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Washington Versus Du Bois

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In the early history of the civil rights movement two prominent African American leaders, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois arose to accomplish one goal, education for all African Americans. During the turn of the century, between the years 1895 and 1915 there were many theories of how African Americans were going to achieve first-class citizenship. With two separate views on how to accomplish this goal, the African American community was split in half on who to support. While Booker T. Washington believed in industrial and agricultural labor, W.E.B. Du Bois proposed a strategy of pursuit through higher education in order to gain first-class citizenship for the African American race.

Born the son of a slave, Booker Taliaferro Washington was considered during his time to be the spokesman of the African American race. Washington believed that if African Americans focused their attention on striving economically they would eventually be given the rights they were owed. With this in mind, he encouraged blacks to attend trade schools where they could learn to work either industrially or agriculturally. At his famous Atlanta Exposition Address in Atlanta he declared, "Our greatest danger is that, in the great leap from slavery to freedom, we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in the proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labor, and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life...". His suggestion was one that the Negro race was familiar with. The southern and northern whites accepted his plan because it acknowledged the inferiority of the black race. The Negro "Okayed" it because it was a way of life better than being haunted by the stagnation of sharecropping. With this statement, Washington stressed the fact that: "... the opportunity here afforded will awaken among us a new era of industrial progress". He made a point that we as African Americans can achieve the rights we want if we present ourselves useful to the white race. Washington stated, "No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It is important and right that all privileges of the laws be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of those privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house". Along with this came the conclusion that you had to befriend the southern white man. Washington made it known that befriending the white man was imperative to ending the black man's struggle. He said, "To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man who is their next-door neighbor, I would say: Cast down your bucket where you are; cast it down in making friends, in every manly way, of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded". All this and more was said in Atlanta, Georgia, the first time in history where a black man had ever spoken in front of so many white people. It was apparent to every African American who did not totally agree with Washington's idea that this was a sign of submission for the black race. The submissive part, if none else, was where the conflict came in. Washington sent the message that if African Americans were going to come up; they would have to continue to use their hands as a means to be productive in a white society. Feeling that that was the only way they could fit into a society was seen as failure to some and led them to support another leader.

Labeled as a radical, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, had a solid idea for African American progression. Described variously as the "most outspoken civil rights activist in America," and "the undisputed intellectual leader of a new generation of African- Americans", Du Bois was considered the inspiration for the literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. Known as the "Talented Tenth", in his essay he mentions the Negro race, like all races, being saved by its exceptional men". Du Bois believed that if a small group of black persons attained college educations they would be leaders of the race and encourage the rest to do the same and reach a higher level of education. As a co-founder of the NAACP and the long-time editor of its magazine The Crisis, Du Bois nurtured and promoted many young and talented African-Americans. Underlying his controversial notion of "the talented tenth," was his belief that true integration will happen when selected blacks excel in the literature and the fine arts. Du Bois stated, "If this be true--and who can deny it--three tasks lay before me; first to show from the past that the Talented Tenth as they have risen among American Negroes have been worthy of leadership; secondly; to show how these men may be educated and developed; and thirdly, to show their relation to the Negro problem". Contrary to Booker T. Washington, Du Bois believed that if you wanted something accomplished you went right at it. Taking a shot at Washington's theory he claimed, "This is an age of unusual economic development, and Mr. Washington's program naturally takes an economic cast, becoming a gospel of work and money to such an extent as apparently almost completely overshadow the higher aims of life". Du Bois understood that all men couldn't go to college, but believed that the ones that were eligible should. Out of six black institutions devised at this time, Atlanta, Fisk, Howard, Shaw, Wilberforce and Leland only seven hundred and fifty black college students were enrolled. Du Bois argued how trade schools could not teach them skills and how to fund themselves while keeping industries on a commercial basis. He said, "The best and most capable youth must be schooled in the colleges and universities of the land". Then, and only then, did Du Bois believe that the fight for first class citizenship would be earned through the court systems.

Both Washington and Du Bois recognized the gap but took completely different approaches to achieve the goal. Washington himself was educated in Hampton, a Freedman's Bureau



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