Booker T. Washington argued that blacks in the South would have to establish a solid foundation for economic prosperity before they pushed for political and especially social equality. In his famous speech to the Atlanta Exposition in 1896, Washington made the point explicit:
To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land or who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man, who is their next-door neighbor, I would say: “Cast down your bucket where you are”— cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded.
Washington's message, often termed the "Atlanta Compromise" was wildly popular with "New South" whites, who sought a stable workforce and justification for segregation. Washington, while a firm advocate for African-American rights, believed these rights would best come gradually and through accomodation to Southern whites.
W.E.B. DuBois, an academic intellectual who, unlike Washington, lived in the North, argued that African-Americans should agitate against the rapidly intensifying Jim Crow laws. While not rejecting the importance of an economic base for social equality, DuBois thought Washington's approach would not lead to this equality. He argued instead for the cultivation of an intellectual elite, a "talented tenth" that would lead the movement toward black equality:
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, in their own and other races.
This approach, formed in many ways in response to Washington's speech, suggested that talented young black men should be educated in the liberal arts (like DuBois himself) rather than agricultural and technical training, as was the focus of Washington's Tuskegee Institute.