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In the years near the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, there was a basic disagreement among African-American leaders.
Some leaders, particularly Booker T. Washington, felt that African-Americans should concentrate less on political activism and more on practical education that would help them become financially independent citizens.
Others, especially W.E.B. Du Bois, felt that Washington was too eager to compromise. Du Bois felt that African-Americans should fight actively and forcefully for equal rights and equal opportunity.
In the poem "I Too," Langston Hughes seems to borrow from both the Washington and the Du Bois philosophies.
Similar to Washington, Hughes does not seem to advocate any political activism in this poem. Rather, he urges his fellows to "eat well" and "grow strong."
The result of this self-development, however, has a DuBoisian tinge of bold self-assertion to it:
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed...
It should be noted that Booker T. Washington was probably not as accommodating as he sometimes seemed. Private papers show that he quietly supported many assertive activities that he sometimes seemed to disagree with in his public statements.
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