But it may be questioned, from developments that speedily followed, whether the mass of negroes did not really desire this advantage as a sign of freedom, rather than from a wish for knowledge, and covet it because it had formerly been the privilege of their masters, and marked a broad distinction between the races. It was natural that this should be so, when they had been excluded from this privilege by pains and penalties, when in some States it was one of the gravest offenses to teach a negro to read and write. This prohibition was accounted for by the peculiar sort of property that slavery created, which would become insecure if intelligent, for the alphabet is a terrible disturber of all false relations in society.
But the effort at education went further than the common school and the primary essential instruction. It introduced the higher education. Colleges usually called universities—for negroes were established in many Southern States, created and stimulated by the generosity of Northern men and societies, and often aided by the liberality of the States where they existed. The curriculum in these was that in colleges generally,—the classics, the higher mathematics, science, philosophy, the modern languages, and in some instances a certain technical instruction, which was being tried in some Northern colleges. The emphasis, however, was laid on liberal culture. This higher education was offered to the mass that still lacked the rudiments of intellectual training, in the belief that education—the education of the moment, the education of superimposed information, can realize the theory of universal equality.
This experiment has now been in operation long enough to enable us to judge something of its results and its promises for the future. These results are of a nature to lead us seriously to inquire whether our effort was founded upon an adequate knowledge of the negro, of his present development, of the requirements for his personal welfare and evolution in the scale of civilization, and for his training in useful and honorable citizenship. I am speaking of the majority, the mass to be considered in any general scheme, and not of the exceptional individuals —exceptions that will rapidly increase as the mass is lifted—who are capable of taking advantage to the utmost of all means of cultivation, and who must always be provided with all the opportunities needed.
Millions of dollars have been invested in the higher education of the negro, while this primary education has been, taking the whole mass, wholly inadequate to his needs. This has been upon the supposition that the higher would compel the rise of the lower with the undeveloped negro race as it does with the more highly developed white race. An examination of the soundness of this expectation will not lead us far astray from our subject.