Civil Rights Near the Turn of the Century

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What does the following quote mean by W.E.B. Dubois?   "Education and work are levers to uplift a people. Work alone will not do it unless inspired by the right ideals and guided by intelligence. Education must not only teach work-it must teach life."

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W.E.B. DuBois's quote is a critique of Booker T. Washington's encouragement of vocational education as black people's only viable pathway to economic self-sufficiency. Washington most notably laid out his philosophy during an address called the Atlanta Compromise speech delivered during the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta on September...

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W.E.B. DuBois's quote is a critique of Booker T. Washington's encouragement of vocational education as black people's only viable pathway to economic self-sufficiency. Washington most notably laid out his philosophy during an address called the Atlanta Compromise speech delivered during the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta on September 18, 1895.

In his speech, Washington encouraged his white listeners to imagine blacks and whites being as separate as fingers on the hand, though equally essential to each other's economic progress. The purpose of this was to encourage white industrialists to hire black people in the factories that were budding throughout the South. Ultimately, this strategy did not work. The combination of racism in employment and the devastation to cotton crops by the boll weevil led to the first migratory wave of black people to the North and the Midwest.

Booker T. Washington's goals were practical and formed as a result of what he perceived to be the necessities and conditions of his time. W.E.B. DuBois was more radical and uncompromising in his vision. Being a very bookish and exceptionally learned man (Washington, on the other hand, wasn't much of a reader and, when he did, he eschewed fiction due to what he perceived as its lack of practical use), DuBois believed that education was indispensable to racial uplift.

Unlike Washington, who wanted all black people to learn a vocational skill so that they would be self-sufficient, DuBois envisioned a "Talented Tenth"—an educated and gifted segment of the black population who would lead those who were unable (due to economic class or illiteracy) to acquire learning. These individuals would lead by example, encouraging other members of the race to uplift themselves through education.

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Education and work are the levers to uplift a people. Work alone will not do it unless inspired by the right ideals and guided by intelligence. Education must not simply teach work - it must teach Life. (Phi Delta Kappa, p. 15)

 

W.E.B. Dubois was a champion in advocacy for liberal arts education of African-Americans.  While other civil rights leaders, particularly Booker T. Washington, advocated vocational training programs for African-Americans, Dubois felt that best path to freedom was equality in education.  Dubois, the first African-American to receive a doctorate, believed that African-Americans should fight for inclusion in America's colleges.  This quote demonstrates his passion for education.  It acknowledges the necessity for tenacity and hard work but ultimately refers back to the importance of intelligence that necessary for economic success.  Within this educational framework, African-Americans must be trained to acquire the necessary skills required to make sound and quick decisions that are guided by principles.  Dubois believes that education is inadequate if it just teaches the people how to work, which is a criticism that he has of vocational education programs.  

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