|Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bios By. Shareese Barnett
Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois led in the African American struggle for equality during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century’s. Washington advocated that African Americans concentrate on economic and social improvement, arguing that political rights would follow. He believed that if African Americans made themselves productive members of society, white America would not be able to withhold the rights that they deserved. Washington recognized the importance of black male suffrage, but he asserted that in order to claim the vote African Americans must first improve their economic positions. To promote his views he founded the Tuskegee Institute in 1881 to provide vocational as well as academic education to African-American students.
W.E.B. Du Bois mounted a challenge to Washington's view by the turn of the century. He argued that Washington's views encouraged white segregationists and limited opportunities for African Americans. He believed that African Americans should have the opportunity of higher education, and should fight for their civil rights, rather than waiting for those rights to be granted after economic equality had been achieved.
"The Negro Race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education then, among Negroes, must first of all deal with the "Talented Tenth." It is the problem of developing the best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the worst." (W.E.B Du Bois)
At the time, the Washington/Du Bois dispute polarized African American leaders into two wings--the 'conservative' supporters of Washington and his 'radical' critics. The Du Bois philosophy of agitation and protest for civil rights flowed directly into the Civil Rights movement which began to develop in the 1950's and exploded in the 1960's. Booker T. today is associated, perhaps unfairly, with the self-help/colorblind/Republican/Clarence Thomas/Thomas Sowell wing of the black community and its leaders. The Nation of Islam and Maulana Karenga's Afro centrism derive too from this strand out of Booker T.'s philosophy. However, the latter advocated withdrawal from the mainstream in the name of economic advancement.