Empowering African Americans – Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois

HIS105 – Different Approaches to Diversity Issues (1865–1925)

The Reconstruction era (1863-1877) is still widely regarded as one of the most pivotal periods in the history of race relations in the United States. Policies introduced during this period had far-reaching social and political implications for the young fledgling nation with many probing key of issues related to diversity. It was also during this period that Booker T. Washington (1815-1915) and W.E.B DuBois (1868-1963) emerged as influential black leaders who fervently led discourse of diversity within the American context. Their main objective was to promote social and economic emancipation amongst African Americans within the American society. Although both leaders developed comprehensive philosophies on how to approach this contemporary debacle, the perspectives espoused later became controversial and resulted in a social divide. While Booker T. Washington championed economic success and shunned clamoring for social equality, W.E.B DuBois resolutely believed in fighting all forms of oppression occasioned by the white man. An evaluation of both approaches is, thus, fundamental in addition to their reverberations in contemporary times.

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The introduction of Jim Crow laws after the Reconstruction period resulted in widespread racial segregation prompting African Americans to seek apposite solutions from their leaders.  During this period, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B DuBois emerged as prominent black leaders capable of rallying African Americans in their disapproval of oppression. During this period, powerful white Democratic-led state legislatures increasingly viewed African American freedom as a threat and were, therefore, keen on reasserting their dominance. In 1895, Booker T. Washington took it upon himself to present concerns raised by fellow African Americans in his famous Atlanta Compromise address (Schultz, 2015). The underpinning message in his statement was the idea that the black and white races should live separately and autonomously but only cooperate within an economic context.

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Washington further urged African Americans to strive for economic freedom through their innovation and the creation of new opportunities. He also expected them to ape his model of diligence which was bound to ultimately result in success. Washington viewed the black race as a resourceful people capable of taking control of their destiny in an indifferent society that bore the defining hallmarks of subjugation.  Thus, he endeavored to restore the dignity of his people by starting from the bottom and ultimately working towards the attainment of specific economic objectives (Washington, 2014). Conversely, W.E.B. DuBois expressed a divergent opinion with regard to the most suitable approach for the advancement of the black race. To him, equal rights were invaluable and also one of the key reasons why he stood for parity.  DuBois was a strong critic of racial segregation within the United States and believed that progress could only be achieved through a spirited fight for equality. He also supposed that African Americans should hold steady to their ideals and avoid sacrificing them for economic success as proposed by Booker T. Washington. His famous “Statement of Principles” promoted a fight for equal rights in an environment occasioned by social injustices.

            Booker T. Washington and W.E.B DuBois were both avid supporters of African American rights. However, they differed with regard to the best strategy to employ in the pursuit of the aforementioned goal. Washington was a pragmatic leader who considered the realities of the day during this particular era in history when developing his master plan. Not only did he attempt to raise awareness about the plight of African Americans in the United States, but also sought to impart invaluable knowledge based on personal experience. Washington was considered an authority in matters related to race, especially how to navigate through the so-called “white man’s world”. His main strength was in striving to bridge the racial divide in the United States with a respectful demeanor that earned him the admiration of many white Americans. Washington’s perspective of leading separate lives but only coming together within an economic context struck a chord among many white Southerners who were still resentful of Reconstruction policies.

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Nevertheless, a glaring weakness in his methodology was focusing more on white perceptions of him and his principles, which was also the primary reason why he nearly lost credibility among the black community. W.E.B DuBois was a firm believer in self-reliance and its role in improving the condition of African Americans within the United States (Bois, 2015). He also believed that this objective could only be realized first through education then by raising the awareness of members of black community who had been subjected to centuries of oppression. DuBois supported the equal treatment of blacks since institutionalized segregation and discrimination were unwarranted. He believed that individuals from the black and white races were both equal and deserving of fair treatment. DuBois’s extensive knowledge and personal experiences guided his stance in the quest for equity in the United States. One of his major strengths was in fostering widespread integration in educational institutions and the economic sector. Nonetheless, he was blinded by his zeal and failed to consider the effects of social environments on African Americans.

Booker T. Washington and W.E.B DuBois still remain some of the most persuasive black leaders of all time. Washington was a firm believer in economic success among blacks in a society punctuated by segregation, while DuBois stood for a strong-willed fight racial equality. Although both approaches differ greatly, they are responsible for motivating education amongst African Americans and civil rights for vulnerable groups in society.

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