Free Web Du Bois And Booker T. Washington: Racial Progress And The Great Debate Research Paper Sample
Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois were engaged in what historians have termed the “Great Debate” over what strategy would best help African Americans achieve social justice and racial equality. Both of these social activists articulated philosophes firmly rooted in certain political traditions that seemingly countered one another. Black conservative ideology, which was promoted by Washington, touted organic leadership rather than inorganic supplication and was firmly rooted in individualism and the primacy of the individual and self-help. Black conservatism, an epistemological branch primarily consigned to the Northern regions during the antebellum period, was predominately shaped by an amalgam of forces that included Christian evangelism, federalism, and vast array of conservative impulses that characterized nineteenth century America (Bracey, 2008, p. 17). Proponents of this prevailing ideology sought to achieve political economy, economic agency, and civic recognition. Once slaves were emancipated in 1863, however a new brand of black conservative thought emerged to the fore. Booker T. Washington, a product of the Reconstruction epoch, emerged as the leading exponent of this newer and developed conservative ideology that firmly grounded in the so-called “southern way of life” (p. 17). W.E.B Du Bois, the founder of the NAACP, launched a vitriolic, liberal campaign against Washington and the conservative precepts he espoused in order to achieve racial empowerment (p. 34). Political and ideological differences thus account for the different strategies for achieving racial equality, social progress, and economic liberties for blacks in the modern era. They both proffered their own vision of how to defuse class and racial hostilities, what role blacks leaders would play, and what sort of reparations hegemonic whites owed to the historically disadvantaged subaltern communities. Ultimately, these two leaders polarized the African-American community because, conditioned by their different backgrounds, Washington and Du Bois articulated opposing views regarding the best strategy for African Americans to achieve social progress and economic autonomy.
An avid reform and education, Booker T. Washington touted a philosophy rooted in racial solidarity, accomodationism, and self-help, calling for all African Americans to accept that racial discrimination was a fact of life. As a result, he told them that they should focus inward and elevate themselves through a diligent work ethic, a pragmatic education, and material ambitions. Washington is best known for his Tuskegee Institute, which was founded to cultivate vocational skills such as farming, crafts, and industrial trades in order for them to make money and achieve economic success. Moreover, he called for African Americans to instill in their children the value of industriousness, thriftiness, and patience as vital virtues. If they successfully achieve these goals, African Americans, Washington contended, would win the praise and respect from the white community and ultimately procure equal treatment rather than denigration as second-class citizens. His seminal speech in 1895 which became known as the “Atlanta Compromise Speech” at an exposition effectively exhibited Washington’s philosophy both in terms of rhetoric and audience. Before a predominately white crowd, Washington appeased the crowd by quelling any and all fears about “uppity blacks,” suggesting that the black race embrace “living by the production of our hands” rather than pursuing radical changes that would subvert the status quo and tear communities asunder (Washington, 1895). Washington was seemingly asked to speak at the exposition in order to publically demonstrate that American society had indeed made progress in race relations. Ultimately, this speech laid the foundation for the Atlanta Compromise, which was a compact forged between white leaders and African-American leaders which stipulated that southern blacks would not encroach on the southern political establishment , which was dominated by whites. In return, white leaders promise that they would guarantee that all southern blacks would receive an education, and their rights preserved by the writ of habeas corpus would be ensured (Kelley, 2008).
At the other end of the political spectrum, W.E.B. Du Bois, a staunch liberal social activist and academic who helped found the seminal NAACP, eschewed Washington’s approach to racial progress because it would merely perpetuate white hegemony and subaltern oppression. Rather than broaching racial progress vis-à-vis politics of supplication, Du Bois propagated a civil rights agenda and politics of confrontation. Moreover, Du Bois posited that social change could only transpire if blacks achieved a higher education. He alluded to time and again the necessity for a so-called “Talented Tenth,” which was a group of college-education African Americans who were exceptional and held the key to saving the black race.
Indeed, Du Bois’ philosophy grafted protest and agitation into his vision for racial progress and the procurement of black civil rights. In his seminal work Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois proffers his view on race that developed as a result of his personal experiences as a black man in a society constructed on white hegemony and the possessive investment in whiteness. He posits that southern blacks must secure the right to an education, enfranchisement without harassment, and social and economic equality. More famously, Du Bois articulates his conception of the double consciousness that African Americans struggled with. Du Bois unequivocally disagrees with Washington’s philosophy of blacks receiving a vocational and industrious education. Rather, Du Bois postulated that blacks needed a classical education rooted in the liberal arts in order to prepare and raise future leaders for the African-American community (Du Bois, 1803 ). This foundational text clearly proffers an intellectual contention for freedom in the blacks’ civil rights struggle by articulating the lived black experience shaped by quotidian interactions and affairs.
Bracey, A. (2008). Savior or sellouts: The promise and peril of black conservatism, Booker T. Washington to Condoleeza Rice. Boston: Beacon Press.
Du Bois, W. (1903). Souls of black folk. Retrieved February 10, 2015 from http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/dubois/ch03.html
Kelley, R.D.G. To make our world anew: A history of African Americans. United States: Oxford University Press.
Washington, B.T. (1895.). Atlanta’s exposition address. Retrieved February 10, 2015 from http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/washington/ch14.html
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