Booker T. Washington and W.E.B du Bois
Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois are two great leaders of the African-American during the late 19th and early 20th century. While both came into prominence in almost the same time frame, and had wanted economic and social progress for the black Americans, Washington and Du Bois differ in their opinion and strategies about achieving such cause. As a son of a slave mother, Washington knew of the difficulties faced by the blacks. He worked his way in uplifting himself by self education and took the opportunity afforded by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. On the other hand, Du Bois, was raised in a Eurpean American community in Massachussetts and was able to attend school which was once restricted to the whites. Accordingly, the difference in the way they were raised, their childhood and upbringing must have contributed to the contrasting ideals as expressed in the writing of these two great African Americans.
He was referred to as a school book black hero, and the Wizard of Tuskegee for being one of the most prominent black educator in the United States during his time. Two of his most popular books, Working with the Hands and Up from Slavery reveal much about his writing styles and his sentiments towards the life conditions of the black Americans as well as their relationships with the whites. His Up from Slavery, which is a narrative of his life from being a slave to becoming an educator, he emphasized the value of education and hard work. Further, in first chapter of the Working with the Hands, Washington described how he and his mother lived in extreme poverty and this motivated him to go to school. He stated his foremost goal “to learn ways and means by which I might make life more endurable, and if possible even attractive, for my mother” (Washington, 4). When he became a prominent educator, and the head of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he advocated “the value of hand work in the building of character” (Washington, 43).
The philosophy behind Washington’s idea of appreciating the value of manual labor and the development of industrial skills, was that they are needed the most needed qualities for the black American to succeed. Washington supported the idea that it was through hard work and the black communities’ access to vocational and industrial training that “blacks would win white respect by demonstrating a commitment to hard work” (Bauerlein, 106). He claimed that the blacks cannot go further unless they learn to appreciate the value of thrift and industry, and higher levels of social attainments are unattainable through protest and other confrontational acts.
Washington’s writing style was reflective of his thoughts and intentions with regards to the attainment of social and economic progress of the black Americans. While he wanted a better life for the people of his race, he believed that this can be achieved gradually. It was his intention to lead his people to the “higher attainment of culture and citizenship” (Bauerlein, 107), yet he knew that this can only be attained through education and the willingness of the black Americans to improve. Moreover, he realized the perilous condition of the black Americans during that time, thus his idea that it will be better to fight peacefully so as not to make the situation worse. Accordingly, Washington represented conciliation, assimilation and trade-school training coupled with humility and the ethic of thriftiness (Bauerlein, 107).
W.E.B Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was one among the fiercest critics of Booker Washington’s advocacy. While most of Washington’s writing denoted the need for the black Americans to conform to the concept of accomodationist approach in relating to the white Americans, Du Bois thought that it was a lame approach to gaining progress of his people. Du Bois wrote several books in his lifetime, among the most popular of which is the book entitled The Souls of Black Folk.
In chapter III of his book, the reader will find how Washington and Du Bois were one in their opinion about the importance of education for the black Americans. However, Du Bois explicitly argued against Washington’s stance that focused mainly on learning technical skills. He advocated that black Americans can achieve progress and equality by becoming educated just as the white Americans, and not be limited to technical learning. Du Bois opposed the concept that technical education will lift up the black Americans from oppression, and in fact limits the possibilities available to them.
In most of his writing, Du Bois suggested that oppression will not be achieved through Washington’s “apologetic stance toward Whites” (Barnes, 2). In reference to Washinton’s advocacy, he wrote, “there is among educated and thoughtful colored men in all parts of the land a feeling of deep regret, sorrow, and apprehension” (Du Bois, 27). Further, Du Bois opposed the idea that technical education will help in the achievement of equality, as it will only lead them to be trapped by the legacy of slavery. Instead, he claimed that allowing the African Americans to become involved in higher education, such as the liberal arts will give them a better standing in the society.
While Washington believed that the transformation of the black Americans should be gradual, and there was a need for his people to be more accommodating and submissive to the whites, Du Bois thought otherwise. The latter was against the concept of accommodation and re-inforced through his works and writings the need for the African Americans to have voting rights. He suggested that it was through political equality will his people achieve economic and social progress.
In most of his writing, especially in The Souls of Black Folk, it was Du Bois’ intent to awaken in the African Americans the need to seek and improve themselves. Through his writing, Du Bois showed how the reconstruction period resulted to some hope for his people, yet its ideals were far from being achieved. Further, his works were an outward expression of how he saw the struggles of the African Americans, and his hope for a better future for them.
The contrasting standpoint between Booker Washington and Du Bois showed how the Negro leadership during the late 19th century and the early 20th century was divided due to conflicting philosophies and interests. Washington’s philosophy advocated for a more accommodating stance by the blacks, while Du Bois went for a more militant leadership. Nevertheless, despite the conflicting standpoint, both of these leaders had wanted and hoped for a better life for the African Americans.
Barner, Sandra. “A Sociological Examination of W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk.” Purdue University. Retrieved from <https://www.princeton.edu/~jweisenf/northstar/volume6/barnes.pdf>
Bauerlein, Mark. "The Origins of Bitter Intellectual Battle." The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 46 (2011): 106-114. Web. <http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/md/zegk/schurman/studium/hsjansen_ss11_bauerlein.pdf>.
Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt. The Souls of Black Folk. N.p., 1903. Print.
Washington, Booker. Working with the Hands. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1904. Print.