At the start of the 20th century, Jim Crow laws still crippled the rights of the African American community and segregation was at an all-time high. Even occupations such as Federal employment were degraded through segregation. Consequently, small protests began; insignificant in the short term, but it truly laid the foundation for the civil rights movement to have a major impact throughout America. Despite the limits and obstacles in their path, men and women rose to new heights, disregarding the concept of white supremacy. Whilst they had to endure a life of hardship, being denied higher education and the vote, many would not allow themselves to remain ‘separate but equal’. This essay will explore the accomplishments of African-American leaders but focus on how they couldn’t have succeeded without the influence of other factors, such as the federal government, a view shared with Miles Mulin who stated that ‘… in combination with their own persistent efforts, only the concerted efforts of a muscular federal government guaranteed the most fundamental rights…’
The most arguably recognised leader in the early years of civil rights progression was Booker T. Washington. Starting his inspiring journey with humble beginnings, only having 100 acres of land and a chicken coop to build a school, he soon created a revolutionary institute named Tuskegee. He focused on teaching African Americans vocational skills which would allow them to live peacefully alongside the white men and famously stated that ‘No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem’. Carpentry, farming and mechanical engineering were popular courses throughout the years and Washington saw an increase in students. However, his accomadationist views were not completely well received, which can be understood as Washington believed that 'agitating for equality was an 'extremist folly' and proposed that blacks accept temporarily their second class citizenship'. The source is considerably useful to a historian as it ensures that Washington’s view isn’t shrouded by his popularity. He truly didn’t believe in pushing for equality and as a result, limited his success as a leader. His actions, whilst painfully idealistic, didn’t allow for any true change in the black community’s fundamental rights. Despite having an unheard of amount of power for any black citizen, he focused on educating African Americans to believe they were a servile class, ‘Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others’ . Could the civil rights movement have happened years before its time if Washington didn't just accept the fate handed to the black community by Southern whites and set up an institute which would give a majority of African Americans a higher education? Questionably, it was Washington's wish for harmony between the two races that limited his actions and it is justified by the rapid increase in lynchings during 1890. Southern whites were already flying of the handle, lynching many for minor offences. As such, Washington's reasoning was excusable, and his emphasis on 'self-help in the form of industrial training would quell white suspicions of black struggle'. Overall, Washington was perhaps the most successful leader, yet he didn’t achieve anything great for civil rights. His attitude was almost hesitant and he didn’t want to upset the social ‘norm’. Consequently, he was reluctant to do much more for the black community. Furthermore, there were many who opposed his ambiguous belief in accomdationism and separatism. The evidence suggests that although Washington’s support was wide-spread, especially in the white community, he was unable to accomplish little in the push to achieve civil rights and thus, was not an important factor in bringing about change.
His principal opponent, who split the black community in half over their differing beliefs, was W. E. B. Du Bois. Immediately, he failed in his ambition...
Bibliography: • Article by Miles Mulin, ‘Civil Rights and the Federal Government in the African American Experience’, 2013.
• Bruce J Dierenfield, ‘The Civil Rights Movement’, 2008
• Booker T
• Robert Cook, ‘Sweet Land Of Liberty’, 1998
• W.E.B Du Bois, an Article in Atlantic Monthly, November 1965
• ‘Civil Rights in America’ Ron Field, 2002, pg. 61.
• Black Civil Rights in America’, Kevern Verney, 2000
• Vivian Sanders, ‘Race Relations in the USA 1863-1980’, 2006
• Derek Murphy, Katherine Cooper, ‘United States 1917 – 2008, 2008,
• Robert Cook , ‘Sweet Land Of Liberty, 1998
• Foner (1988) entitles his chapter 6, "The Making of Radical Reconstruction."
• The Freedmen’s Bureau and Reconstruction," edited by Paul Cimbala and Randall Miller
• Richard Dalfiume, Journal of American History, 1968.
• A Question of Sedition: Federal Government 's Investigation of the Black Press During World War Two, Washburn, 1986
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