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The title of Gates and Wests book evokes nineteenth and early twentieth-century works Martin Delayns Past Present and Future of the Negro Race 1854 William Hannibal Thomass The American NegroWhat He Was What He Is and What He May Become 1901 Within all these titles lie two assumptions no longer so openly embraced that it is possible to speak of African-Americans in the singularas what used to be called the Negro and now most often appears as the black communityand that the authors in question possess authority to speak for the whole African American race Gates and West two of our leading black intellectuals cast themselves as the grandchildren of what Du Bois called the Talented Tenth Perhaps with the Du Boisian Vandyke beards and the DuBoisian three-piece suits the grandsons of Du Bois himself Certainly they are taking upon themselves the Talented Tenths early twentieth century responsibility to lead the race Who is the Talented Tenth This time-bound phrase comes from Du Boiss 1903 essay The Negro Problem quoted in the Appendix of The Future of the Race and begin The Negro race like all races is going to be saved by its exceptional men These exceptional men and Du Bois did mean men would guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst The Talented Tenth would shoulder the task of uplifting the race without succumbing to money-grubbing selfishness their formal education signified their intelligence and enlightened character In 1903 the Talented Tenth was broadminded and big-hearted by definition The passage of forty-five years diminished Du Boiss assurance By 1948 he had revised his appraisal and that revision also appears in the Appendix He confessed error of his assumption that altruism flowed automatically from higher education The Best Men had not become the best men He lamented that the Talented Tenth had mostly produced self-indulgent egotists who turned their training toward personal advancement Meanwhile Du Bois had been learning to
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