The Niagra Movement

In 1905 I was still a teacher at Atlanta University and was inmy imagination a scientist, and neither a leader nor an agitator;I had much admiration for Mr. Washington and Tuskegee, and I hadin 1894 applied at both Tuskegee and Hampton for work. If Mr.Washington's telegram had reached me before the Wilberforce bid,I should have doubtless gone to Tuskegee. Certainly I knew noless about mathematics than I did about Latin and Greek.

Since the controversy between me and Washington has become historic,it deserves more careful statement than it has had hitherto, bothas to the matters and the motives involved. There was first ofall the ideological controversy. I believed in the higher educationof a Talented Tenth who through their knowledge of modern culturecould guide the American Negro into a higher civilization. Iknew that without this the Negro would have to accept white leadership,and that such leadership could not always be trusted to guidethis group into self-realization and to its highest cultural possibilities. Mr. Washington, on the other hand, believed that the Negro asan efficient worker could gain wealth and that eventually throughhis ownership of capital he would be able to achieve a recognizedplace in American culture and could then educate his childrenas he might wish and develop their possibilities. For this reasonhe proposed to put the emphasis at present upon training in theskilled trades and encouragement in industry and common labor.

These two theories of Negro progress were not absolutely contradictory. Neither I nor Booker Washington understood the nature of capitalisticexploitation of labor, and the necessity of a direct attack onthe principle of exploitation as the beginning of labor uplift. I recognized the importance of the Negro gaining a foothold intrades and his encouragement in industry and common labor. Mr.Washington was not absolutely opposed to college training andsent his own children to college. But he did minimize its importance,and discouraged the philanthropic support of higher education. He thought employers "gave" laborers work, thus openingthe door to acquiring wealth. I openly and repeatedly criticizedwhat seemed to me the poor work and small accomplishment of theNegro industrial school, but did not attack the fundamental wrongof giving the laborer less than he earned. It was characteristicof the Washington statesmanship that whatever he or anybody believedor wanted must be subordinated to dominant public opinion andthat opinion deferred to and cajoled until it allowed a deviationtoward better ways. It was my theory to guide and force publicopinion by leadership. While my leadership was a matter of writingand teaching, the Washington leadership became a matter of organizationand money. It was what I may call the Tuskegee Machine.

The years from 1899 to 1905 marked the culmination of the careerof Booker T. Washington. In 1899 Mr. Washington, Paul LaurenceDunbar, and myself spoke on the same platform at the Hollis StreetTheater, Boston, before a distinguished audience. Mr. Washingtonwas not at his best and friends immediately raised a fund whichsent him to Europe for a three months' rest. He was receivedwith extraordinary honors: he had tea with the aged Queen Victoria,but two years before her death; he was entertained by two dukesand members of the aristocracy; he met James Bryce and Henry M.Stanley; he was received at the Peace Conference at The Hagueand was greeted by many distinguished Americans, like ex-PresidentHarrison, Archbishop Ireland and two justices of the Supreme Court. Only a few years before he had received an honorary A.M. fromHarvard; in 1901, he received a LL.D. from Dartmouth; and thatsame year he dined with President Roosevelt to the consternationof the white South.

Returning to America he became during the administrations of TheodoreRoosevelt and William Taft, from 1901 to 1912, the political refereein all Federal appointments or action taken with reference tothe Negro and in many regarding the white South. In 1903 AndrewCarnegie made the future of Tuskegee certain by a gift of $600,000. There was no question of Booker T. Washington's undisputed leadershipof the ten million Negroes in America, a leadership recognizedgladly by the whites and conceded by most of the Negroes.

But there were discrepancies and paradoxes in this leadership.It did not seem fair, for instance, that on the one hand Mr. Washingtonshould decry political activities among Negroes, and on the otherhand dictate Negro political objectives from Tuskegee. At a timewhen Negro civil rights called for organized and aggressive defense,he broke down that defense by advising acquiescence or at leastno open agitation. During the period when laws disfranchisingthe Negro were being passed in all the Southern states, between1890 and 1909, and when these were being supplemented by "jim-crow"travel laws and other enactments making color caste legal, hispublic speeches, while they did not entirely ignore this development,tended continually to excuse it, to emphasize the shortcomingsof the Negro, and were interpreted widely as putting the chiefonus for his condition upon the Negro himself.

All this naturally aroused increasing opposition among Negroesand especially among the younger class of educated Negroes, whowere beginning to emerge here and there, particularly from Northerninstitutions. This opposition began to become vocal in 1901 whentwo men, Monroe Trotter, Harvard 1895, and George Forbes, Amherst1895, began the publication of the Boston Guardian. TheGuardian, a weekly periodical, was bitter, satirical, andpersonal; but it was well edited, it was earnest, and it publishedfacts. It attracted wide attention among colored people; it circulatedamong them all over the country; it was quoted and discussed. I did not wholly agree with the Guardian, and indeed onlya few Negroes did, but nearly all read it or were influenced byit.

This beginning of organized opposition, together with other events,led to the growth at Tuskegee of what I have called the TuskegeeMachine. It arose first quite naturally. Not only did presidentsof the United States consult Booker T. Washington, but governorsand congressmen; philanthropists conferred with him, scholarswrote to him. Tuskegee became a vast information bureau and centerof advice. It was not merely passive in these matters but, guidedby Emmett Scott, a young secretary who was intelligent, suaveand far-seeing, active efforts were made to concentrate influenceat Tuskegee. After a time almost no Negro institution could collectfunds without the recommendation or acquiescence of Mr. Washington. Few political appointments of Negroes were made anywhere in theUnited States without his consent. Even the careers of risingyoung colored men were very often determined by his advice andcertainly his opposition was fatal. How much Mr. Washington knewof this work of the Tuskegee Machine and was directly responsible,one cannot say, but of its general activity and scope he musthave been aware.

Moreover, it must not be forgotten that this Tuskegee Machinewas not solely the idea and activity of black folk at Tuskegee. It was largely encouraged and given financial aid through certainwhite groups and individuals in the North. This Northern grouphad clear objectives. They were capitalists and employers oflabor and yet in most cases sons, relatives, or friends of theAbolitionists who had sent teachers into the new Negro South afterthe war. These younger men believed that the Negro problem couldnot remain a matter of philanthropy. It must be a matter of business. These Negroes were not to be encouraged as voters in the newdemocracy, nor were they to be left at the mercy of the reactionarySouth. They were good laborers and they could be made of tremendousprofit to the North. They could become a strong labor force andproperly guided they would restrain the unbridled demands of whitelabor, born of the Northern labor unions and now spreading tothe South and encouraged by European socialism.

One danger must be avoided and that was to allow the silly idealismof Negroes, half-trained in missionary "colleges," tomislead the mass of laborers and keep them stirred-up by ambitionsincapable of realization. To this school of thought, the philosophyof Booker T. Washington came as a godsend and it proposed by buildingup his prestige and power, to control the Negro group. The controlwas to be drastic. The Negro intelligentsia was to be suppressedand hammered into conformity. The process involved some crueltyand disappointment, but that was inevitable. This was the realforce back of the Tuskegee Machine. It had money and it had opportunity,and it found in Tuskegee tools to do its bidding.

There were some rather pitiful results in thwarted ambition andcurtailed opportunity. I remember one case which always standsin my memory as typical. There was a young colored man, one ofthe most beautiful human beings I have ever seen, with smoothbrown skin, velvet eyes of intelligence, and raven hair. He waseducated and well-to-do. He proposed to use his father's Alabamafarm and fortune to build a Negro town as an independent economicunit in the South. He furnished a part of the capital but soonneeded more and he came North to get it. He struggled for morethan a decade; philanthropists and capitalists were fascinatedby his personality and story; and when, according to current custom,they appealed to Tuskegee for confirmation, there was silence. Mr. Washington would not say a word in favor of the project. He simply kept still. Will Benson struggled on with ups anddowns, but always balked by a whispering galley of suspicion,because his plan was never endorsed by Tuskegee. In the midstof what seemed to us who looked on the beginnings of certain success,Benson died of overwork, worry, and a broken heart.

From facts like this, one may gauge the bitterness of the fightof young Negroes against Mr. Washington and Tuskegee. The controversyas it developed was not entirely against Mr. Washington's ideas,but became the insistence upon the right of other Negroes to haveand express their ideas. Things came to such a pass that whenany Negro complained or advocated a course of action, he was silencedwith the remark that Mr. Washington did not agree with this. Naturally the bumptious, irritated, young black intelligentsiaof the day declared: "I don't care a damn what Booker Washingtonthinks. This is what I think, and I have a right to think."

It was this point, and not merely disagreement with Mr. Washington'splans, that brought eventually violent outbreak. It was morethan opposition to a program of education. It was oppositionto a system and that system was part of the economic developmentof the United States at that time. The fight cut deep: it wentinto social relations, it divided friends; it made bitter enemies. I can remember that years later, when I went to live in New Yorkand was once invited to a social gathering among Brooklyn coloredpeople, one of the most prominent Negroes of the city refusedto be present because of my attitude toward Mr. Washington.

When the Guardian began to increase in influence, determinedeffort was made to build up a Negro press for Tuskegee. AlreadyTuskegee filled the horizon so far as national magazines and thegreat newspapers were concerned. In 1901 the Outlook,then the leading weekly, chose two distinguished Americans forautobiographies. Mr. Washington's Up From Slavery wasso popular that it was soon published and circulated all overthe earth. Thereafter, every magazine editor sought articleswith Washington's signature and publishing houses continued toask for books. A number of talented "ghost writers,"black and white, took service under Tuskegee, and books and articlespoured out of the institution. An annual letter "To My People"went out from Tuskegee to the press. Tuskegee became the capitalof the Negro nation. Negro newspapers were influenced and finallythe oldest and largest was bought by white friends of Tuskegee. Most of the other papers found it to their advantage certainlynot to oppose Mr. Washington, even if they did not wholly agreewith him.

I was greatly disturbed at this time, not because I was in absoluteopposition to the things that Mr. Washington was advocating, butbecause I was strongly in favor of more open agitation againstwrongs and above all I resented the practical buying up of theNegro press and choking off even mild and reasonable oppositionto Mr. Washington in both the Negro press and the white.

Then, too, during these years there came a series of influencesthat were brought to bear upon me personally, which increasedmy discomfort and resentment. I had tried to keep in touch withHampton and Tuskegee, for I regarded them as great institutions. I attended the conferences which for a long time were held atHampton, and at one of them I was approached by a committee. It consisted of Walter Hines Page, editor of the Atlantic Monthly; William McVickar, Episcopal bishop of Rhode Island; and Dr.H. B. Frissell, principal of Hampton and brother of a leadingNew York banker. They asked me about the possibilities of myediting a periodical to be published at Hampton. I told themof my dreams and plans, and afterwards wrote them in detail. But one query came by mail: that was concerning the editorialdirection. I replied firmly that editorial decisions were tobe in my hands, if I edited the magazine. This was undiplomaticand too dogmatic; and yet, it brought to head the one real matterin controversy: would such a magazine be dominated by and subservientto the Tuskegee philosophy, or would it have freedom of thoughtand discussion? Perhaps if I had been more experienced, the questioncould have been discussed and some reasonable outcome obtained;but I doubt it. I think any such magazine launched at the timewould have been seriously curtailed in its freedom of speech. At any rate, the project was dropped.

Beginning in 1902 pressure was put upon me to give up my workat Atlanta University and go to Tuskegee. There again I was notat first adverse in principle to Tuskegee, except that I wantedto continue the studies which I had begun and if my work was worthsupport, it was worth support at Atlanta University. I was unableto obtain assurance that my studies would be continued at Tuskegee,and that I would not sink to the level of a "ghost writer." I remember a letter came from Wallace Buttrick late in 1902,asking that I attend a private conference in New York with FelixAdler, William H. Baldwin, Jr., George Foster Peabody, and RobertOgden. The object of the conference was ostensibly the conditionof the Negro in New York City. I went to the conference and didnot like it. Most of the more distinguished persons named werenot present. The conference itself amounted to little, but afteradjournment I was whisked over to William H. Baldwin's beautifulLong Island home and there what seemed to me to be the real objectof my coming was disclosed. Mr. Baldwin was at that time presidentof the Long Island Railroad and slated to be president of theSouthern. He was a rising industrial leader of America; alsohe was a prime mover on the Tuskegee board of trustees. Bothhe and his wife insisted that my place was at Tuskegee; that Tuskegeewas not yet a good school, and needed the kind of developmentthat I had been trained to promote.

This was followed by two interviews with Mr. Washington himself. I was elated at the opportunity and we met twice in New YorkCity. The results to me were disappointing. Booker T. Washingtonwas not an easy person to know. He was wary and silent. He neverexpressed himself frankly or clearly until he knew exactly towhom he was talking and just what their wishes and desires were. He did not know me, and I think he was suspicious. On the otherhand, I was quick, fast-speaking and voluble. I had nothing toconceal. I found at the end of the first interview that I haddone practically all the talking and that no clear and definiteoffer or explanation of my proposed work at Tuskegee had beenmade. In fact, Mr. Washington had said about as near nothingas was possible.

The next interview did not go so well because I myself said little. Finally, we resorted to correspondence. Even then I could getno clear understanding of just what I was going to do at Tuskegeeif I went. I was given to understand that the salary and accommodationswould be satisfactory. In fact, I was invited to name my price. Later in the year I went to Bar Harbor for a series of speechesin behalf of Atlanta University, and while there met Jacob Schiff,the [William J.] Schieffelins and Merriam of Webster's dictionary. I had dinner with the Schieffelins and their mother-in-law, whosefather [Melville W. Fuller] was once Chief Justice of the UnitedStates. Again I was urged to go to Tuskegee.

Early in the next year I received an invitation to join Mr. Washingtonand certain prominent white and colored friends in a conferenceto be held in New York. The conference was designed to talk overa common program for the American Negro and evidently it was hopedthat the growing division of opinion and opposition to Mr. Washingtonwithin the ranks of Negroes would thus be overcome. I was enthusiasticover the idea. It seemed to me just what was needed to clearthe air.

There was difficulty, however, in deciding what persons oughtto be invited to the conference; how far it should include Mr.Washington's extreme opponents, or how far it should be composedprincipally of his friends. There ensued a long delay and duringthis time it seemed to me that I ought to make my own positionclearer than I had hitherto. I was increasingly uncomfortableunder the statements of Mr. Washington's position: his depreciationof the value of the vote; his evident dislike of Negro colleges;and his general attitude which seemed to place the onus of blamefor the status of Negroes upon the Negroes themselves rather thanupon the whites. And above all I resented the Tuskegee Machine.

I had been asked sometime before by A. C. McClurg & Co. ofChicago if I did not have some material for a book; I planneda social study which should be perhaps a summing up of the workof the Atlanta Conference, or at any rate, a scientific investigation. They asked, however, if I did not have some essays that theymight put together and issue immediately, mentioning my articlesin the Atlantic Monthly and other places. I demurredbecause books of essays almost always fall so flat. Nevertheless,I got together a number of my fugitive pieces. I then added achapter, "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others," inwhich I sought to make a frank evaluation of Booker T. Washington. I left out the more controversial matter: the bitter resentmentwhich young Negroes felt at the continued and increasing activityof the Tuskegee Machine. I concentrated my thought and argumenton Mr. Washington's general philosophy. As I read that statementnow, I am satisfied with it. I see no word that I would change. I said:

"The black men of America have a duty to perform, a dutystern and delicate--a forward movement to oppose a part of thework of their greatest leader. So far as Mr. Washington preachesThrift, Patience, and Industrial Training for the masses, we musthold up his hands and strive with him, rejoicing in his honorsand glorying in the strength of this Joshua called of God andof man to lead the headless host. But so far as Mr. Washingtonapologizes for injustice, North or South, does not rightly valuethe privilege and duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effectsof caste distinctions, and opposes the higher training and ambitionof our brighter minds--so far as he, the South, or the Nation,does this--we must unceasingly and firmly oppose him. By everycivilized and peaceful method we must strive for the rights whichthe world accords to men, clinging unwaveringly to those greatwords which the sons of the Fathers would fain forget: 'We holdthese truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal;that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienablerights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit ofhappiness.'"

Pressure came from white Northern friends, who I believed appreciatedmy work and on the whole wished me and my race well. But theywere apprehensive; fearful because as perhaps the most conspicuouslytrained young Negro of my day, and, quite apart from any questionof ability, my reaction toward the new understanding between Northand South, and especially my attitude toward Mr. Washington, werebound to influence Negroes. As a matter of fact, at that timeI was not over-critical of Booker Washington. I regarded hisAtlanta speech as a statesmanlike effort to reach understandingwith the white South; I hoped the South would respond with equalgenerosity and thus the nation could come to understanding forboth races. When, however, the South responded with "jim-crow"legislation, I became uneasy. Still I believed that my programof investigation and study was just what was needed to bring understandingin the long run, based on truth. I tried to make this clear. I attended the conferences at Hampton for several years, andbecame increasingly critical of those Hampton opinions. In allthe deliberations to which I listened, and resolutions, whichwere passed at Hampton, never once was the work of Atlanta Universitynor college work anywhere for Negroes, commended or approved. I ceased regular attendance at the conferences; but when laterI was invited back I delivered a defense of higher training forNegroes and a scathing criticism of the "Hampton Idea." I was not asked to return to Hampton for 25 years.

My book settled pretty definitely any further question of my goingto Tuskegee as an employee. But it also drew pretty hard andfast lines about my future career. Meantime. the matter of theconference in New York dragged on until finally in October 1903,a circular letter was sent out setting January 1904 as the dateof meeting. The conference took place accordingly in CarnegieHall, New York. About 50 persons were present, most of them coloredand including many well-known persons. There was considerableplain speaking but the whole purpose of the conference seemedrevealed by the invited white guests and the tone of their message. Several persons of high distinction came to speak to us, includingAndrew Carnegie and Lyman Abbott. Their words were lyric, almostfulsome in praise of Mr. Washington and his work, and in supportof his ideas. Even if all they said had been true, it was a wrongnote to strike in a conference of conciliation. The conferenceended with two speeches by Mr. Washington and myself, and theappointment of a Committee of Twelve in which we were also included

The Committee of Twelve which was thus instituted was unable todo any effective work as a steering committee for the Negro racein America. First of all, it was financed, through Mr. Washington,probably by Mr. Carnegie. This put effective control of the committeein Mr. Washington's hands. It was organized during my absenceand laid down a plan of work which seemed to me of some valuebut of no lasting importance and having little to do with thelarger questions and issues. I therefore soon resigned so asnot to be responsible for work and pronouncements over which Iwould have little influence. My friends and others accused meof refusing to play the game after I had assented to a programof cooperation. I still think, however, that my action was wise.

By this time I was pretty throughly disillusioned. It did notseem possible for me to occupy middle ground and try to appeasethe Guardian on the one hand and the Hampton-Tuskegeeidea on the other. I began to feel the strength and implacabilityof the Tuskegee Machine; the Negro newspapers definitely showingtheir reaction and publishing jibes and innuendoes at my expense. Filled with increasing indignation, I published in the Guardian a statement concerning the venality of certain Negro papers whichI charged had sold out to Mr. Washington. It was a charge difficultof factual proof without an expenditure of time and funds notat my disposal. I was really at last openly tilting against theTuskegee Machine and its methods. These methods have become commonenough in our day for all sorts of purposes: the distributionof advertising and favors, the sending out of special correspondence,veiled and open attacks upon recalcitrants, the narrowing of opportunitiesfor employment and promotion. All this is a common method ofprocedure today, but in 1904 it seemed to me monstrous and dishonest,and I resented it. On the other hand, the public expression ofthis resentment greatly exercised and annoyed Mr. Washington'sfriends. Some knew little about these activities at Tuskegee;others knew and approved. The New York Evening Post challengedme to present proof of my statements and refused to regard myanswer as sufficient, which was of course true.

Then came a new and surprising turn to the whole situation whichin the end quite changed my life. In the early summer of 1905,Mr. Washington went to Boston and arranged to speak in a coloredchurch to colored people--a thing which he did not often do inthe North. Trotter and Forbes, editors of the Guardian,determined to heckle him and make him answer publicly certainquestions with regard to his attitude toward voting and education. William H. Lewis, a colored lawyer whom I myself had introducedto Mr. Washington, had charge of the meeting, and the result wasa disturbance magnified by the newspapers into a "riot,"which resulted in the arrest of Mr. Trotter. Finally he serveda term in jail.

With this incident I had no direct connection whatsoever. I didnot know beforehand of the meeting in Boston, nor of the projectedplan to heckle Mr. Washington. But when Trotter went to jail,my indignation overflowed. I did not always agree with Trotterthen or later. But he was an honest, brilliant, unselfish man,and to treat as a crime that which was at worst mistaken judgmentwas an outrage. I sent out from Atlanta in June 1905 a call toa few selected persons "for organized determination and aggressiveaction on the part of men who believe in Negro freedom and growth." I proposed a conference during the summer "to oppose firmlypresent methods of strangling honest criticism; to organize intelligentand honest Negroes; and to support organs of news and public opinion."

Fifty-nine colored men from 17 different states eventually signeda call for a meeting near Buffalo, New York, during the week ofJuly 9, 1905. I went to Buffalo and hired a little hotel on theCanadian side of the river at Fort Erie, and waited for the mento attend the meeting. If sufficient men had not come to payfor the hotel, I should certainly have been in bankruptcy andperhaps in jail; but as a matter of fact, 29 men, representing14 states, came. The "Niagara Movement" was incorporatedJanuary 31, 1906, in the District of Columbia.

Its particular business and objects were to advocate and promotethe following principles:

1. Freedom of speech and criticism.

2. An unfettered and unsubsidized press.

3. Manhood suffrage.

4. The abolition of all caste distinctions based simply on raceand color.

5. The recognition of the principle of human brotherhood as apractical present creed.

6. The recognition of the highest and best human training asthe monopoly of no class or race.

7. A belief in the dignity of labor.

8. United effort to realize these ideals under wise and courageousleadership.

The Niagara Movement raised a furor of the most disconcertingcriticism. I was accused of acting from motives of envy of agreat leader and being ashamed of the fact that I was a memberof the Negro race. The leading weekly of the land, the New YorkOutlook, pilloried me with scathing articles. But themovement went on. The next year, 1906, instead of meeting insecret, we met openly at Harper's Ferry, the scene of John Brown'sraid, and had in significance if not in numbers one of the greatestmeetings that American Negroes ever held. We made pilgrimageat dawn bare-footed to the scene of Brown's martyrdom and we talkedsome of the plainest English that had been given voice to by blackmen in America. The resolutions which I wrote expressed with tumultof emotion my creed of 1906:

The men of the Niagara Movement, coming from the toil of the year'shard work, and pausing a moment from the earning of their dailybread, turn toward the nation and again ask in the name of tenmillion the privilege of a hearing. In the past year the workof the Negro hater has flourished in the land. Step by step thedefenders of the rights of American citizens have retreated. The work of stealing the black man's ballot has progressed andfifty and more representatives of stolen votes still sit in thenation's capital. Discrimination in travel and public accommodationhas so spread that some of our weaker brethren are actually afraidto thunder against color discrimination as such and are simplywhispering for ordinary decencies.
Against this the Niagara Movement eternally protests. We willnot be satisfied to take one jot or tittle less than our fullmanhood rights. We claim for ourselves every single right thatbelongs to a freeborn American, political, civil, and social;and until we get these rights we will never cease to protest andassail the ears of America. The battle we wage is not for ourselvesalone, but for all true Americans. It is a fight for ideals,lest this, our common fatherland, false to its founding, becomein truth the land of the Thief and the home of the Slave --a bywordand a hissing among the nations for its sounding pretentions andpitiful accomplishment.
Never before in the modern age has a great and civilized folkthreatened to adopt so cowardly a creed in the treatment of itsfellow-citizens, born and bred on its soil. Stripped of verbiageand subterfuge and in its naked nastiness, the new American creedsays: fear to let black men even try to rise lest they becomethe equals of the white. And this in the land that professesto follow Jesus Christ. The blasphemy of such a course is onlymatched by its cowardice.
In detail our demands are clear and unequivocal. First, we wouldvote; with the right to vote goes everything: freedom, manhood,the honor of our wives, the chastity of our daughters, the rightto work, and the chance to rise, and let no man listen to thosewho deny this.
We want full manhood suffrage, and we want it now, henceforthand forever.
Second. We want discrimination in public accommodation to cease. Separation in railway and street cars, based simply on race andcolor, is un-American, undemocratic and silly. We protest againstall such discrimination.
Third. We claim the right of freemen to walk, talk and be withthem who wish to be with us. No man has a right to choose anotherman's friends, and to attempt to do so is an impudent interferencewith the most fundamental human privilege.
Fourth. We want the laws enforced against rich as well as poor;against Capitalist as well as Laborer; against white as well asblack. We are not more lawless than the white race, we are moreoften arrested, convicted and mobbed. We want justice even forcriminals and outlaws. We want the Constitution of the countryenforced. We want Congress to take charge of the Congressionalelections. We want the Fourteenth Amendment carried out to theletter and every State disfranchised in Congress which attemptsto disfranchise its rightful voters. We want the Fifteenth Amendmentenforced and no State allowed to base its franchise simply oncolor
The failure of the Republican Party in Congress at the sessionjust closed to redeem its pledge of 1904 with reference to suffrageconditions in the South seems a plain, deliberate, and premeditatedbreach of promise, and stamps that party as guilty of obtainingvotes under false pretense.
Fifth. We want our children educated. The school system in thecountry districts of the South is a disgrace and in few townsand cities are the Negro schools what they ought to be. We wantthe national government to step in and wipe out illiteracy inthe South. Either the United States will destroy ignorance, orignorance will destroy the United States.
And when we call for education, we mean real education. We believein work. We ourselves are workers, but work is not necessarilyeducation. Education is the development of power and ideal. We want our children trained as intelligent human beings shouldbe and we will fight for all time against any proposal to educateblack boys and girls simply as servants and underlings, or simplyfor the use of other people. They have a right to know, to think,to aspire.
These are some of the chief things which we want. How shall weget them? By voting where we may vote; by persistent, unceasingagitation; by hammering at the truth; by sacrifice and work.
We do not believe in violence, neither in the despised violenceof the raid nor the lauded violence of the soldier, nor the barbarousviolence of the mob; but we do believe in John Brown, in thatincarnate spirit of justice, that hatred of a lie, that willingnessto sacrifice money, reputation, and life itself on the altar ofright. And here on the scene of John Brown's martyrdom, we reconsecrateourselves, our honor, our property to the final emancipation ofthe race which John Brown died to make free.

Here at last I approached in my thinking the fundamental matterof the exploitation of the worker, regardless of race and color. The thought was not yet clear and the philosophy of socialismwas not yet applied. But the philosophy hovered in the background.

Meantime, I refused to give up the idea that a critical periodicalfor the American Negro might be founded. I had started in Memphiswith the help of two graduates of Atlanta University the littleprinting shop that I have already mentioned, and from this waspublished weekly a paper called The Moon beginning in 1906. The Moon was in some sort precursor of The Crisis. It was published for a year in Memphis and then the printingoffice given up and in 1907 in conjunction with two friends inWashington there was issued a miniature monthly called Horizon. Horizon was published from 1907 to 1910, and in the fallof 1910 The Crisis was born.

Gradually I began to realize that the difficulty about supportfor my work in Atlanta University was largely personal; that onaccount of my attitude toward Mr. Washington I had become personanon grata to powerful interests, and that Atlanta Universitywould not be able to get support for its general work or for itsstudy of the Negro problem so long as I remained at the institution. No one ever said this to me openly, but I sensed it in the worrieswhich encompassed the new young President Edmund Ware who hadsucceeded Dr. Horace Bumstead. I began to realize that I wouldbetter look out for work elsewhere.

About this time an offer came from the city of Washington. Themerging of the white and colored school systems into one had throwncolored folk into uproar lest their control of their own schoolsbe eliminated and colored children not admitted to white schools. The new and rather eccentric superintendent of schools, W. C.Chancellor, wanted an assistant superintendent to put in chargeof the Negro schools. To my great surprise he offered the positionto me, while I was on a chance visit to the city. I asked fortime to consider it. My reaction was to refuse even though thesalary was twice what I was getting; for I doubted my fitnessfor such a job; but when I thought the matter over further andmy position at Atlanta University, I began to wonder if I shouldnot accept.

I was not called upon to decide, for forces started moving inWashington. The Tuskegee Machine backed by white capital wasdefinitely against me and they involved the local interests ofthe Negro group. A prominent colored member of the School Boardtook the matter straight to President Theodore Roosevelt and emphasizedthe "danger" of my appointment. He never forgot the"danger" of my personality as later events proved. The offer was never actually withdrawn, but it was not pressed,and I finally realized that it probably would not have gone througheven if I had indicated my acceptance.

Still my eventual withdrawal from Atlanta University seemed wise. Young President Ware had received almost categorical promisesthat under certain circumstances increased contributions fromthe General Education Board and other sources might be expected,which would make the university secure, and perhaps even permitthe continuance of the conference. I was sure that I was at leastone of these "circumstances," and so my work in Atlantaand my dream of the settlement of the Negro problem by sciencefaded. I began to be acutely conscious of the difficulty whichmy attitudes and beliefs were making for Atlanta University.

My career as a scientist was to be swallowed up in my role asmaster of propaganda. This was not wholly to my liking. I wasno natural leader of men. I could not slap people on the backand make friends of strangers. I could not easily break downan inherited reserve; or at all times curb a biting, criticaltongue. Nevertheless, having put my hand to the plow, I had togo on. The Niagara Movement with less momentum met in Bostonin 1907 and in Oberlin in 1908. It began to suffer internal strainfrom the dynamic personality of Trotter and my own inexperiencewith organizations. Finally, it practically became merged witha new and enveloping organization of which I became a leadingofficial --the National Association for the Advancement of ColoredPeople.

From W.E.B. DuBois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century.New York, NY: International Publishers Co. Inc., 1968, pp. 236-253.

Forward to "The NAACP"
Back to "Calendar of Public Life"
Back to the Index