White Co-Workers (1920)

White Co-Workers (1920)

There is one charge against the N.A.A.C.P. which is made, now openly and now by veiled innuendo, which it is necessary to answer plainly. It is said that this Association is not a Negro association, but is conducted by white people and that, therefore, it cannot effectively serve the cause of Negro freedom. The veiled assumption is that the efforts of the Negroes in the Association are controlled and largely nullified by whites.

The Association is not an exclusively Negro Association. We do not believe in the color line against either white or black. The N.A.A.C.P. is a union of American citizens of all colors and races who believe that Democracy in America is a failure if it proscribes Negroes, as such, politically, economically, or socially.

That all our officers and members are working wholeheartedly to this end is proven by the fact that this Association has done more for the emancipation of the Negro in the last ten years than any other organization of men, white, black or mixed, in the last half century. The record speaks for itself:

  1. The overthrow of segregation

  2. Defeat of intermarriage laws in twelve states

  3. Coöperation in the “Grandfather” decision case

  4. Model Civil Rights bills in New York and Michigan

  5. The anti-lynching campaign

  6. Movement for Negro Army officers

  7. Preventing extradition where lynching was possible

  8. Pan-African Congress

  9. Spingarn Medal

  10. The Crisis magazine

  11. Over a million pieces of literature, millions of letters, thousands of meetings, appeals, protests, etc.

We have not worked alone; what we have done has been in coöperate with numerous agencies and individuals outside our membership; but ours has been the impulse and initiative and most of the work.

Despite all this we admit frankly and freely that we have not yet settled the Negro problem. The Negro is still disfranchised, lynched, “Jim Crowed,” robbed and insulted. But we did not expect to unravel the tangle of 300 years in 10; we did expect to start the unravelling and this the most churlish must credit us with doing.

If now anyone can suggest any improvement in our organization or method, we are eager to hear them; but we do not believe that the time has come, or ever will come, when we will not need the help of white Americans. To bar them from our organization would be a monstrous discrimination; it would advertise the fact that we can not or will not work with white people. If this is true, what are we doing in America or indeed in the modern world? What are we fighting for, if it is not the chance to stand with our white fellows, side by side and hand in hand, and fight for right?

We certainly can do this for we have. The N.A.A.C.P. consists of about 80,000 Negroes and 10,000 whites. Colored persons predominate on the Board of Directors, on the Committee of Executives and among the executive officers. Most of the white members of the board are there by the earnest invitation and insistence of the colored members, because of their influence and help. On the other hand, at no time has there been the slightest disposition to control the opinion of the colored members or officers. The policy of the N.A.A.C.P. has from the beginning been the policy proposed and advocated by the colored members of the Board and the white members have always been not only willing, but eager to promote the just demands of the Negroes as interpreted by their fellow members. In an experience of twenty-five years in organizations, boards and committees I have never been a member of a board which had more interesting or informing sessions and which, considering the volume and intricacy of its problems, had less friction and lack of good will.

What we have thus accomplished in the N.A.A.C.P. is a sample of what we aim to accomplish in the nation and the world. We propose, as black folk, to work with white folk and red and yellow in this land, as equal partners in promoting the common good; in the world we will to unite with all races and nations in a world Democracy of Humanity. But what shall be said if at the beginning of our wortd quest we refuse to work with any but Negroes for any object?

What is the meaning of such an attitude? Whither does it tend? Do we want to become American citizens or not? Do we want to share in a world state, or not? If we will neither of these things, then our whole aim and argument since 1863 has been wrong. What we really want is not to fight segregation, it is segregation. We want separate cities, colonies and states and eventually a separate nation. This is a possible aim. It is an aim which we may be driven by race prejudice sometime to adopt. But it is not our present aim and we cannot consistently or effectively at the same time pursue both these aims. We cannot refuse to coöperate with white Americans and simultaneously demand the right to coöperate!

Today we can get the wholehearted coöperation of a few forward looking white Americans and of many Englishmen, Frenchmen and other Europeans; but we can have this only as we are willing to work for a world democracy of all men. If we wish in hatred or in selfishness to work simply for ourselves—if we envisage a future policy of up black, down white—we not only cannot retain the sympathy of these whites, but we invite the bitter opposition of the world; we invite race conflict of the oldest, cruellest sort; we deny and seek to crucify humanity even as our oppressors have done in time gone.

The N.A.A.C.P. assumes that the Negroes of the United States of America wish to be Americans, but refuse to belong to a subject caste. They demand American citizenship with every right that inheres, but what they ask for themsselves they grant just as freely to others. They believe in Negro blood and Negro genius; they seek, in voluntary unions, to develop a new Negro ethos—a music, a literature, a school of art and thought; but they will do this as freemen in a free democracy joining wholeheartedly with their fellows of all colors whenever that freedom is menaced. Not narrow, excluding, other-hating particularism, but broad, sympathetic, all-embracing nationalism is our aim and spirit.

We are realizing this in our organization. What we realize here we would extend to the nation and the world; and in the midst of this endeavor our own people accuse us of having white members and white fellow-officers. It is astounding and it is not altogether sincere. The real animus back of this veiled and half articulate criticism is the fact that a large organization must make enemies—must create dissatisfaction in many quarters, no matter what it does.

Organization is sacrifice. You cannot have absolutely your own way—you cannot be a free lance; you cannot be strongly and fiercely individual if you belong to an organization. For this reason some folk hunt and work alone. It is their nature. But the world’s greatest work must be done by team work. This demands organization, and that is the sacrifice of some individual will and wish to the good of all.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1920. “White Co-Workers.” The Crisis. 20(1):6–8.