Segregation and the Civil Rights Movement

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Compare and contrast the leadership styles and philosophies of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey, Martin L. King Jr, and Malcolm X.

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Several issues arise when trying to compare the leadership styles of these men. One is that they operated in their own unique contexts. The other is that many of them—DuBois in particular—changed their minds over the course of their lives. That said, both DuBois and Martin Luther King advocated and practiced direct action in resisting white supremacy in the South and throughout the nation. DuBois, like King, advocated non-violent resistance. Both men believed that while violent resistance was self-defeating and immoral, blacks should not accept the status quo of Jim Crow. DuBois died at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, having moved to Ghana, in 1963. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two men in terms of leadership style and philosophies is the centrality of Christian faith to King's message and tactics. King was, of course, a minister, and DuBois was not really a man of faith. He was, rather, a scholar. So where King led with inspirational speeches delivered in the voice of a minister, DuBois is best remembered for his erudite essays and books that eloquently articulated the realities faced by African Americans. Neither of these men had much in common (except their national prominence) with Booker T. Washington, who is most famous for "accomodationism," or accepting racial segregation in return for economic opportunity. 

Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X can be compared in terms of leadership inasmuch as both advocated, in different ways, a form of black nationalism. Malcolm X was influenced, to some extent, by Garvey, whose rise to prominence came in the 1920s, a few years before Malcolm's birth. Garvey believed in black separatism in the face of Jim Crow. He went so far as to establish a "Black Star" line that was to specialize in carrying African Americans to Africa. This was the crux of his philosophy—the "back to Africa" movement that emphasized "pan-Africanism." Malcolm X also emphasized racial solidarity and self-sufficiency for African Americans. He was a member, for most of his public life, of the Nation of Islam, an organization devoted to these principles. But there was a significant difference between the styles of these two men (although both were fiery speakers). Where Malcolm was austere, Garvey was flamboyant and colorful, often dressing in full military gear and riding in expensive automobiles.

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You could write several books on this topic.  There have been plenty written on these thinkers.  I think that the fundamental challenge in assessing these thinkers is determining how their backgrounds, experiences, and their social settings of the time all helped to shape their leadership styles and philosophies.  Essentially, one is seeing if there were conditions that helped move thinkers towards a more integrationist or assimilationist viewpoint or if there was something more defiant in their narratives that helped to shape their thinking.  I think in analyzing the different contingencies and contexts that cradled their thoughts, one could find where these specific thinkers would have converged and diverged in relationship to one another.

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I would say that DuBois and King are similar in terms of their philosophies.  I would also say that Garvey and Malcolm X are similar to one another, but different from King and DuBois.  Finally, I would put Washington in a class by himself.

Washington was the most accomodationist of these leaders because he did not want to push for rights.  He wanted to wait until whites were ready to give rights to blacks.

DuBois and King did not want to wait for rights.  They wanted to push for them right away, but they wanted to do so in an inclusive way.  Both envisioned an integrated society where whites and blacks got a long.

Garvey and Malcolm were black nationalists.  They did not want to join white America.  Instead, they wanted to be separate and have blacks rely on themselves.

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