Du Bois' theory of the “Talented Tenth” was the second chapter in The Negro Problem, a Collection of African American Essays. (1903). In the essay, Du Bois explained his theory, maintaining that in the nineteenth century there was a talented group that existed even before he formulated the concept. He contended that there was a distinguished group of persons of exceptional abilities who were among the best of their time. For Du Bois early examples of these “talented tenthers” were abolitionists Henry Highland Gannet, Sojourner Truth, Alexander Crummel, and Frederick Douglass. “They stood as living examples of the possibilities of the Negro race.…They were the men [sic] who made American slavery impossible.”
Now, he suggests that this group should come from the class of educated blacks, not only those with a liberal arts education but also those with vocational training: “I believe that next to the founding of the Negro colleges the most valuable addition to Negro education since the war, has been industrial training for black boys. Nevertheless, I insist that the object of all true education is not to make men carpenters, it is to make carpenters men.”
He wished to limit the group to 10 percent because at the time he speculated that only 10 percent of African Americans had the education or training that he envisioned was necessary for the advancement of the race.
Education was not the only factor to determine “Talented Tenth” membership but also hard work, a sense of personal worth, and commitment to racial uplift. Although superficially the theory seems elitist, Du Bois was facing the realities of the time. Many groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League, the Association for Negro History, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and other organizations, formed around Du Bois' Talented Tenth theory.