“ Would the Public Stand It?” W.E.B. Du Bois (1904)

“If I am not mistaken, your views and those of my friend, Mr. Washington, are diametrically opposed, or at least in that you feel that his program in all particulars is not in harmony with the modern spirit.”-“Letter to W.E.B. Du Bois,” Richard Lloyd Jones, Editor, _Collier’s Weekly_ January 7, 1904

“I have been thinking over the invitation you gave in your letter to me to send you my ‘editorial thought.’ Have you ever thought of this: the color line is belting the world today; about it world interests are centering. Would it not be an interesting experiment to start in Collier’s a column-or half a column-called ‘Along the Color Line’ or the Voice of the Darker Millions’ and put therein from week to week or month to month note & comment on the darker races in America, Africa, Asia & c., from the standpoint of the serious student & observer-the spirit of it being informing & interpretive rather than controversial. Would it pay? Would the public stand it? I think I could edit such a column.”-“Letter to Richard Lloyd Jones,” W.E.B. Du Bois, January 30, 1904

W.E.B. Du Bois’s proposition to periodically “inform” white audiences who, at the time, were the primary readers of _Collier’s Weekly_ about African American social problems and “interpret” the “darker races” for them not only allowed him to avoid problems along the racial divide that explicitly incriminated white Americans; it also revealed his handling of white periodical editors to support reform ideals very similar to those introduced in “The Conservation of Races,” which was written during his tenure within the American Negro Academy. (Along with Alexander Crummell, Du Bois founded the academy to inspire reform ideals within the African American community while simultaneously fighting against vicious onslaughts attacking it.) Similar handling would also lead to significant leadership roles in the Niagara Movement in 1905 and the NAACP in 1909. Besides Collier’s Jones, many progressive and religious white periodical editors were intrigued by a Harvard-trained African American scholarly figure like Du Bois who sought to “solve the Negro problem” in a manner quite unlike Booker T. Washington, the most well-known African American social leader during the period. After Washington’s infamous 1895 Exposition address in Atlanta, which led to his far more infamous Tuskegee policies emphasizing industrial training, Washington became the enemy of a fiery-but institutionally impotent-class of educated and socially progressive African Americans that included Du Bois. Until Du Bois’s periodical writings appeared in major white periodicals between 1897 and 1910, this group was largely silenced due to Washington’s enormous influence among white institutions, including national white periodicals. As the first socially progressive African American with a Harvard Ph.D., Du Bois was the most successful spokesman among his educated (though to a lesser degree) African American peers. His success as spokesman, along with his belief that an advanced education was essential to real reform, garnered great interest in his writings from sympathetic white periodical editors.

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