E. B. DuBois Central Historical Question



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Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois
Central Historical Question: Who was a stronger advocate for African-Americans, Booker T. Washington or W.E.B Dubois?
Schema: What was life like for African Americans in the South after Reconstruction ended in 1877?
Video: African-Americans in the Progressive Era
Document Study:

Document A: Booker T. Washington (Original)

Excerpted from Booker T. Washington’s ‘Atlanta Compromise’ speech, 1895.



Booker T. Washington was born a slave in 1856 and was nine years old when slavery ended. He became the principal of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a school designed to teach blacks industrial skills. Washington was a skillful politician and speaker, and he won the support of whites in the North and South who donated money to the school. On September 18, 1895, Booker T. Washington spoke before a mostly white audience in Atlanta.


  1. What type of document is this and when was it written?



  1. I think the audience is…




  1. Based on the sourcing information, I predict Booker T. Washington will…

Ignorant and inexperienced, it is not strange that in the first years of our new life we began at the top instead of at the bottom; that a seat in Congress or the state legislature was more sought than real estate or industrial skill; that the political convention or stump speaking had more attractions than starting a dairy farm or truck garden.


A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal, “Water, water; we die of thirst!” The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A second time the signal, “Water, water; send us water!” ran up from the distressed vessel, and was answered, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” And a third and fourth signal for water was answered, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River. 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….
Cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic service, and in the professions…. No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top.
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 say 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… As we have proved our loyalty to you in the past, in nursing your children, watching by the sick-bed of your mothers and fathers, and often following them with tear-dimmed eyes to their graves, so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defense of yours, interlacing our industrial, commercial, civil, and religious life with yours in a way that shall make the interests of both races one. 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.



  1. From this document I would guess that WHITE PEOPLE IN THE SOUTH at this time were feeling…




  1. Given what was happening at the time, this was a good/ bad speech because . . .



  1. The author is trying to convince the audience that…




  1. The most powerful line in this speech is . . . (explain)


Document B: W.E.B. DuBois (Original)

Excerpted from The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago, 1903).



The most influential public critique of Booker T. Washington came in 1903 when black leader and intellectual W.E.B. DuBois published an essay in his book, The Souls of Black Folk. DuBois rejected Washington’s message and instead called for political power, insistence on civil rights, and the higher education of Negro youth. DuBois was born and raised a free man in Massachusetts and was the first African American to earn a PhD from Harvard.


  1. What type of document is this, and when was it written?



  1. I think the audience is…



  1. Based on the sourcing information, I predict DuBois will…

Easily the most striking thing in the history of the American Negro since 1876 is the ascendancy of Mr. Booker T. Washington. It began at the time when war memories and ideals were rapidly passing; a day of astonishing commercial development was dawning; a sense of doubt and hesitation overtook the freedmen's sons,—then it was that his leading began. Mr. Washington came, with a simple definite program, at the psychological moment when the nation was a little ashamed of having bestowed so much sentiment on Negroes [during Reconstruction], and was concentrating its energies on Dollars….

Mr. Washington's program practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races…. Mr. Washington withdraws many of the high demands of Negroes as men and American citizens….
In answer to this, it has been claimed that the Negro can survive only through submission. Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things,—
First, political power,
Second, insistence on civil rights,
Third, higher education of Negro youth, and concentrate all their energies on industrial education, and accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South. This policy has been courageously and insistently advocated for over fifteen years, and has been triumphant for perhaps ten years. As a result of this tender of the palm-branch, what has been the return? In these years there have occurred:
1. The disfranchisement of the Negro.

2. The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro.



3. The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro.
His doctrine has tended to make the whites, North and South, shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro's shoulders and stand aside as critical and rather pessimistic spectators; when in fact the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.



  1. From this document I would guess that AFRICAN AMERICANS at this time were feeling…



  1. This might not give me the whole picture of Booker T. Washington because. . .



  1. DuBois is trying to convince readers that…


  1. The most powerful line in this speech is . . . (explain)



  1. Together, these two documents tell me that at this time . . .


Class Discussion Preparation Questionshttp://www.greenschoolsalliance.org/files/discussionforum.jpg

  • Washington has been a very controversial figure. Some historians say that he was a sell-out who kissed up to white people; others say he was realistic about the situation in the South, and tied to avoid inciting white hostility. What do you think?

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  • What was DuBois’s critique of Washington? Do you think he makes a good point? Why or why not?

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  • Why might some of Washington’s supporters say that DuBois didn’t understand what life was like in the South? Based on what he wrote, do you think DuBois was clueless about what was happening in the South?

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  • Based on these documents, who do you think was a stronger advocate for the rights of African-Americans: Booker T. Washington or W.E.B. Dubois? Explain.

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