site map site map

Primary Source

Review of Joseph A. Tillinghast's The Negro
in Africa and America

  — W. E. Burghardt Du Bois

Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt. "The Negro in Africa and America. By Joseph Alexander Tillinghast" [Review]. Political Science Quarterly, v.18, n.4 (December 1903): 695-697.

Online Sources:
There are several places online where Du Bois' review can be accessed:
1. Google Books: Start page of DuBois's review; the entire Volume 18 of the Political Science Quarterly is viewable online or can be downloaded.
2. Hathi Trust Digital Library: Start page of the review can be viewed online; permanent link for Vol. 18.

Robert Williams's Notes:
1.1 Joseph Alexander Tillinghast originally published his text in the Publications of the American Economic Association [New Series: Vol. III, No. 2 (May 1902): 403-637 — it constituted the entirety of issue No. 2. The work can be read online at Google Books (start page), or else one can access the whole volume. Note that several pages in the Google Books digital copy may be out of place, missing, or illegible (or perhaps Google Books has corrected such problems by the time one reads this). [The Hathi Trust Digital Library has an online-viewable version of the AEA publication.]
1.2. Tillinghast's work was later separately reprinted in 1968 by the Negro Universities Press, which was a division of Greenwood Publishing Corp. (New York). That 1968 reprinting is available in several formats at the Internet Archive [download page] or can be viewed at the Hathi Trust Digital Library [Permanent link].
2. Other contemporary reviews of Tillinghast include:
2.1. Carl Kelsey reviewed the book in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 21:1 (January 1903): pp.103-104 [at Google Books].
2.2. G.S.D. (G.S. Dickerman?) reviewed Tillinghast in The Southern Workman, 2:2 (February 1903): p.112 [at Google Books].
2.3. An anonymous writer reviewed Tillinghast as an editorial in The Southern Workman, 32:2 (February 1903): pp.68-69 [at Google Books].
2.4. Further contemporary reviews can be found through Google Books: search results page.
— Robert W. Williams, Ph.D.  [Bio]

The Negro in Africa and America. By Joseph Alexander Tillinghast. Publications of the American Economic Association, 1902. — 231 pp.
Mr. Tillinghast presents here a social history of the American Negro from the time of his life in Africa to the present. His thesis is that the Negroes in West Africa were in a low status of savagery, with low forms of social, economic and political organization; that the slave trade and slavery were a species of natural selection in which "the race probably made a gain," the American Negroes, through inter-tribal amalgamation, becoming "rapidly superior to their West African contemporaries;" that emancipation, by isolating them in groups by themselves, has taken away the contact with the whites which makes for uplift; and that consequently the Negro is "slowly but surely tending to revert" toward savagery or extinction.
The work calls forth two preliminary criticisms, the first favorable. Undoubtedly Mr. Tillinghast has made an excellent attempt to study the vital connection between the Negro in his own home and the Negro in his foster land. The fact that the history of the slave did not begin with his landing in America is one that must be more and more impressed on students of the problem of the races, and such students owe a debt to Mr. Tillinghast for his emphasis of this fact. On the other hand, it is unfortunate that the author succumbed to the temptation common to nearly all students of the Negro to "settle" the problem finally. It detracts not a little from our faith in the scientific accuracy of the writer to see an interesting social study of African customs hurry into conclusions as to the present condition of the Negro which are in flat contradiction to the best available evidence; it is not true that the younger generation of Negroes is going to the devil, that family life among the Negroes is growing less chaste, and that crime is threatening wholesale race deterioration. That crime has increased among Negroes is true; but so has it increased among whites. On the other hand there is abundant evidence that the American Negro, despite an unusual handicap, is steadily progressing and wealth, knowledge, and morality.
All this, however, is minor criticism; for the concluding part of the study is really foreign to the scheme of the book and is quite evidently an unfortunate attempt to reclothe an old and discredited thesis.
The really valuable part of the book is the description of African customs and the comparison with American slavery. Here Mr. Tillinghast's work is painstaking and interesting, but it is no unkindness to say that he has not had conspicuous success in working out the study. The correct study of savages and barbarous people to-day calls for such an unusual mental equipment that most men hesitate to attempt it. In the first place, the student must come to his work with a knowledge of race development and primitive social conditions the world over, for purposes of intelligent comparisons; again, since most races have passed out of their social childhood, such a knowledge is difficult to gain and calls for broadest historic study to aid in interpreting the reports from the past; and finally, the comparing reports of present and past conditions—for instance, those of a Tacitus or a Du Chaillu—calls for great judgment, keenness of insight and freedom from preconceptions. One is not then altogether unprepared to find in his first essay of a graduate student, an almost total lack of this necessary equipment. It strikes the reader from the first that Mr. Tillinghast has no broad knowledge of the phenomena of savage life, and his judgments of savage conditions in Africa have continually in mind a comparison with the present situation of civilized nations rather than with the condition of other savages. Why else are we told Africans are "controlled by present impulses" and make "no provision for the future"? Is this peculiar to African savages? Or again, he says: "Clearly the sexual purity among the Guinea natives does not rest upon any regard of chastity as such, but merely upon property ownership" (of wives)—a thing perfectly obvious in any race of the same grade. And finally we are brought to this contrast: "Such was life along the Guinea coast when Shakespeare was producing his dramas." Pray what was life in German forests when Oedipus Tyrannus was being written?

The works of Tacitus are available in various languages at the Internet Archive: search results page.

Paul Belloni Du Chaillu published numerous works on travels through Africa. For a list see the Internet Archive: search results page.
It would be quite admissible for a student to do a piece of research in some narrow sociological or historic line without the larger study and equipment referred to. But in such case he must particularly beware of coming to universal conclusions on so narrow a base of induction. A failure in this respect brings merited criticism upon seminary methods of research work. This Mr. Tillinghast at times seems to recognize, and he warns his readers in some passages against the pitfalls of judging native customs in the light of modern ideas, and like mistakes. Despite this, however, he does not himself by any means escape, and the difficulty seems to lie in the fact that he has a thesis to prove, and that ever and again this thesis seems to him of more importance than his larger scientific aim, and tempts him beyond his legitimate limits. Consequently, in the second part of his work, we have an excellent picture of the better side of slavery—but it is far too excellent to be wholly true.
The book, then, represents a modern view of the Negro and slavery as seen by the son of a slaveholder, and by one who, perhaps naturally, feels that there was much of good in slavery and much of bad in the Negro;—as such the work deserves reading. Its claims as a scientific study are less pressing, but nevertheless of some weight.
W. E. Burghardt Du Bois.     
Atlanta University.
[End of the original text.]  

Please consider a contribution to the upkeep of <>.
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