“The Negro race is a child race.” This fact was often repeated by the late Booker T. Washington. A child race ought to be taught to put first things first. The cultivation of divine gifts—things of the spirit—is first in the building of individuals and races.
The Negro is highly endowed with things of the spirit—love, forbearance, gentleness, meekness, forgiveness, hope, song, faith—but he is not cultivating them. Gifts of the spirit are made to races for three fundamental purposes: to enable them to lift themselves, by their own boot straps as it were; to lay secure foundations on which to build materially; and to make valuable contributions to world progress, independent of, but conjointly with, other races.
The first thing for a race to learn is the value of gifts of the spirit and how to use them. These gifts develop moral stamina, self-respect, independence, and courage within, and secure respect from without. Thus panoplied, races face great tasks and march to battle unafraid.
The Negro has undermined his spiritual and moral vitality, by cultivating an insatiable love for the material at the expense of higher virtues. As a result, he sits apathetic and paralytic before his great moral tasks. The fact is, the Negro and his credulous friends have done too much bragging about his material progress. He brags about what he owns, but he goes to others for what he needs. The time spent in bragging should have been given to the development of qualities of soul. Despite his bragging “something” inside of the Negro tells him that he is not putting on the right armor. Despite his superficial display of things material, he heads the receiving line before philanthropists for gifts for his uplift.
Complete absorption of thought, time, and strength to the acquisition of material things spells moral death and spiritual death to any race. The Negro in his puerile state of mind is conjured into believing that things—houses, land, bank accounts, second-hand knowledge, and rights—will get him a place of power in this material civilization. They will not. He cannot catch up with the Anglo-Saxon materially, but he can catch up with him spiritually and morally.
If progress is to be measured in physical materials and dollars and brains, in themselves, the Negro will be—by comparison, for centuries— contemptibly poor. Why, there is an automobile manufacturer in Detroit and a mail-order house magnet in Chicago who could buy everything which the race owns and then have enough money left to keep on producing cars and mailing clothes. One rubber-tire manufacturer in Ohio has done more by the use of his brains to keep the Negro moving physically, than the Negro has done for himself in that particular. But where is the Negro going and what is he going to do when he gets there? That’s the question.
Despite the fact that the race is travelling at high speed materially, it cannot get within hailing distance of the race that has a thousand years lead of him in material things. The Anglo-Saxon, on his own nerve, initiative, and inventions has stopped riding and gone to flying. The Negro has no plane, but he can soar in spirit. That is what the Anglo-Saxon did first. That is how he got the plane. The Negro must use his brains to supply some vital needs. This civilization is in great need of gifts of the spirit, but has no material want which it cannot satisfy. In fact, America will destroy herself and revert to barbarism if she continues to cultivate the things of the flesh and neglects the higher virtues. The Negro must not, therefore, contribute to her doom, but must ransom her.
Furthermore, it will profit the Negro nothing to enter into ungodly competition for material possessions when he has gifts of greater value. The most valuable contribution which he can make to American civilization must be made out of his spiritual endowment. He must do it in self-defense, and in defense of America. She needs it. Without it she will never dispense justice, and will be consumed by her own folly and wrath. The Negro has helped save America physically several times. He must make a larger contribution to her spiritual salvation. Who knows but that the divine purpose for bringing him into this country was that, in due time, he might make just such a contribution.
The tragedy in this problem-solving enterprise is that the Negro is not being taught the tremendous achieving power of his virtues. He is not being taught to glorify what he is. When he learns that he has the leaven that is needed in this American lump, he will put it in. In other words, he will proceed to use his spiritual powers and give new meaning and proper evaluation to the Beatitudes, and at the same time, give new impetus to the development of a real Christian civilization.
When the Negro learns what manner of man he is spiritually, he will wake up all over. He will stop playing white, even on the stage. He will rise in the majesty of his own soul. He will glorify the beauty of his own brown skin. He will stop thinking white and go to thinking straight and living right. He will realize that wrong reaching, wrong bleaching, and wrong mixing have “most nigh ruin’t him” and he will redeem his body and rescue his soul from the bondage of that death.
The final values of races are computed almost entirely in terms of high ideals and noble purposes lived up to. Jesus told his ambitious, materialistic disciples that the kingdom—the glory which they craved—is not here and it is not there—it is within you. In other words, it is not what you have but what you are inside of yourself, that counts.
I believe it is the Negro’s sacred duty to spiritualize American life and popularize his own color instead of worshiping the color (or lack of color) of another race. It can be done in Negro life, in pictures, in plays, in books, in spirit, if the Negro would spend as much time glorifying his own character as he now spends imitating the color and foibles of the white race. The Negro can become the most beloved and the most lovely race in the world. His happy spirit and varied hue make him the very spice of life among other races. No race is richer in soul quality and color than the Negro. Some day he will realize it and glorify them. He will popularize black.
The Negro can actually use the bathtub, the Bible, and the broom— weapons and emblems of health, righteousness, and industry, and make of himself and his environment things of loveliness and beauty. It is within him—within his grasp—within his power—within his group. If he uses them religiously, the race will “rise and shine.”
God wants to help the Negro work out his own salvation. The Negro need not be skeptical as to the outcome, because the Almighty is at His best when He is working with an individual or race to prove that the weapons of His warfare are not carnal, but spiritual. If I were a Negro preacher, looking for a text for a timely sermon to preach to the entire race, I would paraphrase and analyze Solomon’s wisdom-getting advice and make it read:
“Get education—but with all your getting—get common sense.
Get clothes—but with all your getting—get clean.
Get houses—but with all your getting—get homes.
Get stores—but with all your getting—get standards.
Get your rights—but with all your getting—get right.”
Preachers, teachers, leaders, welfare workers ought to address themselves to the supreme task of teaching the entire race to glorify what it has—its face (its color); its place (its homes and communities); its grace (its spiritual endowment). If the Negro does it, there is no earthly force that can stay him.
Burroughs, Nannie Helen. 1927. "With All Thy Getting." Southern Workman 56(7): 299-301. https://virginiachronicle.com/?a=d&d=SWM19270701&e=-------en-20--1--txt-txIN--------