Preparing the Talented Tenth

in Robert Clifton Weaver and the American City

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780226684482
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226684505 | DOI:
Preparing the Talented Tenth

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Robert Tanner Freeman was the son of a former slave and future grandfather of Robert Clifton Weaver. Freeman was a high school graduate who had taken a job as an assistant to a white dentist named Noble in Washington. In the summer of 1867, when Harvard University opened its dental school, Freeman decided to present himself to the dean, Nathan Keep who then accepted him in the school's first class of six. Two years later, Freeman graduated, becoming the first professionally trained black dentist in the country. Freeman moved back to Washington, opened a practice, and established himself as a member of the black elite in the nation's foremost African American community, Washington, DC. When he was born in 1907, Weaver entered a world of both prejudice and privilege. Unlike the overwhelming majority of African Americans (and other Americans) at the time, Weaver grew up in a community that expected him to master the arts and letters, to excel at school, to attend an elite college, and to enter the professional world. It also expected him to be both a “credit to” and an advocate for his race. In this cultured, racially segregated world, Weaver interacted with other youth who would take their place among the group that W. E. B. DuBois named the “Talented Tenth.” Weaver's family and friends — refined, educated, aloof from the masses, and determined to advance by means of the methodical acquisition of economic and political power within the existing system — would profoundly influence him, shaping the personality traits that would carry him to academic and professional success throughout his career.

Keywords: Robert Tanner Freeman; Robert Clifton Weaver; African Americans; dentist; Harvard University

Chapter.  10171 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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