis of appeal, but to the manhood that lies back of these. That
education of youth, especially the suppressed class, that does not make
insistent and incessant appeals to the smothered manhood (I had almost
said godhood) within, will prove to be but vanity and vexation of
spirit. What boots a few chapters in Chemistry, or pages in History, or
paragraphs in Philosophy, unless they result in an enlarged appreciation
of one's own manhood? Those who are to stand in the high places of
intellectual, moral, and spiritual leadership of such a people in such a
time as this must be made to feel deep down in their own souls their own
essential manhood. They must believe that they are created in the image
of God and that nothing clothed in human guise is a more faithful
likeness of the original. This must be the dominant note in the
education of the Negro. If the note itself is not new, there must at
least be a newness of emphasis and insistence. The Negro must learn in
school what the white boy absorbs from association and environment. The
American white man in his ordinary state is supremely conscious of his
manhood prerogative. He may be ignorant or poor or vicious; yet he never
forgets that he is a man. But every feature of our civilization is
calculated to impress upon the Negro a sense of his inferiority and to
make him feel and believe that he is good for nothing but to be cast out
and trodden under foot of other men. A race, like an individual, that
compromises its own self-respect, paralyzes and enfeebles its own
energies. The motto which should be engraved upon the conscience of
every American Negro is that which Milton places in the mouth of His
Satanic Majesty: "The mind is its own place and of itself can make a
heaven of hell; a hell of heaven." To inculcate this principle is the
highest mission of the higher education. The old theologians used to
insist upon the freedom of the will, but the demand of the Negro to-day
is for the freedom and independence of his own spirit. Destroy this and
all is lost; preserve it, and though political rights, civil privileges,
industrial opportunities be taken away for the time, they will all be

By the development of manhood on the part of the Negro nothing is
farther from my thought than the inculcation of that pugnacious, defiant
disposition which vents itself in wild ejaculations and impotent
screaming against the evils of society. I mean the full appreciation of
essential human qualities and claims, and the firm, unyielding
determination to press forward to the mark of this calling, and not to
be swerved from its pursuit by doubt, denial, danger, rebuff, ridicule,
insult, and contemptuous treatment. While the Negro may not have it
within his power to resist or overcome these things, he must preserve
the integrity of his own soul.

The higher education of the Negro up to this point has been very largely
under the direction and control of philanthropy. The support has come
almost wholly from that source. The development of this sense of manhood
should be the highest concern of a wise, discriminating philanthropy,
for if this is once developed the Negro will be able to handle his own
situation and relieve his philanthropic friends from further
consideration or concern; but, if he fails to develop this spirit of
manhood, he will be but a drag upon the resources of philanthropy for
all times to come.

The Negro must develop courage and self-confidence. A grasp upon the
principles of knowledge gives the possessor the requisite spirit of
confidence. To the timid, the world is full of mystery manipulated and
controlled by forces and powers beyond their ken to comprehend. But
knowledge convinces us that there is no mystery in civilization. The
railroad, the steamship, and the practical projects that loom so large
to the unreflecting, are but the result of the application of thought to
things. The mechanical powers and forces of Nature are open secrets for
all who will undertake to unravel the mystery. And so it is with
essential and moral principles. The one who will have himself rooted and
grounded in the fundamental principles of things can look with
complacence upon the panorama of the world's progress. The Negro should
plant one foot on the Ten Commandments and the other on the Binomial
Theorem: he can then stand steadfast and immovable, however the rain of
racial wrath may fall or the angry winds of prejudice may blow and beat
upon him.

The educated Negro must learn to state his own case and to plead his own
cause before the bar of public opinion. No people who raise up from out
their midst a cultivated class, who can plead their own cause and state
their own case, will fail of a hearing before the just judgment of

The educated Negro to-day represents the first generation grown to the
fullness of the stature of manhood under the influence and power of
education. They are the first ripened fruit of philanthropy, and by them
alone will the wisdom or folly of that philanthropy be justified. The
hope of the race is focused in them. They are the headlight to direct
the pathway through the dangers and vicissitudes of the wilderness. For
want of vision, the people perish; for want of wise direction, they
stumble and fall. There is no body of men in the world to-day, nor in
the history of the world, who have, or ever have had, greater
responsibilities or more coveted opportunities than devolves upon the
educated Negro to-day. It is, indeed, a privilege to be a Negro of light
and leading in such a time as this. The incidental embarrassments and
disadvantages which for the time being must be endured are not to be
compared with the far more exceeding weight of privileges and glory
which awaits him if he rises to these high demands. For such a privilege
well may he forego the pleasure of civilization for a season.

His world consists of 10,000,000 souls, who have wrapped up in them all
the needs and necessities, powers and possibilities, of human nature;
they contain all the norms of civilization, from its roots to its
florescence. His is the task to develop and vitalize these smothered
faculties and potentialities. His education will prove to be but vanity
and vexation of spirit, unless it ultimates in this task. He is the salt
of the earth, and if the salt lose its savor, wherewith shall it be
salted? If the light within the racial world be darkness, how great is
that darkness?

The highest call of the civilization of the world to-day is to the
educated young men of the belated races. The educated young manhood of
Japan, China, India, Egypt, and Turkey must lift their own people up to
the level of their own high conception. They must partake of the best
things in the civilization of Europe and show them unto their own
people. The task of the educated American Negro is the same as theirs,
intensified, perhaps, by the more difficult and intricate tangle of
circumstances and conditions with which he has to deal.

He cannot afford to sink into slothful satisfaction and enjoy a
tasteless leisure or with inane self-deception hide his head under the
shadows of his wings, like the foolish bird, which thereby hopes to
escape the wrath to come. The white race, through philanthropy, has done
much; but its vicarious task culminated when it developed the first
generation of educated men and women. They must do the rest.

These philanthropists spoke for us when our tongues were tied. They
pleaded our cause when we were speechless; but now our faculties have
been unloosed. We must stand upon our own footing. In buffeting the
tempestuous torrents of the world we must either swim on the surface or
sink out of sight. The greatest gratitude that the beneficiary can show
to the benefactor is, as soon as possible, to do without his
benefaction. The task of race statesmanship and reclamation devolves
upon the educated Negro of this day and generation. Moral energy must be
brought to bear upon the task, whether the Negro be engaged in the
production of wealth or in the more recondite pursuits which minister to
the higher needs of man.

The white race is fast losing faith in the Negro as an efficient and
suitable factor in the equation of our civilization. Curtailment of
political, civil, and religious privilege and opportunity is but the
outward expression of this apostasy. As the white man's faith decreases,
our belief in ourselves must increase. Every Negro in America should
utter this prayer, with his face turned toward the light: "Lord, I
believe in my own inherent manhood; help Thou my unbelief." The educated
Negro must express his manhood in terms of courage, in the active as
well as in the passive voice: courage to do, as well as to endure;
courage to contend for the right while suffering wrong; the courage of
self-belief that is always commensurate with the imposed task. The world
believes in a race that believes in itself; but justly despises the
self-bemeaned. Such is the mark and the high calling to which the
educated Negro of to-day is called. May he rise to the high level of it.
Never was there a field whiter unto harvest; never was there louder cry
for laborers in the vineyard of the Lord.

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