Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois were both prominent figures in the African American Community following radical reconstruction. Although they were both very powerful members of the African American community, they held polar opposite views.
Booker T. believed that if Blacks formed a strong work force and became essential to the Southern economy, that whites would have no choice but to give equal rights and equal respect to them. W.E.B. DuBois on the other hand believed that Blacks should fight for voting rights and from there make changes via politics.
Another way these two varied is in the way they hoped to promote change. While Booker T. hoped to create change by African Americans assimilating into white society, and becoming a vital part of their world, DuBois wanted Blacks to virtually push their way into society. DuBois, demanded that black be given civil liberties, the right to vote, and education to all Blacks. Instead of demanding, Booker T. believed if Blacks helped themselves as much as possible they will soon be recognized, accepted, and helped by whites.
While these two seem like polar opposites this was not always the case. Prior to 1901 DuBois was a supporter of Booker T. Washington’s ideals. During this time they both believed that Blacks were responsible for the bad conditions they were living under. They both believed in Black self-help, and moral development. They both believed that with economic growth from the black community voting rights would come.
They both also urged blacks to support black businesses and to receive industrial training. Around 1903 is when DuBois changes his stance. He started to view Washington as a dictator unwilling to hear advice and criticism of his Tuskegee Institutes. Although he respected Washington he believed that he was misguided. After witnessing many civil injustices DuBois felt that Washington’s methods were not working, and in time became very outspoken.
DuBois was born in Massachusetts, and he and his family had not experienced slavery for almost 100 years. DuBois and both his parents were mixed white and black, so it is surprising given his background that he would be more militant and extreme than his counterpart Booker T.
Washington who was born into slavery in Virginia. DuBois believed that constant protest and political action paired with education would be the most efficient course for Blacks to take in order to receive equal rights. Although they both wanted the same end goal they had two completely different timelines and methods.
Whites seemed to support Booker T. Washington’s plan because they did not think his end goal was complete integration of Blacks into American society. Booker T. felt that if enough Blacks come into powerful positions in the country then whites would have no choice but to grant them equal rights. DuBois understanding this point also understood that this path would mean that Blacks would have to start from a position of inferiority. He believed that Blacks should not have to sacrifice their constitutional rights in order to achieve a status of citizenship already guaranteed to them in the constitution.
Booker T. Washington’s approach appealed more to wealthy blacks, as well as the majority of the white population. More radical whites and poorer blacks sided with DuBois. This divide in the African American population happened because DuBois’s program meant that poor blacks did not have to work as hard to gain rights, and for the wealthy blacks they would face less opposition from whites if they sided with Booker T.
Washington since they wouldn’t need to protest for equal rights, it would come to them when the African American community became worthy of it. Radical Whites who believed in equality for all naturally sided with DuBois since he believed Blacks shouldn’t have to fight for civil liberties already promised to them. The majority of whites sided with Booker T. Washington since his plan was more conservative and provided to blacks over a longer time span while DuBois’s plan demanded immediate change.
The greatest positive change that came from W.E.B. DuBois’s camp was the NAACP. This organization, which is still around, protects the rights of African Americans through the courts, and has been involved in many landmark Supreme Court cases. Another positive change that came from DuBois was the idea that people should fight for their rights.
This attitude has been a part of American History since the Declaration of Independence was written. Although Booker T.’s plan did make sense and was a reliable way to insure black civil liberties, it almost went against the American way of fighting for one’s rights.
The greatest advancement that both of these leaders provided was laying the foundation for Martin Luther King. By mixing ideas from both W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King was able to mount a successful civil rights movement that achieved what both of these leaders hoped for.
I don’t believe any of the problems that Booker T. Washington or W.E.B. DuBois fought to fix are still around. All Blacks are treated as equals and race is no longer an issue when it comes to civil liberties.