Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois differed on their social agendas, but they each agreed that blacks deserved full American citizenship.
It is estimated that between 1882 and 1927 over 3,000 blacks were lynched in the United States. This figure may be a gross understatement because many blacks of this era simply disappeared and remain unaccounted for. These 42 years are significant because it was during this time that America embarked upon its initial forays into imperialism, fought two successful wars, and stood proudly as the beacon example of democracy for the world to emulate. Unfortunately, over 3,000 of its citizens were being brutally murdered while the country celebrated its democratic supremacy.
Nonetheless, blacks began a protest of the second-class social and economic conditions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This protest was led by Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. While each was passionate in their own beliefs, the end goal was the same: for blacks to gain and enjoy full citizenship in this country.
Washington and Self-Help
Booker T. Washington first articulated his ideas of “self-help” during his famed Atlanta Compromise speech. While many historians have interpreted it as cowardly conciliation in the face of racism, Washington acknowledges that blacks should enjoy all the benefits of American citizenship. However, he recognized that many in American society were not yet ready for such a drastic step, but they should nonetheless support black educational endeavors. In the end, Washington’s acceptance of a separate black society implied an acceptance of black inferiority that DuBois could not fathom.
DuBois and Immediate Integration
DuBois’ educational achievements placed him in direct conflict with the self-help, technical skills agenda of Washington. He believed that blacks should have equal access to the same educational institutions as whites and become political active in changing Jim Crow. DuBois also advocated the development of a black elite electorate, the “Talented Tenth,” that would provide leadership to the black community. To this end he was instrumental in forming the Niagara Movement and later served as a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP).
Both Washington and DuBois believed America failed in ensuring black citizenship after the end of slavery. In fact, the immediate cause that led to the creation of the NAACP was the sudden increase in black lynchings throughout the country. The NAACP would begin a campaign against lynching that would last well into the 1940s.
Even though it appeared as though blacks would finally be respected in this country after some many served in World War I (although their service was in segregated units), the return of the Ku Klux Klan meant the return to increased random acts of violence against blacks. In cities like St. Louis and Chicago race riots during this era exploded the myth that America was in fact a united nation. Far from it. In the first six months of 1919 there were 25 race riots and in the first year alone after World War I, 70 blacks were lynched. Some of them return World War I veterans killed in uniform.
Understandably, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois were passionate about their beliefs in ending violence and the social and economic disenfranchisement suffered by blacks between 1882 and 1927. They were from different worlds: one a self-made Southerner, and the other an educated light-skinned Northerner. Regardless of their differences, they each believed in an American society that would respect and appreciate the contributions of its black citizens.
- Grant, Joanne (1968). Black Protest. New York: Fawcett Publications.