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. At this time first-class citizenship was determined by at least three aspects: political power, civil rights, and the higher education of Negro youth. Two prominent black leaders arose in order to accomplish this feat. They had two different ideas for one goal. These two black leaders during this time were Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Booker T.
Washington was considered at this time to be the spokesman of the black race, however, W. E. B. Du Bois proposed a plan that set him right under, if not with, Mr. Washington. While Booker T. Washington believed in industrial and agricultural labor; I adamantly agree with W. E. B. Du Bois’s strategy of the pursuit of intellect through higher education in order to gain first-class citizenship for the African American race. Both, Du Bois and Washington dedicated their lives to find a way to gain rights for the American Negro. Each of these intellectual individuals dedicated their lives to this one goal.
There was not much more in common with the two, other than this. Booker Taliaferro Washington, born a son of a slave devised a compromise between the Caucasian and African American race. Washington believed if we focus our attention to striving economically we will eventually be given the rights we were owed. To do this he encouraged attending trade schools like the ones which he worked with. These schools include Hampton Institute and the school he founded himself, Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama. Then he proposed working either industrial 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 is 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. Washington stressed the fact with this statement: “? the opportunity here afforded will awaken among us a new era of industrial progress”. Also, he made a point that we 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. The 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 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”. He finishes his speech when he said, “This, coupled with material prosperity, will bring into our beloved South a new heaven and a new earth”.
All this and more was said in Atlanta, the first time in history a black man has ever spoke in front of so many white people. It was also apparent to everyone 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 was, if none else, the fact that we were to accept that black people were going to continue to use their hands as a means to be productive to a white society. Feeling that that was the only way we could fit into a society was seen as failure to some.
This body had another leader to turn to for Negro leadership. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, labeled as a radical, had a solid idea for African American progression called the “Talented Tenth”. In his essay called The Talented Tenth he mentioned, “The negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men”. Du Bois believed that if a small group of black persons attained college educations they will be leaders of the race and encourage the rest to do the same and reach a higher level of education.
Du Bois stated, “If this be true? and who can deny it? three tasks lay before me; first to show from the past that the Talented Tenth as they have risen among American Negroes have been worthy of leadership; secondly; to show how these men may be educated and developed; and thirdly, to show their relation to the Negro problem”. Du Bois believed on contrary to Booker T. Washington that if you wanted something accomplished you go right at it. Taking a shot at Washington’s theory he claimed, “This is an age of unusual economic development, and Mr.
Washington’s programme naturally takes an economic cast, becoming a gospel of Work and Money to such an extent as apparently almost completely overshadow the higher aims of life”. This was the complete opposite theory by grasping what the white race has put out of reach from the Negro for many years. Du Bois understands that “All men cannot go to college but some men must.. “. He also said, “The best and most capable youth must be schooled in the colleges and universities of the land”, referring to the future Talented Tenth.
Then, and only then, the fight for first class citizenship will be earned through the university educated Negro through the court systems. However, out of six black institutions devised at this time, Atlanta, Fisk, Howard Shaw, Wilberforce and Leland only seven hundred and fifty black college students were enrolled. The next question remained, do these educated men earn a living after schooling. Out of 1,312 people, half are teachers, a sixth are preachers, the other sixth are students and professionals, over six percent are farmers, artisans and merchants and four percent work for the government.
In addition to this, 557 collegiate educated black persons in 1899 owned $1,342,862. 50 worth of land. Du Bois also argued how trade schools could not teach their skills and fund themselves while keeping industries on a commercial basis. He also notes three contradictions of Washington which were: he is striving to make artisans and businessmen but they could not possibly survive without defending their rights and suffrage, how he demands self-respect but advocates a submissive plan and how he condones these trade schools that could not last a day without certified highly educated teachers.
Although Booker T. Washington, being the prominent man that he was, posed a well-developed plan for African American achievement; Du Bois’s strategy, I believe is more effective. Besides considering myself an extremist and in accord with the man labeled as an extremist, Du Bois’s ideology does not contain as much faults and paradoxes. Also it aims straight for success, the success that the black well deserves and does not accept inferiority. I strongly agree that intelligence no matter what the condition or time is the key. As Mr. Du Bois put it, “Education must not simply teach work? it must teach Life”.