Booker T. Washington and WEB DuBois

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William Edward Burghardt DuBois and, Booker Taliaferro Washington are two of the most influential Black men of the 0th century. They sharply disagreed on strategies for black social and economic progress. Their opposing philosophies can be found in much of today’s discussions over how to end class and racial injustice, what is the role of black leadership, and what do the “haves” owe the “have nots” in the black community.

Booker T. Washington

Booker Taliaferro, was born a slave on April 5, 1856 in Hales Ford Virginia. The son of a white man who did not acknowledge him, and a slave woman named Jane Burroughs. Later his mother married the slave Washington Ferguson, and when Booker entered school, he took the name of his stepfather, and became known as Booker T. Washington.

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Booker’s childhood was one of privation, poverty, slavery, and backbreaking work. On September , 186 Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation, but of course it could not be enforced until the end of the Civil War in 1865. Like many blacks after the Emancipation, Washington wanted an education. Despite the exhausting days he used his free time to go to school. When he was 16 he decided he wanted to go to Hampton Institute in Virginia. He did not know if he could get in, and if he got in, he didn’t know how he was going to pay for it, but in 187, he showed up on their doorstep flat broke and hungry.

Hampton Institute was started and run by General Samuel Chapman Armstrong. Armstrong and the institution he created were to become the one great influence in Washington’s life. Armstrong’s purpose was to train black teachers he believed every student should have a trade as well. Washington’s trade was being a janitor. Later when Washington developed Tuskegee Institute, it emphasized these same qualities and convictions.

After graduation from Hampton, Washington became a teacher in Tinkersville, West Virginia for three years. In 1878 he left to attend Wayland Seminary in Washington DC, but quit after six months. In 187 Armstrong asked him to return to Hampton Institute as a teacher. Washington did so, and then in 1881 Armstrong recommended him as the principal of a new school called Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee Alabama. At Tuskegee, Washington developed a vocational curriculum that emphasized carpentry, printing, tinsmithing, and shoemaking. Girls also took classes in cooking and sewing, and boys studied farming methods. All students received instruction in manners, hygiene, and character.

Washington was known as a racial accommodationist. He rejected the pursuit of political and social equality with whites in favor of developing vocational skills and a reputation for stability and dependability. In a famous 185 address, Washington urged African Americans to “cast down your buckets where you are,” basically meaning, we should remain in the Jim Crow south, and tolerate racial discrimination rather than make what he considered intemperate calls for equality. “In all things that are purely social,” he said, “blacks and whites can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”

Through Tuskegee, Washington built a political machine based on the financial backing of a coalition of northern financiers, members of the white Southern elite, and conservatives attracted by his accomdationist rhetoric and vigorous espousal of the principle of self help. His admirers included Theodore Roosevelt, and in 101 consulted him as an advisor on racial issues and southern political patronage. In this year he also wrote his famous Up From Slavery, his autobiography. Washington in turn used his wealth, and power to finance challenges to Jim Crow laws and invest in selected black newspapers.

Washington’s philosophy of racial uplift was bitterly opposed by some African American intellectuals, most notably WEB DuBois. Booker T. Washington believed that blacks should not push to attain equal civil and political rights with whites. That is was best to concentrate on improving their economic skills and the quality of their character. “The burden of improvement resting squarely on the shoulders of the black man. Eventually they would earn the respect and love of the white man, and civil and political rights would be accrued as a matter of course.” This was a very non-threatening and popular idea with a lot of whites. Washington kept his white following by conservative policies and moderate utterances, but he faced growing black and white liberal opposition in the Niagara Movement (105-0), and the NAACP (10-), groups demanding civil rights and encouraging protest in response to white aggressions such as lynchings, disfranchisement, and segregation laws. Washington successfully fended off these critics often by underhanded means. Washington’s speaking tours and private persuasion tried to equalize public educational opportunities and to reduce racial violence. These efforts were generally unsuccessful, and eventually Washington’s leadership of blacks began to decline. It became apparent that the white people that had gained control of Southern institutions after Reconstruction did not want the civil and political status of blacks to improve-regardless of how hard they worked or how much character the had. They passed laws to keep them from voting and to keep them from mixing with whites in schools, stores and restaurants. The year of Washington’s death marked the beginning of the Great Migration from the rural South to the urban North. Washington’s racial philosophy, pragmatically adjusted to the limiting conditions of his own era, did not survive the change. Many Blacks came to believe that a more forceful, demanding approach was needed. They turned to the leadership of those such as WEB DuBois.

William Edward Burghardt DuBois

William Edward Burghardt DuBois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on rd February 1868. Three years after the end of the Civil War. His mother Mary Silvina Burghardt, died in 1884 and DuBois was forced to find work as a timekeeper in a local mill.

Encouraged by Frank Hosmer, the principal of Great Barrington High School, DuBois won a scholarship to Fisk University in Nashville. To help pay for his studies DuBois taught in rural Tennessee during summer vacations. This gave him first hand experience of Jim Crow laws and turned him into a civil rights activist.

After graduating in 1885, DuBois spent two years at the University of Berlin before returning to the United States. DuBois now had a strong interest in African American History, and went to work at Harvard University to work on his dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade. In 185 DuBois became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard.

In 187 DuBois began teaching economics and history at Atlanta University. In 10 he published his ground breaking The Souls of Black Folks. This included an attack on Booker T. Washington for not doing more in the campaign for African American civil rights. DuBois’ own solution to this problem was to form the Niagara movement in 105. The group drew up a plan for aggressive action and demanded manhood, suffrage, equal economic and educational opportunities, and end to segregation and full civil rights. The Niagara Movement had little impact on influencing those in power and in February 10, DuBois joined with other campaigners for African American civil rights to form the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

In 110 DuBois returned to his attack on Booker T. Washington and his Tuskegee Institute movement. He made the statement, “We are compelled to point out that Mr. Washington’s large financial responsibilities have made him dependent on the rich charitable public and that, for this reason, he has for years been compelled to tell, not the whole truth, but that part of it which certain powerful interests in America wihs to appear as the whole truth.”

DuBois’ experience in the South caused him to reject the accomodationist methods of Booker T. Washington, and to press for public protest against racial violence and discrimination. He advocated the development of an intellectual elite, which he called the “talented tenth”, of African Americans to provide leadership for the race, and argued for an aggressive strategy toward black integration into American political and economic life.

My personal opinion of these great men is that to a degree they both had it right. Booker T. was speaking from what he knew. He was born a slave, and knew what it was like to lead a hard life. He learned early in life, that if we (black people), minded our own business and managed our own lives, we would be happy, and the whites would leave us alone. We did not have to compete with them, and should be happy learning a trade that would enable us to work and maintain our families. Never-mind any of the political aspects of life during the time, because that would only infuriate the whites, and ultimately get us killed. WEB on the other hand wanted us to fight for equality. We are no less a people than they are, and should have all the rights and benefits of life that the whites were/are entitled to.

Unfortunately many, or all of these issues are very prominent today.



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