Who Won The Great Debate



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Who Won The Great Debate 
Booker T. Washington or W.E.B. Dubois? - by Charles P. Henry

Your Task: 1) Print the article and make 15 annotations (please write legibly) - # each annotation

2) Define the 25 terms highlighted in bold print - # each term

3) Using evidence or supporting details from the reading, answer the Big Question – see end

of the article.



DUE DATE: Friday, Nov. 4, 2011 – Absolutely no late papers will be accepted! If you are absent, you must have a statement from a doctor when you return; otherwise, you must type and e-mail me the work by your class period. This assignment is worth 200 points.


[Over] 100 years ago, Booker T. Washington catapulted to national fame as a result of a speech he gave before a mixed but segregated audience at the Atlanta and Southern States Cotton Exposition. It was the first time in Southern history that a black man had been invited to speak before an audience of white notables, and Washington did not fail to make the most of the occasion. The Atlanta- Exposition itself was a celebration of the dawning of a new industrial age in the South. Washington's address was calculated to appeal first to the Northern industrialists in the audience, second to the Southern politicians sharing the stage with him, and third to blacks themselves. Absent from his remarks was any acknowledgment of the white working class.

The speech was a brilliant appeal to the captains of industry to reject the increas­ing tides of foreign-born labor who might be infected with radical European ideologies:






"To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I said to my own race, 'cast down your bucket where you are'. Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides. Cast down your bucket among these people who have without strikes and labor wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South."

Washington went on to reassure southern white leaders that progress could occur without threatening the established social order:

While doing this (educating blacks), you can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen.

As for blacks, Washington stated that "the wisest among my race understand that agitation on questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant strug­gle rather than artificial forcing." Thus, in one brief speech, Washington tied the progress of the South to the economic development and industrial education of blacks while at the same time assuring them that "in all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.

For those in the audience who had heard Washington before, these views were not new. However, the "Sage of Tuskegee" had never had such a distinguished audience before and as a result he became a favorite among such northern industrialists/philanthropists as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Julius Rosenwald. Not only did Tuskegee Institute benefit im­mensely from Washington's Northern admirers, but industrial education throughout the South was elevated. Booker T. Washington came to have decisive influence on virtually all private funds flowing to black schools in the South.

Washington's ascendancy to national prominence was aided by the death of the pre-eminent black leader of the 19th cen­tury, Frederick Douglass, in the same year as the exposition address-1895. Douglass had always pressed hard for full citizenship, including social, civil and political rights. Late in his life, however, Douglass, like a number of well-educated blacks in Washington, D.C., had become a part of the Republican political machine. The Tuskegee principal saw this urban educated elite as divorced from the real problems facing ex-slave peasants in the South.

It was not until 1903 that Washington faced a serious challenge to his leader­ship, that challenge came in W.E.B. Dubois’s The Souls of Black Folk. Dubois, who had initially congratulated Washington on his Atlanta speech and had been offered a position at Tuskegee, became increasingly concerned over the dictatorial control Washington exercised over the black press, black political ap­pointments and black education. In The Souls of Black Folk, Dubois’s critique is very much in the Douglass tradition of pushing for full civil, political and social rights.

This turn-of-the-century debate be­tween Washington and Dubois is still with us at the [beginning-of-this-century]. It is commonly portrayed as a debate over the utility of economics versus politics as the best route to black advancement. Today's neo-conservatives are just as fond of pointing out how out-of-step the leaders of civil rights organizations are as Washington's followers were in attack­ing Dubois and the "talented tenth." Some have given the debate a more racial character by viewing Washington as a self-help separatist linked to Marcus Garvey and the Nation of Islam, while Dubois is seen as continuing an integra­tionist tradition established by Douglass and fully developed by Martin Luther King, Jr. Both views are simplistic and do more harm than good if we are to plan for the future based on an understanding of the past.






Those who would argue that Booker T. Washington's emphasis on economic development was right make a number of faulty assumptions. First, they assume that Dubois won the debate and Washington's "philosophy of accom­modation" was submerged. In fact, from 1895 until his death in 1915, Washington exercised more individual control over resources in the national black communi­ty than anyone before or since. Toward the end of his life, Washington's grip was weakening due to the failure of his ac­commodationism to produce results. "Jim Crow" and the lynching of blacks continued unabated during his reign. Dubois had argued that the black who has succeeded economically is at the mer­cy of whites and has no power to protect his or her wealth without the vote.

At Tuskegee itself, the graduation rate was only 14.1 percent as late as 1915. This lack of progress helped spur the formation of a new organization in 1910, the National Association for the Advance­ment of Colored People (NAACP). However, it was World War I and the militancy of the "New Negro" that spelled the end of the "philosophy of accommodation."

A second assumption of those pro­moting economic self-help over political activism is that politics was tried and fail­ed during the sixties. In fact, by 1973 the proportion of upwardly mobile Black males reaching the middle class had grown from one in five to one in three. By 1976, one out of every four black women in the labor force was engaged in clerical or sales work, compared to one in ten in 1960. These dramatic increases in the size of the black middle-class are a direct result of the legislative victories of the civil rights movement.

Of course, the rise of a "new" black middle class has been accompanied by the rise of a black underclass. It would make just as much sense, however, to argue that we have not had enough black political power as to contend that political activity has failed. Despite the dramatic increase in the number of black elected officials to approximately 8,000, they constitute only 1.4 percent of all elected officials in this country. What impact would ten black senators or 45 black representatives have on domestic and foreign policy? How much influence could five black governors have on the politics of their states? Could increased black political power help poor blacks land more than 2.8 percent of the 3.4 million new blue-collar and unskilled jobs created between 1973 and 1981? How could economics alone correct this disparity in unskilled jobs?

It is impossible to separate economic progress from political progress and vice versa. Both Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois realized this relationship. Modern-day proponents of self-help ig­nore the fact that Washington was the premier black political boss in U.S. history. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft consulted him not just on all black appointments, but Southern appointments in general. Less widely known is Washington's secret financial support for a test case on the exclusion of blacks from jury panels in Alabama, a test of the Louisiana grand­father clause, tests against railroad segregation in Tennessee and Georgia, a case against peonage in Alabama, and two Supreme Court cases on disenfran­chisement in Alabama. Washington himself, and many of his Tuskegee facul­ty registered, received lifetime voting cer­tificates, and voted.

Washington was careful to hide his support of political and civil rights so it is easy to understand why he is' perceiv­ed as focusing only on economic pro­gress. With Dubois, however, such a misreading is difficult to explain. Nothing in his voluminous writings indicates that he saw politics as the sole avenue for black advancement. From his earliest work on the Philadelphia ghetto in 1899 to his course on Marxism at Atlanta University in the thirties, Dubois was concerned with the poor and economics. In fact, it is due at least in part to the NAACP's failure to promote an economic program that Dubois split with the organization he helped found in the early 1930s.

As early as 1900, Dubois spoke at Washington's alma mater, Hampton, and expressed support for industrial educa­tion. He did not, however, believe it could be a complete program of advance­ment. Negroes must have teachers, thinkers and leaders said DuBois. Educators had the duty to develop the full capabilities of each student. Both he and Washington saw the need for energy and self-initiative that they clashed on. That is, the conflict between Washington and DuBois was more fundamental than the type of training blacks were to receive. It was a conflict of values and vision.

Booker T. Washington fully accepted the ethos of the dominant society. Shap­ing this ethos were the values of op­timism, materialism and individualism as defined by the captains of industry. While Washington assumed the characteristics of the "trickster" in dealing with many whites, especially in the South, he firm­ly believed in the great corporation as the engine of economic progress for blacks as well as whites. Like Carnegie, Washington was a self-made man who had risen from slavery to dine at the White House. His life was a testament to hard work and discipline. He had benefited at crucial points in his life from whites who consulted the protestant work ethic. For Washington, black culture represented an obstacle to advancement, and his separatism was only a temporary strategy leading to assimilation.

W.E.B. Dubois, on the other hand, could not fully accept the dominant values of the day. He challenged the industrial education notion "that the world is simp­ly bread and butter." Moreover, he wor­ried that "our material wants had developed much faster than our social and moral standards." In short, Dubois challenged the dominant Western concept of inevitable progress. The Souls of Black Folk in its title alone represents a clash with Washington and his supporters. In it Dubois is suggesting that blacks must strive for something higher than simple material comfort. This spiritual striving, Dubois argues, must be grounded in black culture.

Thus, The Soul of Black Folk becomes the first attempt to embrace black culture as something worth preserving and developing. The place for such cultural development, DuBois thought, was black liberal arts colleges and univer­sities. Hence, Dubois can join Washington in calling for separate schools (on a voluntary basis) but disagree with him on pushing for full in­tegration of the social and political spheres. Even on the economic front, Washington's biographer states that the Tuskegee principal borrowed the idea of the National Negro Business League from Dubois.



BIG QUESTION: If you had to choose a side or join forces with Washington or Dubois, who would you have joined and why? Please use evidence from the reading and class notes to support your answer. (You can use bullet points) – Honor students – you must type this portion (otherwise you will lose 100points)

I would have joined___________________________ because (give at least 4 detailed answers) below:


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