Difference Between Booker T. Washington And W.E.B. DuBois In Strategy To Support Civil Rights For African Americans

November 9, 2021 by Essay Writer

Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois both supported the progression of Civil Rights for African Americans and are recognized as the dominant leaders and civil right activists of the African American community. However, unlike Du Bois who advocated in favor of rapid changes with immediate effects, Washington preached in favor of more accommodating changes that would gradually intertwine the black and white communities until they were eventually equal. The origin of this disagreement in strategy can be sourced back to the different background of both leaders since unlike Du Bois who had never been a slave yet still suffered for his race, Washington was born into slavery and was raised in a time full of radical changes ranging from the Civil War, Jim Crow Laws, and the Emancipation Proclamation to the United States becoming the leading industrial nation and Reconstruction.

Booker T. Washington was born in 1856 and into slavery to a slave mother and an unknown white man in a small plantation located in Franklin County, Virginia. He and his family moved to Malden, West Virginia at the end of the Civil War in 1865 where he worked at a salt mine at the tender age of nine up until 1871 while at the same time finding enough time to enroll at a local Negro school. At the age of sixteen, he resolved to enroll at Hampton Institute in Virginia, a school founded by whites in 1868 with General Samuel C. Armstrong as its principal. General Armstrong was convinced that the main problem that the freed African Americans faced was a lack of a practical education that would teach them the necessary skills for earning a livelihood while at the same time aid them in developing character and morality.

These beliefs were passed down to Washington as made evident by their continued method of teaching in the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute that had Washington as its principal at the recommendation of General Armstrong himself. This institute was made possible thanks to the authorization of opening normal schools for the training of colored teachers by the Alabama legislature who also provided a two-thousand-dollar salary. Unfortunately, Washington was not provided with any land or buildings for his school and had to conduct his first class in a shanty that was loaned by the local Negro Church. After much struggle, Washington was able to secure enough land, usable equipment, teachers, and students for his institute. Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute was an all-Negro school that was mainly constructed via student labor, grew its own food for its students, and taught academic subjects that were utilitarian in nature and related to the actual experience of its students. The subjects were a mixture of industrial training in fields ranging from blacksmithing to even agriculture for the boys, and housework skills such as cooking and sewing for the girls; all skills taught also placed a strong emphasis on character building for all students no matter their age or gender.

By the time of Washington’s death in 1915, the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute had an endowment of $2 million, property worth more than $1.5 million, and an annual budget of $300,000. Tuskegee graduates also went on to teach all over the United States and even in foreign countries such as Africa. From the very start of his years in the Tuskegee Institute Washington had gone on various northern tours seeking fund and making speeches on behalf of his school and to explain his educational doctrines to hopeful students. These tours gave him a reputation as a great speaker and eventually gave way to his designation of giving an address on behalf of the African American community at the opening of the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta on September 18, 1895. This speech is one of the main factors to his emergence as a national dominant figure in the search of Civil Rights for African Americans and will eventually be known as the infamous Atlanta Address. In this speech, Booker T. Washington expressed his desire for the cooperation between both whites and blacks and emphasized the importance of this by declaring it impractical to do otherwise seeing as one-third of the Southern population was African American which would prevent any industrial growth should this part of the population be ignored. Washington also announced his socio-economic philosophy of blacks prospering in proportion as they learned to overcome the gap from slavery to freedom. He proposed the implementation of vocational education and shifting the focus from short-term goals of immediate change towards equality to more long-term ones that would gradually lead to equality amongst the two different races as the whites saw the contribution from the blacks. This can be seen in his speech where he clearly states:

No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must begin and not the top. Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities…There is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all.

Booker T. Washington also made his views on slavery clear in his other work Up From Slavery: An Autobiography where he writes about his life varying from his young years as a slave to the aftermath of his Atlanta Address. In his autobiography he goes so far as to declare his belief of slavery having made the African Americans stronger than any other and having ceased any feelings of bitterness against the Southern people on account of his enslavement and the enslavement of his race as made evident where he writes: Then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feelings, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other part of the globe. Washington further supports his belief of having come out stronger due to slavery in comparison to any other race by pointing out that the slave system itself had taken away the self-reliance and self-help out of the white people. This served as a subtle reminder to the white audience reading his book of the wrongness and destructive harm that the slavery and any other form of oppression can have on all of the races involved. Of course, such radical declarations gave way to critics who believed Washington’s philosophies to be made up of compromises than actual solutions to the “Negro Problem” as the sudden influx of freed African Americans came to be called.

Many African Americans believed Washington’s proposition of gradual equality to be too slow and showing no immediate improvement for the African Americans who were already suffering from the discrimination of the whites. Amongst these critics was another African American Civil Rights leader, W.E.B. DuBois, who began to publicly criticize Washington’s program in 1903. W.E.B. DuBois was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, shortly after the Civil War and five years after the Emancipation Proclamation, to a family that had long since been freed. He was raised in an environment that had little race prejudice besides the increasingly restricted interaction with his white colored friends as time passed and was therefore shocked and horrified by the degradation of Negro life when he first went to the South to attend Fisk University in 1885. This sudden vulnerability to blatant discrimination played a key factor in DuBois’s ambition of getting equality for his race as quickly as possible. DuBois started his Civil Rights crusade by becoming the editor of his school’s magazine, the Herald, and went on to write several articles for papers such as the New York Goblet and Freeman where he expressed his own personal views on the “Negro Problem” and his solutions to it. In 1896 he became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard where his doctoral thesis “The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America (1638-1870)” became his first published book and the standard in American education covering slavery. W.E.B. DuBois believed that Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of having the African American community postpone its ambition for full citizenship in favor of focusing on industrial efficiency and the accumulation of wealth would stop the fight against racial prejudice which would, in turn, only encourage it.

DuBois opposes the idea of waiting for change by pointing out the increasing issues that African Americans were facing such as the inability to vote, low wages, meager or full-on lack of education, being made to live in the least desirable districts, liability to mob violence, distinct standards of justice in court, etcetera. It was the common belief that Washington’s proposal was simply a means of keeping African Americans out of politics, make them satisfied laborers, and decreasing the mass agitation between whites and blacks. There was also a fear of having content African American laborers with no complaints arousing the latent prejudice of the white working men whose wages they would be bringing down. DuBois’s fears seemed to prove themselves correct in the years following Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Address, which was mockingly called the Atlanta Compromise by its critics, due to the increase in racial prejudice across the nation. Throughout the fifteen years after the Atlanta Address the was an increase in riots, 1250 Negroes were lynched without trial, Negro public schools experienced a setback, and four states disfranchised Negroes. In 1903 W.E.B. DuBois published his essay “The Talented Tenth” where he argued that the best way of achieving equality for African Americans was to develop the best of the race to guide the mass away from contamination and death of the worst, from its own race and from other races.

The phrase ‘Talented Tenth’ referred to the likelihood of one in ten black men becoming leaders of their race through methods of education, written works, and/ or direct involvement in social change. He believed that such individuals would come about through the usage of classical; education instead of the industrial education that Washington seemed to be in favor of. Seeing as he himself had undergone the classical education and went on to become an accomplished national figure and one of the leading Civil Rights leaders of his time, there was little to no reason to doubt his claim. His philosophy is made evident in his piece “W. E. Burghardt Du Bois: My Early Relations With Booker T. Washington” where he writes: I believed in the higher education of a Talented Tenth who through their knowledge of modern culture could guide the American Negro into a higher civilization …Mr. Washington, on the other hand, believed that the Negro as an efficient worker could gain wealth and that eventually through his ownership of capital he would be able to achieve a recognized place in American culture and could then educate his children as he might wish and develop his possibilities. DuBois stated that although both theories of progress were not contradictory and that both he and Washington surely shared the same goal of achieving equality for all African Americans, they each minimized the importance of the other even with their recognition in its importance which leads to feelings of bitterness and opposition.

There was even a time where DuBois actually taught summer school at the Tuskegee Institution but ended up leaving due to friction with Washington. Later on, he joined Washington’s opposition, the Niagara Movement, in 1905 where he wrote the first ever African American weekly magazine which contained 34 issues, ‘The Moon Illustrated Weekly.’ DuBois continued to differentiate himself from more conservative black voices such as that of Booker T. Washington with his famous work “The Souls of Black Folk.” In the very first chapter of this piece, DuBois explains how every African American must develop a sort of double-conscious where they are neither considered fully African or American, but are still required to retain a consideration of how the world, particularly the whites, view them. He despairs at the injustice of African Americans having to restrict themselves in order to accommodate others as seen when he writes:

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, – this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face. W.E.B DuBois goes on to declare that having a ‘double-conscious’ where African Americans must constantly be aware of the hostile perspective of whites is both a burden and a skill since while it had left them with a continuous inner conflict, it had also made them stronger and proved them, to be very durable since African Americans were still able to conduct their lives in this state of duality. Although both Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois had many differences in their strategies and maintained opposing views throughout their lives, both prominent figures continued to fight for parity up until their death in 1915 and 1963 respectively. They recognized the importance of the other’s propositions and the value that they held, as previously mentioned, but were unwilling to acknowledge them as more effective than their own. While Washington was not absolutely opposed to college training as made palpable by his sending of his own children to college, he was still of the mindset of the focus on vocational education being more practical. Similarly, DuBois perceived the importance of the African American community gaining a foothold in trades and the encouragement of industry and common labor, but refused to make it the only solution to a problem that he believed required immediate action.

Both Civil Rights leaders were influenced by their background and past experiences having personally undergone through their proposed method of progress and been rewarded with success; Washington with his successful Tuskegee Institution and DuBois with his Harvard Ph.D. and published works. Although they each experienced achievements and failures due to their ideologies, it is clear that both leaders brought about distinctive changes and progress in the development of Civil Rights for all African Americans across the United States.

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