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Climbing out of the cradle

"Climbing out of the cradle" Continued...

Issue: "Tour d'America road rage," Feb. 11, 2012

In 1915 Washington died and Moton took up his mantle as the second principal of Tuskegee. His impressive list of achievements included work with Sears and Roebuck chairman Julius Rosenwald to set up hundreds of "Rosenwald schools" for black students across the country. By all accounts Moton was a Christian of rare grace and charity, but over time segregation clearly taxed his patience even as the Du Bois strategy gained ground in the black community.

In 1922, for example, Moton addressed a crowd of 50,000 at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. On behalf of the black community, he concluded, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, we dedicate ourselves and our posterity, with you and yours, to finish the work which he began, to make America an example for all the world of equal justice, equal opportunity for all." Moton, who would advise five American presidents over his career, then returned to his seat in the roped-off "colored" section.

Moton's 1919 autobiography emphasized the good will of many whites, but his 1929 book, What the Negro Thinks, detailed how it feels to pay first-class fares for third-class railway seats, how much less states spent educating black children than white, how lynching terrorized and outraged black communities, and how the grinding humiliation of segregation killed ambition.

In his later years Moton abandoned the "Party of Lincoln" and became a Democrat, despite that party's ties to racism. He wasn't alone. By about 1930, according to professor Spinney, Du Bois had won; Democrats and the NAACP largely spoke for the black community.

Moton remained at Tuskegee until his retirement in 1935, when he built Holly Knoll and began inviting in prominent black activists for discussions-a tradition that eventually contributed to the courageous and confrontational tactics of civil-rights activists throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

Would the black community have been better off today had it stuck with Washington's vision? Maybe. Conservative black economist Thomas Sowell in his 1981 book, Ethnic America, showed how outsider groups that focused first on economic development (Chinese and Jews, for example) assimilated much more quickly into American society, gaining both wealth and standing, than the Irish and black communities, which tended to focus on politics.

The key, Sowell wrote, was "human capital." In America, groups can rise to affluence and acceptance when their cultures stress the values and behavior that lead to economic success. And "capital" involves not just values or economic skills, but the "whole spectrum of experience, contacts, personal and institutional savvy, confidence, and ease."

That is the sort of "capital" the Gloucester Institute offers to build into black college students. Carlyn Crawley is a 2011 graduate of the Emerging Leaders program and Hampton University. She now works for the prestigious Washington consulting firm Booz Allen.

The Institute, she said, "was instrumental in helping me transition to a more formal corporate environment." Monthly sessions cover topics including appearance, etiquette, writing skills, and "personal branding." Students sharpen critical thinking in debates over issues such as school achievement gaps, and meet with black leaders such as Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, and Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott.

Crawley used to be "adamant" about Du Bois, she said, but the Institute helped her understand Moton's legacy: "I have a lot to live up to." It also helped her see how many of her peers give in to hopelessness or excuses. "Legally, you can make it," she said. "It's there for you to take." But young black adults need support and contact with role models. Learning how to succeed, she said, "is not intuitive for everyone."

"I really do believe that Moton was right and that the solutions to our problems [in the black community] today lie outside of government," James said. Many students come in with a strong sense of entitlement fostered by the misguided "compassion" of white society. Now, she said, "I've got to get them ready for the real world."

Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.

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