Civil Rights Near the Turn of the Century

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Can you compare Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey's ideas?

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The major point of comparison between Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington is that both men saw economic advancement and uplift as the key to African American advancement. Washington, writing around the turn of the century, saw this point as so important that he was willing, famously, to accept Jim...

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The major point of comparison between Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington is that both men saw economic advancement and uplift as the key to African American advancement. Washington, writing around the turn of the century, saw this point as so important that he was willing, famously, to accept Jim Crow segregation as a means to achieve it. He argued in a speech in Atlanta that the races could be "as separate as the fingers," but function together like a hand in order to achieve economic progress. In short, he was willing to compromise on "questions of social equality" to achieve economic advancement. But he saw this as a form of cooperation with white business owners.

Marcus Garvey also advocated black business ownership as a means of economic advancement and was actually inspired by reading Washington's book Up From Slavery as a young man. Garvey never really abandoned Washington's argument that African American men benefited from training in industry and the trades. He also shared Washington's disdain for the elitism he saw in the writings of W. E. B. DuBois. But Garvey lost faith in Washington's vision for racial cooperation, particularly after World War I, when Jim Crow became even more established and white violence against African Americans reached levels not seen since the Reconstruction. Thus he embraced black nationalism, and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) he founded became the focal point of a "Back to Africa" movement. He even embraced the idea of segregation as a means of black advancement free of white dominance.

In short, throughout his life, Garvey shared with Washington a belief in economic progress as the key to black advancement. He did not, however, accept that economic progress required cooperation with whites, and events that occurred in the twentieth century (after, it must be said, Washington's death) convinced him that such cooperation was impossible.

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Marcus Garvey was an admirer of Booker T. Washington and began corresponding with him before he (Garvey) ever set foot in the USA. Both men believed in education and self-determination as the routes to black liberation, but apart from these broad general principles, they were radically different. Both would certainly be regarded as extremists today.

Washington, an accommodationist, advocated a pragmatic acceptance that the black man’s position was inferior to that of the white man. He sought the help of rich and powerful whites, including the Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, to both of whom he served as an adviser. Garvey, a proponent of black nationalism, did not believe in relying on white people or accepting a subordinate position, even temporarily. His foundation of the Black Star Shipping Line (named in opposition to the White Star Line, the owners of the Titanic) was a direct attempt both to compete with white people and to return black Americans to Africa.

Ironically, given their differences in perspective, both Garvey and Washington were criticized for their attitudes to segregation. Washington was widely seen as accepting the policy too tolerantly. Garvey, meanwhile, embraced the idea of segregation enthusiastically, even agreeing to meet with the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, since he believed that they had the same objectives.

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Both Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey believed that African Americans needed economic empowerment and education to ensure they achieved self-reliance. Garvey was inspired by Washington’s achievements in improving education for black communities, especially in the South.

Washington aligned himself with wealthy whites and managed to convince them to support and invest in education for African Americans. He successfully raised millions of dollars and set in motion a series of projects that improved education for black communities. Garvey sought Washington’s help in establishing similar education projects in Jamaica, where he was born. He admired and supported Washington’s educational projects aimed at empowering the black community.

Washington was a strong proponent of economic empowerment. He believed in enhancing the skills of African American people and teaching the application of those skills in a gainful industry. He suggested that it was the best way to achieve equality and respect in American society. Garvey shared similar sentiments. Garvey demonstrated the need for economic empowerment by engaging in business. He launched a shipping line and a winery (among other businesses) aimed at creating jobs and improving the economic status of the black community.

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These two men's ideas were pretty much diametrically opposed to one another.  Marcus Garvey was the first major black nationalist while Booker T. Washington was the most famous accomodationist of his time.

Washington's basic philosophy was that black people needed to understand that whites held the upper hand.  He argued that black people needed to work hard and refrain from making demands on the whites.  Washington believed that this sort of behavior would eventually win the respect of whites, who would grant blacks equality.

By contrast, Garvey believed in a black separatism and in being aggressive.  He believed that blacks should try to separate themselves from whites, even to the extent of returning to Africa.  He did not believe in waiting to be given respect by the whites.

There was, however, one area of similarity.  Both men believed that blacks needed to help themselves.  To Washington, that self-help involved being humble and working hard.  To Garvey, it involved being assertive and proud.  But in both cases, there was a sense that blacks had to advance through their own efforts.

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