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African American Literature Essay

At the turn of the 19th century, intellectual confrontation between two black American leaders, Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois, arose. The debate raged around which was the best way for Blacks to advance their race within America in the 20th century. Washington’s ideas are sound and are applicable today (newcoalition. org 1). By the example of his own life, it was possible to be both black and a successful, self-made American in the late 19th century. This proves that every black American’s pursuit of self-interest would eventually be in the best interest of the race.

. Washington founded Tuskegee Institute for Young Black Men and emphasized vocational training over the arts teaching blacks to learn industrial skills and work discipline. He believed that blacks could secure self-respect and economic dependence if they practiced and learned a trade (Steele). Washington rejected “genetic arguments”, saying the “Negro is behind the white man because he has not had the same chances, and not from any inherent difference in his nature or desires” (Cherry 1122).

In his biography “Up From Slavery” Washington emphasized several important, though controversial, points – particularly that blacks should not receive higher education, rather that they should receive education based on a trade, and that they should start conforming to how white society lived. He recognized the importance of legal rights and claimed that it was vastly important to be prepared to exercise these privileges. He recommended focusing on modest economic goals and accepting temporary racial discrimination in order for African Americans’ lives to be better (Washington SI4)

Washington was not an intellectual philosopher, but his work propagated much of the ideology that directs adult education programs. He was a pragmatic realist who cared for the past only as it illuminated the present and directed the future. He abhorred the idea of a freed man studying Latin and Greek when he had no house, no job, and no solid occupational skill as this went against his priorities: A man should first be trained, then get a job and a house, then study for self-actualization.

Carrying pragmatism to the extreme of radicalism, was also abhorrent to his style and philosophy (Matthews 62). At the same time, Washington was fighting for social transformation through peaceful negotiation, education, the dissemination of information, and court battles. He had strong behaviorist tenets of thinking. He wanted measurable progress in job skills, homes owned, acres purchased, black businesses, black schools and teachers, and dollars to black education. Robert E.

Park, Washington’s coworker and co writer who perhaps knew Washington better than any white man, later observed that he was not an intellectual, but that he seemed to be doing something real (Matthews 62). He was engaged in a fundamental task and had a sense of reality, knowing what should be done and how to do it (Matthews 62). Booker T. Washington captured his philosophy in the statement: “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress” (Gibson 2005).

This implies that black and white people could be separate in society but all one in a common area such as the economy. The industrial revolution of the nineteenth century threw self-made industrial millionaires to the top of American society. While American older elite suffered loss of status through the withdrawal of suffrage and political offices and the loss of white patronage for their services there grew up what Washington referred to as “a middle class among the colored people,” slaves before the war, but now becoming landowners, artisans, and businessmen.

Washington identified himself with these self-made black men of enterprise; Du Bois was never of them. The aims of adult education pioneered by Washington have been the cultivation of the intellect, individual self-actualization, personal and social improvement, social transformation, and organizational effectiveness. Washington stated his aims far more simply as improvement of head, hand, and heart, a unified triumvirate. He put the development of the mind first, although he often has been labeled as hand educator only.

He wanted moral and spiritual development that unified people and their work, toward self-actualization and personal and social improvement. Washington aimed and directed considerable efforts toward social transformation in his era (Gibson 2005). In opposition to this WEB Du Bois, who was both a highly educated social thinker, and the first African American to earn a doctorate at Harvard, believed that great opportunities for African Americans lay in education. Du Bois was determined that every African American should have the same chance as their white counterparts and that this would be done by education.

He believed that every person, regardless of race, should be able to receive a true education, which included the teachings of history, English, science, and mathematics (Gibson 2005). He was opposed to Washington’s idea that blacks’ education should be limited to trade alone. During his life, Du Bois spent much time promoting equal rights for the African American population, as opposed to their submitting to white ideologies. He became involved in numerous organizations and periodicals and made great contributions to history and politics, having great influence on the lives of African American.

He promoted self-help, education, and black pride and challenged Washington’s acceptance of black social inequality. He asserted that that Washington was allowing whites to “shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro’s shoulders . . . when in fact the burden belongs to the nation” (Steele A16). Du Bois was an idealist, scholar, activist, writer, radical, and international diplomat, who promoted strategic resolutions for African Americans – which included the right to vote, civic equality and the education of youth according to ability (Steele A16).

In opposition to Washington’s idea of submissiveness, he expected to foster an African American intellectual elite, and existing circumstances made this approach impractical. From the beginning of American state and throughout its history, Americans have turned to education to resolve socially pressing problems. However, none of these endeavors worked in practice as it was expected that they would. For many decades the school and education failed to solve numerous multi-layered problems generated by urbanization, industrialization, emancipation, and now globalization.

Moreover, this persistent belief in the omnipotent power of education has often aggravated these problems. African Americans turned increasingly to education in an attempt to overcome the deleterious effects of the slave experience and to change their discriminated position in American society. Those were the primary implications of Du Bois’ philosophy and their practical feasibility failed at the turn of the century and does not conform to contemporary reality (mitpressjournal 2006). Conclusion

Washington believed that through vocational training and promotion of black business blacks would win white respect by demonstrating their commitment to hard work. Du Bois claimed that traditional black progress could be achieved through grounding in arts and sciences education which would result in the development of the black intellectual elite. Both approaches to resolve the pressing social dilemma of black Americans are plausible from the contemporary perspective, and if assessed in the context of nineteenth century America, the ideas propagated by Booker T.

Washington look more practically achievable (Masilela 2005). Like Washington, we do not want a mindless, unintelligent workforce any more than we want a breaking down of effective systems by the forces of radicalism. In the tradition of humanism, our main objective is fully functioning individuals, capable of taking their responsible place in a democratic society, capable of bringing intelligence to bear on the everyday tasks at hand-whether in the machine shop, the medical operating room, or the highest levels of government, business, and education.

We want personal improvement and self-actualization that can translate into social improvement and positive change toward the equality of all people. In retrospect, such humanistic aims were at the center of Washington’s objectives as he pioneered adult education programs 100 years ago, urging the development of head, hand, and heart for a fully functioning individual. Bibliography Cherry, Robert. “The culture-of-poverty thesis and African Americans: The Work of Gunnar Myrdal and other Institutionalists. ” Journal of Economic Issues.

Lincoln: Dec 1995. Vol. 29, Iss. 4 Gibson, Robert A. 2005 “Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois”. Available at <http://www. yale. edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1978/2/78. 02. 02. x. html> Accessed April 18 2006 Masilela, Ntongela, 2005 “Pan Africanism or Classical African Marxism”, retrieved 15 May 2006 from the website http://www. pitzer. edu/new_african_movement/general/essays/africanism. htm Matthews, Fred H Quest for an American Sociology: Robert E. Park and the Chicago School, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1977

Mitpressjournal 2006, retrieved 15 May 2006 from the website www. mitpressjournals. org Newcoalition. org 2005, retrieved 15 May 2006 from the website www. newcoalition. org Steele, Shelby “The Souls of Black Folk”. Wall Street Journal. New York, N. Y. : Apr 29, 2003 Booker Taliaferro Washington. Thomson Learning. 1997. Available at <http://www. galegroup. com/free_resources/bhm/bio/washington_b. htm> Accessed April 18, 2005 Washington, Booker Taliaferro, 1900, “Up From Slavery”, text retrieved 15 May 2006 from http://www. alcyone. com/max/lit/slavery/

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