William Edward Burghardt Du Bois on Education




"I should recommend for the average colored child the same course of study as for the average white child." -Du Bois, 1926

"The question as to whether American Negroes were capable of education was no longer a debatable one in 1876. The whole problem was simply one of opportunity." -Du Bois, 1935

"We cannot base the education of future citizens on the present inexcusable inequality of wealth nor on physical differences of race. We must seek not to make men carpenters but to make carpenters men." -Du Bois, 1920

"The chief difficulty with Hampton is that its ideals are low. It is ...deliberately educating a servile class for a servile place. It is substituting the worship of philanthropists like Samuel Armstrong (excellent man though he was) for worship of manhood ... The fact of the matter is, that if the Negro race survives in America and in modern civilization it will be because it assimilates that civilization and develops leaders of large intelligent caliber. The people back of Hampton do not propose that any such thing take place. Consciously or unconsciously they propose to develop the Negro race as a caste of efficient workers, do not expect them to be co-workers in a modern cultured state. It is that underlying falsehood and heresy, the refusing to recognize Negroes as men, which is the real basic criticism of Hampton." Du Bois, 1916

"[Hampton is] probably the best center of trade-teaching for Negroes in the United States .... We do not feel, at present, that Hampton is our school - on the contrary, we feel that she belongs to the white South and to the reactionary North, and we fear that she is a center of that underground and silent intrigue which is determined to perpetuate the American Negro as a docile peasant and peon, without political rights of social standing, working for little wages, and heaping up dividends to be doled out in future charity to his children." -Du Bois, 1917

Du Bois at his desk in the Crisis office, circa 1915

W.E.B. Du Bois, in his search for a solution to the American racial dilemma, voiced educational philosophies that provided an interesting opposite to those preached by his intellectual counterpart, Booker T. Washington. Du Bois' educational background was very different from Washington's. Du Bois, born in Massachusetts experienced very little racial prejudice in his early years, and it was not until attending Fisk, a University in the South, that he became aware of race realities in America. From that point on, the cause of black people was his cause. Upon graduation from Fisk, he became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard,

Harvard graduation, 1890. The six class day speakers; Du Bois is at the far right.

then studied in Berlin to become one of the great pioneer sociologists. Du Bois obviously believed that industrial education was not a true graduation from the grasp of slavery, which would prove to be a direct contradiction to Washington's teachings. Du Bois argued that blacks should organize under the leadership of the "talented tenth" (who were the college-educated elites) and demand their needs, rather than complacently accept what is given to them. Du Bois believes that one should read to learn, to learn to think, and to think in order to form a new "social mind" that has the ability to question an oppressive system. Du Bois believed that Washington's policies were too conservative, and did not hold high enough aspirations for the black race.

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