I am currently reading two books, and both are fascinating. I am reading Booker T. Washington’s “Up From Slavery”, and W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folk.” Both men wrote in a time when black Americans were enormously oppressed by legal and cultural “norms” of white society (largely in the South, but also throughout the rest of the United States). Both men wanted the best for black Americans, and for America at large, but they differed widely as to the best avenue to pursue in order to gain political, educational, and economic parity.
Washington’s book centers largely on his own struggle to achieve an education, and from that education a secure place in this world. He personally felt the stings and blows of racism in 18th century America, and did not shy away from it from criticizing it vehemently. However, as I read in his chapter “The Atlanta Exposition Address”, it was his desire not to directly confront the entrenched bigotry in the South, but to find a way for black Americans to survive and to overcome their poverty and disenfranchisement by educating themselves in industry and trades. Hopefully, that would buy them time to gain some sort of economic parity and slowly allow them to gain the legal equality they desired (and deserved from the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution),
At first, W.E.B. DuBois supported Washington’s address. Later, however, he (and many others) saw it as the “Atlanta Compromise.” They saw the whole address as capitulation and servitude to an immoral legal system (infamously known as “Jim Crow laws”). DuBois and his supporters believed that agitation and confrontation was the right course of action and would win the day.
Unfortunately for Mr. DuBois, his dissatisfaction and bitterness would drive him to a support of far left radical ideas, but his ultimate desire was for a day in which black and white in America would live
under the same equal treatment under law.
It seems to me that both men’s dreams were melded together in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. Dr. King’s peaceful, Christian based strategy of non-violence (which Booker T. Washington was always about) was coupled with Mr. DuBois’ call for confrontation. Eventually the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1964/65. Jim Crow was dead, thank God, and America had become
“a more perfect union.”
I can’t wait to finish both books and write more about these two articulate men and their ideas.