Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois had contrasting views on how to deal with the problems facing American-Americans. Which was superior in dealing with these conflicts?
Booker T. Washington and WEB Du Bois are perhaps the two most important and influential African-American's of the late nineteenth century and they both played pivotal roles in the Civil Rights movement. However, as the question suggests, they also had very contrasting political beliefs when it came to impacting the African-American movement. To fully understand where the two leaders had similarities and contrasts in their political views, I will first study Washington's contributions to the African-American cause, and the reasons behind his choices. Focus will then shift to Du Bois' views and his main criticisms of Washington, and whether these criticisms were valid or not. To understand the methods and reactions of Washington and Du Bois it is first essential to understand the background they were functioning in. During the late nineteenth century, when Washington and Du Bois were at their peak, Reconstruction had failed and life for many African-American's was considerably worse then it had been before the American Civil War and the abolishment of slavery. African-American's found themselves in the worse paid jobs in both rural areas, where they were exploited by an unfair sharecropping system, and in more urban areas, where the industrial revolution was beginning to take hold. Segregation was also rapidly moving throughout American society being reinforced in 1896 by the Plessy vs. Fergusoncase where it was decided that segregation was constitutional under the argument that it was “separate but equal”. More worryingly, during this time the number of African-Americans falling victim to lynching was rapidly growing. Due to these worsening conditions many African-American leaders of the time developed a tolerating attitude towards the obvious oppression there people were suffering, believing that outspoken protest would only make situations worse, and so instead they would appeal for aid from wealthy and influential whites and encourage African-Americans to “lift themselves by their bootstraps”. When looking at the background context it becomes clear why Washington and Du Bois had differing views when it came to Civil Rights. Washington had been born a slave in the South and grew up poorly fed and clothed and was denied an education. Growing up in the South Washington would have had first hand experience with the sort of discrimination many African-American's were faced with at the time and would have also understood the real fear many African-American's had of lynching. With this in mind it can be seen why Washington would have been more cautious in his methods of progressing Civil Rights. Du Bois by contrast was born a freeman in the North and didn't suffer discrimination until he entered higher education, and so it is understandable why he would not have had the same reservations as Washington when it came to a more radical approach to dealing with the oppression of African-Americans. Washington's work for the African-American race can be most clearly seen when looking at the Tuskegee Institution, which still exists today. The school opened in July 1881 and was at the outset only space rented from a local church, with only one teacher, that being Washington. The following year Washington was able to purchase a former plantation, which became the permanent site of the school, and the students themselves erected and fitted the buildings, as well as growing their own crops and rearing their own livestock. While the Tuskegee Institute did offer some academic training for teachers, its main focus was on providing practical skills needed to survive in rural areas, such as carpentry and modern agricultural techniques. It can be argued that this more vocational slant towards teaching was damaging in the progression of...
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