W. E. B. Dubois envisioned a school system in America for African-Americans with the instructional leadership of talented and exceptional men, known as the Talented Tenth, who were designed to educate and save the race. He wanted the best and talented of the race to use their expertise to educate African-Americans. His position espoused the principle that a curriculum of higher education must underlie true life experience. Accordingly, this would not only build bread winners but also develop a core of people skilled with their hands and quick with their brains.
Along these lines he proposed the following: first and foremost, since the Talented Tenth would come from the ranks of African-Americans, they would be worthy of such leadership positions. Secondly, the knowledge and success acquired by the Talented Tenth would also demonstrate how others could be effectively and efficiently educated and developed; and third, the Talented Tenth would be able to expertly relate to the problems and past history of African-Americans in a positive manner. Dubois felt that such a relation between the teachers and students would nullify the sole obstacle that has retarded the effort of education and growth with African-American, which he considered to be slavery and prejudice.
Additionally, Dubois felt that individuals in their current position who cowardly displayed vacillation, faint-hearted compromise, and double-faced dallying with the truth and rights of others would be replaced with the Talented Tenth. He further stated that this is necessary because for three long and arduous centuries those in power have not shown favorable statistics in the education of African-Americans. As a result, the remaining youth who are still striving, persisting, and inspiring to rebuff their character would be saved by the Talented Tenth, which would be a historical event in human progress.
Regarding the question of how the Talented Tenth would be trained; Dubois envisioned that the best and most capable youth should be educated in colleges and universities; however, since all of them will not be able to attend a university, he felt that some should attend technical or trade schools, develop a pertinent skills, and assist with their advancement in life. He articulated that the training should start from the bottom up. He believed that the process should start with training the teachers, and teaching teachers to teach, and that the reverse would be throwing money into the wind.
It appeared that the main issue of doubt from others faced by Dubois was concerning African-Americans from the South; their main question being along the lines of: “Under the present circumstance, what system of education must be in order to elevate Southern African Negroes as quickly as possible in the current state of civilization?” His response made it clear that:
- The character and purpose of African-Americans must be strengthened
- There must be an increase of knowledge for African-Americans
- African-Americans must be taught the technical knowledge of how to earn a living
- Their knowledge of the world must be increased regarding modern civilization
- They must have the aptitude and courage to impart knowledge to their children
- Teach them how to work steadily and skillfully without depreciating in any way
- Industrial schools must play a vital part and not just universities and colleges alone
Dubois also pronounced that human education is not just a simple matter of school alone. He felt it should include the family and group life which begins in the home. He actually considered a village concept for the education of African-American youth. He saw the teachers as group leaders. He believed that individuals who are trained as physicians, clergymen, and technically trained mothers and fathers should assist the Talented Tenth.
Additionally, he conceived others such as, influential and forceful practitioners; those with ambition of all kinds of uplifting occupations and skills, dynamic cultures of the surrounding region, also other intellectuals should be streamed into the picture, including graduates from higher educational institutions. These professional individuals with their resources would be able to assists the Talented Tenth with the process of educational leadership.
In essence, Dubois enunciated that such a system of education cannot be ignored nor neglected. He verbally advocated that there exist no choice in this process. He felt that America must either help to furnish the African-American race with inspired and uplifting individuals, such as the Talented Tenth members from within its ranks, who are trained with leadership ability. Furthermore, he believed that if this is not done, in the alternative, America would suffer the dire consequences of a headless and misguided rabble of those without the proper knowledge of leadership qualities to help their own race to achieve a better future for themselves.
Dubois was in favor of all youth acquiring a trade regardless of color or race. He was convinced that next to the founding and establishing of African-American colleges and universities after the civil war, without any question; next came the process of industrial and technical training for African-American youth. This striking and capturing thought rests on the premise that, “We should not just make men carpenters, but to turn carpenters into quality men.” He pronounced that in order to make this a reality, the community in which the youth resides must be provided with trained teachers and leaders, such as the Talented Tenth, to educate the youth and his family with the true meaning and quality of life involving social skills and development. Next, the youth should be provided with quality skills to make him a technically skilled and efficient worker with sufficient intelligence.
He stressed quality in numbers instead of quantity. He elaborated there is a vital need of college-bred men to level the playing field, inspire the masses, raise the Talented Tenth into positions of leadership, and demanded a good school system with proper equipment. He envisioned group leadership of cultured civilization, a well established foundation of intelligence, technical education, to transition carpenters into elegant manhood.
Dubois magnified his concept with the position that machinery has greatly enhanced the work skills of ironworkers, shoemakers, and carpenters; therefore, the efficient worker in society must be intelligent, possess technical training, and perhaps even higher education. Based on these stated principles, he noted that Mr. Booker T. Washington and a college such as Tuskegee Institute should be the firmest friend of higher technical training. However, he felt that Mr. Washington’s propaganda has casted doubt upon such an educational system of technology. It appeared as if there may have been disagreements between, W. E. B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington, based on the way African-Americans should be educated and the process of education administration regarding trade and technical training versus a university education.
Dubois’s appeal went across America to men regardless of color. He made it clear that African descendants were dragged to America, which resulted from criminal foolishness, and whether America likes it or not, African descendants are here to stay. This leaves only one choice which is to make sure African descendants receive needed support and are uplifted. If not, the alternative would not be beneficial. He pleaded with America to teach life and not just work, and for the Talented Tenth to be made leaders of thoughts and missionaries of culture among their people. Dubois ending words enunciated that such actions should bring about the saving of the African-American race by exceptional men, which no one else will be able to do.