Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/370

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THE average American negro presents a puzzling contradiction in his educational progress. As a rule he masters the elements of reading with ease; but as a rule also the developed language, the expressive medium of subtle relations and of complex experiences, defies his efforts. It is true that even the untutored roll off abstruse terms and involved phrases with peculiar unction, but this is a case of "words, words," that rather proves than disproves my meaning. I have in mind not sound as such, but sound as "an echo of sense."

The phenomenon which I have mentioned had so often been brought to my notice that I put myself at last to find out the explanation. This could only be done by examining a particular case. Circumstances determined the selection, with the result, of course, that there are conditions to be weighed in the balance. On the whole, however, the case, I believe, is typical. The subject of my experiment is very nearly a full negro, if family tradition and family features may be trusted. No trace of white blood is discernible in either parent, and their ancestors known to them for two generations back were negroes like themselves. On the father's side, tradition says, there was an Indian grandfather three removes from the present generation, but the Indian element has been lost in the transmittal, unless possibly it survives in a slight modification of the African hue. The man is of a dark coffee color, stout built, strong, sluggish, and extremely faithful, as is shown by the fact that he has retained the same place eighteen years. The mother is slightly darker in color than her husband, and of tall, supple figure; her mind is active, her movements are quick; she rules and guides her household by virtue of a superiority that all instinctively recognize. As a girl she was trained to domestic service by a painstaking mistress, while the father passed his youth as an ordinary field hand. Three prenatal conditions are typified in the name which these parents with due ceremony bestowed upon their son—Isaiah Asbury Bell. The family name is theirs only by virtue of a previous condition of servitude to planter Bell; Methodism accounts for the second name, and pious reverence for a book which neither of them can read, and perhaps a certain pleasure in euphonious sounds, for the first. The latter inference is confirmed by the names given their three daughters—Triphenie, Romana, and Albertina. This sensitiveness to sound I note as a family trait, because it may prove to have some bearing upon the boy's personal equation. Isaiah is a young edition of his father, equally sluggish, awkward, and obsti-