“Our” South


W.E.B. Du Bois


January 1, 1920

One of the surprising self-deceptions of the white Southerners is illustrated by this story of the war: Because of its large Negro working population, a government shipbuilding yard was brought to Wilmington, N.C., during the late war. The city congratulated itself, but balked finally at providing Negro workingmen with adequate housing. At a public meeting they lauded the whites and their enterprise to the skies, but complained to the government agents of the “burden” of the Negro—the black half of their population, said one pompous orator, was a “liability and not an asset.”

“Well,” replied an unimaginative northern Colonel, who wanted ships built instead of talk, “if it wasn’t for this liability, you wouldn’t have gotten this ship-yard!”

The fundamental error of the white South thus shown is seen in the assumption that ALL property is WHITE property; that they benevolently “give” Negroes work; that they let them walk THEIR streets and “pay for” their schools.

In economic thought the South is 100 years behind the civilized world. In what civilized land today can a ruling aristocracy deny a mass of eight million laborers an absolute right to education, to public institutions, and even to a voice in the use and distribution of “private” property?


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1920. ‘Our’ South.” The Crisis 19 (3): 106–7. https://www.dareyoufight.org/Volumes/19/03/our_south.html.