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The Talented Tenth
Brian Joseph
Jackson State University


In 1903 civil right activist W.E.B. Dubois wrote an essay emphasizing the necessity for higher education to develop the leadership capacity among the most able 10 percent of black Americans. An essay which would later be called "The Talented Tenth", (Dubois, W.E.B., 1903) in this essay Dubois laid out a challenge for black education. A challenge that has yet to be realized nearly 100 years after Dubois issued it. Dubois challenged African-Americans to educate themselves to their full potential. As a result African American today are more advance and educated but still most are still lacking the education and skills that Dubois address in his essay.

What is The Talented Tenth?

The "Talented Tenth" (Dubois, W.E.B., 1903) was an essay wrote by W.E.B. Dubois emphasizing the necessity for higher education to develop the leadership capacity among the most able 10 percent of African Americans. In September 1903 W.E.B. Dubois states in his essay: "The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races." (Dubois, W.E.B., 1903) From the above statement what W.E.B. Dubois believed is that the "Talented Tenth" (Dubois, W.E.B., 1903) could lead the African American population to social equality, armed only with education and righteousness. He thought that this would solve the race problem. Later on in "Talented Tenth" (Dubois, W.E.B., 1903) essay Dubois ask the question who would make up the "Talented Tenth" (Dubois, W.E.B., 1903). Dubois states: "How then shall the leaders of a struggling people be trained and the hands of the risen few strengthened? There can be but one answer: The best and most capable of their youth must be schooled in the colleges and universities of the land. We will not quarrel as to just what the University of the Negro should teach or how it should teach it" With that said the knowledge and culture from generation to generation will help African Americans grow, "through the training of quick minds and pure hearts" (Dubois, W.E.B., 1903) Dubois explains that no other human invention will be sufficient. W.E.B Dubois in his essay explains the importance of development and training of African Americans in his essay he states: "Education is that whole system of human training within and without the school house walls, which molds and develops men. If then we start out to train an ignorant and unskilled people with a heritage of bad habits, our system of training must set before itself two great aims — the one dealing with knowledge and character, the other part seeking to give the child the technical knowledge necessary for him to earn a living under the present circumstances. In closing his essay W.E.B. Dubois leaves a firm warning for white Americans: "Men of America, the problem is plain before you. Here is a race transplanted through the criminal foolishness of your fathers. Whether you like it or not the millions are here, and here they will remain. If you do not lift them up, they will pull you down" (Dubois, W.E.B., 1903). These closing remarks are as true today as when they were first written. They emphasized to white Americans that change was to come. Like it or not African American were on their way up and not to be stop by white Americans injustice acts.

Booker T. Washington vs. the Talented Tenth

As the principal of Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama Booker T. Washington a former slave and a dominate voice in the field of education emphasized that African American people should acquire practical skills. The students of Tuskegee Institute constructed the institute's buildings. Therefore, they...
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