Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), who was based at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, was among the most prominent African American leaders of his time. In his famous "Atlanta Compromise" speech given in 1895, he advocated African American people's advancement through learning practical skills, particularly trades and agricultural skills, rather than through university education and voting rights. He believed that African Americans had to help themselves before whites would help them, and he thought that African American entrepreneurship and their learning of practical skills would enhance the solidarity of their community. Rather than attacking Jim Crow head on, he believed that if African Americans helped themselves, they would eventually advance politically and achieve civil rights.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was the first African American person to earn a doctoral degree from Harvard and was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Splitting with Booker T. Washington, he wanted African Americans to enjoy civil rights and voting rights on equal footing with whites in a more immediate way than what Washington called for. Du Bois thought that the African American elite, called the "Talented Tenth," were critical in bringing about African American equality, so Du Bois advocated advanced education for African Americans and not just the acquisition of work-related skills (as Washington had). Du Bois confronted lynching and Jim Crow directly and called for their abolition. His work Black Reconstruction, published in 1935, challenged the prevailing idea that African Americans had caused the failures of Reconstruction. He became a socialist, and he was punished during the McCarthy era for his leftist sympathies (though he was not a Communist). He spent the last few years of his life in Ghana, where he died in 1963 at the age of 95.
DuBois was a student of Booker T. Washington's, but past that they shared little in terms of philosophy and viewpoint. Washington was pragmatic, one could argue. He believed, as a former slave himself, that there was no way in the near term that white government would grant full equality to African-Americans, and therefore he should try to achieve what equality he could. His Atlanta Compromise speech accepting segregation on behalf of all blacks in exchange for slightly better educational opportunities was seen by DuBois as the ultimate sellout.
DuBois believed that, as a human and a citizen, he and all blacks already deserved equality. He also was a socialist who thought that, if blacks could achieve something like economic parity with whites, then social and political equality would follow. This is essentially what happened in the 1950s and 60s and what made eventual boycotts so successful, but DuBois was way ahead of his time in that regard.
Booker T. Washington was an emanicipated slave who became a self made man. William E.B. DuBois was a northerner with a New England background and a P.H.D. from Harvard University. Booker T. Washington's philosophy concerning the role of African Americans was tempered by his belief in 'accomodation'. He believed that if African Americans ignored discrimination, concentrated on their economic future that their political rights would follow. He believed that there was no shame in manual labor. W.E.B. DuBois believed that African Americans should not limit themselves to vocational labor but to educate themselves in order to be recognized as full citizens as was their right. He rejected the idea of accomadation and suggested that only through political equality (voting rights) could African Americans achieve economic and social equality. His philosophy had a more militant edge to it when compared with the philosophy of Booker T. Washington.
Washington and du Bois
- Washington was a well-known black educator. He was a black American, born into slavery, who believed that racism would end once blacks acquired useful labor skills and proved their economic value to society, was head of the Tuskegee Institute in 1881. He urged industrial education for African-Americans so that they would gain respect from the whites. Washington often ignored discrimination. He was afraid that blacks who demanded equal rights would create ill will between themselves and white Americans. He wrote the book "Up from Slavery"
- Du Bois believed that academic education was more important that trade education. He said that receiving industrial education would keep African-Americans trapped in lower social and economic classes. Du Bois wanted African-Americans encouraged to succeed in the arts and sciences. Du Bois encouraged African-Americans to demand equal rights. Helped found the 1905 Niagara Movement for equal rights, helped create NAACP in 1910