An Open Letter to Robert Russa Moton (1916)

An Open Letter to Robert Russa Moton (1916)

The Crisis hastens to extend to you on your accession to the headship of Tuskegee the assurances of its good will and personal respect. The Crisis does this all the more willingly because it has to some extent been the mouthpiece of many who have had occasion repeatedly to criticize the words and deeds of your predecessor.

It would be a matter of hope and rejoicing if your assumption of new duties could be the beginning of a new era of union and understanding among the various groups of American Negroes.

But understanding and cooperation must be based on frank conference and clear knowledge. As a preliminary step to such understanding the Crisis ventures in this open letter to express to you publicly its hopes and fears.

It hopes that the aims of the colored American have become sufficiently clear to admit of no misunderstanding or misstatement. We desire to become American citizens with every right that pertains to citizenship:

  1. The right to vote and hold office.

  2. Equality before the law.

  3. Equal civil rights in all public places, and in all public services.

  4. A proportional share in the benefits of all public expenditures.

  5. Education according to ability and aptitude.

With these rights we correlate our duties as men and citizens—the abolition of poverty, the emancipation of women, the suppression of crime and the overcoming of ignorance.

The Crisis assumes—indeed, it knows—that in these matters you believe substantially, as we do, and that the real differences between us, if there be such, lie in matters of present emphasis and present procedure.

We assume, without demur, that following the late Booker T. Washington you will place especial emphasis on vocational training, property getting and conciliation of the white South. These are necessary policies, but they have their pitfalls, and against these The Crisis speaks this warning word:

  1. Only the higher and broader training will give any race its ultimate leadership. This Mr. Washington came to realize, and this you must not forget.

  2. Individual accumulation of wealth must gradually and inevitably give way to methods of social accumulation and equitable distribution,

  3. Finally: Conciliation is wise and proper. But how far shall it go? It is here that the Crisis confesses to its deepest solicitude in your case. It cannot but remember its unanswered query of you in the case of the St. Louis luncheon. It has before it the heading of a Rochester paper which gives as your opinion that “from North one gets distorted view of South.” And finally, there is the recent case of the Pullman car and your family.

The Crisis will assume in all of these cases that you have not been correctly reported; that you did not voluntarily give up lunching at the St. Louis City Club; that you did not assert that the South was maligned usually at the North, and above all, that you did not say that you had no sympathy with the attempt of members of your family to ride on Pullman cars in the South.

The Crisis knows only too well the way in which Southern newspapers put such sentiments into the mouths of colored leaders; but the point upon which we insist is this: that such atrocious statements cannot be always passed in silence.

We do not wish the principal of Tuskegee to spend his valuable time in answering calumnies and misstatements, but we do believe that when so monstrous a statement is made, as in the case of the Pullman car, something besides silence and acquiescence is called for.

We hope to see, therefore, at Tuskegee in the future a carrying out and development of the best of its past work and a continued attempt to come to terms of understanding with the best of the white South; but to these policies we hope to see added a policy of making it clearly understood to the people of this country that Tuskegee does believe in the right to vote; that it does not believe in Jim-Crow cars; that it recognizes the work of the Negro colleges, and that it agrees with Charles Sumner that “Equality of rights is the first of rights.”

This, then, is the forward step at Tuskegee which the Crisis and its friends look for under your administration, and it desires to express its earnest hope, and indeed its faith, that you will not disappoint your fellow workers,

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1916. “An Open Letter to Robert Russa Moton.” The Crisis. 12(4):169–173.