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(1896) Hugh M. Browne, “The Higher Education of the Colored People of the South”

Hugh M. Browne, educator, Presbyterian minister, and college professor in Liberia, positioned himself between the advocates of industrial and higher education for African Americans.  In the speech below he describes his educational philosophy and the forces and experiences that shaped it.

In my invitation to take part in the discussion of the higher education of the colored people of the South, your Vice-President indicated that the fact that I had lived in Liberia would enable me to speak as one having authority. I am not sure that I understand just what Dr. Wayland meant by this hint,-whether he wished me to give an account of Liberia, the republic which began with an imported college, and has not yet established a common school; nor been able, although maintained financially by friends in the United States, to prevent this college from falling into the condition which Mr. Cleveland calls "innocuous desuetude,"---or whether, possessing himself a knowledge of the retrograding effects of higher education upon that republic, he predicates there from the position which I shall take in this discussion. If the latter, he is perfectly right. No man whose judgement is worth accepting can live one week in Liberia without becoming a radical advocate of the now celebrated ratio of 16 to 1,-not between gold and silver money, for Liberia has neither, but between higher and industrial education. I mean that, in the matter of the education of my people, one part of industrial is worth, in weight, volume, and potential energy, sixteen parts of the best literary or higher education the world has ever seen. After much thought and prayerful consideration, I have arrived at the conclusion that the Great Creator has permitted the foundation and existence of Liberia in order to give to the world a striking and forcible object-lesson on the folly of attempting to prepare an undeveloped race for the "ceaseless and inevitable struggle and competition of life" by higher education.

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