Carter G. Woodson- Chapter 5: The Failure to Learn to Make a Living part 1

It’s Black History Month, so I am continuing with the series of posts regarding Shaw resident and Father of Black History, Carter G. “Grumpypants” Woodson and his book The Mis-Education of the Negro, published in 1933. I’ll get to the grumpy pants part later. Here’s a link to Woodson’s Wikipedia page, but I’d like to flesh out the history of Black History Month.

Prior to 1926, when Woodson created Negro History Week, he had already laid the foundation for African-American history scholarship with the founding of Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) in 1915. Negro History Week was to be the same week when Americans were celebrating the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln (2/12/1809) and Orator and Abolitionist Frederick Douglass (2/14?/1818). It is not just a matter of suggesting Negro History Week, he and the ASALH promoted it so that it became a regular observance. In the 60s it unofficially expanded into a whole month and in 1976 President Gerald Ford made the month official.

But back to Woodson and this book and this chapter. Once again, Woodson has bad things to say about Black college graduates and praise for Black business. I’m going to split this into two posts because there are two themes in this chapter. The first theme is AfAm college graduates are somewhat useless to the Black race. The second is related, AfAm college graduates are a drain if not a detriment to Black business. Yes, surprising from the father of Black history, if you knew nothing else about him. He makes a fairly good point in his argument and his goal is ultimately the betterment of the Black/Negro race. However, you’re not going to get to a better place with false praise and excuses. Let’s get into this.

Let’s start with the question hated by many a college student when explaining themselves to their working class/ non-college educated relatives, “what are you going to do with a X degree?” For me it was History. I’d dropped out of Business school because of math oppression. What can you do with a BA in History? Teach, be a poor living history staff member, work at Wal-Mart as one History prof suggested.

Woodson, for the past couple of chapters have complained about the Black college graduate. His main complaint was that whatever was learned at the HBCU wasn’t applicable to the Black business world and because Blacks were typically prevented from working in the white business world where their skills might apply.

What Negroes are now being taught does not bring their minds into harmony with life as they must face it. When a Negro student works his way through college by polishing shoes he does not think of making a special study of the science underlying the production and distribution of leather and its products that he may some day figure in this sphere. The Negro boy sent to college by a mechanic seldom dreams of learning mechanical engineering to build upon the foundation his father has laid, that in years to come he may figure as a contractor or a consulting engineer. The Negro girl who goes to college hardly wants to return to her mother if she is a washerwoman, but this girl should come back with sufficient knowledge of physics and chemistry and business administration to use her mother’s work as a nucleus for a modern steam laundry. A white professor of a university recently resigned his position to become rich by running a laundry for Negroes in a Southern city. A Negro college instructor would have considered such a suggestion an insult. The so-called education of Negro college graduates leads them to throw away opportunities which they have and to go in quest of those which they do not find.

I have heard, that America got a growth in the number of Jewish lawyers because they went into law school to assist their immigrant parents’ businesses. Woodson would like Black college students to have the same thing in mind to better their parents’ or their own businesses. I went to business school with the same idea, but…. math. Also my dad only needed me to translate bureaucrat-ese into plain English. No degree needed. Here, Woodson is bemoaning that the kid who goes to college and doesn’t use the opportunity to learn how to improve their parent’s business. Then he uses an example of a white professor who goes into business and is successful.

During recent years we have heard much of education in business administration departments in Negro colleges; but if they be judged by the products turned out by these departments they are not worth a “continental.” The teachers in this field are not prepared to do the work, and the trustees of our institutions are spending their time with trifles instead of addressing themselves to the study of a situation which threatens the Negro with economic extermination.

This is more of a complaint about Black colleges.

I’ve debated about the paragraph below. It might have fit with Part 2, where I get into his second theme about college graduates being a drain on Black businesses. Calls for Socialism or Communism is another form of being a drain. But I think it falls into the camp of college graduates are useless.

The impatient, “highly educated” Negroes, therefore, say that since under the present system of capitalism the Negro has no chance to toil upward in the economic sphere, the only hope for bettering his condition in this respect is through socialism, the overthrow of the present economic rĂ©gime, and the inauguration of popular control of resources and agencies which are now being operated for personal gain. This thought is gaining ground among Negroes in this country, and it is rapidly sweeping them into the ranks of what are commonly known as “Communists.”

So my next post will be on the second theme.