While discussing Booker T. Washington and William Edward Burghardt DuBois, it’s important to understand where both men are coming from and a bit of their educational background. Both men were highly influential in the south during the reconstruction era, but they had quite different backgrounds. Booker T. Washington was born into slavery in 1856. Before the civil war, Washington grew up working on a plantation with his mother in southwest Virginia. Washington was only about 9 years old when President Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation and union troops freed his family. After being freed, Washington and his family moved to West Virginia where he first attended school and learned to read and write.
After working hard in various occupations Washington saved up enough money to start attending a higher school called Hampton Institute, a college-like school established for Ex-Slaves. After completing his education, he began teaching at the school. A few years after teaching he was offered a major position at a vocational school for African-Americans in Alabama which he accepted, this is where Washington adopted many of the values he stood for in politics.
William Edward Burghardt DuBois (W.E.B.) was born in Massachusetts in 1868, except contrary to Washington, DuBois was born free. He grew up attending a local school where he graduated at the head of his class. He then moved on to Nashville Tennessee where he attended Fisk University at the age of 16. While attending Fisk University, DuBois faced his first racism. The switch from Massachusetts to Tennessee was quite drastic for DuBois. He completed a four-year degree through Fisk University in 1888. After graduating from Fisk University, DuBois was accepted into Harvard where he majored in history and graduated with a Ph.D. in 1895.
Washington addressed his strategies for addressing the economic, social, and political issues in a speech known as the “Atlanta Compromise Speech”. One of his slogans towards the African-American community was “cast down your bucket where you are” essentially meaning African-Americans should accept where they are politically regarding segregation, suffrage, and various rights; and instead focus on education and working. Because he was fighting for business and education privileges rather than political equality, he was supported by a large white audience as well as part of the black community. He wanted to make a compromise between blacks and whites, in the compromise he proposed that African-Americans accept to fall under white government and segregation, and in turn, African-Americans would receive business freedoms along with a basic vocational education. He believed that if African-Americans showed they could be economically wise, as well as a benefit to society as a whole, over time they would be allowed the rights they desired and eventually true freedom and equality.
The white community liked this agreement for a few reasons, one being that African-Americans would stop fighting for the right to vote and accept segregation and racial discrimination. Another reason many whites supported Washington and his idea was that they could continue to delay actually dealing with the problem. For these reasons, he was respected by the white government leaders. He was even invited to dine with the president, Foner says on page 594 “Theodore Roosevelt shocked white opinion by inviting Booker T. Washington to dine with him in the white house and by appointing a number of blacks to federal offices” (Foner p. 594). Although white leaders supported this compromise, other leaders in the African-American movement opposed it strongly, believing that African Americans should be fighting for civil equality sooner. The most prominent leader who opposed him was William Edward Burghardt DuBois.
W.E.B. DuBois strongly opposed Washington and his Atlanta Compromise since he wanted equal civil writes for the African-American community sooner and Washington was thinking long term. DuBois also condemned Washington’s close relationship with white government leaders. Dubois was the kind of person that demanded action, he once “gathered a group of black leaders at Niagara Falls (meeting on the Canadian side because no American hotel would provide accommodations) and organized the Nigeria movement, which sought to reinvigorate and abolish tradition” (Foner p. 595).
DuBois was also, by many accounts a progressive person, he wanted to figure out what the problem was, share it to the public, educate people on how he thought it could be fixed and take immediate action to solve it. DuBois once wrote, “ We claim for ourselves, every single right that belongs to a freeborn American” (Foner p. 596). Dubois was very adamite about equal rights for African-Americans by political action. With a group of others with similar views, in 1909 DuBois founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a legal organization advocating for civil rights. Early on, the NAACP lobbied for voting rights, held anti-lynching campaigns, and participated in protests for equal rights. The NAACP is still around today.
While Washington and DuBois were both very intelligent and influential men, their philosophies opposed each other dramatically. Washington urged for a more gradual change in racial discrimination, wanting African-Americans to raise themselves into society through hard work. Dubois had a more intense process in mind, Dubois was an advocate for political action, protests, and demonstrations in an attempt to gain African-American rights and equality right away. One of the advantages of Washington’s strategy is that he was backed by many of the white leaders in Government, although that came at a cost… Washington’s method took more time. DuBois main strength was that he was very active, people could see what he was doing, but a disadvantage he faced, was the lack of support from white leaders.
I think that neither option is ideal, but in my opinion, Washington’s proposal was ‘best’. Both are ultimately fighting for the same rights, they just had different means to get to the end. Washington was thinking long term, while he may not have been perfect, he was patient and had a relationship with the people and members of higher government. Washington was saying, if we work hard now, further down the road we may have equality. Dubois was definitely more confrontational, opposed to Washington who maintained a ‘go with the flow’ attitude. I think DuBois had good intentions but considering some of Washington’s values (such as patience) would have been beneficial to his movement.
Booker t. washington and w.e.b. dubois report. (2021, May 20).
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