Two great leaders of the African American community in the late 19th and early 20th century were W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. They disagreed on strategies for African American social and economic progress in the face of prejudice, poverty, and segregation:
Booker T. Washington, a former slave and the founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, believed that African Americans needed to accept segregation and discrimination for the time being and concentrate on elevating themselves through hard work and material prosperity. The eventual acquisition of wealth and culture by African Americans would gradually win for them the respect and acceptance of the white community. This would break down the divisions between the two races and lead to equal citizenship for African Americans in the end. Also he urged blacks to accept discrimination for the time being and concentrate on elevating themselves through hard work and material prosperity. He believed in education in the crafts, industrial and farming skills and the cultivation of the virtues of patience, enterprise and thrift. This, he said, would win the respect of whites and lead to African Americans being fully accepted as citizens and included into all strata of society. Washington wanted blacks in the south to respect and value the need for industrial education both from a vantage of American and African experience. He was against the notion of education as a tool used merely to enable one to speak and write the English language correctly; he wanted school to be a place where one might learn to make life more endurable, and if possible, attractive, he wanted an education that would relieve him of the hard times at home, right away. Booker T. Washington, early in his life noticed that those who were considered educated were not that far removed from the conditions in which he was residing. Therefore, he disagreed with the post-emancipation ideologies of blacks who believed that freedom from slavery brought freedom from hard work. In addition, education of the head would bring even more sweeping emancipation from work with the hands. He did not want his black people to be ashamed of using their hands, but to have respect for creating something and a sense of satisfaction upon completion of that task. His feeling was that black Americans had to rise up out of oppression by self-improvement. He believed that Black people could not survive without the help of the white American. This belief included that the best thing for the black American to do was to learn and develop a skill for example, carpentry. These skills would transpire into a more prominent future, thus a rise in the economic ladder or social status. Washington believed that African Americans should seek a primary education, which would both supplement work and life preparation, such as: hygiene and good manners. This belief summed up in a single sentence is that through hard work, thrift, and self-help, blacks would improve their social status and would ultimately win the acceptance of whites. The philosophy of Washington was one of accommodation to white oppression. He advised blacks to trust the paternalism of the southern whites and accept the fact of white supremacy. He stressed the mutual interdependence of blacks and whites in the South, but said they were to remain socially separate: “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” Washington counseled blacks to remain in the South, obtain a useful education, save their money, work hard, and purchase property. By doing such things, Washington believed, the Negro could ultimately “earn” full citizenship rights.
W.E.B. Du Bois whose full name is William Edward Burghardt DuBois was a Massachusetts native who received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895 and was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also known as the NAACP. Du Bois believed that if blacks prepared themselves only to be farmers, mechanics, and domestics, as Booker T. Washington advised, they would remain forever in such occupations. Du Bois agitated for African American political power, insisted on African American civil rights, and demanded the higher education of “Negro youth.” He argued that social change could be accomplished by developing a small group of college-educated African Americans that he called the “Talented Tenth”, who through their knowledge of modern culture could guide the “American Negro” into a higher society. Also he argued that social change could be accomplished by developing the small group of college-educated blacks he called “the Talented Tenth:” He argued that educated Black elite should lead Blacks to liberation by advancing a philosophical and intellectual offensive against racial discrimination. DuBois forwarded the argument that The Negro problem was not and could not be kept separate from other reform movements. DuBois favored immediate social and political integration and the higher education of a “Talented Tenth,” of the black population.
DuBois came to view Washington as a political boss who had too much power and used it ruthlessly to his own advantage. Although DuBois admitted that he was worthy of honor, he believed Washington was a limited and misguided leader.