The Church and the Negro


W.E.B. Du Bois


April 1, 1913

The relation of the church to the Negro is, or should be, a very simple proposition. Leaving aside the supernatural significance of the church organization, we have here groups of people working for human uplift and professing the highest and most unselfish morality as exemplified by the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth and the Golden Rule.

By this standard all church members should treat Negroes as they themselves would wish to be treated if they were colored. They should do this and teach this and, if need be, die for this creed.

The plain facts are sadly at variance with this doctrine. The church aided and abetted the Negro slave trade; the church was the bulwark of American slavery; and the church to-day is the strongest seat of racial and color prejudice. If one hundred of the best and purest colored folk of the United States should seek to apply for membership in any white church in this land tomorrow, 999 out of every 1,000 ministers would lie to keep them out. They would not only do this, but would openly and brazenly defend their action as worthy of followers of Jesus Christ.

Yet Jesus Christ was a laborer and black men are laborers; He was poor and we are poor; He was despised of his fellow men and we are despised; He was persecuted and crucified, and we are mobbed and lynched. If Jesus Christ came to America He would associate with Negroes and Italians and working people; He would eat and pray with them, and He would seldom see the interior of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

Why then are His so-called followers deaf, dumb and blind on the Negro Problem — on the human problem?

Because they think they have discovered bypaths to righteousness which do not lead to brotherhood with the poor, the dirty, the ignorant and the black. “Make them servants.” they say; “we need cooks.” But can a whole race be doomed to menial service in a civilization where menial service is itself doomed? And when menial service has become Service and lost its social stigma, so that white folk want to enter such service, will they welcome black folk as fellow servants? Certainly not; and thus the slavery argument of this cry stands revealed.

“But,” cry others, “let the Negroes themselves bear their own social responsibilities for poverty, ignorance and disease. Segregate them and pile their sins upon them.” Indeed! Are the poor alone responsible for poverty? And the ignorant for ignorance? Can the rich be allowed to escape with his spoil and the learned without obligation for his knowledge? If the black men in America are what they are because of slavery and oppression, how cowardly for white Christians to deny their own guilt. The real hypocrisy comes, however, when the Negro, eager to take responsibility, cries out for power with which to bear it and is denied such power. Denied higher training for his leaders, denied industrial opportunity to make a living, the self-assertion and self-defense of the ballot, denied even hospitals and common schools. Thus the church gaily tosses him stones for bread.

Even the rock of “Science” on which the white church rested with such beautiful faith, hoping to prove the majority of humanity inhuman, so that Fifth Avenue Presbyterianism would not have to dirty its dainty fingers with Fifty-third Street Baptists — and black ones at that — even this Rock of Ages is falling before honest investigation.

There is but the Golden Rule left — the despised and rejected Golden Rule. Can the church follow it? Is there common decency enough in the millions of white American church members to dare to treat Negroes as they would like to be treated if they themselves were colored?


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1913. “The Church and the Negro.” The Crisis 6 (6): 290–91.