Booker T. Washington and WEB Du Bois were two of the most critical and influential African-Americans of the late nineteenth century. However, as the question implies, they held pretty different political opinions toward the African-American struggle. To properly grasp the two leaders' political perspectives, I will first examine Washington's contributions to the African-American cause and the reasons for his choices. We will then investigate Du Bois' beliefs and critical critiques of Washington and whether or not they were correct.
To comprehend Washington and Du Bois' acts, one must first understand their context. Reconstruction had failed, and life for many African-Americans was far worse than before the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. African-Americans were the lowest-paid workers in rural and urban regions where the Industrial Revolution took root. In 1896, the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling determined that segregation was lawful under the rationale of "separate but equal." Worse, the number of lynched African-Americans increased dramatically throughout this period. However, many African-American leaders of the time developed a tolerating attitude towards blatant oppression, believing that outspoken protest would only make matters worse and instead appealed for help from wealthy and influential whites, encouraging African-Americans to "lift themselves by their bootstraps."
Given the backdrop, it's easy to see why Washington and Du Bois disagreed on Civil Rights. Washington grew up as an enslaved person in the South, deprived of food, clothing, and education. Growing up in South Washington would have exposed you to the discrimination many African-Americans endured at the time and the danger of lynching. With this in mind, it's easy to see why Washington would have been more careful in his approach. On the other hand, Du Bois was born a freeman in the North and didn't face prejudice until he went to college, so it's easy to see why he didn't share Washington's concerns about a more drastic response to racial oppression.
The Tuskegee Institution, which still stands today, exemplifies Washington's efforts for African-Americans. The school began in July 1881 with only one instructor, Washington, and borrowed premises from a nearby church. The students built and fitted the structures themselves, grew their food, and raised their cattle. With a concentration on rural survival skills like carpentry and sophisticated agricultural practices, the Tuskegee Institute offered some academic teacher education. To be socially equal with whites, African-Americans, Washington reasoned, must first be economically equivalent and demonstrate their value as contributing members of society. Also, the Tuskegee Institute's practical instruction was considerably more helpful than academic education at the time. The Institute also exemplifies why Washington's views on appeasement may have had some value. Washington used his connections with prominent white men to help fund the institution, including ex-slave owners like George W. Campbell. Without this help, the Tuskegee Institute would not have grown from a little leased space to today's massive institution.
The National Negro Business League was founded in 1900 due to Washington's advocacy for African-Americans. To encourage and enhance the growth of African-American business, both in the South and the North, was the League's goal. Afro-Americans must first become economically equal to whites before they can become socially equal. The League accomplished nothing to help African-American enterprise, but it permitted Washington to have a "stronghold" of men in every significant black population.
Compared to Washington, Du Bois' political beliefs were rather radical for the period. Due to his diverse upbringing, Du Bois undoubtedly had more radical ideas than many African-Americans at the time. But, like Washington, Du Bois believed that African-Americans needed to help lift them out of societal oppression. In his article "The Talented Tenth," Du Bois proposed the idea of an elite group of African-Americans teaching other African-Americans.
Washington emphasized economic and technical skills above higher education, and political and social rights, thinking that financial freedom would automatically lead to political and social rights. Because most individuals cannot obtain economic rights and liberties when socially unequal, Du Bois contended that this strategy would lead to many African-Americans living in poverty. Du Bois and Washington also had ideological differences. While Washington promoted capitalism, Du Bois, a famous Black Marxist, believed economic growth would turn African-Americans into swindlers.
In 1903, Du Bois sought to establish that Washington was employing "hush money" to influence the African-American press and ensure his ideas were more preferred in print.
While Du Bois was Washington's most vociferous and well-known opponent, he was not alone. "I see it as cowardly and dishonest for any of our coloured guys to convince white people and coloured people that we are not working for equality," said John Hope, president of Atlanta University. Get ready for this: we demand social equality. While Northern black leaders held this attitude, Hope dispelled the myth that all African-Americans in the South were content with their lower social station.
Mr. Washington, whatever good he may accomplish, has hurt and is damaging the race more than he can help it by his school, said Boston Guardian editor William Monroe Trotter. Let's hope Booker Washington keeps his mouth shut at Tuskegee. All his past misdeeds will be forgiven if he does this. But the underlying premise is that Washington was not assisting the African-American race by downplaying the necessity of social equality and, in fact, was inhibiting advancement. Trotter also questioned Washington at a speech at a National Negro Business League convention in Boston. Before being jailed, Trotter asked Washington and his opinions. While Washington did not reply to Trotter's challenges, the incident was dubbed "The Boston Riot" the next day.
While both Washington and Du Bois had valid reasons for their actions, neither had faultless plans; Washington was too afraid to advocate for equality, and Du Bois had no concrete plans. It is reasonable to say that combining their two viewpoints would have helped the African-American cause, as Washington had practical solutions like the Tuskegee Institute. At the same time, Du Bois could protest the blatant injustice that African-Americans faced.
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