The Jazz Theologian

The Jazz Theologian

The Sankofa Institute Online: The Talented Tenth

What do you think about W. E. B. Du Bois’ concept of The Talented Tenth?

William Edward Burghardt (aka–W.E.B) Du Bois was the first African-American to earn a PH.D. from Harvard.  He went on to be a history professor, editor of “The Crisis,” and author of, “The Souls of Black Folks” as well as his autobiography.

In 1903 he wrote

“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…”


In contrast to, Booker T. Washington who advocated a focus on the trades, Du Bois, said, “Was there ever a nation on God’s fair earth civilized from the bottom upward?  Never, it is, ever was and ever will be from the top downward that culture filters.  The Talented Tenth rises and pulls all that are worth the saving up to their vantage ground.”

In their book, “The Future of the Race,” Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cornel West reflected upon Du Bois almost one years later.  They observe that today, “If it is the best of times for the black middle class–the heirs of Du Bois’ Talented Tenth–it is the worst of times for an equally large segment of our community.”


Are you one of The Talented Tenth?

Join the Groove:  What do you think of the ‘Talented Tenth” concept?  Was Du Bois right or wrong?  If he was correct, then what happened to the ‘Talented Tenth’…why have we not seen the desired result? Is there application for this concept beyond the African-American community?

(Original art by John Jennings) (What’s The Sankofa Institute?)

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Pete Peters

posted April 20, 2011 at 11:09 pm

I agree with the concept of The Talented Tenth. As I understand the concept, it dealt with developing the “whole person”. The ultimate goal was to develop the best individuals, of that generation, who would take on the leadership responsibilty of helping freedmen and newly freed slaves attain social and economic “equality”. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line we became Americanized, free enterprised and survival of the fittest-ized and succumbed to just making money. an outcome we’ve all seen play out in a number of other scenarios.

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    Robert Gelinas

    posted April 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    I couldn’t agree more that the Talented Tenth became “Americanized” and thus their effect has not been felt as DuBois hoped.


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