What Was Meant by the Talented Tenth?

The phrase "the Talented Tenth," which was coined by W.E.B. Du Bois in an essay published in 1903, refers to the portion of the African American population that should be accorded the best opportunities to be educated and trained as teachers and leaders. Du Bois believed African Americans required more than just industrial and technical training; a liberal arts and an academic education was required for the Talented Tenth to develop the skills and experience required of a leadership elite capable of establishing the ideals for the rest of the community.

Du Bois was not against the idea of providing industrial and technical training for African Americans, a cause which was championed by Booker T. Washington. Du Bois' position was that a realization of the potential of the Talented Tenth would not be served by an education limited to job-specific training. To support his views in his 1903 essay, Du Bois noted historical African American figures, such as Frederick Douglass and David Walker. He also cited the accomplishments of African American college graduates.