African American History Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois Essay

Question: Compare and contrast the evolving philosophies and organizational approaches of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Viewing them in the context of the times their individual programs were advanced, what were the merits and drawbacks of each individual’s program? And, which (if any) aspect of these programs are useful and/or detrimental in the current struggles of black Americans? Booker T. Washington was born a slave in the south, and W. E. B. Dubois was born free in the North.

Their different births and upbringings would set the controversial stage for two men who were great leaders of the black community in the 19th and 20th centuries. They both advocated for civil rights, but each had contrasting ideas and strategies on how to overcome the daily discrimination that black men, women, and children faced as a people. Washington encouraged blacks to evolve through patience and self-discipline. He promoted an indirect approach to social and political acceptance through economic advancement.

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Dubois, who was twelve years younger than Washington, was more radical and direct in his approach to end racial oppression. He believed blacks should demand their constitutional and political rights. Essentially, the two had very different views of what manhood meant. Washington believed that with an industrial education, a man could have a business and provide a living for his family and the future of his generation. Dubois, on the other hand, was in favor of a liberal arts education and argued inclusion and believed that a man shouldn’t have to bow and conform to the wishes of white society. Class Notes, March 17, 2012) In the context of the times, Washington’s strategies offered more merit to blacks while aspects of Dubois’ program would prove more damaging in the 1900s but more useful in the future struggles of black Americans. The temperament of the times can be found in a quote by Henry Grady, an editor of the Atlanta Constitution in 1887, who stated “The supremacy of the white race of the South must be maintained forever, and the domination of the negro race resisted at all points and at all hazards— because the white race is the superior race.

This is the declaration of no new truth. It has abided forever in the marrow of our bones, and shall run forever with the blood that feeds Anglo- Saxon hearts. ” (Darlene Clark Hine, et al. , The African-American Odyssey, p. 352) This quote is evidence to the war that would continue to be waged against blacks. Between 1875 and 1900 African Americans faced their lowest point or the Nadir of Black Life in America. Blacks were still considered intellectually, morally, and culturally inferior to whites.

More blacks were killed after slavery because of the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery (on paper), the 14th Amendment which granted equal rights and due process (on paper), and the 15th Amendment which gave the right to vote to men (black and white). In the north, big Industrial businesses boomed. The Republicans became tired of the Negro question “what are you going to do with these blacks”? While, in the south, Democrats wanted to reestablish southern dominance. They were the party of white supremacy, the Klu Klux Klan, the “master”, and the southern planters’ elite. Class Notes, March 16, 2012) The plight of blacks to be treated as equal citizens was not at the forefront of the general public. Demoralizing African Americans through brutality and discrimination took center stage and was directly related to social power, economics, and politics. White supremacy kept creating new legislation and re-creating the political structure to counter any strategies by blacks to emerge in these areas. Because blacks were considered inferior, whites had to keep them away from the white society.

Separate but equal for blacks and whites translated to unwritten subservient etiquette rules for blacks, and widespread segregation which began with public transportation. Blacks still paid taxes but received very low-standard accommodations in transportation, schools, drinking fountains, restrooms, and other public settings. Racial violence against blacks increased. Ritualistic executions of blacks, known as lynchings, would usually occur when a white woman cried rape or was disrespected. A lynching was official when two or more people conducted it, reported it in the paper, and a body was recovered.

Four thousand official lynchings were reported over time. Lynchings would be publicized and huge crowds would show to cheer. Black men were castrated, shot in gut to bleed but not die, dragged behind vehicles, and burned. Occasionally women and children were lynched. People took souvenirs such as a tooth, finger, or knee cap. Postcards with photographs of the lynching were sold and the lynched body was advertised with signs attached for other blacks to see. There was no threat of prosecution for lynching a black person so they occurred every other day.

Lynchings were to curve black aspirations and appetites for going outside of their bounds. (Class Notes, March 17, 2012) African Americans and their leaders were also dealing with internal disagreements about how to secure the constitutional rights and the material comforts that so many white Americans took for granted. Many, following Booker T. Washington, the founder of the Tuskegee Institute, cautioned against the vigorous pursuit of civil rights and political power and insisted that agricultural and industrial training would generate prosperity and self- sufficiency among people of color.

Others, following Du Bois, the founder of the Niagara Movement (urged blacks to emphatically protest for their political rights) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ( NAACP), favored a frontal assault on discrimination, disfranchisement, and Jim Crow. (Darlene Clark Hine, et al. , The African-American Odyssey, p. 414) In the 1900s Booker T. Washington was the nation’s most influential black leader. He had access to the most powerful political and business leaders in the United States. He would even become an advisor to the President.

Washington was a former slave with no money who, with help; taught himself to read; was a very religious person; always the top student in his class; worked his way through school, and people admired him. Washington soothed white people and reassured black Americans as he counseled conciliation, patience, and agricultural and mechanical training as the most effective means to bridge the racial divide. His 1895 speech at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta elicited praise from both white and black listeners. (Darlene Clark Hine, et al. , The African-American Odyssey, p. 43) Washington cleverly spoke in a way to raise up black aspirations without making white people fearful enough to kill and change laws. The south was only three decades out of the Civil War, and one of every three people was black. Many blacks in the south were kept illiterate and impoverished. Washington told whites that if they kept this up they will also be down. But, if they help lift blacks up, they and their community will also be lifted. He advised blacks to not be so distressed where they could not see the opportunity around them, and that their destiny was in the south.

He also stated to cast down their buckets where they were in areas of trades and mechanics to live by production with their hands. During this time, black white collar workers such as lawyers could not find much work. Washington thought being a doctor was great, but stated; don’t miss the opportunity in front of you right now. Washington also expressed to whites that black people have never treated them wrong and since their destiny rest in blacks, stop brutalizing them and help blacks get an education. Whites, at this time, feared blacks would vote and take over.

Washington told whites that blacks would temporarily submit to political authority. He believed that once blacks were successful in business, they could not be denied the right to vote. This actually made sense to even the most racist white person. The majority of blacks loved Washington’s ideas because they lived his experiences and they actually wanted to be separate from whites. Washington informed blacks not to agitate things to keep violence down. Although he thought segregation was wrong, he it was not practical or safe to agitate things right now.

He argued that economical power was a better way to lead to political power. (Class Notes, March 17, 2012) W. E. B. Dubois liked Washington’s speech initially, but later thought he was selling out black people. Dubois’ background was almost opposite to Washington. As stated, Dubois was born free and grew up in the North. He thought Washington’s vision limited blacks and thought blacks should go to schools that taught them to think and use their minds. He believed political power was better. Dubois was not a man of violence, but he thought blacks should peacefully, slowly protest and demand rights with their voices and minds.

Washington thought Dubois might be right, but his ideas would get people killed. The Wizard of Tuskegee, as Washington was known, had little appreciation for criticism and did not hesitate to attack his opponents, including W. E. B. Du Bois. He worked to subvert Dubois’ Niagara Movement and the NAACP. But support for Washington and his conservative strategy diminished as the NAACP openly confronted racial discrimination. Washington died in 1915. By 1920 the NAACP took the lead in the struggle for civil rights as it fought in the courts and legislatures. The Talented Tenth of black Americans, distinguished by their ducational and economic resources, promoted “self- help” through a variety of organizations— from women’s groups to fraternities and sororities— to enhance their own status and help less affluent black people. As black men served in World War I and as thousands of black southerners migrated north, many white Americans became alarmed that African Americans were not as content with their subordinate and isolated status as Booker T. Washington had suggested they were. Some white Americans responded with violence in race riots as they attempted to prevent black Americans from assuming a more equitable role in American society.

By 1920, despite white opposition, black Americans had demonstrated they would not accept economic subservience and the denial of their rights. (Darlene Clark Hine, et al. , The African-American Odyssey, p. 443) From the efforts of Washington and Dubois’ approaches, African Americans devised strategies and organized institutions to enable them to prosper in a hostile society. After Booker T. Washington, other influential African American leaders would follow such as Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. Just like after W. E. B.

Dubois, more notable leaders also emerged such as Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2008, President Barack Obama became the first African American President of the United States of America. In 903 W. E. B. Du Bois announced that race would be the century’s critical issue: “ The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line— the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea. ” (Darlene Clark Hine, et al. , The African-American Odyssey, p. 414)

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