What does accommodation mean to Booker T. Washington? How does W.E.B. DuBois respond? I know that DuBois felt that Washington was compromising the future of African Americans by agreeing to not...

What does accommodation mean to Booker T. Washington? How does W.E.B. DuBois respond?

I know that DuBois felt that Washington was compromising the future of African Americans by agreeing to not push for higher education for young black men, civic equality and the right to vote. 

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

jerseygyrl1983 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Accommodation for Washington was the acceptance of segregation in exchange for black people to have opportunities to live and work peacefully in the South. He did not support black migration to Northern and Midwestern cities but, instead, encouraged black people to "cast down their buckets where they [were]" and find work in the agrarian and burgeoning manufacturing economies. Washington did not account for the fact that whites in pursuit of similar work would effectively shut out black applicants. His aim, it seems, was to encourage black people to use the skills they had acquired since slavery to lift themselves "up from slavery" and into self-sufficiency.

Personally, Washington never read books of fiction and thought that liberal arts education for black people was useless. He valued manual labor over mental pursuits. Here, he and DuBois strongly differed. However, arguably DuBois's ideas were not much more egalitarian. After all, he had believed in the development of a "Talented Tenth," that is, a group of intellectually ambitious black Americans (usually comprised of those who had already achieved middle-class status) who would lead the rest of their race away from the worst influences:

The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races.

He goes on to say that schools should teach "men" (not women) "intelligence, sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it." To pursue only money (a sly dig at Washington) would develop "money-makers but not necessarily men."

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Booker T. Washington's famous "Atlanta Compromise" speech of 1895, he said that "African Americans should accommodate themselves to racial prejudice and concentrate on economic self-improvement.” Washington believed that African Americans should first focus on improving their situation through vocational training and only concentrate on political rights once they had achieved a measure of economic success. "Accommodation" to Washington meant accepting a situation of segregation and of social separateness from white people.

W.E.B. DuBois, who was the first African American person to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard and the co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, disagreed with Washington. He thought that African Americans should pursue social and political equality with whites. Instead of advocating vocational training, DuBois advanced the idea that African Americans should pursue university educations and that the educated segment of the African American community, which he referred to as "the talented tenth," should lead the charge for political equality with whites. 

martinjmurphy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois were two African American leaders who took different approaches to discrimination and segregation experienced by African Americans.  Washington took what he considered to be a more practical approach to these problems. He emphasized accommodation and accepting discrimination and segregation for the time being.  He advised African Americans to learn skilled trades to earn more money and improve their lives.  This would eventually lead to African Americans being fully being integrated and accepted as citizens. Du Bois took another approach.  He urged African Americans to actively fight discrimination rather than to patiently submit to it.  He advocated political action and was one of the founders of the NAACP. He demanded equal economic opportunity and the end to racial segregation.  He felt African Americans should strive for more than just working in the trades and urged equal educational opportunities for African Americans.

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois had different views of how African-American should try to get their rights. Booker T. Washington believed African-Americans should get their economic rights settled before pursuing their political rights. He believed that African-Americans should get vocational training so they would be able to get jobs and become more secure financially. This position, known as the Atlanta Compromise, suggested economic rights should be pursued before going after political rights.

W.E.B. Du Bois believed African-Americans should get all of their rights at the same time. He believed it was wrong to pursue only economic rights and not pursue political rights. W. E. B. Du Bois believed African-Americans deserved all their rights at the same time and should work to achieve gaining both economic rights and political rights. He and Booker T. Washington had differing views on how African-Americans should pursue their rights.