African American leaders, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois arose to
accomplish one goal, education for all African Americans.
During the turn
of the century, between the years 1895 and 1915 there were many theories of
how African Americans were going to achieve first-class citizenship. With
two separate views on how to accomplish this goal, the African American
community was split in half on who to support. While Booker T. Washington
believed in industrial and agricultural labor, W.E.B.
Du Bois proposed a
strategy of pursuit through higher education in order to gain first-class
citizenship for the African American race.
Born the son of a slave, Booker Taliaferro Washington was considered
during his time to be the spokesman of the African American race.
Washington believed that if African Americans focused their attention on
striving economically they would eventually be given the rights they were
owed. With this in mind, he encouraged blacks to attend trade schools where
they could learn to work either industrially or agriculturally. At his
famous Atlanta Exposition Address in Atlanta he declared, “Our greatest
danger is that, in the great leap from slavery to freedom, we may overlook
the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands
and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in the proportion as we
learn to dignify and glorify common labor, and put brains and skill into
the common occupations of life..
.”. His suggestion was one that the Negro
race was familiar with. The southern and northern whites accepted his plan
because it acknowledged the inferiority of the black race. The Negro
“Okayed” it because it was a way of life better than being haunted by the
stagnation of sharecropping. With this statement, Washington stressed the
fact that: “.
.. the opportunity here afforded will awaken among us a new
era of industrial progress”. He made a point that we as African Americans
can achieve the rights we want if we present ourselves useful to the white
race. Washington stated, “No race that has anything to contribute to the
markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It is important and
right that all privileges of the laws be ours, but it is vastly more
important that we be prepared for the exercise of those privileges.
opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more
than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house”. Along with this
came the conclusion that you had to befriend the southern white man.
Washington made it known that befriending the white man was imperative to
ending the black man’s struggle. He said, “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”. All this and more was said in
Atlanta, Georgia, the first time in history where a black man had ever
spoken in front of so many white people. It was apparent to every African
American who did not totally agree with Washington’s idea that this was a
sign of submission for the black race.
The submissive part, if none else,
was where the conflict came in. Washington sent the message that if African
Americans were going to come up; they would have to continue to use their
hands as a means to be productive in a white society. Feeling that that was
the only way they could fit into a society was seen as failure to some and
led them to support another leader.
Labeled as a radical, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, had a solid
idea for African American progression. Described variously as the “most
outspoken civil rights activist in America,” and “the undisputed
intellectual leader of a new generation of African- Americans”, Du Bois was
considered the inspiration for the literary movement known as the Harlem
Renaissance. Known as the “Talented Tenth”, in his essay he mentions the
Negro race, like all races, being saved by its exceptional men”.
believed that if a small group of black persons attained college educations
they would be leaders of the race and encourage the rest to do the same and
reach a higher level of education. As .