The Danger of Educating a Black Man

Posted: March 17, 2010 in General, Other Writing

The opposition to Negro education in the South was at first bitter, and showed itself in ashes, insult, and blood; for the South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro.

-W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk

I never read ‘The Souls of Black Folk’. I just started it this morning to be completely honest. This was one of the quotes which stuck out to me the most so far however. It especially sticks out to me because in the 9th grade (i think), I wrote a speech for a scholarship competition. I memorized and delivered the speech which follows and won the local and state competitions with it. It was what I thought about DuBois quote before ever actually hearing it. And rest assured, I did deliver this as a speech.

Mr. Director, Mrs. Directress, Honorable Judges, Ladies and Gentlemen.  I have chosen for my subject, ‘The Dangers of Educating a Black Man’.

Since its beginning, America has thrived on slave labor. Whether it was Native American, Mexican American, or African American slaves, a hallmark or all these years of oppression was the prohibition of educating the captives.

When America began, the first settlers had it in their minds that they were the epitome of knowledge, wealth and ambition.  When they met the Native Americans who were already there, they saw them as savages who needed to be civilized, modernized, and taught to live like Europeans.  This was even after the Native Americans showed them how to farm the land, hunt, fish, and helped them to survive the winter that all but wiped out the settlers.  The natives in return received diseases, liquor, guns, and forced labor among other things which would nearly wipe out their people and their culture.  The Native Americans did not do well as slaves however, because they were already educated.  They knew the environment, the land, and their surroundings better than their captors, and could easily escape.

The slave trade in Africa opened new doors for America however.  They were able to take strong, enduring men and women, and put them in a place where nothing was familiar to them.  These people were exposed to a new climate, new land, new people, food and customs.  To try to escape was to go into a place unexplored with unknown consequences and unforeseen dangers.  Not educating these slaves kept them where they were.

All it takes however is one, one man to break the chains of oppression, and share with others the joy found in liberation. The dominating society knew that.  For this reason, it was illegal to educate a slave, or teach a black man to read.  The wife of Hugh Auld, Fredrick Douglass’ master was reprimanded for attempting to teach him to read, and forbidden to continue.   In his autobiography, Douglass was able to sum up the fears of every white male who lived in his time.

“Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, this it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read.  To use his own words, further, he said, ‘If you give a nigger [black man] an inch, he will take an ell.  A nigger [black man] should know nothing but to obey his master — to do as he is told to do.  Learning would spoil the best nigger [black man] in the world. Now…if you teach that nigger [black man] …how to read, there would be no keeping him.  It would forever unfit him to be a slave.  He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master…it would make him discontented and unhappy’…I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty — to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man… I now understood the path from slavery to freedom” (Douglass, 20).

They knew that knowledge was power.  And when Douglass did learn to read, their fears were confirmed.  He went out and tried to change the status quo.  He started to disrupt the smooth and easy flow that the affluent farmers and poor sharecroppers had gotten used to.  Though Mrs. Auld saw no harm in it, everyone else could see how dangerous it was to educate a black man.  To educate him was to arm him with the tools needed to ensure his survival, not as a laborer or a slave, but as a human being, and as a citizen.  To give him knowledge was, as Douglass said, to show him the pathway from slavery to freedom.

Now we fast-forward to September 23, 1957.  The integration of schools was met with resistance, riots, threats, and every imaginable attempt to stop the forward progress of America. The teenagers who would go down in history as the Little Rock Nine had to be escorted into school by soldiers.  There were white people who were so hell-bent on keeping the black man uneducated and un-learned that soldiers had to come in to keep the peace. Children in the south had to be escorted to school by national guardsmen.  An 11 year old little girl, trying to receive the education that was hers by right, couldn’t get into school because of the resistance to change.

Once again, we can see how dangerous society thought it was to let black men and women receive the same education as their white counterparts.  Simply letting black and white children learn in the same elementary and high schools was too much for them too bear, too dangerous for them to sit back and just ‘let pass’.  The men and women of the 1950’s saw as well how dangerous it was to educate a black man.

Now we fast-forward once again, to the present.  A few years ago, it was decided that the practice of the University of Michigan giving extra points to college applicants who were minorities was unacceptable.  Though the same amount of points would have been given for being an athlete, or having an alumnus as a relative, this practice was singled out and restricted.  Later this year, on November 7, voters will go to the polls to decide whether or not there will be an amendment to the Michigan constitution which will in essence make affirmative action practices illegal, and negate the program which has given so many opportunities for so long.  Throughout the years, efforts have been made again and again to give African Americans the opportunity to go out and educate themselves, and throughout the years, efforts have been made to take these opportunities away.  Even today, in the 21st century, efforts are still being made to keep the black man uneducated.

So what does it mean to become dangerous?  And how do we become a dangerous people?  To be dangerous means to have advantages over your opponent.  When fighting a war, the enemy is not dangerous when ill-prepared and unknowledgeable of his surroundings.  He is dangerous when his knowledge and artillery is superior to your own.  In this situation, it is when a people with a history such as our can see where they have come from, know where they need to go, and find the desire to achieve.

First however, we need to ask ourselves, why is the black man still uneducated?  If the white men could see in the 1800’s with Frederick Douglass why it was dangerous to educate black men, why in the 21st century can we not see it ourselves.  With access to the information super-highway, and in a world constantly growing smaller through connectivity, why is the black man not much better off today than he was as a slave?  The answer is the same as the question.  We do not see it yet.  We have been blinded by the plethora of opportunities that used to await us by doing only what we needed to get by.  In 1955, the American dream of a car, a family with two kids and a dog, living in a house with a white picket fence could be achieved with a factory job straight out of high school.  A job at ‘Generous Motors’ could take care of you for the rest of your life.

That mentality has tricked us.  We have gotten accustomed to such a lifestyle in an economy that is ever changing.  While everyone else was adapting, we were coasting.

Basically, we have forgotten where we came from.  We have forgotten what can happen when you educate a black man, and have taken our eyes off of the goal.  We can no longer see what will happen when you educate a black man.

When you educate a black man, he can lift up his community.  Educating him will lead him out of the city slums and ghettos and into offices and corporations.  Educating him will take him from being 50% of the prison population to being 50% of the executive population.  Educating the black man will teach him not to turn to drugs and crime, but to be a leader and a trailblazer.

When you educate a black man, it will educate others.  Educating a black man will open doors for diversity, for innovation, and for change.  Educating a black man will lead to more inventors like Lonnie G. Johnson, and Garret Morgan, more politicians like J.C. Watts, and Barrack Obama, more entertainers like Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle, and a host of other positive influences that can be born from the seeds of knowledge.

When you educate a black man, he can strengthen his family and his community.  Education can take black women from having the highest rate of contraction for the HIV/AIDS virus.  It can take as well, black women from having the highest abortion rates, and the most frequent cases of single motherhood.

Educating a black man can cause change; political, social, economic, even intellectual change.  Its time that the black man sees as everyone else does, just how dangerous an education is in his hands.

  1. Jennifer says:


  2. Nikayla says:

    *applause* you just never cease to amaze me… I have wanted to make a PSA about this subject for a while now.

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