Carter G. Woodson- Mis-Education of the Negro- Chapter 1: The Seat of Trouble

This is a series regarding Shaw resident Carter G. Woodson’s book The Mis-Education of the Negro.

Last year I reviewed this book and I’m updating those posts.

I understand Woodosn was a man of his time and the challenges of what was being taught in the public school system and in Black colleges were real. There are new challenges, but I’m going to ignore them because they make me steaming mad. That challenge then, 100 years ago, was an education system dismissed the Negro (I’m going to use his words) and the African.

“At a Negro summer school two years ago, a white instructor gave a course on the Negro, using for his text a work which teaches that whites are superior to the blacks. When asked by one of the students why he used such a textbook the instructor replied that he wanted them to get that point of view. Even schools for Negroes, then, are places where they must be convinced of their inferiority. “

So that was a problem.

“Practically all of the successful Negroes in this country are of the uneducated type or of that of Negroes who have had no formal education at all. The large majority of the Negroes who have put on the finishing touches of our best colleges are all but worthless in the development of their people.”

It doesn’t really get any better. He pretty much considers the Black college graduate useless.

 “The Negro children, as a rule, come from the homes of tenants and peons who have to migrate annually from plantation to plantation, looking for light which they have never seen. The children from the homes of white planters and merchants live permanently in the midst of calculations, family budgets, and the like, which enable them sometimes to learn more by contact than the Negro can acquire in school. Instead of teaching such Negro children less arithmetic, they should be taught much more of it than the white children, for the latter attend a graded school consolidated by free transportation when the Negroes go to one-room rented hovels to be taught without equipment and by incompetent teachers educated scarcely beyond the eighth grade.”

I have no doubt whatsoever that 100 years ago Black schools lacked equipment. The one room school house or ‘rented hovel’ as Woodson puts it, could be part of a romantic past or nightmarish past, depending on how dark or rose colored the viewer’s glasses. But the “incompetent teachers” comment seems a bit harsh and cruel.

Who do you think were teaching these Black children? Black teachers, products of Black colleges. My mother’s sisters and sister-in-laws were all teachers at one point in their lives, products of HBCUs, so the comments cut a little.

So there was a problem with Black college education:

When a Negro has finished his education in our schools, then, he has been equipped to begin the life of an Americanized or Europeanized white man, but before he steps from the threshold of his alma mater he is told by his teachers that he must go back to his own people from whom he has been estranged by a vision of ideals which in his disillusionment he will realize that he cannot attain.

In a previous paragraph he wrote:

In schools of journalism Negroes are being taught how to edit such metropolitan dailies as the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times, which would hardly hire a Negro as a janitor; and when these graduates come to the Negro weeklies for employment they are not prepared to function in such establishments, which, to be successful, must be built upon accurate knowledge of the psychology and philosophy of the Negro.

Woodson noted how successful African-Americans were ‘uneducated’. These were the entrepreneurs of the age. Woodson points out the problem that college graduates from HBCUs, could not work in their fields of study because they were not white. They are not prepared, Woodson contends, to work in the places where they can be hired because they did not understand their customer nor their employer, because of their education.

For the arduous task of serving a race thus handicapped, however, the Negro graduate has had little or no training at all. The people whom he has been ordered to serve have been belittled by his teachers to the extent that he can hardly find delight in undertaking what his education has led him to think is impossible. Considering his race as blank in achievement, then, he sets out to stimulate their imitation of others The performance is kept up a while; but, like any other effort at meaningless imitation, it results in failure.

There is a paragraph I’ve very temped to skip and because of that I will include it:

These “educated” people, however, decry any such thing as race consciousness; and in some respects they are right. They do not like to hear such expressions as “Negro literature,” “Negro poetry,” “African art,” or “thinking black”; and, roughly speaking, we must concede that such things do not exist. These things did not figure in the courses which they pursued in school, and why should they? “Aren’t we all Americans? Then, whatever is American is as much the heritage of the Negro as of any other group in this country.”

One of aunts, and I’m not mentioning which one as they are all still living and functioning, pushed Black culture on me. And as a kid, I totally resisted it. I wanted to watch Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, she came over and switched it to Soul Train. I like what I like, and I don’t like what I don’t like. The heart wants what it wants. Trying to guilt trip me into liking parts Black culture had the opposite effect. There are aspects of African-American culture and history that I love, being Afro-American myself is the cherry on top. I came to appreciate them, on my own, as an adult.

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