June 3, 1891

Lake Mohonk, New York

NEGRO EDUCATION

 

Ladies and Gentlemen- President Gates, of Amherst College, who was Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Mohonk Negro Conference last year, speaking of the aims of the Conference, said that its “outcome should be to make stronger throughout the nation a rational conference in the future of the Negro race.”

 

The few words of encouragement with which I wish to open this second Mohonk Negro Conference are fully warranted by the facts and opinions clearly and fully set forth in the final report made by Bishop Haygood of Georgia to the Trustees of the John F. Slater Fund a few weeks ago, when he bade them farewell to enter upon the duties of Bishop, to which he had been unanimously chosen by the Methodist Episcopal Church South. He had been the executive officer of the Trustees of the Slater Fund nine years. His report was comprehensive and wise. He had during his service visited each year at least once the schools aided by the Slater Fund in eleven Southern States. He had disbursed four hundred thousand dollars in aid of over forty of the leading institutions for colored youth in those States. He had conferred with governors, legislatures, instructors, and the people of both races, in the most intimate way in all parts of the South. His knowledge of the situation with respect to the religion, the education, and the general interest and progress of the colored people, not merely as it was when the war closed,-not simply as it was during and at the end of the first fifteen years of reconstruction, but as it is to-day, is accurate and thorough. I quote from his report. He says: -

 

“The cause of Negro education I have strenuously pleaded-in speech and in writing-upon every fit occasion…Of the importance and necessity of the Christian education of the Negro race I am now, at the close of my special ministry in these fields, more convinced than at any time in the past. Of the results of right efforts, I am more sure: of the final outcome of this African-American race problem, I am more hopeful and certain. There is no serious contention now as to the practicability or necessity of the education of the Negro race. Henceforth it will be a discussion as to the methods and the measures. And this indicates the greatest result so far achieved by all the workers in this difficult field. In this connection, figures may at least illustrate. Within a month past the Hon. W.T. Harris, the United States Commissioner of Education, kindly sent me, under his own signature the present status of common-school education of the Negro in the Southern States. He had not the last reports for the State of Arkansas: the other States report 19,983 ‘colored schools.’ Arkansas will bring the number to about 21,000. In the schools is a total enrollment of 1,199,410 pupils. All this has come to pass since 1865; nearly all since 1870; most of it since 1875. Ninety-five per cent of the taxes are paid by Southern white people: there is fair distribution between the races. There is in no Southern State any thought by the leading people of any such change in the public school laws as would discriminate against the Negro.

 

“The public schools for Negro youth,-those for the current year will cost the white people of the South not far from $7,000,000-though far from what they ought to be, are steadily improving in quality. This unmistakable improvement is due to two causes: 1. The States put more money in them, making longer terms and securing better teachers. 2. The teachers are more capable each year, because the higher institutions year by year send out large re-enforcements to strengthen the teaching force in the field. To impatience progress seems slow: to common sense it is great and unmistakable. A whole race cannot be educated in one generation. There are thousands of illiterate white people after centuries and freedom and opportunities. The chapter that tells of the work and the results in educating the Negros in America is not matched in any history in any age.”

 

As to industrial training Bishop Haygood said:-

 

“At this time every school in connection with the Slater Fund recognizes the utility and necessity of industrial training. So does every important school for the Negro race, whether aided by the fund or not. In many of these institutions industrial training is well established and successfully carried on. In all of them enough is accomplished to do great good and encourage to more effort. Every one known to me earnestly desires to extend its work in this direction. At the beginning many doubted, some opposed, and not a few were indifferent. At this time no experienced teacher in Negro schools entertains so much as a doubt as to the desirableness and usefulness of this very important element of education.

 

“It has been demonstrated that an hour or two a day in the workshop or the sewing-room does not hinder in the least education in books. It has been found, as a rule, that the best men in the shop are the leaders in the class-room. Experienced teachers say that industrial training fosters good discipline and the upbuilding of strong and reliable personal character. Outside the important fact that a great number have learned enough of the trades to pursue them profitably, it is certain that thousands have learned enough be independent as citizens and far more capable as heads of families. That head, heart, and hand trainingshould go on together in these institutions is now the accepted doctrine in all quarters…What is to be done? Here I am absolutely sure of my ground,-there can be but one answer. Teach him; train him; make a self-supporting man and Christian of him…

 

“The time to cease helping him has not yet come. He can work his passage but he cannot, without aid, build and equip the ships that carry him. The able, more developed, richer race cannot, dare not-if self-protection were the only motive,-let him go. They must go on training and helping their humbler brother into Christian manhood.”

 

I forbear from commenting on these words of this true and wise friend of our “Brother in Black.” I would not disturb the impression they ought to and must make on every candid mind that meditates upon them.

 

I venture to add two facts-well known facts,- pregnant with good for the future well-being of both races in the South.

 

1.      Commerce, manufacturing, mining, farming and other forms of enterprise are giving to the South all the material prosperity needed for the highest civilization.

2.       The increase of the colored population, as shown by the recent census while it has been during the last decade healthful and normal, is not excessive nor as to excite the slightest concern as to the ultimate good relations between the races, if controlled by enlightened principles.

Let us with perfect faith continue our efforts to provide education in its fullest and broadest sense for the lately emancipated race in the South.

 

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