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Booker T. Washington vs. W.E.B. Du Bois

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  • 0:04 Washington & Du Bois
  • 0:40 Booker T. Washington
  • 2:03 W.E.B. Du Bois
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason McCollom
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, African American leaders Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois promoted different civil rights strategies. In this lesson, learn about the policies and approaches of Washington and DuBois.

Washington & Du Bois

Are you more of a ''go along to get along'' person, or do you think it's better to stand up and fight when there is an issue you feel passionately about? When it came to the African American civil rights movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, two leaders exemplified these divergent strategies: Booker T. Washington and William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois. Washington's accomodationist policies reflected his willingness to not rock the boat too much with regard to civil rights. Du Bois pursued a more aggressive tack through the Niagara movement and the NAACP. Let's look first at Washington.

Booker T. Washington

By the 1890s, Booker T. Washington was a well-known and respected leader in the black community. He founded the Tuskegee Institute, which became the most important technical school for African Americans. He rubbed shoulders with prominent whites as well, such as businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. So, when in 1895, the city of Atlanta put on an exposition to celebrate the industrial and social progress of the South, Washington was invited to speak.

Booker T. Washington
booker wash

His Atlanta Compromise speech made Washington the most recognizable African American in the country. The speech promoted an accomodationist policy, and urged blacks to ''Cast down your bucket where you are.'' This suggested that African Americans should accept segregation and disfranchisement (the denial of the right to vote) and instead work towards progress in business and technical education.

As he spoke, Washington symbolically held up his hand, stretched out his fingers and then shut them into a fist. ''In all things,'' he proclaimed, ''we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.'' With these words, the mostly white audience cheered.

In essence, Washington emphasized mutual obligations. For African Americans, they would accept disfranchisement and give up working for social equality. In return, white leaders should work to decrease racial violence, especially lynching, and support African American success in agriculture, industry, and business.

W.E.B. Du Bois

Raised in Massachusetts, a young W.E.B. Du Bois went to college in Tennessee, where he said, ''I came into contact for the first time with a sort of violence that I had never realized in New England.'' This led him to approach the struggle for civil rights differently from Booker T. Washington.

W.E.B. Dubois
dubois web

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