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Primary Source
The Development of a People
W. E. Burghardt DuBois

International Journal of Ethics, Vol.14, No.3 (April 1904): pp.292-311.

Online Source:
The entire volume is accessible at Google Books: start page  (About-this-book page).

Robert Williams' Comment 1:
The Public published a short, anonymous notice of DuBois's "The Development of a People" in April 1904 (citation below). It is reprinted here in its entirety:
    Always instructive and almost always interesting, the International Journal of Ethics is both to an unusual degree in its April issue. Felix Adler writes of the problem of teleology, J. G. James of the ethics of passive resistance, and C.S. Myers in defense of vivisection. But the most notable article of all is that on the development of a people by W. E. Burghardt Du Bois. It is especially notable because it deals with the burning question of white race and black, broadly and masterfully, and is from the pen of a Negro. This product of a Negro's brain fairly compels a comparison of the mental qualities of the educated Negro with such educated white men as the author of "Leopard's Spots," for example—a comparison which in its results is far from flattering to those white men.

Note 1 (Citation): Anonymous. [Du Bois' Development of a People]. The Public; v.7, nr.316 (23 April 1904): p.47.
Note 2: Within the quoted passage, the punctuation and formatting of journal title, article titles, and [The] Leopard's Spots (by Thomas Dixon) are reprinted above as originally published.
Note 3: Online source at Google Books: Start page of the article within the "Periodicals" section of The Public.

Robert Williams' Comment 2:
The American Journal of Sociology provided a summary, written by "E.B.W.", of "The Development of a People" (v.10, n.3 (November 1904): pp. 422-423). [The entire Volume 10 can be accessed at the Internet Archive or the summary itself can be read online at Google Books].

RW's Comment 3:
The American Anthropologist offered a very brief notice of the article (April-June 1905). The notice—verbatim, complete, and with titles formatted as in the original—reads as follows:
Du Bois (W. E. B.) The development of a people. (Int. J. Ethics, Phila. 1904, XIV, 292-311.) Discusses history of negro [sic] under slavery, etc. Argues for public and industrial schools. Dr D. believes in the efficacy of "group leadership."

Note (Citation): "Periodical Literature: America" American Anthropologist, N.S., 7:2 (April-June 1905): p.349 [Google Books].

RW's Comment 4:
The published essay "The Development of a People" also seems to have been a lecture delivered by Du Bois at events organized by the Redpath Lyceum Bureau [info]. Such events were part of the Midwest Chautauqua circuits that presented public lectures on a various topics as well as entertainment to numerous people across the U.S.A. The University of Iowa Libraries, Special Collections Department, houses material from the Redpath Lyceum Bureau, including a brochure about Du Bois and a lecture topic by him. The brochure is entitled:
Prof. W. E. B. Du Bois
Professor of Sociology, Atlanta University
Subject: The Development of a People

Note (Citation): Published by Redpath Lyceum Bureau (Chicago: Hollister Brothers Engravers & Printers, n.d.). [Formatting removed.]
On the second page of the brochure's text, quotations from lectures delivered by Du Bois in Chicago and Philadelphia (no dates given) related directly to the published 1904 essay [page image].


In the realm of physical health the teachings of Nature, with its stern mercy and merciful punishment, are showing men gradually to avoid the mistake of unhealthful homes, and to clear fever and malaria away from parts of earth otherwise so beautiful. Death that arises from foul sewage, bad plumbing or vitiated air we no longer attribute to "Acts of God," but to "Misdeeds of Man," and so work to correct this loss. But if we have escaped Mediaevalism to some extent in the care of physical health, we certainly have not in the higher realm of the economic and spiritual development of people. Here the world rests, and is largely contented to rest, in a strange fatalism. Nations and groups and social classes are born and reared, reel sick unto death, or tear forward in frenzied striving. We sit and watch and moralize, and judge our neighbors or ourselves fore-doomed to failure or success, not because we know or have studied the causes of a people's advance, but rather because we instinctively dislike certain races, and instinctively like our own.
This attitude cannot long prevail. The solidarity of human interests in a world which is daily becoming physically smaller, cannot afford to grope in darkness as to the causes and incentives to human advance when the advance of all depends increasingly on the advance of each. Nor is it enough here to have simply the philanthropic impulse—simply a rather blind and aimless desire to do good.
If then we would grapple intelligently with the greater problems of human development in society, we must sit and study and learn even when the mad impulse of aimless philanthropy is striving within, and we find it easier to labor blindly, rather than to wait intelligently.
In no single set of human problems is this striving after intelligence, after real facts and clear thinking, more important than in answering the many questions that concern the American Negro. And especially is this true since the basic axiom upon which all intelligent and decent men, North and South, white and black, must agree, is that the best interests of every single American demand that every Negro make the best of himself.
But what is good and better and best in the measure of human advance? and how shall we compare the present with the past, nation with nation, and group with group, so as to gain real intelligent insight into conditions and needs, and enlightened guidance? Now this is extremely difficult in matters of human development, because we are so ignorant of the ordinary facts relating to conditions of life, and because, above all, criteria of life and the objects of living are so diverse.
And yet the desire for clear judgment and rational advance, even in so intricate a problem as that of the races in the United States, is not hopeless. First of all, the most hopeful thing about the race problem to-day is, that people are beginning to recognize its intricacy and be justly suspicious of any person who insists that the race problem is simply this or simply that—realizing that it is not simply anything. It is as complex as human nature, and you do well to distrust the judgment of any man who thinks, however honestly, that any one simple remedy will cure evils that arise from the whirling wants and longings and passions of writhing human souls.
Not only do we to-day recognize the Negro problems as intricate, but we are beginning to see that they are pressing—asking, demanding solution; not to be put off by half measures, not answered by being handed down in thinly disguised yet even larger form to our children. With these intricate and pressing problems before us, we ask searchingly and often for the light; and here again we are baffled. An honest gentleman from the South informs us that there are fully as many illiterate Negroes to-day in the South as there were at Emancipation. We gasp with astonishment, and as we are asking "Where then is all our money and effort gone?" another gentleman from the South, apparently just as honest, tells us that whereas nine-tenths of the Negroes in 1870 could not read and write, to-day fully three-fifths of them can; or, again, the Negroes themselves exult over the ownership of three hundred million dollars worth of real estate, while the critic points out that the Negroes are a burden to the South, since forming a third of the population they own but one-twenty-fifth of the property.
Such seemingly contradictory propositions and others even more glaring, we hear every day, and it is small wonder that persons without leisure to weigh the evidence find themselves curiously in the dark at times and anxious for reliable interpretation of the real facts.
Much of this befogging of the situation is apparent rather than real. As a matter of fact, the statements referred to are not at all contradictory. There are to-day more illiterate Negroes than in 1870, but there are six times as many who can read and write. The real underlying problem is dynamic, not static. Is the educational movement in the right direction, and is it as rapid as is safe? or, in other words, What is satisfactory advance in education? Ought a people to learn to read and write in one generation or in a hundred years? How far can we hasten the growth of intelligence, avoiding stagnation on the one hand, and abnormal forcing on the other? Or take the question of property ownership: it is probably true that only a twenty-fifth of the total property of the South belongs to the Negro, and that the Negro property of the land exceeds three hundred million. Here, again, brute figures mean little, and the comparison between black and white is misleading. The basic question is, How soon after a social revolution like emancipation ought one reasonably to expect the appearance of habits of thrift and the accumulation of property? Moreover, how far is the accumulating of wealth indicative of general advance in moral habits and sound character, or how far is it independent of them or in spite of them?
In other words, if we are to judge intelligently or clearly of the development of a people, we must allow ourselves neither to be dazzled by figures nor misled by inapt comparisons, but we must seek to know what human advancement historically considered has meant and what it means to-day, and from such criteria we may then judge the condition, development and needs of the group before us. I want then to mention briefly the steps which groups of men have usually taken in their forward struggling, and to ask which of these steps the Negroes of the United States have taken and how far they have gone. In such comparisons we cannot, unfortunately, have the aid of exact statistics, for actual measurement of social phenomena is peculiar to the Nineteenth century—that is, to an age when the culture Nations were full-grown, and we can only roughly indicate conditions in the days of their youth. A certain youth and childhood is common to all men in their mingled striving. Everywhere, glancing across the seas of human history, we note it. The average American community of to-day has grown by a slow, intricate and hesitating advance through four overlapping eras. First, there is the struggle for sheer physical existence—a struggle still waging among the submerged tenth, but settled for a majority of the community long years ago. Above this comes the accumulation for future subsistence—the saving and striving and transmuting of goods for use in days to come—a stage reached to-day tentatively for the middle classes and to an astounding degree by a few. Then in every community there goes on from the first, but with larger and larger emphasis as the years fly, some essay to train the young into the tradition of the fathers—their religion, thought and tricks of doing. And, finally, as the group meets other groups and comes into larger spiritual contact with nations, there is that transference and sifting and accumulation of the elements of human culture which makes for wider civilization and higher development. These four steps of subsistence, accumulation, education and culture-contact are not disconnected, discreet stages. No nation ever settles its problems of poverty and then turns to educating children; or first accumulates its wealth and then its culture. On the contrary, in every stage of a nation's growing all these efforts are present, and we designate any particular age of a people's development as (for instance) a struggle for existence, because, their conscious effort is more largely expended in this direction than in others; but despite this we all know, or ought to know, that no growing nation can spend its whole effort on to-day's food lest accumulation and training of children and learning of their neighbors—lest all these things so vitally necessary to advance be neglected, and the people, full-bellied though they be, stagnate and die because in one mighty struggle to live they forget the weightier objects of life.
We all know these very obvious truths, and yet despite ourselves certain mechanical conceptions of society creep into our everyday thought. We think of growing men as cogs in some vast factory—we would stop these wheels and set these others going, hasten that department and retard this; but this conception applied to struggling men is mischievously wrong. You cannot stop the education of children in order to feed their fathers; the children continue to grow—something they are bound to learn. What then shall it be: truth, or half-truth, good or bad? So, too, a people may be engaged in the pressing work of accumulating and saving for future needs—storing grain and cotton, building houses, leveling land; but all the time they are learning something from inevitable contact with men and nations and thoughts—you cannot stop this learning; you cannot postpone it. What then shall this learning—this contact with culture—be? a lesson of fact or fable? of growth or debauchery? the inspiration of the schools or the degradation of the slums? Something it must be, but what? The growth of society is an ever-living, many-sided, bundle of activities, some of which are emphasized at different ages, none of which can be neglected without peril, all of which demand guidance and direction. As they receive this, the nation grows; as they do not, it stagnates and dies.
Whence now must the guidance and direction come? It can come only from four great sources: the precepts of parents, the sight of Seers, the opinion of the majority, and the tradition of the grandfathers; or, in other words, a nation or group of people can be taught the things it must learn in its family circles, at the feet of teachers and preachers, by contact with surrounding society, by reverence for the dead Hand—for that mighty accumulation of customs and traditions handed down generation after generation.
And thus I come to the center of my theme. How far do these great means of growth operate among American Negroes and influence their development in the main lines of human advancement?
Let me take you journeying across mountains and meadows, threading the hills of Maryland, gliding over the broad fields of Virginia, climbing the blue ridge of Carolina and seating ourselves in the cotton kingdom. I would not like you to spend a day or a month here in this little town; I should much rather you would spend ten years, if you are really studying the problem; for casual visitors get casual ideas, and the problems here are the growth of centuries.
From the depot and the cluster of doubtful houses that form the town, pale crimson fields with tell-tale gullies stretch desolately away. The whole horizon looks shabby, and there is a certain awful leisure in the air that makes a westerner [sic: not capitalized] wonder when work begins. A neglected and uncertain road wanders up from the depot, past several little stores and a post-office, and then stops hesitatingly and melts away into crooked paths across the washed-out cotton fields. But I do not want you to see so much of the physical as of the spiritual town, and first you must see the color line. It stands at the depot with "waiting room for white people" and "waiting room for colored people," and then the uninitiated might lose sight of it; but it is there, there and curiously wandering, but continuous and never ending. And in that little town, as in a thousand others, they have an eleventh commandment, and it reads "Thou shalt not Cross the Line." Men may at times break the sixth commandment and the seventh, and it makes but little stir. But when the eleventh is broken, the world heaves. And yet you must not think the town inhabited by anything inhuman. Simple, good hearted folks are there—generosity and hospitality, politeness and charity, dim strivings and hard efforts—a human world, aye, even lovable at times; and one cannot argue about that strange line—it is simply so.
Were you there in person I could not take you easily across the line into the world I want to study. But in spirit let me lead you across. In one part of the town are sure to be clustered the majority of the Negro cabins; there is no strict physical separation; on some streets whites and blacks are neighbors, and yet the general clustering by color is plain. I want to take you among the houses of the colored people, and I start not with the best, but with the worst: a little one-room box with a family of eight. The cabin is dirty, ill-smelling and cheerless; the furniture is scanty, old and worn. The man works when he has no whiskey to drink, which is comparatively seldom. The woman washes and squanders and squanders and washes. I am not sure that the couple were ever married formally, but still they'll stick together in all probability for life, despite their quarreling. There are five children, and the nameless child of the eldest daughter makes the last member of the family. Three of the children can spell and read a bit, but there's little need of it. The rest of the family are in ignorance, dark and dense. Here is a problem of home and family. One shudders at it almost hopelessly, or flares in anger and says: why do these people live like animals? Why don't they work and strive to do? If the stranger be from the North he looks suspiciously at the color line and shakes his head. If he be from the South he looks at it thankfully and stamps his foot. And these two attitudes are in some respects typical. We look around for the forces keeping this family down, or with fatalistic resignation conclude that nothing better is to be expected of black people. Exactly the same attitude with which the man of a century or so ago fought disease: looked about for the witch, or wondered at the chastening of the Lord; but withal continued to live in the swamps. There are forces in the little town to keep Negroes down, but they do not wholly explain the condition of this family. There are differences in human capabilities, but that they are not based on color can be seen in a dozen Negro homes up the street. What we have in degraded homes like this is a plain survival from the past.
What was slavery and the slave trade? Turn again with me even at the risk of hearing a twice-told tale and, as we have journeyed in space to this little southern town, so journey again in time, back through that curious crooked way along which civilization has wandered looking for the light. There was the nineteenth century—a century of material prosperity, of systematic catering to human wants, that men might eat, drink, be clothed and transported through space. And with this came the physical freeing of the soul through the wonders of science and the spread of democracy. Such a century was a legitimate offspring of the eighteenth century, of the years from 1700 to 1800, when our grandfathers' grandfathers lived—that era of revolution and heart searching that gave the world George Washington and the French Revolution. Behind the eighteenth century looms the age of Louis XIV of France, an age of mighty leaders: Richelieu, Gustavus Adolphus, and Oliver Cromwell. Thus we come back on the world's way, through three centuries of imperialism, revolution and commercial democracy, to two great centuries which prepared Europe for the years from 1600 to 1900—the century of the Protestant Reformation and the century of the Renaissance. The African Slave trade was the child of the Renaissance. We do not realize this; we think of the slave trade as a thing apart, the incident of a decade or a century, and yet let us never forget that from the year 1442, when Antonio Gonzales first looked upon the river of Gold, until 1807, when Great Britain first checked the slave trade, for three hundred and sixty-five years Africa was surrendered wholly to the cruelty and rapacity of the Christian man-dealer, and for full five hundred years and more this frightful heart disease of the Dark Continent destroyed the beginnings of Negro civilization, overturned governments, murdered men, disrupted families and poisoned the civilized world. Do you want an explanation of the degradation of this pitiful little nest perched in the crimson soil of Georgia? Ask your fathers and your father's fathers, for they know. Nay, you need not go back even to their memories.
In 1880 a traveler crossed Africa from Lake Nyassa to Lake Tanganyika. He saw the southern end of the lake peopled with large and prosperous villages. The next traveler who followed in 1890 found not a solitary human being—nothing but burned homes and bleaching skeletons. He tells us that the Wa-Nkonde tribe to which these people belonged, was, until this event, one of the most prosperous tribes in East Central Africa. Their people occupied a country of exceptional fertility and beauty. Three rivers, which never failed in the severest drought, ran through their territory, and their crops were the richest and most varied in the country. They possessed herds of cattle and goats; they fished in the lake with nets; they wrought iron into many-patterned spear-heads with exceptional ingenuity and skill; and that even artistic taste had begun to develop among them was evident from the ornamental work of their huts, which were unique for clever construction and beauty of design. This people, in short, by their own inherent ability and the natural resources of their country, were on the high road to civilization. Then came the overthrow. Arab traders mingled with them, settled peacefully among them, obeyed their laws, and gained their confidence. The number of the traders slowly increased; the power of the chief was slowly undermined, until, at last, with superior weapons and reinforcements, every vestige of the tribe was swept away and their lands laid in red ruins. Fourteen villages they razed from the ground and, finally, seizing more slaves than they could transport, drove the rest into the tall dry grass and set it on fire; and in the black forest was silence.
This took place in the nineteenth century during your lives, in the midst of modern missionary effort. But worse was the tale of the eighteenth century and the seventeenth century and the sixteenth century, and this whole dark crime against a human race began in 1442 when the historic thirty Negroes landed in Lisbon.
Systematic man-hunting was known in ancient times, but it subsided as civilization advanced, until the Mohammedan fanatics swept across Africa. Arabian slavery, however, had its mitigations. It was patriarchal house service; the slave might hope to rise and, once admitted to the household of faith, he became in fact, and not merely in theory, a man and a brother. The domestic slavery of the African tribes represented that first triumph of humanity that leads the savage to spare his foe's life and use his labor. Such slaves could and did rise to freedom and preferment; they became parts of the new tribe. It was left to Christian slavery to improve on all this—to make slavery a rigid unending caste by adding to bondage the prejudice of race and color. Marauding bands traversed the forests, fell upon native villages, slew the old and young and drove the rest in herds to the slave market; tribe was incited against tribe, and nation against nation. As Mr. Stanley tells us, "While a people were thus subject to capture and expatriation, it was clearly impossible that any intellectual or moral progress could be made. The greater number of those accessible from the coast were compelled to study the best methods of avoiding the slaver and escaping his force and his wiles; the rest only thought of the arts of kidnapping their innocent and unsuspecting fellow creatures. Yet, contradictory as it may appear to us, there were not wanting at the same time zealous men who devoted themselves to Christianity. In Angola, Congo and Mozambique, and far up the Zambesi, missionaries erected churches and cathedrals, appointed bishops and priests who converted and baptized; while at the mouth of the Congo, the Niger and the Zambesi their countrymen built slave baccaroons and anchored their murderous slave ships. Europeans legalized and sanctioned the slave trade; the public conscience of the period approved it; the mitred heads of the church blessed the slave gangs as they marched to the shore, and the tax-collector received the levy per head as lawful revenue."
In this paragraph the extended quotation from Henry M. Stanley comes from his article, "Slavery and the Slave Trade in Africa" in Harper's New Monthly Magazine (v.86, n.514 (March 1893): 613-632, at p.614 [Google Books]).
The development of the trade depended largely upon the commercial nations, and, as they put more and more ruthless enterprise into the traffic, it grew and flourished. First came the Portugese as the world's slave trader, secured in their monopoly by the Bull of Demarcation issued by Pope Alexander VI. Beginning in 1442 they traded a hundred and fifty years, until Portugal was reduced to a province of Spain in 1580 and her African settlements neglected. Immediately the thrifty Dutch began to monopolize the trade, and held it for a century, until Oliver Cromwell deprived them of it. The celebrated Dutch West India Company intrigued with native states and gained a monopoly of the trade in Negroes from 1630 to 1668. They whirled a stream of cargoes over the great seas, filled the West Indies, skirted the coasts of America and, sailing up the curving river to Jamestown, planted the Negro problems in Virginia in 1619. Then the English scented gain and bestirred themselves mightily.
Two English slave ships sailed from Plymouth in the middle of the sixteenth century, but the great founder of the English slave trade was Sir John Hawkins. Queen Elizabeth had some scruples at the trade in human beings, and made Hawkins promise to seize only those who were willing to go with him—a thing which he easily promised and easily forgot. This Sir John Hawkins was a strange product of his times. Brave, ruthless, cruel and religious: a pirate, a man-stealer and a patriot. He sailed to Africa in the middle of the sixteenth century, and immediately saw profits for English gain. He burned villages, murdered the natives and stole slaves, and then, urging his crew to love one another and serve God daily, he sailed merrily westward to the Spanish West Indies in the good ship called the "Jesus," and compelled the Spaniards to buy slaves at the muzzle of his guns.
Thus the English slave trade began under Queen Elizabeth, was encouraged under James I, who had made the translation of our Bible, and renewed by Oliver Cromwell, the great Puritan, who fought for it and seized the island of Jamaica as a slave market. So kings, queens and countries encouraged the trade, and the English soon became the world's greatest slave traders. New manufactures suitable to the trade were introduced into England, and the trade brought so much gold to Great Britain that they named the pieces "guineas" after the slave coast. Four million dollars a year went from England, in the eighteenth century, to buy slaves. Liverpool, the city where the trade centered, had, in 1783, nine hundred slave ships in the trade, and in eleven years they carried $76,000,000 worth of slaves to America, and they did this on a clear profit of $60,000,000.
These vast returns easily seduced the conscience of Europe. Boswell, the biographer of Dr. Johnson, called the slave trade "an important necessary branch of commerce," and probably the best people of England were of this opinion, and were surprised and indignant when Clarkson and Wilberforce began their campaign.
Gradually aroused by repeated and seemingly hopeless assaults, the conscience of England awoke and forbade the trade, in 1807, after having guided and cherished it for one hundred and fifty years. She called for aid from America, and America apparently responded in the statutes of 1808. But, true to her reputation as the most lawless nation on earth, America made no attempt to enforce the law in her own territory for a generation, and, after that, refused repeatedly and doggedly to prevent the slave trade of the world from sailing peacefully under the American flag for fifty years—up until the very outbreak of the civil war. Thus, from 1442 to 1860, nearly half a millennium, the Christian world fattened on the stealing of human souls.
Nor was there any pretence [sic] of charity in the methods of their doing. The capture of the slaves was organized deceit, murder and force; the shipping of them was far worse than the modern shipping of horses and cattle. Of this middle passage across the sea in slow sailing ships, with brutal sailors and little to eat, it has often been said "that never in the world before was so much wretchedness condensed in so little room." The Negroes, naked and in irons, were chained to each other hand and foot, and stowed so close that they were not allowed more than a foot and a half each. Thus, crammed together like herrings in a barrel, they contracted putrid and fatal disorders, so that those who came to inspect them in the morning had frequently to pick dead slaves out of their rows and unchain their corpses from the bodies of their wretched mates. Blood and filth covered the floors, the hot air reeked with contagion, and the death rate among the slaves often reached fifty per cent., not to speak of the decimation when once they reached the West Indian plantations.
The world will never know the exact number of slaves transported to America. Several thousand came in the fifteenth century, tens of thousands in the sixteenth, and hundreds of thousands in the seventeenth. In the eighteenth century more than two and one-half millions of slaves were transported, and in 1790 Negroes were crossing the ocean at the rate of sixty thousand a year. Dunbar thinks that nearly fifteen millions were transported in all.
Such was the traffic that revolutioned [sic] Africa. Instead of man-hunting being an incident of tribal wars, war became the incident of man-hunting. From the Senegal to St. Paul de Loanda winding, beaten tracks converged to the sea from every corner of the Dark Continent, covered with the blood of the foot-sore, lined with the bleaching bones of the dead, and echoing with the wails of the conquered, the bereaved and the dying. The coast stood bristling with forts and prisons to receive the human cattle. Across the blue waters of the Atlantic two hundred and fifty ships a year hurried to the west, with their crowded, half-suffocated cargoes. And during all this time Martin Luther had lived and died, Calvin had preached, Raphael had painted and Shakespeare and Milton sung; and yet for four hundred years the coasts of Africa and America were strewn with the dying and the dead, four hundred years the sharks followed the scurrying ships, four hundred years Ethiopia stretched forth her hands unto God. All this you know, all this you have read many a time. I tell it again, lest you forget.
What was slavery to the slave trade? Not simply forced labor, else we are all in bondage. Not simply toil without pay, even that is not unknown in America. No, the dark damnation of slavery in America was the destruction of the African family and of all just ideals of family life. No one pretends that the family life of African tribes had reached modern standards—barbarous nations have barbarous ideals. But this does not mean that they have no ideals at all. The patriarchal clan-life of the Africans, with its polygamy protected by custom, tradition and legal penalty, was infinitely superior to the shameless promiscuity of the West Indian plantations, the unhallowed concubinage of Virginia, or the prostitution of Louisiana. And these ideals slavery broke and scattered and flirted to the winds and left ignorance and degradation in their train.
When the good New England clergyman thought it a shame that slaves should herd like animals, without a legal marriage bond, he devised a quaint ceremony for them in which Sally promised Bob to cleave to him. For life? Oh no. As long as "God in his providence" kept them on the same plantation. This was in New England where there was a good deal more conscience than in Georgia. What ideal of family life could one reasonably expect Bob and Sally to have? The modern American family (considering the shame of divorce) has not reached perfection; yet it is the result of long training and carefully fostered ideals and persistent purging of the socially unfit.
As I study this family in the little southern town, in all its degradation and uncleanness, I cannot but see a plain case of cause and effect. If you degrade people the result is degradation, and you have no right to be surprised at it. Nor am I called upon to apologize for these people, or to make fun of their dumb misery. For their condition there is an apology due, witness High Heaven; but not from me.
Upon the town we have visited, upon the state, upon this section, the awful incubus of the past broods like a writhing sorrow, and when we turn our faces from that past, we turn it not to forget but to remember; viewing degradation with fear and not contempt, with awe and not criticism, bowing our head and straining willing ears to the iron voice
"  .  .  .  .  of Nature merciful and stern.
I teach by killing, let others learn."
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (a.k.a. Charlotte Perkins Stetson) published a poetry collection entitled In This Our World (Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1898). Therein she included a poem "Nature's Answer" (pp.2-4). The second stanza reads:
A man would do great work, good work and true;
He gave all things he had, all things he knew;
He worked for all the world; his one desire
To make the people happier, better, higher;
Used his best wisdom, used his utmost strength;
And, dying in the struggle, found at length,
The giant evils he had fought the same,
And that the world he loved scarce knew his name.
"Has all my work been wrong? I meant so well!
I loved so much!" he cried, "How could I tell?"
And answered Nature, merciful and stern,
"I teach by killing; let the others learn."
The poem (within Gilman's book) is available at Google Books (alternate digital copy).
But the Negroes of the South are not all upon this low level. From this Nadir they stretch slowly, resolutely upward, by infinite gradation, helped now by the hand of a kindly master or a master's son, now by the sacrifice of friends; always by the ceaseless energy of a people who will never submit to burial alive.
Look across the street of your little southern town: here is a better house—a mother and father, two sons and a girl. They are hard-working people and good people. They read and write a little and, though they are slow and good natured, they are seldom idle. And yet they are unskilled, without foresight, always in debt and living from hand to mouth. Hard pressed they may sink into crime; encouraged they may rise to comfort, but never to wealth. Why? Because they and their fathers have been trained this way. What does a slave know of saving? What can he know of forethought? What could he learn even of skill, save in exceptional cases? In other words, slavery must of necessity send into the world of work a mass of unskilled laborers who have no idea of what thrift means; who have been a part of a great economic organization but had nothing to do with its organizing; and so when they are suddenly called to take a place in a greater organization, in which free individual initiative is a potent factor, they cannot, for they do not know how; they lack skill and, more than that, they lack ideals!
And so we might go on: past problems of work and wages, of legal protection, of civil rights and of education, up to this jaunty, little yellow house on a cross street with a flower-bed struggling sturdily with the clay, with vines and creepers and a gleam of white curtains and a decorous parlor. If you enter this house you may not find it altogether up to your ideals. A Dutch housekeeper would find undiscovered corners, and a fastidious person might object to the general scheme of decoration. And yet, compared with the homes in the town, white or black, the house is among the best. It may be the home of a Negro butcher who serves both sides the color line, or of a small grocer, a carpenter, a school teacher or a preacher. Whatever this man may be, he is a leader in a peculiar sense—the ideal-maker in his group of people. The white world is there, but it is the other side of the color line; it is seen distinctly and from afar. Of white and black there is no mingling in church and school, in general gatherings. The black world is isolated and alone; it gets its ideals, its larger thoughts, its notions of life, from these local leaders; they set the tone to that all-powerful spiritual world that surrounds and envelopes the souls of men; their standards of living, their interpretation of sunshine and rain and human hearts, their thoughts of love and labor, their aspirations and dim imaginings—all that makes life life.
Not only does this group leader guide a mass of men isolated in space, but also isolated in time. For we must remember that not only did slavery overthrow the Negro family and teach few lessons of thrift and foresight; it also totally broke a nation from all its traditions of the past in every realm of life. I fear I cannot impress upon you the full meaning of such a revolution. A nation that breaks suddenly with its past is almost fatally crippled. No matter how crude or imperfect that past may be, with all its defects, it is the foundation upon which generations to come must build. Beauty and finish and architectural detail are not required of it, but the massive weight of centuries of customs and traditions it must have. The slave trade, a new climate, a new economic regime, a new language and a new religion separated the American Negro as completely from his fatherland as it is possible for human agencies to do. The result is curious. There is a certain swaying in the air, a tilting and a crumbling, a vast difficulty of adjustment—of making the new ideas of work and wealth, of authority and right, lit in and hitch themselves to something gone; to the authority of the fathers, the customs of the past in a nation without grandfathers. So, then, the Negro group leader not only sets present standards, but he supplies in a measure the lack of past standards, and his leading is doubly difficult, since with Emancipation there came a second partial breaking with the past. The leader of the masses must discriminate between the good and bad in the past; he must keep the lesson of work and reject the lesson of concubinage; he must add more lessons of moral rectitude to the old religious fervor; he must, in fine, stand to this group in the light of the interpreter of the civilization of the twentieth century to the minds and hearts of people who, from sheer necessity, can but dimly comprehend it. And this man—I care not what his vocation may be—preacher, teacher, physician, or artisan, this person is going to solve the Negro problem; for that problem is at bottom the clash of two different standards of culture, and this priest it is who interprets the one to the other.
Let me for a moment recapitulate. In the life of advancing peoples there must go on simultaneously a struggle for existence, accumulation of wealth, education of the young, and a development in culture and the higher things of life. The more backward the nation the larger sum of effort goes into the struggle for existence; the more forward the nation the larger and broader is the life of the spirit. For guidance, in taking these steps in civilization, the nation looks to four sources: the precepts of parents, the sight of seers, the opinion of the majority and the traditions of the past.
Here, then, is a group of people in which every one of these great sources of inspiration is partially crippled: the family group is struggling to recover from the debauchery of slavery; the number of the enlightened leaders must necessarily be small; the surrounding and more civilized white majority is cut off from its natural influence by the color line; and the traditions of the past are either lost, or largely traditions of evil and wrong.
Any one looking the problem squarely in the face might conclude that it was unjust to expect progress, or the signs of progress, until many generations had gone by. Indeed, we must not forget that those people who claimed to know the Negro best, freely and confidently predicted during the abolition controversy—
     1. That free Negroes would not, and could not, work effectively.
     2. That the freedman who did work, would not save.
     3. That it was impossible to educate Negroes.
     4. That no members of the race gave signs of ability and leadership.
     5. That the race was morally degenerate.
Not only was this said, it was sincerely and passionately believed, by honorable men who, with their forefathers, had lived with the Negro three hundred years. And yet to-day the Negro in one generation forms the chief laboring force of the most rapidly developing part of the land. He owns twelve million acres of land, two hundred and fifty million dollars worth of farm property, and controls as owner or renter five hundred millions. Nearly three-fifths of the Negroes have learned to read and write. An increasing number have given evidence of ability and thoughtfulness—not, to be sure, of transcendent genius, but of integrity, large knowledge and common-sense. And finally there can be to-day no reasonable dispute but that the number of efficient, law-abiding and morally upright black people in this land is far larger than it ever was before, and is daily growing. Now these obvious and patent facts do not by any means indicate the full solution of the problem. There are still hosts of idle and unreliable Negro laborers; the race still, as a whole, has not learned the lesson of thrift and saving; fully seventy-five per cent. are still fairly designated as ignorant. The number of group leaders of ability and character is far behind the demand, and the development of a trustworthy upper class has, as is usually true, been accompanied by the differentiation of a dangerous class of criminals.
What the figures of Negro advancement mean is, that the development has been distinctly and markedly in the right direction, and that, given justice and help, no honest man can doubt the outcome. The giving of justice means the recognition of desert wherever it appears; the right to vote on exactly the same terms as other people vote; the right to the equal use of public conveniences and the educating of youth in the public schools. On these points, important as they are, I will not dwell. I am more interested here in asking how these struggling people may be actually helped. I conceive that such help may take any one of four forms:—
      1. Among a people deprived of guiding traditions, they may be furnished trained guidance in matters of civilization and ideals of living.
      2. A people whose family life is not strongly established must have put before them and brought home to them the morals of sane and sanitary living.
      3. The mass of Negro children must have the keys of knowledge put into their hands by good elementary schools.
      4. The Negro youth must have the opportunity to learn the technical skill of modern industry.
All these forms of help are important. No one of them can be neglected without danger of increasing complications as time flies, and each one of them are lines of endeavor in which the Negro cannot be reasonably expected to help himself without aid from others. For instance, it cannot be seriously expected that a race of freedmen would have the skill necessary for modern industry. They cannot teach themselves what they themselves do not know, and consequently a legitimate and crying need of the south is the establishment of industrial schools. The public school system is one of the foundation stones of free republican government. Negro children, as well as other children, have right to ask of the nation knowledge of reading, writing and the rules of number, together with some conception of the world in time and space. Not one Negro child in three is to-day receiving any such training or has any chance to receive it, and a decent public school system in the South, aided by the National government, is something that must come in the near future, if you expect the race problem to be settled.
Here then are two great needs: public schools and industrial schools. How are schools of any sort established? By furnishing teachers. Given properly equipped teachers and your schools are a foregone success; without them, I care not how much you spend on buildings and equipment, the schools are a failure. It is here that Negro colleges, like Atlanta University, show their first usefulness.
But, in my list of ways in which the Negro may legitimately be helped to help himself, I named two other avenues of aid, and I named them first because to my mind they are even of more importance than popular education. I mean the moral uplift of a people. Now moral uplift comes not primarily from schools, but from strong home life and high social ideals. I have spoken of the Negroes' deficiency in these lines and the reason of that deficiency. Here, then, is a chance for help, but how? Not by direct teaching, because that is often ineffective and it is precluded in the South by the color line. It can be done, to my mind, only by group leadership; by planting in every community of Negroes black men with ideals of life and thrift and civilization, such as must in time filter through the masses and set examples of moral living and correct thinking to the great masses of Negroes who spend but little of their life in schools. After all the education of men comes but in small degree from schools; it comes mostly from the fireside, from companionships, from your social set, from the opinion of each individual's little world. This is even more true of the Negro. His world is smaller. He is shut in to himself by prejudice; he has, by reason of his poverty, little time for school. If he is to learn, he must learn from his group leaders, his daily companions, his social surroundings, his own dark world of striving, longing and dreaming. Here, then, you must plant the seed of civilization. Here you must place men educated, not merely in the technique of teaching or skill of hand, but above and beyond that into a thorough understanding of their age and the demands and meaning of modern culture. In so far as the college of to-day stands for the transmission from age to age of all that is best in the world's deeds, thoughts and traditions, in so far it is a crying necessity that a race, ruthlessly torn from its traditions and trained for centuries awry, should receive back through the higher culture of its gifted children some of the riches of the great system of culture into which it has been thrust. If the meaning of modern life cannot be taught at Negro hearthsides because the parents themselves are untaught, then its ideals can be forced into the centres of Negro life only by the teaching of higher institutions of learning and the agency of thoroughly educated men.
W. E. Burghardt DuBois.     
Atlanta University.

[End of original text.]

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