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Immediately following the Civil War, African Americans were faced with great discrimination and suffering. The newly free slaves were faced with the problem of making their stance in society that once looked at them as nothing more than property. During this period, two men became leaders of two different ideas. Booker T. Washington of Virginia and William Edward Burghardt DuBois of Massachusetts, held two very different approaches regarding the best way for African Americans to improve their situations. While their methods may have differed, both of these men had a common goal in the uplift of the black community.
Booker T Washington was among the most important African-American leaders of his time. Born in Franklin County, Virginia in the mid-1850s, spent his early childhood in slavery. After growing up, Washington felt that a formal education was the best way to improve his living standards. Because of segregation, the availability of education for blacks in was fairly limited. In response, Washington traveled to Hampton Institute where he took industrial education. At Hampton, he focused on industrial or practical working skills as opposed to the liberal arts. Because of his experiences at Hampton, Washington went on to become an educator as well as a supporter of industrial education, founding the Tuskegee Normal and Agricultural Institute. He advocated African-American peoples advancement through learning practical skills, particularly trades and agricultural skills, rather than through university education and voting rights. He believed that African-Americans had to help themselves before whites would help them, and he thought that African-American entrepreneurship in the learning of practical skills would enhance the solidarity of their community. Rather than attacking Jim Crow head on, he believed that if African-Americans helped themselves, they would eventually advance politically and achieve civil rights. Born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, W. E. B. DuBois grew up both free and in the North. He did not experience the harsh conditions of slavery or of southern prejudice. He grew up in a mainly white environment, attended Fisk University as an undergraduate, was the first African-American person to ever earn a doctoral degree from Harvard, and was one of the founders of the national Association for the advancement of colored people. DuBois demonstrated his political beliefs through his involvement in the Niagara Movement, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and served as editor of The Crisis, a black political magazine. He felt that blacks should educate themselves in the liberal tradition, just as whites. DuBois approach was received well by other northern freemen. Different from Booker T. Washington, he wanted African-Americans to enjoy civil rights and voting rights equal with whites in a more immediate way than what Washington called for. Du Bois thought that the African-American elite were critical in bringing about African-American equality, so Du Bois advocated advanced to education for African-Americans and not just the work related skills.
One of the biggest disagreements in ideas between the two was over the issue of black suffrage. In terms of voting, DuBois believed that campaigning for the ballot was necessary, but opposed giving the vote to the uneducated blacks. He believed that economic gains were not safe unless there was political power to protect them. Washington, on the other hand, felt that DuBois did more harm than good and served only to irritate southern whites. While there were many points of disagreement between Washington and DuBois, there were similarities in their ideas as well. Both worked against lynching and opposed racially motivated violence. While Washington may have stressed industrial education over liberal arts, he did believe that liberal arts were beneficial. Though both men can be criticized on various aspects of their approaches, both DuBois and Washington were key figures in the advancement of African Americans. Washington and DuBois were both in pursuit of racial equality, but had different ideas on how to reach it. Washington believed in economic equality, then political and social equality. While it was important to build economic stability within the African American community, voting rights were necessary to achieve political and social equality. DuBois plan encouraged political and social equality, which was essential at the time. The founding of the NAACP helped pass important laws during the movement.
Although Washington’s plan made sense and was important, W.E.B. Ideas were true for many African Americans who felt the need for equal rights between races.
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