W.E.B. Dubois And Booker T. Washington Fought Against Racism, Slavery, And Improvement Of African American Lives From Different Dimensions

Few today can imagine how human beings could be caught in their villages like fish and be sold like livestock to other human beings. Africans were being shipped to America, be sold as slave to work in their farms. They were condemned because of their skin color – race to slavery, where they were owned by the people who bought them- the American white farmers. Education was never guaranteed to them since they were someone’s property without no (sic) rights (as people in the ghetto say); what an extreme level of discrimination. How would you feel when subjected to such experience? Naturally no one can be pleased.

Imagine these blacks were thinking beings with a mind, soul and body! The children of slaves still remained slaves. These were the things that inspired W. E. B Dubois, Booker T. Washington among the people who had an opportunity by the virtue of the influence after education to fight against racism, slavery trying to improve the lives of African Americans. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines racism as a prejudice based on the belief that the race is the main determinant of human traits and capacities and those racial differences produce inherent superiority of a particular racial group.

Sociologists Noel Cazenave and Darlene Alvarez Maddem put racism as a highly organized system of race based group privilege that operates at a very high level of society and is held together by a subtle ideology of color/ race ‘supremacy’ (Cazenave and Maddem, 1999). In the book, ‘The Souls of Black Soul’ where (the Author -) W. E. B Dubois asserts ‘elevating the self was the key to better life as a black man’ in a debate in way in which a black American must act versus how he wants to act indicates how hard it was to be free even for those who had been freed from slavery.

That racism was deep in the minds of the discriminated. W. E. B Dubois and Booker T. Washington lived at the height of racism and slavery in America. Both managed to get some good education which was a tool for combating the evil of the twentieth century racism. Washington was a credible proponent of educational improvement for the freed men who remained after reconstruction. At that time Booker T. Washington was the most influential leader in America. The two engaged on an intense dialogue about segregation and political disfranchisement Washington had taken a conciliatory direction of fight against racism.

He believed in a skillful accommodation during that age of segregation which came to win a title ‘the great accommodator’ from Dubois. On the other hand Dubois led a radicalized fight. While this could have been seen as clash the two dimensions of their struggle came to supplement each other. This is the approach that came to be used by Martin Luther King Jr. in the later years An American newsletter the Review noted that had great power to move men’s hearts and bring them into sympathy with his noble and unselfish aims for lifting up the race. This article carefully shows Bookers’ approach to education and labor.

He takes great advantage to explain his point. Booker is a man of Influence; this can be seen from his position and occupation in the society. As a great orator, Washington is quoted saying that the condition for African American in the south will only improve they learn to put brain and skills into his labor. In this respect, Washington argues that this should result to more technologically advanced labor. Their differences in approaches could be attributed to earlier experiences. Biology explains that siemens twins will certainly behave differently when subjected to different environments to grow.

Thinking about this hypothesis, One seminal debate between Washington and Dubois played on the pages of Crisis which Washington was advocating a philosophy of self help and vocational training for blacks, while Dubois pressed for full educational opportunities for his race. Dubois believed that the way out was through study especially the liberal arts. Though wining the battle against slavery was difficult because of the constitution, the two leaders managed to bring about the movement that came to win the freedom of the slaves. This greatly reveals the power in combined workforce isn’t it?

Together we stand, divided we fall. This is a common saying. Dubois and Booker formed this alliance and through it, many positive progresses were realized. For example, many humanitarian citizens gave them support, and this made the government take appropriate measures towards slave treatment, and laws governing slaves. The alliance similar to the one with William Monroe Trotter another black intellectual at the time help to form the group National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. Was this not a fruit of the pioneering work of Booker and Dubois?

Think about this: how many organizations will have emerged in the next five years after this? How many policies will have been implemented as a result of the pressure inserted by these organizations? These will be clear with time! NAACP in its early years concentrated in using courts to overturn the Jim Crow status that legalized racial discrimination . The crisis magazine for the NAACP became the mouth piece for the propaganda war against racism. During the inter war years NAACP fought lynching of the blacks through out the United States by working on legislation, education the public and lobbying.

It was after several decades of campaign that brought the reversal of the separate but equal doctrine announced by Supreme Court Plessey versus Ferguson. Later the desegregation of schools and other public facilities through out the country, through the Supreme Court was managed by the NAACP. Washington though criticized by the NAACP who demanded a hard-line stance of the issue of civil rights protests enlisted some moral and substantial financial support from a number of philanthropists they helped him fund his causes – supporting institutions of higher education at Hampton and Tuskegee.

Looking at the current American social-political scene would W. E. B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington smiled if they resurrected today? As the PBS statement on their website wonders whether the Americans have learnt to embrace diversity, whether character has triumphed color. Almost every day we find people bleaching their skin on order to look beautiful. Race is another factor that has greatly affected the intellectual growth and increase in technology. This has brought in a belief that whites can do better than blacks in various spheres of academia.

This is an analysis published by a journal called: Labor and Demographic Economic. Booker T. Outlines the thinking of many whites during his time. Intellectuals and politicians writing to shape public opinion, from both North and South, had turned increasingly hostile toward African Americans. Many magazines of the time had a message of white supremacy. In his study of small-town newspapers in the South, Thomas D. Clark found that most papers in the 1880s and 1890s clearly reflected the “Negro-as-beast” thinking of the time.

The editors revealed “a general fear of the Negro,” whom they often depicted as uncivilized, a “wild, ignorant animal. This was a real huddle for Washington to manage is it? His approach was revolutionary as will be seen. Washington gave an exposition speech in 1895 in Atlanta. This speech challenged the images then current in white intellectual and cultural presentations of African Americans. He insisted that blacks were a people of “love and fidelity” to whites, a “faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful” people.

In its larger thrust, the Atlanta speech represented Washington’s attempt to counter the presumption on the part of the white South, and much of the rest of the nation that African Americans had declined in character and morality in freedom. The overarching message that Washington intended was not acceptance of disfranchisement and segregation but rather a message of progress, of movement forward and upward. he indeed displayed dedication towards this. In Atlanta, Washington began to offer Americans a new point of view in order to challenge the ideology of white supremacy.

This was a great achievement to this selfless Samaritan, as the disciples of Jesus would refer him during their time. Many years after the Atlanta speech, Washington often spoke up for civil and political rights. This is contrary to Professor Harlan’s contention that “his public utterances were limited to what whites approved” and that Washington’s actions on behalf of civil and political rights were exclusively part of his “secret life” of arranging court challenges and organizing protests but taking no public part.

In fact, in 1896 Washington told the Washington Post that forcing blacks “to ride in a ‘Jim Crow’ car that is far inferior to that used by the white people is a matter that cannot stand much longer against the increasing intelligence and prosperity of the colored people. ” Washington had several admirers and many of the se came in handy to help fight this ugly spirit called racism.

He had several forums to speak the same message in a speech at a Spanish-American War Peace Jubilee in Chicago before people; Washington asserted that the United States had won all its battles but one, “the effort to conquer ourselves in the blotting out of racial prejudice. … Until we thus conquer ourselves, I make no empty statement when I say that we shall have, especially in the Southern part of our country, a cancer gnawing at the heart of the Republic that shall one day prove as dangerous as an attack from an army without or within. ” Dubois also worked very hard to enforce equality.

This spans from the first time he came into public. No one could quench the thirst of seeing both white and black Americans live in total peace and in brotherly love. His major area of concern was education. Being a person of influence, majorly as an educationist come sociologist, Dubois always desired to have equal chance given to people of all races. He was a very practical man. This works well especially with a layman. At one point, Dubois organized a forum whereby he combined the learned and the illiterate citizens. This forum had people attending from cross- cultural background; both blacks and whites.

This was meant to work for the common good of all Americans. Comparing the work done by the two civil activists, Booker mainly impacted the people in public forums, while Dubois did a great deal of work in academic institutions like schools and colleges. Currently as Souls would outline turmoil’s caused by color bar and racism, Dubois urged in his speeches that African Americans should choose path of revolt and radicalism (1969) . in another instance, while writing the Souls, Dubois asked a question “ How does it feel to be a problem ? ” (1969:44)

In answering this question he explains what being an African American means in such a country and the unique challenges faced. In many of his lectures in the university, Dubois developed sessions where he taught about Negroism. He strongly believed that all there suffering was because of ignorance and would be alleviated through class. Dubois’ work was really a long term investment isn’t it? It is a sure fact that by impacting the lives of students, they would in turn spread the message to their local forks! In conclusion, Washington and Dubois were civil rights leaders, educational founders, and writers.

They shared a positive relationship with Oberlin College and lectured at the college on a number of separate occasions. They also communicated on a number of occasions. Like Dubois, later in his career Washington fell from the fore of civil rights activism because he was not radical enough for new progressive movements. Dube and Washington accomplished much for our society. They recognized the importance of practical education and pushed the boundaries of their respective segregated societies. In retrospect, both these activists have been charged with conservatism.

While they challenged racial injustice, they nonetheless accepted most of the other social constraints that characterized their society. Above all, Washington and Dube, were pragmatic men, and perhaps it is their pragmatism that has led some to question their ultimate impact on the transformation of race relations in their respective nations .


1. Booker . T . Washington (1997) On Our Own Terms: Race, Class, and Gender in the Lives of African American Women. New York: Routledge. Pp 26-70.

2. Dubois W. E. B, (1969). The souls of black forks. New York: Signet classics Pp23-48.