Work for Black Folk in 1914 (1914)

Work for Black Folk in 1914 (1914)

American citizens of Negro descent and their friends have much to do in 1914, if they are to stem the rising tide of racial proscription.

First—They must meet the new attack on property rights of colored people which, under the name of “segregation” and under the excuse of such equitable adjustment of social relations as to avoid “friction,” is really a widespread attempt to prevent colored people from making good investments or living in decent homes. Its latest appearance is directed toward preventing Negroes from buying agricultural land, and against this last and most dangerous propaganda what honest American can withhold his influence and help?

Second—The attack on property is the natural child of the refusal of the right to work to Negroes. The year 1914 should see a determined attempt to break down the rules and customs which bar black men from labor unions and discriminate against them in other ways in their attempt to earn a living. The worst examples of this are in the contract labor laws of the South which virtually legalize peonage in agriculture. All of the advance labor legislation in the South specifically excepts “agriculture and housework!”

Third—We might wait for all-healing time and reason in these economic difficulties if education was all right. But education for Negroes is awry, and our work for 1914 is to begin to right it. Under the guise of introducing “industrial” training the colored city public school has, first, been differentiated from the white system; secondly, shortened in length so as to end at the sixth and seventh grades, while the white schools have usually ten and twelve grades; and, finally, it is now openly proposed to so change the character of grade work that even the lower-grade work will not be concentrated on reading, writing and ciphering, but will teach Negroes to work, which, as Supervisor Guy, of Charleston, thinks, is more important than their learning to read. Of course the majority of Negroes in the country districts have no decent school facilities at all and here, surely, is work for 1914.

Fourth—The civil rights of Negroes need defense in 1914. The annoying and illegal race discrimination in the civil service, in hotels, restaurants, theatres, churches and Young Men’s Christian Associations must be squarely and frankly investigated and systematically opposed.

Fifth—The robbery of the Negroes’ political rights is the cause, and was intended to be the cause, of the invasion of the Negroes’ civil, educational and economic rights. Disfranchisement for race or sex must go, and the work of 1914 is flatly and fearlessly to restore democratic government in the South and overthrow the oligarchy which rests on the worst rotten borough system known to the modern world in civilized States.

Sixth—Finally, in 1914, the Negro must demand his social rights: His right to be treated as a gentleman when he acts like one, to marry any sane, grown person who wants to marry him, and to meet and eat with his friends without being accused of undue assumption or unworthy ambition.

This is the black man’s program for 1914, and the more difficult it looks the more need for following it courageously and unswervingly. It is not a radical program—it is conservative and reasonable.

P. S.—The above statement was solicited by the Survey and accepted; then it was returned because the writer refused to omit number six!

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1914. “Work for Black Folk in 1914.” The Crisis. 7(4):186–187.