Du Bois identified numerous shortcomings in Booker T. Washington’s approach to promoting racial equality. Du Bois criticized Washington’s philosophy, known as the Atlanta Compromise, which advocated for African Americans to focus on economic progress and vocational education while temporarily setting aside political and social equality demands. Du Bois argued that Washington’s approach perpetuated racial inequality and reinforced the existing power structures (Bois, 2007). He argued that African Americans should seek to achieve full citizenship rights, including political representation, social equality, and economic progress. Du Bois criticized Washington’s emphasis on industrial education and manual labor, arguing that it limited the opportunities for African Americans and confined them to subordinate positions in society.
Washington’s approach appealed mostly to the White Americans living in the South, who were more than willing and happy to restore racial order and retain their political and economic power. The approach received support from well-wishers and philanthropies from the North who believed that helping African Americans both educationally and financially would improve their lives without causing any threat to their status quo (Bois, 2007). Washington’s stance on racial issues, emphasizing accommodation and gradual change rather than immediate equality, also gained support from conservative African American leaders and businessmen who believed economic success would eventually lead to greater political and social rights. Washington was viewed by this faction as a practical leader who could work within the framework of white power systems to achieve modest advances for the African-American community.
Du Bois argued that in order for African Americans to benefit economically, they had to sacrifice political power, access to higher education and intellectual development, civil rights, and social equality. Du Bois claimed that such a compromise maintained racial injustice and delayed the realization of full citizenship rights for African Americans. According to Du Bois, African Americans’ pursuit of political power was hampered by Washington’s prioritization of economic advancement and accommodation (Bois, 2007). Washington closed the door on education and intellectual development for African Americans, denying them the benefits of increased knowledge, the ability to think critically, and more. Du Bois argued that Washington’s compromising stance did not satisfy African Americans’ pressing desire for civil rights and social equality (Du Bois, 1903). Washington effectively abandoned the fight against systemic racism. It denied the significance of equal treatment, respect, and dignity for all citizens when it prioritized economic advancement and urged African Americans to accept segregation and discrimination.
An alternative plan proposed by Du Bois to enable the advancement of African Americans is outlined in his work, “The Souls of Black Folk.” The plan was based on three main areas, including access to higher education and intellectual development, political empowerment, and the need to recognize African American culture and identity. His plan placed emphasis on African American engagement in the political arena by advocating for the active participation of blacks in the voting and democratic process (Bois, 2007). Du Bois argued that political power was a critical element in enabling change and promoting the rights of African Americans. Through his plan, he advocated for the guarantee of equal representation by electing black representatives through back voting rights.
Du Bois argued that higher education is crucial to the advancement of African Americans. He advocated for black students to have equal access to educational institutions. In his work, Du Bois fought to recognize and protect African American heritage and history (Bois, 2007). He thought the key to personal and social progress lay in appreciating and learning from one’s roots. Du Bois also played an essential role in advocating for artistic expression, cultural pride, and exploration of black history and contributions to combat racial discrimination and prejudices.
Du Bois felt that the 53% of black college students who became teachers at various levels were crucial in transforming the education system and shaping the future of education for African Americans. Du Bois thought education was crucial in liberating black people and communities from centuries of oppression. Black college graduates can make a difference in the lives of future generations by entering the teaching profession. Having professors of their own race provided black pupils with excellent role models who shared their experiences and cultural background (Du Bois, 1903). Affirming their identity, instilling a feeling of pride, and motivating them to overcome hurdles and accomplish their objectives, seeing successful people who looked like them was made possible by this. Black educators have been crucial in combating harmful societal prejudices and reaffirming positive norms for all races.
Garvey’s main argument against Du Bois was his emphasis on assimilating African Americans into white-dominated societies. Garvey argued that the approach to obtaining equality from existing political and social structures in the US was ineffective and flawed (Wintz, 1995). According to him, integration and assimilation of blacks into the white-dominated community was not a solution to true equality since excessive discrimination and racism within the white-dominated communities would always hinder progress (Baber, 1992). Garvey viewed the integration strategy as a way towards abandoning African culture and adopting white superiority.
Baber, W. L. (1992). Capitalism and racism. Critique of Anthropology, 12(3), 339-364. https://doi.org/10.1177/0308275×9201200308
Bois, W. E. (2007). The souls of Black folk. Oxford University Press on Demand.
Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The talented tenth (pp. 102-104). New York, NY: James Pott and Company.
Wintz, C. D. (Ed.). (1995). African American Political Thought, 1890-1930: Washington, Du Bois, Garvey, and Randolph. ME Sharpe.