booker t. washington portrait

An Editorial

Outlook Magazine
May 23, 1903

Theodore Roosevelt, Ed.

Professor W. E. B. DuBois; Booker T. Washington. They represent different types of character, different conceptions of the race problem, different methods for its solution, and they deal with it in a widely different spirit. These differences are strikingly illustrated in two volumes one by Professor DuBois, just published, "The Souls of the Black Folk," the other by Dr. Washington, published four years ago, "The Future of the American Negro." To Professor DuBois the Negro and the American are ever separate, though in the same personality. The American Negro is "two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings"; he is ever the subject of a double consciousness"; dominated by a "sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity."

To Dr. Washington the Negro race is a great race;…To Professor DuBois the Negro is a problem

To Dr. Washington the Negro race is a great race; during the Civil War the Negro exhibited a remarkable "self-control," and was "to the last faithful to the trust that had been reposed upon him" by his master, yet was always "an uncompromising friend of the Union," and never, either in freedom or slavery, under a suspicion of being a traitor to his country; and since emancipation has he given abundant evidence that he can "make himself a useful, honorable, and desirable citizen." To Professor DuBois the Negro is a problem, and the question is ever present in his consciousness, and from it he confesses himself unable to escape, "how does it feel to be a problem?" To Dr. Washington America is the problem, and the White race is as much a part of it as the Black: "The problem is how to make these millions of Negroes self-supporting, intelligent, economical, and valuable citizens, as well as how to bring about proper relations between them and the White citizens among whom they live." Professor DuBois is half ashamed of being a Negro, and he give expression to his own bitterness of soul in the cry which he puts into the mouth of his race. "Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own home?" Dr. Washington rejoices in the honorable record of his race; in his address at Hampton's last Commencement he cries out to his White auditors, "We are as proud of our race as you are of yours"; and his Negro auditors applauded his declaration with great enthusiasm. The sense of amused contempt and pity for his own race, caught from the White people, is reflected in the title of Professor DuBois's book, "The Souls of the Black Folk"; the spirit of race pride; of national patriotism, and of hope for the future of his race is reflected in the title of Dr. Washington's book, "The Future of the American Negro."

We shall speak hereafter more fully of Professor DuBois's interesting and valuable book, as we have heretofore spoken of Dr. Washington's; here we take the contrast between the two as a text for some reflections on two parties or tendencies or influences in the Negro race, which the two respectively represent. One of these parties is ashamed of the race, the other is proud of it; one makes the White man the standard, the other seeks the standard in its own race ideals; one demands social equality or at least resents social inequality, the other is too self-respecting to do either; one seeks to push the Negro into a higher place, the other to make him a larger man; one demands for him the right to ride in the White man's car, the other seeks to make the Black man's car clean and respectable; one demands the ballot for ignorant Black men because ignorant White men have the ballot, the other asks opportunity to make the Black man competent for the duties of citizenship, and wishes no man to vote, White or colored, who is not competent; one would build the educational system for the race on the university, the other would build it on the common school and the industrial school; one wishes to teach the Negro to read the Ten Commandments in Hebrew, the other wishes first to teach him to obey them in English; to one labor is barely more honorable than idleness and the education which makes "laborers and nothing more" is regarded with ill-concealed contempt, to the other industry is the basic virtue, and the education which makes industry intelligent is the foundation of civilization.

The first view has frequently crude representation in Negro journals and by Negro orators political and religious; but the ablest and most cultivated expression of it which we have ever seen is afforded by the volume of Professor DuBois, albeit presented with qualifications which in this brief summary it is impossible to represent; of the second view the pre-eminent representative is Dr. Washington.

The Outlook heartily accepts the second view. Something like this is what it would say to its Afro-American readers:

I. Have faith in yourselves. Cultivate the spirit of self-respect; only he who respects himself will be respected by his neighbors.

Decline to look at yourselves through your White neighbor's eyes; look at yourselves through your own eyes. Do not take the White man as a standard; make your own standards.

Be not imitators. There is no more reason why you should imitate the White man than why the White man should imitate you. No man can make himself into another man; no race can make itself into another race. The missionary makes a mistake who tries to convert the Negro into an Anglo-Saxon; the Negro makes a greater mistake who desires for himself any such conversion. The Anglo-Saxon was once a subject race; it did not win its present position by trying to be Norman. Do not try to be an Anglo-Saxon; be an Afro-American, and be proud that you are one.

II. Do not push yourself forward; do not allow would-be leaders to push you forward. Do not be ambitious for social equality, or industrial equality or political equality or any kind of equality. Be ambitious to be men, and trust that in time the manhood will make for itself a place; it always does.

The whole power of the Federal Government did not suffice to give you political power; it failed because you had not the necessary preparation for the exercise of political power. The United States Supreme Court has decided that it cannot give you political power by a judicial device. The slower way is the quicker way. Get political competence, and trust that political power will follow in due time. In most if not all the Southern States the possession of about three hundred dollars' worth of taxable property entitles you, under the amended constitutions, to a ballot. Set yourselves, by honest and intelligent industry, to get the property; then ask for the ballot. If registrars deny it to you, when you go before them with you tax receipt, appeal to the State courts to enforce the State law. If ignorant, shiftless White men vote, so much the worse for the State. It is neither for your interest nor for that of the State that you should be represented by an ignorant and shiftless Negro vote. Nothing is for your interest that is not for the State's interest. So also in the industrial and the social world. Acquire intelligence and virtue, and what usually accompanies them in this country, a moderate property and the doors of industry and the respect of your fellow men will follow.

What Dr. Washington said at Atlanta, what Professor DuBois calls the "Atlanta Compromise," is no compromise...

What Dr. Washington said at Atlanta, what Professor DuBois calls the "Atlanta Compromise," is no compromise; it is a principle of universal application, just as true and just as applicable in the Northern factory as the Southern plantation: "In all things purely social we can be as separate as the five fingers, and yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." Never forget this principle; never demand social recognition; social recognition is never given on demand. Always work for mutual progress. What members of your race have risen to the position of social respect, won the opportunity of useful industry and acquired the political influence of Dr. Washington? Follow in the path he has blazed for you, and you will arrive, sooner or later, at the same destination.

III. Therefore seek education first, last, and all the time. But do not fall into the notion that education means ability to read and understand Homer and Dante. Do not let Professor DuBois's picture of Socrates and Francis of Assisi deceive you. There are already enough "brothers of the poor" of your race in America; you do not need to add to their number. The first duty of every man is to earn his living; after that comes the duty of adding to the like of others. Seek for yourself; seek for your race, first the ability to earn a living.

Is this materialism? Very well! Materialism is the basis of life. What not only your race, what the great mass of the American people, need today is a broader education rather than a higher education. No education for any race, or for any individual of any race is adequate which does not include manual training; and no education is worthy of the name which leaves its recipient helplessly dependent on his neighbors for his livelihood. Are you a teacher, or a preacher, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a merchant? Can you read Greek? Can you enjoy Homer and Dante, Raphael and Titan, Beethoven and Brahms? Very well: But do not content yourself by the endeavor to pass your knowledge along to your race; use it to make them first of all self-respecting and self-supporting citizens; second, practical contributors to the welfare of the community in which they live.

"[Dr. Washington] asks his fellows to get political power by proving their capacity to exercise it; civil rights by obedience to law; and higher education by building it on a foundation of a broad industrial and ethical education."

It is not true that Dr. Washington asks "that Black people give up, at least for the present, three things first, political power; second, insistence on civil rights; third, higher education of negro youth." It requires all our charity to think that professor DuBois really believes that Dr. Washington has ever asked anything of the sort. He asks his fellows to get political power by proving their capacity to exercise it; civil rights by obedience to law; and higher education by building it on a foundation of a broad industrial and ethical education. In this he is absolutely right. Political power without previously acquired capacity to use it is always dangerous to others and generally dangerous to the possessor; the civil rights of freeman the lawless are not entitled to; and higher education without a foundation laid in elementary education is a castle in the air, which collapses at the first rude awakening of the ill-bred scholar to the exigencies of actual life.

IV. Do not think about yourself. Do not think about your woes or your wrongs. Meditate, not on "the souls of Black folk," but on "the future of the American Negro." Look out, not in; forward, not backward. Put your thought on your work, not on your soul; and take council of your hopes, not of your discouragements. Do not look too long on the one-roomed cabins, or on the mortgaged farms, or on the usurious rates of interest, or on the Jim Crow cars, or on the short-term schools. Remember that forty years ago few negroes in Virginia owned themselves, and that now they own seventeen and half million dollars' worth of taxable property; that forty years ago it was ago it was a penal offense to teach a negro to read, and that now there are public schools for him, supported at public cost, in every Southern State; that forty years ago no negro could vote, and now that negroes are registering and voting and having their votes counted in every State and in nearly every county in the South.

The negro still suffers injustice; he is still subject to a sometimes cruel prejudice. The Outlook does not condone the first nor apologize for the second. But what is the remedy? Not Federal Force Bills; not Supreme Court decisions enforcing political equality; not a veneer of culture on a nature ill developed in the essentials of practical life; not self-assertiveness and clamorous demand for political or social equality Character. Character developed by broad systems of education in the negro and not less in the White race. Character wrought in the individual and extending by a gradual process throughout the community. Character the foundations of which are truth, honesty, chastity temperance, industry, intelligence; the superstructure of which is material property, mutual respect, personal culture, political freedom, and social peace.