W.E.B. Du Bois


February 1, 1911

THE amount of positive ignorance on the situation of the colored people in America is simply appalling. Take, for instance, the matter of the education of children. The Lawrence (Mass.) American says with great complacence: “The education of the Negro in the South is now on a sound and safe basis. Its scope is broad and sensible, training him both mentally and industrially, not forgetting his moral elevation as well. It is a task being well done, and the results should be effective in wearing down the edge of the racial prejudice below the Mason and Dixon line.”

A leading colored paper, the Indianapolis Freeman, also asserts that there is no effort “to deny Negroes education in America. It will be admitted that there are now and then inconveniences, perhaps owing to prejudice in localities, but not to such an extent as to deprive the Negro child of some education, if so desired.”

These writers believe what they say. They believe it because they want to believe it, however, and not because they have made any effort to get at the facts. Yet the facts are perfectly plain. The last published report of the United States Commissioner of Education, 1909, gives these figures:

Colored children, 5-18 years of age 3,964,398
Number of these daily attending schools 1,035,747
Percentage 33.7%
Average length of school term for colored and white children in the South, per year 24 weeks

This means that only one-third the Negro children 5-18 years of age are attending school and it is fair to assume that less than half of those 5-14 years of age are in school. Moreover, the Negro schools being shorter than the white schools do not average as much as five months a year.

These are the official figures compiled for public consumption by white Southern officials. The State supervisor of rural schools of South Carolina says openly in his last report: “It has been my observation that the Negro schools of South Carolina are for the most part without supervision of any kind. Frequently the county superintendent does not know where they are located, and sometimes the district board cannot tell where the school is taught!”

If once we go behind the official admissions the picture is even worse. As we pointed out in the January Crisis, in one Alabama county out of 10,758 Negro children only 1,000 were in school. As to Louisiana, this is the way V. P. Thomas dissects the school report:

The school term for white schools is over eight months long; the school term for colored schools is less than five months long. There are high schools for white children in every parish, and no high schools for colored children in any parish at the present time, except Southern University in New Orleans. The high schools all run nine months. The average monthly salary of the white female teacher is $50.80; that of the colored female teacher $28.67.   The white and colored populations are very nearly equal, yet the white teachers’ salaries amount to $2,404,062.54; the colored teachers’ salaries amount to $202,251.13. The value of all schoolhouses, sites and furniture for whites is $6,503,019.57; the value of all schoolhouses, sites and furniture for colored is $273,147.50. The total value of school property for colored use is $266,281.40. Number of wagonettes for whites only in use, 210; average cost per month of operating wagonettes, $7,272.37. In the sparsely settled country school districts the State furnishes wagonettes for the transportation of white children to and from school. The value of the wagonettes is $21,624.95, and the cost of operating them is $54,000.51.   Average number of white children transported per month per wagonette, 7.2; average cost per month per child transported, $2.19. Number of white children transported in wagonettes 4,088 for more than eight months at $2.19 per month per child. Under this way of encouraging white children to attend, the enrollment of white children in the public schools is 184,955. Without any such encouragement and under adverse circumstances and with the certainty that there will be less than a five months’ term for colored schools, the enrollment of colored children in the public schools is 78,862. Twice as many could enroll, but if they did they would have to sit upon one another for want of accommodation.

In the teeth of such facts ignorant editors like those above laud the Negro public schools, but leaders of education like President Edmund J. James of the University of Illinois say flatly and fearlessly: “In no other nation claiming to be civilized is there at the present time so large a population in such educational degradation as the American Negro!”


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1911. “Education.” The Crisis 1 (4): 16–17.