Black History Month 1983

“Black Americans are major contributors to historic and contemporary life… Because we wish to deepen our own appreciation of ourselves, and because we need to share our rich culture and heritage with the world.”

Debra Gibson, 1983 – Bomb 1984 pg. 72

In 1983, what was intended to be a week of commemoration turned into a month-long celebration of everything African-American history. Debra Gibson, alumni information specialist and coordinator for Black History Month at the time, chose “Our Attitude, Our Future” as the theme for the month’s activities.

Image from the 1984 Bomb pg. 72

According to this snippet from the 1984 Bomb, pg. 72, the highlight of the month’s activities was the performance of the first black theater production to be held at Iowa State University. The play, “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” by Lorraine Hansberry received positive reviews from those in attendance.

Several lectures were also hosted throughout the month on topics relating to Black History Month, as well as several other exciting events.

For information on similar events at Iowa State, consider checking out our collection on Multicultural Student Organizations RS 22/3 Box 1.


Celebrate Black History All Year-Round!

Today marks the end of Black History Month. I would like to highlight some selected posts we’ve done that celebrate the history of Black students, faculty, and staff here at Iowa State.

Over the years our knowledge about the accomplishments of Black students, faculty, and staff at Iowa State has grown and, as a result, we are able to share that information. We will continue to work to document and share the history of Black people, and other underrepresented communities, here at ISU, but also strive to post year-round to celebrate the impact that Black students, faculty, and staff have had on our campus, and not just limit our recognition to one month.

I hope you enjoy reading or rereading these posts. If you would like to learn more about this topic, please visit us. We’re located on the 4th floor of the Parks Library, open M–F 9 to 5.


Early History of Multicultural Student Affairs at Iowa State

Tracking down administrative histories can be a difficult process. Even after working in the archives for many years these fact-finding missions can be a challenge. For this blog post I wanted to look at the early history of what we now call the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. This office had its origins in 1968 with the eight grievances presented to campus administration by Iowa State’s Black student athletes. You can read more about that event in an earlier blog post.

The results of this conversation between administration and the students was a better understanding of the University’s responsibility in supporting underrepresented groups on campus. One of the first steps the administration took was to hire staff to develop programs to highlight and support Iowa State’s minority student populations. These programs were initially overseen by staff in the Dean of Students Office and geared towards Iowa State’s Black student population. It is unclear exactly when the Office of Minority Student Programs was established; resources point to 1972 or 1973 as the most likely year though. What is certain is that Robert Lott was the first coordinator of this office. The following individuals played key roles in the development of these early programs at Iowa State.

Portrait of William Bell

William Bell, Associate Dean of Students, circa 1968, was Iowa State’s first administrator hired to develop and oversee programs geared specifically for students of color. (University Photograph Collection, RS 7/3/A, Box 457)

William Bell was hired as Associate Dean of Students in September of 1968 as a direct result of the demands submitted by the Black students. Bell came to Ames from his previous position as professor of physical education and director of athletics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Bell was instrumental in establishing a number of programs during his two years at Iowa State. At his urging, the University initiated projects in coordination with historically Black colleges and universities including a faculty exchange program with Prairie View State College of Texas and fellowships in the Department of Agronomy aimed at increasing the numbers of Black graduate students in that department. Bell also helped organize Iowa State’s first Black Cultural Week, assisted in the establishment of the Black Cultural Center, participated in the recruitment of Black students and faculty, and assisted with the student counseling program. Bell also oversaw the Martin Luther King, Jr., Scholarship Fund, established in 1968, which helped students of color attend college. In 1970, Bell left Iowa State to return to his home state of North Carolina.

Iowa State Daily news clipping announcing the hiring of Harold Pollard and Willis Bright.

Article that appeared in the Thursday, November 12, 1970, issue of the Iowa State Daily announcing the hire of Harold Pollard as Assistant Dean of Students and Willis Bright who would split his duties as Program Adviser in the Dean of Students Office and Counselor in the Student Counseling Service. (Willis Bright, Dean of Students Office biographical files, RS 7/3/2)

The fall of 1970 saw the hiring of Harold Pollard as Assistant Dean of Students. According to the November 12, 1970 article in the Iowa State Daily, Pollard’s role specialized in human relations programs, with an emphasis on programs for the Black Cultural Center and assisting with recruitment of minority students and faculty. Although student affairs programming was not yet a specific unit within the Dean of Students Office, the scope of the activities was growing. The 1971 Dean of Students Office annual report notes that this was the first year in which the university specifically recruited minority students to campus although other sources note that this recruitment started in 1967. This same report notes that there were approximately 175 students of color on campus at this time (out of a total student population of around 19,300). Pollard left Iowa State after a year.

1970 also saw the hiring of Willis Bright who served as a part-time Program Advisor in the Dean of Students Office and as a Counselor in the Student Counselling Service. Bright would advise and work closely with Iowa State’s Black students, serve on the Affirmative Action Committee, and develop programs associated with the Black Cultural Center. Bright resigned in the summer of 1973.

Portrait of Robert Lott

Robert Lott, circa 1972, was hired as Assistant Dean of Students and became Iowa State’s first Coordinator/Director of the Office of Minority Student Affairs. (University Photograph Collection, RS 7/3/A, Box 457)

Robert Lott was hired as Assistant Dean of Students in December 1971 to replace Pollard. He was given responsibility for minority student programs, the Black Cultural Center, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. scholarship fund. Lott was also placed in charge of administering the student orientation program. During his time at Iowa State, the University would develop an Affirmative Action Program and hold its first Black Awareness Week on campus. Lott would help develop the Advanced Preparation Program, an orientation program aimed at assisting incoming Black students transition to the University community. He also supported recruitment of more students of color. With the formation of the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs in 1973, Lott was named Assistant to the Vice President and Director of the Office of Minority Student Programs.  Lott resigned from his post in September 1974.

From this point on there would continue to be an office on campus dedicated to improving the lives and experiences of Iowa State’s students of color. However, it would not be until George Jackson arrived on campus in 1978 that the Office had sustained and stable leadership. The name of the office may have changed over the years, but their mission is largely the same. According the their website, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs “supports and empowers Iowa State University’s students who self-identify as African American, Asian American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, Latinx, Native American/Alaskan Native and/or Multiracial, and advocates for their holistic development across the University.”

There are many others who helped develop these early programs for students of color, I have just highlighted a few. You can learn more of this history by doing your own research in Special Collections and University Archives. We would love to see you!


Rare Book Highlights: Illustrated editions of Paul Laurence Dunbar

Black and white photograph of Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Paul Laurence Dunbar was an influential Black American poet. Born in 1872 in Dayton, Ohio to former slaves from Kentucky, Dunbar excelled in school and was considered the class poet in high school. Unable to afford college, he looked for work, but was rejected by Dayton businesses and newspapers because of his race. He finally took a job as an elevator operator. Continuing to write poetry, he was invited by a former teacher to read his poetry to the Western Association of Writers meeting in Dayton in 1892. This experience brought him wider recognition and led him to publish his first book of poems, Oak and Ivy, in 1893. Included in this book were some of his earliest dialect poems that he came to be famous for.

Plain gray cloth cover with titel and author stamped in gold. Speckled with white areas of possible insect damage.

Cover of Majors and Minors by Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

Dunbar published a second book of poetry in 1895, Majors and Minors, one of the several Dunbar books that we hold in Special Collections. This second book included both poems written in standard English, grouped under the heading “Majors,” and poems written in dialect, under the heading “Minors.” Dialect poetry developed out of the Plantation tradition genre of writing in which white writers presented a romanticized vision of the Antebellum South and used dialect in a way that reinforced negative racial stereotypes. But Dunbar and other Black dialect poets “sought to use the problematic plantation-tradition background in a way that rescued both the form and its subjects from the more demeaning aspects of the tradition on which they drew,” as described in the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. “In so doing, the poets moved dialect poetry away from caricature and even, in the view of some writers and critics of the time, toward the presentation of a distinctive African-American cultural heritage rooted in the folk life of the rural South.”

Pages showing on left a black man hunched over in front of a wood shack; on right, the text of the poem, "Philosophy."

Dunbar’s dialect poem “Philosophy” from the book “Joggin’ Erlong” is an example of his use of the genre to subvert the negative racial stereotypes associated with the Plantation tradition of writing. (click for larger image)

Special Collections has nine of Dunbar’s 20 books of poetry and fiction. Including his second book of poetry, Majors and Minors, shown above right, and his final published book of poetry, Joggin’ Erlong, shown above (1906). We also hold three of his works of of fiction: The Strength of Gideon, The Love of Landry, and The Uncalled.

I’d like to focus on a set of photographically illustrated works of Dunbar’s dialect poetry: six books published almost annually between 1809 and 1906 by Dodd, Mead & Co. These editions were collaborative artistic works, illustrated with photographs by the Hampton Institute Camera Club and other Art Nouveau-style decorations. ISU Special Collections owns three of these: Candle-Lightin’ Time (1904; first published 1901), When Malindy Sings (1906; first published 1896), and Joggin’ Erlong (1906).

The Hampton Institute Camera Club, which ran from 1893-1926, was a group of predominantly white faculty and staff at the Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, a historically Black university in Hampton, Virginia. They practiced a form of photography  known as Pictorialism, in which photographers used their medium to create fine art images, emphasizing beauty, composition, and tonality over creating a strictly documentary visual record. Although predominantly white, the Camera Club members portrayed members of the African American community in Hampton, recreating scenes described in Dunbar’s verse. Ray Sapirstein, who has done research on these illustrated volumes, argues that, not only did the Club illustrate some of Dunbar’s racially subversive poems, like “When Malindy Sings,” but also that their artistic choices in illustrating the poem “actually makes explicit some of Dunbar’s subtly subversive content” (“Out from Behind” 172).

The poem pokes fun at one singer, Miss Lucy, who sings with proficiency, but cannot compare to the untaught but wholehearted singing of Malindy. Sapirstein points out that the poem does not specify the racial identity of Miss Lucy but implies that Malindy is African American based on the gospel songs that make up her repertoire. However, in the photograph that illustrates the first three stanzas of the poem, the photographers made the decision to depict a white woman at the piano facing a black man. Sapirstein writes, “The illustration from the photo-text makes Dunbar’s statement about the inferiority of Lucy’s ‘nachel o’gans’ far more racially explicit and transgressive. … In this specific instance, it was the Hampton photographers who were responsible for making Dunbar’s subversive implication explicit, as well as depicting a young white girl in a domestic interior with a self-possessed, well-dressed (and married) young black man, potentially as social equals. Published in 1901, the tension and uncertainty on the models’ faces also reveals the transgressive nature of their proximity. The headpiece of the poem depicts Malindy as a joyous singer in a homespun vernacular calico dress” (ibid, 173).

Left page has a black and white photograph showing a Black woman kneading dough in a kitchen. Left page has the second stanza of the poem.

Pages from the poem “Dinah Kneading Dough” illustrated in “Candle Lightin’ Time.”

As Sapirstein points out, these illustrated editions were largely compilations of poetry previously published by Dunbar, with a few exceptions, and they appear to be largely assembled by the Camera Club and later approved by Dunbar, as indicated by documents held in the Hampton University Archives. For example, a mockup of the first book of the series, Poems of Cabin and Field, held in the Hampton University Archives, contains a note reading, “‘Mr. Dunbar says no to the first print'” (198), indicating that Dunbar exercised some editorial jurisdiction over the work. Still, there is little evidence of Dunbar’s feelings about the Camera Club’s overall project with the illustrated editions. He did benefit from them in multiple ways, however. The editions were very popular and allowed him to support himself through his writing. He received a thousand dollars in royalties from each publication, which enabled him to cover medical expenses as he grew ill with the tuberculosis that ended his life at age 33. Beyond that, the illustrated editions had an influence on later African American writers and photographers, including Langston Hughes, Roy de Carava, Gordon Parks, Richard Wright, and Walter Dean Myers, who worked on similar collaboratively illustrated books of poetry (Picturing 327).

The last of the editions, Joggin’ Erlong, was published in 1906, just after Dunbar’s death that same year. A note on one of the pages indicates that “Slide Along” was the last dialect poem written by Dunbar.

Left page gives first stanza of poem along with a black and white photograph of a well-dressed Black couple stopped at a fence under trees. On right page a black and white photograph of the same coule, but closer up. The man and woman are facing each otherk, the woman wearing a nice dress and fancy hat, the man wearing a suit and hat.

“Sling Along,” from book, “Joggin’ Erlong,” was the last dialect poem written by Dunbar.

Bibliography

(note: The information on the illustrated editions of Dunbar’s poetry came from the following two sources.)

Sapirstein, Ray. “Out from Behind the Mask: Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Hampton Institute Camera Club, and Photographic Performance of Identity.” Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012. 167-203.

Sapirstein, Ray. “Picturing Dunbar’s Lyrics.” African American Review, vol. 41, no. 2, Summer 2007, 327-339.

 


Black History Month at Iowa State University

Photograph of white female student, long hair with glasses, close-up in a library office setting (cubicle & book shelves filled with books visible in the background).

Photograph courtesy of Cassandra.

This blog post was authored by Curation Services Student Writer Cassandra Anderson.

Black History Month is celebrated from February 1 through February 28 starting in 1976 when the celebration was extended from a week to an entire month. Here on campus, we have a number of student organizations that celebrate Black History Month and work year round to educate campus on issues black students face today. The Black Student Government was a name that I found occurring repeatedly in the “Black History Month” folder of RS 22/03/001, so I decided to see if I could learn more about them.

On campus, the Black Student Government organized educational events, speakers, and more for the students at ISU. Their mission was to help black students on campus feel safe and at home on campus while also fighting for a better life. In 1992 the “Black Student Government” changed their name to the “Black Student Alliance” and continue to use this name on campus today.

Newspaper clipping of an article from the ISU Daily, Oct. 6, 1988, titled “Program for new Black Students discusses surviving ISU” Photograph included with article shows two female black students talking.

ISU Daily article on program sponsored by the Black Student Government. 10/6/88

During Black History Month, student organizations often work together to bring speakers, workshops, and other activities to campus. In 2000, seventeen campus groups, including the Black Student Alliance, worked together to create a range of activities celebrating Black History Month.

Flyer from February of 2000 titled “Celebrate Black History Month at Iowa State University” advertising the events for Black History Month.

Lastly, like any student organization, the Black Student Alliance is also about having fun and building a community. They often host events for students to hang out, like this “Show Me What You Got” game night! The organization is still active today with 97 student members. Each year the organization has an opportunity to attend the Big XII Conference on Black Student Government, hosted by a different Big XII school each year.

Handout advertising “Show me what you got game night” hosted by the Black Student Alliance depicting a black male holding a video game controller.

For more information on Black History Month, the Black Student Alliance/Black Student Government, or other student organizations, check out RS 22/03/001!  All of the documents from this blog piece came from Box 1 of the collection, folders “Black History Month”, “Black Student Alliance”, and “Black Student Government”.


#BlackHistoryMonth: 1984 Olympic Medalists in Men’s Track

The ISU men’s track team made history in the 1984 Olympics and showcased some of the best talent Iowa State has ever boasted in this sport.

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Photograph collection, RS 24/11/D box 1953

Three team members made it to the Olympics: Danny Harris from the USA, Sunday Uti from Nigeria, and Moses Kiyai from Kenya.

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Danny Harris. 1985 Bomb page 260

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Sunday Uti. Photograph Collection, RS 24/11/D box 1950.

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Moses Kiyai. 1985 media guide page 10. RS 24/11/0/6 box 1, folder 2.

Both Danny Harris and Sunday Uti took home medals (Harris silver and Uti bronze), and Harris broke his fifth world record in the 400 hurdles during the semi-finals for Olympic trials.

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Olympic medalists Uti (left) and Harris (right) with their coach Steve Lynn (center). Photograph collection, RS 24/11/D box 1953.

The 1985 media guide for men’s track notes that Harris’s record-breaking times were all the more impressive considering that he was barely 18-years-old during the trials (a sophomore at ISU) and had only run the 400 hurdles 19 times prior to the event.

Here are some pictures of Harris performing at the NCAA competition earlier that summer:

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Photograph collection, RS 24/11/D box 1950.

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Photograph collection, RS 24/11/D box 1950.

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Photograph collection, RS 24/11/D box 1950.

And here is a shot of Uti in motion, likely during a training session at ISU.

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Sunday Uti (far left). Photograph collection, RS 24/11/D box 1950.

Given their incredible expertise, it seems likely that all of these athletes spent much of their time on the indoor track of the men’s gym, pictured below as it would have looked when they were in school.

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Photograph collection, RS 24/11/D box 1953.

Sunday Uti graduated in 1987 with his B.S. in Community and Regional Planning.

Unfortunately, it is unclear what happened next to Danny Harris or Moses Kiyai — whether they transferred schools, or simply moved on to other pursuits. I could not find mentions of either in our alumni records.

We do know, however, that Danny Harris set up his own private coaching and personal training service 12 years later in Los Angeles, California near his hometown, Perris.

It is also worth noting that the ISU women’s track team excelled in the 1984 Olympics. In some ways, their accomplishments surpassed those of the men. But because of this, I believe that Nawal El Moutawakel in particular deserves her own blog post, and we can look at her story another day. Regardless, feel free to visit the archives to see any of this material, or any of the items shown above, in person.

 


Black History Week 45 Years Ago

This week, 45 year ago, Iowa State University’s Black Cultural Center, Inc., Black Student Organization, and ISU Committee on Lectures sponsored Black History Week. The week’s theme was “Towards a United State of Mind.”

Black History Week_cover

Cover of the Black History Week program, February 4-8, 1974. RS 22/3/0/1.

Author and former FBI agent Sam Greenlee delivered the first day’s evening lecture, “Strategies for Change.” Greenlee is widely known for his book, the political satire, The Spook Who Sat by the Door. His work was later turned into a film.

Sociologist and Civil Rights Activist Dr. Harry Edwards gave a talk, called “The Myth of the Racially Superior Athlete,” while Ray Greene, ISU’s assistant football coach talked about recruiting Black athletes.

The week was capped off by Grinnell College’s “Young, Gifted, and Black” choir.

Check out the program below to see the other events planned for ISU’s Black History Week.

“Towards a United State of Mind.” Black History Week program, February 4-8, 1974. RS 22/3/0/1.


Researching Former Black Students at Iowa State

People familiar with Iowa State University history usually are already aware of the story of George Washington Carver, Iowa State’s first African American graduate and faculty member, and Jack Trice, Iowa State’s first black student athlete. Over the years, much research has been done on these two individuals. Unfortunately, learning about students of color that came after them is a much more difficult task.

One frequent request we receive are questions about the first students of color to receive degrees from a specific department, the first to play on a particular sports team, or the first to be part of a campus organization. Most people contact us in the hopes that maybe somebody has compiled such a list and that it exists in the University Archives.

Bomb yearbook 1894

Iowa State’s yearbook, The Bomb, can be a starting point for research on African American students, but its usefulness is limited. This is the cover to the first yearbook from 1894.

In reality, these questions are extremely difficult to answer for a variety of reasons, but primarily because no such list exists. Over the years, archives staff have slowly been adding to an internal list of known early black students, but it is far from complete and stops in the 1960s. One of the most reliable sources for learning about student life, the yearbook, is an unreliable resource for identifying students of color because not all students appear in it and it can be particularly difficult to determine race and ethnicity based on the small, grainy, black and white images. Another factor to consider is that the University did not start collecting information on student race and ethnicity until the late 1960s so it is difficult to even know how many students of color were on campus at a given time.

So how does one go about searching for students of color in the archives? As previously mentioned, the yearbook is one place to start. Other resources to investigate are the commencement programs. These can be effective for identifying graduate students of color as the programs often list the school that the students received an undergraduate degree. If the school listed is a historically black college or university, then that is a promising lead. Student directories are another possible resource. Unfortunately, searching through these materials can be very tedious and time consuming. It is also important to remember that this is just a starting point for research. Tracking down additional details will likely lead to contacting archives at other schools and communities or into direct contact with members of the person’s family or his/her descendants.

Photographic portrait of Frederick D. Patterson

Portrait of Frederick D. Patterson (RS 21/7/19)

Staff both in the archives and within the larger Iowa State community have done some research on former black students at Iowa State. You can read about some of these students in this blog, such as Rufus B. Jackson, Frederick Patterson, Mary E.V. Hunter, Samuel Massie, and James Mitchell. Other members of the Iowa State community have done their own research on early black students at Iowa State and written articles on Holloway Smith and Walter G. Madison, for example.

These are just a small number of the many black students who have come to Iowa State since George Washington Carver first arrived on campus in 1891. If you would like to start your own investigation into students of color at Iowa State, the staff in Special Collections and University Archives would be happy to assist. Stop in and say hello!


In Honor of Black History Month: Rufus B. Jackson

“Rufus B. Jackson.” Alumnus of Iowa State College., April 1919, ArchivesLH1. Lo9a.

In honor of Black History Month and in commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the United States’s involvement in World War I, we highlight Des Moines resident and Iowa Stater Rufus Benjamin Jackson, Class of 1917. Second Lieutenant Jackson was a member of the 370th Infantry Regiment, 93d Division, A.E.F. and fought in France.

Second Lieutenant Jackson earned a distinguished service cross “for extraordinary heroism in action near Farm La Folie, France, September 28, 1918. Having been ordered to use his Stokes mortars in wiping out machine-gun nests, which had been resisting the advance of his company, Lieutenant Jackson made a personal reconnaissance by crawling to the enemy’s lines to locate the nests. Accomplishing his purpose, he returned and directed the fire, silencing the guns.”

For more about Iowa’s involvement in World War I, visit our exhibition “Do[ing] Their Bit:” Iowa’s Role in the Great War on display on the 4th floor of Parks Library.

 


Rare Book Highlights: the Booker T. Washington – W.E.B. Du Bois Debate

Du Bois, W.E.B. The souls of black folk; essays and sketches. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co, 1903. Call number: E185.6 D85s

The Negro problem; a series of articles by representative American Negroes of today. Contributions by Booker T. Washington, W.E. Burghardt Du Bois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charles W. Chesnutt, and others. New York: James Pott & company, 1903. Call number: E185.5 N39

 

It is the turn of the 20th century. The Civil War is almost 40 years in the past, and Jim Crow laws are passed in Southern states to enforce racial segregation, while Black Americans encounter racism and discrimination across the country. A debate is going on within the Black community about how to respond to these conditions.

Booker T. Washington and vocational education

In 1895, Black intellectual and educator Booker T. Washington gave a speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia, in which he urged Black Americans to temporarily accept segregation and disenfranchisement in exchange for economic opportunity and free vocational education funded by the white community. He believed that if Black men trained for vocational jobs, they could take advantage of the technological developments of the day and make economic progress. By attaining economic independence through hard work, thrift, and patience, he believed that eventually Black Americans would win the acceptance of the white community and thus be granted full civil rights. Critics of Washington’s speech dubbed it the ‘Atlanta Compromise.’

Red and black lettering reads, The Negro Problem, A series of articles by representative American Negros of to-day, contributions by Booker T. Washington, Principal of Tuskegee Institute, W. E. Burghardt DuBois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charles W. Chesnutt, and others, New York, James Pott and Company, 1903.

Title page of the first edition of The Negro Problem. Our copy was originally held by the State Library for Iowa, which is why “withdrawn” is stamped across the page.

Washington’s speech was not published (though you can read the transcript at the Library of Congress), but his views on education for Black men (remember, this was at a time when a woman’s place was considered to be in the home) are captured in his essay, “Industrial Education for the Negro,” published in The Negro Problem in 1903. He writes that, following the Civil War, Black Americans tried to distance themselves from their past as slaves through higher education in the liberal arts:

There were young men educated in foreign tongues, but few in carpentry or in mechanical or architectural drawing. Many were trained in Latin, but few as engineers and blacksmiths. Too many were taken from the farm and educated, but educated in everything but farming. For this reason they had no interest in farming and did not return to it. And yet eighty-five per cent of the Negro population of the Southern states lives and for a considerable time will continue to live in the country districts. (p. 13)

He saw the loss of vocational knowledge as a loss of economic opportunity to the population, and he believed that a purely liberal education only prepared Black men for jobs that they had no opportunity to acquire. This guided his decisions as the head of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, now Tuskegee University, in designing the curriculum:

Almost from the first Tuskegee has kept in mind–and this I think should be the policy of all industrial schools–fitting student for occupations which would be open to them in their home communities. (pp. 23-24)

Critiques by W.E.B. Du Bois

On the opposite side of the debate is W.E.B. Du Bois, a Black intellectual who was born and raised in Massachusetts and became the first Black man to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Where Washington advised patience and submission, Du Bois called on members of the Black community to agitate for civil rights. He also argued that higher education, not simply vocational education, was necessary to create Black leaders that would uplift the whole Black community.

Du Bois was Washington’s most outspoken critic. His essay, “The Talented Tenth,” follows Washington’s in The Negro Problem. In direct rebuttal to Washington’s contention that liberally educated Black men cannot find jobs they are qualified for, Du Bois writes:

The most interesting question, and in many respects the crucial question, to be asked concerning college-bred Negroes, is: Do they earn a living? It has been intimated more than once that the higher training of Negroes has resulted in sending into the world of work, men who could find nothing to do suitable to their talents. Now and then there comes a rumor of a colored college man working at menial service, etc. Fortunately, returns as to occupations of college-bred Negroes, gathered by the Atlanta conference, are quite full–nearly sixty per cent. of the total number of graduates. (pp. 51-52)

Teachers 53.4 per cent, clergymen 16.8 per cent, physicians etc 6.3 per cent, students 5.6 percent, lawyers 4.7 per cent, in government service 4.0 per cent, in business 3.36 per cent, farmers and artisans 2.7 per cent, editors secretaries and clerks 2.4 per cent, miscellaneous 0.5 per cent.

Tables showing occupations of Black Americans who attended college, from Du Bois’s “The Talented Tenth” in The Negro Problem.

Du Bois’s most famous book The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of fourteen essays, includes one with the title, “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others.” He critiques Washington’s broader plan of white appeasement and the regression it has brought:

Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things, —

First, political power,

Second, insistence on civil rights,

Third, higher education of Negro youth, — and concentrate all their energies on industrial education, the accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South. This policy has been courageously and insistently advocated for over fifteen years, and has been triumphant for perhaps ten years. As a result of this tender of the palm-branch, what has been the return? In these years there have occurred:

1. The disfranchisement of the Negro.

2. The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro.

3. The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro. (p. 51)

Black text reads, The Souls of Black Folk, essays and sketches, by W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, Chicago, A. C. McClurg and Company, 1903.

Title page of the first edition of The Souls of Black Folk.

Both men were deeply concerned about the social and economic progress of Black Americans. Their backgrounds shed some light on the sharp differences in their approaches. Booker T. Washington was born into slavery in 1856 and taught himself to read as a child following the Civil War. Later, he worked his way through Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute in Virginia, now Hampton University. Du Bois, on the other hand, was born in 1868 in Massachusetts, where he attended school in a primarily white community. He attended Fisk University in Nashville, where he first encountered Jim Crow laws. Later, he became a leader in the Niagara Movement, a Black civil rights organization. When the group dissolved in 1909, Du Bois went on to co-found the NAACP.

What strikes me the most, as I write this blog post, is that the concerns of Washington and Du Bois are still relevant today. In the age of #BlackLivesMatter, this statement from Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk stands as a challenge and call to action:

…the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs. (p.59)