Hampton (1918)

Hampton (1918)

The death of Hollis Burke Frissell, principal of Hampton Institute, brings that institution and its work prominently before the public. It is, therefore, peculiarly fitting that the following correspondence should be made public:

Dear Dr. Du Bois:

In preparation for the Fiftieth Anniversary of Hampton Institute, efforts are being made to collect the necessary material for the history of the school. It is a matter of history that for many years the colored people were opposed to the type of education offered them at Hampton and were consequently also opposed to the school itself. For the sake of learning the facts in regard to this matter I am writing to you and to a number of other prominent colored men to ask for statements in regard to the facts in the case.

I shall be very grateful if you will send me a statement in regard to the attitude (with reasons) of the colored people who were opposed to industrial education during the early days of Hampton and who are still in some cases opposed to it.

Will you kindly say in this connection whether you will object to the use of your name, if that is thought desirable? * * *

(Miss) J. E. DAVIS.

Dear Miss Davis:

I have a wide acquaintance with educated colored folk. My interpretation of their attitude is that they do not oppose and never have opposed Hampton Institute because it teaches industries. On the contrary they recognize Hampton as probably the best center of trade-teaching for Negroes in the United States.

It is true, however, that educated Negroes in the past and at present hold Hampton and some of her methods in grave distrust. They recognize the worth of her work—the fine spirit of many of her teachers, past and present, and the splendid character of her graduates, but at the same time, they cannot forget three important facts:

  1. The course of study at Hampton is so arranged that it cannot be made to fit in with the higher courses of education, as adopted by the leading educational institutions of the United States. Granted that Hampton is and ought to be the finishing school for nine-tenths of her students, the fact remains that Hampton deliberately makes it impossible for her most promising and brilliant students to receive college training or higher technical and professional training, save at great disadvantage and a wellnigh fatal loss of time. Friends of Hampton have defended this action by asserting (a) that the Negro does not need college training and (b) that if the colleges do not fit the Hampton course of study, they are wrong and not Hampton. Both these assertions educated Negroes regard as preposterous. There are hundreds of Hampton men who deserve and could efficiently use longer and more thorough courses of training than Hampton gives, but who find themselves at the age of nineteen or twenty in an educational blind alley, with further progress barred. They must go out as half-educated, partially-trained men, when they might be developed to full efficiency. It is, undoubtedly, true that colleges ought to recognize a broader fitting-school course of study than they do at present, but so long as they do not, it is criminal to make the Negro the peculiar sufferer from their exclusiveness and to deny the undoubted value of the present college curriculum to the finest Negro minds in Virginia.

  2. It may be said that Hampton simply specializes on technical training and high school work and that students fitted for higher training can go elsewhere. This brings us to the second indictment against Hampton—her illiberal and seemingly selfish attitude toward other colored schools. She holds little or no fellowship with them; she has repeatedly loaned herself to decrying their work, criticizing and belittling their ideals while her friends continually seek to divert to Hampton the already painfully meager revenues of the colored colleges. Few schools can equal in its own field the efficiency of Hampton, with its millions of endowment, but certainly the splendid work of Atlanta, Fisk, Howard, and other schools, done in poverty and travail and in the face of hostile public opinion, deserves better recognition and less criticism than it gets from Hampton and her friends.
    Moreover, the students who go to Hampton go for “education.” They do not know their own bent and aptitudes. They come from homes where they can hope for little educational guidance. It should be the work of Hampton not simply to train but to sift and to send to colleges or other schools those fitted for work higher or different from that offered by her curriculum. This she never voluntarily does. She feeds no colleges or professional schools; she encourages no artists or musicians; she helps no writers, but apparently proceeds on the assumption that every Negro must be trained to farm, or to be an artisan or a servant. We have no silly illusions as to the number of talented Negroes who deserve higher training, but surely in fifty years it seems that out of tens of thousands of students Hampton might have found a few worthy of the highest training. Small wonder that educated Negroes resent this and demand that Hampton cease to bury talent and deflect genius.

  3. The third indictment of educated Black Folk against Hampton is more difficult to express than the others, and one of which we are less sure, and yet it is a real grievance in our minds. We believe that an institution that professes to teach the Negro self-respect and self-control should give the Negro a larger voice in her government. We do not wish Hampton to be an exclusively Negro institution, but we do think that there should be Negroes on her Board of Trustees; that there should be a larger recognition of Negro achievement, instead of an almost exclusive emphasis of the white philanthropists; and that there should be a closer touch between the school and the body of educated Negro opinion. In fine, we think that Hampton should consider what we want and not simply what she wishes us to want. We do not feel, at present, that Hampton is our school—on the contrary, we feel that she belongs to the white South and to the reactionary North, and we fear that she is a center of that underground and silent intrigue which is determined to perpetuate the American Negro as a docile peasant and peon, without political rights or social standing, working for little wage, and heaping up dividends to be doled out in future charity to his children.

Such a feeling as this may be wrong and ill-founded, but it is real and it easily lies within Hampton’s power to disprove it.

These are the reasons why many educated Negroes are and have been “opposed” to Hampton. We have seldom voiced this opposition, and I voice it now only at your invitation.

I reiterate my respect for the Institution and my firm belief that it has done great good, but I insist that no school which deliberately curtails the training of the talented, refuses to guide her apter students to their greatest development, save in restricted lines, and not only gives her beneficiaries little or no voice in its control, but seems even to harbor and encourage their enemies—no such school is reaching its greatest usefulness.

W. E. B. DU BOIS<.span>.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1918. “Hampton.” The Crisis. 15(1):10–12.