The Immortal Child

If a man die shall he live again? We do not know. But this we do know, that our children’s children live forever and grow and develop toward perfection as they are trained. All human problems, then, center in the Immortal Child and his education is the problem of problems. And first for illustration of what I would say may I not take for example, out of many millions, the life of one dark child.

It is now nineteen years since I first saw Coleridge-Taylor. We were in London in some somber hall where there were many meeting, men and women called chiefly to the beautiful World’s Fair at Paris; and then a few slipping over to London to meet Pan-Africa. We were there from Cape Colony and Liberia, from Haiti and the States, and from the Islands of the Sea. I remember the stiff, young officer who came with credentials from Menelik of Abyssinia; I remember the bitter, black American who whispered how an army of the Sudan might some day cross the Alps; I remember Englishmen, like the Colensos, who sat and counseled with us; but above all, I remember Coleridge-Taylor.

He was a little man and nervous, with dark-golden face and hair that bushed and strayed. His fingers were always nervously seeking hidden keys and he was quick with enthusiasm⁠—instinct with life. His bride of a year or more⁠—dark, too, in her whiter way⁠—was of the calm and quiet type. Her soft contralto voice thrilled us often as she sang, while her silences were full of understanding.

Several times we met in public gatherings and then they bade me to their home⁠—a nest of a cottage, with gate and garden, hidden in London’s endless rings of suburbs. I dimly recall through these years a room in cozy disorder, strewn with music⁠—music on the floor and music on the chairs, music in the air as the master rushed to the piano now and again to make some memory melodious⁠—some allusion real.

And then at last, for it was the last, I saw Coleridge-Taylor in a mighty throng of people crowding the Crystal Palace. We came in facing the stage and scarcely dared look around. On the stage were a full orchestra, a chorus of eight hundred voices, and some of the world’s famous soloists. He left his wife sitting beside me, and she was very silent as he went forward to lift the conductor’s baton. It was one of the earliest renditions of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. We sat at rapt attention and when the last, weird music died, the great chorus and orchestra rose as a man to acclaim the master; he turned toward the audience and then we turning for the first time saw that sea of faces behind⁠—the misty thousands whose voices rose to one strong shout of joy! It was a moment such as one does not often live. It seemed, and was, prophetic.

This young man who stepped forth as one of the most notable of modern English composers had a simple and uneventful career. His father was a black surgeon of Sierra Leone who came to London for study. While there he met an English girl and this son was born, in London, in 1875.

Then came a series of chances. His father failed to succeed and disappeared back to Africa leaving the support of the child to the poor working mother. The child showed evidences of musical talent and a friendly workingman gave him a little violin. A musician glancing from his window saw a little dark boy playing marbles on the street with a tiny violin in one hand; he gave him lessons. He happened to gain entrance into a charity school with a master of understanding mind who recognized genius when he saw it; and finally his beautiful child’s treble brought him to the notice of the choirmaster of St. George’s, Croyden.

So by happy accident his way was clear. Within his soul was no hesitation. He was one of those fortunate beings who are not called to Wanderjahr, but are born with sails set and seas charted. Already the baby of four little years was a musician, and as choirboy and violinist he walked unhesitatingly and surely to his life work. He was graduated with honors from the Royal Academy of Music in 1894, and married soon after the daughter of one of his professors. Then his life began, and whatever it lacked of physical adventure in the conventional round of a modern world-city, it more than gained in the almost tempestuous outpouring of his spiritual nature. Life to him was neither meat nor drink⁠—it was creative flame; ideas, plans, melodies glowed within him. To create, to do, to accomplish; to know the white glory of mighty midnights and the pale Amen of dawns was his day of days. Songs, pianoforte and violin pieces, trios and quintets for strings, incidental music, symphony, orchestral, and choral works rushed from his fingers. Nor were they laboriously contrived or light, thin things made to meet sudden popularity. Rather they were the flaming bits that must be said and sung⁠—that could not wait the slower birth of years, so hurried to the world as though their young creator knew that God gave him but a day. His whole active life was scarcely more than a decade and a half, and yet in that time, without wealth, friends, or influence, in the face of perhaps the most critical and skeptical and least imaginative civilization of the modern world, he wrote his name so high as a creative artist that it cannot soon be forgotten.

And this was but one side of the man. On the other was the sweet-tempered, sympathetic comrade, always willing to help, never knowing how to refuse, generous with every nerve and fiber of his being. Think of a young musician, father of a family, who at the time of his death held positions as Associate of the Royal College of Music, Professor in Trinity College and Crystal Palace, Conductor of the Handel Choral Society and the Rochester Choral Society, Principal of the Guildhall School of Music, where he had charge of the choral choir, the orchestra, and the opera. He was repeatedly the leader of music festivals all over Great Britain and a judge of contests. And with all this his house was open in cheering hospitality to friends and his hand ever ready with sympathy and help.

When such a man dies, it must bring pause to a reasoning world. We may call his death-sickness pneumonia, but we all know that it was sheer overwork⁠—the using of a delicately-tuned instrument too commonly and continuously and carelessly to let it last its normal life. We may well talk of the waste of wood and water, of food and fire, but the real and unforgivable waste of modern civilization is the waste of ability and genius⁠—the killing of useful, indispensable men who have no right to die; who deserve, not for themselves, but for the world, leisure, freedom from distraction, expert medical advice, and intelligent sympathy.

Coleridge-Taylor’s life work was not finished⁠—it was but well begun. He lived only his first period of creative genius, when melody and harmony flashed and fluttered in subtle, compelling, and more than promising profusion. He did not live to do the organized, constructive work in the full, calm power of noonday⁠—the reflective finishing of evening. In the annals of the future his name must always stand high, but with the priceless gift of years, who can say where it might not have stood.

Why should he have worked so breathlessly, almost furiously? It was, we may be sure, because with unflinching determination and with no thought of surrender he faced the great alternative⁠—the choice which the cynical, thoughtless, busy, modern world spreads grimly before its greater souls⁠—food or beauty, bread and butter, or ideals. And continually we see worthier men turning to the pettier, cheaper thing⁠—the popular portrait, the sensational novel, the jingling song. The choice is not always between the least and the greatest, the high and the empty, but only too often it is between starvation and something. When, therefore, we see a man, working desperately to earn a living and still stooping to no paltry dickering and to no unworthy work, handing away a Hiawatha for less than a song, pausing for glimpses of the stars when a world full of charcoal glowed far more warmly and comfortably, we know that such a man is a hero in a sense never approached by the swashbuckling soldier or the lying patriot.

Deep as was the primal tragedy in the life of Coleridge-Taylor, there lay another still deeper. He smiled at it lightly, as we all do⁠—we who live within the veil⁠—to hide the deeper hurt. He had, with us, that divine and African gift of laughter, that echo of a thousand centuries of suns. I mind me how once he told of the bishop, the well-groomed English bishop, who eyed the artist gravely, with his eyeglass⁠—hair and color and figure⁠—and said quite audibly to his friends, “Quite interesting⁠—looks intelligent⁠—yes⁠—yes!”

Fortunate was Coleridge-Taylor to be born in Europe and to speak a universal tongue. In America he could hardly have had his career. His genius was, to be sure, recognized (with some palpitation and consternation) when it came full-grown across the seas with an English imprint; but born here, it might never have been permitted to grow. We know in America how to discourage, choke, and murder ability when it so far forgets itself as to choose a dark skin. England, thank God, is slightly more civilized than her colonies; but even there the path of this young man was no way of roses and just a shade thornier than that of whiter men. He did not complain at it⁠—he did not,

“Wince and cry aloud.”

Rather the hint here and there of color discrimination in England aroused in him deeper and more poignant sympathy with his people throughout the world. He was one with that great company of mixed-blooded men: Pushkin and Dumas, Hamilton and Douglass, Browning and many others; but he more than most of these men knew the call of the blood when it came and listened and answered. He came to America with strange enthusiasm. He took with quite simple and unconscious grace the conventional congratulations of the musical world. He was used to that. But to his own people⁠—to the sad sweetness of their voices, their inborn sense of music, their broken, half-articulate voices⁠—he leapt with new enthusiasm. From the fainter shadowings of his own life, he sensed instinctively the vaster tragedy of theirs. His soul yearned to give voice and being to this human thing. He early turned to the sorrow songs. He sat at the faltering feet of Paul Laurence Dunbar and he asked (as we sadly shook our heads) for some masterpiece of this world-tragedy that his soul could set to music. And then, so characteristically, he rushed back to England, composed a half-dozen exquisite harmonies haunted by slave-songs, led the Welsh in their singing, listened to the Scotch, ordered great music festivals in all England, wrote for Beerbohm Tree, took on another music professorship, promised a trip to Germany, and at last, staggering home one night, on his way to his wife and little boy and girl, fell in his tracks and in four days was dead, at the age of thirty-seven. They say that in his death-throe he arose and facing some great, ghostly choir raised his last baton, while all around the massive silence rang with the last mist-music of his dying ears.

He was buried from St. Michael’s on September 5, 1912, with the acclaim of kings and music masters and little children and to the majestic melody of his own music. The tributes that followed him to his grave were unusually hearty and sincere. The head of the Royal College calls the first production of Hiawatha one of the most remarkable events in modern English musical history and the trilogy one of the most universally-beloved works of modern English music. One critic calls Taylor’s a name “which with that of Elgar represented the nation’s most individual output” and calls his “Atonement” “perhaps the finest passion music of modern times.” Another critic speaks of his originality: “Though surrounded by the influences that are at work in Europe today, he retained his individuality to the end, developing his style, however, and evincing new ideas in each succeeding work. His untimely death at the age of thirty-seven, a short life⁠—like those of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Hugo Wolf⁠—has robbed the world of one of its noblest singers, one of those few men of modern times who found expression in the language of musical song, a lyricist of power and worth.”

But the tributes did not rest with the artist; with peculiar unanimity they sought his “sterling character,” “the good husband and father,” the “staunch and loyal friend.” And perhaps I cannot better end these hesitating words than with that tribute from one who called this master, friend, and whose lament cried in the night with more of depth and passion than Alfred Noyes is wont in his self-repression to voice:

“Through him, his race, a moment, lifted up
Forests of hands to beauty, as in prayer,
Touched through his lips the sacramental cup
And then sank back, benumbed in our bleak air.”

Yet, consider: to many millions of people this man was all wrong. First, he ought never to have been born, for he was the mulatto son of a white woman. Secondly, he should never have been educated as a musician⁠—he should have been trained, for his “place” in the world and to make him satisfied therewith. Thirdly, he should not have married the woman he loved and who loved him, for she was white and the niece of an Oxford professor. Fourthly, the children of such a union⁠—but why proceed? You know it all by heart.

If he had been black, like Paul Laurence Dunbar, would the argument have been different? No. He should never have been born, for he is a “problem.” He should never be educated, for he cannot be educated. He should never marry, for that means children and there is no place for black children in this world.

In the treatment of the child the world foreshadows its own future and faith. All words and all thinking lead to the child⁠—to that vast immortality and the wide sweep of infinite possibility which the child represents. Such thought as this it was that made the Master say of old as He saw baby faces:

“And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were cast into the sea.”

And yet the mothers and fathers and the men and women of my race must often pause and ask: Is it worth while? Ought children be born to us? Have we any right to make human souls face what we face today? The answer is clear: If the great battle of human right against poverty, against disease, against color prejudice is to be won, it must be won, not in our day, but in the day of our children’s children. Ours is the blood and dust of battle; theirs the rewards of victory. If, then, they are not there because we have not brought them into the world, we have been the guiltiest factor in conquering ourselves. It is our duty, then, to accomplish the immortality of black blood, in order that the day may come in this dark world when poverty shall be abolished, privilege be based on individual desert, and the color of a man’s skin be no bar to the outlook of his soul.

If it is our duty as honest colored men and women, battling for a great principle, to bring not aimless rafts of children to the world, but as many as, with reasonable sacrifice, we can train to largest manhood, what in its inner essence shall that training be, particularly in its beginning?

The first temptation is to shield the child⁠—to hedge it about that it may not know and will not dream of the color line. Then when we can no longer wholly shield, to indulge and pamper and coddle, as though in this dumb way to compensate. From this attitude comes the multitude of our spoiled, wayward, disappointed children. And must we not blame ourselves? For while the motive was pure and the outer menace undoubted, is shielding and indulgence the way to meet it?

Some Negro parents, realizing this, leave their children to sink or swim in this sea of race prejudice. They neither shield nor explain, but thrust them forth grimly into school or street and let them learn as they may from brutal fact. Out of this may come strength, poise, self-dependence, and out of it, too, may come bewilderment, cringing deception, and self-distrust. It is, all said, a brutal, unfair method, and in its way it is as bad as shielding and indulgence. Why not, rather, face the facts and tell the truth? Your child is wiser than you think.

The truth lies ever between extremes. It is wrong to introduce the child to race consciousness prematurely; it is dangerous to let that consciousness grow spontaneously without intelligent guidance. With every step of dawning intelligence, explanation⁠—frank, free, guiding explanation⁠—must come. The day will dawn when mother must explain gently but clearly why the little girls next door do not want to play with “niggers”; what the real cause is of the teacher’s unsympathetic attitude; and how people may ride in the backs of street cars and the smoker end of trains and still be people, honest high-minded souls.

Remember, too, that in such frank explanation you are speaking in nine cases out of ten to a good deal clearer understanding than you think and that the child-mind has what your tired soul may have lost faith in⁠—the Power and the Glory.

Out of little, unspoiled souls rise up wonderful resources and healing balm. Once the colored child understands the white world’s attitude and the shameful wrong of it, you have furnished it with a great life motive⁠—a power and impulse toward good which is the mightiest thing man has. How many white folk would give their own souls if they might graft into their children’s souls a great, moving, guiding ideal!

With this Power there comes, in the transfiguring soul of childhood, the Glory: the vision of accomplishment, the lofty ideal. Once let the strength of the motive work, and it becomes the life task of the parent to guide and to shape the ideal; to raise it from resentment and revenge to dignity and self-respect, to breadth and accomplishment, to human service; to beat back every thought of cringing and surrender.

Here, at last, we can speak with no hesitation, with no lack of faith. For we know that as the world grows better there will be realized in our children’s lives that for which we fight unfalteringly, but vainly now.

So much for the problem of the home and our own dark children. Now let us look beyond the pale upon the children of the wide world. What is the real lesson of the life of Coleridge-Taylor? It is this: humanly speaking it was sheer accident that this boy developed his genius. We have a right to assume that hundreds and thousands of boys and girls today are missing the chance of developing unusual talents because the chances have been against them; and that indeed the majority of the children of the world are not being systematically fitted for their life work and for life itself. Why?

Many seek the reason in the content of the school program. They feverishly argue the relative values of Greek, mathematics, and manual training, but fail with singular unanimity in pointing out the fundamental cause of our failure in human education: That failure is due to the fact that we aim not at the full development of the child, but that the world regards and always has regarded education first as a means of buttressing the established order of things rather than improving it. And this is the real reason why strife, war, and revolution have marked the onward march of humanity instead of reason and sound reform. Instead of seeking to push the coming generation ahead of our pitiful accomplishment, we insist that it march behind. We say, morally, that high character is conformity to present public opinion; we say industrially that the present order is best and that children must be trained to perpetuate it.

But, it is objected, what else can we do? Can we teach Revolution to the inexperienced in hope that they may discern progress? No, but we may teach frankly that this world is not perfection, but development: that the object of education is manhood and womanhood, clear reason, individual talent and genius and the spirit of service and sacrifice, and not simply a frantic effort to avoid change in present institutions; that industry is for man and not man for industry and that while we must have workers to work, the prime object of our training is not the work but the worker⁠—not the maintenance of present industrial caste but the development of human intelligence by which drudgery may be lessened and beauty widened.

Back of our present educational system is the philosophy that sneers at the foolish Fathers who believed it self-evident, “that all men were created free and equal.” Surely the overwhelming evidence is today that men are slaves and unequal. But is it not education that is the creator of this freedom and equality? Most men today cannot conceive of a freedom that does not involve somebody’s slavery. They do not want equality because the thrill of their happiness comes from having things that others have not. But may not human education fix the fine ideal of an equal maximum of freedom for every human soul combined with that minimum of slavery for each soul which the inexorable physical facts of the world impose⁠—rather than complete freedom for some and complete slavery for others; and, again, is not the equality toward which the world moves an equality of honor in the assigned human task itself rather than equal facility in doing different tasks? Human equality is not lack of difference, nor do the infinite human differences argue relative superiority and inferiority. And, again, how new an aspect human differences may assume when all men are educated. Today we think of apes, semi-apes, and human beings; tomorrow we may think of Keir Hardies, Roosevelts, and Beethovens⁠—not equals but men. Today we are forcing men into educational slavery in order that others may enjoy life, and excuse ourselves by saying that the world’s work must be done. We are degrading some sorts of work by honoring others, and then expressing surprise that most people object to having their children trained solely to take up their father’s tasks.

Given as the ideal the utmost possible freedom for every human soul, with slavery for none, and equal honor for all necessary human tasks, then our problem of education is greatly simplified: we aim to develop human souls; to make all intelligent; to discover special talents and genius. With this course of training beginning in early childhood and never ceasing must go the technical training for the present world’s work according to carefully studied individual gifts and wishes.

On the other hand, if we arrange our system of education to develop workmen who will not strike and Negroes satisfied with their present place in the world, we have set ourselves a baffling task. We find ourselves compelled to keep the masses ignorant and to curb our own thought and expression so as not to inflame the ignorant. We force moderate reformers and men with new and valuable ideas to become red radicals and revolutionists, since that happens to be the only way to make the world listen to reason. Consider our race problem in the South: the South has invested in Negro ignorance; some Northerners proposed limited education, not, they explained, to better the Negro, but merely to make the investment more profitable to the present beneficiaries. They thus gained wide Southern support for schools like Hampton and Tuskegee. But could this program be expected long to satisfy colored folk? And was this shifty dodging of the real issue the wisest statesmanship? No! The real question in the South is the question of the permanency of present color caste. The problem, then, of the formal training of our colored children has been strangely complicated by the strong feeling of certain persons as to their future in America and the world. And the reaction toward this caste education has strengthened the idea of caste education throughout the world.

Let us then return to fundamental ideals. Children must be trained in a knowledge of what the world is and what it knows and how it does its daily work. These things cannot be separated: we cannot teach pure knowledge apart from actual facts, or separate truth from the human mind. Above all we must not forget that the object of all education is the child itself and not what it does or makes.

It is here that a great movement in America has grievously sinned against the light. There has arisen among us a movement to make the Public School primarily the handmaiden of production. America is conceived of as existing for the sake of its mines, fields and factories, and not those factories, fields and mines as existing for America. Consequently, the public schools are for training the mass of men as servants and laborers and mechanics to increase the land’s industrial efficiency.

Those who oppose this program, especially if they are black, are accused of despising common toil and humble service. In fact, we Negroes are but facing in our own children a world problem: how can we, while maintaining a proper output of goods and furnishing needed services, increase the knowledge of experience of common men and conserve genius for the common weal? Without wider, deeper intelligence among the masses Democracy cannot accomplish its greater ends. Without a more careful conservation of human ability and talent the world cannot secure the services which its greater needs call for. Yet today who goes to college, the Talented or the Rich? Who goes to high school, the Bright or the Well-to-Do? Who does the physical work of the world, those whose muscles need the exercise or those whose souls and minds are stupefied with manual toil? How is the drudgery of the world distributed, by thoughtful justice or the lash of Slavery?

We cannot base the education of future citizens on the present inexcusable inequality of wealth nor on physical differences of race. We must seek not to make men carpenters but to make carpenters men.

Colored Americans must then with deep determination educate their children in the broadest, highest way. They must fill the colleges with the talented and fill the fields and shops with the intelligent. Wisdom is the principal thing. Therefore, get wisdom.

But why am I talking simply of “colored” children? Is not the problem of their education simply an intensification of the problem of educating all children? Look at our plight in the United States, nearly 150 years after the establishment of a government based on human intelligence.

If we take the figures of the Thirteenth Census, we find that there were five and one-half million illiterate Americans of whom 3,184,633 were white. Remembering that illiteracy is a crude and extreme test of ignorance, we may assume that there are in the United States ten million people over ten years of age who are too ignorant either to perform their civic duties or to teach industrial efficiency. Moreover, it does not seem that this illiteracy is disappearing rapidly.

For instance, nine percent of American children between ten and nineteen years of age cannot read and write. Moreover, there are millions of children who, judging by the figures for the school year 1909⁠–⁠10, are not going to learn to read and write, for of the Americans six to fourteen years of age there were 3,125,392 who were not in school a single day during that year. If we take the eleven million youths fifteen to twenty years of age for whom vocational training is particularly adapted, we find that nearly five percent of these, or 448,414, are absolutely illiterate; it is not too much to assume that a million of them have not acquired enough of the ordinary tools of intelligence to make the most of efficient vocational training.

Confining ourselves to the white people, over fifteen percent of the white children six to fourteen years of age, or 2,253,198, did not attend school during the school year 1909⁠–⁠10. Of the native white children of native parents ten to fourteen years of age nearly a tenth were not in school during that year; 121,878 native white children of native parents, fifteen to nineteen years of age, were illiterate.

If we continue our attention to the colored children, the case is, of course, much worse.

We cannot hope to make intelligent workmen and intelligent citizens of a group of people, over forty percent of whose children six to fourteen years of age were not in school a single day during 1909⁠–⁠10; for the other sixty percent the school term in the majority of cases was probably less than five months. Of the Negro children ten to fourteen years of age 18.9 percent were illiterate; of those fifteen to nineteen years of age 20.3 percent were illiterate; of those ten to fourteen years of age 31.4 percent did not go to school a single day in 1909⁠–⁠10.

What is the trouble? It is simple. We are spending one dollar for education where we should spend ten dollars. If tomorrow we multiplied our effort to educate the next generation tenfold, we should but begin our bounden duty. The heaven that lies about our infancy is but the ideals come true which every generation of children is capable of bringing; but we, selfish in our own ignorance and incapacity, are making of education a series of miserable compromises: How ignorant can we let a child grow to be in order to make him the best cotton mill operative? What is the least sum that will keep the average youth out of jail? How many months saved on a high school course will make the largest export of wheat?

If we realized that children are the future, that immortality is the present child, that no education which educates can possibly be too costly, then we know that the menace of Kaiserism which called for the expenditure of more than 332 thousand millions of dollars was not a whit more pressing than the menace of ignorance, and that no nation tomorrow will call itself civilized which does not give every single human being college and vocational training free and under the best teaching force procurable for love or money.

This world has never taken the education of children seriously. Misled by selfish dreamings of personal life forever, we have neglected the true and practical immortality through the endless life of children’s children. Seeking counsels of our own souls’ perfection, we have despised and rejected the possible increasing perfection of unending generations. Or if we are thrown back in pessimistic despair from making living folk decent, we leap to idle speculations of a thousand years hereafter instead of working steadily and persistently for the next generation.

All our problems center in the child. All our hopes, our dreams are for our children. Has our own life failed? Let its lesson save the children’s lives from similar failure. Is democracy a failure? Train up citizens that will make it succeed. Is wealth too crude, too foolish in form, and too easily stolen? Train up workers with honor and consciences and brains. Have we degraded service with menials? Abolish the mean spirit and implant sacrifice. Do we despise women? Train them as workers and thinkers and not as playthings, lest future generations ape our worst mistake. Do we despise darker races? Teach the children its fatal cost in spiritual degradation and murder, teach them that to hate “niggers” or “chinks” is to crucify souls like their own. Is there anything we would accomplish with human beings? Do it with the immortal child, with a stretch of endless time for doing it and with infinite possibilities to work on.

Is this our attitude toward education? It is not⁠—neither in England nor America⁠—in France nor Germany⁠—with black nor white nor yellow folk. Education to the modern world is a burden which we are driven to carry. We shirk and complain. We do just as little as possible and only threat or catastrophe induces us to do more than a minimum. If the ignorant mass, panting to know, revolts, we dole them gingerly enough knowledge to pacify them temporarily. If, as in the Great War, we discover soldiers too ignorant to use our machines of murder and destruction, we train them⁠—to use machines of murder and destruction. If mounting wealth calls for intelligent workmen, we rush tumultuously to train workers⁠—in order to increase our wealth. But of great, broad plans to train all men for all things⁠—to make a universe intelligent, busy, good, creative and beautiful⁠—where in this wide world is such an educational program? To announce it is to invite gasps or Brobdingnagian laughter. It cannot be done. It will cost too much.

What has been done with man can be done with men, if the world tries long enough and hard enough. And as to the cost⁠—all the wealth of the world, save that necessary for sheer decent existence and for the maintenance of past civilization, is, and of right ought to be, the property of the children for their education.

I mean it. In one year, 1917, we spent $96,700,000,000 for war. We blew it away to murder, maim, and destroy! Why? Because the blind, brutal crime of powerful and selfish interests made this path through hell the only visible way to heaven. We did it. We had to do it, and we are glad the putrid horror is over. But, now, are we prepared to spend less to make a world in which the resurgence of such devilish power will be impossible?

Do we really want war to cease?

Then educate the children of this generation at a cost no whit less and if necessary a hundred times as great as the cost of the Great War.

Last year, 1917, education cost us $915,000,000.

Next year it ought to cost us at least two thousand million dollars. We should spend enough money to hire the best teaching force possible⁠—the best organizing and directing ability in the land, even if we have to strip the railroads and meat trust. We should dot city and country with the most efficient, sanitary, and beautiful schoolhouses the world knows and we should give every American child common school, high school, and college training and then vocational guidance in earning a living.

Is this a dream?

Can we afford less?

Consider our so-called educational “problems”; “How may we keep pupils in the high school?” Feed and clothe them. “Shall we teach Latin, Greek, and mathematics to the ‘masses’?” If they are worth teaching to anybody, the masses need them most. “Who shall go to college?” Everybody. “When shall culture training give place to technical education for work?” Never.

These questions are not “problems.” They are simply “excuses” for spending less time and money on the next generation. Given ten millions of dollars a year, what can we best do with the education of a million children? The real answer is⁠—kill nine hundred and ninety thousand of them quickly and not gradually, and make thoroughly-trained men and women of the other ten thousand. But who set the limit of ten million dollars? Who says it shall not be ten thousand millions, as it ought to be? You and I say it, and in saying it we sin against the Holy Ghost.

We sin because in our befuddled brains we have linked money and education inextricably. We assume that only the wealthy have a real right to education when, in fact, being born is being given a right to college training. Our wealth today is, we all know, distributed mainly by chance inheritance and personal favor and yet we attempt to base the right to education on this foundation. The result is grotesque! We bury genius; we send it to jail; we ridicule and mock it, while we send mediocrity and idiocy to college, gilded and crowned. For three hundred years we have denied black Americans an education and now we exploit them before a gaping world: See how ignorant and degraded they are! All they are fit for is education for cotton-picking and dish-washing. When Dunbar and Taylor happen along, we are torn between something like shamefaced anger or impatient amazement.

A world guilty of this last and mightiest war has no right to enjoy or create until it has made the future safe from another Arkansas or Rheims. To this there is but one patent way, proved and inescapable, Education, and that not for me or for you but for the Immortal Child. And that child is of all races and all colors. All children are the children of all and not of individuals and families and races. The whole generation must be trained and guided and out of it as out of a huge reservoir must be lifted all genius, talent, and intelligence to serve all the world.

Almighty Death1

Softly, quite softly⁠—
For I hear, above the murmur of the sea,
Faint and far-fallen footsteps, as of One
Who comes from out beyond the endless ends of Time,
With voice that downward looms thro’ singing stars;
Its subtle sound I see thro’ these long-darkened eyes,
I hear the Light He bringeth on His hands⁠—
Almighty Death!
Softly, oh, softly, lest He pass me by,
And that unquivering Light toward which my longing soul
And tortured body through these years have writhed,
Fade to the dun darkness of my days.

Softly, full softly, let me rise and greet
The strong, low luting of that long-awaited call;
Swiftly be all my good and going gone,
And this vast veiled and vanquished vigor of my soul
Seek somehow otherwhere its rest and goal,
Where endless spaces stretch,
Where endless time doth moan,
Where endless light doth pour
Thro’ the black kingdoms of eternal death.

Then haply I may see what things I have not seen,
Then I may know what things I have not known;
Then may I do my dreams.

Farewell! No sound of idle mourning let there be
To shudder this full silence⁠—save the voice
Of children⁠—little children, white and black,
Whispering the deeds I tried to do for them;
While I at last unguided and alone
Pass softly, full softly.