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´╗┐Title: The Educated Negro and His Mission - The American Negro Academy. Occasional Papers No. 8
Author: Scarborough, W. S. (William Sanders), 1852-1926
Language: English
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  The American Negro Academy.


  The Educated Negro
  and His Mission.



  Published by the Academy,

The Educated Negro and His Mission.

Human thought is like a pendulum. It sways from belief to belief, from
theory to theory, from plan to plan, and the length of its vibrations is
governed by a multitude of contending forces operating from both within
and without. Two of these influences, in the present age, are all
potential. One is the ardent desire to find the best ways and means by
which the human race may hasten on its varied development, and the other
is the strenuous determination to discover what may be styled the
"Northwest" passage to that coveted result.

The consequence is that, in this determined reach for all that humanity
craves for itself and for its civilization, the oscillations of thought
and endeavor are oftimes marked by notable extremes. Especially has this
been true in lines of education. Again and again has it been sought to
wheel the educational car upon new tracks where exaggerated views,
revolutionary ideas, radical methods have caused the eyes of the world
to be focused upon the attempt, and no movement within the arc that the
world's opinions have traversed has been unnoticed.

These changing sentiments in regard to education have been most
noticeable in their bearing upon the Negro race. It is conceded that
material tendencies are characteristic of the present age. Romance,
sentiment, idealism in life and letters, struggle as they may, are swept
aside by the vigorous commercialism that has taken possession of the
nation at large. Meat has become more than life and raiment more than
body. One question is being intensely pressed forward--_how to learn a
living?_ and the swing of the pendulum concerning the Negro's education
has swept a degree beyond any heretofore measured.

That manual training is needful no one will deny for a moment; that some
of all races must inevitably be sons of toil is readily admitted; and
that such education has its share in the development of every race there
is no contention. We all know that Learning and Labor traveled hand in
hand, with the emphasis upon the former, when the Anglo Saxon first
wrestled with the wilderness of America. We know too that when the
desert wastes were changed to smiling plains the ways of the two drifted
apart, and learning took the path for culture and high scholarship,
untrammeled, while labor plodded on, gaining slowly comparative ease in
its varied lines. It is only when limitation is placed upon a race that
objection comes--when one race is selected for more than a fair share of
experimentation in the exploitation of a theory. Then danger seems
imminent. In this case the danger lies in the tendency to lose sight of
Negro scholarship--of Negro higher learning. There are other questions
of equal importance to that of how to earn a living, and that college
president who expressed it in these words "How to live on what one
earns--how to live higher lives," understood well their relative worth
when pre-eminence was claimed for the latter, and pointed to a fact too
largely ignored--that the lessons which teach these last mentioned come
from a different training from that represented by industrial training

We repeat that the suggestions bearing upon the education of the Negro
race have caused too decided a swing of the pendulum in many quarters
and higher education is in danger of being swallowed up, if not to a
great extent abandoned, in the extreme importance attached to that other
education we denominate as Industrial.

The error arises in confounding race with the individual, which is not
only radically unphilosophic, but morally wrong. The recognition of
individual limitation is right and proper, and it is the individual that
must be considered. As Dr. Ward has pertinently observed, "To the man
who wants to lift a mass of people out of lower into higher conditions
they are people, individual people, not races," and he adds further with
just emphasis, "When it comes to nurture and education they are to be
considered as individuals, each to be lifted up and their children
surrounded by a superior environment." Now, this cannot be done if
limitations are set which must by the very nature of things press
heavily upon the individual. The race must be left free as air to take
in higher learning.

Still, it is true that with a general change in ideas as to
education--its use and end--higher education, pure scholarship, has
everywhere been placed upon the defensive. President Hadley has felt
compelled to say that it must be prepared to prove its usefulness. This
being true, so much the more must Negro scholarship be prepared to prove
its right to continuance, to support and to freedom of choice.

The educated Negro is an absolute fact. The day is past when his ability
to learn is scoffed at. But on the other hand is born that fear that he
may go too far--excel or equal the Anglo-Saxon,--and that fear is a
prime motive in the minds of many who seek to hedge the onward path of
the race. But this path will not be hedged. This educated class, though
few in number, has been keeping for years the torch aloft for the race.
It must be with us for the future. It has a mission in the world and it
is working in a brave endeavor to fulfill that mission. For the good of
the whole country this class must multiply, not decrease in number.

There are no two definitions of a scholar to be applied to different
races. The Negro scholar must be the same as any other--endowed as
Milton would have him "with that complete and generous education, that
which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully and magnanimously all the
offices, both private and public, of peace and war." And he should have,
in order to meet this requirement, what Emerson has emphasised as
necessary--"the knowledge that comes from three great fields--from
nature, from books and from action."

The Negro like any other scholar is not the man who has simply been
through college, but the one "through whom the college has been"--the
one who has not only gathered from contact with college life varied
stores of knowledge, but who has grown in strength of character and
breadth of culture; one who has become imbued with the spirit of high
ideals; one who does not scorn the old-fashioned virtues of truth,
honesty and virtue; one who has views crystalized into definite aims;
one who has a settled purpose in life; one who is strenuously determined
to realize a worthy ambition; one who has both microscopic and
telescopic capacity, able to look into the minutest details and sweep a
broad range with clear vision; and one (slightly changing a potent
phrase) whose "reach upward is ever exceeding his grasp." Added to this
the Negro scholar above all must be one who makes himself a reforming
force for the world's betterment. Here is the Negro's opportunity--to
combine in himself those characteristics Mr. Austin mentioned not long
ago--the purely scholarly qualities of the German, the statesmanlike
qualities of the English and then to be a _propagandist_.

The Negro who is an educated man must be a practical man, and zealous in
getting to work to show that thinking and doing go together. If the
world needs such men from the white race, so much the more are educated
Negroes needed. Educated men are the ones to take a place in affairs,
national and municipal, aiding to solve great problems, cure great evils
and guide the destinies of a people. What else can it mean when we see
such a scholar as President Seth Low step from the administration of
college affairs to the administration of the affairs of a great city in
a righteous endeavor to help cleanse a corrupt government? Again,
President Roosevelt takes up the reins for the entire nation after
active service in literature, in camp, on field and in the executive
chair of a great state. Still again we instance Dr. Gladden who has
shown in the west what a scholar's service may and should be to his
city, when he chose to sit in its council. These examples can be
multiplied many times to show that the educated man has taken for his
motto that highest one--"Ich dien"--I serve--a service by leading and
made both necessary and fitting by attainments and worth.

This idea of service to the race is peculiarly the mission of the
educated Negro. In no other way can higher education be justified for
the race; and Dr. Mayo has well denominated the field before him as a
"high plateau of opportunity."

It is a part of his mission to take up the leadership of the race. The
day for ignorant Negro leaders is rapidly passing. One of the first
services to be rendered along this line is to insist that _seeming_
shall no longer be allowed to pass for _being_. No matter where it
strikes or whom it strikes, he must help strip away pretense from the
vain and shallow, unveil those who masquerade under borrowed, empty,
high-sounding titles--those whose vociferous tones, glib tongues and
unlimited audacity seek to pose their owners as learned ones under the
thinnest veneer. This uncovering of shams, exposure of frauds will save
the race many a gibe and sneer.

When there is more of genuine scholarship among members of the race
there will be a different attitude assumed towards it. But as long as
the Negro prefers to construe owlish looks as wisdom, to bow down to
clam like silence as profound philosophy, to stand agape over blatant
mouthings as eloquence, and to measure mental calibre by bodily
avoirdupois, he not only gives evidence of weakness in a lack of sound
discrimination, but he subjects the entire race to consequent criticism
and contempt.

It is to our shame, however, that we are forced to admit that just such
shams are so often on "dress parade" before the world that by them the
race is too frequently largely judged, and to its detriment. The day has
come when the brain of the race must both direct its brawn and expose
its brass. Ignorance and charlatanism will seek enlightenment or retreat
only when intelligence and learning make a masterly array for

This mission of leadership has many phases. The educated Negro leads by
making himself felt, unconsciously, in many ways. Dr. Angell of Michigan
University has truly declared that a man who has any claims to
scholarship or learning cannot hoard its blessings as a miser hoards
gold, that he can hardly enjoy it without in some degree sharing its
blessings with others, that its very nature is to be outgoing and
effusive. Because of this truth the Negro scholar is an inspiration to
his own people who need just such an object lesson as himself. The race
gains self-respect as it sees one of its own on higher planes. It
gathers higher aims by the respect it instinctively accords him and its
pride is stimulated along higher levels. It is thus that colored men of
learning--men of high ideals--are far more influential through the
simple contact of their presence than are those of another race.

It is admitted that the race is cursed with not only pretenders but with
idlers. So is every other race, but the Negro can least afford it just
now. It may be true that some of these hold diplomas indicating
completion of courses of higher studies, but they are not really the
educated ones, and the fact of their existence does not prove the
uselessness of the educated Negro or the failure of higher education for
the race. It is to our credit that comparatively few, who have struggled
through the long years that lead to culture and scholarship, can be
found to give enemies of the race an opportunity for assault from that
quarter. Figures will not lie, though they sometimes may stagger one;
and statistics show us that the college-bred Negro is far from giving a
record for uselessness.

I have said that the educated Negro (and I include both sexes) leads by
the inspiration that is radiated. Much as we regret it we cannot refuse
to face the fact that grows upon us daily--the fact that there are too
many Negro youths to-day, who seem lacking in ambition, in aspiration,
in either fixedness or firmness of purpose. We have too many dudes whose
ideal does not rise above the possession of a new suit, a cane, a silk
hat, patent leather shoes, a cigarette and a good time--too many in
every sense the "sport of the gods." It is the mission of the educated
Negro to help change this--to see that thoughtlessness gives place to
seriousness. Ruskin spoke a basic truth when he said that youth is no
time for thoughtlessness; and it is especially applicable to the youth
of a race that has its future to make. The Negro who stands on the
higher rounds of the ladder of education is pre-eminently fitted for
this work of inspiration--helping to mold and refine, "working out the
beast" and seeing that the "ape and tiger die," rescuing from vice and
all that the term implies.

He will help to form classes of society where culture and refinement,
high thinking and high living, in its proper sense, draw the
line--classes made up of what one denominates an "aristocracy of
intelligence and character that protects the masses from their foes
without and from their own folly and unrighteousness."

This same influence is to be exercised over those young men and women
fresh from college who have two things to learn--that the knowledge they
possess is neither altogether new, nor is it patented by them, and
further, that one great danger lies ever before those of any race who
have won great distinction in college halls--that of total extinction
out in the world.

Nothing but true scholarship can lead these young people to take proper
measure of self and estimate the things about them at their true value
as they stand at that precarious place, the beginning of a career. There
they need the warning of Omar emphasized to "waste not their hour."
There is plenty of active leadership for this Afro-American scholar as a
part of his mission. There are books to be written; experiments to be
made; conditions to be analyzed; ways and means invented to reach ends;
and we need Negro specialists in all these fields. Great economic
results will never come to us, nor will a truly great standing be ours
as long as we are content to leave our affairs to the sole direction,
however wise or kindly intended, of another race.

So scientists, historians, linguists, sociologists, professional men in
all lines are needed, not only that the life and history of the race may
be properly presented to the world, but in order that another mission
may be fulfilled--that of keeping before the world the fact that the
Negro possesses intellect; that he is both able and capable, and that
through this possession and training the race purposes to develop its

The Negro scholar must not be so wrapped up in his own achievements that
he cannot see the possibilities in those about him. In this way also he
is to help keep the victories of the race at the fore. As a teacher he
has a fine opportunity to note and encourage talent, as a writer or
journalist he can give credit where credit is due. Petty jealousy is out
of place and fear of rivalry is but an evidence of mediocrity. As a
specialist in any line he will be able to stand where he can call this
talent to his aid and foster its growth.

There are other fields of activity that need the presence and kindly
penetrative interest of the educated ones of the race. The slums call
for this influence. The growing problems in our northern cities
especially call for work at the hands of the intelligent, scholarly men
and women. Vice must be checked in the race, and a transformation be
effected in the manner of life in the dark portions of the cities. Here
we have a problem of our own--to separate poverty from viciousness and
encourage the people to better morals and industrious, clean lives. No
one knows better than the thoughtful members of the race the
difficulties to be faced here where a people is segregated in certain
portions--where the good and the bad must perforce live elbow to elbow,
in constant contact and often consequent contamination. It needs
settlement work of the most earnest kind, and only those who have
standing and education will be able to do the desired good.

It is so often said to-day that the Negro should let politics alone that
many have come to the conclusion that this is a field to be entirely
abandoned. But the Negro has his public duties as a citizen to perform
unless he proposes to drop out of sight, and in this field he has a
duty. Here the man of education should do as it has seemed good for some
of the Anglo-Saxon race--lend his help toward purifying the corrupt
atmosphere, standing for what is upright and just. It is an
incontrovertible fact that the standing one gains demonstrates the
capabilities and worth of the race. To be clean-handed in all political
dealings, to guard both honor and responsibility in matters of
business--in short to quit oneself like a man in all things--must be
preached daily as of the utmost advantage to the race. The present
attitude of the outside world places the Negro scholar in a most
responsible position, for every movement on his part is noticed,
criticized, and if he falters or fails higher education receives another
blow. Not for one second can the educated Negro men and women afford to
be indifferent to an iota of their action or conduct.

With all these spheres calling especially for education and culture
there is still another of the most importance, for it holds so much for
the future of the race. This is the improvement of domestic life. We
want no upper classes where evils are glossed over because there are
money and position to be respected. We must work for the ideal family
life. Home is the social center for a race, the real center of race
improvement, and we want better homes. For this we must have better
fathers, better mothers, better husbands, better wives, better sons and
daughters. Industry alone does not make for morality. As one has said,
"A strict labor diet does not strengthen morals, it only suppresses
passions." In the home and for home building is needed that ethical,
philosophical, and esthetical training that belongs to the higher
education. This training is the great instrument for the present
upbuilding of the race which is to do so much in laying foundations for
the fine heredity every race covets. I repeat that the seeds of culture
are to be sown by the educated Negro and in the home they are never
wholly without fruit.

The artisan, the laborer have their niches, but they must work with and
not against the educated classes. That the strong working brain must be
the guide of the strong working hand, I have ever contended. The masses
must move, but it must be the classes that move them if progress upward
is to be the order. We must build up an honest, thrifty yeomanry, but we
must multiply rapidly our educated men to lead and work and influence in
these various fields.

The fact that the Negro scholar is needed for this work shows the
demand. We have not enough of them to-day. If Dr. Angell of Michigan
University does not consider, when speaking of the Anglo-Saxon, that one
college bred person in a thousand in his state "is unwise or
inexpedient," why should friend or foe of the Negro consider less than
3000 college bred men and women out of an entire population of nearly
10,000,000, "unwise or inexpedient?" It would be laughable if it were
not so pitiful to think of the hue and cry about too much learning for
the Negro. The trouble with the race is not too much learning but not
enough. A little learning is surely a dangerous thing. Short cuts are
too many and do not really educate. They utterly fail to give drill and
discipline absolutely necessary to that culture, which comes only after
hard labor of years. All honor to Dr. Curry when he so bravely declared
that the talk of the hopelessness of education or of too much education,
or of the inappropriateness of academic education is vain, adding
emphatically, "The Negro wants all he can get, and all he gets he
profits by."

No; the race is in no danger of going "college mad." Although the early
schools for it were generally established upon the broad university
plan, yet their work has been largely basic; and they have done far more
in laying foundations than in producing a surplus of graduates from
higher courses. It is an absurdity to claim there can be too many of the
race with learning enough and discipline enough to make themselves
useful leaders.

There is room for all kinds of work. There is need of the practical, the
industrial, and it is honorable to work with the hands. It will help in
weeding out idleness. But at the same time it is easy to ignore and
crush higher aspirations. The quiet shaft of ridicule oft-times does
more than argument, and many things that are very desirable and
necessary are often overshadowed by the skilful juxtaposition that
shifts them where they are but dimly seen, while other things stand
forth in a strong light and are thus looked upon as all important. So
the merry quip and jest at the Latin and Greek studied by the Negro
bring far more than a passing laugh--they _really bring discredit upon
the whole higher training where none is actually intended_. It causes
the old friends of higher learning to pause, and take it far too
literally, and then determine that it is after all better to abandon the
support of institutions for higher education. The pity of it all is that
it is next to impossible to undo the wrong. Like the sped arrow and the
lost opportunity such words and their effect cannot be recalled. Even
assurance that it is largely jest comes too late. The jest has been all
too convincing and the converts have at once arrayed their philanthropy
against forwarding the efforts of those who seek the higher courses.

Dr. VanDyke has said that true manhood and womanhood cannot exist
without an ideal side; that these are the finer feelings which have no
market value but which must be kept alive. Why should we endeavor to
keep them alive? Simply because the world at large recognizes that this
means development in the highest sense, and we claim that this is an
especial need of the Negro race. Then we ask, How are these finer
feelings kept alive? and the answer comes that this stimulation must
proceed from culture and scholarship.

With our needs pressing upon us we see as no other people the importance
of all this to bring about a change in the environment of the race. It
has a bearing upon this desired change that the virtues resulting from
manual labor alone cannot exert. Industrial training is needed too to
teach how to earn a living, but, as intimated in this paper, something
else--the higher education--must be counted upon to teach _how to live
better lives, how to get the most and best out of life_.

There is much involved in the attempt of the educated Negro to fulfil
his mission. The fact that there is such a swing of the pendulum away
from higher training for the race, makes it more difficult for those who
possess it to-day to carry out the mission. The Negro scholar who sets
out to pursue the paths pointed out does it at a great amount of
self-sacrifice. He must expect to meet rebuff, discouragement,
misinterpretation, lack of recognition, hardships, and these do not by
any means come alone from the Anglo-Saxon. The foes are often of his own
race. It will take all the philosophy he can summon to contend with the
opposition that comes from ignorance, from coarseness, from the
unthinking and the malicious. It will need all his self-control and
forbearance to move along under grasping, bullying ignorance that seeks
to ride rough shod over superior knowledge and breeding; it will demand
all his logic to meet the arguments from without that the Negro has no
time now for scholarship--that he must get money and get land first;
that learning possesses little mercantile value now; that the way to
advancement along scholarly lines is barred; that the cook, the
carpenter, the shoemaker, are all better paid than the scholar for the
use of the sum of their knowledge which costs far less than his. He must
face the facts no matter how unjust or inconsistent such things are and
meet the final question--_Is it worth striving for?--Is it worth while
to put ambitions and longings on the altar, to work unceasingly,
uncomplainingly amidst stolid indifference, absolute contempt and often
open hostility?_

We are face to face here with the question whether scholarship pays,
whether the educated Negro is to be encouraged to multiply and push
forward determinedly on his mission. If there was but the present moment
to contemplate, the race might be excused for pausing, for acquiescing
in the limitations set for its education, and for saying the game is not
worth the candle. But to-day does not end all. There is a _future_ and
that Negro is lacking in proper manhood who does not determine to help
on that future. The future is always bound up in the present and if this
future is to make men and women out of the race in coming generations
the question is answered. Negro scholarship is worth striving for,
because the educated Negro is to lead for that future. Education,
learning, scholarship will make the undying lustre of a people--will
prove their greatest glory. Thinkers will give an immortality to a
people that neither wealth, nor industry, nor strength of arm, nor even
virtue can procure for it.

So the educated Negro must keep this in view, must see his mission
clearly and stand courageously ready to undertake it--

  "Cleansed of servile panic,
    Slow to dread or despise,
  Humble because of knowledge,
    Mighty by sacrifice."

But there must be united effort among the leaders of the race along all
lines to this end. Advocates of higher learning and of industrial
education must accord respect to each other's opinions and work
unitedly, in order that neither may fall a sacrifice to the "Nemesis of
Neglect." And the race must sustain its leaders of thought and action.
There is no time to lose, none to waste in eternal strife. The field is
large enough for all to glean and work in. The race must make a common
cause, meet a common enemy and win common friends.


_Wilberforce, Ohio._

Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _underscore_.

The following misprints have been corrected:
  "possesion" corrected to "possession" (page 3)
  "ont" corrected to "out" (page 9)
  "nuch" corrected to "much" (page 10)

Printer's inconsistencies in hyphenation usage have been retained.

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