Friday, October 12, 2012

Responses to Persecution

            Throughout class we have discussed many different ways that newly emancipated African Americans dealt with persecution during the Reconstruction era.  Two people that promoted the welfare and explained methods to cope with violence and marginalization during this time were Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois.  Though we have briefly discussed these men in class, it seems we glossed over them and I decided to read one of each of their works and describe the different methods they employed to respond to their hostile environment. To summarize, Washington reasoned that blacks should make their homes in the south, act subservient to white southerners to prove their worth, and in the present focus on material goods. While initially proving to be effective, Booker T.’s method eventually played out its usefulness. As a response to the stagnation of African Americans’ progress toward equality, Dubois suggested a more head on approach.
            Washington suggested his approach at the Atlanta Exposition, where he explained his idea that Africans Americans should attempt to raise their status through individual efforts and over time white Americans would appreciate their efforts and judge it accordingly. This suggestion to prove one’s self-worth comes from his personal experience, as he had worked in a mine while getting top marks at a nearby college. More importantly, he reasoned that due to the large number of lynches in the South at this time, pushing for absolute equality would be too drastic to white southerners to be a viable option.  
            Years later Dubois attacked Washington’s plan and he reasons that Washington’s method had been championed by most African Americans for the last fifteen years, but has only been effective for ten. Furthermore, he thinks that the real effect that his plan has had is to simply marginalize black people and take away their political power. As a result of this, Dubois suggested pushing for equality and reasoned that working for material goods was not worth losing one’s self-respect. Finally, he makes the assertion that if African Americans are to achieve true equality; they need to face the problem head on.
            Clearly, these men had a plan that was aimed to achieve equality for African Americans in the United States.  Each one was formulated based on the hostility of their environment, and the overall progress that was being made.  Washington used a more conservative approach due to the number of lynches during the beginning of the Reconstruction period, whereas Dubois suggested a more aggressive approach after Washington’s method began to play out its usefulness.


  1. Jay, I definitely agree with you. Both men formulated a plan based on their social context. However, Booker T. Washington was not only affected by the large amount of lynchings occurring the time he gave his speech but also because who he was presenting his plan to. He was the sole representative of his race at the Atlanta Exposition and thus, was surrounded by a crown of White men. Therefore, although the time in which he gave the speech is pertinent in the creation of his plan, so is the crowd he was giving the speech too. Furthermore, Washington was more of an optimist that Dubois was. These personality differences affected the way in which they created their plans also. Washington was willing to wait and let his plan play out in the long term for a slow long term change whereas Dubois, rightfully so, was eager to change society rapidly.

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  3. Looking back on this time, I think it is easier to see the appeal of Dubois because we know that a great deal of Civil Rights change did occur. We love the idea of immediate action because we know that much of the violence and discrimination was ultimately overcome. It is simple to reflect on Debois’ option as the more appealing one because it speaks more for the capabilities of African Americans. Without a perspective of certain success, however, I can definitely sympathize with Washington's desire for a more gradual approach. In our current "Not Even Past" reading, we learn about how President Obama feels he needs to tread carefully around civil rights issues, because directly addressing concerns about discrimination or racism likely will lead to immediate backlash (126-127). Changing racial disparities can be a sensitive issue that sometimes requires delicate handling and a great deal of time. Washington realized this notion and incorporated it into his ideas about the ways in which individuals should move forward. Meanwhile, Dubois saw problems with solutions and did not believe in waiting for justice to be implemented.