Carter G. Woodson- Mis-Education of the Negro- Chapter 4: Education Under Outside Control

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

Okay, I’d rename this chapter “Beware of Allies Trying to Do You Favors”.  Now I feel I should quote Malcolm X. Okay I will: “The worst enemy that the Negro have is this white man that runs around here drooling at the mouth professing to love Negros and calling himself a liberal, and it is following these white liberals that has perpetuated problems that Negros have.  …. Our problems will never be solved by the white man.”– Malcolm X.

So this chapter comes across as a criticism of sorts of all the Northerners and others who came down after the Civil War. Woodson acknowledges that they meant well, but they weren’t well suited for the task. This extended to the white leadership and faculty of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) because of the social status differences.

Yet we should not take the position that a qualified white person should not teach in a Negro school. For certain work which temporarily some whites may be able to do better than the Negroes there can be no objection to such service, but if the Negro is to be forced to live in the ghetto he can more easily develop out of it under his own leadership than under that which is super-imposed. The Negro will never be able to show all of his originality as long as his efforts are directed from without by those who socially proscribe him. Such “friends” will unconsciously keep him in the ghetto.

I have thoughts but I will leave those to the end.

Unfortunately Negroes who think as the author does and dare express themselves are branded as opponents of interracial cooperation. As a matter of fact, however, such Negroes are the real workers in carrying out a program of interracial effort. Cooperation implies equality of the participants in the particular task at hand. On the contrary, however, the usual way now is for the whites to work out their plans behind closed doors, have them approved by a few Negroes serving nominally on a board, and then employ a white or mixed staff to carry out their program. This is not interracial cooperation. It is merely the ancient idea of calling upon the “inferior” to carry out the orders of the “superior.” To express it in post-classic language, as did Jessie O. Thomas, “The Negroes do the ‘coing’ and the whites the ‘operating.'”

Then he goes back to criticizing educated African Americans, as he does.

Investigation has shown, however, that men who have the doctorate not only lose touch with the common people, but they do not do as much creative work as those of less formal education. After having this honor conferred upon them, these so-called scholars often rest on their oars. Few persons have thought of the seriousness of such inertia among men who are put in the lead of things because of meeting statutory requirements of frontier universities which are not on the frontier.

Let’s make our way back to criticizing white Northerners and their institutions. As a plus he praises the work of notable African American educators.

The Northern universities, moreover, cannot do graduate work for Negroes along certain lines when they are concentrating on the educational needs of people otherwise circumstanced. The graduate school for Negroes studying chemistry is with George W. Carver at Tuskegee. At least a hundred youths should wait daily upon the words of this scientist to be able to pass on to the generations unborn his great knowledge of agricultural chemistry. Negroes desiring to specialize in agriculture should do it with workers like T. M. Campbell and B. F. Hubert among the Negro farmers of the South.

In education itself the situation is the same. Neither Columbia nor Chicago can give an advanced course in Negro rural education, for their work in education is based primarily upon what they know of the educational needs of the whites. Such work for Negroes must be done under the direction of the trail blazers who are building school houses and reconstructing the educational program of those in the backwoods. Leaders of this type can supply the foundation upon which a university of realistic education may be established.

But there was hope.

In Cleveland not long ago the author found at the Western Reserve University something unusually encouraging. A native of Mississippi, a white man trained in a Northern university and now serving as a professor in one, has under him in sociology a Negro student from Georgia. For his dissertation this Negro is collecting the sayings of his people in everyday life—their morning greetings, their remarks about the weather, their comments on things which happen around them, their reactions to things which strike them as unusual, and their efforts to interpret life as the panorama passes before them. This white Mississippian and black Georgian are on the right way to understand the Negro and, if they do not fall out about social equality, they will serve the Negro much better than those who are trying to find out whether Henry VIII lusted more after Anne Boleyn than after Catherine of Aragon or whether Elizabeth was justly styled as more untruthful than Philip II of Spain.

I studied the Tudor period as an undergrad. It wasn’t a matter of Henry 8th’s lust for women as it was the desire for a male heir. There were other concerns relating to things that could spark another War of the Roses or sectarian civil war or general war with Spain, the then super power.

Anyway, I’m going to briefly, oh so briefly, touch upon a weird white supremacy that lingers among white allies of Black Americans. It’s white saviorism that unwittingly expresses a lack of confidence that are their/your equals. In this chapter Woodson was dealing with the Progressives of his age, who were very concerned with the Black race. He wrote: “This unsound attitude of the “friends” of the Negro is due to the persistence of the mediaeval idea of controlling underprivileged classes. Behind closed doors these “friends” say you need to be careful in advancing Negroes to commanding positions unless it can be determined beforehand that they will do what they are told to do.” Let’s ignore that spelling of medieval. The white Progressive allies of then were all about supporting Blacks as long as they stayed in control.