No two persons have had a greater impact on the black person’s right movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth cenury American history more than W. E. Burghardt Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Both have gained millions of followers in their quest to elevate the black people’s place in society with their show of great intelligence and wisdom. Yet, their philosophies and ideas on how that goal can be achieved were as different as the racial differences that separated the whites and the blacks in their time.
According to Ellis Washington, author of The Devil Is In the Details: Essays on Law, Race, politics, and Religion, “If the philosophy of Du Bois and Washington can be reduced to one word it would be rights vs. duty” (Washington, “Du Bois vs. Washington”, para. 21). Indeed, while Du Bois was a very vocal advocate on the black man’s right to an equal treatment as the white man without reservation or apology, Washington espouses more on the idea of racial accomodation and gradual acceptance between the two races.
This was nowhere more evident than in their respective speeches, “The Talented Tenth” and “The Atlanta Compromise”. In “The Talented Tenth”, Du Bois asserts that only through the cooperation of the best and the brightest of the black people can the general masses be elevated to the standards that they deserve. He argues that for this to happen, black people needed to also be accorded the elite educational training that is given to the white people, saying that “The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men” (Du Bois).
Washington, on the other hand, appeals to the white Americans in a way that was almost pleading and submissive. In his speech at Atlanta in what came to be known as the “Atlanta Compromise”, he said: Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and to education of head, hand, and heart, you will find that they will buy your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your factories.
While doing this, you can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people the the world has seen (Harlan, 583-587). Such a difference in ideologies, of course, is bound to elicit a reaction from one or both of the leaders, and indeed, Du Bois was the most influential critic of Washington, saying that Washington had encountered the most criticism from his own people, amounting to bitterness, even though generally held in silence (Du Bois, “Of Mr.
Booker T. Washington and Others”). The contest between the two ideologies has long been debated, but the Du Boisian perspective have gained the upper hand, mainly due to the followers of it’s leadership paradigm making major contributions to Black communitarian advancement during the era between the two World Wars, resulting in the eventual demise of Washington’s leadership legacy (Kilson, “Booker T. vs DuBois”). There is no question, though, that whichever became more influential, both will always be a defining force in Black American history.
Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt. “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others. ” The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches. Cambridge: University Press John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, USA, 1903. —. “The Talented Tenth”. The Negro Problem: A Series of Articles by Representative Negroes of To-day. New York: 1903. Harlan, Louis R. , ed. The Booker T. Washington Papers, Vol. 3. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1974. 583-587.