‘Social Equality’

Social Equality

W.E.B. Du Bois


May 1, 1911

We are with great assiduity collecting practical definitions of “social equality.”We say “practical” because the theoretical argument has gone quite insane. Here comes this month, The Missionary Voice, a well-disposed organ of the Southern white Methodists. In reviewing a pamphlet published by Atlanta University the Voice remarks concerning the editor that he is “well known as the leader of those Negroes who desire social equality for their race—a desire which crops out, here and there, through this pamphlet. The fact that no Southern white nor the wisest Southern blacks would sanction this desire for one moment does not lessen the impressiveness of this study of Negro effort to uplift the Negro race.”

Here we have a faint clue as to what the South means by “social equality” with black folk. The pamphlet in question is entitled “Efforts for Social Betterment Among Negro Americans.” It treats of the charity of church and school, of women’s clubs, homes, orphanages and hospitals, nurseries, settlements, etc. This does not look dangerous. Just where social equality “crops out” here it is hard to say, unless the South means by this phrase every effort of black men to be treated like other men.

And this is what the South does mean. Because it means this it plunges into either contradiction or helplessness when Southern religion strikes the color line. In this same magazine, for instance, there occurs the following passage:

The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, is doing very little directly for the Southern Negro socially, educationally or religiously. The Board of Education appropriates $14,000 annually to the schools of the colored Methodist Episcopal Church, but the only Southern white Methodists that have any personal relation to any of these schools are three teachers in Paine College. Educationally the Negro needs the personal touch of the Christian white man. If we want to do “social service,” no better place to begin can be found than among the Negroes in our towns and cities.

Does not the Missionary Voice recognize that there can be no true “social service” or “personal touch” without “social equality?” Was it not the fact that Jesus Christ became the social equal of publicans, sinners and prostitutes that made Him the Great Teacher? How much more is social equality with honest laborers who are striving upward absolutely necessary for those who would really uplift? This is the whole movement of the age, and the South is whirling in a back eddy, damming progress and trying at once to avoid hypocrisy and yet teach the black at arm’s length with a club in one hand and a Bible in the other.

This Missionary Voice is the voice of earnest, honest people. They are striving toward the light, but they have not reached it, and they are consequently illogical. The only logical folk in the South to-day are the Vardamans and Tillmans. They hold no illusions and know that you cannot treat a man as a man and as a beast at the same time. Therefore, they argue, treat Negroes as beasts. When will logic come to the better South and enable it to arise and say: “I dare despise nothing human. I am not better than my black neighbor.”


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1911. ‘Social Equality’.” The Crisis 3 (1): 25. https://www.dareyoufight.org/Volumes/03/01/social_equality.html.