Carter G. Woodson- Chapter 16: The New Type of Professional Man Required

It’s Black History Month, so I am continuing with the series of posts regarding Shaw resident and Father of Black History, Carter G. Woodson and his book The Mis-Education of the Negro, published in 1933.

This chapter is focused on two professions, the medical and legal. Woodson wants more Black doctors and lawyers. More importantly, he wants self-less doctors and lawyers.

While we hear much about medicine, law and the like their importance must not be unduly emphasized. Certainly men should not crowd into these spheres to make money, but all professions among Negroes except those of teaching and preaching are undermanned. All Negroes in professions constitute less than two and a half per cent of those over ten years of age who are gainfully employed. At the same time the whites find certain of their professions overcrowded, and some of their practitioners could not exist without the patronage of Negroes.

Too many teachers and preachers, not enough doctors and lawyers. And he wishes people (men) wouldn’t go into the law or medicine just for the money. And here is where I think idealists (Woodson doesn’t strike me as an idealist, but bear with me) forget about human nature. Adam Smith noted that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”  Smith knew that benevolence gets you only so far. Woodson complained, “Too many Negroes go into medicine and dentistry merely for selfish purposes, hoping thereby to increase their income and spend it in joyous living.

Woodson’s critic of Black lawyers is that they aren’t well practiced and he bemoans what he perceives as selfishness among Black doctors. “Too many of our physicians are like the one whom the author recently visited in New York City. “When I heard you coming up the stairs,” said he, “I began to feel glad, for I was sure that you were another patient from whom I might extract at least two dollars for a prescription.” This reminds me of a an old joke about doctor’s unreadable scribbly handwriting on prescriptions, the comedian said the doctor wrote, “I got mine, now you get yours.”


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