It was quite common that the issues of Black Education came about in most “colored movements” such as the Civil Rights Movement or even organizations such as the Freedmen’s Bureau. While there were many people who played active roles in the world of Black Education there were a specific few who began to pave the way for others; those such as the father of African American Education, W.E.B. DuBois.
William Edward Burghardt ‘W.E.B.’ DuBois, was an African American male sociologist, writer, civil rights activist and educator. While being born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts he lived in an integrated community rather than a segregated one which predominantly existed throughout his years of living from 1868-1963. While he was born in Massachusetts he eventually made his way down south where segregation was heavily weighed upon. Growing up throughout the Progressive Era and moving down south through this tormentous time for blacks caused him to face many obstacles. “The period between the late 19th and early 20th centuries represented the nadir of American race relations. Nine-tenths of African Americans lived in the South, and most supported themselves as tenant farmers or sharecroppers. Most southern and border states instituted a legal system of segregation, relegating African Americans to separate schools and other public accommodations. Under the Mississippi Plan, which involved the use of poll taxes and literacy tests, African Americans were deprived of the vote.
The Supreme Court stripped the 14th and 15th Amendments of their meaning, especially in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which declared that “separate but equal” facilities were permissible under the 14th Amendment. Each year approximately a hundred African Americans were lynched.” Regardless of these circumstances, individuals such as W.E.B. DuBois overcame these challenges and became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Due to this, upon graduation he was offered many jobs in which he began many of his writings and publications within the different fields of sociology, education, racism, segregation and many other areas. A few of his most famous publications are The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638–1870 (1896), John Brown (1909), and The Souls of Black Folks (1903) which is a collection of 14 essays. “DuBois also published his landmark study—the first case study of an African-American community—The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899), marking the beginning of his expansive writing career. In the study, he coined the phrase ‘the talented tenth,’ a term that described the likelihood of one in 10 black men becoming leaders of their race.” More often than not, Dubois focused on how blacks are treated unequally by whites, or/and the heritage of blacks and the reality of the situations in which they encounter. The author writes these types of publications in order to provide insight in terms of the differences whites and blacks face and possibly overcome.
One can say that W.E.B. DuBois was influenced by many significant events that occurred from the moment he was born until the day of death. For instance, while DuBois was born in 1868 the Civil War had just ended in roughly 1865. Even after this, blacks and whites both were still dealing with the aftermath and wanted to continue to change society for the better or worse. Especially considering how slaves were being abandoned and confiscated from Confederate soil. He lived through these changes and adjustments known as the Reconstruction Era, and while he did not live on Confederate soil, he still witnessed the horrors and changes that came about during this process. However, due to him being born into a free-black family his perspective may have more of a behind the scenes approach. Another influence of his philosophy was the tensions of ‘Jim Crow’ in the South which began in 1890 through 1965. This was a long tormentous time for blacks throughout the South and DuBois not only witnessed it, but experienced it considering his move to Atlanta, Georgia throughout his years. Considering DuBois was an African American educator this possibly impacted him directly. Jim Crow primarily focused on racial segregation in public areas and facilities; schools being one of them. He wanted equal rights for blacks and figured by him gaining his own education and being one of the first blacks to do so, he could make a positive and effective change.
Throughout his book Souls of Black Folk (1903) he voices his opinion against Booker T. Washington’s (A slave who grew up in the same era as DuBois) thoughts on industrial education and how important it was for African Americans to seek higher education. Washington believed it was necessary to “accommodate the white supremacy and elitist to gain equality amongst blacks”. However, DuBois thought otherwise. He did not think it was necessary to accommodate when we can surpass them if we gained the same educational resources. In a sense, it comes off as Washington wanting to settle with the norm and DuBois willing to take a risk with using things to an advantage while making a change.
I believe W.E.B. DuBois encouraged African Americans to “embrace their interest and pride in their heritage in culture.” Mainly because this was also one of the many struggles they faced. This topic is related to his historical context because he experienced it throughout his entire life. He lived through the struggles that blacks faced in the most historic times. He also had a career in areas that were primarily difficult for blacks to acquire such as an education. Not only this, but he became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from an all-white prestigious university. He was born through the struggle and lived to see the outcome and progress with the help of himself. He knew what was needed to make a change for African Americans and he took the first steps in doing so to pave the way for future generations of African Americans in public schooling systems. DuBois valued equality amongst blacks and did not think it was necessary to settle for what was considered normal at the giving time. He believed that to make a change, African Americans must be the change. Not only did he believe in this, but he practiced what he preached as well.
“It is not enough for the Negroes to declare that color-prejudice is the sole cause of their social condition, nor for the white South to reply that their social condition is the main cause of prejudice. They both act as reciprocal cause and effect, and a change in neither alone will bring the desired effect. Both must change, or neither can improve to any great extent.'(p.88) ….’Only by a union of intelligence and sympathy across the color-line in this critical period of the Republic shall justice and right triumph,” ― W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
One may conclude with knowledge of whom DuBois was that he believed education was the primary goal before anything else could be done. It determined everything in terms of social class, how well you lived and simply a means of surviving in much better conditions. It was also the first step into getting on the same path as those of other predominant races whom were much different than blacks.
The topic choice of this book, as well as his other publications tells us that because of the things he encountered throughout his life he wanted not only his generation to understand and realize that settling for “right now’ is not okay and that a change is always needed in the world we lived in.
While DuBois disagreed with Booker T. Washington’s outlook on black citizens in society, he used his book The Souls of Black Folk as a way to urge Washington to speak out against “racial injustice’. To do this, he published many essays he collected throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries. This provided his perspective as well as many other options Washington and others could take to make this way of equality to come about for African Americans. Due to this, it provided a guide as to how African Americans had dealt with society at the time in which he constructed these essays as well as how their souls strived as black people. DuBois believed that The Souls of Black Folk were awakened through veils and their double consciousness.
This evidence tells us that DuBois opened his eyes to the bigger picture through the things in which he lived through. Being one of the first black educators to have the highest level of a degree could not have been an easy task during such racial times.
His thesis throughout this entire book focuses on his theory of the negro problem and what do Americans want to do with all the newfound free black people. Not only this, but what will the newfound free black people do in society to progress now that they are free. His arguments throughout this reading are in regards to blacks in the areas of “Religion, The Color Line, Accommodationism and Civil Rights”.
His conclusion is focused on the chapter of ‘The Sorrow Songs’, which shows sort of an overcoming from difficult times. From the beginning of the book, DuBois focuses on the history of blacks and the struggles in which they face not only socially but within themselves. In the ending chapter, speak of the negro-folk songs provides a spirit of joy and grace. More common than not, even in slave days’ blacks overcame struggles with their negro-folk spirituals. He also shows how these songs opened greater opportunities for not only himself but other people of color as well. For instance, he mentions how ‘the Jubilee songs were sung across land and sea for seven years and were able to open the Fisk University with their profits. ‘ He then goes on to say ‘But the true Negro-folk song still lives in the hearts of those who have heard them truly sung and in the hearts of the Negro people.’ This is true due to negroes using music to express themselves no matter the emotions they may face.