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(1903) W.E.B. Du Bois, “Training Negroes for Social Power”

In this 1903 speech, W.E.B. Du Bois describes his educational philosophy and in the process, contrasts his views with those of the Tuskegee educator Booker T. Washington who was then at the height of his power.

THE RESPONSIBILITY for their own social regeneration ought to be placed largely upon the shoulders of the Negro people. But such responsibility must carry with it a grant of power; responsibility without power is a mockery and a farce. If, therefore, the American people are sincerely anxious that the Negro shall put forth his best efforts to help himself, they must see to it that he is not deprived of the freedom and power to strive. The responsibility for dispelling their own ignorance implies that the power to overcome ignorance is to be placed in black mens hands; the lessening of poverty calls for the power of effective work, and one responsibility for lessening crime calls for control over social forces which produce crime.

Such social power means, assuredly, the growth of initiative among Negroes, the spread of independent thought, the expanding consciousness of manhood; and these things today are looked upon by many with apprehension and distrust, and there is systematic and determined effort to avoid this inevitable corollary of the fixing of social responsibility. Men openly declare their design to train these millions as a subject caste, as men to be thought for, but not to think; to be led, but not to lead themselves. Those who advocate these things forget that such a solution flings them squarely on the other horn of the dilemma; such a subject child-race could never be held accountable for its own misdeeds and shortcomings; its ignorance would be part of the nations design, its poverty would arise partly from the direct oppression of the strong and partly from thriftlessness which such oppression breeds; and, above all, its crime would be the legitimate child of that lack of self-respect which caste systems engender. Such a solution of the Negro problem is not one which the saner sense of

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