Two great leaders of the black community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. However, they sharply disagreed on strategies for black social and economic progress.
Their opposing philosophies can be found in the quotes presented above. Although they both wanted improvement in the quality of life for the black Americans of their time, Washington focused greatly on economic prosperity while DuBois took the more radical stance and strove for complete integration and equality in all spheres of life. Who fostered more change? Was it the radical and revolutionary ideas of DuBois or the overwhelmingly popular but often compromising Washington?
Booker T. Washington was an educator, reformer and one of the most influential black leader of his time. He preached a philosophy of vocational training, the recognition of racial differences and white appeasement. He urged blacks to tolerate discrimination for the time being and concentrate on economic prosperity for themselves through hard work and vocational training. He believed in education in the crafts, industrial work and farming skills.
This, he said, would eventually win the respect of whites and lead to African Americans being fully accepted as citizens and integrated into all areas of society. Washington also stressed the great differences between the races and promoted segregation as a means of maintaining a racial identity. These differences are direct results of his early-life enslavement and modest upbringing.
W.E.B. DuBois, a Harvard educated black intellectual, scholar and political thinker thoroughly disagreed Washington's strategy. He believed that Washington's tactic would serve only to continue white oppression. DuBois advocated political action and a forceful struggle for civil rights advancement. In addition, he argued that social change could be accomplished by developing the small group of college-educated blacks he called "the Talented Tenth."
DuBois, in contrast to Washington, often stressed the unity of the races and how similar they are. It is through this view and his affluent upbringing that he gained the courage or even the idea that racial equality could be achieved.
Because of the two leaders' very different backgrounds, DuBois and Washington seemed to take opposite sides in the educational debate. In real life, though, their educational practices were somewhat closer. Washington's Tuskegee Institute promoted basic academics like mathematics and literacy skills and taught the students what they needed to know in order to break into the work force. Meanwhile, DuBois was a firm believer in academic excellence. He encouraged African-Americans to work hard, regardless of their careers and to learn all that the whites had previously learned.
Possibly the greatest difference between the two were their political views. Both DuBois and Washington wanted African-Americans to have the same rights as white Americans. But DuBois encouraged African-Americans to demand equal rights. Washington, on the other hand, often ignored discrimination. He believed that it was important for blacks to develop good relationships with whites. He was afraid that blacks that demanded equal rights would just further the pre-existing tension between themselves and white Americans.
The Washington-DuBois debate can only be solved by answering the question: who was the more effective civil rights activist? They both possessed incredible oratorical talents and were revolutionaries of their time. They both promoted the advancement of the black Americans and strove in the direction of racial equality.
Instead of questioning these men, they should both be acknowledged as admirable men and exceptional leaders of the civil rights movement. Instead of being judged or scolded for their shortcomings, they should be praised for their many accomplishments.