Compare the backgrounds of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois and say how their backgrounds affect their views on education.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Booker T. Washington was born in 1856 in Virginia to Jane Ferguson, who was a slave to James Burroughs. Washington's paternity in unknown except that his father was white. After Emancipation, the family, including Washington's half-brother John, settled near Charleston, West Virgina. Washington made his living working for coal and salt mines, while fitting in schooling between daily morning and evening shifts. He also worked as a houseboy for the mine owner's wife. Washington qualified to enter Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute after which he taught until the opportunity came along to open his own school in Tuskegee, Alabama. His guiding principles in education were those that he learned at Hampton Normal: thrift, economy, drive, business acumen, Christian precepts, and a spirit of being one's own source of help. He believed the weak ones among his culture could be taught strengths and could thus become strong, with subsequent greater advancement for the able.

W. E. B. Du Bois was born later than Booker T. Washington in 1888 and, whereas Washington was born in the South, Du Bois was born in the North in Massachusetts in a predominantly white town. His father was a black freeman named Tom Burghardt with French and Dutch ancestral strains. Du Bois attended grammar school with the other town children and took an early turn while still in high school to writing letters to the editor and commentaries that were published in the New York Globe. Lacking funds to attend Harvard, he attended Fisk University in Tennessee.

It was at Fisk that he encountered the legacy of slavery, first hand and for the first time, which became the inspiration for his famous work The Souls of Black Folk. After finally entering Harvard for a second bachelor degree and graduating suma cum laude, he took an M.A. degree there, then went for Ph.D. study to Germany, a degree he later completed at Harvard, after which he taught at Atlanta University. His principles of education were founded on his experience of elite education and ideology as was his belief--developed after experiencing what is called the legacy of slavery (which in his opinion included a weakness of mind as compared to the cultivated academic minds of the North)--that the "talented tenth" of African Americans should become the leaders of African Americans.