[Back to the Unit Eight Summary]
W.E.B. DuBois, from Souls of Black Folk (1903)

An historian, sociologist, writer, teacher and civil rights advocate, DuBois was one of the foremost African-American intellectuals of the early twentieth century.  He was one of founders of the NAACP.  He clashed, on occasion, with other black leaders including Booker T. Washington.  DuBois denounced Washingtonís "accommodationist" strategies and his emphasis on industrial education for blacks rather than higher education.  The following is an excerpt from DuBoisí book Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays on the black experience in America.

As you read, consider DuBoisí strategy for achieving equality for blacks.  Also, notice DuBoisí criticisms of Booker T. Washington, and think about why DuBois found Washingtonís strategies insufficient.

Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission.... This is an age of unusual economic development, and Mr. Washingtonís program 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.... Mr. Washingtonís program practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races.... Mr. Washington withdraws many of the high demands of Negroes as men and American citizens.  In other periods of intensified prejudice all the Negroís tendency to self-assertion has been called forth; at this period a policy of submission is advocated.  In the history of nearly all other races and peoples the doctrine preached at such crises has been that self-respect is worth more than land and houses....

It has been claimed that the Negro can survive only through submission.  Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things ­
 First, political power;
 Second, insistence on civil rights;
 Third, higher education of Negro youth ­
and concentrate all their energies on industrial education, the accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South.  This policy has been courageously and insistently advocated for over fifteen years.... As a result... what has been the return?  In these years there have occurred:

 1. The disfranchisement of the Negro.
 2. The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro.
 3. The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro.

[Washingtonís] propaganda has, without a shadow of a doubt, helped the... speedier accomplishment [of the above three developments].  The question then comes: Is it possible, and probable, that nine millions of men can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived of political rights, made a servile caste, and allowed only the most meager chances of developing their exceptional men?  If history and reason give any distinct answer to these questions, it is an emphatic no....

[Washington] is striving nobly to make Negro artisans, business men and property-owners; but it is utterly impossible, under modern competitive methods, for workingmen and property-owners to defend their rights and exist without the right of suffrage.

[Washington] insists on thrift and self-respect, but at the same time counsels a silent submission to civic inferiority such as is bound to sap the manhood of any race in the long run.

[Washington] advocates common-school and industrial training, and depreciates institutions of higher learning; but neither Negro common-schools, nor Tuskegee itself could remain open a day were it not for teachers trained in Negro colleges, or trained by their graduates....

[Critics of Washington] do not expect that the free right to vote, to enjoy civic rights, and to be educated, will come in a moment; they do not expect to see the bias and prejudices of years disappear at the blast of a trumpet; but they are absolutely certain that the way for a people to gain their reasonable rights is not by voluntarily throwing them away and insisting that they do not want them; that the way for a people to gain respect is not by continually belittling and ridiculing themselves.... On the contrary, Negroes must insist continually... that voting is necessary to modern manhood, that color discrimination is barbarism, and that black boys need education as well as white boys....

On the whole the distinct impression left by Mr. Washingtonís propaganda is... First, that the South is justified in its present attitude toward the Negro;.... secondly that the prime cause of the Negroís failure to rise more quickly is his wrong education in the past; and, thirdly, that his future rise depends primarily on his own efforts.  Each of these propositions is a dangerous half-truth.  The supplementary truths must never be lost sight of: First, slavery and race-prejudice are potent if not sufficient causes of the Negroís position; second, industrial and common-school training were necessarily slow in planting because they had to await the black teachers trained by higher institutions.... and, third, while it is a great truth to say that the Negro must strive and strive mightily to help himself, it is equally true that unless his striving be not... aroused and encouraged, by the initiative of the richer and wiser environing group, he cannot hope for great success.

[Mr. Washingtonís] doctrine has tended to make the whites, North and South, shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negroís shoulders and stand aside as critical and rather pessimistic spectators; when in fact the burden belongs to the nation....

The South ought to be led, by candid and honest criticism, to assert her better self and do her full duty to the race she has cruelly wronged and is still wronging.  The North ­ her co-partner in guilt ­ cannot salve her conscience by plastering it with gold....

The black men of America have a duty to perform, a duty stern and delicate ­ a foreword movement to oppose part of the work of [Mr. Washington] their greatest leader.  So far as Mr. Washington preaches Thrift, Patience and Industrial Training for the masses, we must hold up his hands and strive with him.... But so far as Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice, North or South, does not rightly value the privilege and duty of voting, belittles the... effects of caste distinctions, and opposes the higher training and ambitions of our brighter minds ­ so far as he, the South, or the Nation does this ­ we must unceasingly and firmly oppose them.  By every civilized and peaceful method we must strive for the rights which the world accords to men, clinging unwaveringly to those great words which the sons of the Father would fain forget, "We hold these truths to be self evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

[Back to the Unit Eight Summary]