In Chapter 6 of his enormously influential The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois presents his argument for the importance of higher education if African Americans are going to overcome the legacies of slavery, segregation, and poverty. As importantly, Du Bois argued that the future of the American South itself hinged greatly on the ability of African Americans to attain a college education. Note, with respect to this latter point, the following quotes from Chapter 6:
“No secure civilization can be built in the South with the Negro as an ignorant, turbulent proletariat.”
“The dangerously clear logic of the Negro's position will more and more loudly assert itself in that day when increasing wealth and more intricate social organization preclude the South from being, as it so largely is, simply an armed camp for intimidating black folk.”
Du Bois understood what many whites across America, especially in the South, did not: No country or region of a country could reach its full potential if it arbitrarily denied to a certain category of its populace equality of opportunity. Racism and segregation denied to the larger nation the contributions that could be made by all categories of people when structural and cultural obstacles to achievement were eliminated.
In advancing his argument for the importance of higher education for black people, Du Bois emphasized the achievements of those few among the African American community afforded such an opportunity. Noting the role played in facilitating the rise of an educated professional African American of black colleges like Howard, Fisk, and Atlanta, Du Bois further quantified the contributions to be made in the longer term of graduating black students into the professions. When he writes that “Fifty-three per cent of these graduates were teachers, —presidents of institutions, heads of normal schools, principals of city school-systems, and the like,” he is emphasizing the self-perpetuating system for the education of black people that the early efforts have entailed. By remaining in academia, these educated black citizens could contribute to the education of future generations of African American students.
Chapter 6 of The Souls of Black Folk is Du Bois’s argument for the importance of education. He knew that only through a college education could African Americans truly progress and that only with the benefits of an educated class of African Americans could the socially, culturally, and economically backwards South hope to progress.