Immediately following the Civil War, African Americans were faced with great discrimination and suffering. The newly free slaves were faced with the dilemma of carving a niche in a society that once regarded them as nothing more than property. During this period, two figures emerged as the preeminent leaders of two different philosophical camps. Booker T. Washington of Virginia and William Edward Burghardt DuBois of Massachusetts, held two very different proposals regarding the best way for African Americans to improve their situations. While their methods may have differed, both of these remarkable men had a common goal in the uplift of the black community.
Born in Franklin County, Virginia in the mid-1850s, Booker T. Washington spent his early childhood in slavery. Following emancipation, Washington (like many Blacks) felt that a formalized education was the best way to improve his living standards. Due to social segregation, the availability of education for blacks in was fairly limited. In response, Washington traveled to Hampton Institute where he undertook industrial education. At Hampton, his studies focused on the acquisition of industrial or practical working skills as opposed to the liberal arts. Because of his experiences at Hampton, Washington went on to become an educator as well as an adamant supporter of industrial education, ultimately founding the Tuskegee Normal and Agricultural Institute. Washington felt that the best way for blacks to stabilize their future was to make themselves an indispensable faction of society by providing a necessity. "The individual who can do something that the world wants done will, in the end, make his way regardless of his race" (Washington 155).
As a Southerner himself, Washington was familiar with the needs of southern blacks as well as the treatment that they received. Washington stressed that Blacks should stop agitating for voting and civil rights not only in exchange for economic gains and security, but also for reduced anti-black violence. As such, his philosophies were more popular amongst southern blacks than northern blacks. Washington also garnered a large following from both northern and southern whites. Northern whites appreciated his efforts in a time when they were growing increasingly weary of the race problem; one that they associated with the South. Southern whites appreciated his efforts, because they perceived them as a complete surrender to segregation and self-uplift.
Born in Massachusetts 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, W. E. B. DuBois grew up both free and in the North. Ergo, he did not experience the harsh conditions of slavery or of southern prejudice. He grew up in a predominately white environment, attended Fisk University as an undergraduate and later became the first African American to receive a doctorate from Harvard University. DuBois believe in what he called the "the talented tenth" of the black population who, through there intellectual accomplishments, would rise up to lead the black masses.
Unlike Washington, DuBois felt that equality with whites was of the utmost importance. More politically militant than Washington, DuBois demonstrated his political beliefs through his involvement in the Niagara Movement, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and served as editor of The Crisis, a black political magazine. He felt that blacks should educate themselves in the liberal tradition, just as whites. DuBois' more radical approach was received well by other northern freemen.
One of the biggest disagreements in philosophies between the two was over the issue of black suffrage. In terms of voting, DuBois believed that agitating for the ballot was necessary, but opposed giving the vote to the uneducated blacks. He believed that economic gains were not secure unless there was political power to safeguard them. This is shown in this comment from DuBois regarding Booker T. Washington: "He (Washington) is striving nobly to make Negro artisans business men and property-owners; but it is utterly impossible, under modern competitive methods, for workingmen and property-owners to defend their rights and exist without the right of suffrage" (DuBois 68). Washington, on the other hand, felt that DuBois' militant agitation did more harm than good and served only to irritate southern whites. "I think, though, that the opportunity to freely exercise such political rights will not come in any large degree through outside or artificial forcing…" (Washington 234).
While there were many points of contention between Washington and DuBois, there were similarities in their philosophies as well. Both worked adamantly against lynching and opposed racially motivated violence. While Washington may have stressed industrial education over liberal arts, he did believe that liberal arts were beneficial (Washington 203). Furthermore, DuBois greatly appreciated and acknowledged many of Washington's noteworthy accomplishments (DuBois 68). Though both men can be criticized on various aspects of their approaches, both DuBois and Washington were key figures in the advancement of African Americans.
Booker T. Washington vs. W.E.B. DuBois
The rivalry between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B DuBois is one well known to scholars and historians of the African American community. It is with DuBois Souls of Black Folk that DuBois makes his historic break with the philosophies of Booker T. Washington.
Booker T. Washington
Until the time of DuBois, Washington was among the premier of black activists. Washington's views "racial uplift" for the masses are criticized by many today as more conciliatory than in the definite interests of blacks in America.
Washinton's views on "racial uplift" were that Washington offered black acquiescence in disenfranchisement and social segregation if whites would back the idea of black progress in education, agriculture, and economics. Agriculture to Washington was one of the soul ideas of his "racial uplift" theory.
Washington had found Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in black belt Alabama. He used a sharp political ability to gain his way with the whites of both the North and the South. He convinced Southerners everywhere right up to the governor that his school had education that would keep blacks "down on the farm". And to the Northerners right up to the rich that controlled everything like the Rockefellers he promised the inculcation of the Protestant work ethic all the while promising to blacks in the South that industrial education would give them the tools to have their own lands and businesses.
Dubois horribly disagreed with many of Washington's opinions, but also garnered a respect for him as one of the first true black intellectuals who tried to help the black race."One hesitates, therefore, to criticize a life which beginning with so little, has done so much. And yet the time is come when one may speak in all sincerity and utter courtesy of the mistakes and shortcomings of Mr. Washington's career as well as of his triumphs, without being captious or envious, and without forgetting that it is easier to do ill than well in the world". In The Souls of Black Folk in the chapter entitled Of Booker T. Washington and Others he criticizes Washington for his stance on civil rights issues.
An avid supporter of the rights of blacks everywhere. Civic equality, education, and the right to vote. "but they are absolutely certain that the way for a people to gain their reasonable rights is not by voluntarily throwing them away and insisting that they do not want them; that the way for a people to gain respect is not by continually belittling and ridiculing themselves; that, on the contrary, Negroes must insist continually, in season and out of season, that voting is necessary to modern manhood, that color discrimination is barbarism, and that black boys need education as well as white boys." Washington and DuBois would continue to debate and be rivals til Washington's death in 1915.