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.