It is well to have at hand a brief summary of the principal scientific opinions on the question of mental capacity of the Negro. Scientific data to-day which would be a basis for drawing conclusions about the mind capacity and power or for attributing inherent inferiority to this or that branch of the human race are not available. As Retzel says,1 "At present the Negro in Africa no doubt appears to us uncivilized, but that means undeveloped, not incapable of development . . . The difficulty of forming a judgment about races increases where it has only been possible to observe them closely either in the abnormal state of slavery or under conditions which cannot be compared with ours.... He who would judge of them (Africans) should avoid adding to their unfavorable circumstances his own unfavorable prejudices".
Woodworth, the well-known psychologist, has the same view. He says:2 "One thing the psychologist can assert with no fear of error . . . starting from the various mental processes, which are recognized in the text-books, he can assert that each of these processes is within the capabilities of each group of mankind. All have the same senses, the same instincts and emotions. All can remember the past and imagine objects not present to sense. All discriminate, compare, reason, and invent . . . Statements to the contrary, denying to the savage powers of reasoning or abstraction or inhibition or foresight, can be dismissed at once".
At different times there have been popular types of opinion about the capacity of the Negro which attempted to prove his inferiority first through signs of subnormal physical characteristics such as length of arms and body and shape of head. Then came efforts at scientific tests of brain weights and structure and skull capacity to prove inferiority. For full discussion of such questions of ethnology, the reader may consult such books as Deniker's Races of Man. The best authorities conclude that there is too slender a body of scientific fact to serve as a basis of determining the mental rank of races. 3 As WoodlRetzel, Friedrich, History of Mankind, Vol. II, pp. 319-329. 2 Woodworth, R. S., "Racial Differences in Mental Traits," Science, New Series, Vol. 31, p. 174. 3 Woodworth, R. S., work cited, pp. 172-173.
Woodworth says: "Whites and Negroes, though differing markedly in complexion and hair, overlap very extensively in almost every other trait; as, for example, stature. Even in brain weight, which would seem a trait of great importance in relation to intelligence and civilization, the overlapping is much more impressive than the difference. ... If they should be jumbled together, we should never be able to separate the Negroes from the whites by aid of brain weights".
In later discussion, mental tests and observations have gained considerable attention. On this point Ferguson remarks:1. "There has been no settled body of doctrine concerning the vastly important matter of the mental capacity of the Negro. One man has held that the Negro is equal to the white in intellect Another has held that a great intellectual gulf separates the two races. And there have been many varieties of views between these two extremes." Professor Miller says, "Instead of drawing a line between races, psychological comparison demonstrates by the overlapping (of individual cases) similarity instead of difference." 2
To-day, the scientific material is taking the form of psychological analyses through methods of objective tests. These comparative tests will eventually bring us very valuable results, but present data are far too meager for conclusions. These tests are usually in the form of exercises to try the powers of perception, memory, color discrimination, etc. Dr. Mayo3 attempted to determine the comparative intellectual capacity of the white and Negro pupils of the high schools of New York City by the scholastic marks given them by teachers. Aside from the small number of cases he used, about 150 of each race, he assumed that (1) they worked under nearly identical conditions; (2) they pursued the same studies; (3) they were measured by the same standards; (4) they had received like elementary and grammar school training; and (5) that there is a close correspondence between scholastic efficiency and intellectual capacity.
To those who know the conditions of life of Negro youth and those of other youth in New York it is evident that the neighborhood and home conditions differ radically and that all the opportunities for use in occupations and other walks of life of high school training, which so largely determines student morale, is very different Again, probably many of the Negroes who reached the high schools in New York had a part of their grammar school work in the South where schools are very much below those of New York or other Northern cities. To say that the scholastic efficiency of New York high schools is a measure of intellectual capacity carries evident limitations. With these and the two other assumptions, the results showed only "a difference of four points in average class standing between (the) two (racial) groups," a difference that the investigator himself counts as of little significance.
1 Ferguson, George Oscar, "The Psychology of the Negro," Archives of Psychology, No. 36, April, 1916, Vol. XXV, No. 1, p. 1.
2 Miller, Herbert A., "The Myth of Racial Inferiority," The World To-morrow, March, 1922.
3 Mayo, Marion J., "The Mental Capacity of the American Negro" Ph.D. thesis, reprinted from the Archives of Psychology, No. 28.
After a quantitative study1 of white and Negro school children of the public schools of Richmond, Fredericksburg and Newport News, Virginia, while admitting that the groups studied are not typical of the white and Negro populations in general, Ferguson still reaches a conclusion that while there is practically no difference in the two races in "the so-called lower traits," . . . motor capacity, sense capacity, perceptive and discriminative ability, "the simpler receptive and discharging functions, ... it is in the central elaborate powers upon which thought more directly depends that differences exist." He does not produce sufficient data to show that there are such and what they are so as to warrant such a conclusion.
The Virginia Educational Commission, composed of some of the nation's ablest educational experts, who studied the public schools of that state, conducted mental tests of about 20,000 pupils, white and colored, in city and non-city schools, "producing a body of information," as the report says, "never before approached in this country or any other. This material is considered by competent judges to be the most satisfactory body of measurement data which has ever been collected." Commenting on the results, from the median scores for colored children compared with those for white children for the tests in addition, spelling, reading, and handwriting in school grades III to VII inclusive, the Commission says:2 An examination shows that the apparent differences are not very great between the achievements of colored children and those of white children. It must be remembered, however, that in almost every grade considered colored children are on the average a year or more older and have attended school on the average a year longer than white pupils".
1 Ferguson, work cited.
2 Report to the General Assembly of Virginia of the Virginia Public Schools Education Commission, Richmond, 1919, p. 131.