W.E. B. Du Bois.

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The American Negro Academy Occasional Papers, No. 2
W.E. Burghardt Du Bois


The American Negro Academy believes that upon those of the
race who have had the advantage of higher education and culture,
rests the responsibility of taking concerted steps for the
employment of these agencies to uplift the race to higher planes
of thought and action.

Two great obstacles to this consummation are apparent: (a)
The lack of unity, want of harmony, absence of a self-
sacrificing spirit, and no well-defined line of policy seeking
definite aims; and (b) The persistent, relentless, at times
covert opposition employed to thwart the Negro at every step of
his upward struggles to establish the justness of his claim to
the highest physical, intellectual and moral possibilities.

The Academy will, therefore, from time to time, publish
such papers as in their judgment aid, by their broad and
scholarly treatment of the topics discussed the dissemination of
principles tending to the growth and development of the Negro
along right lines, and the vindication of that race against
vicious assaults.


The American Negro has always felt an intense personal
interest in discussions as to the origins and destinies of
races: primarily because back of most discussions of race with
which he is familiar, have lurked certain assumptions as to his
natural abilities, as to his political , intellectual and moral
status, which he felt were wrong. He has, consequently, been led
to deprecate and minimize race distinctions, to believe
intensely that out of one blood God created all nations, and to
speak of human brotherhood as though it were the possibility of
an already dawning to-morrow.

Nevertheless, in our calmer moments we must acknowledge
that human beings are divided into races; that in this country
the two most extreme types of the world's races have met, and
the resulting problem as to the future relations of these types
is not only of intense and living interest to us, but forms an
epoch in the history of mankind.

It is necessary, therefore, in planning our movements, in
guiding our future development, that at times we rise above the
pressing, but smaller questions of separate schools and cars,
wage-discrimination and lynch law, to survey the whole questions
of race in human philosophy and to lay, on a basis of broad
knowledge and careful insight, those large lines of policy and
higher ideals which may form our guiding lines and boundaries in
the practical difficulties of every day. For it is certain that
all human striving must recognize the hard limits of natural
law, and that any striving, no matter how intense and earnest,
which is against the constitution of the world, is vain. The
question, then, which we must seriously consider is this: What
is the real meaning of Race; what has, in the past, been the law
of race development, and what lessons has the past history of
race development to teach the rising Negro people?

When we thus come to inquire into the essential difference
of races we find it hard to come at once to any definite
conclusion. Many criteria of race differences have in the past
been proposed, as color, hair, cranial measurements and
language. And manifestly, in each of these respects, human
beings differ widely. They vary in color, for instance, from the
marble-like pallor of the Scandinavian to the rich, dark brown
of the Zulu, passing by the creamy Slav, the yellow Chinese, the
light brown Sicilian and the brown Egyptian. Men vary, too, in
the texture of hair from the obstinately straight hair of the
Chinese to the obstinately tufted and frizzled hair of the
Bushman. In measurement of heads, again, men vary; from the
broad-headed Tartar to the medium-headed European and the
narrow-headed Hottentot; or, again in language, from the highly-
inflected Roman tongue to the monosyllabic Chinese. All these
physical characteristics are patent enough, and if they agreed
with each other it would be very easy to classify mankind.
Unfortunately for scientists, however, these criteria of race
are most exasperatingly intermingled. Color does not agree with
texture of hair, for many of the dark races have straight hair;
nor does color agree with the breadth of the head, for the
yellow Tartar has a broader head than the German; nor, again,
has the science of language as yet succeeded in clearing up the
relative authority of these various and contradictory criteria.
The final word of science, so far, is that we have at least two,
perhaps three, great families of human beings–the whites and
Negroes, possibly the yellow race. That other races have arisen
from the intermingling of the blood of these two. This broad
division of the world's races which men like Huxley and Raetzel
have introduced as more nearly true than the old five-race
scheme of Blumenbach, is nothing more than an acknowledgment
that, so far as purely physical characteristics are concerned,
the differences between men do not explain all the differences
of their history. It declares, as Darwin himself said, that
great as is the physical unlikeness of the various races of men
their likenesses are greater, and upon this rests the whole
scientific doctrine of Human Brotherhood.

Although the wonderful developments of human history teach
that the grosser physical differences of color, hair and bone go
but a short way toward explaining the different roles which
groups of men have played in Human Progress, yet there are
differences–subtle, delicate and elusive, though they may be–
which have silently but definitely separated men into groups.
While these subtle forces have generally followed the natural
cleavage of common blood, descent and physical peculiarities,
they have at other times swept across and ignored these. At all
times, however, they have divided human beings into races,
which, while they perhaps transcend scientific definition,
nevertheless, are clearly defined to the eye of the Historian
and Sociologist.

If this be true, then the history of the world is the
history, not of individuals, but of groups, not of nations, but
of races, and he who ignores or seeks to override the race idea
in human history ignores and overrides the central thought of
all history. What, then, is a race? It is a vast family of human
beings, generally of common blood and language, always of common
history, traditions and impulses, who are both voluntarily and
involuntarily striving together for the accomplishment of
certain more or less vividly conceived ideals of life.

Turning to real history, there can be no doubt, first, as
to the widespread, nay, universal, prevalence of the race idea,
the race spirit, the race ideal, and as to its efficiency as the
vastest and most ingenious invention of human progress. We, who
have been reared and trained under the individualistic
philosophy of the Declaration of Independence and the laisser-
faire philosophy of Adam Smith, are loath to see and loath to
acknowledge this patent fact of human history. We see the
Pharaohs, Caesars, Toussaints and Napoleons of history and
forget the vast races of which they were but epitomized
expressions. We are apt to think in our American impatience,
that while it may have been true in the past that closed race
groups made history, that here in conglomerate America NOUS
AVONS CHANGER TOUT CELA–we have changed all that, and have no
need of this ancient instrument of progress. This assumption of
which the Negro people are especially fond, can not be
established by a careful consideration of history.

We find upon the world's stage today eight distinctly
differentiated races, in the sense in which History tells us the
word must be used. They are, the Slavs of eastern Europe, the
Teutons of middle Europe, the English of Great Britain and
America, the Romance nations of Southern and Western Europe, the
Negroes of Africa and America, the Semitic people of Western
Asia and Northern Africa, the Hindoos of Central Asia and the
Mongolians of Eastern Asia. There are, of course, other minor
race groups, as the American Indians, the Esquimaux and the
South Sea Islanders; these larger races, too, are far from
homogeneous; the Slav includes the Czech, the Magyar, the Pole
and the Russian; the Teuton includes the German, the
Scandinavian and the Dutch; the English include the Scotch, the
Irish and the conglomerate American. Under Romance nations the
widely-differing Frenchman, Italian, Sicilian and Spaniard are
comprehended. The term Negro is, perhaps, the most indefinite of
all, combining the Mulattoes and Zamboes of America and the
Egyptians, Bantus and Bushmen of Africa. Among the Hindoos are
traces of widely differing nations, while the great Chinese,
Tartar, Corean and Japanese families fall under the one

The question now is: What is the real distinction between
these nations? Is it the physical differences of blood, color
and cranial measurements? Certainly we must all acknowledge that
physical differences play a great part, and that, with wide
exceptions and qualifications, these eight great races of to-day
follow the cleavage of physical race distinctions; the English
and Teuton represent the white variety of mankind; the
Mongolian, the yellow; the Negroes, the black. Between these are
many crosses and mixtures, where Mongolian and Teuton have
blended into the Slav, and other mixtures have produced the
Romance nations and the Semites. But while race differences have
followed mainly physical race lines, yet no mere physical
distinctions would really define or explain the deeper
differences–the cohesiveness and continuity of these groups. The
deeper differences are spiritual, psychical, differences–
undoubtedly based on the physical, but infinitely transcending
them. The forces that bind together the Teuton nations are,
then, first, their race identity and common blood; secondly, and
more important, a common history, common laws and religion,
similar habits of thought and a conscious striving together for
certain ideals of life. The whole process which has brought
about these race differentiations has been a growth, and the
great characteristic of this growth has been the differentiation
of spiritual and mental differences between great races of
mankind and the integration of physical differences.

The age of nomadic tribes of closely related individuals
represents the maximum of physical differences. They were
practically vast families, and there were as many groups as
families. As the families came together to form cities the
physical differences lessened, purity of blood was replaced by
the requirement of domicile, and all who lived within the city
bounds became gradually to be regarded as members of the group;
i.e., there was a slight and slow breaking down of physical
barriers. This, however, was accompanied by an increase of the
spiritual and social differences between cities. This city
became husbandmen, this, merchants, another warriors, and so on.
The IDEALS OF LIFE for which the different cities struggled were
different. When at last cities began to coalesce into nations
there was another breaking down of barriers which separated
groups of men. The larger and broader differences of color, hair
and physical proportions were not by any means ignored, but
myriads of minor differences disappeared, and the sociological
and historical races of men began to approximate the present
division of races as indicated by physical researches. At the
same time the spiritual and physical differences of race groups
which constituted the nations became deep and decisive. The
English nation stood for constitutional liberty and commercial
freedom; the German nation for science and philosophy; the
Romance nations stood for literature and art, and the other race
groups are striving, each in its own way, to develop for
civilization its particular message, it particular ideal, which
shall help to guide the world nearer and nearer that perfection
of human life for which we all long, that
"one far off Divine event."

This has been the function of race differences up to the
present time. What shall be its function in the future?
Manifestly some of the great races of today–particularly the
Negro race–have not as yet given to civilization the full
spiritual message which they are capable of giving. I will not
say that the Negro-race has yet given no message to the world,
for it is still a mooted question among scientists as to just
how far Egyptian civilization was Negro in its origin; if it was
not wholly Negro, it was certainly very closely allied. Be that
as it may, however, the fact still remains that the full,
complete Negro message of the whole Negro race has not as yet
been given to the world: that the messages and ideal of the
yellow race have not been completed, and that the striving of
the mighty Slavs has but begun. The question is, then: How
shall this message be delivered; how shall these various ideals
be realized? The answer is plain: By the development of these
race groups, not as individuals, but as races. For the
development of Japanese genius, Japanese literature and art,
Japanese spirit, only Japanese, bound and welded together,
Japanese inspired by one vast ideal, can work out in its
fullness the wonderful message which Japan has for the nations
of the earth. For the development of Negro genius, of Negro
literature and art, of Negro spirit, only Negroes bound and
welded together, Negroes inspired by one vast ideal, can work
out in its fullness that great message we have for humanity. We
cannot reverse history; we are subject to the same natural laws
as other races, and if the Negro is ever to be a factor in the
world's history–if among the gaily-colored banners that deck the
broad ramparts of civilizations is to hang one uncompromising
black, then it must be placed there by black hands, fashioned by
black heads and hallowed by the travail of 200,000,000 black
hearts beating in one glad song of jubilee.

For this reason, the advance guard of the Negro people–the
8,000,000 people of Negro blood in the United States of America–
must soon come to realize that if they are to take their just
place in the van of Pan-Negroism, then their destiny is NOT
absorption by the white Americans. That if in America it is to
be proven for the first time in the modern world that not only
Negroes are capable of evolving individual men like Toussaint,
the Saviour, but are a nation stored with wonderful
possibilities of culture, then their destiny is not a servile
imitation of Anglo-Saxon culture, but a stalwart originality
which shall unswervingly follow Negro ideals.

It may, however, be objected here that the situation of our
race in America renders this attitude impossible; that our sole
hope of salvation lies in our being able to lose our race
identity in the commingled blood of the nation; and that any
other course would merely increase the friction of races which
we call race prejudice, and against which we have so long and so
earnestly fought.

Here, then, is the dilemma, and it is a puzzling one, I
admit. No Negro who has given earnest thought to the situation
of his people in America has failed, at some time in life, to
find himself at these cross-roads; has failed to ask himself at
some time: What, after all, am I? Am I an American or am I a
Negro? Can I be both? Or is it my duty to cease to be a Negro as
soon as possible and be an American? If I strive as a Negro, am
I not perpetuating the very cleft that threatens and separates
Black and White America? Is not my only possible practical aim
the subduction of all that is Negro in me to the American? Does
my black blood place upon me any more obligation to assert my
nationality than German, or Irish or Italian blood would?

It is such incessant self-questioning and the hesitation
that arises from it, that is making the present period a time of
vacillation and contradiction for the American Negro; combined
race action is stifled, race responsibility is shirked, race
enterprises languish, and the best blood, the best talent, the
best energy of the Negro people cannot be marshalled to do the
bidding of the race. They stand back to make room for every
rascal and demagogue who chooses to cloak his selfish deviltry
under the veil of race pride.

Is this right? Is it rational? Is it good policy? Have we
in America a distinct mission as a race–a distinct sphere of
action and an opportunity for race development, or is self-
obliteration the highest end to which Negro blood dare aspire?

If we carefully consider what race prejudice really is, we
find it, historically, to be nothing but the friction between
different groups of people; it is the difference in aim, in
feeling, in ideals of two different races; if, now, this
difference exists touching territory, laws, language, or even
religion, it is manifest that these people cannot live in the
same territory without fatal collision; but if, on the other
hand, there is substantial agreement in laws, language and
religion; if there is a satisfactory adjustment of economic
life, then there is no reason why, in the same country and on
the same street, two or three great national ideals might not
thrive and develop, that men of different races might not strive
together for their race ideals as well, perhaps even better,
than in isolation. Here, it seems to me, is the reading of the
riddle that puzzles so many of us. We are Americans, not only by
birth and by citizenship, but by our political ideals, our
language, our religion. Farther than that, our Americanism does
not go. At that point, we are Negroes, members of a vast
historic race that from the very dawn of creation has slept, but
half awakening in the dark forests of its African fatherland. We
are the first fruits of this new nation, the harbinger of that
black to-morrow which is yet destined to soften the whiteness of
the Teutonic to-day. We are that people whose subtle sense of
song has given America its only American music, its only
American fairy tales, its only touch of pathos and humor amid
its mad money-getting plutocracy. As such, it is our duty to
conserve our physical powers, our intellectual endowments, our
spiritual ideals; as a race we must strive by race organization,
by race solidarity, by race unity to the realization of that
broader humanity which freely recognizes differences in men, but
sternly deprecates inequality in their opportunities of

For the accomplishment of these ends we need race
organizations: Negro colleges, Negro newspapers, Negro business
organizations, a Negro school of literature and art, and an
intellectual clearing house, for all these products of the Negro
mind, which we may call a Negro Academy. Not only is all this
necessary for positive advance, it is absolutely imperative for
negative defense. Let us not deceive ourselves at our situation
in this country. Weighted with a heritage of moral iniquity from
our past history, hard pressed in the economic world by foreign
immigrants and native prejudice, hated here, despised there and
pitied everywhere; our one haven of refuge is ourselves, and but
one means of advance, our own belief in our great destiny, our
own implicit trust in our ability and worth. There is no power
under God's high heaven that can stop the advance of eight
thousand thousand honest, earnest, inspired and united people.
But–and here is the rub–they MUST be honest, fearlessly
criticising their own faults, zealously correcting them; they
must be EARNEST. No people that laughs at itself, and ridicules
itself, and wishes to God it was anything but itself ever wrote
its name in history; it MUST be inspired with the Divine faith
of our black mothers, that out of the blood and dust of battle
will march a victorious host, a mighty nation, a peculiar
people, to speak to the nations of earth a Divine truth that
shall make them free. And such a people must be united; not
merely united for the organized theft of political spoils, not
united to disgrace religion with whoremongers and ward-heelers;
not united merely to protest and pass resolutions, but united to
stop the ravages of consumption among the Negro people, united
to keep black boys from loafing, gambling and crime; united to
guard the purity of black women and to reduce the vast army of
black prostitutes that is today marching to hell; and united in
serious organizations, to determine by careful conference and
thoughtful interchange of opinion the broad lines of policy and
action for the American Negro.

This, is the reason for being which the American Negro
Academy has. It aims at once to be the epitome and expression of
the intellect of the black-blooded people of America, the
exponent of the race ideals of one of the world's great races.
As such, the Academy must, if successful, be
(a). Representative in character.
(b). Impartial in conduct.
(c). Firm in leadership.

It must be representative in character; not in that it
represents all interests or all factions, but in that it seeks
to comprise something of the BEST thought, the most unselfish
striving and the highest ideals. There are scattered in
forgotten nooks and corners throughout the land, Negroes of some
considerable training, of high minds, and high motives, who are
unknown to their fellows, who exert far too little influence.
These the Negro Academy should strive to bring into touch with
each other and to give them a common mouthpiece.

The Academy should be impartial in conduct; while it aims
to exalt the people it should aim to do so by truth–not by lies,
by honesty–not by flattery. It should continually impress the
fact upon the Negro people that they must not expect to have
things done for them–they MUST DO FOR THEMSELVES; that they have
on their hands a vast work of self-reformation to do, and that a
little less complaint and whining, and a little more dogged work
and manly striving would do us more credit and benefit than a
thousand Force or Civil Rights bills.

Finally, the American Negro Academy must point out a
practical path of advance to the Negro people; there lie before
every Negro today hundreds of questions of policy and right
which must be settled and which each one settles now, not in
accordance with any rule, but by impulse or individual
preference; for instance: What should be the attitude of
Negroes toward the educational qualification for voters? What
should be our attitude toward separate schools? How should we
meet discriminations on railways and in hotels? Such questions
need not so much specific answers for each part as a general
expression of policy, and nobody should be better fitted to
announce such a policy than a representative honest Negro

All this, however, must come in time after careful
organization and long conference. The immediate work before us
should be practical and have direct bearing upon the situation
of the Negro. The historical work of collecting the laws of the
United States and of the various States of the Union with regard
to the Negro is a work of such magnitude and importance that no
body but one like this could think of undertaking it. If we
could accomplish that one task we would justify our existence.

In the field of Sociology an appalling work lies before us.
First, we must unflinchingly and bravely face the truth, not
with apologies, but with solemn earnestness. The Negro Academy
ought to sound a note of warning that would echo in every black
WILL CONQUER US; we are diseased, we are developing criminal
tendencies, and an alarmingly large percentage of our men and
women are sexually impure. The Negro Academy should stand and
proclaim this over the housetops, crying with Garrison: I WILL
HEARD. The Academy should seek to gather about it the talented,
unselfish men, the pure and noble-minded women, to fight an army
of devils that disgraces our manhood and our womanhood. There
does not stand today upon God's earth a race more capable in
muscle, in intellect, in morals, than the American Negro, if he
will bend his energies in the right direction; if he will
Burst his birth's invidious bar
And grasp the skirts of happy chance,
And breast the blow of circumstance,
And grapple with his evil star.


Online LibraryW.E. B. Du BoisThe Conservation of Races → online text (page 1 of 2)