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´╗┐Title: The Conservation of Races - The American Negro Academy. Occasional Papers No. 2
Author: Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Conservation of Races - The American Negro Academy. Occasional Papers No. 2" ***

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  The American Negro Academy

  Occasional Papers, No. 2.

  The Conservation of Races.


  Published by the Academy.

  Baptist Magazine Print,
  Washington, D. C.

  Orders may be sent to John H. Wills.
  The Boston Cheap Book Store,
  Washington, D. C.


The American Negro Academy believes that upon those of the race who have
had the advantages of higher education and culture, rests the
responsibility of taking concerted steps for the employment of these
agencies to uplift the race to higher planes of thought and action.

Two great obstacles to this consummation are apparent: (_a_) The lack of
unity, want of harmony, absence of a self-sacrificing spirit, and no
well-defined line of policy seeking definite aims; and (_b_) The
persistent, relentless, at times covert opposition employed to thwart
the Negro at every step of his upward struggles to establish the
justness of his claim to the highest physical, intellectual and moral

The Academy will, therefore, from time to time, publish such papers as
in their judgment aid, by their broad and scholarly treatment of the
topics discussed the dissemination of principles tending to the growth
and development of the Negro along right lines, and the vindication of
that race against vicious assaults.


The American Negro has always felt an intense personal interest in
discussions as to the origins and destinies of races: primarily because
back of most discussions of race with which he is familiar, have lurked
certain assumptions as to his natural abilities, as to his political,
intellectual and moral status, which he felt were wrong. He has,
consequently, been led to deprecate and minimize race distinctions, to
believe intensely that out of one blood God created all nations, and to
speak of human brotherhood as though it were the possibility of an
already dawning to-morrow.

Nevertheless, in our calmer moments we must acknowledge that human
beings are divided into races; that in this country the two most extreme
types of the world's races have met, and the resulting problem as to the
future relations of these types is not only of intense and living
interest to us, but forms an epoch in the history of mankind.

It is necessary, therefore, in planning our movements, in guiding our
future development, that at times we rise above the pressing, but
smaller questions of separate schools and cars, wage-discrimination and
lynch law, to survey the whole question of race in human philosophy and
to lay, on a basis of broad knowledge and careful insight, those large
lines of policy and higher ideals which may form our guiding lines and
boundaries in the practical difficulties of every day. For it is certain
that all human striving must recognize the hard limits of natural law,
and that any striving, no matter how intense and earnest, which is
against the constitution of the world, is vain. The question, then,
which we must seriously consider is this: What is the real meaning of
Race; what has, in the past, been the law of race development, and what
lessons has the past history of race development to teach the rising
Negro people?

When we thus come to inquire into the essential difference of races we
find it hard to come at once to any definite conclusion. Many criteria
of race differences have in the past been proposed, as color, hair,
cranial measurements and language. And manifestly, in each of these
respects, human beings differ widely. They vary in color, for instance,
from the marble-like pallor of the Scandinavian to the rich, dark brown
of the Zulu, passing by the creamy Slav, the yellow Chinese, the light
brown Sicilian and the brown Egyptian. Men vary, too, in the texture of
hair from the obstinately straight hair of the Chinese to the
obstinately tufted and frizzled hair of the Bushman. In measurement of
heads, again, men vary; from the broad-headed Tartar to the
medium-headed European and the narrow-headed Hottentot; or, again in
language, from the highly-inflected Roman tongue to the monosyllabic
Chinese. All these physical characteristics are patent enough, and if
they agreed with each other it would be very easy to classify mankind.
Unfortunately for scientists, however, these criteria of race are most
exasperatingly intermingled. Color does not agree with texture of hair,
for many of the dark races have straight hair; nor does color agree with
the breadth of the head, for the yellow Tartar has a broader head than
the German; nor, again, has the science of language as yet succeeded in
clearing up the relative authority of these various and contradictory
criteria. The final word of science, so far, is that we have at least
two, perhaps three, great families of human beings--the whites and
Negroes, possibly the yellow race. That other races have arisen from the
intermingling of the blood of these two. This broad division of the
world's races which men like Huxley and Raetzel have introduced as more
nearly true than the old five-race scheme of Blumenbach, is nothing more
than an acknowledgment that, so far as purely physical characteristics
are concerned, the differences between men do not explain all the
differences of their history. It declares, as Darwin himself said, that
great as is the physical unlikeness of the various races of men their
likenesses are greater, and upon this rests the whole scientific
doctrine of Human Brotherhood.

Although the wonderful developments of human history teach that the
grosser physical differences of color, hair and bone go but a short way
toward explaining the different roles which groups of men have played
in Human Progress, yet there are differences--subtle, delicate and
elusive, though they may be--which have silently but definitely
separated men into groups. While these subtle forces have generally
followed the natural cleavage of common blood, descent and physical
peculiarities, they have at other times swept across and ignored these.
At all times, however, they have divided human beings into races, which,
while they perhaps transcend scientific definition, nevertheless, are
clearly defined to the eye of the Historian and Sociologist.

If this be true, then the history of the world is the history, not of
individuals, but of groups, not of nations, but of races, and he who
ignores or seeks to override the race idea in human history ignores and
overrides the central thought of all history. What, then, is a race? It
is a vast family of human beings, generally of common blood and
language, always of common history, traditions and impulses, who are
both voluntarily and involuntarily striving together for the
accomplishment of certain more or less vividly conceived ideals of life.

Turning to real history, there can be no doubt, first, as to the
widespread, nay, universal, prevalence of the race idea, the race
spirit, the race ideal, and as to its efficiency as the vastest and most
ingenious invention for human progress. We, who have been reared and
trained under the individualistic philosophy of the Declaration of
Independence and the laisser-faire philosophy of Adam Smith, are loath
to see and loath to acknowledge this patent fact of human history. We
see the Pharaohs, Caesars, Toussaints and Napoleons of history and
forget the vast races of which they were but epitomized expressions. We
are apt to think in our American impatience, that while it may have been
true in the past that closed race groups made history, that here in
conglomerate America _nous avons changer tout cela_--we have changed all
that, and have no need of this ancient instrument of progress. This
assumption of which the Negro people are especially fond, can not be
established by a careful consideration of history.

We find upon the world's stage today eight distinctly differentiated
races, in the sense in which History tells us the word must be used.
They are, the Slavs of eastern Europe, the Teutons of middle Europe, the
English of Great Britain and America, the Romance nations of Southern
and Western Europe, the Negroes of Africa and America, the Semitic
people of Western Asia and Northern Africa, the Hindoos of Central Asia
and the Mongolians of Eastern Asia. There are, of course, other minor
race groups, as the American Indians, the Esquimaux and the South Sea
Islanders; these larger races, too, are far from homogeneous; the Slav
includes the Czech, the Magyar, the Pole and the Russian; the Teuton
includes the German, the Scandinavian and the Dutch; the English include
the Scotch, the Irish and the conglomerate American. Under Romance
nations the widely-differing Frenchman, Italian, Sicilian and Spaniard
are comprehended. The term Negro is, perhaps, the most indefinite of
all, combining the Mulattoes and Zamboes of America and the Egyptians,
Bantus and Bushmen of Africa. Among the Hindoos are traces of widely
differing nations, while the great Chinese, Tartar, Corean and Japanese
families fall under the one designation--Mongolian.

The question now is: What is the real distinction between these nations?
Is it the physical differences of blood, color and cranial measurements?
Certainly we must all acknowledge that physical differences play a great
part, and that, with wide exceptions and qualifications, these eight
great races of to-day follow the cleavage of physical race distinctions;
the English and Teuton represent the white variety of mankind; the
Mongolian, the yellow; the Negroes, the black. Between these are many
crosses and mixtures, where Mongolian and Teuton have blended into the
Slav, and other mixtures have produced the Romance nations and the
Semites. But while race differences have followed mainly physical race
lines, yet no mere physical distinctions would really define or explain
the deeper differences--the cohesiveness and continuity of these groups.
The deeper differences are spiritual, psychical, differences--undoubtedly
based on the physical, but infinitely transcending them. The forces that
bind together the Teuton nations are, then, first, their race identity
and common blood; secondly, and more important, a common history, common
laws and religion, similar habits of thought and a conscious striving
together for certain ideals of life. The whole process which has brought
about these race differentiations has been a growth, and the great
characteristic of this growth has been the differentiation of spiritual
and mental differences between great races of mankind and the
integration of physical differences.

The age of nomadic tribes of closely related individuals represents the
maximum of physical differences. They were practically vast families,
and there were as many groups as families. As the families came together
to form cities the physical differences lessened, purity of blood was
replaced by the requirement of domicile, and all who lived within the
city bounds became gradually to be regarded as members of the group;
_i. e._, there was a slight and slow breaking down of physical barriers.
This, however, was accompanied by an increase of the spiritual and
social differences between cities. This city became husbandmen, this,
merchants, another warriors, and so on. The _ideals of life_ for which
the different cities struggled were different. When at last cities began
to coalesce into nations there was another breaking down of barriers
which separated groups of men. The larger and broader differences of
color, hair and physical proportions were not by any means ignored, but
myriads of minor differences disappeared, and the sociological and
historical races of men began to approximate the present division of
races as indicated by physical researches. At the same time the
spiritual and physical differences of race groups which constituted the
nations became deep and decisive. The English nation stood for
constitutional liberty and commercial freedom; the German nation for
science and philosophy; the Romance nations stood for literature and
art, and the other race groups are striving, each in its own way, to
develope for civilization its particular message, its particular ideal,
which shall help to guide the world nearer and nearer that perfection of
human life for which we all long, that

  "one far off Divine event."

This has been the function of race differences up to the present time.
What shall be its function in the future? Manifestly some of the great
races of today--particularly the Negro race--have not as yet given to
civilization the full spiritual message which they are capable of
giving. I will not say that the Negro race has as yet given no message
to the world, for it is still a mooted question among scientists as to
just how far Egyptian civilization was Negro in its origin; if it was
not wholly Negro, it was certainly very closely allied. Be that as it
may, however the fact still remains that the full, complete Negro
message of the whole Negro race has not as yet been given to the world:
that the messages and ideal of the yellow race have not been completed,
and that the striving of the mighty Slavs has but begun. The question
is, then: How shall this message be delivered; how shall these various
ideals be realized? The answer is plain: By the development of these
race groups, not as individuals, but as races. For the development of
Japanese genius, Japanese literature and art, Japanese spirit, only
Japanese, bound and welded together, Japanese inspired by one vast
ideal, can work out in its fullness the wonderful message which Japan
has for the nations of the earth. For the development of Negro genius,
of Negro literature and art, of Negro spirit, only Negroes bound and
welded together, Negroes inspired by one vast ideal, can work out in its
fullness the great message we have for humanity. We cannot reverse
history; we are subject to the same natural laws as other races, and if
the Negro is ever to be a factor in the world's history--if among the
gaily-colored banners that deck the broad ramparts of civilization is to
hang one uncompromising black, then it must be placed there by black
hands, fashioned by black heads and hallowed by the travail of
200,000,000 black hearts beating in one glad song of jubilee.

For this reason, the advance guard of the Negro people--the 8,000,000
people of Negro blood in the United States of America--must soon come to
realize that if they are to take their just place in the van of
Pan-Negroism, then their destiny is _not_ absorption by the white
Americans. That if in America it is to be proven for the first time in
the modern world that not only Negroes are capable of evolving
individual men like Toussaint, the Saviour, but are a nation stored with
wonderful possibilities of culture, then their destiny is not a servile
imitation of Anglo-Saxon culture, but a stalwart originality which shall
unswervingly follow Negro ideals.

It may, however, be objected here that the situation of our race in
America renders this attitude impossible; that our sole hope of
salvation lies in our being able to lose our race identity in the
commingled blood of the nation; and that any other course would merely
increase the friction of races which we call race prejudice, and against
which we have so long and so earnestly fought.

Here, then, is the dilemma, and it is a puzzling one, I admit. No Negro
who has given earnest thought to the situation of his people in America
has failed, at some time in life, to find himself at these cross-roads;
has failed to ask himself at some time: What, after all, am I? Am I an
American or am I a Negro? Can I be both? Or is it my duty to cease to be
a Negro as soon as possible and be an American? If I strive as a Negro,
am I not perpetuating the very cleft that threatens and separates Black
and White America? Is not my only possible practical aim the subduction
of all that is Negro in me to the American? Does my black blood place
upon me any more obligation to assert my nationality than German, or
Irish or Italian blood would?

It is such incessant self-questioning and the hesitation that arises
from it, that is making the present period a time of vacillation and
contradiction for the American Negro; combined race action is stifled,
race responsibility is shirked, race enterprises languish, and the best
blood, the best talent, the best energy of the Negro people cannot be
marshalled to do the bidding of the race. They stand back to make room
for every rascal and demagogue who chooses to cloak his selfish deviltry
under the veil of race pride.

Is this right? Is it rational? Is it good policy? Have we in America a
distinct mission as a race--a distinct sphere of action and an
opportunity for race development, or is self-obliteration the highest
end to which Negro blood dare aspire?

If we carefully consider what race prejudice really is, we find it,
historically, to be nothing but the friction between different groups of
people; it is the difference in aim, in feeling, in ideals of two
different races; if, now, this difference exists touching territory,
laws, language, or even religion, it is manifest that these people
cannot live in the same territory without fatal collision; but if, on
the other hand, there is substantial agreement in laws, language and
religion; if there is a satisfactory adjustment of economic life, then
there is no reason why, in the same country and on the same street, two
or three great national ideals might not thrive and develop, that men of
different races might not strive together for their race ideals as well,
perhaps even better, than in isolation. Here, it seems to me, is the
reading of the riddle that puzzles so many of us. We are Americans, not
only by birth and by citizenship, but by our political ideals, our
language, our religion. Farther than that, our Americanism does not go.
At that point, we are Negroes, members of a vast historic race that from
the very dawn of creation has slept, but half awakening in the dark
forests of its African fatherland. We are the first fruits of this new
nation, the harbinger of that black to-morrow which is yet destined to
soften the whiteness of the Teutonic to-day. We are that people whose
subtle sense of song has given America its only American music, its only
American fairy tales, its only touch of pathos and humor amid its mad
money-getting plutocracy. As such, it is our duty to conserve our
physical powers, our intellectual endowments, our spiritual ideals; as a
race we must strive by race organization, by race solidarity, by race
unity to the realization of that broader humanity which freely
recognizes differences in men, but sternly deprecates inequality in
their opportunities of development.

For the accomplishment of these ends we need race organizations: Negro
colleges, Negro newspapers, Negro business organizations, a Negro school
of literature and art, and an intellectual clearing house, for all these
products of the Negro mind, which we may call a Negro Academy. Not only
is all this necessary for positive advance, it is absolutely imperative
for negative defense. Let us not deceive ourselves at our situation in
this country. Weighted with a heritage of moral iniquity from our past
history, hard pressed in the economic world by foreign immigrants and
native prejudice, hated here, despised there and pitied everywhere; our
one haven of refuge is ourselves, and but one means of advance, our own
belief in our great destiny, our own implicit trust in our ability and
worth. There is no power under God's high heaven that can stop the
advance of eight thousand thousand honest, earnest, inspired and united
people. But--and here is the rub--they _must_ be honest, fearlessly
criticising their own faults, zealously correcting them; they must be
_earnest_. No people that laughs at itself, and ridicules itself, and
wishes to God it was anything but itself ever wrote its name in history;
it _must_ be inspired with the Divine faith of our black mothers, that
out of the blood and dust of battle will march a victorious host, a
mighty nation, a peculiar people, to speak to the nations of earth a
Divine truth that shall make them free. And such a people must be
united; not merely united for the organized theft of political spoils,
not united to disgrace religion with whoremongers and ward-heelers; not
united merely to protest and pass resolutions, but united to stop the
ravages of consumption among the Negro people, united to keep black boys
from loafing, gambling and crime; united to guard the purity of black
women and to reduce that vast army of black prostitutes that is today
marching to hell; and united in serious organizations, to determine by
careful conference and thoughtful interchange of opinion the broad lines
of policy and action for the American Negro.

This is the reason for being which the American Negro Academy has. It
aims at once to be the epitome and expression of the intellect of the
black-blooded people of America, the exponent of the race ideals of one
of the world's great races. As such, the Academy must, if successful, be

  (_a_). Representative in character.

  (_b_). Impartial in conduct.

  (_c_). Firm in leadership.

It must be representative in character; not in that it represents all
interests or all factions, but in that it seeks to comprise something of
the _best_ thought, the most unselfish striving and the highest ideals.
There are scattered in forgotten nooks and corners throughout the land,
Negroes of some considerable training, of high minds, and high motives,
who are unknown to their fellows, who exert far too little influence.
These the Negro Academy should strive to bring into touch with each
other and to give them a common mouthpiece.

The Academy should be impartial in conduct; while it aims to exalt the
people it should aim to do so by truth--not by lies, by honesty--not by
flattery. It should continually impress the fact upon the Negro people
that they must not expect to have things done for them--they MUST DO FOR
THEMSELVES; that they have on their hands a vast work of self-reformation
to do, and that a little less complaint and whining, and a little more
dogged work and manly striving would do us more credit and benefit than a
thousand Force or Civil Rights bills.

Finally, the American Negro Academy must point out a practical path of
advance to the Negro people; there lie before every Negro today hundreds
of questions of policy and right which must be settled and which each
one settles now, not in accordance with any rule, but by impulse or
individual preference; for instance: What should be the attitude of
Negroes toward the educational qualification for voters? What should be
our attitude toward separate schools? How should we meet discriminations
on railways and in hotels? Such questions need not so much specific
answers for each part as a general expression of policy, and nobody
should be better fitted to announce such a policy than a representative
honest Negro Academy.

All this, however, must come in time after careful organization and long
conference. The immediate work before us should be practical and have
direct bearing upon the situation of the Negro. The historical work of
collecting the laws of the United States and of the various States of
the Union with regard to the Negro is a work of such magnitude and
importance that no body but one like this could think of undertaking it.
If we could accomplish that one task we would justify our existence.

In the field of Sociology an appalling work lies before us. First, we
must unflinchingly and bravely face the truth, not with apologies, but
with solemn earnestness. The Negro Academy ought to sound a note of
warning that would echo in every black cabin in the land: _Unless we
conquer our present vices they will conquer us_; we are diseased, we are
developing criminal tendencies, and an alarmingly large percentage of
our men and women are sexually impure. The Negro Academy should stand
and proclaim this over the housetops, crying with Garrison: _I will not
equivocate, I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard_. The
Academy should seek to gather about it the talented, unselfish men, the
pure and noble-minded women, to fight an army of devils that disgraces
our manhood and our womanhood. There does not stand today upon God's
earth a race more capable in muscle, in intellect, in morals, than the
American Negro, if he will bend his energies in the right direction; if
he will

      Burst his birth's invidious bar
  And grasp the skirts of happy chance,
  And breast the blows of circumstance,
      And grapple with his evil star.

In science and morals, I have indicated two fields of work for the
Academy. Finally, in practical policy, I wish to suggest the following
_Academy Creed_:

1. We believe that the Negro people, as a race, have a contribution to
make to civilization and humanity, which no other race can make.

2. We believe it the duty of the Americans of Negro descent, as a body,
to maintain their race identity until this mission of the Negro people
is accomplished, and the ideal of human brotherhood has become a
practical possibility.

3. We believe that, unless modern civilization is a failure, it is
entirely feasible and practicable for two races in such essential
political, economic and religious harmony as the white and colored
people of America, to develop side by side in peace and mutual
happiness, the peculiar contribution which each has to make to the
culture of their common country.

4. As a means to this end we advocate, not such social equality between
these races as would disregard human likes and dislikes, but such a
social equilibrium as would, throughout all the complicated relations of
life, give due and just consideration to culture, ability, and moral
worth, whether they be found under white or black skins.

5. We believe that the first and greatest step toward the settlement of
the present friction between the races--commonly called the Negro
Problem--lies in the correction of the immorality, crime and laziness
among the Negroes themselves, which still remains as a heritage from
slavery. We believe that only earnest and long continued efforts on our
own part can cure these social ills.

6. We believe that the second great step toward a better adjustment of
the relations between the races, should be a more impartial selection of
ability in the economic and intellectual world, and a greater respect
for personal liberty and worth, regardless of race. We believe that only
earnest efforts on the part of the white people of this country will
bring much needed reform in these matters.

7. On the basis of the foregoing declaration, and firmly believing in
our high destiny, we, as American Negroes, are resolved to strive in
every honorable way for the realization of the best and highest aims,
for the development of strong manhood and pure womanhood, and for the
rearing of a race ideal in America and Africa, to the glory of God and
the uplifting of the Negro people.            W. E. BURGHARDT DU BOIS.

Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _underscore_.

The following misprints have been corrected:
  "menta" corrected to "mental" (page 8)
  "o;ganization" corrected to "organization" (page 14)

Other than the corrections listed above, printer's spelling and
hyphenation usage have been retained.

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