The Perpetual Dilemma (1917)

The Perpetual Dilemma (1917)

We Negroes ever face it.

We cannot escape it.

We must continually choose between insult and injury: no schools or separate schools; no travel or “Jim Crow” travel; homes with disdainful neighbors or homes in slums.

We continually submit to segregated schools, “Jim Crow” cars, and isolation, because it would be suicide to go uneducated, stay at home, and live in the “tenderloin.”

Yet, when a new alternative of such choice faces us it comes with a shock and almost without thinking we rail at the one who advises the lesser of two evils.

Thus it was with many hasty edi­tors in the case of the training camp for Negro officers which Dr. J. E. Spingarn is seeking to establish.

Does Dr. Spingarn believe in a “Jim Crow” training camp? Certainly not, and he has done all he could to induce the government to admit Negroes to all training camps.

The government has so far courteously refused.

But war is imminent.

If war comes to-morrow Negroes will be compelled to enlist under white officers because (save in very few cases) no Negroes have had the requisite training.

We must choose the insult of a separate camp and the irreparable injury of strengthening the present custom of putting no black men in positions of authority.

Our choice is as clear as noonday.

Give us the camp.

Let not 200, but 2,000 volunteer.

We did not make the damnable dilemma.

Our enemies made that.

We must make the choice else we play into their very claws.

It is a case of camp or no officers.

Give us the officers.

Give us the camp.

A word to those who object:

  1. The army does not wish this camp. It wishes the project to fail. General Wood refuses to name date or place until 200 apply. The reason is obvious. Up to March 8, sixty-nine men have applied.

  2. The camp is a temporary measure lasting four weeks and designed to FIGHT not encourage discrimina­tion in the army. The New York Negro regiment could not find enough qualified Negroes for its commissions. W e want trained colored officers. This camp will help furnish them.

  3. The South does not want the Negro to receive military training of any sort. For that reason the general staff reduced its estimate from 900,000 to 500,000 soldiers—they expect to EXCLUDE Negroes!

  4. If war comes, conscription will follow. All pretty talk about not vol­unteering will become entirely aca­demic. This is the mistake made by the Baltimore AFRO-AMERICAN, the Chicago DEFENDER, the New York NEWS, and the Cleveland GAZETTE. They assume a choice between volunteering and not volunteer­ing. The choice will be between con­scription and rebellion.

Can the reader conceive of the pos­sibility of choice? The leaders of the colored race who advise them to add treason and rebellion to the other grounds on which the South urges discrimination against them would hardly be doing a service to those whom they profess to love. No, there is only one thing to do now, and that is to organize the colored people for leadership and service, if war should come. A thousand commissioned officers of colored blood is something to work for.

Give us the camp!

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1917. “The Perpetual Dilemma.” The Crisis. 13(6):270–271.