These figures were frustratingly well known to Dr. Woodson. As a participator in the field of education, an observer, a scholar and a reformer, he had long studied the disparities in the dual system. Before 1930 he had become thoroughly alarmed because the differentials between white and black education were increasing rather than diminishing, and that knowledge undoubtedly motivated some of the pessimism which creeps through in this volume.
Early in his Preface to Mis-Education the author takes a positive stand for tax money to be allocated in such manner that "every individual in the social order" should be given the opportunity to do his best. He rejected the objective notion of "progress" taken from statistical data, and injected a qualitative criteria which would judge the effectiveness of education by whether it was instrumental in making an individual "do and think for himself." With respect to Negro education in particular, it would require much study of the race and the role of its members in society. The dual system did not afford the opportunity for such study. As Woodson evaluated then, the inequity of the two societies within the nation, black and white, with its financial and propagandistic suppression of blacks through education and otherwise, was efficiently responsible for the social ills that he so deplored. He was really aiming a direct blow at the rationale which the South used to justify the dual school system; and his position was vindicated by the United States Supreme Court in the 1950's, and subsequently by public opinion. When he suggested equal educational opportunities regardless of financial status or race he was more or less anticipating the "social citizen" concept of the incoming administration, although President Roosevelt did not implement his concept to its logical conclusion.
When Woodson likewise made observations to the effect that information alone was not education, he was not stating a unique or isolated theory. Other educators agreed, but many who professed to adhere to the notion did so in a merely abstract fashion. The author of this book very carefully elaborated and illustrated the thesis. He sought for meaningful, qualitative training, yet most educational institutions held fast to their rigid, inflexible programs, under which much of the required subject-matter might prove useful as intellectual discipline, but not to the life interests of the hapless, captive students. It was Woodson's idea that this system was most devastating to the black children whose schools were inferior, and whose future life interests were farthest removed from the traditional curricula. In recent years, and frequently by reason of student pressures, colleges have been reappraising and restructuring their programs, not necessarily because of Woodson's long-ago reasoning but surely in line with it.
The Preface to Mis-Education also contains a statement that the educational systems of both Europe and the United States were antiquated and failed to hit the mark for either race. A bold and daring assertion in 1933, to be sure, but Woodson had successfully pursued education in both Europe and America. It is evident now that his judgement was projected far beyond its utterance, as witness the student movements which are presently accelerating, and assuming differing and ever more demanding forms. In further attestation note also the trend toward "vocational" education; and the frenzied effort to incorporate Black Studies at all educational levels.
Indeed long before this present climactic phase, there had been a rising racial consciousness and a new stridency to the demands by American Negroes. By the start of World War II the sacred cow of segregation was being reexamined more vigorously than ever before. Such scholars as Frazier, Myrdal, Silberman and others were writing sociologically with candor and verve on racial problems, while Woodson continued his even and uninterrupted interpretation of these problems, plus writing historical books, papers, and engaging in other journalistic endeavors. Cynicism and disillusionment among blacks had spread and become crystallized into a determination to make equality real. The indictments against discrimination were even more virile than Woodson's had been in Mis-Education some years earlier, and they covered more thoroughly the entire spectrum of race relations, but there was a direct line of descent from the educational castigation of 1933 to the more vigorous racial agitation and writings of the next decade.
Carter G. Woodson did not propose, in Mis-Education, such drastic action as the mass protest movement of A. Phillip Randolph in 1941, but then he did not have the type of support which later materialized; nor had there been in 1933 the mass militancy to which World War II gave birth. His was a modest demand, as really were the goals of Randolph's movement when judged by the scope of later demands and achievements. But if one seeks to comprehend the present culmination period in race relations, he must turn back to those earlier efforts and acknowledge the ideas and the work which "seeded the ground" as it were, and made possible a climate of opinion within which concerted action for equality could germinate and grow to fruition. This intellectual climate was possible because the research, writings, and publications of a dedicated scholar like Woodson had provided the historical information, the impetus, and the inspiration for black people to acquire a worthwhile self and race image, to make a start toward overcoming the inferiority complex which had for so long been an emotional prison. Looking back in such manner is a major purpose of history, and in that context the reissuing of this book is both appropriate and necessary.
It will be of great interest for readers to note the similarity in Woodson, the critic, as he looks at education in his day and the day in which we live. Black youth seems to be asking for what Woodson wanted as he expressed it in these pages. His philosophy was not only sound for him but it is sound for them, as they make the same demands of administrators for Black Studies, Black Curricula and Black personnel. It is for this reason that we publish this volume. It had a message for Yesterday and it has a message which Black and white should know for Today.
Charles H. Wesley and Thelma D. Perry
1 Annual Report of the Director of the Association for the [return] Study of Negro Life and History, Incorporated, July 1, 1932 to June 30, 1933. Washington, D. C. p. 4
2 Annual Report, ibid., July 1, 1929 to June 30, 1930. p. 4 [return]
3 Lawrence D. Reddick, "Racial Attitudes in American History [return] Books in the South." The Journal of Negro History Volume XIX No. 3, July, 1934 pp. 225-265
4 Thomas L. Dabney, "The Study of the Negro." The Journal [return] of Negro History ibid., pp. 265-307
5 Horace Mann Bond, "The Curriculum and the Negro Child" [return] Journal of Negro Education Volume IV No. 2, April, 1935. p. 163 ff.
6 ibid. [return]
7 W. E. Burghardt DuBois "Does the Negro Need Separate [return] Schools?" Journal of Negro Education Volume IV No. 3, July, 1935. pp. 328-329
8 ibid. p. 333 [return]
9 ibid. p. 335 [return]
10 Monroe Work, Negro Yearbook: An Annual Encyclopedia [return] of the Negro 1931-1932. Negro Yearbook Publishing Company. Tuskegee Institute Alabama, 1931. pp. 204, 205, 206.