During the early 20th century, black Americans were generally at the bottom rung of development. A tiny percentage of educated blacks were of course there but the future prospects for blacks were still bleak. In their desire to promote progress of black Americans, two black leaders of the period played a significant role in the black movement of the time; William Edward Burghardt Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. In assessing the philosophies of these intellectuals and black movement leaders, we must appreciate the circumstances both of these leaders were operating in.
Booker T Washington was faced with living and operating in the southern United States which had still not come to term with the equality of races. Washington realized that in order to improve the lot of his black countrymen he would need the support of white majority He knew that he would have to allay their fears regarding all claims of equality to seek their help to provide education and support for the black causes. W. E. B. du Bois was settled in the much relaxed and liberal North. Du Bois wanted to see an America with social equality where individuals would be rewarded according to their merits.
Washington and du Bois both wanted development of black Americans but their views were radically different, each had a different vision of how the black Americans and white American would coexist. Washington’s historical speech known as ‘The Atlanta Compromise’ [Tell, 1996] perhaps best describes his conciliatory approach, he thought was required to seek conservative white support for his development plans for black Americans. “The wisest among my race, understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremist folly.
Progress for blacks comes from a steady job, a bank account, a piece of property, not from protest and voting drives. Blacks will till fields, haul freight, and cook meals, a trusty labor force with no social aspirations and few political opinions. Having proved their value as employees and consumers, they may join U. S. society as equals. [Washington, 1901]” Booker T. Washington perhaps knew that his southerner whites would be pleased to hear that and they did. . Clark Howell, a leading white voice in the South, called it “a platform upon which blacks and whites can stand with full justice, [Bauerlein, 2004]”.
Even President Cleveland said “Your words cannot fail to delight and encourage all who wish well for your race [Bauerlein, 2004]”. ” Washington was practical. On the other hand Du Bois approach is quite different, In order to promote his talented tenth scheme Du Bois declares “Whether you like it or not the millions (blacks) are here, and here they will remain. If you do not lift them up, they will pull you down. Education and work are the levers to uplift a people. Work alone will not do it unless inspired by the right ideals and guided by intelligence. Education must not simply teach work – it must teach Life.
The Talented Tenth of the Negro race must be made leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people. No others can do this work and Negro colleges must train men for it. The Negro race, like all other races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. “Du Bois stood for race pride and higher education, Washington for tactical conciliation and vocational education. Washington appeared to be genuinely impressed with the superiority of white. He was pragmatic and believed that black Americans would be unable to change the anti-black sentiments through protests [Moseley-Braun, 1995].
His soft approach won him many friends among the whites and his vocational education program and his Tuskegee College had millions of dollars of endowments and investment in property. Washington’s policies of providing vocational training helped many blacks but it displeased many black leaders. Du Bois cooperated with Washington on many intellectual black issues but he was a severe critic of B. T. Washington’s vocational training only for blacks’ policy. Du Bois believed that blacks should be trained in vocational training as well as liberal arts and the humanities.
Du Bois and many other black leaders believed that Washington’s acceptance of black oppression was a surrender of human dignity. Du Bois was a brilliant scholar, writer, and social scientist, while Washington had no such claim, Unlike Washington; Du Bois was not an Anglophile. Dubois writings on black issues protesting the condition and treatment of black Americans gave a voice to black American thought. Both Du Bois and Washington agreed on the need to build black institutions. Washington thought that over time black would integrate into the society removing the need to have black institutions, while Du Bois was not optimistic.
Du Bois warned whites of Black American’s impatience and revolutionary thoughts if their social position did not improve [Asch, 1999]. When Washington complained of inequality he presented its effect not upon the black Americans but upon whites. If white southerners saw no reason for higher education for black Americans, Washington agreed. If southerners opposed voting for blacks, Washington went along and opposed it ‘for present’. His views would certainly be considered ’pathetic’ by today’s black Americans. Even in his own time, black activist Henry Turner declared “will have to live a long time to undo the harm he has done our race.
” When Washington declared his “Atlanta Promise, on black paper derided Washington by saying, “Prof. B. T. or Bad Taste Washington has made a speech…. The white press style Prof. Bad Taste the new Negro, but if there is anything in him except the most servile type of the old Negro we fail to find it. ” Economic Policies of Dubois and Washington Washington was pragmatic in his approach. He recognized that he would have to seek majority’s support in his effort to win economic uplift of his people. His approach was that blacks will have to work hard to prove their worth.
They must be prepared to work in ordinary laboring jobs and acquire vocational training and trades to become invaluable to the industrial economy developing at that time. “I think that the whole future of my race hinges on the question as to whether or not it can make itself of such indispensable value that the people in the town and the state where we reside will feel that our presence is necessary to the happiness and well-being of the community. No man who continues to add something to the material, intellectual, and moral well-being of the place in which he lives is long left without proper reward.
This is the great human law which cannot be permanently nullified” [Washington, 1901] Washington said all the right things to please the white majority. He recognized that black slaves brought from Africa were primitive savages and the slavery despite its cruelty gave them an opportunity to “learn the values of work, thrift, property, and piety” [Washington, 1901]This kind of submissiveness gave him the support of white majority and made huge funds available for his vocational schools and other projects. The funds available to his Tuskegee organization ran into millions.
White philanthropists channeled their donations through Washington making him the black power broker of the country. The support he received from philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie and from State and Federal government allowed him to spread a net of clubs and organizations to serve blacks and also increase his own influence. Washington advocated that the anti-Negro sentiment is the white majority will not be reversed through protests and the blacks will have to work hard and correct social behavior that they were “ready for the responsibilities of the citizenship”.
There is no doubt that Washington’s approach towards blacks integration into the society was appreciated by whites and a majority of conservative blacks. In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, when the Supreme Court declared support for separate-but-equal doctrine, Washington accepted this decision. He was also not against the southern restricted voting laws. For Washington these were non issues ‘at present’, as most blacks could not afford first class railroad cars.
In brief Booker T. Washington’s approach was that of working with close cooperation of the white majority to uplift the economic status and academic level of blacks. He believed that this was required for the transition state until blacks acquired education and knowledge of trades through vocational schools to become truly indispensable for the white majority. Washington advocated property accumulation and self help as means of rightfully claiming citizenship rights.
He established National Negro Business League in 1900 and presented the League as a model of self-made successful businessman for the black people [Mercer & Beckett, 2004]. Many black leaders however disagreed with this approach as they believed that Washington’s approach amounted to surrender and acceptance of racial superiority of white race. Du Bois- A brilliant scholar and an angry ‘young’ man till his death While Washington proved to be an intelligent and pragmatic, Du Bois advocated militant protest against the injustices against the African Americans.
While Washington’s approach to race issue can be described as nationalistic, Dubois believed in equal opportunity with racial assertion and he was an elitist at the same time as he wanted the talented tenth of his race to occupy an elevated position where black masses will uplift the talented tenth and ” the masses were not the agents on their own behalf” [Stein, 1998]. Du Bois was a brilliant scholar. In his early works he appears to believe in the concept of race [Moses, 1993]. By 1905 he became convinced that it was incorrect to assume that racial prejudices were due to ignorance but were a part of deep rooted beliefs among whites.
He came to the conclusions that reason alone would not solve the problem and propaganda had to be used as a tool to end the racial prejudices [Oslon, 2005] By 1940, his theory of ‘race concept’ calls race a social construct and a product of power and resistance [Du Bois, 1940]. Dubois connected race with class in American capitalist society and called the hierarchy thus created as an undemocratic power which needed to be resisted. He believed that the political and social constructs assembled together which he calls ‘world’ not race [Oslon, 2005].
He became a representative of his race and argued that the political forces of dark world must struggle to end the power of white world. He advocated ‘self segregation’ and began to encourage the creation of a ‘nation within nation’. He was against segregation but now he began to argue that the segregation thrust upon the blacks can also take advantage of this segregation by pooling resources and use this ‘deliberate and purposeful segregation’ to accumulate black capital collectively and not to build black capitalism.
He expected an economic revolution and wanted the blacks to be among the leaders for this change. He called the creation of a “separate nation within a nation” as the path to industrial democracy [Du Bois, 1935]. Du Bois was an intellectual like whom; the black race had never produced. He was also an activist who helped raise the conscience of black Americans and after the long slavery and its impact gave Black American someone to be proud of. He founded National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NACCP). The Association published, the Crisis with Du Bois as its editor for 24 years.
It gave the black writers an opportunity to read wider audience and also a platform to Du Bois to spread his radical message. In terms of political success Du Bois contribution to black Americans is debatable but no one can doubt that Du Bois own contribution helped a great deal in restoring black pride in their own race. In the later years Dubois moved increasingly to the left and worked on analyzing the black labor as a power for Marxism in America. His advocacy of ‘nation within a nation’ to a form of black separatism isolated him from the mainstream blacks.
He organized Pan African Congress. In later years he joined Communist parties and helped many causes across the racial divide. There is no doubt that Dubois was a great scholar, perhaps the greatest African Americans have ever produced. His radical approach helped end the submissive image of Black Americans but it did not end the oppression or second class citizen status of African Americans. The approach followed by Washington was perhaps more suited to the attitude of white America and would have certainly improved the economic status of African Americans.
The proud African American would have however not accepted the status Booker Washington was advocating for too long. Conclusions William Edward Burghardt Du Bois and Booker Washington were great black philosopher of their time. They both had their own vision of how black Americans could progress in United States. Washington, being in much more hostile south had to adopt a softly softly approach. Washington was practical while Du Bois was proud and both contributed to the improvement of blacks in America. Bibliography Asch, K. , (1999), Still No Shades of Gray, Insight on the News.
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