While W.E.B. DuBois was penning his famed essay about privileged blacks, “The Talented Tenth,” my cousin Elijah Tindell was busy living the concept and preparing himself to accept DuBois’ challenge to the educated Negro.
From my research, I’ve detemined that Elijah Tindell (1890-1973) could very well be considerd a part of Coffee County’s Talented Tenth. For the uninitiated, The Talented Tenth refers to the black intelligentsia, who DuBois charged with advancing the race. According to a brief biography written by his younger sister Lula (1904-1996), Elijah Tindell was a graduate of Selma University in Selma Ala. He was also educated at Hampton Institute, Tuskegee Institute and Howard University. (Lula would follow in her brother’s footsteps– she was a member of Tuskegee Institute’s class of 1922.)
At the time, DuBois and Tuskegee founder Booker T. Washington, the nation’s prominent black scholars, debated what was best for the Negro. DuBois promoted a liberal arts education while demanding equal rights. Washington argued for vocational education and self-sufficiency among blacks and adopting a conciliatory attitude regarding race relations.
The Tindells proved that it wasn’t an either-or situation. Elijah Tindell was educated at some of the best schools in the country, including Howard University, Hampton Institute and Tuskegee Institute. But he provided vocational education to dozens of children in southeast Alabama. After spending a decade at Coffee County Training School as its principal, he went on to Russell County Training School.
DuBois wrote that “the Negro race. . . is going to be saved by its exceptional men.” Elijah Tindell fits snugly in that “Exceptional Men” category. He, along, with other Coffee County residents, made it their mission to broaden the opportunities for black children so that their lives would not be as bleak as their circumstances might have predicted.