A Comparison of T. Thomas Fortune and Booker T. Washington

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Alex Roth
White Power/Black Leadership
November 14, 2007
Booker T. Washington and T. Thomas Fortune
Though not as well known today as many of his contemporaries, T. Thomas Fortune was the foremost African American journalist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Using his editorial position at a series of black newspapers in New York City, Fortune established himself as a leading spokesman and defender of the rights of African Americans in both the South and the North (wikipedia). The life of T Thomas Fortune spanned several significant periods in American history. His seventy-two years included the experiences of slavery, Reconstruction, "the Nadir," and the Harlem Renaissance. In varying degrees, these opposing periods in time influenced and determined the direction of Fortune's life and the realization if his identity as an "Afro-American.” On the other hand, one of the most influential, celebrated, and criticized black leaders of the twentieth century was Booker T. Washington. Few public figures in African American life during the period of post-slavery excited as much passion and misunderstanding as Washington. Born a slave and deprived of any early education, he became America’s foremost black educator of the late 1890s and early 1900s, introducing the nation to his own brand of education and reform for the post-Civil War United States. Besides using his journalistic pulpit to demand equal economic opportunity for blacks and equal protection under the law, T. Thomas Fortune founded the Afro-American League, an equal rights organization that preceded the Niagara Movement and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to extend this battle into the political arena (Thornbrough). However, his great hopes for the league never materialized, and he gradually began to abandon his militant position in favor of educator/activist Booker T. Washington's compromising, accommodationist stance (Thornbrough). Fortune's later years, wracked by alcohol abuse, depression, and poverty, precipitated a decline in his once-prominent reputation as well. Washington’s career, on the other hand, was no less successful or influential than that of Fortune’s. He was the founder, first teacher, and principal of the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, which later became the staple for almost all southern black education. Here Washington instituted his belief in vocational training as a means for black self-reliance, as well as a way to further the black community through providing services people of all races could benefit from (Washington). He became a well-known orator throughout his career, wrote a best-selling autobiography (Up From Slavery, 1901), and advised Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft on race relations in the United States. Later in his life Washington was given the nickname of “The Great Accommodator” which provides an indication of why later black influences, such as W.E.B. Du Bois and the N.A.A.C.P. so heavily criticized his leadership (Du Bois). Washington was the driving force behind the Tuskegee machine from 1891 until his death in 1915, constantly controlling every operation that occurred at the school. Together these two men helped to shape the landscape of the black community for years after their deaths and as will be shown when their paths crossed during the courses of their lives, sparks flew, tempers flared, and the history of Black America was changed forever. Timothy Thomas Fortune was born a slave in Marianna, Florida on October 3, 1858 (Thornbrough 3). Early in his boyhood he was exposed to the three factors that later dominated his life - journalism, white racism, and politics. Fortune was only five years old when slavery was abolished in 1863 by the Emancipation Proclamation. His father, Emanuel Fortune, was a literate slave artisan and one of two African Americans elected as delegates to the 1868 state's...
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