An early witness to merciless flogging and brutal mental cruelty by various white overseers, at the age of seven or eight, he understood that "it was not color, but crime, not God, but man, that afforded the true explanation of slavery."[11]  Like most African Americans, Washington did not have to be told that a color line existed. He remembered hearing, with his family and other slaves, a Yankee soldier read the Emancipation Proclamation from the veranda of his master's house. Washington wrote that at this moment, "my mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks."[12]  He was only four years old at the time. W. E. B. DuBois, on the other hand, wrote that he learned of race and racism between the ages of ten and twelve, an unusually long period of racial innocence. Unlike Douglass in the slave society of Maryland's Eastern Shore, DuBois' sense of race evolved not with "a jump or a jolt---but very gradually."[13]  Being a fraction of one percent of the 5000 people in Great Barrington, Blacks were not particularly feared. Adults had an understanding of the race etiquette awaiting young DuBois. Washington trails behind Douglass and DuBois in his realization of the role of race and racism in determining both status and prospects: he saw as a "great human law, which is universal and eternal, that merit, no matter under which skin found, is, in the long run, recognized and rewarded."[14]  Washington attempted to argue that, merit notwithstanding, great adversities generate greater motivation: "looked at from this standpoint, I almost reach the conclusion that often the Negro boy's birth and connection with an unpopular race is an advantage, so far as real life is concerned."[15]  As a precocious student in Great Barrington, DuBois fancied himself intellectually superior to most persons of either race and believed that the applause he received was meritorious. He took solitary satisfaction in his belief that his future achievements would prove beyond any doubt his basic superiority to them, their only claim to fame being that they knew him when they were all students. In their youth none of these men escaped the pervasive social realities of the color line.

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August 1999