site map site map


A Primary Source
"The Individual and Social Conscience"
 — William E.B. Du Bois
     [Originally Untitled]


Citation:
Du Bois, William E.B. "The Individual and Social Conscience" [Originally Untitled]. Pp. 53-55 in Religious Education Association, The Aims of Religious Education. The Proceedings of the Third Annual Convention of the Religious Education Association, Boston, February 12-16, 1905. Chicago: Executive Office of the Religious Education Association, 1905.


Online Sources:
1. The entire Proceedings is available for online viewing or downloading at Google Books: start page of DuBois's piece. (Other digitized versions: one ; two).

2. At the Hathi Trust Digital Library one can specifically read Du Bois's work (start page) or else view the entire Proceedings online.

3. Read online or access the complete volume in several file formats at the Internet Archive: download page.


Robert Williams' Notes:
1. During the Third Annual Convention of the Religious Education Association (R.E.A.), which was held in Boston in February 1905, DuBois was a discussant for a themed session entitled "How Can We Develop in the Individual a Social Conscience?" Three papers were presented, and Du Bois was listed as the second of three discussants (TOC: p.v; also see p.466 for a summary of the session during which Du Bois participated). The three papers were delivered by Arthur S. Hoyt ("Literature as an Expression of Social Ideals"), John Merle Coulter ("Science as a Teacher of Morality"), and Henry Smith Pritchett ("The Ethical Education of Public Opinion"). In the Proceedings of the Convention, within a section marked as "Discussion", Du Bois' contribution was published.

2. Atlanta University President Horace Bumstead described the background and purposes of Du Bois's trip to Boston in his article entitled, "Dr. Du Bois in Boston", which was published in The Bulletin of Atlanta University (Nr. 153; March 1905; pp.2-3). Via the Digital Collection of Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center, this issue is accessible online.

3. A few periodicals mentioned Du Bois's participation at the 1905 R.E.A. conference and several even commented on his role. For example, in an effort to dispel negative stereotypes, the Reverend Amory Bradford wrote the following:
The best authorities say that the most cultured address at the recent convention in Boston for promoting religious education was by Professor DuBois, of Atlanta University. It has been described as a model of condensed and finished English style, and Professor DuBois is a colored man.[sic]
Source: Bradford, Amory H. 1905. "Hopeful, Not Hopeless." The American Missionary, 59:4 (April): 105- 108, at p.107

4. I have analyzed "The Individual and Social Conscience"  (IASC) in the following essay:
Williams, R.W. & W.E.B. Du Bois. "'The Sacred Unity in All the Diversity': The Text and a Thematic Analysis of W.E.B. Du Bois's 'The Individual and Social Conscience' (1905)." Journal of African American Studies, 16:3 (September): 456-497.
[Initially published via "Online First" (SpringerLink), March 2011.]
This website has a final version in a pre-publication format (PDF).

5. Editorial comments:
5.1. The text reproduced below was untitled in its original publication within the 1905 Religious Education Association conference proceedings.
5.2. Paragraph numbers were added in order to facilitate referencing.
5.3. The punctuation, capitalization, and spelling of the original have been retained (ex., "Negro" was not capitalized).
5.4. Du Bois's name and institutional affiliation were printed in capital letters, with the latter being in a smaller size font.
5.5. The quotation at the end of the text originated in an epigraph to the essay "History" by Ralph Waldo Emerson. See my note below.
5.6. What follows below is Du Bois' discussant work rendered verbatim and in its entirety.
Robert W. Williams, Ph.D.  [Bio] 





PROFESSOR WILLIAM E. B. DU BOIS, PH. D.
ATLANTA UNIVERSITY, ATLANTA, GEORGIA
  
It is impossible for the individual to reach the larger social conscience by sheer expansion, by a benevolent endeavor to be interested in all men. This leads inevitably to a tenuous filmy consciousness, a loss of grip on the realities of human beings — on the concrete man. It becomes easily a theoretical rather than a practical humanitarianism, and has often been illustrated in the world's history by the wavering and doubting of the philanthropic mind.
We can only be interested in men by knowing them — knowing them directly, thoroughly, intimately; and this knowing leads ever to the greatest of human discoveries,—the recognization [sic] of one's self in the image of one's neighbor; the sudden, startling revelation, "This is another Me, that thinks as I think, feels as I feel, suffers even as I suffer." This is the beginning, and the only true beginning, of the social conscience.
But it is the beginning, and not the end. If followed up with real interest and determination, it must lead, next, to the discovery and realization of the stranger, to something at first subtle and fleeting, then shadowing into strength and reality, that tells us, Here in this my neighbor stand things I do not know, experiences I have never felt, depths whose darkness is beyond me, and heights hidden by the clouds; or, perhaps, rather, differences in ways of thinking, and dreaming, and feeling which I guess at rather than know; strange twistings of soul that curve between the grotesque and the awful.
But to them that persevere, to them that say, "I do not just comprehend why a working-man loves to get drunk, or why a housemaid buys curious hats, or why a negro [sic] basks lazily in the sun, these, and yet greater things, I do not understand, and yet I will, in God's truth, seek to know all this and more," — to such hearts and minds will come in time the glimpse of a larger answer, the faint yet growing comprehension of human likenesses that both transcend and explain the differences, and that reveal, in the realization, the essential humanity of all men, — that strange kernel of life, which, hidden though it be, and in body, thought, and surrounding far removed from us, is yet for us and in us, the greatest fact in the world.
Once this is recognized, then comes the only practical synthesis in this world of self-sacrifice and self-development: the recognition of myself as one of a world of selves, not as all, but as one; not as nothing, but as one.
Hither the social conscience must come, without wavering, without compromise. In a world of men, even of differing and different men, we cannot, on account of cowardice, treat any of these men as less than men; we cannot slink back of Darwinism, to discover excuses, or whiten our lies by laying them on the Lord. If you have aspirations above the dirt, why may not your coachman? If you, in the choking narrowness, stretch groping arms for air, why may not the hod-carrier be dissatisfied too? If you count yourselves as something more than your money, why may not I?


To induce, then, in men a consciousness of the humanity of all men, of the sacred unity in all the diversity, is not merely to lay down a pious postulate, but it is the active and animate heart-to-heart knowledge of your neighbors, high and low, black and white, employer and employed; it means a firm planting of human ideals; the training of children to be through their doing, and not simply to do through their being; the setting of our faces like flint against the modern heresy that money makes the man, and a reverent listening, not simply to the first line but to the last line of Emerson's quatrain:
"There is no great, no small,
To the Soul that maketh all;
Where it cometh, all things are—
And it cometh everywhere."
The quotation is a modified version of one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's two epigraphs to his essay "History". The original reads:
There is no great and no small
To the Soul that maketh all:
And where it cometh, all things are;
And it cometh everywhere.  [p.3]
Source: The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, V.2. Concord Edition. Ed. by Edward Waldo Emerson. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1904.
[End of DuBois' original text.]


Please consider a contribution to the upkeep of <www.webdubois.org>.
PayPal offers a secure way for you to help me with my goal to find and present more works by and about W.E.B. Du Bois. Thank you.
Robert Williams