In the late 19th and 20th century, the history of the black community was marked by two significant historical figures and leaders, W.E.B Dubois and Booker T. Washington. However, despite the fact that the two figures were both from and African American origin and radically fought for the liberation of the black community, they emerged as preeminent leaders with two different philosophical camps. For this reason, in the modern day today, there is no complete account if the black history in America, without the examination of the rivalry and the opposing philosophies between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Dubois. This essay, therefore, primarily compares the two scholars, in regard to their school of thoughts.
Firstly, a great difference in the thought and philosophies of the two black community leaders is portrayed in their age and education. For instance, Booker T. Washington was an emancipated slave who was born into slavery in Virginia, the South, in 1856. As an educator and reformer of the time, between 1856 and 1915, Washington preached a philosophy of self-help, accommodation and racial solidarity. In his contention, Washington urged the black communities to give in to the domineering discrimination during this time and focus on elevating themselves through hard work and material prosperity. From an academic perspective, Washington believed in education in the crafts, industrial and farming skills, enterprise and thrift, and the cultivation of the virtues of patience (Washington, 234). This, in essence, he said would see the blacks winning the respect of the whites and also lead to their full acceptance and integration as citizens into the all strata of the society.
On the other hand, Dubois was a towering black intellectual and a renowned political thinker in the years 1868 to 1963. W.E.B Dubois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1868. Born into a free black family, Dubois grew up in the north, in a comparatively integrated black community and did not experience the harsh conditions of slavery or the southern prejudice. Unlike Washington, Dubois was raised in a predominantly white environment, and his elite background is characterized by the fact that he attended Fisk University as an undergraduate, excelled in his studies and later became the very first African-American Ph.D. holder from the Harvard University. Concerning his philosophies, Dubois argued that social change among the black communities would be accomplished through the formation of college-educated blacks who he referred to as the Talented Tenth.
While Washington was a firm believer of liberty through appeasing the whites, Dubois, felt the need for equality of the blacks with the whites. During this time, the vast disparities in their ideologies polarized the black leaders into two groups, the radical critics and the conservative supporters of Washington. In a similar regard, great disagreements and clashes in their ideologies ensued. One of their biggest disagreement in philosophies came over the issue of the black suffrage (Randall). Regarding voting, the ideologies of the two scholars differed based on the vocational vs. the education perspectives. For example, concerning voting, despite the fact that Dubois believed in the need for agitating for the ballot, he opposed giving the vote to the uneducated blacks. In his account, Dubois was confident that economic gains were not secure unless political power was there to safeguard them. Washington, on the other hand, believed in a conciliatory approach to civil rights, something that made him diplomatic at fundraising for his Tuskegee Institute alongside other black organizations that endeared him to the white establishment (Washington 203).
Based on their clashing ideologies, Dubois was Washingtons greatest critique. In his book Souls of Black Folks, he disregarded Washingtons doctrine of giving in to discrimination and appeasing the whites saying that Washingtons ideologies, being vocational, were striving nobly to render a majority of the blacks as property owners, artisans, and businessmen. Further, Dubois critiqued Washington saying that, under the contemporary world, it was impossible for mere property owners and working men to defend their rights as well as exist without the dire right of suffrage (Dubois 68).
Additionally, another obvious contrast in the two scholars school of thought was with reference to Washingtons speech, The Atlanta Exposition Address. While this speech was praised by many for being the first address done in 1895 by an African American, before an integrated audience in the United States, Dubois, emerged in the forefront of those who maligned it. Although Dubois considered Washingtons address as important, he viewed it as more of a sell-out, other than an address intended for Atlantas exposition. Dubois backed up his argument in disregarding Washingtons speech by noting that with the exemption of political rights, the African Americans were in no position to protect anything they had earned. In a similar regard, Washingtons program and ideology of vocational education as the beginning of the modern science of agriculture failed to resonate well with Dubois and these, in essence, made him become the most aggressive critique of The Atlantas Exposition Address.
As a monumental but controversial leader of Negro thought in the United States, W.E.B Dubois left America for Ghana, where he had been invited as a guest by the then, President of Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah, to celebrate the creation of the Republic of Ghana. While visiting Ghana, Dubois introduced to Kwame Nkrumah the idea of creating a new encyclopedia of the African diaspora, which they called the Encyclopaedia Africana. Upon the approval of this idea by Kwame Nkrumah and the Ghanaian government, Dubois, now at the age of 93 was invited to Ghana for him to foresee the Encyclopaedia project. However, in the year 1963, the United States government refused to renew Duboiss passport, and this became the primary reason why he made a symbolic gesture of becoming a Ghanaian citizen (Ellison 281).
In conclusion, the rivalry between W.E.B Dubois and Booker T. Washington is portrayed in the disparities and clashes in the two black leaders philosophies and the ideologies. While the differences in their school of thought raged from their education perspective to the manner of liberating the African Americans, the two scholars, however, shared a commonality, based on the fact that they both strived to put to an end, racism, which was prevalent during their time. In a similar regard, their ideologies are essentially recognized for paving the way for the Modern-day Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
DuBois W. E. B, and Farah J. Griffin. The Souls of Black Folk. Barnes & Noble Classics, 2005, p. 68.
Ellison, Ralf. Invisible Man. 2nd ed., Vintage Book, 1995, p. 281.
Randall, Dudley. "Booker T. and W.E.B. by Dudley Randall." Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/47690.
Washington, Booker T. Up from slavery. Dover Publications, 2000, pp. 203-234.
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