The New Talented Tenth

Vernon Jordan

For nearly two decades, Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. has been invited to speak at a Sunday service of the historic Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel on the campus of Howard University.  Jordan, who graduated from Howard University Law School in 1960, has often described Rankin Chapel as one of the touchstones of his life.  Last Sunday, his speech there concerned a different topic, Black Americans’ New Talented Tenth, and, with his permission, we reprint it here.

Let Us Bow Our Heads:

God of Our Weary Years,

God of Our Silent Tears,

Thou Who Hath Brought Us Thus Far

On Our Way.

Thou Who Hath Led Us

Into The Light,

Keep Us Forever In Thy Path, We Pray;

Lest Our Feet Stray from the Places,

Our God, Where We Met Thee,

Lest Our Hearts Drunk With The Wine

Of The World, We Forget Thee.

Shadowed Beneath Thy Hand,

May We Forever Stand,

True to Our God,

True to Our Native Land.

Let the chapel say “Amen.

Once again, Dean [Bernard] Richardson [Dean of Rankin Chapel] has summoned me to the Hilltop, to the beautiful and historic Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel, where I first worshipped in September of 1957, my first year at Howard University Law School.

Since 1992 it has been my great honor to occupy this hallowed pulpit where Mordecai Johnson, Benjamin Mays, Gardner Taylor, Martin Luther King, Jr., Howard Thurman, William Holmes Borders, Vernon Johns, Daniel Hill, Evans Crawford and others preached, instructed, inspired, and guided this university family, feeding us with knowledge and understanding – while reminding our consciences to hunger.

Coming here is one of the mountain-top experiences of my life, and I thank Dean Richardson for another “subpoena” to experience “the sweet torture of Sunday morning in the Rankin Chapel pulpit.”

My subject this morning is the New Talented Tenth, and my text is found in Psalms, Chapter 116, Verse 12. The text reads: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all the benefits he has provided me?”

The phrase, The Talented Tenth, was coined by Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois in 1903 to describe the top 10 percent of Black Americans—the men and women he believed would become the leaders of Black America.

Du Bois wrote, “The Negro Race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education … is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the worst, in their


From the Web