Booker T. Washington (1856–1915) and W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) were two of the most prominent leaders of the black community in their time. Both were concerned with the issues of oppression that faced the African American community (where Jim Crow laws enforced segregation in much of the country)...
Booker T. Washington (1856–1915) and W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) were two of the most prominent leaders of the black community in their time. Both were concerned with the issues of oppression that faced the African American community (where Jim Crow laws enforced segregation in much of the country) and dedicated a considerable amount of their efforts to combating it. However, they differed considerably in their approach.
Washington favored a more conservative approach—he acknowledged the discrimination facing African Americans (both in social views, economic status, and legalized segregation) but believed hard work, determination, and education would lift African Americans into a higher social status. Accumulating material prosperity would provide the black community with more political and economic leverage and win the respect of whites in the social sphere. Washington’s approach has sometimes been called “accommodation,” as he favored accepting the status quo of segregation and focusing efforts on economic growth and opportunity.
On the other hand, Du Bois favored much more radical and direct action to combat oppression. He advocated political and social action to help combat the discrimination blacks faced in the United States. Instead of Washington’s view of accepting the status quo but putting in hard work to improve the individual and collective black status, Du Bois wanted African Americans to fight for their own rights and not accept the status quo. He was one of the founders of the NAACP, which would be instrumental in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and was also a major influence on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Both leaders promoted education as one of the key tools to lifting the black community out of oppression. Washington, however, pushed for more practical education (including trade skills, industrial and farming skills, etc.) that would primarily boost black economic opportunity. Alternatively, Du Bois advocated for a more classical college education for African Americans, who could then use that education to help push for direct political and social action to combat segregation. He described the “Talented Tenth,” referring to a 10% of African Americans who were college-educated and could thus be leaders in their community.
Both had similar goals (ending racial discrimination and lifting the black community out of oppression), but they had vastly different views on how to achieve it. Washington encouraged African Americans to work hard, learn practical and marketable skills, and earn respect and equality through economic status. Du Bois also advocated for education, but he wanted to use education to train further leaders who could help directly combat segregation through political and social action. He was an enormous influence on the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.