August 18 - Our New Madness

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On August 18, 1898, a controversial essay about race by Paul Laurence Dunbar was published in a liberal weekly magazine.  Many people at the time, both Black and white, doubted that African Americans could succeed in higher education and the professions, and believed they should be taught to do manual labor instead.  Paul's article reasoned that while industrial training could teach them to work with their hands, a liberal arts education was important to enlighten their hearts and minds.  Paul specifically criticized Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute, a school in Alabama that provided vocational training to African Americans.

We are now in the throes of feverish delight over industrial education.  It is a good thing, and yet one of which we can easily have too much.  There has been here, of late, too great an insistence upon manual training for the Negro.  He needs it.  Anyone who has studied his condition, either at the North or the South, cannot but admit that.  But that the demands of his heart and mind call also for the most liberal and the broadest culture he can get, the earnest seeker after truth cannot deny.

Anyone who has visited the school at Tuskegee, and seen the efficiency of the work being done there, can have no further doubt of the ability and honesty of purpose of its founder and president.  But I do fear that this earnest man is not doing either himself or his race full justice in his public utterances.  He says we must have industrial training, and the world quotes him as saying that we must not have anything else.

"Our New Madness," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  The Independent (New York, New York).  August 18, 1898.  Pages 469 - 471.

Booker T. Washington was the most influential Black man in America and the leading advocate of industrial education.  In an influential speech known as "The Atlanta Compromise," Washington suggested that African Americans should work with their hands instead of their minds.

No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.  It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top.

"The Atlanta Exposition Address," by Booker T. Washington.  Delivered on September 18, 1895.  Published in Up From Slavery (1900).

I have never been opposed to what is called the higher education of the negro, but after years of experience I am convinced that whether the negro receives much or little education, whether it be called high or low, we have reached the point in our development where a larger proportion of those who are educated should be taught to connect their education with some industrial pursuit.  To the masses of the negroes in our present condition, intellectual training means little.

Booker T. Washington, quoted in "Education of the Colored Race."  Published in Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year 1895 - 96.  Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 42.  Government Printing Office (Washington, D. C.).  1897.  Page 2089.

The opinions Paul expressed in his essay were swiftly denounced in Booker T. Washington's correspondence.  Emmett Scott was Washington's chief aide at Tuskegee, and George Washington Carver was the head of the Agriculture Department.

I note what you say in regard to Dunbar's article.  I am very sorry that he has suffered himself to fly off in this way, not because it will do Tuskegee or the cause of industrial education any harm, but I regret to see a man discuss something about which he knows nothing.  In matters of poetry and fiction, Dunbar is a master;  in matters of industrial education and the development of the Negro race he is a novice.

Booker T. Washington to Emmett J. Scott, August 23, 1898.  The Booker T. Washington Papers, Volume 4.  Edited by Louis R. Harlan and Raymond Smock.  University of Illinois Press (Champaign, Illinois).  1972.  Page 456.

I hope you will not let any such articles similar to that of Paul L. Dunbar give you a moment's uneasiness but simply stimulate you to press on.  You have the only true solution to this great race problem.  It is only ignorance mostly and a bit of prejudice that prompts such articles.

George Washington Carver to Booker T. Washington, August 27, 1898.  The Booker T. Washington Papers, Volume 4.  Edited by Louis R. Harlan and Raymond Smock.  University of Illinois Press (Champaign, Illinois).  1972.  Pages 457 - 458.

Despite their differences of opinion, Washington soon asked Paul to appear alongside him and W. E. B. Du Bois at a fundraiser for the Tuskegee Institute.  Paul was suspicious of Washington's motive and asked his wife Alice whether he should participate.

My article in the Independent has caused a very widespread interest.  I had a call this morning from Booker T. Washington.  He informs me that the editor of the New England Magazine is working up a meeting in the interest of Tuskegee at which are wanted Du Bois, Washington and myself to be held between the 1st and fifteenth of December.  Now what is their game?  Is it to destroy any future power Du Bois and I may have by bringing us before the public in the character of speakers for the very institution whose founder's utterances we cannot subscribe to?  What do you think of it?  Mr. Washington tells me that there will be a great audience of wealthy New Englanders there and that it will be a great advantage to me to go.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, September 3, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Paul took part in benefits that raised enormous amounts of money for Tuskegee, though he and Washington continued to disagree about the importance of higher education for African Americans.

Booker T. Washington does not believe in the value of art or of literature, at least at present, in the development of the negro.  "The way to bring the negro from his present condition is not to preach beauty to him -- which he does not understand except in the simplest forms which there is no need to teach him -- but to preach work.  We have Paul Laurence Dunbar and a dozen poets and architects, whose hold on these forms of culture are signs of what will be done by the negro race.  But the hope of the colored people is out in the fields."

"Booker T. Washington's Estimate of the Colored Race."  St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri).  November 3, 1901.  Page 45.

Paul Laurence Dunbar, who is winning such universal and distinguished recognition, says:  "I should be very unhappy if I were compelled to make my living by any handicraft, and I cannot agree with those who would doom the race to mechanical occupations.  Give the negro, I should say, thorough industrial training, and if any among them are able to get above this let them do it."

"Won Success in Rapid Strides," by Gilberta S. Whittle.  The Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan).  January 5, 1902.  Page C3.