Two great leaders of the African American community in the late 19th and early 20th century were W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. However they disagreed on strategies for African American social and economical progress. Their opposing philosophies can be found in much of todays discussion over how to end class and racial injustice, what is the role of African American leadership, and what do the haves owe the have-nots in the African American community.
Booker T. Washington, educator, reformer and the most influential African American leader of his time preached a philosophy of self-help, racial solidarity and accommodation. Booker T. Washington urged African Americans to accept the discrimination from whites for the time being and to concentrate on working their way up through hard work and material prosperity. Booker T. Washington believed in education in the crafts, industrial and farming skills, the great importance of patience, enterprise, and thrift. He said this would win the respect of whites and lead to African Americans being fully accepted as citizens and integrated into all parts of society.
W.E.B. Du Bois, a tall African American intellectual, scholar, and political thinker, said that Booker T. Washingtons strategy would serve only to perpetuate white oppression. W.E.B. Du Bios advocated political action and a civil rights agenda. His view was that social change could be accomplished by developing a small group of college-educated African Americans. He called this small group “the Talented Tenth”
“The Negro Race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education then, among Negroes, must first of all deal with the “Talented Tenth.” It is the problem of developing the best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the worst.” W.E.B. Du Bios,
Quoted from Frontline Online:
The Two Nations of Black America: Booker T. & W.E.B.
Booker T. Washington recalled his childhood in his autobiography, Up From Slavery. He was born in 1856 on the Burroughs tobacco farm, which was an extremely small “plantation.” His mother was a cook in the main house, his father a white man from a nearby farm. He wrote “The early years of my life which were spent in the little cabin, were not very different from those f other slaves.”
Booker T. Washington went to school in Franklin County, but not as a student he carried books for one of Master James Burroughss daughters. At that time it was illegal to educate slaves. “I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study would be about the same as getting into paradise,” he wrote. In April 1865 the Emancipation Proclamation was read to joyful slaves in front of the Burroughs home. Booker T. Washingtons family left to join his stepfather in Malden, West Virginia. As a young boy he took a job in a salt mine that began work at 4 a.m. so that he could attend school later in the day. A few years went later he was taken in as a house boy by a wealthy towns-woman who further encouraged his longing to learn. At age 16 Booker T. Washington walked the good part of 500 miles to Virginia to enroll in a new school for African American students. He knew even poor he could get an education at Hampton Institute, paying his way by working hard. The head teacher was suspicious of his country ways and ragged clothes. She only admitted him after he had cleaned a room to her satisfaction.
Born on February 23, 1896 to Mary Silvina and Alfred Du Bois. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was raised in a small but long established African American community in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. An avid student willing to do anything to further his education, he began publishing the communitys newspaper by the age of fourteen. He graduated from high school early and enrolled at Fisk University. When he received his baccalaureate degree, and then accepted a scholarship at the University of Berlin, where he studied for two years. After this, he went to Harvard, where he was the first African American to receive his doctoral degree.