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THE EDUCATION OF THE NEGRO

By Charles Dudley Warner



At the close of the war for the Union about five millions of negroes were
added to the citizenship of the United States.  By the census of 1890
this number had become over seven and a half millions.  I use the word
negro because the descriptive term black or colored is not determinative.
There are many varieties of negroes among the African tribes, but all of
them agree in certain physiological if not psychological characteristics,
which separate them from all other races of mankind; whereas there are
many races, black or colored, like the Abyssinian, which have no other
negro traits.

It is also a matter of observation that the negro traits persist in
recognizable manifestations, to the extent of occasional reversions,
whatever may be the mixture of a white race.  In a certain degree this
persistence is true of all races not come from an historic common stock.

In the political reconstruction the negro was given the ballot without
any requirements of education or property.  This was partly a measure of
party balance of power; and partly from a concern that the negro would
not be secure in his rights as a citizen without it, and also upon the
theory that the ballot is an educating influence.

This sudden transition and shifting of power was resented at the South,
resisted at first, and finally it has generally been evaded.  This was
due to a variety of reasons or prejudices, not all of them creditable to
a generous desire for the universal elevation of mankind, but one of them
the historian will judge adequate to produce the result.  Indeed, it
might have been foreseen from the beginning.  This reconstruction measure
was an attempt to put the superior part of the community under the
control of the inferior, these parts separated by all the prejudices of
race, and by traditions of mastership on the one side and of servitude on
the other.  I venture to say that it was an experiment that would have
failed in any community in the United States, whether it was presented as
a piece of philanthropy or of punishment.

A necessary sequence to the enfranchisement of the negro was his
education.  However limited our idea of a proper common education may be,
it is a fundamental requisite in our form of government that every voter
should be able to read and write.  A recognition of this truth led to the
establishment in the South of public schools for the whites and blacks,
in short, of a public school system.  We are not to question the
sincerity and generousness of this movement, however it may have halted
and lost enthusiasm in many localities.

This opportunity of education (found also in private schools) was hailed
by the negroes, certainly, with enthusiasm.  It cannot be doubted that at
the close of the war there was a general desire among the freedmen to be
instructed in the rudiments of knowledge at least.  Many parents,
especially women, made great sacrifices to obtain for their children this
advantage which had been denied to themselves.  Many youths, both boys
and girls, entered into it with a genuine thirst for knowledge which it
was pathetic to see.

But it may be questioned, from developments that speedily followed,
whether the mass of negroes did not really desire this advantage as a
sign of freedom, rather than from a wish for knowledge, and covet it
because it had formerly been the privilege of their masters, and marked a
broad distinction between the races.  It was natural that this should be
so, when they had been excluded from this privilege by pains and
penalties, when in some States it was one of the gravest offenses to
teach a negro to read and write.  This prohibition was accounted for by
the peculiar sort of property that slavery created, which would become
insecure if intelligent, for the alphabet is a terrible disturber of all
false relations in society.

But the effort at education went further than the common school and the
primary essential instruction.  It introduced the higher education.
Colleges usually called universities--for negroes were established in
many Southern States, created and stimulated by the generosity of
Northern men and societies, and often aided by the liberality of the
States where they existed.  The curriculum in these was that in colleges
generally,--the classics, the higher mathematics, science, philosophy,
the modern languages, and in some instances a certain technical
instruction, which was being tried in some Northern colleges.  The
emphasis, however, was laid on liberal culture.  This higher education
was offered to the mass that still lacked the rudiments of intellectual
training, in the belief that education--the education of the moment, the
education of superimposed information, can realize the theory of
universal equality.

This experiment has now been in operation long enough to enable us to
judge something of its results and its promises for the future.  These
results are of a nature to lead us seriously to inquire whether our
effort was founded upon an adequate knowledge of the negro, of his
present development, of the requirements for his personal welfare and
evolution in the scale of civilization, and for his training in useful
and honorable citizenship.  I am speaking of the majority, the mass to be
considered in any general scheme, and not of the exceptional individuals
--exceptions that will rapidly increase as the mass is lifted--who are
capable of taking advantage to the utmost of all means of cultivation,
and who must always be provided with all the opportunities needed.

Millions of dollars have been invested in the higher education of the
negro, while this primary education has been, taking the whole mass,
wholly inadequate to his needs.  This has been upon the supposition that
the higher would compel the rise of the lower with the undeveloped negro
race as it does with the more highly developed white race.  An
examination of the soundness of this expectation will not lead us far
astray from our subject.

The evolution of a race, distinguishing it from the formation of a
nation, is a slow process.  We recognize a race by certain peculiar
traits, and by characteristics which slowly change.  They are acquired
little by little in an evolution which, historically, it is often
difficult to trace.  They are due to the environment, to the discipline
of life, and to what is technically called education.  These work
together to make what is called character, race character, and it is this
which is transmitted from generation to generation.  Acquirements are not
hereditary, like habits and peculiarities, physical or mental.  A man
does not transmit to his descendants his learning, though he may transmit
the aptitude for it.  This is illustrated in factories where skilled
labor is handed down and fixed in the same families, that is, where the
same kind of labor is continued from one generation to another.  The
child, put to work, has not the knowledge of the parent, but a special
aptitude in his skill and dexterity.  Both body and mind have acquired
certain transmissible traits.  The same thing is seen on a larger scale
in a whole nation, like the Japanese, who have been trained into what
seems an art instinct.

It is this character, quality, habit, the result of a slow educational
process, which distinguishes one race from another.  It is this that the
race transmits, and not the more or less accidental education of a decade
or an era.  The Brahmins carry this idea into the next life, and say that
the departing spirit carries with him nothing except this individual
character, no acquirements or information or extraneous culture.  It was
perhaps in the same spirit that the sad preacher in Ecclesiastes said
there is no "knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest."

It is by this character that we classify civilized and even semi-
civilized races; by this slowly developed fibre, this slow accumulation
of inherent quality in the evolution of the human being from lower to
higher, that continues to exist notwithstanding the powerful influence of
governments and religions.  We are understood when we speak of the
French, the Italian, the Pole, the Spanish, the English, the German, the
Arab race, the Japanese, and so on.  It is what a foreign writer calls,
not inaptly, a collective race soul.  As it is slow in evolution, it is
persistent in enduring.

Further, we recognize it as a stage of progress, historically necessary
in the development of man into a civilized adaptation to his situation in
this world.  It is a process that cannot be much hurried, and a result
that cannot be leaped to out of barbarism by any superimposition of
knowledge or even quickly by any change of environment.  We may be right
in our modern notion that education has a magical virtue that can work
any kind of transformation; but we are certainly not right in supposing
that it can do this instantly, or that it can work this effect upon a
barbarous race in the same period of time that it can upon one more
developed, one that has acquired at least a race consciousness.

Before going further, and in order to avoid misunderstanding, it is
proper to say that I have the firmest belief in the ultimate development
of all mankind into a higher plane than it occupies now.  I should
otherwise be in despair.  This faith will never desist in the effort to
bring about the end desired.

But, if we work with Providence, we must work in the reasonable ways of
Providence, and add to our faith patience.

It seems to be the rule in all history that the elevation of a lower race
is effected only by contact with one higher in civilization.  Both reform
and progress come from exterior influences.  This is axiomatic, and
applies to the fields of government, religion, ethics, art, and letters.

We have been taught to regard Africa as a dark, stolid continent,
unawakened, unvisited by the agencies and influences that have
transformed the world from age to age.  Yet it was in northern and
northeastern Africa that within historic periods three of the most

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