Correspondence: Walter Willcox & W.E.B. Du Bois, March 1904
Robert W. Williams's Notes on the Willcox Letter:
Willcox's letter is typed on letterhead displaying "Cornell University, Department of Political Economy and Statistics" "Ithaca, New York". Willcox signed the letter by hand.
Citation (from Credo repository meta-data): Du Bois, W.E.B. 1904. "Letter from Walter F. Willcox to W.E.B. Du Bois, March 13, 1904". The University of Massachusetts Library, Special Collections and Archives. URL: http://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mums312-b006-i174
The Willcox letter and Du Bois's response are included in an Aptheker anthology, specifically: Pp.74-75 in The Correspondence of W.E.B. Du Bois: Volume 1, Selections 1877-1934
. Edited by Herbert Aptheker. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1973.
Willcox is referencing: Du Bois, W.E. Burghardt. "The Future of the Negro Race in America." The East and the West
; v.2 (January 1904): 4-19. The essay is available online
within the periodical located at Google Books.
March 13, 1904
Prof. W. E. B. Du Bois,
Dear Mr. Du Bois:
I have received through your courtesy a copy of the "East and West" for January, 1904, containing your article on the Future the Negro in America. I have read the article with much interest and thank you for sending me the pamphlet.
The fundamental difficulty I feel in accepting your position is that it is impossible for me to judge how far the present economic condition of the American Negro is due to persistent characteristics of the people how far it is due to heavy economic and social pressure upon them, resulting from drawing the color line in society, in politics and in industry. You seem inclined to attribute almost all of it to the latter. I confess that I do not see that the evidence warrants one holding either opinion with confidence and therefore for the present I am an agnostic on the subject. Nor do I see any way in which convincing evidence on the question can be derived from an analysis of social processes now in progress in this country. If either factor could be isolated from the other we might derive important evidence, but I do not see how it can be.
Nor can I agree with the bitter condemnation of present social processes which characterizes your view of them. The gradual displacement of one social class by another can only by figure of speech he called murder, since murder involves deliberate intent upon the part of the individual actors. Such a process I take it works itself out much more through the reduction of the birth rate than it does through an increase of the death rate, and to prevent individuals from being conceived or born seems to me even less entitled to the name of murder than the phase of the process you apparently have especially in mind, namely, the maintenance or increase of the death rate.
W. F. Willcox /s/
Robert W. Williams's Notes on Du Bois's Reply:
2.1. Du Bois's response is a handwritten note appended at the end of Willcox's typed letter.
2.2. In the Aptheker-edited volume of correspondence, a date—March 29, 1904—is included before the content and is aligned close to the right margin. The document itself has a handwritten "29" placed under Willcox's typed date on the first page.
2.3. In addition, the anthology clearly displays the name "W.E.B. Du Bois" as signatory. The document located in the Du Bois collection at the Credo repository, however, displays a squiggly line for a signature, with no discernible letters.
2.4. A search of the Credo repository at the University of Massachusetts Library, Special Collections and Archives, does not contain a typescript of Du Bois's response.
My Dear Mr. Willcox:
The fundamental difficulty in your position is that you are trying to spin a solution of the Negro problem out of the inside of your office. It can never be done. You have simply no adequate conception of the Negro problem in the South & of Negro character & capacity. When you have sat as I have ten years in intimate soul contact with all kinds & conditions of black men you will be less agnostic. I have my prejudices but they are backed by knowledge if not supported. How on earth any fair-minded student of the situation could have stood sponsor for a book like Tillinghast's & actually praised it is simply beyond my comprehension. If you insist on writing about & pronouncing judgment on this problem why not study it? Not from a car-window & associated press despatches [sic] as in your pamphlet on crime but get down here & really study it at first hand. Is it a sufficient answer to a problem to say the data are not sufficient when they lie all about us? There is enough easily obtainable data to take you off the fence if you will study it first hand & not thro' [sic] prejudiced eyes—my eyes, or those of others.
Pardon this frankness but your letter invited it.
W.E.B. Du Bois