What does DuBois mean by this quote from The Souls of Black Folk? "Nine millions of men can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived of political rights, made a servile caste, & allowed only the most meager chance for developing their exceptional men?”
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What DuBois is doing here is taking issue with Booker T. Washington's ideas about how blacks should make progress in the US.
In this quote, what he is saying is that the black race as a whole cannot possibly progress economically if it is relegated to second class citizenship on the political level. The phrase "servile caste" means a group of people who will be seen as slaves/servants of others.
Washington thought that blacks could progress economically and then get political rights. DuBois is saying this is impossible. Just after the part you quote, he will give his arguments as to why it is impossible.
So much of Du Bois’ work responds to Booker T Washington’s, and many critics write about these men in relation to each other. Much has been made of their philosophic differences—particularly in how Washington advocated gradual change and Du Bois insisted that certain changes to ensure civil rights must take place immediately--but their differences in birth and education were also profound.
While Washington was born a Southern slave and educated at Hampton, Du Bois was born in the north and educated at Fisk, Harvard, and for two years in Europe. While Washington knew slavery first-hand, Du Bois wrote his doctoral dissertation on slavery. Near the end of his life, Du Bois said, "I think that maybe the greatest difference between Booker T. and myself was that he had felt the lash, and I had not."
Du Bois asks a rhetorical question about a statement that Washington made stating black men can gain economic power then obtain political rights to ensure that political power. Du Bois says it can not happen; that black men can not gain economic power without first obtaining political rights of voting and representation while still considered second-class citizens (servile caste) and only providing little opportunity to develop great black leaders.
The previous posts were quite strong. The fundamental belief in the quote questions where the attempts for activism should lie. In an age of industry when economic progress helped to articulate much of "The American Dream," DuBois is arguing that there has to be some level of acknowledgement on the political and social level which is apriori to anything else. There is a chasm in the thinking of Washington and DuBois in which both thinkers believe differently about the path of the Black individual in America at the time. On one hand, Washington's idea of being able to compete economically is one which argues that the figurative pie of progress is large enough to accommodate more people. This is countered with the thinking of Du Bois, and the above speaker, who argued that economic progress must be secondary to the political and social acknowledgement about Black people in the America. The problem in his mind is not one of wealth, which is still present, but rather the issue of color.
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