The Talented Tenth: W.E.B DuBois’ vision for a progressive Black race

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“The Talented Tenth of the Negro race must be made leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people. No others can do this work and Negro colleges must train their men for it. The Negro race, like all other races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men.” – W. E. B Du Bois.

The noble art of leadership is inspired by; depth of thought and strength of character. Leadership underlies the organizational structure of every culture and forms a considerable part of the progressive march of every single race on Earth. Leadership wields the power to determine the life span of any group of people, it determines the quality of life a group of people will have and the extent to which the ambitions of those persons constituting it will thrive in a fast-paced world.

In his essay; ‘The Talented Tenth’ (1903), W.E.B DuBois laments the need for ten percent of the ablest minds among persons of Afrikan descent to be granted access to higher and quality education so that they, in turn, will possess within themselves the needed ‘tool’ to lift up the masses to their own level of knowledge and understanding of the world and everything around them.

The Afrikan and persons of Afrikan descent cannot and will not be confined in the corners of ‘the ruled’ for so long because the Black man and the Black woman are very capable of ruling themselves as well as their affairs.

It is true that the capacity of the Afrikan and persons of Afrikan descent to lead themselves and create an atmosphere filled with limitless possibilities for the ones who are yet to come is in question given the current low levels of political, social and cultural dynamics playing out on the Afrikan continent. The system of governance given some Afrikan states is working against the interest of the masses, this has resulted in the surfacing of other social ills such as; corruption, widespread youth unemployment and weakened socio-political institutions.

Though the Afrikan and persons of Afrikan descent are troubled by the presence of these social ills, their capacity to take charge of their own affairs and set straight their priorities in effectively organizing their societies are not affected by it indefinitely. The Afrikan and persons of Afrikan descent must only realize the need for a strong circle of well-informed leaders; persons who by virtue of the high duty entrusted into their hands through higher education and character training will stand out of willingness and commitment to duty as the ‘messiahs’ of their down-trodden race, for a race cannot remain down-trodden for long, otherwise the persons forming the race in question will by themselves resolve to the lowly status of second-class and/or third class citizens, at which point they become like machines to be employed for labour.

The Afrikan and persons of Afrikan descent the world over also understand that; the best of their crop are plucked while still budding and intentionally crushed underfoot by the hands of those who claimed their ancestors from their homeland and turned them into servitude. With this realization, however, must come the urgency with which the Afrikan and persons of Afrikan descent must inspire and encourage their finest minds and most ambitious of characters to foremost undergo the necessary training so that they can properly order the Afrikan social order and economic progress.

The Afrikan and persons of Afrikan descent must realize that this duty is one that solely lies with us as a people because no alien will without cause to self-interest order our social structure for us and no foreigner can sympathize with the Afrikan experience enough to give to the masses what their hearts have for so long yearned for.

The Afrikan ‘Talented Tenth’ must no more waste a tenth of their talents, for the duty lies with us all.


DuBois, W.E.B. (1903). The Talented Tenth. Pp. 31-75 in The Negro Problem: A Series of Articles by Representative American Negroes of To-Day.

Last Edited by:Victor Ativie Updated: May 28, 2020


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