Du Bois and Booker T Washington were contemporaries and essentially fought for the same thing, full political agency and social equality for African Americans in the post reconstruction period. While Du Bois initially backed Washington, he began to withdraw his support after the infamous Atlanta exposition speech in 1895 in which he seemingly catered to and attempted to pacify the white, southern elite.
Central to both men’s thinking is what Du Bois calls “training men for life”. Du Bois was a classically trained scholar who attended Harvard (he entered in his Junior year) and went on to study in Germany. He later taught Greek and Latin at the University level, where as Booker T Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute for Industrial education. In Of the Training of Black Men, Du Bois argues that higher education is the key to stamp out prejudice and thus will lead to full equality for Blacks. He criticizes Washington in his essay Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others for wanting to give up political power, insistence on civil rights, and higher education for African Americans. Further, he claims that Washington represents “in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission” and argues that by relegating African Americans toward the trades instead of higher education he “accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races”.