W.E.B. Du Bois


November 1, 1910

Some people in Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Columbus, O., and other Northern cities are quietly trying to establish separate colored schools. This is wrong, and should be resisted by black men and white. Human contact, human acquaintanceship, human sympathy is the great solvent of human problems. Separate school children by wealth and the result is class misunderstanding and hatred. Separate them by race and the result is war. Separate them by color and they grow up without learning the tremendous truth that it is impossible to judge the mind of a man by the color of his face. Is there any truth that America needs to learn more? Back of this demand for the segregation of black folk in public institutions, or the segregation of Italians, or the segregation of any class, is almost always a shirking of responsibility on the part of the public—a desire to put off on somebody else the work of social uplift, while they themselves enjoy its results. Nobody pretends to deny that probably three-fourths of the colored children in the public schools of a great Northern city are below the average of their fellow students in some respects. They are, however, capable of improvement, and of rapid improvement. This improvement can be carried on by the community. The community can, however, if it is cowardly and selfish, shirk this responsibility and pile it on the shoulders of the Negroes represented by the one-fourth of Negro children who are above the average, or equal to it; and they can, if they are persistent, succeed in pushing back and possibly overwhelming a deserving and rising class of colored people.

This is the history of color discrimination in general in Philadelphia, New York and Chicago. When the discrimination comes in various lines of life, it does not bear simply on those who are not hurt by it—who do not feel it, and who by their position naturally fall outside the lines of discrimination, but it comes with crushing weight upon those other Negroes to whom the reasons for discrimination do not apply in the slightest respect, and they are thus made to bear a double burden. Further than this, when the discrimination is once established, immediately the public provisions for the segregated portion become worse. If it is discrimination against poor people, then the schools for the poor people become worse than those for the rich—less well equipped and less well supervised. If it is discrimination against colored people, the colored school becomes poor, with less money and less means of efficiency.

The argument, then, for color discrimination in schools and in public institutions is an argument against democracy and an attempt to shift public responsibility from the shoulders of the public to the shoulders of some class who are unable to defend themselves.


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1910. “Segregation.” The Crisis 1 (1): 10–11.