The Souls of Black Folk Questions and Answers
by W. E. B. Du Bois

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What did Dubois mean by the talented tenth?

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“The Talented Tenth” is the second chapter of Du Bois 1903 book The Negro Problem. Du Bois like many of his African American contemporaries was concerned with full emancipation for African Americans, meaning social and political equality at all levels. As a Harvard trained Humanist, he viewed the intellectual training as the prerequisite. This type of training affords one the ability to carry concrete problems into the abstract realm and theorize about them within the frame of civilized discourse. He also picked this issue up in his essay Of the Education of Black Men.

In The Talented Tenth he writes: “The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races…” To express it in more simple terms, he argues that the best and brightest African Americans, the talented ten percent, must be afforded higher education if progress is to made. The ten percent will then constitute leaders that effectively initiate change through their leadership.

Now, thinking simply in terms of numbers that is a very optimistic undertaking. Even today, in the percentage of African Americans earning a Bachelors degree is minimal. In California, for instance it hovers around 9%, but roughly 30% of 18-24 year- olds lack a high school degree, meaning they never make it into college to begin with. When we set out to evaluate Du Bois’ optimistic plan, we must look at the statistics as a whole, and understand that he meant that everyone should be afforded the chance of a higher education, but that only the talented ten percent will lead and elevate the masses.

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nlowenth | Student

Actually "The Talented Tenth" is correct, in W.E.B. Du Bois original work...but i digress.

Most importantly it demonstrates how more than just practical knowledge instruction is critical in creating a "better" society. If people do not have the capability to understand their place within the world and only receive instruction in the so-called "skills" they gain, their lives as citizens of the world do not and will not hold the same value.

However, such "higher education" may be afforded to a small minority, but some of the concepts taught in such an environment must inevitably "trickle down" or the rest of the 90% will not have gained anything from their counterparts.

Just something to consider.

theresass | Student

The correct spellling of the terminology is the Talented Ten, not is based on the professional accomplishments of African Americans, Americansand Indian Americans whodeveloped this country and their descendants. It was introduced by George Washington Carver, Sr.'sfamily, whose parents had 10 children and was determined to make them all professional people. Each was instructed to choose an area of expertise, i.e., Teacher, Priest, Scientist, Doctor, Lawyer, Nurse,Politics, Writer, Historian,Banker, Real Estate. The papers of Dubois and otherprofessional African Americans, Americans, Indians, etc have been altered to reflect the rascals opinions. However, it is an ideology thatstates that in order for a society to be progressive and profitable,itspeople have to be progressive and profitable. The only way to achieve these goals for the betterment of thenation and its people is toeducate yourselves and exhibit the intelligence learned bycommitting yourselves to action. Action that can be witnessedby our children, our communitities, the world and passed on for generations to come., NYC.