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.
A theme throughout the book is that “educated” AfAms are not furthering the race and uneducated entrepreneurs and business people can do more. So far every, single, chapter has a strong criticism of “educated” Black people. I have just finished Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, and he had some criticisms (not as harsh sounding to my ears) for DC’s education system for African Americans. Washington was more “vocational” and pointed out some problems with students not being industrial and having their education being too book based. So they had that in common.
We’re probably more familiar with the Booker T. Washington vs W.E.B. DuBois view of education. There doesn’t seem to be the same amount of ink comparing DuBois to Woodson. But Woodson does snipe at the “Talented Tenth” a term most associated with DuBois.
We have appealed to the talented tenth for a remedy, but they have nothing to offer. Their minds have never functioned in this all-important sphere. The “educated” Negro shows no evidence of vision. He should see a new picture. The Negroes are facing the alternative of rising in the sphere of production to supply their proportion of the manufacturers and merchants or of going down to the graves of paupers. The Negro must now do for himself or die out as the world undergoes readjustment. If the whites are to continue for some time in doing drudgery to the exclusion of Negroes, the latter must find another way out. Nothing forces this upon one more dramatically than when he learns that white women in Montgomery, Alabama, are coming to the back door of Negro homes asking for their washing. If the whites have reached this extremity, and they must be taken care of first, what will be left for the Negroes?
That is a fair criticism. The reason why after 150 years of secondary and post-secondary education especially for Blacks, and there is still complaint about the state of African Americans in America, is …. complicated. Thousands of Black teachers (some who are my aunts), Black doctors, and Black clergy (in-law) have been produced by this education system. Woodson has harsh criticisms for the teachers and preachers. I suspect he doesn’t think they produce anything useful. “If the Negroes are to remain forever removed from the producing atmosphere, and the present discrimination continues, there will be nothing left for them to do. ” Black doctors can at least bill you for their work. Black dentists can point to the crowns in their patients’ mouths.
…. No progress has been made in this respect because the more “education” the Negro gets the worse off he is. He has just had so much longer to learn to decry and despise himself. The race looking to this educated class for a solution of its problems does not find any remedy; and, on the contrary, sees itself further and further away from those things to which it has aspired. By forgetting the schoolroom for the time being and relying upon an awakening of the masses through adult education we can do much to give the Negro a new point of view with respect to economic enterprise and group cooperation. The average Negro has not been sufficiently mis-educated to become hopeless.
As Frederick Douglass said in 1852, “It is vain that we talk of being men, if we do not the work of men. We must become valuable to society in other departments of industry than those servile ones from which we are rapidly being excluded. We must show that we can do as well as they. When we can build as well as live in houses; when we can make as well as wear shoes; when we can produce as well as consume wheat, corn and rye—then we shall become valuable to society.
“Society,” continued Douglass, “is a hard-hearted affair. With it the helpless may expect no higher dignity than that of paupers. The individual must lay society under obligation to him or society will honor him only as a stranger and sojourner.”
Woodson against Segregation
There are a few passages where Woodson appears to criticize segregation. I highlighted a few such passages in the previous post on this chapter. But wait, there’s more:
…An irate resident in an exclusive district protests against an invasion by Negroes because he has learned that these poverty-stricken people are carriers of disease and agents of crime; the Negroes, believing that such is the truth, remain content in the ghetto. The irrational parent forces the separation of the races in some schools because his child must occupy a seat next to a pupil of “tainted” African blood; the educated Negro accepts this as inevitable and welcomes the makeshift for his people. Children of Negroes are excluded from the playgrounds because of the assertion that they will contaminate those of the whites; the Negroes yielding, settle down to a policy of having their children grow up in neglected fashion in the most undesirable part of the city. The Negro is forced to ride in a Jim Crow car to stamp upon him more easily the badge of his “inferiority”; the “educated Negro” accepts it as settled and abandons the fight against this social proscription.
These timorous men were very much like some Negroes who were employed near the author’s home in Virginia by a Northern farmer, who had moved into the State after the Civil War. When breakfast time came the first morning he called them in to eat at the table with his family. These actual slaves, however, immediately lost their appetite. One finally called the employer aside and settled the matter in another way. He said:
“Now boss, you ain’t used to de rules ob dis country. We just can’t sit at de table wid wite folks. We been use ter eating a cake er bread out yonder ‘tween de plow handles. Les us go out dar.”
The system, therefore, has extended from one thing to another until the Negroes today find themselves hedged in by the color bar almost every way they turn; and, set off by themselves, the Negroes cannot learn from the example of others with whom they might come into contact. In the ghetto, too, they are not permitted to construct and carry out a program of their own. These segregating institutions interfere with the development of self-help among Negroes, for often Negroes fail to raise money to establish institutions which they might control, but they readily contribute large sums for institutions which segregate persons of African blood.
…The same balance of power was evident also during the American Revolution when Negro soldiers insisted on serving side by side with others; today many Negroes are content as menials in the army. At that time Negroes preached to mixed congregations; today we find Negroes busy separating them. The eighteenth-century Negro resented any such thing as social distinctions; today Negroes are saying that they do not want social equality. Negroes of that epoch said with the ancient poet, “I am a man and deem nothing that relates to man a matter of indifference to me”; today, however, the average Negro says, “Now, I am a colored man, and you white folks must settle that matter among yourselves.”