After the end of the American Civil War, African Americans were confronted with great affliction and bigotry. As newly freed slaves, they were confronted with the impasse of establishing a niche for themselves in the greater American Society, which had for many years considered them as nothing but property. At the height of the dilemma, two prominent people emerged; they were considered as the preeminent leaders of two philosophically divergent groups. These were W. E. B. DuBois of Massachusetts and B. T. Washington of Virginia; the two gentlemen held to divergent proposals regarding how best to progress the African American race after years of slavery and being regarded as nothing but property. Although the methods and views held by DuBois and Washington were different, it is the contention of this paper that these remarkable gentlemen had a common objective that was to improve the situation of African Americans and uplift them.
Booker T. Washington was a reformer, an educator, as well as one of the most influential personalities in the black community at the time; he advanced a philosophy of racial solidarity, self-help, and accommodation. His call was for African Americans to accept discrimination for a little while and focus on improving their lives through hard work and prospering materially. One of the things that Washington believed in, being an educator, was education; particularly, he believed that blacks should train in various crafts, farming, and industrial skills. Additionally, he emphasized that African Americans should cultivate the virtues of enterprise, patience, and thrift. He saw this as a way in which blacks could win the respects of whites and result in them being fully recognized and appreciated as citizens; thus, become completely integrated into all stratum of society.
Additionally, Washington being from the south and familiar with the treatment that blacks received, as well as their needs, he emphasized the need for African Americans to stop agitating for the rights to vote and to liberty. Instead, he preached that blacks should in exchange expect security and economic benefits, as well as reduced violence meted on them. This meant that his philosophies were popular amongst blacks from the south and not those from the north. However, it is important to note this led him to get huge support from whites in the north and in the south. These whites appreciated his efforts, particularly in a time when they were increasingly being concerned with the race problem. They considered his efforts as a complete surrender by blacks to self-uplift and racial segregation. This is exactly what DuBois feared and was opposed to.
On the other hand, W.E.B DuBois a known intellect, an academic, and an opinionated thinker opposed the path and philosophy that was being preached by Washington. DuBois argued that Washingtons philosophy would only serve to advance and perpetuate the white oppression of blacks. Instead, DuBois championed for a civil rights agenda and political action; in fact, he was one of the founders of the NAACP. An important element of his philosophy was that social change could only be achieved by establishing and developing a small caucus of college-graduate blacks, a group he referred to as the Talented Tenth. He is remembered for his famous assertion that the African American race would be, like the other races, saved by its intellectual and remarkable men. He believed that the so-called the Talented Tenth, which included the best of the African American race, will be the one to guide the rest of the blacks away from the pollution and demise of the worst.
Consequently, DuBois believed that achieving equality with the whites was of utmost significance. He believed, and so advanced the idea that blacks should educate and train themselves in the same way in the liberal tradition, as the whites did. His philosophy was more radical compared to that of Washington. For this reason, it was more accepted by the blacks in the north.
The matter of black suffrage was where Washingtons and DuBois philosophies disagreed. DuBois rather radical philosophy believed in the necessity of agitating for voting rights; however, it was opposed to those rights being given to uneducated blacks. His belief was that economic benefits were not safe if there was not political power to protect them. In his comment with regards to Washingtons philosophy, DuBois asserted that Washington was trying very hard to make black artisans and craftsmen property owners and businessmen, but it was not possible given the competitive methods at the time for property owner and businessmen to safeguard their rights and exist without the right to vote. Washington, however, felt that the radical militant agitation advanced by DuBois only did more harm and only worked to irritate the whites from the south. He famously said that he believed that the opportunity for blacks to exercise their political right freely would not be realized through radical or militant force.
It is clear from this discussion that there were many points of disagreement between the philosophies advanced by DuBois and Washington. However, it is also clear that various similarities existed in their philosophies too. Both Washington and DuBois worked unwaveringly against and vehemently opposed anti-blacks violence racially motivated violence in general. Washington emphasized industrial and craftsmanship training for African Americans as opposed to liberal arts; however, he believed in the necessity and the benefits of liberal arts. On the other hand, DuBois accepts and appreciated various accomplishments by Washington. Although the approaches of both men can be criticized, they had a common objective that was to improve the situation of African Americans and uplift them.
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