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The Strategies of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Essay

The time period of 1877 to 1915 was a period in history when the people of the Black race were being granted a free status, but equality, on the other hand, was not an option to some higher white officials. During this time period, many leaders started to fight for what they believed in by appealing to the white governing body for social equality. Two of the leaders that came out of that uproar were the well-known Black equality activists of that time, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. Both of these leaders ultimately had the same goal, however, the paths that they took to achieve that goal were significantly different.

Booker T. Washington had a “gradualism” stance to deal with the problems of poverty and discrimination facing Black Americans, while W.E.B. Du Bois wants Black equality immediately and does not offer any alternatives. In retrospect, Booker T. Washington’s strategy was more appropriate for the time period than that of W.E.B. Du Bois because Washington’s proposal included the whole race of Blacks along with compromises with the white population while Du Bois’s proposal only included the top ten percent of the Black race, making his philosophy inappropriate for this time period.

As a product of slavery, Booker T. Washington favors the “ask nicely” approach and appreciates what he is given since Washington has been through the tough times of being a slave. The fact that is ironic about Washington’s philosophy regarding dealing with the poverty and discrimination faced by the Black community is that he wants to cooperate and appeal to the white race as much as possible while still holding onto his thoughts about how his and his fellow race should go about living. Within the “Atlanta Compromise Address” of 1895, Booker T. Washington remarks that, “all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercises of these privileges” (Document D). This quote portrays Washington as an advocate of Blacks gaining social equality, but gains the appeal of the white race as well, by saying that the if the Blacks want equality and all of the rights that the white population has, they better be ready for it.

A white person’s lifestyle is so much different than what a Black person is used to, which means that the Negroes might be in for a rude awakening when they finally get what they want and have been fighting for this whole time. Washington used this address in order to send a wake-up call to the Black community explaining that adapting to a different lifestyle seems easier than it is and that if the Negroes are not ready for this surge of new atmosphere and rights in their lives, they will not be able to catch on and will be behind in their adjustment into the way the whites live. The Atlanta Compromise states that Blacks would work timidly and without protest, so southern whites would not have a problem with agreeing to grant Blacks a fair trial and a standard education.

Washington implied when saying, “we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress”, that he would not mind that much if blacks were segregated from whites in the work place, just as long as they get to work in the same job atmosphere (Document D). This quote explains that as long as Blacks were hired to do the same jobs that whites were hired to do; Washington was alright with segregation for now. Ultimately, Washington would like to get rid of segregation, but that is all a part of his “gradualism” approach. Booker T. Washington wanted blacks to go to trade schools in order to have them be able to master a trade. He was not looking for total Black equality immediately. Booker T. Washington’s platform was acceptable to both races because of the fact that he was not going to ask for Black equality by force, but rather slowly work up to getting that equality as time goes on.

The occupations listed in Document G display some trades that Washington was going to settle for the Blacks to go to school for. These occupations included: “blacksmithing, wheelwrighting, carpentering, printing and building, shoe and harness making, [and] masonry” (Document G). He did not want the Blacks to have to perform slave-like work as it was grueling and was not really a life. Washington states that “no time is wasted on dead languages or superfluous studies of any kind. What is practical, what will best fit these young people for the work of life” (Document G). By saying this, Washington would settle for whatever trade job the Blacks were able to be hired for, just as long as the whites and Blacks were guaranteed the same privileges.

Although he was appealing to both races, Washington had many critics saying that by going with his philosophy of gradually gaining social equality for Blacks, he allowed white supremacy to be present in society for a longer amount of time, which was not ideal. One critic remarks in Document H that “he [Washington] knows by sad experience that industrial education will not stand him in place of political, civil and intellectual liberty” (Document H). By saying this, the critic believed that Washington was not fighting for Blacks to receive a higher education because he himself knew that the highest possible placement for Blacks that wanted a form of education was in a trade school. In addition, he exclaimed that by attending these trade schools, the Blacks were giving up on receiving the liberty that the white community has.

W.E.B. Du Bois, on the other hand, wanted to handle the situation of poverty and discrimination of Blacks in a different way, by allowing the Blacks to fight for their rights immediately. He wanted them to go to college to be able to stand up for themselves against the harsh government. The “School Enrollment By Race” graph displays that there is an increase in the education of Blacks from the time period of 1860-1920. Within the period of 1877-1915 alone, the percentage of Blacks receiving education increased from thirty-five percent to forty-five percent. This document could lead into W.E.B. Du Bois’s main focus, “The Talented Tenth”. This was a group of black elites who went to college. Du Bois had this philosophy that if anybody from the Black race could achieve equal rights for Blacks, it would be this group of people. According to the “Illiteracy By Race” graph presented in Document B, the amount of Black illiteracy within the time period of 1890-1910 decreased every decade.

This document could go hand in hand with the description above about “The Talented Tenth”. Black illiteracy went down because this group containing 10% of the population got everyone of the Black race’s attention and the Blacks started to go to school because of their role models, “The Talented Tenth”. W.E. B. Du Bois accepted the fact that if the Blacks wanted their rights and freedoms granted to them, they would have to ask. On top of that, Du Bois believes that if the Blacks go with the philosophy that Booker T. Washington wanted to carry out, it would put the whole black race at a standstill and they would never get their rights. Within “The Souls of Black Folk”, W.E.B. DuBois expressed that “such men,…feel in conscience bound to ask of this nation three things: the right to vote, civic equality, [and] the education of youth according to ability…the way for a people to gain respect is not by continually belittling and ridiculing themselves; that, on the contrary, Negroes must insist continually, in season and out of season…black boys need education as well as white boys” (Document E).

In this book, Du Bois remarks that Blacks need to ask the nation if they can have the right to vote, equality with the whites, and be offered the same education as whites. In addition, W.E.B. Du Bois explains that the only way for the Black race to gain respect is by being firm with their protests and any actions that the Blacks would perform in order to receive those rights. Along with Du Bois’s ideals of gaining equality immediately and not wasting any time except if that time was spent fighting for their rights, The Niagara Movement was one of his renowned movements that Du Bois led. The Niagara Movement aspires to stop the country from slowing the Black community’s progress within their fight to achieve democracy.

This movement opposed racial segregation and disenfranchisement and was opposed to the policies of housing and reconciliation encouraged by Black activists such as Booker T. Washington. Within W.E.B. Du Bois’s Voice of the Negro II, he stated that “there has been a determined effort in this country to stop the free expression of opinion among black men…The Niagara Movement proposes to gain these ends…ceaseless agitation, unfailing exposure of dishonesty and wrong…” (Document F).

This excerpt from the document provided explains to the readers that the country has been trying to stop the Blacks from expressing their opinion on how their lifestyle should be changed and how the Black’s effect on the nation to achieve democracy for the people of their race within the nation is deteriorating by the minute. The comment of “ceaseless agitation” displayed in the earlier quote just represented W.E.B. Du Bois’s philosophy perfectly. Du Bois felt that if the Blacks would keep bothering the white community about giving them the rights that the Blacks deserved, it would eventually pay off, no matter how annoying the Blacks were.

Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois were both activists that arose between the time periods of 1877-1915. They both had the same future planned out for the Black race – equality between the white and Black population – but the paths that each of them tried to achieve this equality were total opposites. Booker T. Washington’s philosophy was based on the fact that if the poor and discriminated folks of the Black community would work, the “gradualism” approach could go into effect, leading to the eventually attainment of racial equality. On the other hand, W.E.B. Du Bois expressed that he wanted the discrimination and the harsh conditions and environment of the Black race to end immediately.

Basically, he stated that as long as the Black race keeps pressing on the white supremists of the nation, they would gain their equality by force, but Du Bois did not want to wait for equality because that would mean that the Blacks would be overpowered and oppressed for longer than they needed to. Although these two activists had extremely different approaches, the movements of the future, especially the movement to gain civil rights, were shaped by this fight for equality. The only similarity between the two activists, Washington and Du Bois, is that they gave the Black race a vision of hope for a better life, something that would not have been possible without their efforts.


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