Carter G. Woodson: The New Type of Professional Man Required

Photo of Carter G. Woodson, who became known as 
"The Father of Black History" in the United States 


Excerpt from, "The Mis-Education of the Negro"

By Carter Godwin Woodson

Negroes should study for the professions for all sane reasons that members of another race should go into these lines of endeavor and also on account of the particular call to serve the lowly of their race. In the case of the law we should cease to make exceptions because of the possibilities for failure resulting from prejudice against the Negro lawyer and the lack of Negro business enterprises to require their serves. Negroes must become like English gentlemen who study the law of the land, not because every gentleman should know the law. In the interpretation of the law by the courts, too, all the rights of the Negroes in this country are involved; and a large number of us must qualify for this important service. WE may have too many lawyers of the wrong kind, but we have not our share of the right kind. 
The Negro lawyer has tended to follow in the footsteps of the average white practitioner and has not developed the power which he could acquire if he knew more about the people whom he should serve and the problems they have to confront. These things are not law in themselves, but they determine largely whether or not the Negro will practice law and the success he will have in the profession. The failure to give attention to these things has often means the downfall of many a Negro lawyer. 
There are, moreover, certain aspects of law which the white man would hardly address himself but to which the Negro should direct special attention. Of unusual important to the Negro is the necessity for understanding the misrepresentations in criminal records of Negroes, and race distinctions in the laws of modern nations. These matters require a systematic study of the principles of law and legal procedure and, in addition thereto, further study of legal problems as they meet the Negro lawyer in the life which he must live. This offers the Negro law school an unusual opportunity. 
Because our lawyers do not give attention to these problems they often fail in a crisis. They are interest in the race and want to defend its cause. The case, however, requires, not only the unselfish spirit they sometimes manifest but much more understanding of the legal principles involved. Nothing illustrates this better than the failure of one of our attorneys to measure up in the case brought up to the United States Supreme Court from Oklahoma to test the validity of the exclusion of Negroes from Pullman cars. The same criticism may be made of the segregation case of the District of Columbia brought before this highest tribunal by another Negro attorney. In both of these cases the lawyers started wrong and therefore ended wrong. They lacked the knowledge to present their cases properly to the court. 
Our lawyers must learn that the judges are not attorneys themselves, for they have to decide the merits of what is presented to them. It is not the business of the judges to amend their pleadings or decide their cases according to their good intentions. Certainly such generosity cannot be expected from prejudiced courts which are looking for every loophole possible to escape from frank decision on the rights of Negroes guaranteed by the constitution. These matters require advanced study and painstaking research; but our lawyers, as a rule, are not interested in this sort of mental exercise.

Video of Carter G. Woodson: African American Trailblazers


Roadside Marker for Carter Godwin Woodson,
West Virginia Division of Archives and History

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