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The Education of the Negro
Charles Dudley Warner
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Pages (PDF): 14
Publication Date: 1900
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A short lecture delivered by Charles Dudley Warner, in Washington, around 1900. '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.'
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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.
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