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Black Leaders

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Booker T. Washington and William Edward Burghardt Du Bois were influential black leaders. Their leadership strengthened the minds of the black race. During the decades of Reconstruction following the Civil War, African Americans struggled to be assimilated into the new American society. To do this African Americans required social and economic equality. Two great Negro leaders that emerged for this cause were Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. With these two strong-headed men, another problem arose. They both sharply disagreed upon the strategies needed to gain these equalities. Washington preferred a gradual, submissive, and economically based plan. On the other hand, Du Bois relied upon a more agitating and politically aggressive plan. They worked for the advancement of African-Americans in American society, but their methods of achieving this goal and their leadership style differed greatly from one another. It is hard to fathom that two men, who helped to strive for the great goal of racial fairness, could have been such opposites, but it is true.

Booker T. Washington, a former slave and the founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, believed that African Americans needed to accept segregation and discrimination for the time being and concentrate on elevating themselves through hard work and material prosperity. The eventual acquisition of wealth and culture by African Americans would gradually win for them the respect and acceptance of the white community. This would break down the divisions between the two races and lead to equal citizenship for African Americans in the end. Also he urged blacks to accept discrimination for the time being and concentrate on elevating themselves through hard work and material prosperity. He believed in education in the crafts, industrial and farming skills and the cultivation of the virtues of patience, enterprise and thrift. This, he said, would win the respect of whites and lead to African Americans being fully accepted as citizens and included into all strata of society. Washington wanted blacks in the south to respect and value the need for industrial education both from a vantage of American and African experience.

Booker T. Washington was born a slave on April 5, 1856 in Franklin County, Virginia. Once the slaves were emancipated, his family moved to West Virginia. There, his family was poor, and he had to work in a salt furnace and then a coal mine. In school he named himself Booker Washington. Only later did he find out his name was Booker Taliaferro. So he combined both names to form his now famous name, Booker T. Washington. He went to school at the Hampton Institute, which was an industrial school for blacks. Later on, he based his educational theories on his time at Hampton. He founded the Tuskegee Institute, which was a Negro school, which eventually became known for its hardworking, reliable graduates.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born into an affluent family on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Bois took college preparatory classes while in high school. He was also a column writer of a newspaper, the New York Globe. While still young he attended town meetings to listen to people discuss concerns of the town. He spoke about Wendell Phillips at his high school graduation. Du Bois's mother unexpectedly died in 1884. After high school, he attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He was the first black person to obtain a Ph.D. from Harvard. He taught at Atlanta University.

At Fisk he took part in public speaking and debates. He edited the Fisk Herald, the school's paper. At Fisk he realized that his goal was not for his own happiness, but for the advancement of the black race. He graduated from Fisk in 1886 with an A. B. degree. After Fisk he was accepted into Harvard. In 1895 Du Bois became the first African American to get a Ph.D. from Harvard. Even with a Ph. D. from Harvard he did not feel he was ready to deal with the problems that African Americans faced. He then spent two years at Berlin University. This gave him an extended outlook on the race problem.

In the south, African Americans received segregated and unequal education established by white Americans. Du Bois was confident that he could get white Americans to give up discrimination. Du Bois was motivated to lead African Americans out of the disadvantaged position they seemed to be in. He believed the key to their advancement was in education. Near the end of the 1800's African Americans occupied unskilled jobs in southern cities. Their economic situation was not good. Du Bois felt compelled to work to improve this situation. He initially wanted to dedicate his life to education. In 1909 he contributed to the development of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). According to Gerald Hynes, Du Bois was not pleased with the group, due in part by it being under the leadership of whites. He agreed to work with them and became the editor of "The Crisis" (1909-1934), a publication from the NAACP.

He also led the Niagara Movement. The Niagara Movement was an organization founded by black Americans to racial discrimination. The movement placed most of the blame for America's racial problems on whites. It opposed the view of Booker T. Washington. He later became a Marxist and a Communist. Washington and Du Bois were alike in few ways. They were both black leaders. They were both teachers and authors. They were also both subject to discrimination from whites. They were both spokesmen for their separate ideologies. Du Bois and Washington were polar opposites of each other in every aspect except for the reasons previously stated. They were so much so that Du Bois published a book named The Souls of Black Folk, which contained many essays criticizing Washington's views. Du Bois went on to write many other essays and speeches opposing the viewpoints of supposed "Uncle Tom's."

The author believes that Booker T. Washington developed a leadership style based on the model of the old plantation house servant. He used humility, politeness, flattery, and restraint as a wedge with which he hoped to split the wall of racial discrimination. His conciliatory approach won the enthusiastic support of the solid South as well as that of influential Northern politicians and industrialists; their backing gained him a national reputation and provided him with easy access to the press. Members of his own community were filled with pride to see one of their own treated with such respect by wealthy and influential leaders of white America.

Du Bois assigned Washington



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