“W.E.B DUBOIS AND BOOKER T. WASHINGTON: THE GREAT DEBATE”
by Fahim A. Knight
Thesis Statement: The Historical factors that shaped WEB Dubois quest for Liberal Arts education and Booker T. Washington’s acceptance of technical training. W.E.B Dubois and Booker T. Washington contradictory views with one objective.
This Thesis Statement will be explored and examined in the context of evaluating the philosophy of two men, W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington and their contradictory viewpoints; Moreover, to assess the pros and cons of their leadership styles in a somewhat comparative manner and to look at technical training (Washington) and liberal arts (Dubois) education which they espouse respectively and investigate, how did these arguments shaped black America historically and the affect this debate still presently poses some one hundred years later?
Both of these men were contemporaries and without a doubt their personal experiences and perhaps the overall black experience in the United States guided their conscious to adopt certain strategies and tactics in order to uplifted black people politically, economically and socially. This is where these two leaders fundamentally disagreed, which was followed by suspicion, name calling, distrust and an unwillingness to concede and perhaps recognize the strengths and weaknesses that existed in both of their philosophies.
They were divided and they left black America divided and yet their arguments are still highly debated in academic circles and laypersons circles alike throughout America. Lastly, this research study is limited in scope and has not met all the academic restraints consistent with a scholarly paper, nevertheless, at the same time, it will display objectivity and sound research methods by briefly exploring in an unscientific manner, the slave plantation personalities (giving in the seminal study by John Blassigame) and how perhaps those historical values—culture) impacted slave behavior, as well shaped black personalities that proceeded from this peculiar institution.
An Overview of American History: The historical Setting
The United States of America at the birth of Washington and Dubois was still considered relatively a new nation, less than a hundred years old and was still defining the concept of democracy. In 1607 of the seventeenth century European Settlers from Great Britain and other European nations began to migrate to the eastern seaboard to what became eventually the United States of America, the so-called New World in discovery of new political, economic and social opportunities.1
But prior to this era in history Portugal and Spain in the late 1400’s and early 1500’s had already began to engage Africa into the Slave Trade, the buying and selling of black human cargo better known as the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Middle Passage. Africans were being brought from Africa to the Americas to fulfill labor demands on sugar plantations in Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Bahamas, St. Kitts, Saint Christopher, Grenada, Panama, Belize, Mexico, South America, etc., and all points north and south in the Americas. 2
The Dutch in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia brought 20 African slaves that were sold into the Chesapeake Bay colony initially as indentured servants. The Colonist initially tried to enslave the Native Americans which failed dismally and European encroachment on Native American lands led to many, many wars and conflicts with the Native Americans, as well as many treaties being signed and broken. The Native Americans did not make good slaves because they knew the terrain very well and utilized escape routes to their benefit and they were not accustom to working in the hot sun for long hours.3
The call for nationhood in the 1770 centered on a free black named Crispus Attucks perhaps a descendant of a slave who in 1770 became the first “American” to die in what became known as the Boston Tea Party and was the impetus that led to the American Revolution in 1776. It has been recorded that blacks fought on both the British side and a number of blacks fought on the settlers’ side.
In 1787 at the signing of the United States Constitution Blacks were written in as chattel property subject to be owned by white male property owners; moreover, Charles A. Beard in his book titled, “An Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution”, wrote about how the U.S. Constitution was written to reflect the interest of white male property owners, at the detriment of women, poor whites and blacks. Blacks were written in the constitution as 3/5 of a human being (property) and for seventy-eight years this became their legal status in America.
This social and economic arrangement benefited the white plantation owners, but throughout America’s history at times this economic arrangement created social tension, dissension, rebellion, protest, revolt, accommodation, etc.4 It is this writer’s belief that both Washington and Dubois were not created in a vacuum, but the social, political and economic history of the United States fostered in these men and helped shaped their philosophical and the contradictory ideals of both men. The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Middle Passage were declared legally ended in 1807, but domestically the buying and selling of slaves continued even after 1865.
“Plantation Personality and the shaping of Washington and Dubois”
Kenneth Stampp in his book titled, The “Peculiar Institution”, he explores the day-to-day plantation life from the slave diet too the slave culture and how degrading this institution was towards blacks. Stanley M. Elkins who authored the book titled, “Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional Life”, and Herbert Klien in his book titled, “Slavery in the Americas”, all drew that same historical and sociological conclusion.
However, this research is geared toward assessing the ideals and philosophy of Washington and Dubois, but yet looking at their leadership styles and determining, if their leadership politics can be traced back to the politics of slave plantation life.
John Blassingame, a Yale University historian authored a book titled, “The Slave Community”, he delves into the sociological and psychological behavior of slaves on the plantation. Blassingame defines and assess three distinct personalities that slavery created; he scientifically refers to them by the descriptive names of `Nat, `Jack’ and `Sambo’. 5
The “Nat” personality derives its name from the protest leader and nonconformist Nat Turner that took up arm struggle in South Hampton County, Virginia in 1831 after so-called receiving a vision from God that the black slaves should be set free and went on a killing rampage of massacring the slave masters and their families. Nat Turner’s slave revolt is known by historians as one of the bloodiest slave rebellions in American history. Blassingame characterize this personality type as being rebellious, insubordinate, non-conforming, unruly, defiant, disobedient, seditious, etc. He desired to see complete change and he engaged violently with an objective to overthrow the oppressive system of slavery. 6
The `Nat’ personality according to Blassingame was is essentially a rebel or dissenter “who rivaled `Sambo’ in the universality and continuity of his literary image. For example, revengeful, bloodthirsty, cunning, treacherous, savage; thus, `Nat’ was the incorrigible runaway, the poisoned of white men, ravager of white women who defied all the rules of plantation society and is only subdued and giving in to punishment when overcome by superior numbers or firepower.” `Nat’ retaliated when attacked by whites, led guerilla activities of maroons against isolated plantations, killed overseers and planters, burned plantation buildings when abused. `Nat’ had on unquenchable thirst for freedom, hatred of whites, discontent, manhood and is not content until these traits are violently demonstrated. 7
The second slave personality that identified in Blassingame research was named `Jack’. “He was a character conscious of his identity with other slaves, he cooperated with to resist the white man’s oppression. Moreover, rationally analyzing the white man’s overwhelming physical power, `Jack’ either avoided contact with or was differential in his presences. But since he really did not identify with his master and could not always keep up the façade of deference, he was occasionally flogged for in subornation. The `Jack’ personality was proud, stubborn, and conscience of the wrongs he suffered, Jack tried to repress his anger, but his patience was, however, not limited. Jack raided his master’s larder when he was hungry, ran away when he was tired of working or had been punished and at times `Jack’ was ungovernable. Shrewd and calculating, he used his wits to escape from work or to manipulate his overseer and master”.8 Blassingame ascertained that most slaves on the plantation perhaps fitted into this plantation profile.
The third personality was referred to as `Sambo’ by Blassingame. `Sambo’ was the most pervasive and long lasting of the three personality types that evolved out of slavery and slave plantation life. “`Sambo’ was indolent, faithful, humorous, loyal, dishonest, superstitious, improvident, musical, etc. The `Sambo’ personality was inevitable a clown and congenially docile and characteristically a house servant; thus, `Sambo’ had much love and affection for his master and his master’s property that he was almost filio-pietistic; his loyalty was all—consuming and self immolating”. He was the one who snitched to the master on the slaves, if slaves were planning a slave rebellion and foiled many slave revolts throughout the history of Chattel Slavery. “`Sambo’ was depicted as the epitome of devotion; he often fought and died trying to save his master’s life. Yet, `Sambo’ had no thought of freedom that was far and in between compared to his ultimate objective of serving his master”. 9 The slave masters preferred this personality prototype over the other two personalities.
This writer cited this sociological, psychological and historical study to assess and evaluate Washington and Dubois leaderships personalities which to perhaps determine, if their two distinct personal and historical backgrounds impacted their accommodation and radical viewpoints. And did these viewpoints evolve out of Blassingame’s description of the three slave personalities that derived out of the black slave plantation existences and the relationship between the white slave masters (`superior’ in theory) and black slaves (`inferior’ in theory)shape the thinking of black leadership during that period in history and beyond? 10
Washington’s Work and Ideology
Washington was born a slave in 1856 at Hales Ford Virginia in the south (and is important to remember that the South fought in the Civil War 1861-1865 to maintain the institution of slavery and ultimately succeed from the Union because of their unwillingness to break with slavery, it was economically profitable) and without a doubt these experiences impacted and help shaped Washington as a person and later on as a prominent national black leader. Washington was poor and had to work his way through college at Hampton Institute in order to compensate for his tuition and room and board, at this rural small school, founded for `Negroes’ by a white philanthropist named General Samuel Armstrong.11 The Historian Harold Cruse wrote in his book title, “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual”, and he stated:
“The Negro intellectual must deal intimately with the white power Structure and cultural apparatus, and the inner realties of the black World at one and the same time. But in order to function successfully in this role, he has to be acutely aware of the nature of the American social dynamics and how to monitors the ingredient of class stratification in American society…Therefore the Negrointellectual must learn how one might control such forces.” 12
Washington was definitely a product of his environment and he probably best understood that whites were powerful and influential perhaps better than any other black leader of his time and shaped his personality in a way to co-exist in a non-threaten way whereas he could receive the necessary financial and political assistance needed for blacks who were fresh out of Chattel Slavery. Thus, Washington exemplified Cruses contentions as stated above relative to acknowledging (and capitulating) the dominant power structure and was able to sway and manipulate the status quo towards his own end and towards the collective political and economic interest of black people.
Washington’s personality definitely could be analyzed from Blassigames’ Slave Community, as it pertained to how he described the attitudes and the various behaviors adopted on the slave plantation. We know that Washington leadership personality and style did not fit into the prototype of the `rebel’ associated with Nat Turner or the `Nat’ personality or did it? But could Washington’s leadership be clearly characterized in terms of the `Jack’ and/or the `Sambo’ personality based on the descriptive classifications defined by Blassingame?
Louis R. Harlan wrote in his scholarly article titled, “Booker T. Washington and the Politics of Accommodation”, which was edited by John Hope Franklin and August Meier in a book titled, The Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century , Harlan confirms and explains Washington views this way,
“It is ironic that Booker T. Washington, the most powerful Black American of his time and perhaps of all time, should Be the black leader whose claim to the title is most often dismissed by the lay public. Blacks often question his legitimacy because of the role that favor by whites played in Washington assumption of power, and white often remember him only as an educator or, confusing him with George Washington Carver, as `that great Negro scientist.’ This irony is something that Washington will have to live with in his history, for he himself deliberately created the ambiguity about his role and purpose has haunted his image. And yet, Washington was a genuine black leader with a substantial black following and with virtually long-range goals for Afro-Americans as his rivals.” 13
This writer cited Blassingames’ study because of the belief that even today’s black leadership has developed along three basic ideological leadership lines, that of the protest leaders who are considered militant and radical (`Nat’ Types), neutral style leaders(`Jack’ Types) and accommodatist (`Sambo’ Types) that some believe consistently violate the trust of the black community because they are viewed as being to passive and non-critical of the dominant power structure, but it is also interesting to note that black leadership historically and presently vacillate between Blassingames personality types. The Historian Earl Thorpe who authored the book titled, “Black Historians: A Critique”, and quotes Washington and sought of layout his philosophy in his own words.
“The story of the negro, in the last analysis, is simply the story of the man who is the farthest down. As he raises every other man who is above him…we have had problems, it is true but instead of despairing…we should, as a race, thank God that we have a problem…It is only by meeting and manfully facing hard, stubborn and difficult problems that races, like individuals are made strong.” 14
Washington learned the benefit of working hard and being thrifty from his early experience as a student at Hampton Normal and Agriculture Institute and learned to appreciate the pulling yourself-up by from your bootstraps philosophy which had been advocated by White Anglo Saxton Protestant (WASP) for generations in America. He most of all and whole heartily embraced the philosophical idea of vocational and technical training for blacks such as becoming blacksmiths, locksmiths, machinist, mechanics, carpenters, brick masons, plumbers, electricians, artisans, etc. Washington was born a slave but freed while a schoolboy.
He graduated from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1872 and would afterwards spend the rest of his life in the South, attempting to lead his people effectively as an educator and social politician. During his extensive career as a teacher and political statesman, Washington promoted industrial education over a liberal arts education, mirroring his own education. He also encouraged recently freed African-Americans to learn a specific vocation in order to gain economic autonomy and status, which he thought, in turn, would earn them civil and political rights.15
Washington preached that blacks should remain in the south and continue as farmers and use the land to create cash crops and pursue economic prosperity in the south, as opposed to migrating to the north and pursing Civil Rights as their ultimate objective. It would have been easy to see why critics of Washington took opposition with him because he appeared to be appeasing the white status quo and was he acting out of one of Blassingames’ personality types by using politics that was non-confrontational, conciliatory and best placatory toward whites. Or was Washington a genius appearing to be a “Sambo” but in a system of “pigmentocracy” where rights and privileges are bestowed based on skin color he had craftily manipulated a society that was blinded by race in order to gain economic and political empowerment for blacks. Washington delivered his most famous speech on September 18, 1895, titled, “The Atlanta Exposition” but Dubois dubbed it the “The Atlanta Compromise” because Washington’s underling ideals for social, economic and political for blacks were to placating to – whites. 16 Washington stated:
“…These people who have, with out strikes and labor wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, build your railroads and cities and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South. Casting down your buckets among my people, helping 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 you fields, and run your factories. While doing this, you can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your family will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law abiding, and un-resentful people that the world has seen”. 17
Dubois the Man and his Ideals: A Critique of Washington
William Edward Burghardt Dubois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1868 of black and French ancestry and like Washington they both were of the consequences of white extraction. His mother died shortly after his graduation from high school; Dubois was born a free black, three years after Chattel Slavery had ended. Dubois like Washington was a product of his environment being born and raised in the north which in general, was somewhat more liberal and tolerant toward blacks than the south. 18 Although, the historian C. Vann Woodard argued just the opposite in his book titled, “The Strange Career of Jim Crow”, he maintained that Jim Crow was a northern institution and it was a misnomer to view it as a southern custom. 19 Dubois attended undergraduate college at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. It would be here in this southern town of Nashville that Dubois came in contact with the Jim Crow South and experience its xenophobic culture. Historian Thorpe explains Dubois Fisk experience in this way.
“His experience at Fisk University made Dubois self consciously a black man as his home town had never done. While there he even learned to `accept’ segregation, and this, he states, helped him to accept the segregation which he later experienced at Harvard”20
W.E.B. Dubois, on the other hand, was born free in Massachusetts and attended Fisk University, where he received a traditional liberal arts education; it would be these chain of events that ultimately affected Dubois’ worldview. As a result, Dubois promoted blacks’ attaining a liberal arts education. He believed that racist whites in America supported Booker T. Washington because he used his influence over blacks to direct them toward industrial education. Dubois felt “in conscience bound to ask of this nation three things: The right to vote, civil equality, and the education of youth according to ability”. 21
In opposition to Washington, Dubois believed that blacks could only earn their rights through education, not through economics. For Dubois, the education of African-Americans served two purposes: the betterment of his race and the alleviation of ignorance about blacks in the white race. Through education, Dubois “hoped to eliminate ignorance about Black people and educate the world about the potential contributions to society that people of African descent could make”. 22
Dubois was one of the premier black intellectuals of all times and if not one of foremost intellectuals in all American history barring race and color. Dubois was a scholar who became the first African American to earn a Ph.D in history from the prestigious Harvard University in 1895. His dissertation was Titled, “The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870”, which was published in book form in 1896.23 Dubois life was full of contradictions and his views and philosophical ideas were shaped by this reality. For example, by the social, political and economic disparities that existed in America in particular facing African Americans moved Dubois toward direct social and political action.
Dubois was probably too young to have had a lasting personal remembrance of the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877), a twelve year period during which blacks received political inclusion and was becoming politically empowered in the old Confederate south. Black politicians such as Robert Small, PBS Pinchback, Blanche K. Bruce, and Hiram Revels had risen to prominent political status during the Reconstruction period. But only to witness these gains collapse under black betrayal. 24
Dubois experience the Plessy versus Ferguson decision in which the United States Supreme Court in 1896 ruled and passed legislation declaring “separate but equal” as being constitutional and the law of the land which ushered in segregation, institutionalize racism, and pervasive Jim Crow laws 25 that lasted fifty-eight years. This decision was overturned with the 1954 Brown versus Board of Education decision of Topeka, Kansas, which the United States Supreme Court declared “separate but equal” as being unconstitutional and it would be this high court’s rendering that marshaled in the modern day Civil Rights era.
It was perhaps these above stated social factors and others, which led Dubois to becoming one of the leading protest activist and revolutionary thinkers of his time, in particular in the area of confrontational politics and intellectual research. But could his intellectual demeanor and his politics of defiance be explainable by revisiting Blassingame’s seminal study on the three distinct personalities `Nat’, `Jack’ and `Sambo’ that originated on the slave plantation.
Dubois and Washington: Could not See Eye to Eye
Did Dubois opposition to black oppression and Jim Crow could be considered no different than the historical position that David Walker, Nat Turner, Demark Vesey, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Gabriel Prosser, etc., they all took positions of non-compromise and refusal to go along with slavery; their posture were give me `liberty or give me death’. 26 Dubois sword was his pen, he was an intellectual and academician who was very critical of United States domestic and foreign policy and abhorred the politics of accommodation that Washington preached and advocated. Dubois perhaps in his most definitive work the, “The Souls of Black Folk” , for all practical purposes defines not only his philosophical disagreement with Washington but gives the researcher a look into his own radical and militant style politics. Dubois stated:
“Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission; but adjustment at such peculiar time as to make his program unique. This is an age of usual economic development, and Mr. Washington’s programme naturally takes an economic cast,becoming a gospel of Work and Money to such an extent as apparently almost completely to overshadow the higher aims of life. Moreover, this is an age when the more advanced races are coming in closer contact with the less developed races, and the race-feeling is therefore intensified; and Mr. Washington’s programme practically accepts the allege Inferiority of the Negro race.” 27
This quote is one of the fundamental philosophical basis which distinguished Dubois from Washington, it is evident that Dubois perceived Washington’s conformist politics as being nothing more than an act short of betrayal, as it related to black social progress. Dubois characterized it as feeding into the racist stereotypes and appeasing the status quo, which he professed this strategy as being reactionary politics steeped in past historical norms and no different than the relationship blacks had with whites during slavery.28
While this writer agrees with Washington in that it is important to learn employable skills, yet, he disagrees with him that blacks should not attain any other form of higher education. How could blacks ever acquire economic equality and parity, if education is not the focal point,which will lead to higher paying jobs? John Hope Franklin in his monumental book titled, “From Slavery to freedom: a History of Negro Americas”, Franklin quotes Dubois as offering this critique of Booker T. Washington in his essay titled, “The Talented Tenth”.
“If we make money the object of maintaining, we shall develop money-makers but not necessarily men; if we make technical skill the object of education, we may possess artisans but not, in nature, men. Men we shall have only as we make manhood the object of the work of the schools—intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to—this is the curriculum of that Higher Education which underlie true life”. 29
Dubois not only disagreed with Washington on how much and what kind of education African-Americans should receive, but on how they should go about achieving it; he was much more radical in his approach than Washington. Dubois was almost militant when compared to his counterpart because he strenuously advocated for political and social activism in order to attain equal rights for blacks. He strongly believed that African-Americans must demand their civil rights because they needed these rights to protect themselves. 30
This writer after surveying and investigating a sizable amount of historical data, it was not difficult to understand why both men had political pundits and detractors, but it was equally unproblematic to feel the passion and the level of endearment people have historically and presently when these two black leaders’ names are mentioned. However, this writer believes Dubois’ more direct plan of attack against the institutions of racism was far more successful than Washington’s policies on non-direct engagement.31 His brainchild, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is still in existence today, joining the different races together in fighting against racism in the United States.
Dubois Could not be Contained inside the NAACP
Dubois without a doubt believed early on in the tenets and planks of the Niagara Movement founded in 1903 that grew into the NAACP , which was founded 1909 and became a Civil Rights organization with the help of whites and Jewish financial assistance. But the world at this time was complex both nationally and internationally and Dubois was not going to sit around passively as long as there were battles to be fought in the trenches for justice and human equality. He desired to socially and political agitate even around the question of race and class in a radicalized fashion and made attempts to try to persuade the NAACP into accepting the broader struggle which was perceived by Dubois to be tied to the Marxist interpretation that saw class struggles as being the underlying variable that was impeding human progress. This writer does not think the NAACP as a whole ever bought into Dubois Marxist determinist theory.32
Dubois called his first Pan-African Congress 1900 and would called four more Pan-African Congress 1919, 1921, 1923 and 1927 which to dramatized the necessity of blacks in America and throughout the Diaspora linking up with Africa to resolve the issues of colonial, racism, oppression, etc., as well as enhance cultural unity. However , Dubois vacillated in philosophical thought and constantly changed political direction in a contradictory fashion. For example, he became a card carrying member of the Marxist Communist and Socialist Party and adopted and economic determinist mindset and viewed class as an antagonistic contradiction and became very critical of the United States capitalist system. 33
Washington was much more consistent and somewhat unswerving in his political and economic interpretations and for the most part but remained conciliatory; moreover, perhaps viewing himself as an American first with a mission of elevating blacks in the United States and not engage in “unacceptable” politics that foster criticism from whites. Washington had to remain relatively apolitical (this term in the traditional definition does not fit Washington because he was very much “political’) and quite on controversial issues because this writer believes he did not want to upset the white philanthropy money that were given to Tuskegee Institute by the likes of Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Julian Rosenwald, Jacob Schiff, Henry H. Rogers, Robert C. Ogden, etc. 34
Nevertheless, could Washington’s political motives be perceive as fitting nicely into Blassingames analysis of the slaves social adaptation in relating to the white power structure by either challenging (via revolt, protest, rebellion, uncompromising, or capitulating, etc.) it with the full understanding of the consequences and/or pacify whites in order to win their favor. Some would argue that Washington was good at that just as the “Sambo” personality that Blassingame describes on the slave plantation was good at keeping the slave master’s interest out front even ahead of their own interest. Historian Harlan states: However:
” It was in politics, however, that Washington built most elaborate tentacle of the octopus-like Tuskegee Machine. In politics as in everything else, Washington cultivated ambiguity. He downgraded politics as a solution of black problems, did not recommend politics to the ambitious young black man, and never held office. But when Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901 and asked For Washington’s advice on black and southern appointments, Washington consented with alacrity. He became the chief Black advisor of both Presidents Roosevelt and William Howard Taft”.35
Summary: Washington and Dubois Same Goals Different Tactics
Washington founded Tuskegee Institute in 1881, to serve as his vehicle for vocational and technical philosophy geared towards training young black people for industrial education as his strategy to elevate the masses of black people. Some may view Dubois as having spent a tremendous amount of effort and an inordinate amount of time criticizing and verbally attacking Washington, but was not building any institutions himself and therefore the legacy of Washington has to be seen as a vision that transcended space and time. Thus, as far as his work and sacrifices of leaving a legacy that has survived for one hundred and sixteen (116) years in the establishment of Tuskegee University. 36
Washington understood that politics without economics is just like symbol without substance and he was more concern with first seeking economic parity with whites and believed that political equivalence would follow that natural course. But Washington had somewhat turned a blind eye to social issues and was in denial to black injustices and Civil Rights in order not appear as overtly confrontational and indifferent to the white society. He therefore, in this writer’s opinion was neglecting a higher moral and ethical responsibility he had, that should have been defined in his title as leader. Yet, he was confronted with old stereotypes, Jim Crow laws, black disillusionment and white hostility and perhaps strategically took a passive political route that would bring the least resistance from whites. 37
This writer applauds his economic wither-all but views his dismal record on Civil Rights as being shameful and incomprehensible and lacking moral courage. Blassingame in deed assigned this personality on the slave plantation to “Sambo,” type, the slave that sought white approval and did everything in their power to protect the master’s interest to the determent of his own interest and for his un-daunting loyalty; this slave type would received more rewards and privileges from the master than the other slaves. 38 However, Washington taught us a lot about consensus politics and the importance of building alliance outside your community and without white support perhaps there would not be a Tuskegee University standing tall today.
Dubois was a pure intellectual, a renaissance man of sought who was steeped in ideals and philosophical thought and his quest to elevate the African American race has to be viewed in the context of his Talented Tenth Theory where he advocated and believed that black people’s social, political and economic success would be tied to his conviction that we should send ten percent of the black population to the universities and colleges of higher learning and imbue them with the responsibility of coming back to the black community and elevating the race.39
Dubois was very passionate about his Talented Tenth and liberal arts perspective, but this writer view this contention as being somewhat elitist, idealistic, and a reactionary movement in scope and perhaps would have only served this minority black bourgeoisie class to the disadvantage of the political, social and economic interest of the masses.
The sociologist E. Franklin Frazier in his book titled, “The Black Bourgeoisie”, analyzed this class of blacks and whether not this “black class” would have put aside personal interest over group interest is debatable and therefore this writer thinks Dubois was reaching and stretching to come up with a viable political, educational, and economic solution that in a sense was unattainable. But his refusal to capitulate to the authority and the white power structure and his struggle to fight in justice, oppression, racism, inequality, etc., is unmatched in his time period. 40 This writer applauds Dubois in his many fights to attain Civil Rights and level the political, social and economic playing field for black people.
He was a protest leaders who believed in the value of militant politics and radicalize views and had little regard for accommodation style politics which he believed catered to the interest of the dominant society. His style of politics although was revolutionary in theory but did not advocate violent methods of destabilizing the United States Government like the legendary Nat Turner. 41 But nevertheless his writings and his social activism truly reflects the spirit of the Blassingames’ “Nat” personality type. Dubois used his scholarship and pen to wage war on a society steeped in discrimination, disenfranchisement, prejudice, racial bigotry, inhuman inequality, etc.
Lastly, both Washington and Dubois perhaps vacillated between protest politics (`Jack’ and `Nat’) and the passive non-confrontational politics of accommodation (`Sambo) in order to get legislation, laws and policy passed and changed. Washington was not as conciliatory on all issues as perceived by some scholars and laypersons and often worked quietly and behind the scenes on Civil Rights issues which not draw attention to himself. 42
Dubois might be labeled under the heading of black nationalism, but ironic enough disagreed vehemently with his contemporary Marcus Garvey who is considered one of the foremost black nationalist activist of all times, but as radical as Dubois ideals were he preferred integrationist politics over the nationalist and separatist politics espoused by Garvey. This can be interpreted to mean working within the confides of the system which was no different than Washington’s position. 43
These two great black leaders Washington and Dubois missed a golden opportunity of coming together for the greater good of the black community but the white media instigated and played up their differences and perhaps derailed such a movement. It did not have to be about liberal arts versus vocational training because this writer could see and accept the values of both philosophies and they could have simultaneously coexisted in lieu of the greater good.
Dubois was eventually wailed into United States Court in 1951 and because of his Communist views and was charged with un-American activity. He gave up his United States citizenship after this trial and moved to Ghana, Africa to live in the country of his Pan-Africanist friend, President Kwame Nkrumah and eventually died in Africa in 1963.44 Washington perhaps is one of the most misunderstood black leaders in the history of America died in 1916.
It is this writer’s contention that both Washington and Dubois had the same goal which was the uplifting of the black race; they chose opposite and distinct paths, as far as political strategies and tactics, but both men’s quest was geared toward the social, political, and economic empowerment of the downtrodden black race. The relevance of these two historical icons and their philosophies are still up for debate even in 2007.
This writer thinks both men impacted the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s with Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Stokely Carmichael, Roy Wilkins, Malcolm X, A. Phillip Randolph (a contemporary of Dubois), Whitney Young and entire Civil Rights Movement.
They espouse radical and conservative strategies to agitate and used nonviolent politics to foster in the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Right Act and desegregating the United States, but history is cyclical and no doubt these events and leaders were standing on the shoulders of Washington and Dubois.
Our present black leaders of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Tavis Smiley, Barack Obama, T.D, Jakes and last but not least, Louis Farrakhan who in 1995 perhaps assembled one of the largest protest marches in American history known as the Million Man March at the Capitol in Washington DC. Their successes and failures are tied to the ghost of Washington and Dubois.
Lets us know your opinion; I am Fahim A. Knight Chief Researcher of THE KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK. We are located in Durham North Carolina and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
STAY AWAKE UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN,
FAHIM A. KNIGHT
1 Robert A., Divine and others, eds., The American Story, 3rd; ed. (New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2007), 32-33.
2 Robert A., Divine and others, eds., The American Story, 3rd; ed. (New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2007), 40.
3 Robert A., Divine and others, eds., The American Story, 3rd; ed. (New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2007), 32-33.
4 Marrill Jensen, The New Nation: A History of The UnitedStates during the Confederation 1781-1789 (New York:Vintage Books, 1950), 54.
5 John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community, 2d ed., (New York:Oxford University Press, 1979), 224
6 John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community, 2d ed., (New York:Oxford University Press, 1979), 236-37.
7 John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community, 2d ed., (New York:Oxford University Press, 1979), 225-226.
8 John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community, 2d ed., (New York:Oxford University Press, 1979), 224-225.
9 John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community, 2d ed., (New York:Oxford University Press, 1979), 225.
10 Maulana Karenga, Introduction to Black Studies (Los Angeles:University of Sankore Press, 1993), 151-156.
11 John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of NegroAmericans(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), 274-280.
12 Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: TheOrigins to the Present (New York: William Morrow and Company, etc.,1967), 451.
13 Louis R. Harlan, The Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century(Chicago:University of Illinois Press, 1982), 78-79.
14 Earl E. Thorpe, Black Historians: A Critique (New York: William Morrow and Company and etc., 1971), 60.
15 Earl E. Thorpe, The Central Theme of Black History (Durham:Seeman Printery, 1969), 89-91.
16 Maulana Karenga, Introduction to Black Studies (Los Angeles:University of Sankore Press, 1993), 152-156.
17 Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery (New York: Double Day, Inc., 1965), 147-148.
18 Earl E. Thorpe, The Central Theme of Black History (Durham:Seeman Printery, 1969), 114.
19 C. Vann Woodard, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, 2d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 17-19.
20 Earl E. Thorpe, Black Historians: A Critique (New York: William Morrow and Company and etc., 1971), 72-73.
21 David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Dubois, The Fight for Equality and The American Century, 1919-1963 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC,2000), 83-86
22 David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Dubois, The Fight for Equality and The American Century, 1919-1963 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC,2000), 237-238
23 Earl E. Thorpe, Black Historians: A Critique (New York: William Morrow and Company and etc., 1971), 182.
24 John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), 244-47.
25 Lerone Bennett, Jr., Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 5th ed. (New York: Penguin Books etd., 1985) 376.
26 Lerone Bennett, Jr., Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 5th ed. (New York: Penguin Books etd., 1985) 135-139.
27 W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Signet Classic, 1969),87.
28 W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Avon Books, 1965),242-243.
29 John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), 278.
30 John Hope Franklin and August Meier, The Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 277-278.
31 Elliott Rudwick W.E.B. Dubois: Protagonist of The Afro-America Protest, in The Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century, ed. John Hope Franklin and August Meier (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 67-68.
32 Earl E. Thorpe, Black Historians: A Critique (New York: William Morrow and Company, etc., 1971), 77.
33 John Hope Franklin and August Meier, The Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 78-79.
34 John Hope Franklin and August Meier, The Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1982),10.
35 Louis R. Harlan, Booker T. Washington in the politics ofaccommodation, in The Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century, ed. John Hope Franklin andAugust Meier (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 5.
36 Earl E. Thorpe, The Central Theme of Black History (Durham:Seeman Printery, 1969), 178.
37 Lerone Bennett, Jr., Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 5th ed. (New York: Penguin Books etd., 1985) 332-333.
38 Claud Anderson, Black Labor White Wealth: The Search for Economic Justice (Maryland: Duncan & Duncan, Inc. publishers, 1994), 18.
39 John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), 277-278.
40 Maulana Karenga, Introduction to Black Studies (LosAngeles:University of Sankore Press, 1993), 367-368.
41 Earl E. Thorpe, The Central Theme of Black History (Durham: Seeman Printery, 1969), 179-180.
42 John Hope Franklin and August Meier, Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 12-13.
43 Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: The Origins to the Present (New York: William Morrow and Company, etc., 1967),564.
44 Earl E. Thorpe, Black Historians: A Critique (New York: William Morrow and Company and etc., 1971), 80.
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