First, it should be recognized that Booker T. Washington did not describe his approach to race relations as "accommodation," a word which he did not use in his "Atlanta Compromise" speech in 1895. What he did say was that he thought African Americans should focus more on economic self-improvement than...
First, it should be recognized that Booker T. Washington did not describe his approach to race relations as "accommodation," a word which he did not use in his "Atlanta Compromise" speech in 1895. What he did say was that he thought African Americans should focus more on economic self-improvement than on overtly challenging Jim Crow and white supremacy. His approach is summed up in the following excerpt from the speech, delivered to a predominately white audience in Atlanta:
The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing. No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house.
Washington thought that social equality would follow economic prosperity, and he urged white business leaders to consider hiring African Americans and to provide investment opportunities to black businessmen. He also thought that education for young African Americans (mostly men) should be technical in nature, aimed at preparing them for jobs. This, in short, was what accommodation meant to Washington—creating a social space in which blacks could flourish economically while declining to pursue social equality.
For DuBois, accommodation amounted to capitulation. He argued that economic success actually made African Americans more likely to experience violence in the form of lynching. The policy of accommodation, he argued, had been in fact pursued for years, with nothing but discrimination, racial violence, and persistent poverty to show for it. He advocated resisting Jim Crow legally, first by persuading the federal government to pass an anti-lynching law (which it never did). He thought the best way to triumph over racism was to cultivate an educated class, a "talented tenth," as he called it, to fight it in the public. Essentially, he saw Washington's approach as what he called "the old attitude of adjustment and submission" that he associated with slavery.