“Men of America, the problem is plain before you. Here is a race transplanted through the criminal foolishness of your fathers. Whether you like it or not the millions are here, and here they will remain. If you do not lift them up, they will pull you down. Education and work are levers to uplift a people. Work alone will not do it unless inspired by the right ideals and guided by intelligence. Education must not simply teach work–it must teach Life. The Talented Tenth of the Negro race must be made leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people. No others can do this work and Negro colleges must train men for it. The Negro race, like all other races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men.”
The Talented Tenth , 1903
Published initially in The Independent, v.57, n.2914
(October 6th,1904): p.787, it was included in DuBois' Darkwater.
Credo is one of my absolute favorite excerpts of all of W.E.B Dubois' writings! Very few times am I able to believe in and be utterly etrigued by every single word that a writer writes. His words are not only uplifting and inspiring but unapologetically real and full of truth and light.
"I BELIEVE in GOD,
Especially do I BELIEVE in the Negro Race,
I BELIEVE in pride of race and lineage and self,
I BELIEVE in service,
I BELIEVE in the devil and his angles who wantonly work to narrow the opportunity of struggling hunam beings, especially if they be black,
I BELIEVE in the Prince of Peace,
I BELIEVE in liberty for all men,
I BELIEVE in the training of children the leading of little souls into the green pastures and beside the still waters,
Finally, I BELIEVE in patience"
The Talented Tenth
Although the "Talented Tenth" essentially speaks on methods of education and the importance of a well rounded education for African-Americans to develop and advance post slavery, many choose to focus on the "help them help the rest" concept that Dubois implies overall making it synonymous with elitism, which has been the focal point of its controversy among some over the years.
In the fall of 1903, William Edward Burghardt Dubois published what he referred to as a "strong plea for the higher education, which those who are interested in the future of the freedmen cannot afford to ignore". In his publication, he provides statistics and data to justify his truth that "to attempt to establish any sort of a system of common and industrial school training, without first providing for the higher training of the very best teachers, is simply throwing your money to the winds".
Painting by Gilbert Young, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”
When it comes to the writings of Dubois, it s important that we understand who he was a person, as a professor, and as black progressive intellectual. Dubois, throughout his life, made it very clear in his work that he understood exactly what it was that he spoke of and that sense of confidence (sometimes arrogance) made the tones of his writing relentless and bold. In the final paragraphs of The Talented Tenth, Dubois closes the piece by saying "Men of America, the problem is plain before you. Here is a race transplanted through the criminal foolishness of your fathers. Whether you like it or not the millions are here, and here they will remain. If you do not lift them up, they will pull you down. Education and work are the levers to uplift a people. Work alone will not do it unless inspired by the right ideals and guided by intelligence. Education must not simply teach work- it must teach life. The talented tenth of the Negro race must be leaders of thought and missionaries of cultures among their people... The Negro race, like all other races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men.
Many chose to view that statement as divisive and elitist, but the statement bleeds unity and pleasantly reeks of black empowerment. Throughout the text, Dubois pushes for black educators to train themselves in order to teach black children and men. He calls for a reform in the way men and women are trained to educate and calls for them to essentially use their gifts to take a very bold and aggressive step towards racial advancement. After slavery nearly 90% of the black population was illiterate and uneducated. This percentage went down to about 33% within the next 30 years. Racial progression was a concept Dubois was very familiar with (as a Harvard graduate and professor) and a concept that was near and dear to his heart. Most importantly, he believed in his race and all that they were capable of doing. He called for other blacks who were fortunate enough to receive higher education and a better life to not forget about the millions of racemates who were not as fortunate. He looked at the Talented Tenth as beacons of light who would essentially light the way for the rest of the race. Ground breakers who would pave the way for the millions of blacks who were subjected to the brutal and aggressive political, educational, and economic effects of the largest sub section of instituional racism known as chattel slavery