W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T Washington had very different views about their culture and country. Du Bois, being born in the North and studying in Europe, was fascinated with the idea of Socialism and Communism. Booker T Washington, on the other hand, was born in the South, and like so many others, had a Black mother and a White father. Thus being born half-white, his views and ideas were sometimes not in the best interest of his people.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Du Bois had a poor but relatively happy New England childhood. While still in high school he began his long writing career by serving as a correspondent for newspapers in New York and in Springfield, Massachusetts.
After his high school graduation he enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. There he “discovered his Blackness” and made a lifelong commitment to his people. He taught in rural Black schools in Tennessee during summer vacations, thus expanding his awareness of his Black culture.
Du Bois graduated from Fisk in 1888, and entered Harvard as a junior. During college he preferred the company of Black students and Black Bostonians. He graduated from Harvard in 1890. Yet he felt that he needed further preparation and study in order to be able to apply “philosophy to an historical interpretation of race relations.” He decided to spend another two years at the University of Berlin on a Slater Fund Fellowship.
W. E. B. Du Bois traveling widely in Europe, was delighted by the absence of color consciousness and impressed by their mellow civilization. Still, he knew that his life’s work was at home, and returned to America in 1894.
His work as an editor of The Crisis, the organ of the NAACP, from 1910 to 1934 was perhaps the most sustained and uncompromising single effort in the history of racial protests in America. As early as 1909 he had projected an “Encyclopedia Africana” that would preserve and expand the store of knowledge about Black people. Encyclopedia of the Negro: Preparatory Volume appeared in 1945. Du Bois’s twilight years in Ghana where devoted mainly to this task.
Du Bois placed his stress on culture and liberty, urging higher education, and full political and civil rights for all. He had become interested in the problems of Africa as well as Afro-Americans. Du Bois wanted Black Africa independent from colonial rule and united within. In 1961 he accepted the invitation of President Kwame Nkrumah to take up residence in Ghana, the first ex-colonial Black African nation. Du Bois had lived to see his Pan-African dream becoming reality.
During his student days in Germany, Du Bois took his first tentative steps toward the political left. He joined the Socialist Party in 1910, resigning, however, in 1912. In the 1920’s he began reading Marx carefully, and during the 1930’s he considered himself a Marxist Socialist, though he criticized the Communist Party for its ineptitude in dealing with Black problems. Du Bois was indicted by the department of Justice early in 1951 for “failure to register as agent of a foreign principal” concerning his work as chairman of the Peace Information Center. The charge was absurd and Du Bois was acquitted, but not before he had suffered deep humiliation from this example of Cold War political persecution. During 1958 and 1959 he spent most of his time in the Soviet Union and China, and in 1961, at the age of ninety-three, he joined the Communist Party of the United States.
W. E. B. Du Bois, a Ghanian citizen, died on the evening of August 27, 1963. The legacy of Du Bois as a writer, thinker, and racial leader may well prove to be more durable than that of any other Afro-American of the twentieth century.
Booker Taliaferro Washington was born a slave on April 5, 1956, in Franklin County, Virginia. His mother, Jane Burroughs, was a plantation cook, and his father was an unknown white man.
A former slave who had become a successful farmer, and a white politician in search of the Negro vote in Macon County, obtained financial support for a training school for blacks in Tuskegee, Ala. When the board of commissioners asked the head of Hampton to send a principal for their new school, they had expected the principal to be white. Instead Washington arrived in June 1881. He began classes in July with thirty students in a shanty donated by a black church. Later he borrowed money to buy an abandoned plantation nearby and moved the school there. By the time of his death in Tuskegee in 1915, the institute (now a university) had some 1,500 students, more than 100 well-equipped buildings, and a large faculty.
Washington believed that blacks could promote their constitutional rights by impressing Southern whites with their economic and moral progress. He wanted them to forget about political power and concentrate on their farming skills and learning industrial trades. Brick making, mattress making, and wagon building were among the courses Tuskegee offered. Its all-black faculty included the famous agricultural scientist George Washington Carver.
Washington was preeminently a man of his times, a man not only having a rare sense of historical timing but one who, in the words of Du Bois, enjoyed “a thorough oneness with his age.” Living in a period of unprecedented economic and industrial expansion, Washington sought by every device, covert and overt, to involve the recently freed Black man in America’s economic expansion. In attempting to achieve this objective, he became very much the pragmatic realist.
Apparently Washington received the white world’s acclaim because what he attempted to do did not disturb the status quo; he provided minimal Black achievement within traditional political and economical structures. By 1910 it was evident Washington had been granted more power than any Black man has ever enjoyed before or since. No president or governmental appointments involving Black people during the Roosevelt and Taft administration were made without his approval.
Another example of his influence is that he was the first African American whose face appeared on a United States postage stamp, thus honored a quarter century after his death. Again in 1946 he became the first black with his image on a coin, a 50-cent piece. His ten-cent stamp went on sale in 1940 at Tuskegee Institute, which Washington had founded when he was only twenty-five years old. The educator’s monument on its campus shows him lifting a symbolic veil from the head of a freed slave.
His endless preaching about Black self-help and self-discipline was also good advice, provided, of coarse, that the white power structure would help in the psychological rehabilitation of the Black man. Throughout all of his days Booker T Washington scorned the value of Black office holding and never openly fought for a restoration of the ballot. There is now some evidence to indicate that he did give substantial but surreptitious financial support to the Black man’s fight for the franchise in Louisiana, Georgia, and Alabama. Nevertheless, Washington chose to be politic rather than political.
Washington was not agonized by what Du Bois called the Black man’s sense of double consciousness, the sense of being both a Black man and an American. Booker T Washington was singularly free of inner conflicts about his dedication to America with its worship of property and material substance.
However controversial his methods and objectives, few can doubt that Washington worked hard to achieve them. Certainly the high point in his career was his famous speech at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895, in which he accepted social and legal segregation but promised racial friendship and cooperation.
Although W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T Washington were very different, they undoubtedly influenced the Black population of the United States. Du Bois, although supported communism, excellent in a utopian society yet devastating in reality, had his people’s interest at heart. Booker T Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute, did help some Black population’s problems, yet he was more interested with the White culture and its ideals.